dear little leonard

I haven’t known what to say the last 24 hours. I woke up yesterday morning to news that you had been found, but not in the way I last remembered you. A few of your teachers and I were speechless, wondering how something so horrifying could happen to someone so gentle and kind and bright as you.

Today is my birthday, but I had wished it wasn’t. I felt guilty. The days were just too close… while I felt obligated to celebrate my life, I grieved the loss of yours thinking about how scared you were, how hurt, how alone. Leonard, I’m so sorry. I’m furious and confused… why didn’t anyone help? why did they wait until it was too late? why you?

I don’t have any explanations. No understanding of the reasons. It makes me angry at the way life is. This beautiful, precious thing. Beaten, stolen, ignored, neglected. Found floating in the river.

You were only my student for a few days, but it didn’t take long for me and the other volunteers to agree that you were one of our favorites during Miss Ari’s camp. That soft voice of yours and that smile that spread so wide across your face, none of us could forget. None of us will and the world should know that that’s the kind of boy you were. The kind of boy you’ll always will be to those who knew you. You were loved.

I’ll be looking for your smile in the stars tonight, little Leonard.

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a love letter to introverts

QUICK DISCLAIMER: Guyana is a vastly diverse place so this is not an accurate depiction of what the entire country is like. This is just my specific experience.


It’s true what they say, you do learn a lot about yourself in Peace Corps. Not only do you have a lot of time to yourself, but you’ll be placed in circumstances and communities that are drastically different than environments you’re used to thriving in. And in them, I think you’ll find that it’s difficult to be yourself, sometimes forcing you to figure it out if you haven’t already.

I never used to identify as an introvert. But when I look back, it’s pretty clear that I’ve been one my whole life. Perhaps I’ve just been too ashamed to admit it. It’s easy to feel that way when my personality is often misunderstood. It hurts me when people call me a loner or mock me when they ask if I’d wanna live alone in the middle of an empty field, far away from any civilization. None of this is true.

For those who know me can probably agree that I’m not shy, but I’m pretty soft-spoken. I was never the student that raised her hand in class or the first to sign up for anything. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops (or really anywhere) by myself just because. I don’t always like being the center of attention and I often feel awkward in big groups. I’ll go to large extravaganzas, but you’ll have to give me the next week to recover from it. I’m often afraid of appearing “full of myself” and insecure about my talents. And I spend a ridiculous amount of time writing my thoughts out.

It’s been a lifetime struggle for me to be ok with these things and it didn’t get any easier when I moved to Guyana.

When I joined Peace Corps, I felt like in order to be successful I had to be a specific type of volunteer. An always enthusiastic, energetic, eager super human. And I’ll tell you now, it is impossible for both introverts and extroverts to be this type of volunteer; but your communities, counterparts, and colleagues won’t always understand that.

In the beginning of my service, I learned that the working environment at my hospital is either speak up or get stepped on. I often felt weak and incompetent because I don’t have a dominating personality like many of my colleagues. No one would actually say, “Mel, you look stupid right now because you’re not loud enough.” But I have had someone order me to speak. Yikes. I was advised to strengthen my iron hand and harshen my voice if I were to see anything get done. I agreed and although it was for my benefit, their advice made me feel like who I was won’t ever work here. It was defeating, annoying, and aggravating.

I have often felt like society has placed bravery, courage, and power so out of reach for introverts. I used to beat myself up believing I could never be any of those things. But here’s the truth:

I am introverted. I am quiet. I am soft spoken.
AND I am brave. I am courageous. I am worthy.
All in my own way.

I felt it was important to not use the word “but” as if they were some sort of exceptions. Many introverts have done brave, courageous things in this world and it’s been good for me to start looking up to them instead of awesome people I can’t relate to.

Emma Watson
JK Rowling
St. Teresa of Calcutta
Rosa Parks

They are all women who are/were their total introverted-selves and change/d the world.

I think it’s easy to feel inadequate for who we are when we’re submerged in a new culture. This challenge really hindered me from feeling comfortable and confident in my capabilities as a PCV.

But once I began to love the way I choose to do things, I found more power within myself and freer to accomplish what I want just the way I am. It’s been a long process learning where in my timid nature do I find the power to be brave, courageous, and worthy but I did. I found that my input never fuels anyone’s fire; that some people appreciate that I didn’t come storming into the kitchen thinking I knew everything; and that my ability to listen and observe longer has allowed me to better problem solve. And while I’m seeing that being an introvert has helped me in some ways, it’s also caused me to fail too.

