Discovering Difference with Jessie Lian

“As a child, I was always wanted to be different. But I was too afraid, because I cared a lot about what other people thought. I remember super vividly when people would make fun of me for being Asian or for not wearing some kind of Abercrombie clothes.”

Jessie Lian is like salmon.
Swimming upstream, fighting currents, and pushing up against everything for a purpose, even she ends up a little bruised and bloodied. She steps back, heals, then swims again. Resilient, fierce, multi-faceted.

In middle school, Jessie joined the step team, “because I was like no Asian is going to join the step team so I’m going to do so little things like that. It had a lot to do with my wanting to push against Asian stereotypes, so it was I’m going to be a writer or someone who is good at the arts instead of math.”

In college, Jessie pursued a degree in Management Information Systems, because everyone thought she would major in journalism. “And it was such a weird thing, because I think I was always functioning under, I want to do what people don’t expect, instead of what is actually true to me as a person, but at the same, I always talk about, oh in college, I wasn’t authentic to myself. But I was, based off of what I knew about myself.”

But Jessie was on to something. Inspired by Chik-Fil-A’s Truett Cathy, she saw him in the business world focusing on purpose versus profit. MIS became an avenue for social good and belief in potential growth.

It’s pushing back against expectations that took Jessie her from there to a business consulting group then graduating from General Assembly in UX Design.

What catalyzed the switch?
Quitting a job and making a bunch of mistakes while traveling the world on her own: 

“An example of that is… I went to Yosemite, and I backpacked by myself for a week. I didn’t know anything about backpacking and didn’t know how to make a fire and was really under prepared. I brought a 55 degree sleeping bag, and it was snowing. Also, I brought a little camp stove, but the entire park was out of fuel. So the only way to make food or be warm was to make a fire, but again I don’t know how to make a fire. And my tent was a summer tent.

It was just a series of so many mistakes, but it was one of those things that I learned to just make fun of myself and not take myself so seriously. 

At first, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, all of my pride is being shot right now. I didn’t even realize this, but I came on this trip because I wanted to show people again that I’m this great adventure woman, that I can do these things by myself, and I’m independent.’

But to have failed so miserably and then to still realize, ‘Oh I am still okay as a human being.’ In fact, I felt very joyfully liberated from having to do A, B, and C, especially when in the wild and there’s really no expectations except for just being with the trees and the mountains and survival.”

Jessie returned, and quit her job. After surviving the wild and her travels abroad, no fear seemed to hold up anymore. She finally pursued an inkling for design, “being confident in my creative ability and not always comparing my creative self to other creative people. Really, really trusting in the growth as almost the end goal and not the end goal as the end goal. 

I’m always saying I’m not there yet, I’m not there yet, therefore I’m not this or I’m not worth that. But to realize you’re probably never going to get there, that’s a beautiful thing.

I’ve always longed and ached for things, and I still do now. But I think it’s a beautiful thing to say okay, ‘Let’s take a step back and realize that what you’re going through with this growth, and this progress is you satisfying a bit of that ache.'”

How do you think this focus on being different helped you and hurt you?

“Hurt me in the sense that I was functioning off external factors, so I never really knew who I was, because I was always so concerned with who I was compared to other people.

But it was healthy in the sense of realizing that about myself recently, and kind of exploring what does it mean to be different, without necessarily letting it be dependent on what others are already doing. Just different in terms of Jessie-different, just as how anyone is different already by default, because they’re a human being. Living in that mindset, or else, it’s exhausting.”

What made you choose UX design from all of the options out there?

“Well it wasn’t until my first day of class that I realized how perfect UX design was. I just knew that it seemed like a good first step in getting into the creative space. But on the first day of class, I realized that it’s this blend between business and human behavior/psychology and research and data analysis and visual aesthetics and creating something that someone wants or needs. Doing something with purpose, which is something I’ve always inherently craved is doing meaningful work. By nature, UX is that but also a blend of all these interests and passions that I’ve always had, I just never knew that a field existed out there that could combine everything, so it’s awesome.”

You have just so many passions, but tell me about one of your recent passion: yoga. You’re now a yoga teacher!

“Yes! The reason I love yoga is because it forces you to be still and check in with your body and your soul and mind and make sure everything is still okay in there. My default is to function out of external factors, so it is so important for me to go into myself and practice a sense of balance as well, instead of being so extreme all the time in my emotions and passions.

To have a grounding place on my mat has been keeping me stable and sane in so many ways. Yoga gives you a sense of stillness. It aligns your spiritual, mental and body selves, so you feel a sense of wholeness by yourself. And for me, it’s been super spiritual, the Lord has been meeting me on my mat. It gives space for the Holy Spirit to begin talking to you, and your body is in a space that is more willing to listen and to hear.

Because you’re able to give yourself that space, you’re able to give people a fuller version of love, because I feel whole all by myself already, I don’t need anyone to fill that in me anymore.

It’s so healthy, and I want to share that by teaching yoga as well.”

Do you feel like because you’ve been battling seeking acceptance from external factors for your whole life, the battle has become one of your passions, and maybe your purpose as well?

“Ah, I actually have never made that linkage, so that is really awesome that I get to reflect on that now.”

