The Wholehearted Hero: Erica Kaze

I'm so excited to introduce you to October's Wholehearted Hero. This woman has challenged me in so many ways. She let me into her world, allowed me to humbly (and at times naively) ask questions, and shared vulnerably about her experiences and reality as a minority and non-American citizen. To say I learned from her is an understatement.

Walking with Erica has marked me and I consider it an honor and privilege to be a part of her journey. She's influenced much of my own thoughts, worldview, and even future plans. I hope you are just as inspired and challenged by her openness and passion as she writes below!


1. Hi Erica! Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you came from. What drew you to Baylor
University, to Finance, and ultimately staying in Waco to work at a local bank after graduation? 

I was born in Burundi, one of the smallest countries in Africa, located in East Africa. When I was 13 years old, my family and I moved to Rwanda, also located in East Africa. I graduated from Riviera High School (RHS), a private boarding school located 30 min away from the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali , then I came to Texas for college. I recently graduated from Baylor University with a degree in Finance. Baylor is well known at RHS because of the yearly summer trips the business school takes to Rwanda. They partner with RHS to work on different entrepreneurship projects and competitions. During my freshman and sophomore years of college, I thought I wanted to be an engineer simply because so many family members are engineers. It is also a joke among Africans that African children only have three career options: doctor, engineer or lawyer. But then the summer after my sophomore year, I realized that I would probably be miserable for most of my life if I end up working as an engineer. So I switch to business and after talking to the Baylor professor who leads the summer trips to Rwanda, I realized that my passion for numbers could turn into a career that I could also use back at home. So that is how I ended up with a finance major. I chose to work in banking for multiple reasons. Some of it being that banks have the potential of changing the future of a community and that is something I am so passionate about especially since Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world.

2. Listening to your experience about job searching as an international student has been extremely eye-opening for me. What’s it like trying to get hired as a minority member? What about as a non U.S. citizen? 

It is practically impossible to get a job offer as an international student in the U.S. especially as an undergraduate student. This is because after graduation, we have about 12 months to work or intern in the U.S. then if a company wants to keep us on their payroll, they need to apply for a H-1B work visa for us and that's where it gets tricky. There is never a guarantee that a student will get a work visa even if they have a job offer which is why most companies don't hire us. But of course, there are exceptions to this. This is the biggest battle I've ever had to fight. This process became discouraging pretty quickly when amazing opportunities kept closing simply because my
citizenship is different.

3. Have you experienced bias in the work place or in the hiring process? If so, how?

Oh, absolutely! While I was interviewing most recruiters would always point out the fact that my English is "perfect". Apparently, I should sound different simply because I grew up in Africa. Also, just this week I was told by one of my supervisors that maybe I should stop reading books and news articles in French so that my English writing skills could improve. I have been speaking English and writing it for 9 years. 

4. What does unconscious bias mean to you? What biases do you face on a regular basis? 

Unconscious bias to me is simply stereotyping a person or group of people and expecting them to be/do certain things a certain way simply because they belong to a particular race or ethnicity. I will be the first one to say that I also struggle with this one. Two weekends ago, I was in NYC and my Uber driver who took me to the airport was from Uzbekistan and I found myself wondering why this Asian guy was playing rap music in the car and was jamming to it. I found myself doing the same thing that I hate when people stereotype me when I am listening to
country music since I am black. Lord, help us all.

5. What was it like being a minority in a predominately white community and university? What are some challenges you face regularly?

I struggled a lot with being a minority at Baylor but also within my church community. For my first two years in Waco, I just felt like I didn't connect with anyone and it was really hard for me to make friends. Not only was I black at a predominantly white school and white church, I was also from a different country, my culture was different, and everything about me was different compared to the typical Baylor student. I have heard that research has revealed that the lack of early and meaningful exposure to other groups of people often makes it easier for us to quickly identify and remember people of our own ethnicity or race while we often struggle to do the same for others.