So from one introvert to another, it’s important to remind yourself it’s ok to be a little more behind the scenes or a little wallflower in society. You can be in your room for days and it doesn’t make you a loner. You can be quiet, shy, soft spoken and still be a bad ass. In fact, you ARE a bad ass and you have all the power within yourself already to contribute to something big in this world. We just gotta realize it and set it free.

Love always,
Mel

dear guy 30

Let’s go back to when we started our application. The fear, the uncertainty, the bravery. The moments before hitting submit, are we good enough for this? We waited for a word, a call, a sign… wait, an interview?! Breathe.

Of course the video call doesn’t work. But here we go. These are my hopes and dreams… please, just like me! We waited again. And a little some more. The wonder, the doubt. But congratulations!!! You’ve been invited to serve… after you fill these documents, sign these papers, read these emails, go to these appointments, buy all these things, and get these shots. Got it?

After (for some of us) a year goes by, finally, we’re in Philadelphia. The cheesesteaks, the three little ghosts, the snow, the bus ride to New York, the sleepless flight.

Greeted by a hot, humid hug… mama, we made it to Guyana. But wait, our ferry isn’t leaving for another four hours?! Just. Keep. Smiling.

Finally, we reach Mainstay. Our first dip in the beautiful black water. Our first taste of rice and roti and pumpkin and curry. Our first feel for the next two years of our life. Yea, those five days were special. And on the last, we all felt it, didn’t we? This is where we are meant to be.

Now we’ve been here for two months. It wasn’t easy, but look how we’ve grown. So much has changed, even our pants size, and we’re still all here. There were times we didn’t know if we could, times we weren’t sure if we were ready, times we felt like we were done. But look! See! A million PACA presentations, memes, and coconut water bottles later… Today, we are no longer trainees.

So congratulations, GUY 30. We did it. We’re officially Peace Corps Volunteers.
I’m proud to call you not only my friends, but my family.

38, we came. And 38, I hope are here to stay.

Love always, Mel

a peek into the process.

Dear Potential Peace Corps Applicants (or anyone applying for anything),

Some days you’re going to feel really excited and confident about the journey ahead, but then other days you’re going to feel really stressed and anxious about the possibility of it all being wrong. 80% of the time, you’ll probably question if what you’re doing is the right thing, but don’t let time or difficult circumstances distract you from achieving your dreams. Stay committed to your cause.

Your reason for applying in the first place is not limited by any organization. So if it takes you on a different path, it’ll still get you to where you’re going. But if you’re left to endure the Peace Corps process, then I hope my insight will help you feel a little more normal and encourage you to hang on.

DURING THE WAIT: 
Once you’ve been invited to serve in the Peace Corps (pending legal/medical clearance), the wait isn’t over. It’s definitely a small victory of sorts, but honey, you’ve got a lot of expenses and appointments and emails and visits to CVS, Walmart, REI, and Target ahead of you. My advice? Take every doctor’s visit, every bill, every panic filled moment one at a time. Soon five months will become five days.

ORGANIZE SMORGANIZE: I’ve never been an organized person. I’m the kind of gal who fills the first week of her brand new planner with punctuality and productivity, but for the rest of the year, those sad little squares remain blank. However with the amount of paper work, medical appointments, and deadlines involved in joining the Peace Corps… I had to become one. If you like to make lists and your brain is tightly organized all the time, then you’re already ahead of the game. If you’re not, well, you’re about to learn.

PACK YOUR SANITY: I’ve packed and re-packed my luggage at least four times. It sounds pretty excessive (because it is), but I am the queen of under-packing. I’ve also had more internal wars with myself in the middle of stores than a normal person should in a year. Now I don’t encourage this kind of behavior, but if you do end up standing in front of the socks section for more than 30 minutes because you can’t decide which pairs are cheaper and better for 90 degree weather, just know you’re not crazy. It happens.

BREATHE, IT’S IMPORTANT: In the days leading up to my departure, I’ve started feeling very unprepared for my service. Some serious fears of failure were sinking in. I mean, what the heck have I been doing these last couple of months?! I’ll tell what I’ve been doing—I’ve been enjoying these last little moments I have with my friends, my family, and my favorite food before it all changes. In a brief moment of panic, a sweet friend of my reminded me that I’ve already been chosen for the Peace Corps. That includes what I don’t know and can’t do. With that said, just breathe. In and out. We’re gonna be fine.