It’s pretty clear!

“Yeah, that’s awesome, because I think that these past few months have been filled with so much self-discovery. And I think it’s time to turn that around, and be more outward again. Being internal is only half the journey, I feel.

I feel like I’m in that process of turning, and that is a really good little trigger. Because I do think, even in the church, as a mentor in high school and college, that was always one of the I wanted to tell the girls, your identity is in Christ. For me, that was such a big thing while not knowing who I was. As I’ve been stepping more into what that actually means, I think I’m finding my passions in helping other people find that too. Thank you for that discovery.”

Yeah, of course. Along the same vein, how important do you think it is for someone to understand who they are? Because in this time where everything is so fast and asking us to define ourselves in 140 characters, we’re not really given space to ask, who are you really.

“Yeah, absolutely. It’s so funny, because I remember, in eighth grade on Facebook, spending so much time crafting that bio. And I would always go back and read it to almost validate myself.

I realized in college that I’m not going to do social media in the ways I’ve done it before, because it’s been so toxic of me, always trying to put out things always for the sake of being received.

I think it takes a lot of intentionality to understand, because everything is asking us what are you, what are you doing, blah blah. You feel pressured to come up with something quickly without taking the time to be still and reflect and have the courage to be by yourself for an extended period of time, and I think the fact that we don’t spend time by ourselves or even always posting on social media, ‘Oh I’m by myself right now,’ things like that. It just doesn’t make it easier.”

I feel like it takes courage also to say that we don’t know either.

“It’s so true. Ah, I think the older we grow, the more we realize that we don’t actually know who we are and the more okay you are with that space. It’s a goal for me to become that kind of safe space for people.

What do you dream for yourself?

“I know that before, my answer would have been very tangible things, but recently, I’ve been learning to let go of those very specific things. I mean they’re still there, but also being able to let go of what a specific dream looks like and just have a vision for what I want to feel, like I want to present all the time. I want to have a daily practice of meditation and yoga everyday, I want to value things that are truly important and be a citizen of my city. Very intangible but also things that I can walk toward and know that I’m walking toward them right now and be okay with that.”

What do you dream for the world?

“Oh man, that hurts to think about.

That question requires a lot of hope, that things can change in the world, and that I could have a part in it.

I know that I had that hope before, and maybe it was a very egotistical pride of I want to be able to say that I’m doing this for the world, but I think that recently it’s been hard to feel hope on such a grand level because of how hopeless I feel with the times.

In the space that I’ve been, I haven’t been reading the news, because I’m afraid if I look too long in the face of that I’m going to met with an abyss of empty darkness. I’m just too afraid to go down that path and then also, I’m afraid that it will be a trigger for depression if I’m not actively fighting it with the hope that I truly believe in.

I am currently trying to start small and thinking about the positive impact that I could have in the city of Atlanta and how to be a part of that and slowly making my way to thinking about the world again, because if I do that now, I will easily go back into depression. But also filling my heart with true tangible hopes and actually believing in them so that they’re strong.”

Yes, serving yourself well, so that you have space to serve others.

“That’s definitely the space that I’m in. My hope has always been to live in a foreign country, I’ve always had a passion for that to travel and know different cultures and maybe that is just in Atlanta and Buford Highway and things like that but maybe it also is going to China.”

So what are you struggling with right now?

“I guess, staying present. And not getting too ahead of myself to the point that I dismiss what’s happening right now and today.

I mentioned this, but with my new job, it’s really scary because after choosing to make so many changes in the world of my career, it’s like, okay I should’ve arrived at a certain place at this point. But I feel like I’m always evaluating, is this where I need to be to get to the next place and then get to the next place? Then I feel like if it’s not the right place, I get super anxious and reevaluate and then it turns into a weird going overboard, doing all these random things that aren’t helping anyone or become super melancholy, depressed and apathetic, or I just indulge in drinking and eating lots of things. I have such a hard time with balance. Just being present and being happy in that.

Being so inward, it’s important to have something to give again but also, it can feel so hopeless. It’s all the more important to see how light is breaking through everyday,

how God is breaking through and how he is working things to a greater purpose and fixing things. It can be so hard to see that especially if I’m not trying.

dear jessie,

whatever you do, don’t forget to hope.

whenever you get that achy feeling that makes you feel like an empty void, hope. whenever you feel like screaming into your pillow angry obscenities, hope. whenever you want to roll up in a useless ball in the corner of your room, hope.

whenever you feel discontent, hope. whenever you feel apathetic, hope. whenever you feel ashamed, hope. whenever you feel suffocatingly alone, hope.

hope in the strength of others to help you through, hope in the love of God to carry you past. hope in the simplicity of the present to bring you joy, hope in the expanses of this earth to teach you what’s wildly free. hope in what is lasting and infinite, hope in what is good and pure.

squeeze every ounce of hope out of your tiny little body, then plant it and watch it steadily grow into strong and organic joy. crush those fearsome weeds before they even take root, and let the fruition feed your hopes, and your hopes the fruition.

not everything needs to be so serious, jess, not everything needs such eloquent answers.

but hope.

with a love that I think is growing,


photos by Gina Yu ©2017

Jessie, you are luminous. Undeniable, catalyzing, dazzling, warm. Thank you for the ways you search yourself and then search the world— for meaning and for goodness. 