I can attest that this is true. During those first two years at Baylor, white girls didn't really befriend me. I had to make effort after effort to become friends with some of the girls I knew but it just seemed like the efforts were coming from one way. I remember one Tuesday morning during my first year at Baylor going to class and noticing this girl I had seen around church. At this point it was the spring semester and I honestly still couldn’t tell you who my friends were. So I said to myself, "she seems nice and already has a black friend, maybe if I go sit next to her we
would become friends too?" Three years later, Meryn is one of my best friends. But I don't take all the credit for how our friendship started because Meryn had decided in high school that she was going to be intentional about her group of friends and specifically befriend people of other races and ethnicities. Her willingness and intentionality opened a door for us to become friends.

Pictured above is Erica and her friend Meryn. 

Pictured above is Erica and her friend Meryn. 

6. What's something you wish majority members knew about you? What's something you feel most majority members assume about you? 

I will probably never fully fit into your stereotype of a black person. I hear black people can't swim, but I was on the swimming team of my high school and I was pretty good at it. So just get to know me. Ask me questions instead of assuming. 

7. In your opinion, what does racial reconciliation look like? And what steps can I take as a
majority to bridge the gap?

When I hear those two words, racial reconciliation, I think of Revelation 7:9 - "After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands."

I dream of days when we won't have a black church, Hispanic church or Asian church but simply a church full of people from every nation, tribe and language worshipping God together.
One of my favorite things this year is that I am living with 4 amazing girls. Our house of 5 is very diverse: two white girls, one Hispanic, one Asian and me. As I spend more time with my roommates, I am learning so much about them, their families, and I finally understand why most Asian people take off their shoes before entering a room. Haha. It is amazing how much we learn when we get out of our bubble and put ourselves in situations with people who don't look like us or who were not raised like we were.

My recommendation to everyone who is reading this is to get out of your bubble. Be strategic and figure out where people are then go and do life with them. If you live in Waco, you are
probably not going to find a lot of African Americans at your favorite local coffee shop, Common Grounds, but I bet you would make at least one friend at the local YMCA while playing basketball.

8. Have you ever been treated differently because of your race or background? If so, when? When are you most aware of your race?

Oh for sure! One time, a friend pulled my ponytail as I was walking past him. It wasn’t in a mean way. I think he was fascinated by my box braids. But his actions left me wondering if he would have done the same things if I was white. By the way, just a public service announcement, please don't touch a black person's hair without their permission. Most of us hate that. It makes us feel like you are petting our heads like you pet your dog. Please don’t do it, it is disrespectful and uncomfortable. 

Recently, I have had a hard time attending social events. No one wants to be the only black person at a wedding full of white people.

9. What are some of your dreams for your life right now? Where do you see yourself in 5-10
years? 

I am currently working in the banking industry. I am really enjoying my job and I can see myself being in this industry long-term. The banking industry is dominated by white male which bothers me so much. My plan is to earn my MBA in the next 2-4 years and hopefully end up in a leadership role in a few years. It is about time more women and people of color have a seat in the C-suite.

10. One of my favorite things about you is how confident you are - there's a powerful strength
about you that impresses me every time we're together. What advice would you give to other
minorities struggling to find their own voice? And how did you find your voice and embrace your
own identity? 

Wow, thanks for that compliment. I think that I draw my confidence from my determination to not be ignorant. I spend a lot of time educating myself. I do my best at keeping myself knowledgeable by listening to the news daily, podcasts, and reading books. So when I interact with people, I have a well that I can draw knowledge from and not feel embarrassed. But I would say that my relationship with God has played the most important part. When you are told by a racist person that they don’t like black people because “black is a bad color”, you just have to figure out
what the creator says about you then decide who you are going to listen to. And according to my Bible, Psalm
139:13-14 says “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, and my soul knows it very well.” I just took this as the truth I need to believe and that God defines who I am and not this world.

11. What comes to mind when you hear the term, "wholehearted living"? 

When I hear those two words “living wholeheartedly”, my brain automatically asks me which areas of my life need improvement. I do my best to not be complacent with where I am in life. So once in a while, I evaluate my life and try to identify areas that need some improvement. I try to not overdo it so I choose 1-3 areas then work on them until I am satisfied with the results. These are not New Year’s resolutions by any means. These are things that I know for a fact that if I don’t make changes now, there will be consequences in the future.

12. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently? Maybe a favorite author or podcast? 

I just started a new job recently and there have been lots of changes in my life. Right now, I am learning so much about personal finance so I visit Dave Ramsey’s website pretty often, I am also
listening to podcasts: Millennial Money and The Clever Girls Know. I also listen to a podcast from the New York Times every morning called “The Daily”.


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Born in Burundi and raised in Rwanda, Erica is currently living and working in Texas. She surrendered her life to Jesus when she was 15 years old and never looked back. She discovered college football when she came to Texas for college and now absolutely loves it. She enjoys listening to rap music and sleeping in on Saturday mornings. She is passionate about politics, racial reconciliation, education and anything business related. 

If you're curious about learning more about unconscious bias and how it affects minority members, like Erica, sign up to receive my free work guide. Because of my friendship with people like Erica, I'm more committed than ever to overcoming my own bias in order to love the people in front of me. My life has become much richer because of it! 

Painful Endings & Small Beginnings

This time last year I felt as though my life plan had just pulled out from under me. I was confused, hurt, lonely, frustrated, and desperate for some sort of direction. I was still reeling from the shock and pain of a break-up and disappointing loss in my family. The trauma of my summer experience working with refugees was fresh in my mind, and I had just quit my job, abandoning my only source of steady income. It was as if I had just experienced an earthquake, and the ground I was standing on didn't exist anymore. 

I'm starting to wonder if your 20's are made up of a series of painful endings and small beginnings. At over halfway through, my guess is looking pretty spot on. Maybe you can relate. The death of friendships. The death of dreams. The death of future plans. The death of love. That's a lot of deaths. And a lot of closed doors. 

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You've probably heard the saying "when one door closes, another opens", right? But that's probably the last thing you want to hear in the midst of a painful ending. Like a break-up, or any kind of loss, really. 

In the kitchen of a family friend last fall, I remember tears falling and nearly ugly crying as she encouraged me with the words above. Another door would open soon, she offered. And she was right, but if only it was that easy (or fast). 

I was both frustrated and comforted by her words, wondering if what she said was true. I pictured myself in a hallway, knocking on doors, waiting for one to open, or for someone to at least tell me if I was getting closer. I felt stuck. 

But that's where the good stuff happens. It's where we learn to dig deep, find ourselves and God, and grow up. I didn't know this season was on the other side, but now, looking back, I'm so grateful. I'm currently living a new dream in LA pursuing grad school and working at a creative marketing agency. Oftentimes the painful endings lead to the small beginnings we've been waiting for. And I wouldn't change it. 


My decision to quit my job last fall prompted me to start writing and freelancing, which ultimately led to the development of my first work guide, Build Bridges Not Walls. Sign up to receive this free resource and join us in creating honest conversations with people different than us. 

The Wholehearted Hero: Natalie Garnett

This series has become one of my highlights each month as I get to interview some of my real-life heroes. I am so honored to feature my friend and old roommate, Natalie Garnett at September's Wholehearted Hero. Natalie is just an impressive person, but more than that, she's a great friend. 

One of my most defining moments with Natalie happened last summer after we both got dumped just a day apart. Even in her own grief, Natalie managed to comfort, love, and distract me during that process. She even left chocolate and a sweet outside my door the next morning. Who doesn't want a friend like that?! She also kicks butt at her job and has been affectionately been named the "Hottie Abolitionist". Keep reading to find out why. :) 


1. Hi Natalie! I've had the privilege of seeing your life up close for the past few years and am consistently incredibly inspired by you. Can you give us a glimpse into your life now? And what are you doing in this season of life that you're really loving right now?

I’m entering my ninth year living in my college and now young-professional town - Waco, Texas. If you’d told me I’d still be in Waco in 2017 a few years ago, I’d probably have freaked. But now that it’s 2017, and I’m actually here, I see what an incredible gift it is. I’m really loving the fact that I run into friends in my Piyo class, at the grocery store, in church, at Chuy’s, really wherever. And although I don’t think Waco is my forever home, I’m savoring the charm of living wrapped in community and pretty proud of the growth I’ve gotten to be part of here.

