What I learned when “downgrading” my career

IMG_4875I am an associate at Hobby Lobby.

We spent $120K to cover four years of education in Neuroscience and Mathematics, and I left a prestigious job in research to become a custom framer at a craft store.

If you’re sitting here, scratching your head and wondering what would compel me to do such a thing, you’re not alone. In fact, I asked myself this very same question for months. And here’s the answer:

I’m pursuing my God-given passions, trusting that He will use my faithful obedience to elevate me to a position in His Kingdom far greater than I can imagine.

Trust me: it was not easy to arrive at this conclusion. But the more I step out in faith, the more confident I become that I am living out my calling. I believe that we should enjoy what we are doing; I don’t think God would call us to a career that leaves us feeling miserable, apathetic, and resentful. This new job has shown me that it is possible to fall in love with work.

As I reflect on the last five weeks of training and promotion to Frame Shop Manager, here are some lessons I feel compelled to share.

I am still the same driven, smart, hardworking, amicable Emma most people know.

At my last job, I was fed lie after lie about myself, my work ethic, my personality, my potential, and my intelligence. I was scared to leave, thinking I would never be successful anywhere else. Within a week of serving in Romania this summer, these lies were shattered. And then, my old self was restored and affirmed within days of working at Hobby Lobby. Everyone — employees, managers, and set staff alike — knew who I was because I learned quickly, worked efficiently, exhibited accuracy, and was friendly.

My mental health improved.

My former job brought on a spirit of depression. I dreaded waking up in the morning, stopped working out, turned to food for comfort, and felt incredibly alone as I hid all this from friends and family. Thankfully, Romania began a healing a process that has continued upon returning home. I finally feel happy and joyful for the first time in years (literally). I’m excited to wake up every morning and go to work. I have resumed a daily exercise routine. I’m eating well, simply because I want to. And I’m loving my Jesus-time, especially when I incorporate it daily.

No one is disappointed in me.

This one amazes me every single time. Years ago, I was afraid that my parents would be disappointed in me when I decided to take a gap year before grad school, but I discovered that both of my parents took time off and fully supported the decision to gain experience before getting another degree. I had similar doubts earlier this year when I chose to put off grad school indefinitely. However, my parents have watched me grow and explore my faith and passions and fully support my choice to use my creative gifts for the Kingdom; grad school will always be there if I want, but now is not the time.

Furthermore, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done was informing some of my former professors and biggest supporters of my choice to work in retail instead of research. With my experience, I could have pretty much any research position I want, and there’s the key. I don’t want to be in research right now. I have a multitude of explanations for how I ended up here, but the most important part is that I am confident that this is where I need to be. My professors still support me because they know my passionate, relentless pursuit of excellence. And, they also know and love me.

My education(al) experience is still relevant.

When speaking with one of my former professors, he asked what elements of my education and university experience I find relevant to my current job. Immediately, I thought of my math minor, as that was a large factor in my job offer (they were repeatedly amazed by my speedy math abilities 🙂 ). Also, the classes where we studied calling, vocation, and our greater purpose sparked an interest in seeing what else is out there. Beyond that, the community of supporters, the “home” that I can always return to, and the experience of settling for nothing less than my best have shaped me into the employee I am today. It’s hard to pinpoint a single experience, but my four years of college were central to enabling me to boldly venture out of the norm.

Let’s be real: this was not an easy process in any way. I spent many days in tears, praying that God would come through to provide something wonderful since I gave up so much in pursuit of Him. Even though I see His providence so clearly, the doubts still creep back in occasionally. Every time someone asks, “How’d you end up here??” or talks about how they would never be willing to give up a job without another offer waiting, I feel a little pang. It has taken time, but I find that each declaration that switching careers was a necessary move, I feel more confident about my decision. God would not have called me to this if He didn’t have it all planned out.

It’s not easy, but let’s keep living this life in pursuit of Him above all else.