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Reframing Our Past, Travel and Community with Kate Douds

“I think I’d be a fried Oreo.”

If Kate Douds was anything, she would be a fried Oreo. Even though she’s never tried one. “Sometimes we just have to roll the dice. Do we really know ourselves anyway?” It’s that, the easy wit, graceful humor, and absolute openness to anything fried that makes Kate a poem alive. That’s surface of it anyway.

(Kate also describes herself as a detective of internal self exploration, an analyst of experiences, perspectives, personally conclusive logic.)


“My dad was a pilot. My mom actually met him in flight school, and so I had the opportunity to travel as a kid. And it’s something that’s always been there. Going back and looking at old journals with the stupid little lists of ‘Ten Things I Want to Do Before I Die’ in the ninth grade with all of your friends, travel the world was always number.

What’s interesting right now, is that I’m still not sure what I want. I’m still enjoying the evolution of my interests, realizing that I don’t have to just pick one. I don’t necessarily have to find fulfillment or identification with my career alone.

So just because I work as a flight attendant, it doesn’t mean that that’s my identity. It’s interesting that the job that I got while trying to figure out what I wanted creatively is now at the center of my creative goals, an online travel publication.


What goals do you have for this travel publication?

I think initially, my main goal is to get it done. Just as a personal accomplishment. My dad was asking me pretty much the same question: what are your goals for this, are you going to try to make money, are you going to try to find advertisers, do you want this to segue into another position with another company? And it was nice to be completely honest and saying if I do this, and I’m proud of our content and design, and mom’s the only person that reads it, I’m totally okay with that. I will have reached my goal. That would make me so happy, just getting it done. (Ultimately it would be nice if more than my mom read it.)

One of the things I’ve figured out traveling, I kind of cling to different blogs and travel publications and a lot of online resources trying to figure out where I can go and enjoy myself. And it’s kind of hard. It’s a saturated market, but there aren’t a lot of like-minded people out there that are writing about how to spend your days in a different city on vacation, especially if you go to the same places a lot and you’ve done a lot of the major tourist attractions. So it’s a hole that I’m going to be filling for myself.


If nothing else, it’s a reference guide for me and my friends that also like to travel, people that are seeking engaging artful experiences that want to see something unique to the area and maybe can have a conversation with someone who they can learn something from or just have a really good time and get some quality experiences, whether that’s a good cup of coffee or a really excellent bookshop, a new art gallery maybe, or just a cool local store where they can find vintage clothing, or just interesting things that are notable and unique to the area. That’s kind of what I’m seeking for myself and hopefully to share with other people if that’s what they’re looking for too.

So you travel a lot, how do you handle the going and the coming back? How do you stay sane, and what centers you when you return?

It’s kind of a challenge. I do feel very privileged to be able to travel as much as I do, and I am very grateful. But I think it’s challenging for anyone to have that lifestyle where you’re gone so much of the time, and you have to come back and find your roots again.

It’s hard to manage a sense of community and belonging at home when you’re constantly away, and then feeling like an omnipresent visitor almost in cities you don’t belong in.

I think that’s why I’m drawn to the same types of places in every city I go to, because I’m constantly looking for that independent coffee shop where I go in and feel like I’m a part of the neighborhood, even if I’ve never met anyone that I see, or a bookstore where I can always make friends, art galleries where I can learn something new. I’m actively going out and trying to learn about the places I’m visiting or find a sense of community and home in new spaces by myself. If I can walk into a space and feel at home, that’s really wonderful.


Going to the same sorts of places really does help— coffee shop, art gallery, bookstore. I think communicating and meeting like-minded people, that’s pretty special. It’s not always there, but when it is, it’s nice.

You have this desire to make the foreign and unknown relatable and accessible. You do this in travel and even in your writing. Not everyone has that, where do you think it comes from?

They don’t? laughs. I guess I haven’t really thought about it, because it’s such a natural instinct. I moved a lot as a kid. My dad was in the Navy, and then he worked for a couple major airlines, so I moved seven or eight times before the second grade. So even if I stayed in the same place for a few years, I never really had an overwhelming place of belonging in a hometown or neighborhood. I didn’t have that neighbor that’s seen me in diapers to graduation cap. We were just moving around so much, so maybe that’s a contributing factor.

But also, I think that desire for connection also comes from a desire for understanding.

So if I’m in a new city, my natural instinct is to compare it to another city that I maybe do know a little better. I also studied English, so compare and contrast is very natural go-to move for me as for as analysis is concerned. laughs.

Do you feel like you’ve found community and belonging?

I think it’s a nice thing to sit back and notice that you do have community. It just doesn’t look like you thought it would.

For me, I always thought, well man, everyone has these huge groups of friends, they’ve been friends forever and know everything about each other, they always ask each other what everyone is doing this weekend.

I just realized my friendships are more segmented, with very different personalities, and they’re all in literally different places in the worlds. I think gaining perspective and realizing that my community is very personalized, my little Kate Community, just because it doesn’t look like everyone else’s, doesn’t mean it’s not.