I’m also entering my fourth year in my job as Assistant National Director of a local anti-human organization called UnBound. I’m consistently challenged and kept on my toes. I deeply believe in the work we do and am proud of the impact we’ve had in our community. I love getting to empower our awesome volunteers, coordinate our human trafficking coalition and work within the local church.

2. Take us a little bit into your professional journey. How did you land the job you are currently in and what's your favorite part about your job? Hardest part?

I graduated from Baylor University in 2012 with a degree in Journalism, PR & New Media and a minor in Social Work. From there, I spent four months interning at International Justice Mission headquarters in Washington, DC, where I worked as the communications editorial intern. In a surprising (to me) turn of events, I ended up back in Waco next to do the Antioch Discipleship School and did administration and customer service at a property management company. I’d been involved in UnBound in college and jumped back in when I moved back to Waco, and by spring of my discipleship school year, my now-boss came and asked me to work for UnBound. My goal all along had been to work in leadership of a human rights focused non-profit, but I was convinced at the time I needed some corporate, “real-world” experience to prepare me for that.

When Susan (our executive director), told me I could make up my own job description and help shape UnBound, I knew it was something I wanted to be part of. I’ve had a lot of “how am I old enough for this” and “what do I actually know about anything” moments over the past three years, but I’m really, really thankful I took that risk and jumped right into the formation stages of this awesome ministry. Looking back, it seems so obvious how God was leading me from one step to the next to set me up for where I am now. Looking back, I can also see how I have a bad habit of trying to interfere with the process. But we’re working on that.

My favorite part of my job -- I have ideas and get to turn them into realities. It really is so rewarding and exciting to have the support and work environment to shape projects and programs and see the impact so quickly. The hardest part is balancing multiple roles and not always feeling I can give my all to any one area. This leads to a lot of “coulds” and “shoulds” -- I could strengthen our social media platforms, I should send more regular newsletters, I could be more proactive in, I should (insert limitless list). My boss does a great job reminding me that being spread thin is sometimes part of being in leadership, and I have to let what I do each day be enough.

3. How are you seeing real life transformation in your job? And how are you directly involved? What do you do on a regular basis that yields rewarding results?

Working with people in major trauma definitely has challenges, but I’m consistently amazed at the resilience of the clients we serve in staying alive through what’s happened to them and fighting for recovery afterward. In 2017, UnBound has served 38 victims and survivors of trafficking in Waco (so far).

Although my role is more heavy on the organizational development and training side, the work that I do on my computer and with our constituents directly results in identification and awareness that leads to reports and rescues, not to mention the funding and systems that make it possible. My interaction with survivors is limited, but being part of their stories of rescue and recovery is very rewarding.

For example, in mid-September two girls from Central America made an outcry at their school. The investigation led to the discovery that their mom was a victim of labor trafficking and the daughters were likely being groomed for sex trafficking. We were able to intervene and get them to safety, meeting their tangible needs alongside law enforcement and other service providers.

4. Can you identify some common misconceptions about fighting sex trafficking and how you and your coworkers strive to overcome those?

The most common misconception is that sex trafficking is something that just happens on the other side of the world. Our awareness campaigns focus heavily on educating people on the impact of trafficking locally. People also often assume sex trafficking victims are all females. We serve victims of both labor and sex trafficking, and we see victims who are both male and female.

Another one that comes to mind is that when we talk about being an anti-trafficking organization, people automatically think that means we have an aftercare home for survivors. Although aftercare is a vital part of the recovery journey, we’re working specifically to prevent trafficking from happening and empower community members and professionals to identify and serve victims.

5. How have you found vision in your job in the mundane? Oftentimes our cause-motivated generation is guilty of grabbing hold of work with obvious purpose and letting go of tasks that feel irrelevant. Have you experienced this? Is your job always inspiring and rewarding? If not, do you have any encouragement to offer?