Leaving is the hardest part (Week 8)


I’m writing to you from a car as I travel 6 hours from Târgu Mureş to Bucharest to spend a few days sightseeing. This morning was hard. We spent a little bit of time in fellowship together one last time before everyone went off — Alex to Greece, Marianna to Braşov, and the Mereus to Cluj and then Sweden later this week. We did a secret angel activity all last week, in which we found ways to bless our assigned teammate, culminating with a gift exchange this morning. And then they all surprised me with a sweet gift and card. We concluded with a sweet time of prayer and encouragement.

Gosh, leaving is the worst. Every time I get to this part of the travel cycle, I question. W

Why did I invest so much?

Why is it so hard to say goodbye?

Why do I keep repeating this cycle over and over?

You would think that with how much my heart hurts each time I leave a place, I would have nothing left to give.

Yet … I do.

Why? Well, over time, I’ve developed a few hypotheses. First, my love language is quality time with others. Meeting new people and establishing friendships is no small task for me. Secondly, my mom — an anthropologist — has passed on her love for investing in other cultures; in order to invest, you can’t really hold anything back. And finally, I have the travel bug. I will never be content to stay in one place. Even at the conference last week, Stefaan sensed that I am called to help people along in their journey (like a tugboat), but that I likely will not stay in one place as I do so.

One of my favorite and most comforting quotes is below.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. ((C.S. Lewis))

As much as I hate to say goodbye, it’s a sign of health. I think I should be more concerned if it didn’t hurt. And, frankly, it doesn’t get any easier the more times I do it. But I’ve learned to love the journey. My life is all the richer for each time I chose to put myself out there and love fearlessly.

Friends, I love Târgu Mureş. Romania is a beautiful country. The people in this region are caring and friendly. The lifestyle is easy. It’s been a wonderful reprieve. I’ve looked into all sorts of ways and reasons to stay (including crashing the trip to Sweden), but all along I knew this was only a temporary thing. Sooner or later, I have to come back to Harrisburg and face the messy life I abandoned.

However, I can tell you that I am in a great place right now.

I am free to slowly pursue my next job and not rush into something disastrous like I did two years ago.

I have confidence that the friendships I left behind are in a healthy place, and we can grow stronger now that I’ve healed a bit.

I am excited to resume ministry involvement.

I am eager to begin growing my business and exploring where that takes me.

Right now, I’m no more certain about my 5-year plan than I was in May, but my head is clear and my heart is at peace as I begin to seek guidance and discernment about what’s next.

.          .          .

Okay, one last update about my time at the base. As I mentioned earlier, we did a secret angel game all week. We spent the mornings cleaning and the afternoons finishing projects. I went into town a few times to visit new friends and buy souvenirs/thank you gifts. The days were long but the week was short. I enjoyed the memories and eating some of my favorite foods once more (I’m looking at you, şoarma 😉). And, as promised in an earlier post, here’s the finished mural!


Also, enjoy some of these other photos that I haven’t yet shared.




Coming up next week: I’m spending 3 days sightseeing in Bucharest. I plan to hop on the metro to some far point and then spend the day meandering back to my hostel. Oh, speaking of hostel, they have a pet cat! My heart is happy 🙂 Then Tuesday evening I’ll fly to Athens. I have a 19 hour layover, during which I’ll sleep in a hostel and sightsee before flying back to NJ Wednesday night. And then…that’s it! I might send one final update with travel photos and a re-entry update. I’ll be traveling locally throughout August, and then I hope to have a job by Labor Day.

Thanks for joining me on this journey!!

InTouch Camp (Week 7)


I spent the past week in a remote village with no cell service or internet; coincidentally, we also lost electricity and running water for 36 hours, which authenticated the experience 😉 In all seriousness, I thoroughly enjoyed the (unanticipated) opportunity to disconnect from social media, my business, and the stress of formulating plans for my rapidly approaching return home. It was simply me, a bunch of new friends, and God. Can it get much better??


Welcome to Prod, our cute village for the week!

To start the week’s recap, let me provide some background info. InTouch camps have been occurring throughout Europe for decades. This annual event is a chance to connect for anyone who is currently serving with YWAM, who previously served with YWAM, who knows someone serving with YWAM, or is simply interested in YWAM. I met people who have been in ministry for 40+ years, people who did a DTS and then returned to the workforce, and people who only found out about YWAM a few months ago and sought a different type of ‘vacation’. Not sure which group I fall into, but I certainly got a great deal out of the camp!