You know so well that everyone is in different places, and one of the best displays of human grace and generosity is just accepting people for where they are. How do you feel about that in the current state of the world?

I always think it’s so strange that people our age, our adolescence and our adult lives with these funny online presences where we’re asked to describe ourselves.

“About Me” is 500 words or less, describe who you are as a person and everything that represents you, which is hilarious to think about because it’s impossible to do that at the age of 13 or 83, because we are constantly evolving.

I think that’s the key to all of it, just recognizing that I may know what my interests are and my fundamental beliefs are and things like that but recognizing that I am a constantly evolving creature and recognize that beauty and that everyone else is also evolving and having new experiences, developing their thoughts and opinions and so I think that kind of feeds into a really nice, underlying current of acceptance.

As soon as you accept yourself, it makes it a lot easier to accept other people, with all their flaws and insecurities and misgivings.

_mg_7770What was the journey of accepting yourself like?

I think it’s still happening. Good days and bad days certainly. A lot of it has to do with spending time with yourself. I’ve battled a lot with comparison, comparing myself to other people, comparing myself to other people’s work, comparing myself to my past and what I think my future self should be, which does not garner growth. Comparison is never a good idea. Sometimes we are told that it can be, competition, things like that, but for me personally, my emotional wellbeing has always suffered when I look at other people’s “successes.” Like man, they’re getting paid six figures already, I’m just trying to figure out what I’m having for lunch. What do you mean you got published in the Times? Geez.  

But I think allowing the opportunity to forgive yourself for past decisions and reframing mistakes you’ve made and thinking about them in a more positive light is key.

It’s interesting reflecting back on parts of your life that you considered to be really large successes and realizing that, hey maybe I was doing that for the wrong reason, maybe that wasn’t actually a success, and then vice versa, looking at periods that might have been a dark spot on my resume but maybe really healthy for my internal life.

I think there’s something really special about authenticity in friendships and relationships, being honest with the people in your life about when you’re doing well and when you’re not. Because at the end of the day, as independent of a person as you consider yourself, there’s a lot of days where I pretty much hang out with Kate, but I think it’s really great to talk to people because nine times out of ten, if you’re having a problem, somebody else is also having it or has had it in the past.

I think it’s just so wonderful to be able to share experiences, especially those close to you that you can have a safe open dialogue with. Just because we’re all in it.


What are have you been struggling with lately?

My big thing is always getting started. Usually if I can sit down and just do something, I feel really good. Writing comes a little more naturally for me, but things like web development, photography, and specific skill sets like that, it’s really intimidating walking up to things like that. Because I’m constantly thinking to myself: A) how am I going to afford this? B) how am I going to create things that are comparable to things that others are doing. Again, comparison, not healthy. It’s just getting started and enduring through days that I don’t feel like doing it, just doing it anyway.

Recently, I started collaborating with people and that has been super helpful. If I don’t feel like I’m doing it all by myself, that’s really helpful with specific things and a general sense of being overwhelmed, having people who also feel overwhelmed next to you is nice.

And eating well. laughs. I tend to eat way too many cookies, so a well-balanced diet, let’s add that.

I know that you are a person that feels deeply about everything, some more than others. How is it to carry that?

Right, empathy is a weird thing. Sometimes you kind of shoulder other people’s anxieties and hurt, even when you aren’t asked to, and feeling deeply, you sit there and meditate on one thing for days. I think to certain extent, it’s healthy to just kind of accept that. Spend time with yourself, and allow yourself time to feel.

If you’re sad, it’s okay to be sad. If you’re stressed or self-conscious or angry, I think it’s really healthy to just feel those emotions and experience it and let them out. It’s really cathartic sometimes.

I think the danger is when you start to dwell on any one in particular, which I’ve done in the past, and I also think talking to other people about what you’re feeling is important. If I have something that’s really challenging my heart or my identity or my decisions, I tend to fold inside myself a little bit, and it just sits and festers inside me.

A really wonderful thing is being able to recognize that and talking to people about it, like I had a really great conversation with my mom recently. It was just such beautiful thing, being able to be open and honest with somebody who really cares for your wellbeing and can empathize with your experience and kind of share stories and advice and things like that. Saying like, you know mom, I think looking back I might’ve been depressed my Sophomore year of college, and she was like, “That makes a lot of sense, I had a hard time that year of my life too. I’m really proud of you for getting over it.” And like, well mom, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, and I’m feeling an overwhelming sense of burden.

Just saying those things out loud, they instantly feel less consuming, because you realize, in the grand scheme of things, everyone else has had feelings that are similar.

But feeling deeply, it’s such a privilege. It helps you, but it can also help others. It affects other people’s perception of you, and again, if you’re open about your honest feelings, you might give someone else the courage to talk about them too.


A letter, from Kate to Kate:

Hey You,

Someone special once told you that your job title doesn’t matter, but expressing authenticity and love does. Right now, you are manifesting that. Collaboration is a gift you’ve been given, so run with it.