When I say I love my job, that doesn’t mean I love sitting in an office answering emails all day. It doesn’t mean I love collecting and analyzing data to submit for our federal grant funding. A lot of the work is mundane! But I really believe in the mission I am a part of, the people I am working with, and the need for what we’re doing in our community. I try to work into my schedule opportunities for me to get time with youth in juvenile detention or give a training to community professionals to help remind me how important this work is, especially when I can feel my vision or passion waning. I think it’s important to identify early on what the resources and tools are around you in your workplace to keep you filled up. I know I’m in the right position within my organization, but stepping into one of my co-worker’s or volunteer’s role can give me a helpful perspective shift when needed.

6. How have you found purpose in your single years as a young adult? I know this is often a messy journey (for myself included), but what advice would you give to someone struggling to find vision for their single season of life?

Haha, do we have to go in this direction? JK, happy to share. Being single in my mid-to- late twenties has been a challenge. It’s not what I imagined for myself. Like many people (maybe especially from college towns in the South), most of my college roommates and best friends are now married and on their first or second child, and that can make me feel pretty behind sometimes. I’ve been a bridesmaid 13 times and been through more a few too many breakups. BUT. When I stop and think about it, I’m honestly thankful for the journey. My life is rich in relationship and rich in opportunity. I’ve been practicing using the ache that singleness can bring to push me into things I want to be -- more deeply devoted to Jesus, a more present friend, a more involved community member.

About a year ago I asked a friend a few years older how she stayed positive in singleness, and her answer stuck with me. She said if you’re going to be single, you might as well be happy in it. Happy is more attractive to people (including potential romantic relationships) than miserable is. I liked that. I also have a quote on the wall in my room that says, “I am in charge of how I feel, and today I am choosing happiness.” Life is full of choices. I think how we handle singleness is one of those choices. I’d also recommend finding a friend or two who will listen to you bemoan your existence and give you a pep talk when that choice is feeling impossible. :)

7. You are one of my role models for work/life balance. How and why do you make this a priority in your life?

Thanks! For me, the key to balance has been to cut comparison and take responsibility for my own life. There are always going to be people who can do more (or less) than me. There are always going to be invitations and requests and opportunities to do more. There’s always going to be more work to be done. And there is always going to be a strong internal pull to lay in my bed and eat tater tots (my true love) and watch Netflix. I’m constantly learning and shifting, but I try to hit the mark of being diligent with my work and commitments, doing what I feel is right and peaceful and sustainable for me, and also knowing when I need to sacrifice and push myself. It’s also important to receive feedback from the people who see how you live, as it’s easy to be blind or biased either way.

8. Speaking of balance, I always ask my guests about their life rhythms. Can you tell us some daily, weekly, or monthly rhythms you prioritize in your life to help you live wholeheartedly?

Daily - My morning routine is important to me. I wake up, make my bed, wash my face, make breakfast and coffee, spend some time reading my Bible, praying and journaling, then get ready for work. I also try to get in bed early enough to read a book I enjoy until I fall asleep. The way I start and end my days makes a difference in how I feel for the in between hours.

Weekly - Exercise and rest are (increasingly) important rhythms for me. Exercise became a habit for me when my mindset shifted from my physical appearance (“I want to look good”) to my mental health (“I want to feel good”). I’m now exploring ways to integrate the discipline of Sabbath.

Monthly - It’s helpful for me to get out of town about once a month when I can. Whether that’s a day in Austin, a weekend visiting my parents in Dallas, or a trip out of state, there’s a lot of routine in my regular life and it’s refreshing for me to break it up.

9. What does living wholeheartedly mean to you? 

I think we learn to live wholeheartedly out of the push and pull of an aware, open, given life. I want to live aware of my unique self and my needs, strengths and weaknesses. I want to live open to the feedback, encouragement and challenge of like-hearted, trustworthy relationships. And I want to live given to the people around me, the mission I’m a part of and the calling on my life.

10. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently? Maybe a favorite author or podcast?

I just finished “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Pete Scazzero, and I am currently reading “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist. Both are challenging and refreshing perspectives on how to sustain a life of serving and loving people. I also come back often to Christa Black Gifford’s “Head to Heart” podcast. All three of those authors/speakers hit a place of exhaustion/burnout in their own lives which inspired their approaches to wholehearted living. I’d rather learn from them early on than repeat their experiences.