Our camp!!

Our speaker for the week was a South African man named Stefaan. He’s been through all sorts of different positions within YWAM and graciously used his extensive experiences to share with us about the Holy Spirit. I think my biggest appreciation was the in-depth, focused study on the Holy Spirit. Most of the material was familiar but scattered in my mind. This week unified it all and added examples and testimonies that I will be unlikely to forget. Check out my notes below 🙂

The week was conducted like a mini-DTS; we had breakfast together, worship & teaching all morning, lunch, free time, dinner, and then an evening activity. We all shared responsibilities for cleaning throughout the week and had considerable freedom in the afternoons to sightsee, play sports, or visit the camp cafe. Aside: I quite enjoyed my time, which leaves me encouraged that I would enjoy a DTS in the future if I decide to pursue that.

Stefaan’s testimonies of the Holy Spirit were incredibly powerful and inspiring. I definitely teared up a time or two. This all led to Stefaan asking us to be willing to allow the Spirit to move in us and through us. So Thursday night, we had a time of giving. All afternoon we prayed that God would reveal at least one specific gift for a specific person. I created unique art pieces inspired by the stories and ventures of three different people I met. It’s a shame I forgot to photograph those, but the photo at the top of this post is one more I created for a camp organizer because of how much she loved my art. Seriously the sweetest woman.

And then Friday, we had a ‘Holy Spirit party’. I entered very uncertain of what to expect. However, it was mild yet empowering. We began by writing out all the things holding us back from allowing God full access to our hearts. We then ripped those up and inflated a balloon to symbolize us growing out of those hindrances. And then we popped those balloons to symbolize complete surrender. We spent time praying and took communion in acknowledgment of how our cup overflows with never-ending blessings. And then we prayed to receive gifts of the Spirit, like healing and wisdom. Oh, and we celebrated three baptisms as well! It was pretty cool.

All in all, this week was wonderful for me. I’m thankful for the connections I’ve made with peers and older missionaries alike. I am inspired and empowered by hearing stories of how very real and active the Spirit is. And I am encouraged to continue pursuing God in whatever my next step is.

Coming up next week: It’s my last week here! Thus, I’ll be finishing up some projects, running errands, and meeting up with some folks before I leave. We’re having a planning meeting tomorrow morning so we can lay out details. I’m sad my time is coming to a close, but I’m determined to finish well!

It’s My Birthday! (Week 6)


A few days ago, I was folding my laundry, thinking about how I will only have to do the wash one more time before I come home. Is it weird that I track countdowns by the number of laundry loads remaining? Anyway, that sparked the nostalgia at a much deeper level. I started feeling a whole range of emotions from excitement to sadness to regret. I’m thrilled to have reunions with friends and take a few beach days. I’m sad to be leaving this beautiful country and all the new friends here. And I feel a little regretful about not accomplishing as many projects as I originally hoped. However, each time these thoughts emerge, I stop myself and consider all the wonderful things I have accomplished, both physically and mentally. I think that perhaps the biggest feat is the emotional healing I’ve experienced. This post sums it up perfectly.

With that, I want to take this week to share with everyone all that I have completed thus far.

My biggest project here in Târgu Mureș has been a mural in the entryway of the house. When first asked, I was nervous because I do not consider myself a painter at all. However, with my extremely basic skills, I was able to create something similar to what I envisioned. And then adding the lettering on top completely overpowers any minor imperfections in the paint job. I’m quite satisfied with the end result 🙂

{Apparently I don’t have a photo, so I’ll be sure to include that in my next post!}

This past week, I spent a few days working on a program called Jump Start. This course helps an individual identify their calling by exploring a variety of contributing factors, including family history, physical & spiritual giftings, and childhood influences. It’s usually conducted as a seminar, but I still found it helpful by myself with coaching from the base directors. So far I haven’t discovered anything revolutionary, but I am quite relieved that that my intuitive sense about my passions and gifts has not been misaligned. I’m hoping to let it sit for the week and then chat with Marianna next week about how our passions can be used as we plan for the future.