Just because something has been done before does not mean it can’t be done again, differently. Listen when the world is telling you to do. Write. Communicate. Capture. Share. It feels easier this time for a reason, so cling to that feeling — be conscious of your motives.

For the love of god, just sit down and read the books on your shelf. You spent good money on them for a reason. (And I know you never finished Moby-Dick.)

Spirituality comes in a lot of forms.

Encourage others.

Eat dessert.

Don’t forget to buy dishwashing detergent tonight.

Love, always,


photos by Gina Yu ©2016

Thankful for your brave and bold candor, Kate. Your hunger for understanding and butter cookies is infectious. Your perspectives, redeeming and inspiring. Thank you for the safe spaces you create and the beauty you uncover in the world. 

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A Mess, Brunch and Being Solange in a Beyonce World with Tomi Falegan

Oluwatominsin loosely means “God has given me a reason to praise him.” Oyinlola means “honey is wealth.”


Tomi Falegan’s full name is Oluwatominsin Oyinlola Falegan. And if you get the chance to talk to her, she exudes such depth, celebration and sweet generosity that it’s almost magical how her name was spoken so prophetically over her path.

Tomi currently works with City Hope Community, an organization that works with refugee families. “It’s not what I thought I would be doing,” she says. “But I love the kids so much. At this stage of my life, I don’t really know what I’m doing. A lot of things I had been sure about for a long time, I’m not sure about now, that includes things like people groups I’ve been committed to.” 


How has that been, being unsure?

“I think the worst of it was at the end of summer (2016), I had just gone through two months of mission trips and volunteer things that I did and coming back, we had a bunch of events with family and City Hope. And I just felt directionless at that point. I didn’t know how to move forward, what I should be looking for, things like that. I had also just resigned at my job, so everything felt up in the air. That was weird.

I think I’m sort of a mess anyway as a person, so a lot of things are just go with the flow but this felt like something different. It’s not that anything’s changed a lot, if anything, going through that made me look at things that I had never considered before… like a brunch place, that was something that was at the far back of my mind. I just want to grow. I want to learn.”


Do you feel like the ways you’re navigating this time have been more intentional or coming out of nowhere?

“I think it’s both. With the whole brunch popup thing I’m going to do, looking into how to build that. Keeping myself busy, not really trying to figure out the answer is another thing.

I just take each day as it is or each hour if that’s what it takes that day.” 


So tell me about the brunch thing.

“I’m really excited about it. I’m really scared too. It all grew out of just trying to make different things. I really like the food that I make, so maybe other people will like the food that I make. It’s food that I haven’t really seen anywhere before, so I want to try it out.

I also just want to create a certain type of space for people where people feel like they can live life, take things slow, whether that’s talking with a friend or getting work done or just sleeping or whatever.


I have this three stage plan with the first stage being just figuring out the recipes, if people actually like them, holding fundraising brunches to test them out and doing market research… finding out what market research even is. It’s been an interesting process, but I really like it though because even though this is something I want to pursue right now, I don’t see it being the end of what I’m doing.”


What do you dream for this spot?

“It would be called Lulu.

When I think of a person named Lulu, it’s someone you’ve heard of, you’ve never really interacted with her, and she seems kind of weird, but your friends are like no she’s cool, so you guys hang out and at first you’re apprehensive about hanging out with her but then you get to know her and she’s just as weird as you would imagine but it’s not off-putting.


It makes you feel really comfortable, like you can be yourself. That’s what I want this space to be like. A type of place that they’ve never tried before, or it’s completely new to them, or they didn’t think they would be comfortable with it.”

What do you dream for yourself?

I want to be amazing.


I want to be really good at something. Do it really well, with excellence. And for that to be used for something bigger than me. ” 

What do you dream for the world? 

“I think about the Acts church and how people were giving of what they had for anyone who had need and it wasn’t forced on anyone, it was just, I see that you need this and I want to give this to you. Everyone was taken care of.

I feel like that’s missing a lot, because people, we, I, feel like I have to look out for myself , because no one else will look out for me but I guess, just selflessness to the point where everyone is still cared for.

It’s not just one person giving one-hundred percent and no one else is taking care of them. Everyone is cared for.” 


Mutual generosity, what a dream. 

It’s funny that you said earlier that you’re always a mess, because I feel like that about myself, even if people think differently. You say it very endearingly, what do you mean by it?

“The way I think isn’t very linear, it’s all over the place. The connections make sense in my head, but when I say them out loud, they don’t translate the same way. And in my life, it’s kind of of messy. I’m not nasty. laughs. Everything is clean, there’s just stuff everywhere. I leave things where they are. Organized chaos. And a lot of the things that I do and the decisions I make don’t make sense to the people around me. 

To me, it’s like Beyonce versus Solange. It’s not that one is better, they’re just really different. Their view of the world, their view of success and how to attain success. One is not bad one is not good, just really different and look really different. That’s how I sometimes feel, a Solange in a Beyonce world.” 

How have you found community in all of that? In a Beyonce world?

“I tend to feel lonely a lot of the times, because I’m different from my friend groups in a lot of ways. But I think it goes both ways because I’m really closed off because I automatically assume that people won’t get where I’m coming from and then I don’t give people the chance to do that. Or people assume things about me, then it doesn’t go any further but I think one part of it has been putting that aside and just going for it, regardless of how they might accept me. Or not being afraid to be offended.” 


