Sunday, December 23, 2012

how to stop dating losers: a guide by yours truly

I've been thinking about relationships a lot lately (mostly because all of a sudden multiple of my closest friends are in the heart warming/gag worthy ecstatic first stage of love), and feeling very wise and inspired. Basically I'm a love guru, and my love advice will change your life.
Date the guy you want to set your best friend up with.
BAM. Life changed.
This revelation hit me as my best friend told me: "Remember that guy I always said was the only one good enough for you? Well....we're dating."
I stared at her glowing face, and was like "Brilliant. That's so brilliant. Date the guy you want your best friend to date, and you're set. Best boyfriend ever."
Because really, we often settle for less (read: guys who turn out to be jackasses) in the relationship department, when we think we're going for the good stuff (read: sexy). We want to date the most attractive people we know, and while physical attraction is important for a relationship, choosing who to date with your hormones and never your head just screws you over in the end. We date people for shallow reasons. But when we're choosing for our best friend, we look for more meaningful qualities--kindness, consistency, a great sense of humor. When choosing for ourselves, we're distracted by superficial things (like who our hormones tell us we want to have sex with) but with our friends, we're more objective and smarter. We want the very best for them, and we're distanced enough to recognize what the best really is--the soul and character that makes someone beautiful (and would make them a fabulous boyfriend) over a hot body.
So, if you've ever wondered why you always choose jerks, take my advice. Get that guy out of the friend zone, stop saying "He's the nicest guy ever, he should date (insert name of best friend)" and meet the greatest boyfriend you've ever had.
You're welcome.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Personal responsibility

Best and most succinct summary of the relationship (for the record, it's correlation, not causation) between drinking and sexual assault that I've read.

"Alcohol use does not cause sexual violence. Putting alcohol into your system does not
cause you to commit a sexual assault anymore than putting gasoline into your car causes you to
drive to the airport. Gasoline makes it easier to do what you want to do (e.g., drive a car) while
alcohol also makes it easier to do what you want to do (e.g., grope women). If you do not at least
think about doing something when sober, you are not likely to do it when drunk. For example, no
one worries about becoming so intoxicated that he will lose control and stab himself in the eye
with a fork. Why? Because he would never consider doing that when sober."
--"Alcohol use does not cause sexual violence, by By Scott Hampton, Psy.D., Director, Ending The Violence

Everything that you do drunk is what you would do sober, if you had no inhibitions. There's no excuse for assault, ever.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

On the perils of stargazing and bucket lists

"I'm not a princess, and I don't need saving. I'm a queen, and I got this shit handled" said the girl stuck on a roof.
Moral of the story? Stargazing and bucket lists have their perils.
But they're oh, so worth it.
 In other words, "Sit on a roof and talk under the sky all night" is one very happy check on my bucket list. To my very smug satisfaction "Get down from said roof without dying, getting caught by public safety, or having to call a boy to catch me" is also checked off the list I didn't think to make.
Granted, "all night" is a bit of an exaggeration. "Until I started to wonder if I'd be able to get down, and started to panic" might be closer to the truth. And the "talk all night" part had to be fulfilled by one very triumphant and giggly phone call to the seesters, because I was struck by the irresistible urge sit on a roof when I was out walking at night. Sitting on a roof was a lifetime dream, you see, and when a lifelong dream calls, you answer. Period.
I want to spend all my life stargazing, and living an adventure, and getting stuck on roofs and figuring my way back down.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Read this link
This is phenomenal. I want to try the activity, but mostly I love what she says about the culture of tearing ourselves down that women tend to have.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

courage to love

“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, The Four Loves 

I pray always for the strength to be vulnerable, the courage to love with abandon, knowing full well that my reward may be heartbreak. That is unconditional love, that is the cross, that is Christ who died for those He foreknew would reject Him, would walk away from the love-adoption He offered. That is the naked vulnerable heart of the Creator of the universe placed in my hands. 
Oh give me grace to love like that. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

feast yer eyes

You know a book is good when it has a place in my tragically reduced bookshelf. 

Books are food 

for the soul. 

So here's my print

and paper 


of a feast.