I’m really excited for what you’re about to begin. I think that you’ll learn a lot about yourself and how impactful it is to share it with the world. It’ll be tough, but it’ll be worth it. At least that’s how I see it just days away from my own Peace Corps experience in Guyana.

Good luck!!!

Love always,
Melanie Zimmerman



PEACE CORPS TIMELINE

  • january 2016: I started my Peace Corps application
  • february: The Peace Corps was my little secret during this time.
  • end of march: I finished my application + personal statement.
  • april: I finally told people and panicked a little.
  • may 27th: I was selected to interview to be a Health Volunteer in Guyana.
  • june 8th: MY INTERVIEW!! It was supposed to be a Skype interview, so you can imagine my the horrifying panic I had when it wasn’t working. However, it went well and it was casual. Did I mention it was 90 minutes long? Yea…
  • june 29th: I was officially invited to serve with the Peace Corps (pending medical/legal clearance). If you cry and scream and don’t know what to do with yourself, it’s ok. I did.
  • july & august: medical appointments, vaccinations, writing out to-do lists, online forums/education, and more tedious little things before the peace corps.
  • september: turned in all of my medical documents, visa requirements, and legal kit. But then, the worst part of the waiting began…
  • october: waiting impatiently and anxiously. ANY DAY NOW, PEOPLE!
  • november: ugh, still waiting and still freaking out about my future
  • december: finally received my medical clearance!!! I was a normal person again.
  • january 2017: spend time with friends, family, and my favorite foods while getting ready to depart for staging at the end of the month.

A Love Letter to The Almost But Not Quite Yet

Hey, let me first say… Thanks for reading this.

Not knowing things tend to frustrate me. I don’t really like silence in the middle of conversations and I’m always curious about what someone else is thinking. Sometimes so much that I can be insistent on pulling it out of them. I’m not really sure if it’s just the feeling of being left out. I’m sure you know the feeling.

I’ve got a big interview today. Yep, in just a couple of hours. And as I put on a friend’s blazer and practice talking in the mirror, I have to remember that I’ve already been prepared for what’s to come. And although I can’t tell you with absolute certainty of what’s going to happen, I woke up this morning with peace to not know.

I can’t be sure of any outcomes, but I can tell you that our life has meaning and purpose and was designed for something we can’t really imagine. There’s trials and trying steps that lead us there, but oh man, when we get there–when we’re in the light and we see just who we really are in Christ–we’re gonna see why it was all worth it. We’re going to see how it’s all used for something so much greater than ourselves. Something above and heavenly. The result won’t be glamorous or flashy, it probably wont’ be fame or fortune, but it will be glorious… and you will be overwhelmed with so much awe, wonder, and amazement you can hardly believe it’s what God has called you to be a vessel for it.

But maybe you feel super ready to be sent, to be used for all of that, but you’re not there yet. Perhaps, I’m still in that place–the open in-between of almost and not quite yet. It feels like we work so hard, and then for some reason, we’re a little bit out of reach. The disappoints, the delays, the rejections, the so-close-yet-so-far. I know the feeling all too well. I grew up feeling that way in sports, in music, in academics, in friendships, in family. I was good, but not good enough. And the awards, recognition, and other labels this crummy earth gives out didn’t help with that.

Ugh but mediocracy is so far from the truth–no matter what circumstances have convinced us otherwise. For me and for you. We’ve already been established and our stories have already been written for God’s glory. Sometimes, the story line takes some pretty unexpected turns because of sin and evil. But sometimes it takes unexpected turns because of God wants it to… for good and for glory. As relentless as the enemy can be, Christ is more. And He always wins. He doesn’t seek to destroy us. He seeks to be with us. He never stops pursuing our hearts to renew us daily, to guide us, to shepherd us back to our Heavenly Father with mercy, grace, and love–to find ourselves in Him–to be shaped and molded for His glory.

I firmly believe that all of this is done not only to lead us to be just within reach of it, but to be filled by it–to carry it wherever we go.

And man, His glory is beautiful.
It’s kind of a big deal.

There’s nothing mediocre about that. The same God that made mountains that take your breathe away and that has placed such intricate detail in the wild flower in your backyard, has called you to carry His glory with your life.