What have you been struggling with lately?

“I’ve struggled with some decisions that I’ve made. When things happen, when I struggle with rent or go travel, that’s when I question turning down certain jobs or taking certain jobs.

Another thing lately has been, I get that God has this plan for humanity, for me, I get that and I know it’s good. I go through seasons where I don’t feel like more than just a pawn in this big plan that He has, like loving someone but not being sure it they actually like you as a person. I struggle with that as well.


That leads to not being sure if I can trust myself, then not being sure if I can trust others. Also, feeling like I don’t know as much as I should know. Feeling really ignorant, in terms of skills or knowledge of what’s going on in the world or even how to interact with people that are different from me. I feel like I lack a lot of those skills, and I want to build them up.

It’s both where, I’m excited to learn and grow from that but at the same time, I feel like I should’ve known all this by now.” 


A letter, from Tomi to Tomi:


Hey— I know, you know how much I’m writing and rewriting this in my, your, head. Remember that one time a couple months or weeks ago when you felt the weight of the fact that you are the only you that will ever exist? I was thinking about that a couple days ago and wanted you to remember the importance of that—how freeing it felt, in a weird heavy way.

You are the only you, the only Oluwatominsin Oyinlola Falegan with this family, living in this time/era, with these experiences and talents. Who you are will never, ever be replicated. I felt my heart drop a little reminding you of that…but I don’t want this fact to scare you. I want this to spur you on and remind you that you have purpose: you are black for a reason, Nigerian for a reason, your hair curls the way it does for a reason, you love Clarkston and Cincinnati for a reason——the people that you work, live, play and worship with are so different from you for a reason——even if that reason is just for the beauty of it.

I know you’re trying to balance what it means to love being Tomi and being a follower of Christ without being a robot lol and to be honest I don’t have any real insight of how that looks like, but I think I…I’m pretty sure…somewhere deep inside believe it that He is trustworthy. He says to seek truth and you’ll find it, so keep doing that. I like that you are you…mostly, and I like that I can say that and mean it.

sn: you can’t be everything to everybody, it’s impossible. you’re doing it right now, lol but just stop.

Onward ❤

photos by Gina Yu ©2016

Tomi, you’re full of easy lightness and weighty gravity, both at once. Reality, humanity, and hope. Thank you for all that you are.

To share your stories or contribute, email

Poetry in Progress: A Life Alive with Esther Yoon

“So, about me… I’m boring with sprinkles but with exploding colors.”

_mg_7513 Boring with sprinkles, and exploding colors is how Esther Yoon describes herself. Sprinkles and exploding colors, yes. Boring, the last thing to come to anyone’s mind.

As an administrative coordinator for a university and occasional worship leader, she works with college students everyday, yet studies theology and writes songs in her free time. She creates circles of safe spaces for people. “Because I think even though I’m constantly changing, I believe I can really feel for people,” she says. “I think a lot of people will try to find the one thing that they’re passionate about, and for a really long time, I couldn’t find what that was.”

Hunger, sex trafficking, depression, anxiety.  The stories of healing. The stories of love and redemption and new beginnings. She saw those passions, those fascinations, those ruminations trickle down to one passion, life.

“I just love seeing people living life alive, because I believe you can be living life dead, dormant, indifferent,” she says. “And I don’t think that is the way we were meant to live our one life.”


How do you feel like you’re living out your passion?

“That’s actually a funny question, because for the past couple years I’ve constantly been in transition. It’s been a lot of fun but also extremely challenging. Some things were constantly changing where it was really easy to be more alive, to feel like I’m more alive. Because I think being more alive is also connected to growth, but I think the hardest place to grow is when you feel like there’s no change happening. That’s been like my year. Constantly in places where okay, I’m working a 9-5 Monday through Friday, the kind of schedule I never really thought I would ever be in.

For the past ten years, I always thought I would be the person, right out of college, doing ministry. Yet that’s the thing, I am. It just looks different. Life has been kind of boring, and I’ve been struggling with that. What does it look like to be alive in the midst of my responsibilities and duties, things that I don’t always look forward to?

I think the biggest thing is paying attention.

I was reading that book called Kisses from Katie, and she was saying that world changers have one thing in common: they know the importance of the individual. They’re satisfied with one smile, on stomach, one life.

I feel like as a generation of what I would like to think of dreamers, we’re called to dream, but we’re also called to sacrifice. Those dreams really start from the humility of knowing that we are so unworthy but also so graced to be used, and I think that’s where it kind of starts to be able to live life alive in the mundane Monday through Friday 9-5.

To be awake and present and pay attention to the many stories around you. We don’t even have to know if we’re affecting it or not. Sometimes we’re blessed to have certain reminders that we are, but it starts with paying attention.”


As a part of the generation of dreamers, what are your dreams like?

“One of the biggest dreams I have personally is…

Well how I figured out this dream is, there were two worship leaders leading a song, in two very different settings. One was deep gospel and another was super conservative and angelic worship. I remember seeing the worship leaders and I had no idea who they were; I’ve never met them, but when they started to lead worship, it felt like straight magic where I just felt like I knew them.