  • The Man Who was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton. Simultaneously the trippiest, most profound book you'll ever read. It contains the one sentence in the world that made me cry. Not that I haven't cried in other books (I do all the time), but usually it's a gradual progression of emotion. Only Chesterton has the word-magic to make me cry in just one sentence. 
  • Melisande, by E. Nesbitt, illustrated by P.J. Lynch  (non other than my favorite illustrator. Ever.) This classic child's fairy-tale about a bald princess was the only thing I asked for on the mature occasion of my 16th birthday. 'Nuff said. 
  • Um, this one is just my sarcastic homeschool yearbook. It happened to be on my shelf at the time of the photo, I'm not suggesting you read it. 
  • The Crucible, by Arthur Miller. You always need a play to spice up the mix, and this one's classic, and one of my personal favorites. "But it is my NAAAAAMMMMEEE" (actually it's Elisabeth's monologue  at the end that I love the most). 
  • Emma, by Jane Austen. Mr. Knightley. Once again, 'nuff said. 
  • The Blue Castle, by L. M. Montgomery. This book is summer vacation trapped between binding. 
  • The Bronte Sisters, by uh, duh. Really this is only used as my copy of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights is only good for one read in my humble opinion, and I haven't gotten around to Agnes Grey. Jane Eyre on the other of the best romances and redemption stories out there. It has characters you love to love, and characters you love to hate even more (Ehem. Brucklhurst). 
  • Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne. I'm not much into blood sucking insects as metaphors for sex, but once he gets to God it's unparalleled. "Batter my heart" is still my favorite poem. 
  • Searching for God Knows What, by Donald Miller. My favorite of Miller's. How can you not love a book with chapter titles such as "Fine Wine: The Failure of Formulas" and "Adam, Eve, and the Alien: How the Fall Makes You Feel."
  • Sailing Alone Around the Room, by Billy Collins. Collins is the poet I'd kill to be. I still haven't read all of this collection, I grab it and read a poem occasionally as a gift to myself (plus I bought it in an adorable out-of-the-way bookstore in North Shore Boston, which makes any book better.) 
  •  Girls Like Us, by Rachel Lloyd. The story of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) which helps girls escape from sex trafficking in NYC, interwoven with the harrowing account of founder Rachel Lloyd's own experience as a sexually exploited teen. This is a devastating, eye opening book. If you don't know anything about sexual exploitation and trafficking in the US (fact one: it exists), then read this book. Actually, just read this book period.   
  • Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier. A fun, light summer read, but I'm partial to it because it is a retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses, a less known fairytale that I adore. 
  • Confessions, by St. Augustine. Augustine is the 4th century's best kept secret. Except he's really famous, so not actually a secret at all. Every vague, unformulated, profound scrap of wisdom and revelation about God I've ever wanted to express, turns out Augustine already did. If someone tells you it's boring, they're lying. Or stupid. 
  • Mara, Daughter of the Nile, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. A slave girl turned double spy for two arch enemies, adventure, intrigue, romance on the Nile; this is ancient Egypt at its best. A family favorite, I cannot count how many time I have read and re-read this book since my dad first kept us little kids up way past our bedtime, because we couldn't stop reading this aloud. 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. If you have not already read this book, or are not aware that you should, then I am not sure how you exists as an American. The crazy thing is that it's actually as good as everyone says it is. 
  • Children of Hurin, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Anything by Tolkien will always have a place on my shelf. But frankly, that's the only reason it's here. I've heard Tolkien wrote this (one of the unfinished tales) when he was recovering in a hospital from WWI. Let's just say it shows. 
  • A boxed set of The Hobbit, and the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you have not read these books we cannot be friends. It's that simple. 
  • 100000 Baby Names. "Um, Anna, you have a baby name book on your shelf," people often inform me, with an odd and questioning look. "Um, you don't?" I respond, with a scornful glance, tempered with pity. Because really, what a sad life, no baby-name-book to their name. (If they ever become a famous novelist, their character's names will have lame-ass meanings because they neglected to look them up in this treasure, I can tell you that.) 
The only thing this list is lacking is a depressing Russian novelist. But that's 'cause I'm reading it. Dostoyevsky oh yeah!  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Why I am glad I am not Megan Fox

(Spring 2011)

