Week 6&7: Sacramental Ordinary
Atlanta is starting to feel like home. I've settled down into a routine, I am developing some amazing friendships here, I know my way around...
and I'd be lying to say the fact that I'm more than halfway through with my internships doesn't make me sad.
God-moments have been happening almost on a daily basis, and I'm beyond grateful for the points of connection he has given me with people I've been meeting everywhere, whether in Clarkston, downtown Atlanta, Snellville, Duluth, or Lawrenceville. People from other countries and who have grown up here all their lives. Each person has a unique background, perspective, and story to tell.
My passion is to uncover those stories, and maybe, even get the opportunity to tell them through my photographs and interviews.
I have been both so humbled and encouraged by every encounter God has placed my way.
Encounters such as...
> A lady from Burma calling me over to where she sits in front of her house just to do henna for me and to chat every week
> Numerous college interns telling me their testimonies of how they came to faith
> A college student from Grace telling me that our newly formed friendship is an answer to prayer
> Talking to several waiters and waitresses at restaurants I visit from Nepal, the Philippines, Malaysia, and China (working at Japanese and Indian restaurants haha)
> Speaking to a lady from Sudan in Arabic while I ask her about the earrings she makes and sells
> Talking to owners of coffee shops who came from Hong Kong and Korea
> Meeting the homeless in downtown Atlanta (from all over the country!) with Honor the Homeless (a ministry whose website I'm helping to rebuild) and having individuals approach me asking for their picture to be taken
> My communications supervisor telling me about his professional journey
> Working with the middle school pastor at Grace Snellville on his new workbook on diversity
> Chatting with my Uber driver from Haiti
> A friend of mine from college coming to visit me and participate in Gen Salaam
> 4 friends of mine driving 6.5 hours from Kentucky to visit me for a weekend (they are on their way at this very moment!)
> Countless introspective and God-centric conversations with other interns during car rides
> Team meetings and times of prayer with fellow interns prior to Gen Salaam
> When a refugee lady ran into her house and came back with a large packet of homemade friend rice (or "nasi goreng ikan") after finding out that I was from Malaysia, where she had spent several years in transit between Burma and America
> When three kids of different ethnicities confided in me about things that happened in their homes they didn't have the courage to tell anyone before
> Hearing from various pastors about their testimonies and why they are at Grace
> Going to the Forward conference (a big annual Christian conference) with a girl from Clarkston, trying clothes in every store we went to in the mall, and riding a merry-go-round together
> Filming a video for Honor the Homeless in Sugarloaf Country Club and meeting state representatives who used to be homeless themselves
> Speaking to the cashier at an Indian and Nepali buffet about his country
> Meeting a fellow photographer and chatting about not only freelance photography but about every individual's inherent worth
> Talking with a middle schooler on the bus about their dreams and passions
> Friends driving 8 hours from Kentucky just to see you. :)
> (JUST happened after I pressed "publish" on this blog post and thought I was done) an unexpected - but not coincidental - run in and conversation about faith, prayer, and the future that strongly ministered to both parties
Every conversation I've had with someone has given me a little (even big) glimpse into his or her soul. I couldn't ask for more. Taking full advantage of these internships and opportunities outside of my internships have encouraged me by showing me possibilities and how God is already working around me - all I want to do is see and hear how he is already working and then possibly join in as well. :)
I am grateful for both the fact that I am from another country AND that I have had a primarily American, Western education. It wasn't always easy adapting, but drawing on commonality for the purpose of relating to diverse peoples has really opened up my eyes and focused them upward instead of inward. Diversity is mesmerizing to me, and I believe similarities as well as differences should be celebrated.