They were both women, and I remember thinking, I know these women. The spirit was so all-consuming that I felt like I knew this person, because we both were in the spirit together. I can’t verbally describe what that feeling or experience was like, but it was insane.


If magic is a thing, this is what it was. I could feel like I was somehow in oneness with a body, and my dream is to be that living invitation where when people see me, that I would be so all-consumed by the Holy Spirit in the presence of God, where when I’m inviting someone to sing to the Lord, it’s like they already know me.

It’s that safety, that oneness, that warmth of a presence where there’s no mask. It’s the feeling of being understood. I can’t verbally grasp what that was like, but I knew that’s what I was called to do. To be that living invitation.

There’s a humility in leaning on God and seeking Him, knowing that I can’t do that, but that he could use me to be that vessel.


Dreams for the world?

I dream more people would care about each other. I think that would change the world.

If people could pay attention to each other, to where they could feel understood (not saying that they’re always going to agree on everything, because they’re not), but to feel like man, they’re paying attention to me. I’m being heard. To give people the opportunity to be that person for each other. That would change the world.”

How important do you feel like the idea of someone’s story is?

“It’s funny because when I tell people my story, sometimes I feel like, ‘Do they even believe me?’

I’ve gone through sexual abuse as a toddler, was suicidal growing up, was extremely depressed and still have symptoms of depression every now and then, and was bullied.

But it all goes back to paying attention and the importance of the individual, because I think if people could genuinely pay attention to a person, before the person even has to tell their story, I feel like there is a freshness in treating them as who they are now.

Because sometimes, people don’t have to know my story, because I met them now. It’s beautiful when we share how we became who we are. It’s crucial, because I feel like it shows the magnitude of how God is so specific towards people, in the ways he draws them to his heart. Knowing someone’s story isn’t completely necessary, but it does show the amazing beauty of how wide and how deep the Father’s love is. There truly is no bounds. No one is marked off from being loved by Him— being sought and pursued by Him.”


What are you struggling with right now?

“I think there’s a lot of fear in what I’m struggling with right now. Fear of, you know, you don’t really know much, everything’s changing, and I feel it. You feel, after college, the crushing of certain dreams or the feeling of your dreams being crushed, even if they’re not. The questioning of what your life looks like as well as the fight in your head trying to be like ‘No, Esther, this is not the end. You’re still so young.’

I’m struggling with wondering if I’m authentic enough, if I’m good enough with my talents or if they’re even talents. I struggle with fighting off those thoughts and admitting those thoughts and feeling stupid for thinking them. It’s a constant tension.

We live in that tension of what our flesh and mind naturally goes to, and I feel it. You know they say the more you know, the more you’re responsible for. And I love to learn, but as I grow up, I’m realizing the more I decide to learn, the more responsibility I’m putting on my shoulders to carry, especially with my faith.

Sometimes, I struggle with missing being ignorant and being able to make stupid mistakes, because it’s so easy to look around and see people being apathetic and indifferent about each other and this world. It’s starting to feel like the norm is indifference.

The struggle is knowing that the road is narrow but still seeking to be satisfied by God, knowing He can. But I can only really do that if I fix my eyes on Him.”


A letter, from Esther to Esther:

Hello Esther,

You’re freaking weird dude. Like, I know at times, you can feel like you wish for once in your life that you could feel belonging- this yearning to just have what others have, but don’t. This yearning is a heavenly tension, don’t make this place your home. It’s not. You want more from God, but He has already given it to you. He has healed, and brought to life all your “impossibles” and He will surely bring you home. He holds you so intimately close. He thinks of you and loves your being. Talk to Him. You miss Him, so talk to Him. Tell Him the truth, and stop saying “You already know” to Him, because more so, you saying it out loud is for you.

Love Him, for He loves you.

photos by Gina Yu ©2016

Esther, you are fire and light. Imperfectly, poetically divine. Thank you.

To share your stories or contribute, email

The Generosity of Silence

My favorite travel writer and essayist of the soul, Pico Iyer, once said,
“There is, of course, a place for noise, as there is for daily lives… Silence, like all the best things, is best appreciated in its absence: if noise is the signature tune of the world, silence is the music of the other world, the closest thing we know to the harmony of the spheres. But the greatest charm of noise is when it ceases. In silence, suddenly, it seems as if all the windows of the world are thrown open and everything is as clear as on a morning after rain. Silence, ideally, hums. It charges the air…

Silence, then, could be said to be the ultimate province of trust: it is the place where we trust ourselves to be alone; where we trust others to understand the things we do not say; where we trust a higher harmony to assert itself…”

In hiking the slippery, snowy edges of Bryce Canyon, sliding down into the swirling, swallowing depths of Antelope Canyon, and inhaling in the ethereal dust of the Grand Canyon, the dust of a green-screen landscape, so ancient and so vast that my mind still reels at the reality of its reality, its existence— I experienced speechlessness.