Why I am glad I am not Megan Fox-

If life were a cocktail party
you'd never notice me.
Uneasy in high heals,
little black dress too little for me
I am space between
leggy blond in blue, buxom brunette.
Narrow hips and broad shoulders;
a triangle turned up.
Nose- "regal" my mother calls it,
"large" I say.
My cleavage could be eye catching if I chose-
but I never will.
If that's why you want me
I could never want you.
But I don't mind
that it would take
the accidental introductions of life, 
slow unveiling of me
for you to decide
my sudden braying bursts of laughter
inexplicable attraction to books
incurable nerdiness 
are endearing. 
My inability to walk in a straight line 
is irresistible, 
you want to stroll through life with me 
zigzagging beside you
chasing you off the pavement. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

redemption is stories to tell

     "I'd rather know a hard truth than a pretty lie, because until you know the truth you can't do anything about it," I said in my innocent resolve to go to dark places with Jesus' light. And then, to my horror, God took me seriously, and in one year my pretty illusions were stripped away, and I was broken over the truth.
      I wanted to cover me ears and weep; for innocence lost and stolen joy, for how like truth the whispers of a forked tongue feel, for how those whispers feed on silence and grow shame.
      And yet, I hold to my naive resolve, because uncovered to light darkness is dispelled, secrets spoken banish shame, scars bared can finally heal.
      Because I believe wholeheartedly in a God who kisses our scars, I cling fiercely to the hope that "maybe redemption is stories to tell, maybe forgiveness is right where you fell." 
     I feel the brokenness and mourn the pain, but I see first hand the redemption of broken stories told, the gift of going second in someone else's life, the glory of a God who is not content to remove the scars, but uses our darkest places to bring light, freedom from shame to another soul.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

why elevator speeches don't cut it

      Me and Africa. It's such a part of me that sometimes I am surprised, after months of getting to know someone, when I realize they don't know that I plan to move to Africa as soon after graduation as I can. It seems as obvious as the fact that I have brown hair, and more integral to who I am, harder to change. The craziness of a random white girl planning to move to Mali, West Africa, to spend her life playing barefoot soccer and fighting sex trafficking, demands an explanation. But the story behind it is long and strange, and over the last year of small introductions that are part of the everyday life of college, I've come up with an "elevator speech" version to keep it short.
      The conversations would usually go something like this: "Wow, Africa, what makes you want to go there?" "Well, I went there when I was sixteen for two weeks with my dad, and I fell in love with it. There's no way I could not go back."
      This version of events is all perfectly true;  it kept it simple, easy, and more comprehensible than the real thing. But I realized that it also denies the complexity and strangeness of the real story, the glory of the storyteller behind it all.
      So here's a truer "elevator speech" of my story.
     "When I was 10, God told me to be a missionary. I was afraid I was going a little crazy. When I was 12, God was like 'Go to Africa' and a few months later, he added 'Mali, West Africa, to be specific.' At this point, I was certain that I was crazy, God was talking to me. But I decided to trust Him, and went with it. I got a job and saved my pennies till I was 16, when I went to Mali, and found out that neither God or I were crazy, this was what I was created to do."
       It's an insane thing to tell people, announcing you were a twelve year old with a habit of having casual chats with God, that completely up-end your life. But I'm not going to deny it anymore, not going to try and make the truth easier for people. Because the truth is that a God who is anything but simple, or easy, or comprehensible invaded my life and turned it upside down. He called a small town girl who would have been happy to get married, raise babies, live all her life in a house next to her mamma's, to the other side of the planet. When I sacrificed what I wanted, chose to trust that His will (no matter how hard) was the only place I'd ever want to be, I was rewarded with more joy, purpose and passion than I could ever deserve. I fell in love with the red dirt, the white smiles, the strength of a people who choose to laugh in the face of hell.
      Since the age of twelve, I wanted to move to Africa because that was what God wanted me to do. Since the age of sixteen, I've wanted to move to Africa because that is what I want to do too, because the stories He writes for us are harder, stranger and more improbably, incomprehensibly wonderful than anything we could dream up.
      If you let Him, this hard, inscrutable God, who asks of us hard things, will tell a story with your life; a story no elevator speech will ever do justice to.