This is where I feel my purpose is secure. Where my purpose is found. And how that looks, I think I mostly recognize it in how God gives me joy. And with that joy, I see His glory. I see a little bit of it living in me and I see it reaching out to people, loving on them and seeking them, wanting to live in them too.

But if you’ve been praying about this, wondering when it’ll be revealed to you, and sitting on a “not yet” I want to tell you there’s nothing wrong with waiting on the Lord. There’s nothing wrong with silence and there’s nothing wrong with not knowing. His timing and his way. We can trust that.

You’ll see it in yourself one day and how it’s going to be used.
We both will.

 

 

Love always,
Melanie Zimmerman

 

 

A Love Letter to Those Who Don’t Know What They’re Doing w/ Their Lives

I love joking with friends and family about starting our own restaurant together. We start dreaming about who will do what and it genuinely gets me so excited.  I know we’re mostly kidding, but sometimes I actually find myself believing in the possibility.

I know nothing about business or how to actually manage a restaurant, but I looooove the idea of people gathering together for a great time.  I want to bring in all sorts of people–college students, cranky and sweet grandparents, tired workers, restless kids, and hip people–in a place for laughter and conversations. I also love the look on someone’s face when they’ve tasted something amazing (especially when I know it’s my cooking).

I mean how awesome would that be to have a cute little breakfast & bar kind of place?! I’d serve (hopefully) the best coffee in town, decadent pastries, all sorts of mimosas, and the coolest breakfast bowls that’ll start anyone’s morning just right.

The dream goes on and then I realize, “Well crap, that probably won’t happen.” I start thinking about where my life is actually heading, how little money I have saved up, and the reality of uncertainty that stands before me as I get closer to graduation.

I freak out.

We’re at another giant window of possibilities. No clear path. Just a bunch of wild dreams and desires that we’ve had our whole lives… and the enemy is becoming more and more eager to place doubt and despair within them.

We follow the steps and the advice we were given to take by our academic advisors, our parents, and other spheres of influences just to gain status/security to come find out we’re either unhappy, unsatisfied, and unsure… still.

I mean, what is it that we actually want to hear?

Something Jesus has taught me this year is that the core of my dreams and desires are valuable. That the joy cooking, gathering around the table, and bringing people together gives me is worth something to Him. But it has been a challenge understanding that God’s will for my desires doesn’t always match up with what it would actually look like.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pursued something and my path to get there changed completely. Detour here, detour there. Or better yet, when I finally get to where I’m going and I realize it’s not really what I was meant for.

But even in that, there is purpose.

I have learned that the journey and the destinations are all part of how God has led me to his ultimate purpose–to experience His glory, love, and joy. To know and love Him through Christ. That every peak and valley, every change of course, and every path we take… Changed me, prompted me to repentance, and led me to a point where dwelling in the presence of my God gave me the most certainty in my life. A lot of my selfish ambition and prideful ideas of success were stripped away in the process and I found myself right here with you.

But we’re not stuck.

I still struggle with practicality and how all of this comes together, but I know that I am stepping further into my identity in Christ. There’s movement in that… even if you don’t see it right away…it’s leading you closer to knowing what God has planned for you all along.

Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the Lord’s purpose always prevails.
proverbs 19:21

 

Love always,
Melanie Zimmerman



—FEATURED RECIPE—

TUNA SALAD + GOUDA CHEESE MELT

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Ingredients:

  • 3 cans of tuna (in water)
  • 1 cup of celery (minced)
  • about 3/4 cup of plain non-fat greek yogurt
  • 3 boiled eggs (diced)
  • Pepper
  • Butter
  • Gouda cheese
  • Your favorite bread (I like sourdough, but I used oatnut bread)

Directions:

  1. Boil eggs for 15 minutes. Let cool and then dice them.
  2. While eggs are boiling, mince the celery stalks.
  3. Add eggs, celery, greek yogurt, and pepper to the tuna in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
  4. Toast your bread with butter. SIDE NOTE: If you have a panini press, your life is golden and all of this will be so easy to do. I personally don’t have one, but I think everyone should because they’re amazing. Anyway, if you don’t that’s ok! You can use a pan too. Just set temperature at medium-high, add butter to the pan, and lay the slices of bread down.
  5. Once both sides are slightly toasted, add slices of gouda cheese onto one piece of toast (or both) and the tuna salad onto the other. Place the slice of bread with the cheese on top so that it melts down into the tuna.To help with melting the cheese properly, I press down on the sandwich.
  6. One night I added sautéed kale to my sandwich and it was SUPER good. So maybe you might wanna try that one day too.

