Ten Iranians and an American

IMG_5378Last night I went to a house groups that my internship supervisor leads. It was at a couple’s apartment who moved to Germany from Iran about seven months ago with their five year old son, who is adorable and full of energy. The group consisted of ten Iranians, nine of them men, plus me and my supervisor. She gave the lesson in English and one of the men translated to Farsi. Though I couldn’t exactly grasp everything everyone was saying, I could definitely sense the Holy Spirit’s presence among us. I even played around with the little boy for quite a while, no words necessary!

I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous going into it, and fumbled through some awkward conversations full of misunderstandings and moments lost in translation. But everyone was so kind, hospitable and open. A few of them showed me pictures of their families back in Iran and expressed how much they miss them. They are working hard to learn German (which is not an easy language!) and establish their new lives here. The German government requires them to complete a certain level of language courses before they can get a job, and one man conveyed how frustrating it is to not be able to work when you are free and willing. But their sense of gratitude was palpable none the less, and it certainly rubbed off on me. The whole time I kept thinking what is my life?! Who would have thought I’d ever find myself in such an interesting situation? I feel so incredibly blessed to be here this summer and add these opportunities to my treasure trove of life experiences. One over-arching theme in our discussion was finding peace in Jesus Christ no matter our circumstances. They inspire me to remember that no matter what, we can have abundant peace because of what our savior did for us.

I hope this is encouraging and that things are going well across the pond! I miss you and think of you all often 🙂

P.s. A few more photos from Frankfurt below!IMG_5414IMG_5411IMG_5401IMG_5375IMG_5374

Why I Hate “Jack and Diane”

1016489_10200107518472619_836320462_n.jpgI always felt like I was doing high school wrong. I never had a boyfriend of any sort, I didn’t have a tight knit friend group, and I actually preferred staying home with my parents on a Friday night. Heck, I’ll admit it, I genuinely liked my parents. So why did I feel like such a fraud?

In part because of songs like “Jack and Diane” by John Cougar Mellencamp, one of many that glorify youth, and high school in particular. The chorus of this famous 1982 hit says, “Oh yeah, life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone.” The song follows the lives of sixteen year old high school sweethearts Jack and Diane. “Jacks gonna be a football star, Diane’s the debutant of the back of Jackie’s car.” Their favorite past times included “Sucking on chili dogs outside the tasty freeze. Diane’s sitting on Jackie’s lap, got his hands between her knees.”

Now I’ll admit, the song is catchy. I’ll give you that Mr. Mellencamp. No wonder it has become a sort of American anthem, something most people inadvertently learn the lyrics to at one point or another. But Jack and Diane’s experience is certainly not reflective of my experience in any way, and it wasn’t for most of my peers back then. Yet ever time I hear it I think, Shoot, did I miss out on some quintessential American right of passage? No boy ever put his hands between my knees– I’m a loser!

I recently read writer and actress Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and I was pleased to find she shares my aversion to this song. She says, “I wish there was a song called ‘Nguyen & Ari,‘ a little ditty about a hardworking Vietnamese girl who helps her parents with the franchised Holiday Inn they run, and does homework in the lobby, and Ari, a hardworking Jewish boy who does volunteer work at his grandmother’s old-age home, and they meet after school at Princeton Review. They help each other study for the SATs and different AP courses, and then, after months of studying, and mountains of flashcards, they kiss chastely upon hearing the news that they both got into their top college choices. This is a song teens need to inadvertently memorize.”

Now there’s a song I could relate to. Why don’t we praise the teenager who sets the table for dinner? Who works at McDonalds after school to pay for their first car? Or who attends church every Sunday and youth group every Wednesday?

The only slightly realistic factor about this song is that Diane winds up running off to the city and Jack probably gets shipped off to the Vietnam war or loses his football scholarship due to low grades. In the bridge, Mellencamp mournfully croons, “Hold on to sixteen as long as you can, changes come around real soon, make us women and men.”

In a culture that glorifies youth and deifies aging, we are often bombarded with the message that its all down hill from here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Enjoy high school/college/fill in the blank, because its the best time of your life.” Seriously? I for one am enjoying growing into a woman and embracing the changes coming my way. I wish I could go back and tell my sixteen year old self that she will indeed do all those things her little heart desires one day, so just sit back and relax. Everything in its time.

The thrill of living should not be gone after high school. There is no such thing as ‘the good old days’– the trick is to realize you’re living them right now. Sure, its okay to hold certain special memories near to your heart, but don’t let them blind you from the thrills happening in the present moment.

Screw Jack and Diane. They’re over rated. Write your own song.

P.s. That’s me on the left, sporting my flattering graduation gown. 13′ baby.

Magnifications: Dying to Live

IMG_8990.JPGHey there friends, are you managing to stay cool? It is mighty hot in this part of the world, and we don’t have air conditioning, so It. Is. A. Struggle. But I really can’t complain about the one or two weeks of bad weather a year in California, now can I?! Today I thought I’d share with you a piece I wrote for the site Magnifications, a blog that publishes theoretical reflections written by women from the Church of Christ. My piece is a reflection on my time abroad, and how it ties in with the message in John chapter 12. Keep reading below to read the whole thing or click here to view it on the site!IMG_9019.JPGEven now, three months later, I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I stood at the entrance to my flight departure gate at LAX airport, backpack slung over my shoulder, passport in hand. I waved goodbye to my parents and turned around, just in time to hide the tears forming in my eyes. They weren’t tears of sadness as much as tears of change. I knew I’d made the right decision, and was confident God would take care of me, but I also knew this moment marked a drastic change in my life. I say so because this moment signaled the death of my old life in this world and the start of my new life in Christ. And here’s why.