This week I was reminded of my first trip to America. It was funny to think that I knew so much about America and American history before I even stepped foot onto American soil. And now this is the country I've spent most of my time in for the past three and a half years. It was the Summer of 2015, and I was making my way first to Murfreesboro, TN and then Virginia Beach, VA for an international speech and debate tournament. This is a side note... but unfortunately, I had just taught at a kids camp that week and had contracted a stomach bug from a kid. Long story short, my family and I finally left the house for the airport but not without me literally screaming because of how much pain I was in. I had never felt that sick before in my life, couldn't stop throwing up, and hadn't even been able to finish packing. My debate topic at the tournament was travel restrictions... how ironic. :)
Anyway, I didn't start living in the States till the Fall of 2016, and even now I am still on a student visa. I was 17 and alone. Now three years later, America feels like a second home to me.... not because I always identify with the culture here - I wouldn't even identify with Asian culture 100%! I've just been in between all my life and learned to embrace that- but it feels like home now because of the people I met here.
I have so much more to learn, so much more of the world to see, so many more stories to glean nuggets of wisdom from. All I can do on my part is to make the most of every opportunity.
God has taught me to seize moments and not let petty things (or even stomach bugs!) come in the way of seeing how he is working or being a part of others' lives. It's just not worth it! The Holy Spirit is still chiseling me. And when I decide to look outward rather than inward he transforms my narrow-sightedness into an intentional embracing of others and others' cultures and into an ability to see how he is already at work in the lives of people around me. With his guidance I pray to continue gleaning from and creatively documenting nuggets of gold from the sacramental ordinary.
Week 5&6: What are my CORE values?
In addition to having a recent and still ongoing craving for Japanese food, I have also been attending a weekly workshop every Wednesday through Grace, outside of my internships, called Younique.
I've had fascinating discussions with other interns on our...
and personal values.
So what are my personal values?
I asked myself that question and was surprised by how quickly four words popped into my head:
looks like: cultivating and acting upon unique talents with one's given time and resources in a way that brings God the glory
looks like: meaning what you say and saying what your mean, being the best version of your most authentic self (and not in a way that demeans others)
looks like: actively putting ourselves into others' shoes, a continual willingness to learn, knowing that we aren't always right
looks like: asking questions, open-mindedness, honest and constant self-evaluation (cultivating strengths and assessing blindspots)
Conversely, here are my personal offenders:
can look like: grumbling, complaining, a self-focus, a very vocal/unfiltered disdain of difference, "pain is the worst thing I could go through" attitude
can look like: legalism, not saying what you mean/meaning what you say, imposing my truth on others before I fix (or at least acknowledge) the discrepancies in my own life
can look like: an excessive waste of time, no self-discipline with no desire to improve or change
4. Closed-mindedness or Apathy
can look like: "my point of view is always right," "my reality is the only reality," "I am devoid of culture"/I am "normal" one and others are weird
Interestingly, I could clearly identify connections between my personal values and offenders.
My value of excellence is tied to my offenders of mediocrity and, more subtly, victimization. My value of integrity is tied to my strong feelings against hypocrisy. My empathy fights against developing an attitude of closed-mindedness and makes me incredibly sad and burdened when I witness apathy. My search for understanding life, people, and cultures is tied also to my offenders of closed-mindedness and victimization, because a self-centered mindset keeps one from exploring the world and all it has to offer! It also feeds depression, a narrow mindset, and self-righteous behavior. Knowing my values and their connections with my offenders also allows me to try my best to react to my offenders not in anger or haste but with tact and compassion. I mean, have I been guilty of the aforesaid negative attitudes I just mentioned? Of course. I am so much a work-in-progress myself. And I know a big reason why I have reached the conclusions or mindsets I have is not because of goodness within me but simply a cultivated willingness to learn and correct my own mistakes...
I am a strong believer in the practice of honest self-evaluation on a constant basis, for doing so facilitates--no, accelerates--one's growth and character.