Monday, June 4, 2012

of scary things, bucket lists, and poetry

Writing is my most vulnerable, and poetry the most so. So last fall when I accidentally agreed to show my English prof. a poem of mine, it was terrifying and exhilarating. And then, at her insistence and encouragement, I found myself reading it to the classroom. It was the emotional equivalent of stripping naked in front of the whole class.
It required more courage than I thought I had (vulnerability always does), but it was incredible empowering, once I got it over with. My prof. said I should try and get it published at Siena, which I was flattered by, but laughed at. Yeah right, I thought. I'd used up all my store of bravery.
But I discovered doing scary things is addicting. Plus "be published, small or big" was on my bucket list. So this spring, in an attack of recklessness, I sent it off the the Pendragon (Siena's literary magazine), before I could panic and take it back.
And I got accepted. So yay! I'm published. It's definitely on the "small" side, but it is a start!
And for the joy of overcoming scary things, I am now sharing it with cyberspace. Enjoy.   

Did you hear them calling, Odysseus? 
Siren song across the wild sea.
Did the sweet sound come back to you in dreams? 
Making you wonder, 
when you had safely stoppered up you ears, 
and sailed away,
returned to reason, 
if that part of you, 
screaming "Treason, treason!" 
treason against their song, 
spoke truth? 
Bleached sculls on white sand. 
Bodies and bones
of unfortunates
who had leapt, 
intoxicated by the wild, 
searing sweetness of their song. 
Madness dancing. 
Where they the lucky ones? 
White sculls, grinning in ecstasy. 
Because they had found it? 
The promise, the pull, the pulse 
of the siren song. 
Life! Unimaginable. 
Had they, in losing their lives, 
found them? 
They were the living ones. 
While you 
were a dead man walking. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why I fail at flirting

Today I realized that I still don't know how to flirt. After a year of college, you'd think I would have gotten at least marginally better at it, but oh no. My favorite means of expressing attraction is still endlessly debating obscenely obscure theological topics. (While sitting an appropriate distance apart, of course. Don't worry, I am queen of conservative Christian propriety. Leave room for Jesus? I left room for four OBESE Jesuses.)
For me, the closest I'd come to confessing love read something like this:
"So, ummm, what's your eschatological viewpoint? Are you pre-millennial,  post-millennial, or amillennial?"
It didn't matter what they were. What mattered was how well they could intelligently and thoughtfully articulate their position. Using many scripture references too, of course. There's nothing more impressive than a man who can out quote my scripture memorization, or one who can actually remember where the verses live in the Bible (an ability I have never mastered).
Yeah. #flirtingfail. #nerdychristiangirlproblems too. #conservativejeanjumperwearingchristiangirlproblems, for that matter.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Little, leaping moons 
of reflected light 
silver-gold spark, 
sun on water. 
Spray smacked face, 
sail against sky. 
Sun warmed skin,
wind pulled hair. 

A sail at sunset 
could carry my soul
to heaven.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

all good gifts

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." -James 1:17

Good and perfect gifts are everywhere I look lately. Here are just a few: 

  • my brother marrying my best friend 
  • walks in summer rain
  • bedtime stories and cuddles with my littles 
  • the ever-present urge to play dress-up in my bridesmaid dress
  • counting down the days till I get to see my Africa-friend again
  • holding a sleeping baby, and feeling quiet awe
  • living a constant dance party
  • waking up, going to sleep, and spending the vast majority of the moments between with my favorite people
  • uncontrollable giggles with Meredith 
  • waking up to omelettes and coffee like I'm the queen of sheba 
  • long profound talks with my almost-ten-year old brother 