The great thing about making tuna salad (besides the fact that it’s freaking delicious) is that it’ll last ya a few days. Enjoy!

A Love Letter To Incoming Freshmen

Dear Incoming Freshmen,

There’s something about the time we spend in college that doesn’t make sense. We live by extremes and feel useless if we’re not on either ends of it—like our lives lack meaning. I don’t know. On my drive back to Fayetteville today, I thought about how different it felt driving to my senior year of college versus my freshman year. As I passed the “Welcome to Arkansas” sign, I replayed when my mom and I pulled over to take a picture with it signifying the official start of the life I guess I’ve been living the last 4 years. And what life that’s been.

I was awkward sometimes, other times pretty social, but I did eat by myself more than I did with someone else. I met a lot of new friends and became close with very few. I was even in love at one point. I experienced heartbreak and broke a couple hearts along the way too. I’ve had enough mental breakdowns and coffee to last a lifetime. I went to parties, I got drunk, and I watched other people get drunk… but we all learned our lesson eventually (at least most of us). I failed a couple classes, I excelled in most, and I’ve been poor 99.99% of my time here. But! I worked my way up from a server to a Diet Tech in the town hospital and now I’m poor 99.97% of the time. And most importantly, I thought I lost God and I thought I lost myself, but realized His hands never let go of me. All things I’m pretty sure you can expect a college student to experience and all things I was told that I would. But one thing I wish someone told me before I left my hometown and entered this part of my life was that there’s no perfect way to experience college. It would’ve saved me all those times I thought I wasn’t good enough to experience college “the right way.”

Now, I won’t tell ya any advice on how to live it bc I definitely didn’t live it perfectly, but here’s a few things to keep in mind.


Do you know how blessed and privileged you are to be in college?

It’s easy to believe that going to college is expected of us at our age—but it’s not. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college and it’s something I’m really proud of, but I know this opportunity wasn’t given to everyone. So when you think the world is ending (like I did plenty of times) remember to be grateful for an experience like this to expand more than just your knowledge, but who you are.

You are not alone.

No one ever wants to, but at some point, everyone eats alone. Don’t feel bad about it. You’re not a loser and you’re not a loner either. I ate by myself almost everyday and somedays were harder to get through than others. But if you’re eating alone, so is someone else. Go sit with them. It won’t be weird. The very first friend that I made in college was a girl named Ericka; we met at a meeting held in our dorm. It was nothing less than awkward, but I believe that God knew we both thought we were pretty much the biggest losers in the room and knew we could use each other in our lives. And goodness was He right because I’ll be standing next to her as a bridesmaid on her wedding day after graduation ❤

It doesn’t matter where you go.

Ok, that’s not entirely true… but where you go to college is only part of the big picture. I will say that for any person to fall in love with a place, they’ve got to fall in love with the people first. But there’s a reason why you’re going to college and why you’re at the campus you’re at. Seek it out, discover your purpose, and live it out. God could do incredible things in your, through you, for you, and for the people in this place.

College is more than getting your diploma.

I’m not encouraging you to slack in your classes by any means… but remember there’s more to life than school. Your worth is not determined by your grades (even though it feels like it sometimes). When you graduate, your diploma will hold a lot more than the hair you pulled out before every exam and the amount of sleep you lost to get good grades… it’ll hold everything you invested in; everything it took to discover yourself; all your success and failures; all the friendships you made; and all the hard work you put in the last four years to be where you are.


I haven’t always loved it here and it hasn’t always been easy, but God has made Fayetteville a perfect place for me to grow, to be challenged, to be inspired, to be loved, and above all… to discover His beauty. It seems like of all places, God couldn’t exist in a crazy place like college… but He truly works in mysterious ways. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached and invited to have a spiritual conversation in a place you’d never think Jesus could be relevant… He was and He definitely is.

I’m far from the girl I was four years ago and still have the rest of my life to go, but I couldn’t be more thankful to have gone to college in this sweet little town of all the places in the world. The more I embraced the changes in my life that were happening, the more I started to feel like I was living. Belonging somewhere is a strange concept to me, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve been right where I should be and SO ready for my senior year as a Razorback!

Life is going to happen and the only thing you can hope for is that when you look back you’ll see how God has blessed you from beginning to end. Good luck, freshmen! You’ll need it 😉

Love always,
Melanie Zimmerman