Knowing my strengths, values, and view of the world helps me keep things in perspectives and even not get unnecessarily frustrated at people when they are not like me. That's what I appreciate so deeply about gaining an understanding about the diverse strengths of different people! Knowing the motivation behind the behavior of others helps us not to draw conclusions prematurely based on what is displayed outwardly and instead develop empathy for the now identified motivation. Sure, it is unfortunately possible to use personality tests to label the self and others, but they are when used rightly, I believe they can instead function as a language by which people can express themselves in a way that isn't necessarily drawing attention to self but in an objective way that facilitates personal and group understanding. We have so much to yet learn about both ourselves and others, and we can learn from the experiences and character traits of others without forcing ourselves to become someone else entirely.
Not everyone is like me! And that is a-okay.
P.S. My ABSOLUTE favorite personal strengths assessment is the Gallup StrengthsFinder, one of the 3 assessments we used in Younique. Especially if you're cautious about putting yourself in a box... it's definitely harder when there is only a 1 in 33 million chance of someone getting the same lineup of strengths as yours.
My top 5 strengths:
People who are especially talented in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
People who are especially talented in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imaginging themselves in others' lives or others' situations.
People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
People who are especially talented in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.
People who are especially talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don't enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.
Week 3&4: Off to work we go...
After diving into what felt like a whirlwind of preparation, it feels surreal to have finally begun building relationships with the families of Clarkston.
At the apartment complexes of Indian Creek, the site I oversee, families come mainly from regions such as Myanmar, Nepal, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan.
An unexpected surprise made my day the very first week we kicked off Generation Salaam. Just as I was about to leave, I found out two of the children I had been interacting with are from Malaysia. Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is the country where I spent most of my childhood. Excitedly, the kids introduced me to their other siblings and mother. I was invited into their house where I had a long conversation with their mother, during which we exchanged contacts and I realized that my Malay (or Bahasa Malaysia) isn't quite as rusty as I thought it was.
"I'd like to tell you how much joy was on your face the moment you found out they were from Malaysia," another college intern told me, "that was such a precious moment!"
On another note, interning with the communications team at Grace has also been providing me with a unique opportunity to learn more about Grace's various groups and ministries and witness what goes on behind the scenes. I've not only been able to take photos and manage social media for Grace Snellville but have gone multiple times to the campus of Grace Midtown for events such as a Housefires and Upper Room concert and Pentecost.
This past month in Snellville and Clarkston has been a refreshing time for me personally as I develop new connections as well as revitalize old ones. It's been especially special connecting with friends here in Atlanta from Kentucky or who have a connection to Asbury.
It has also been serving as very much as a time of introspection for me, and I am trying to be intentional with journaling and going forward with this ongoing process of reflection even as life continues to occur at a fast pace.
However, though I consider introspection one of my strongest suits, introspection itself has made me realize that too much introspection, or introspection internalized to an extreme, isn't healthy either. It is helpful to understand the inner workings of my mind and my heart, but trying to solve or even comprehend by myself can only feed into narrow-mindedness and anxiety. God promises to partner with us even in matters of the soul, and his love ensures that we are never alone in the process of seeking understanding of ourselves and others. I'm grateful for both his presence and the presence of community around me.
Committed to proactiveness and development, I look forward with anticipation to continually grow in not only my skills, connections, and knowledge of ministry and outreach, but, more importantly... to grow in love, character, and right standing, before the Lord.
Week 1&2: Transition
Wilmore to Snellville. Kentucky to Atlanta.
I'm an international student whose been to numerous countries. You would think the transition between two states, both in the South, would be a piece of cake.
Then why was it so hard?!
As I was saying goodbye to friends I've grown to love over time at the Louisville airport (a bittersweet ordeal), the man standing next to me in line for a customs check asked, "Is this your first time flying?"
"Nope," I answered, smiling internally as I waved goodbye once again, not ashamed at all by my farewell party.
Truth is, I'm used to traveling places alone. I'm used to transitioning between cultures as a multicultural kid. I'm used to deciding spontaneously to embark on a new adventure....like going to the Middle East and North Africa for half a year last spring. I'm used to coping, to independent processing, sucking it in, to carry it all on my shoulders without taking anyone along with me.
But my years at college taught me that was a miserable way to live. That no man...or woman...should function as an island.