Monday, May 14, 2012

the secret to weight loss

A recipe for weight loss…
Don’t sleep or eat
If you have trouble with that, do a hundred and twenty-five hours of volunteer service, and be a hopeless perfectionist in the honors program, during your first semester of college. Then you’ll be so stressed it’ll come easy, I promise.
I accidentally invented this weight loss recipe last fall, though the goal was just to survive. Accidentally reversing the normal “freshman fifteen” was just a surprising by-product. I was honestly just annoyed; none of my jeans fit me anymore. But whenever I came home for a visit, suddenly my weight was a big deal. I got a lot of welling meaning comments "Oh, how's college? You look so good, have you lost weight?" all the time.
They meant well, it was supposed to be a compliment, but it bothered me. It was just so hastily assumed that losing weight was a universally good thing. And it's not.  The societal assumption (propagated by the media) that losing weight it always a good thing, always to be desired, is giving rise to a lot of really bad things. The mortality rate for anorexia is twelve times higher than any other cause of death for girls age fifteen to twenty-four (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders).Younger and younger girls are being affected as well. In an international survey forty-two percent of first- to third grade girls said that they want to be thinner, and eighty-one percent of ten year olds were afraid of getting fat (Martin, 2).
            Losing weight is not always a good thing, and we need to stop being so quick to hail it as one, to congratulate girls on losing weight when we don’t know if their weight loss is a symptom of a disease (that’s what eating disorders ARE, people). Obviously, if my weight loss had been really drastic and clearly unhealthy, the ladies who congratulated me on it would have been concerned instead, and I am sure would have at least checked with my parents to see if I was ok. But eating disorders are physical and mental illnesses, and by the time the physical symptoms are an obvious problem, the mental illness is already ingrained. The obsession with losing weight, the compulsions, all of the mental bondage of eating disorders are there long before the physical symptoms. And when the first (healthy seeming) start of weight loss is hailed as a wonderful event, it just re-enforces the idea that weight loss is good, no matter what unhealthy lengths it is taken to.
For the record, I don’t have an eating disorder, and I never have. But still, I would have appreciated it if people had asked, “Oh, have you been trying to lose weight? You look thinner.” That at least would be asking for a little bit of the story behind it, instead of hastily assuming the story was all peaches and cream, when it could very well be self-hate and fear. In my case, it was just a ton of stress resulting in a loss of appetite, but for people with eating disorders it’s much worse.
So this is all to say: Let’s be careful to respect the untold stories around us, and not be so hasty to jump in with congratulations before we’ve checked to make sure therapy isn’t a better reaction. Be someone who invites people to tell their stories, to ask for help if they need it.
P.S. Thanks for listening, and here’s my works cited. Sorry, habit…

Crow, S.J. et al. “Eating Disorders Statistics.” ANAD. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. n.d. Web. 12 April, 2012.
Martin, Jeanne B. “The Development of Ideal Body Image Perceptions in the United States.” Nutrition Today 45.3 (2010): 98-110. Lippincott’s Nursing Center. Web. 8 Mar. 2012 were afraid of getting fat (2). 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

hope + hormones

Your eyes were blue
and so a corner of my brain
began to write a poem to you
A little bubble of hope and hormones
which my reason promptly sat on

Monday, March 12, 2012

starry starry night

Missing Maine and summer nights. Therefore hunting up this old composition...

It was one of those Maine nights that I dream about all year, the air tangy and brisk, smelling of pines and sand. The sky was the deep blue, before it fades to black, with stars just shining out. The circle of pines around our cabin stretched up tall, somehow making the sky seem bigger, drawing your eyes up, making you marvel at the vastness of it.
I grabbed Dad’s ipod and headed to the beach, the screen door squeaking, swinging closed, slamming and bouncing. I shook the sand off the blanket that was already laying on the beach, ready for me. On my back, staring at the stars, which shone brighter and clearer every moment, I listened to Iron and Wine and Calexico. Bethie came, and I pulled her close so she could listen too. We were 16, maybe less.
We didn’t talk much, the music and the mood and most of all the stars, silenced us. I smiled at her, the outline of her pale profile bright in the darkness. Right as the notes of Hoppipolia swelled to a climax, we gasped. A star had just shot across the sky, brilliant, trailing light. I had glimpsed them while star gazing before, but barely. They were always exactly where I wasn’t looking, right on the edge of my vision.
This shooting star was perfectly above us, seen fully. When it faded, I blinked, luminescence left under my eyelids. Beth and I glanced at each other wonderingly, her dark eyes shining, marveling at the perfection of the night.
We stayed out for hours, watching and listening. We called the girls to join us, reveling in the beauty, the magic of friendship, laughter and stars. Our astonishing miracle, the shooting star, was repeated fourteen times, twice for each of us. God’s own firework’s display, blazing in the night.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