11. Lastly, is there something we can do today to join the fight to end human trafficking? 

Yes! My three challenges to everyone are to learn, serve and give. Learn what trafficking looks like in your community and share what you know. I’ve seen first hand that awareness saves lives. Find an organization in your community that is serving trafficking victims. Whether you volunteer every week or once a year at an event (like the Light Up the Dark 5K), serve if you can. UnBound has chapters across the United States, and there are a lot of other orgs out there doing incredible work. And give! It takes a lot of time and resources to effectively fight trafficking. You can become an Ignite Partner with UnBound through a donation of $22/month, and you’ll get special updates as we work to ignite hope in the lives of trafficking survivors.


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Natalie Garnett is the Assistant National Director of UnBound, an anti-human trafficking organization founded in Waco, Texas, in 2012. Natalie also provides oversight to UnBound's other chapters in six U.S. cities and Mongolia, and serves as the coordinator of the Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition. Natalie has provided training to hundreds of professionals and worked with dozens of human trafficking victims and survivors in her role, and is passionate about seeing communities activated to fight human trafficking. 

From Trekking the Andes to Sitting in LA Rush Hour Traffic

How did I get here? I’ve asked myself this question quite a few times since landing in LA a little over five weeks ago. Just before I was backpacking into mountain villages in Peru #livingmybestlife. 

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In short, I came here to start grad school and got a job to support myself (because life is twice as expensive in SoCal than small town Texas). In many ways, I fulfilled a dream coming out here, and truly I’m grateful. But all dreams come with small moments, too. 

I’m not very good at small moments. Instead, I live for the big, grand adventure, fantasize about taking risks, and constantly have to be doing something. But most of life isn’t like that. Most days it feels small, even when fulfilling a dream. 

I was sitting in traffic a few days ago (I commute an hour both ways to work), and the still small voice started whispering again. Though I leave a little later than most commuters, I’m still making quite a trek from Pasadena all the way to South Bay in Torrance. The elevation changes and so does the temperature, and most days I drive right through downtown. Each time I pass through, I think wow, so this is what it feels like to live in LA

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There are perks, to be sure, but when you haven’t moved in 20 minutes and the podcast you’ve been listening to gets old, it’s easy to lose perspective. The phrase that still voice whispered was “vantage point” and I feel as though I have been given a gift to appreciate the small moments, all of which add up to something really big. 

I’m extremely grateful I had the courage, the support system, and the means to make a big move like this. It’s opened so many things for me. And I want to stay thankful, to see from this vantage point of what a gift this truly is. Today I even thanked God for traffic - I’ve gotten to catch up with friends and family on the phone more than I anticipated, because what else do you do in a car for two hours a day? (I’m also on the hunt for all the podcasts, so HMU if you have suggestions). 

A little over a month ago I was trekking through mountain villages in the Andes mountains - hadn’t showered in days, packed everything in a backpack, and was doing what I love most. But today I’m sitting in the outside patio in front of my office building wearing heels that hurt my feet and eating the cold lunch I packed last night. I actually mourned having to become one of those meal planner people, but it’s honestly the only way to manage eating well when you are gone from 8 to 10. 

I’m sure the small moments will continue to build as my classes at Fuller begin. I imagine myself staying up well into the night writing papers and listening to audiobooks on my drive to and from work. But all of those moments make up a big, God-sized dream - and that’s significant and big and exciting. 

For the first time in a while, I feel as though I have clarity and focus and even an appreciation for small moments. Because I’m seeing from the right vantage point. And because I’m staying thankful. 

A couple days ago at Fuller’s orientation, President Mark Labberton said “smallness is the antipode to worship.” (If you’re like me and had to look up the word antipode, let me save you some time - it’s basically a fancy way to say opposite). When we worship (and stay thankful) in each moment, no matter how small, life gets bigger. And that’s the point at which I want to keep seeing.

The Truth About Job Searching

I could offer you the end of the story of my job search in LA all packaged and pretty, but you and I both know that's not the whole story. And I'm committed to real, authentic storytelling, even when it exposes my own imperfections. This week I started a new job at a creative agency close to the beach - dreamy, right? My previous copywriting contract ended just days before starting - it was honestly perfect. 