I arrived in Snellville as a Generation Salaam intern and started to slowly soak it all in... a brand new place, a beautiful host home, a king-sized bed, a bathroom of my own, brand new people, and a church I had no personal connections with.
One of my college friends texted me that night asking, "How are you feeling?" I answered with this gif:
You get the point. :)
Having come out of a significantly challenging year at school and only relatively recently overcoming personal crises, I started questioning myself if my initial discomfort meant I had allowed myself to get too comfortable in Wilmore. What happened to the Eliza who loves traveling, adventure, and exploration in a new place? Was it possible to reconcile the community-loving part of me that had grown to be comfortable in a small town with no car (even having grown up as a city girl) with the part of me that is still discovering who I am as an individual and what God has in store for me in this life? Why was I faced internally with a sense of unwillingness to be alone (again as the only international) in a brand new environment (possibly a fear carried over from previous experiences where I felt in between cultures for prolonged periods of time)?
I would say yes. Yes. A thousand times over.
I may not always feel it, but despite what my emotions may be saying, it doesn't make that any less true.
I actually heard about this internship unexpectedly (and I would propose, providentially). After already having spent awhile researching summer internships, one night during this past school semester (Spring of my junior year at Asbury), I was invited to a special session on prayer led by our school's president, who would soon be resigning. Just as I was about to leave the event, I said "hi" to our school's chaplain, who I know personally. He asked me how I'd been doing, and I decided on the spot to tell him about my search for a summer internship. I knew I had time to chat because friends I had come with were intentionally stalling while preparations for a birthday surprise were being made back on campus.
"I'm looking for an internship that would ideally involve work among refugees and media production," I told him.
"You know what? I know a church called Grace in Georgia where the brother of the mayor of Wilmore is a pastor at," he responded enthusiastically. Our president confirmed that this was, in fact, true, and that Grace was the church to reach out to for this internship.
A few weeks later, I had been interviewed and accepted to three different internships: one in New York City, one in Athens (the actual one in Greece..haha), and to Generation Salaam or Grace 360 in GA. I made the decision to intern with Generation Salaam.
I have now been in Snellville, GA for two weeks, and I am settling into the rhythm of life here. I am making new connections and forming new relationships. I've been having amazing conversations that are actually helping me process both the high and low times I faced this past year at college.
What exactly will I be doing here? With three other college interns, I will be building relationships with refugee families living in Clarkston, GA (where Gen Salaam takes place), which is often referred to as the most diverse square mile in America. Could I be anywhere better as a lover of cultural diversity?
I will also be doing photography, social media, and video production with the communications team at Grace Snellville.
This internship has been keeping me busy, and the real work hasn't even begun! It feels strange to have a schedule again after being in complete control of my time for a blissful period of time (between the end of finals and the start of this internship). I purpose to be fully present here in Snellville and Clarkston knowing that my time here is limited. I desire to do everything wholeheartedly, no matter if it is loving on individuals, taking pictures, telling others' stories, or going on a Walmart or Sam's Club run. I can do everything unto the Lord and knowing I am not alone. For the span of these two months, I want to willingly place myself outside of my comfort zone because that is when God teaches me the most. Discomfort makes me rely on him. And as previous life experiences have already taught me, when done enough times, things that cause discomfort initially actually become comfortable!
Lord, help my short-sightedness and unbelief. Strengthen my spirit and my resolve so I may not become a creature of habit and forget how you have been continuously faithful to me as a God who stays the SAME yesterday, today, and forever despite my ever-changing environment, life stages, and emotions. And if I trust that you are constantly by my side and molding me more into the likeness of Jesus, then I can stay true to myself and my God-given passions, projecting my same values and desires no matter where I am or whom I'm with. Use this season, and my life story, to tell of your faithfulness to me. I am willing and ready. Surprise me.
I'm grateful to be in Snellville, GA as a Generation Salaam intern and am looking forward with anticipation to how God will use this experience to shape me, as he is already doing each day, into who I am meant to be.