little wonders

Frankly, I was having a miserable day. I have had a nasty cold/headache sinus congestion for a week, and today was the climax of the unpleasantness. I even skipped my non-essential classes (I had a presentation in one, so couldn't skip that, and in French we were CONJUGATING VERBS by the third day of class, so I'd be way behind if I missed).  Imagine combination faucet and rudolph the red nosed reindeer, and that's me. Not pretty, and not nice to live.
And then I walked out of my French class and a snowflake fell on my scarf. I've always seen representations of what they are supposed to look like, but in real life they were clumps of wet whiteness by the time I got a closer look. But this one was perfect, just sitting there on my scarf, a delicate little swirl of ice. I could see each minuscule spoke spiraling out from the center. The intricate perfection of it overwhelmed me.
Despite evidence to the contrary, (such as sinus congestion) a world with snowflakes in it is a wondrous thing. The God behind the beauty...I can't imagine.

What a beautiful God, what a beautiful God, what a beautiful God you must be. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

bucket lists and living today

Speaking of living today, I was recently inspired by my brilliant friend Siobhan's wisdom on the subject. (She goes through life dance raving while making cupcakes. And is therefore clearly an authority on living in the moment and joy) Instead of a bucket list that would just gather dust and never be lived, she made a list of things she wanted to do before her next birthday. Forget my melodramatic musings,  this brightly colored list taped to her wall said something really profound about living the adventure today. You make life an adventure, today, this year, because a well lived life ain't coming to those that sit on their bums and wait for it.

So, inspired by Siobhan, here is my own 19 before 20 list....

Finish "Dear Turtle" (the letter/novel I am writing my little sister about when she was born)
Go rock climbing
See Darlingside
Smoke hookah (tobacco, not drugs)
Sleep under the stars
Learn to waltz
Sit on the roof and talk all night
Be a bridesmaid
Be published, small or big doesn't matter
Read the whole Bible
Have dinner at the Friary
Roadtrip to April's
Skinny dip in the ocean
Sleep on the beach in Maine
Ride on a motorcycle
Picnic/stargaze from the middle of the Siena baseball field (and jump the fence to do it) 
Have a sleepover party with the my little seesters 
Identify five constellations whilst stargazing
Eat sushi
Have fried ice-cream
Swim in an evening gown
Write Adam Young/Owl City

P.S. I shall bold the ones I have done.
P.S. I shall bold and italicize the ones I have done more than once. Yeah Darlingside!

Friday, February 17, 2012

sappy sayings and grains of truth

   I have a habit of making up cheesy sayings when I am bored. I'm quite good at it actually. Someday I shall make a fortune selling cards with overly photoshopped pastoral scenes and sappy inspirational quotes, and I shall laugh at all the people who buy them.
   Here's my newest quote "The future is just a bunch of todays that haven't happened yet. So live today. It's all you'll ever have."
   Despite the fact that it makes me cringe a little, I think it's actually true. Today is all we get. Not because we could die tomorrow, even though that too is true (but we never seem to believe it), but because someday is never going to get here. All my life I've had a list of the things I am going to do someday, the person I am going to be someday. Someday when I am brave... I will be painfully real about the things I hate about myself, and God will use my struggles with self image to help heal women. I will stick my tongue out at a random stranger just because I want to see how they will react. I will live overcome by God's grace in each moment.
   It's a great list, a good goal, but it's never going to happen. I am not going to magically wake up brave, healed. To the future me living in that magical someday it's just another day. Tomorrow is just today over again, unless I change how I am living now. A future as a brave, healed, God glorifying woman is quite possible, if I live today as a broken, humbled, surrendered girl.
   I am going to inch towards the courage it takes to let God change me today. Someday starts now (and there's another sappy saying as a bonus. If you make a card with it, send me the royalties).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