The plane I boarded was bound for Hildesheim, Germany, where I would spend three months working as a youth intern for a Church of Christ. My job responsibilities included investing in the middle school and high school aged youth group members, planning events, attending summer camp, and helping fill any of the church’s needs. And while I felt extremely fulfilled and content with my work, I also felt extremely uncomfortable at times. Living in another country is a lot of things, but comfortable is certainly not one of them.

Going into the experience, I spoke hardly any German, was unfamiliar with the cultural subtleties, and knew a total of two people. The first few weeks were full of doubts, fears and frustration. I constantly found myself in awkward situations, such as accidentally buying sour creme instead of whipped creme, or calling someone pregnant instead of beautiful! In my defense, the words sound incredibly similar.

But slowly God began the process of melting me down and reforming me to be stronger than ever. He led me outside my comfort zone and used my discomfort to shape and retrain me to be fully reliant on Him. I often fought the process kicking and screaming, as I tried to lean on my own understanding and failed. Previously trivial tasks like grocery shopping or holding a conversation with someone in German, became huge victories that I had no choice but to give God the credit for. In this reshaping process, God also revealed to me that I have a serious lack of self confidence, and showed me that the only lasting source of self confidence I will ever find flows from the cross.

With time, I started to notice that the further outside my comfort zone He led me, the more confident I felt. He blessed me with deep friendships, wise female mentors, and travel experiences I will never forget. He showed me how capable and worthy I am to do the work laid before me.

Jesus too had to die to this world in order to live again. In John chapter 12, he enters Jerusalem on a donkey to celebrate passover, and is greeted triumphantly with palm branches and praises from the adoring crowd. A short while later, Jesus predicts his fast approaching death and ultimate glorification in front of the people, saying, “The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My father will honor the one who serves me” (verse 23-26).

Before my experience abroad, I was only a single seed, serving no one but myself. I had to fall to the ground by saying goodbye to my southern California life and everything I knew, in order to produce more seeds. The conversations I’ve had with the youth group members here are not more than seeds at this point, but I’m confident they will one day grow and bloom into beautiful plants.

If we claim to follow Jesus, then we are obliged to actually follow Him, whether that be to another country or right next door. The statement, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be” has never rung truer. I was called to follow Him half way across the globe because, contrary to what I sometimes believe, Jesus is not American. He is universal, and is actively working in every heart, in every country.

Friends, I encourage you to examine your life today. Is Jesus calling you to follow Him in some new direction? Does it make you uncomfortable? Thats probably a good sign you’re headed down the right path! Jesus does his best work when you are completely and totally reliant on Him. Maybe that looks like asking someone you usually don’t converse with out to coffee, or signing up for that mission trip you’ve been thinking about. Perhaps you need to die to part of yourself in order to bring glory to Christ, and that death is precisely the place you will find new life.

The College Experience: Fact or Fiction?

IMG_5034.JPGFor most people, the expression The College Experience engenders images of toga parties, cafeteria food, and late night cram sessions. The concept of college in America has taken on a life of its own. And to be a college student in America is to be a part of that definitive college experience. But that’s just it- can the college experience really be defined? And if so, how do you know if you’ve done college right? In my two years of college thus far, I’ve deduced that there is no one college experience. The only thing you’ll have at the end of those four years is your unique experience. You’ll have debt, a diploma, and a lifetime of memories.

As freshman year got underway, I quickly found myself miserable. I was so focused on having the “traditional college experience,” that I missed out on my current experience. I worried I was not making enough life long friends, that my roommate and I weren’t bonding like we should, and I wasn’t dating any enough guys. I stayed in my room more times than not, and struggled to find my niche in the community. I felt as though I were wasting this precious, once in a lifetime opportunity, not to mention my parent’s money! How could I not be enjoying myself? Millions of kids would kill for this experience. Combine the guilt, frustration, and lack of sleep, and you get one depressed eighteen year old.

So, after first semester freshman year, I considered transferring. Over Christmas break, I timidly expressed to my parents how unhappy I was, and they reacted with firm compassion. They told me I needed to stick it out until the end of freshman year, and then we could reevaluate. At the time, I was not satisfied with their answer, but looking back, it was the push I needed. So after a Christmas break ‘reboot,’ I headed back for second semester with a heavy but hopeful heart.

And slowly, things began to turn around. I forced myself to attend campus events, which led to new friendships. I applied for a Resident Advisor position for sophomore year and got it, which boosted my self confidence immensely. I took four classes instead of five, cutting down on my stress and anxiety. But most of all, I stopped comparing my experience to the college experience. I stopped comparing my experience to that of my parents, brother, and friends. I stopped worrying about what I thought I should be doing and feeling, and accepted what I was actually doing and feeling.

Many people nostalgically say, “College is the best four years of your life.” Yes, college is wonderful in so many ways, but they never tell you how hard it can be. They say, “It’s your chance to start over, to turn a blank page.” But they often fail to mention that that can also lead to a loss of self-identity. For instance, when you’ve been a passionate baseball player for the past twelve years and suddenly no longer have baseball, it’s easy to get lost. There are two sides to every coin.

So parents, I encourage you to share your complete, well-rounded college stories with your children. Talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly- don’t leave anything out. And students, take the pressure off yourselves! Remember that your experience is personal, there is no wrong way to do college. Whether you look back on four years of toga parties, cafeteria food, and late night cram sessions, or pajama parties, Ramen noodles, and Netflix, you will look back on them fondly because you lived them. Only you can know how special they truly were.

Happy back to school experience friends, hope it’s a good one!
IMG_5041.JPG^A few photos from my brother’s graduation.IMG_5091.JPG