But to be honest, the job application (and waiting) process is really hard. No amount of coffee shop Instagram story shots can make the job search glamorous, contrary to what you may believe. To put it bluntly, it sucks. 

After I graduated college it took me a solid six months to land a full time job. I networked, adjusted my resume over and over again, wrote about a million cover letters, went to job fairs, subscribed to job boards, and in the meantime, I worked at a little ice-cream shop downtown to pay the bills. I was depressed, frustrated, unhealthy, and impatient. It was pretty brutal. 

This time around, I realized how much pride I had attached to my previous job. I was proud of the fact I had done my due diligence to find a job before moving. I was ahead of the game. And it felt good telling people where I'd be working and how I'd created the perfect plan, almost as if I was trying to prove something. Que red flag. 

Because of circumstances totally out of my control, my "perfect" plan collapsed and I had just moved to a city that costs two and a half times as much as my life in Waco did. I felt this urge to explain myself, as if I wanted to put on a good face and say it was all ok. But who was I trying to prove this to? 

Almost as soon as I asked this question, the answer came so clearly, myself. I sat there in a bit of disbelief, but knew the still small voice was right. 

No one was asking me to have a perfect plan or explanation for every decision I made. I was putting this expectation on myself, and it was time to let it go. I made a conscious decision to release myself, to shut off the thoughts grasping to find some sort of plausible explanation to my circumstances. And it worked. 

I suppose this was going to be the beginning of my LA story all along, but anxiety is real, and the job search process is no fun. I know this is where I'm supposed to be; somehow I think this city is teaching me to embrace my true self.

So feel free to follow my highlight reel on Instagram, but know that there's often so much more to the story. It's my hope to initiate honest, authentic conversations on this blog as I seek to tell stories that matter. Thanks for following along, friend!

For what it's worth, here's a few of my favorite coffee shop / cafe spots, which made the job search a little bit more exciting. 

The iced coconut white tea at this place is AMAZING. 

The iced coconut white tea at this place is AMAZING. 

Lincoln is a sweet little cafe just a couple blocks from my house - dangerous, right?!

Lincoln is a sweet little cafe just a couple blocks from my house - dangerous, right?!

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An Introduction to Build Bridges Not Walls

I grew up in a suburban community in Kansas and could count the number of friends I had from other races on one hand. It wasn’t exactly a diverse place to live, nor did I seek it out. There were only two or three black kids in my entire graduating class in high school; the most diversity we experienced was hosting a small group of international students each semester. To my embarrassment, I rarely engaged with them and was completely unaware of the unconscious biases growing larger and larger in the back of my mind, like a cancerous disease lying undetected and dormant.

It wasn’t until college that I truly experienced diversity. And it wasn’t until I was randomly placed at Kids Across America, a Christian sports camp for urban teens, that I came face to face with people that were different than me. I remember receiving my acceptance letter through Kanakuk Kamps and wondering why I was placed at this camp, bewildered and confused. Did they make a mistake? Or confuse me with someone else?

That summer of 2012, I walked into camp as one of a handful of white people and quickly became acutely aware that my skin color looked different than almost everybody else. It was incredibly uncomfortable, yet I was determined to overcome my awkward insecurity to engage with the group of teens in my cabin. Looking back, it was one of the best experiences I had in college. It forced me to get outside myself, step into a minority member’s shoes for a summer, and really see people.

A couple years after I graduated college I started looking for ways to get involved in my local church. A good friend of mine suggested leading a small group for international students and on a whim, I said yes. I did, after all, love going overseas to travel and for missions. But it was different than a short term mission trip - it was real life.

My heart broke listening to stories and reading articles about international students who had never been invited into an American home. It was as if they were unseen, nonexistent. Conviction fell on me like a ton of bricks as I realized I was one of those people who didn’t see. I walked past so many international students while I was in college without even batting an eye. I simply didn’t notice.

When conviction comes, we have two choices - to ignore or to respond. My hope with my new Build Bridges Not Walls series is to encourage you to choose the latter. I’m working on a e-guide to help you uncover hidden biases and prompt you to engage, instead of ignore, the people around you. Stay tuned for more excerpts, updates, and a free download or two!