It was in moments of falling back, falling behind, apart from the pack, that I heard, yes, heard silence. The sweet, numbing, unfamiliar lack of noise and grand foreign fullness of nothing. Looking out onto the creamy reds layered with humble violets and kind greys in rock cut by rains of age, molded by carefully careless winds, “It’s all okay,” the voids whispered. Just as the layers of sand and stone were laid into the earth by serendipitous placement and pressed into purpose by time, I, of flesh and bone, of restless thoughts and constant seeking, might be okay.


We were discovering the tendons of the earth, especially in the curves of Antelope— the muscles carved by soft water and rain, flexed and exercised by passing time and whirling winds. Humbling. Under the cracked, dry rocks, we climbed deep and looked up to see the majesty above… yet, when you shine a light on the rocks and look close, they illuminate like mounds of compacted glitter.


We are tiny and constantly striving to be excellent in a world that is anything but. Yet, the earth echoes excellence, in its limbs and organs, in every breath of it. Peering into the expanse of something so endless and incomprehensible to the mind, speechless, I was. And so taken care of, I felt.

_mg_3868 _mg_3859 _mg_3952

I’m not an advocate of escapism or running away from the daily going-ons of human existence, but I am learning the art of generosity and balance. As many battles as you fight and visions you chase, your being deserves and craves to feel small and uncontrollable in the face of something immovable and excellent in nature.

Draw close to the hum of silence.
Or go, and experience a creation so grand,
no sound could be uttered in the presence of it.


New York City, An Island No More

Yesterday was a mess of chaos. My flight to New York arrived on time but resulted in the plane flying around the airport due to a sudden freak thunderstorm over the city. I was supposed to land at 6 p.m., drop off my gear, and head to The Color Purple on Broadway at 8 p.m.

Did I mention I hadn’t eaten all day or slept, because I was helping out at my parents’ small business (more to come on that) minutes before heading out for my flight. By the time I landed, my bladder was busting, my stomach was gurgling, and I was so exhausted I wanted to throw up from dizziness. But alas, we ran to the theatre and made the show. It was a true work of art to say the least. I think of all the shows I’ve ever seen, it’s by far the best in terms of singing talent. And Danielle Brooks from Orange is the New Black was amazingly funny and hilarious.

The night ended with Japanese pasta and garlic bean sprouts, with a side of Stranger Things to spook me to sleep.

Yet this morning, at a breezy 68 degrees, the city was kind. I took my time on the subway, watching each individual life pass by. I let myself hint at my non-native status by looking up every block, smiling at the skies and stretching skyline.

I thought my relationship with New York was strong when I spent so much time in Brooklyn last year, but wandering around by myself for hours, I appreciate it so much more. The rushed stoic faces, the glint of cyclists and walkers as they glide through crosswalks, still ever in love with the tall buildings and waves of life around them.

The scents of fried this, stewing that, and drip, pour, steamed liquid energy on every corner and block.

As I sit at HousingWorks, a cafe and bookstore that feels a little like home and generosity, I think of how different I feel about the city. The blinking lights and grand views are still breathtaking but less distant and intimidating and more familiar.

It’s like any relationship. The more we visit each other, the more we return, we become a little less like floating islands.

And we start to notice the color purple in a field of green. The little flower that we almost missed, the point, the joy.

For doubts and valleys: You are more.

We forget.
That we are more.
More than we are told,
treated and defined.

We are brighter,
bolder, wider
in our capacities,
with more fire to be ignited,
more vision to be seen,
more texture felt
and complexity, flavor, depth
to be uncovered.

Let your cages and wall sharpen
your vision
to see past the iron bars,

Do not accept lazy or timid.
Let it tend to intention
and action. Breathe.

When the winds shake
and the skies drip,
the candles stay lit.
Look. Do not forget.

You are more.


I want to hear about your journey, your process, your day— your story.

In ATL? Let’s grab coffee.
NYC? September 14-28.

Getting Started

That’s not the point. The end, I mean.
The product. The bold title. The finish line.

It’s the journey. The process.
The aching efforts and flexing and stretching.
It’s the what was, what is and will be,
all together yet intimately definable.

And it all starts
with courage.

Because the beginning is the scariest. It’s the part where everything shouts, “Don’t do it. You’ll fail,” or “Why bother? It’ll only hurt/tire/exhaust you,” or “Nobody cares. Sit back down,” or “Everybody will care, and they can’t wait for you to fail.”

But that’s what makes you begin anyway, right? Because doing anything but, is even more painful and keeping all that is within you isn’t only toxic to yourself but the world around you. Because we need it.

That thing inside of you that you can’t ignore, that itches and waits patiently at your door. And greets you in the morning but strains sleeplessly at night. That idea, that word, that work of art.

The art in you. The art of you.

But welcoming it out is scary. Because acknowledging it, putting it to paper, starting… is what makes it possible. It makes it real.

And reality is hard. It’s vulnerable. It’s fragile. It’s never finished. It’s viewable, tangible, mis-understandable. But it tells fear that you are getting started. And that you are imperfect. (The lie that you must be perfect can sit down. We don’t have time for that. Grab it, look it in the face, wrestle it. Define it and make it powerless.)

You’re a work of art. Poetry in progress. A piece, under construction.

So, let’s get started.