I’ve been slowly getting to know different people throughout Târgu Mures. If I were here for even one more month, I would try to get involved with some local ministries, ranging from VBS to English lessons to poverty alleviation. I’ve run into a large amount of people who are working to further the Kingdom by serving in Romania. It’s really quite powerful. In the meantime, I’ve gotten to befriend these beautiful servants and pray for their ministries, which is equally important.

Finally, we celebrated my birthday this weekend. Saturday evening, we had a Romanian barbecue. It was so delicious. Plus I learned how to cook vinete–an eggplant spread, kind of like hummus, that I love! And then we had cake and played board games, which made for a very happy Emma! Sunday, we went out for breakfast, and then I went to a new church. It was one of seven Romanian campuses for Harvest Bible Chapel based out of Chicago. I really enjoyed my time there and wish I had gone sooner!! We ate soarma (Romanian form of gyros) for lunch and then left for camp. Long, full day for sure!

Coming up next week: I’m currently typing this in the car as we drive to a remote village. This week we’ll be at InTouch camp–a weeklong point of connection for individuals affiliated with YWAM. I’m pretty excited for the time to connect with other Christians in various stages of ministry and have deep, intentional time away with God.

Friendship & Travel (Week 5)


As I sit here and reflect on my experience in Romania, I’m baffled by how much time has passed! Five weeks feels like five days, and I’m saddened by the thought of having only three short weeks left in this beautiful country. I’m sitting here writing after returning from a fulfilling evening of playing frisbee with friends. Pause. Friends. It’s been so easy to meet people and get to know them. Like when I studied in Lithuania, I’ve grown deep in relationship with some wonderful individuals who will completely welcome me any time I visit Europe in the future. It’s so bittersweet. I hate the prospect of leaving and changing these close ties, but I have also grown to know and love the beautiful dynamics of relationships.

With that, I’m going to share some photos and stories from my travels with these friends the past few weekends.

Last weekend, we spent Saturday on a road trip toward Northeastern Romania (Ceahlău, to be exact). We made quite a few stops along the way, which is what made this trip perfect! Stop 1 was lunch at a beautiful restaurant and wedding venue. The rest I captured through photos below: (Click on each photo to read caption)


Stop 2 was this fantastic gorge. It used to be filled with trees, but then water started collecting and never left. If you look closely, you can see countless petrified trees poking out of the water.


Stop 3 was this crazy, beautiful passage through the rocks. The road was like this for miles!


And Stop 4, we went swimming in this lake. It’s very long and oddly shaped; our hotel was also on the lake, just an hour away.

We made it to Ceahlău Saturday evening and spent the night in a little hotel. Then Sunday we hiked up a mountain to a gorgeous waterfall! And when I say hike, I mean, like straight uphill at some points. I was exhausted on Monday! After hiking for 5 hours, we piled into the car and drove straight home before crashing in bed. All in all, one of the best weekends I’ve experienced in a while!


Thanks to this crew for an unforgettable weekend!

I experienced quite a lot of firsts: things that I’ve heard of in the US, even among my family, but never had the guts to try (e.g., drinking fresh spring water or using the forest for a pit stop). Marianna was so proud of me, saying that I would make a great missionary because of my openness to trying new and uncomfortable things. What a wonderful encouragement!

Last week was pretty low key as I worked on some more art and cleaning projects around base. I’ll be sharing those in next week’s update. Then yesterday, as part-tourism, part-early-birthday-celebration, we headed to Sighișoara — hometown of Dracula! I can’t tell you how many texts I received about remembering my garlic, haha. I don’t know much about the tale of Dracula, but it was really neat to see/hear the history of Transylvania and the man who inspired the story. For those who are interested, read more below! If not, feel free to skip to the photos.

Dracula is a story developed by Irishman Bram Stoker. Stoker was reading Romanian history when he came across a man named Vlad Țepeș, or “Vlad the Impaler“. Vlad received this designation because of his brutality in maintaining the justice system while ruler of a part of Transylvania (a region in Central Romania). Vlad reigned three separate times in the 15th century, interwoven with periods of exile and imprisonment. He became internationally famous for his evil and cruel deeds. Over 400 years later, Stoker read about Vlad and then combined his story with ancient Transylvanian superstitions about vampires to develop the well-known tale of today. It wasn’t popular in his Victorian era but grew to fame with film adaptations in the late 20th century.