     What little light there was in the dark room, flickered out of an old, beat up TV in the corner, around which a group of men in long traditional Malian tunics sat, watching the African channel. I couldn’t tell if the newscaster was speaking in French, Mali’s national language, or Bambara, its lingua franca, because the volume was too low for me to pick out any of the few phrases I might have recognized. Maria,* the Dutch woman I was with, called the dingy room a bar, but it wasn’t alcohol they were selling. As I stood in the shadows by the door, trying to take it in, I thought “I’m in a brothel. I wonder if I should feel scared?”
    The pilgrimage that took me from my loving, protected home in the church parsonage of a small New York town, to the dark alleys and streets of Bamako, Mali West Africa’s red light district, was a strange one. Since I was twelve I knew that Africa was where I was headed--the goal that kept me scrubbing floors, saving every penny I earned, for the plane ticket that would take me there. In the spring of ‘09, when I was sixteen, I handed that hard earned ticket, marked Bamako, Mali, to the airport personnel in Casablanca, Morocco. I was finally on the last leg of my journey, a journey that spanned four years of planning and praying, the Atlantic, and nearly two days of layovers and flights. I was almost there.
     Excitement and sheer exhaustion warred in my head, keeping me up for those last four hours. I knew this trip would likely determine the rest of my life. It would prove whether my crazy dream of living and working in Africa was just that, a crazy kid’s dream, or if my sure sense that this was what I was meant for was true.
     For the next two weeks, all my nerves were strained, desperately trying to absorb everything: the colors, brightly patterned clothing, wide, white smiles against black skin, tattered rags on little, beautiful bodies, wordless bonding through barefoot soccer, gorgeous views of red Malian dirt and green mountains littered with reeking piles of trash. The strangest mix of incredible beauty overlaid with filth, heartbreaking poverty and a wealth of laughter and joy. My Dad and I traveled with international workers from our church denomination, The Christian and Missionary Alliance. We volunteered at a women’s and children’s hospital, taught at two summer camps for kids, and shared soap and smiles amidst the horrific conditions of a Malian prison. It was a hellhole of flies and heat, men crammed together in unbelievably inhumane conditions.
     Now here I was, standing next to Maria, the Dutch International worker who runs a center that provides alternative vocational training for women caught in the sex trade. Malian culture is extremely focused on greetings, so while Maria handed out fliers and talked with prostitutes, my job was to smile and shake hands. Circled by girls in skinny jeans, tank tops and miniskirts, garb that would go unnoticed in America, but in Mali’s modest culture, were a sure indicator of prostitution, Maria looked them each in the eye, and asked them if they wanted something better. The direct, motherly way she interacted with them, holding their hands, patting cheeks, laughing and teasing, helped to ease the uncomfortable looks her questions caused. “If you ever want to get out, I will be here to help you,” she earnestly told a girl, as a man nuzzled her shoulder, and kissed up her neck.
     We met two pregnant girls who were unable to get any medical attention. As a woman in Mali, you need papers signed by your husband, or a male relative providing for you. Obviously, these girls had neither, and at 8 months pregnant, one of the girls had yet to see a doctor, and planned on delivering without one.
     I met her in the last group of girls, on our way back to Maria’s car. She was seventeen, and had been in the business since she was fourteen, when she was offered a “good job” in Côte d'Ivoire. Her name was Awa. I found this out later; all I knew then was that mid way through the circle of shaking hands and smiling, the girl in the yellow tank top reached out and hugged me.
     She was starved for affection, needed desperately to be loved, touched by someone who wasn’t using her. The uncertainty and pleading in her huge eyes changed to joy when I hugged her back.
     I was always insecure, and prone to panicking inside when given a new task, terrified I wouldn’t get it right. But now my only job was to love her, and that I could do. Sweaty and covered in the brown-orange film of dust kicked up from the red Malian dirt, emotionally and physically exhausted after my afternoon in the Malian prison, holding a prostitute, I was suddenly completely content. The Bible says that “To whom much is given, much also is required.” (Luke 12:48) Hugging Awa, I knew that I had been given so much; a home, clothes and food and a good education, and I didn’t have to sell myself to buy any of them. For the first time, I fully appreciated my innocence. All I wanted was to give back. My “crazy kid’s dream” was confirmed, this was what I was meant for. I plan on dedicating my life to bring justice and freedom to girls like Awa.
     Awa destroyed my illusions, taught me that my nice, safe little world was a figment of my imagination. But, of all the shocking things I saw there, the most horrifying discovery came later-- I found I could forget. While standing in the prison, and later holding Awa, I thought that my capacity for selfishness was surely being burnt out of me. I was shocked and disillusioned to find that I could still be lazy, that a life wasted on the pursuit of my own pleasure was still an option for me.
     Even as Awa shattered my glass house, introducing me to the harsh realities of life, she taught me to hope. I realized that human selfishness is a prison you have to daily choose to be free of, and that it is the choice, not the emotion, that determines who you are. Though I may feel selfish, because of Awa I will always choose to live selflessly. Until I faced the horrific aspects of both my own nature, and the world, I could not possibly hope to change either.