And there you have it! I survived Sighișoara with no vampire encounters. However, I am still technically living in Transylvania, so we’ll see 😉 In the meantime, enjoy these photos as well!

View of Sighișoara from the clock tower:

Architectural features:

Sights in Sighișoara:

Pictures of us:


Thanks to my wonderful hosts for showing me around!

Coming up next week: We are doing a lot of prep this week for the arts camp in two weeks. I’ll be making welcome & thank-you cards, cleaning, prepping rooms, and the like. We’re going to be away the following week, so we have to tackle it all now. Things are exciting!

Healing & Recovery (Week 4)

One of the things I was most looking forward to when I embarked on this mission trip was a chance to simply get away. Some of my favorite days here are the ones when I don’t do much of anything. That’s atypical for me, but it also demonstrates how exhausted I am. I’ve grown to believe that this is because my mind and heart are healing. When a body part is injured, we’re instructed to rest it. I believe the same is true for my emotions.

I’m very thankful that I planned this trip when I did. The two years since graduation have been brutal, to say the least. I didn’t realize just how much hurt had built up because I grew numb, to the point where I could no longer feel pain and just laughed at whatever the next blow was. I knew that I needed a major change. It definitely wasn’t ‘safe’ to plan and execute this trip in the midst of the unknown, but I was willing to take that risk. At the very minimum, I was able to leave my job, and that has radically improved my outlook.

Unfortunately, my coworkers fed me devastating lies. It started within the first month when one faculty member, completely out-of-the-blue, told me that I would never succeed as a researcher. I didn’t have the drive or ambition. It’s too hard for women like me. That was his response to the hours I devoted helping him on a paper. Other staff raved about the lab, saying that it is the best workplace ever; it doesn’t get much better. Elsewhere, people get ruder, bosses get meaner and less understanding, etc. I was asked to close my lettering business so I could focus on my job even after I left the lab, though I was only paid for 40 hrs/week. The double standards were insane. The mental games were difficult to follow. And the atmosphere was generally negative and oppressing. I needed to be out of there.

I can’t tell you how many months I spent calling my mom or friends in tears on the half-mile walk to my car every evening. I would go home, completely depressed and too exhausted to exercise, cook, operate my business, or be social. And then I would restlessly sleep, only to do it all again the next day. It was an awful cycle. I was miserable, I gained weight, I lost interest in everything, and I became a really good actress so my coworkers couldn’t see how they affected me and my friends couldn’t tell just how poorly I was doing. I hated the person I was becoming.

Embarking on this trip was scary. But in reality, I have never felt freer! Over the past month, I’ve been slowly unraveling these lies to see that I really still am the person everyone professes me to be; situations and words are powerful tools that can be used to build up or tear down. Let’s examine some of them now:

My work ethic: My coworkers had me believing that I was lazy, incapable of satisfactory performance, negative, aggressive, irresponsible, and an all-around disappointment. I began to question if I would ever be able to succeed as an employee anywhere else, especially if my job really was “as good as it gets.” I was torn up about it. However, being here in Romania, I’m seeing my natural drive reemerge, and it’s incredibly refreshing! Without even thinking about it, I offer to help with dishes, cleaning, and anything else happening around me. I’m constantly coming up with new ideas for projects, executing them well, and am thoroughly enjoying the process. I excitedly do things when asked, not begrudgingly. Plus, praise is a powerful motivator.

My relationships: I was really nervous to leave the US because I’ve had a streak of relationships that haven’t ended well. I wasn’t sure how stable my current friendships were, and I was afraid that uprooting myself for two months would cause people to grow closer without me and I would be left friendless and feeling even more lonely than when I left. Thankfully, my friends back home haven’t forgotten me 😉 Some of them have been really diligent in following up with me, which means more than I can ever describe. And here in Romania, I’ve been growing close with all the ladies I meet. I’m thankful for the deep conversations, the laughs, and the feeling of belonging. Again, it’s refreshing to know that the lies people have fed me about how I’m a terrible friend are far from truth.

Honestly, I don’t miss my job one bit. I am still nervous about what I will do in a month when I come home, but I firmly believe that God made this trip happen for a reason, and thus He will also provide for my needs at home. It’s scary not to have a job lined up, but I’ve also come to realize that perhaps God is providing continued space for processing and healing. It’s going to be a real adjustment coming back to Harrisburg and living a different life than the one I left in May, so I imagine that I’ll need time to adapt. Plus, God is really good about coming through at the last minute. That happened with financial provision for my trip, and I trust it will happen again in August. In the meantime, I’m continuing to wait on Him and trust in His provision.

My Time in Cluj (Week 3)

My goodness, I’m exhausted! Today I traveled by bus from Cluj back to Târgu Mureș. Then due to a miscommunication, I ended up walking (hiking) over 2 miles and up a steep hill back to the base, all while toting a backpack, a suitcase, and food. I’m worn out! But, I managed to unpack, do a load of laundry, and eat dinner; this is my current (comfort) state, so that makes me feel a little better.


Last week was primarily spent making art for the base in Cluj. My biggest task was creatively depicting the 18 foundational values of YWAM. I painted the watercolor backgrounds, then sketched and lettered each value. I recruited my housemate Geo (pronounced “Jo”) to help with gluing Bible pages to pieces of poster board. Finally, we glued the watercolor paper to the decorated poster board to create these! (Click on photos to scroll through)

I’ll be posting each value on my Instagram and Facebook pages over the next 3 weeks if you would like to check periodically to see the pieces up close. You can see the Instagram posts without an account.

Making this much art (pretty sure I put in at least 40 hours on this) leaves me completely exhausted — in a good way. With my previous job, I would leave feeling exhausted and not wanting to do anything, ever. I would go home and crash on the couch, lacking the motivation to cook dinner, socialize, or even get ready for bed. Art, however, is rewarding and invigorating; I love that I can do it whenever I want (i.e., not strictly 9-5), and I get excited to come back for more. I’m totally in my happy place when I turn on a podcast, tune out the world, and plug away with each creation. I am interpreting this as a very positive sign as I consider focusing on my art business when I return home!

My afternoons varied throughout the week. Tuesday and Wednesday I taught a worship dance routine to some local boys. I didn’t get to record it, but here is a video from a dance I taught the children at church on Sunday morning. I chose Blessed Be Your Name (Fii Binecuvantat) because I love how universal the song is. Check it out below (so sorry the orientation changes!):

On Thursday, I went with a few staff members to visit some members of the gypsy community that they have chosen to support. We asked if they had any practical needs that the DTS students could fulfill. The team will work to repair the roof for one lady, provide a washing machine for two other families, and do housecleaning for all of them. I won’t post those pictures, but I do want to share a photo of this adorable stray dog we saw. There are lots of stray dogs around; thankfully, they’re very harmless. I have a fear of dogs, but these guys barely even notice us walking by. They simply roam the sidewalks and sleep in the shade.


Not related, but seeing this cat made my day. It looked so content to be sunning and bathing itself in this lush windowsill! (Can you tell I’m much more of a cat person?? 😉 )


Lastly, I want to backtrack a tiny bit to say that we celebrated Miream’s (roommate) birthday last Sunday. We had barbecue, ice cream, and a sweet time of fellowship. They started to brainstorm plans for celebrating my birthday in July (e.g. decorating the “cake”/me), but I don’t anticipate being in Cluj that weekend. We’ll see, though! In the meantime, enjoy some photos of our “kidnapping”.

Coming up next week: Honestly, I have no idea! I imagine we’ll all meet Monday morning and develop a game plan. I’m sure it will be great!

.     .     .

Oh wait, one last photo to add. Since I like to incorporate lettering with each post, enjoy this throwback in honor of Father’s Day last weekend! As my Dad’s cousin says, “That’s why you are in Romania – they had you on an elephant (!) before you even knew what an elephant was!” Thankful for my dad’s unending encouragement and support as I pursue my passions.