*Names changed to protect identities.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Africa day 2

Day 2 (or three? They blurred) ...We're now about one and a half hours from Koutiala. While we were stopping at a little gas station, a crowd of kids gathered. At first it was just one little boy who stood and stared at me through the open door of the van. He smiled at me, the hugest, most gap toothed adorable smile I've ever seen. I, of course, grinned back as wide as my face could go. We stood grinning and periodically waving at each other, as other kids came up. I finally nerved up the courage to try and say "good afternoon" in Bambara, the trade language. I said "I ni wula" shyly, and could tell from their mystified expressions that they hadn't understood. So I tried again. This time they understood, and their smiles ( I would have thought it impossible, but it wasn't) got even wider. They giggled and kept repeating "I ni wulu" to each other. They obviously got a kick out of the white girl speaking Bambara. *
They were so indescribably beautiful, with their mix matched colorful and unkempt clothes, huge white smiles in their black faces, and enormous eyes.

*[Also, I later realized that I may have used the wrong phrase. So they were probably just laughing at the fact that the white girl  thought she was speaking their language, but definitely wasn't succeeding very well. Still, it's one of my happiest memories, my first attempt at Bambara and that beautiful little boy's grin.]


   Considering this blog is supposed to be about Africa, but the whole college thing is getting in the way of me going back to Africa in the immediate future, I figured I'd tide myself over with all my Mali memories. So here's the story of me and Africa, taken from my journal from the trip.

June 30th, 2009 1:30 pm, London Time, Heathrow airport.
...The flights so far have gone well. I stared out the window half the time, fascinated by the view of the clouds from above. They look like a sea of cotton swabs, stretching forever. I joked with Dad about how glaringly obvious it was that I was the only first time flyer on our plane. I was the only one who seemed to find the view more than briefly interesting. I spent the flight with my nose against the glass.
July 1st, 9:30am.
The rest of our trip went well. We had a three hour layover in Casablanca. The airport smelled of over expensive designer perfume and cheep cigarettes.
...I could barely keep my eyes open by the time we got to Bamako. [Understandable after two days of travel and no sleep, since I discovered I have trouble sleeping on planes.] It was so good to see [the Alliance International Workers we were working with]. They drove us to their home, which is beautiful. My first nightime view of Bamako showed very run down buildings, some shacks, and many people walking out, even thought it was three thirty in the morning. When we arrived, their guard [At first I was taken aback by the fact that most of the missionaries had guards and cleaning help, but began to understand it was a fabulous way to build relationships in the community, and supplied an income to people whose families might otherwise literally go hungry.] unlocked the gate to their walled in courtyard. He was wearing pants, socks and a sweater because it was "so cold!" Dad and I, meanwhile, were sweating profusely.
We settled in, and everything was very comfortable, but it took me a long time to get to sleep. When I'm overtired, I can't fall asleep. I was so tired I physically felt sick. Dad woke up and tried to sing me to sleep. He's wonderful.
....I took a nap after our whatcha mackalit session [I believe my jet lagged brain was searching for the word "orientation"] when the missionaries gave us some Mali basics.
Later, they took Dad and I to the artisan market.
The driving is insane. Absolutely insane. People, sometimes three on one, often carrying large objects, weave in and out of traffic on little motor cycle like things called motos.
My main impression of the artisan market was, well, everything. The noise; so many people trying to sell you so many different things, the colors; of beautiful cloth, crafts of all kinds, outfits of men and women, since Malian men wear "girl" colors too. The filth, trash littering everywhere, smell and smoke.
The silversmiths have little open grill like things [braziers], and work on their jewelry right there. It was sensory overload.