4 Thoughts On Living Out Your Dreams

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This week, my husband submitted his $300 deposit for entrance into the Poole School of Management at N.C. State University. It was a milestone. His MBA journey got me thinking about Dreams. Dreams with a capital “D.” You know, those pesky ambitions we invented in first grade? I think 65% of my first grade class wanted to be teachers. Including me.

As twenty-somethings, we were trained to breathe, execute, and annihilate dreams like no other generation before us. I’m sure you were told that you could “be anything and do anything you want to!” or “ if you can dream it, you can do it!” It seems as if our whole lives have been in anticipation of achieving our potential.

 

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But dreams are more complicated than I thought. Here are a few of the hard lessons I’ve learned in my twenties.

Some of us Stumble Into Dreams After College

In college, I was wary of those people who had a ridiculously specific notion of a dream. (read: I was wildly jealous)

Let’s just say I met one too many people who told me their ambitions were to be a marriage counselor or a speech therapist for pre-schoolers with dental problems. I always wanted to shake them and scream, “BUT HOW DO YOU KNOW?!”

They not only knew what they were studying, but they were also well on their way to a very SPECIFIC dream. I felt like a loser. I had no idea what I wanted to do.

But the truth is: dreams shift and change like the ocean filters into different greens and blues. You’ll often end up doing something that applies the gifts and talents that people recognized in you at the tender age of five. It might not be what you imagined. Or it might.

My husband, Chris, is an incredible Biology teacher. He can explain biochemistry to a five year old. He is articulate and super smart, and when he left his teaching job a year ago, I thought I was tearing him away from a passion. But over the course of this year, we’ve realized that Business is perfect for Chris. It uses all of his skills: negotiating, conflict resoluton, communication, and detail-orientedness. One day not too long ago, he grabbed my hand and told me, “Briana, I want to get my MBA. That’s my dream.”

It took 4 years for him to find this dream.

Real Life Dictates the Types of Dreams You Choose

We couldn’t afford for Chris to be a teacher. That is the gosh darn, hard truth. Chris loved teaching, but our family was living paycheck to paycheck while camping out at our in-law’s house.

I used to think that one of the rules was you should never let go of a dream. Now, I simply don’t believe that. Chris chose to prioritize his family (which was also an actual dream of his) over his teaching career. He made the leap into business, which ended up to a better fit in a million ways.

I’ve learned this the hard way, too. About a year and a half ago, I was accepted to Physician Assistant school. When I tallied up the cost, I realized that I would have to shell out over $100,000 and put my family into serious financial straits if I wanted to go. The day I hung up from the acceptance call, I set my cellphone down on the table.

I put my face into my hands and sobbed.

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I knew that I had to to say no. It flew in the face of everything I thought about dreams: to work as hard as you can, stop at no obstacles, and keep reaching for the dream. Hard work will get you the whole way, right?

But I also had another dream: that of raising my kids and of not sinking into debt. I dreamed about riding bikes, and being there for warm soapy baths. So I let go, hung up that dream, and I reached for another.

Women Have It Much, Much Harder

In college, we were all equal. You worked hard, you got an A. Or so it felt. I never felt like I was at a disadvantage of achieving a dream because I was a woman. Then I graduated.

I started to notice that the men were being funneled into high-paying sales jobs and investment banking. Other men were pursuing their M.D.s. But there were also women kicking butt. Here is the problem: at some point, and often very soon (i.e. marriage, babies) women face incredibly difficult decisions: move to New York for their husband’s law school, versus stay in Chicago and pursue their marketing career.

Women still earn 77 cents for every dollar men earned across the country, and their career often hits the back-burner fast. Just this week, I learned that if HR professionals are given a series of random resumes with different characteristics, they will look the MOST unfavorably at the resume that belongs to a woman with children. I was floored.

I’ve experienced this first hand. From juggling a 10-hour/week job for Physician Assistant school, to trying to hold down a part-time freelance job to keep my resume intact, my dreams have taken the back-burner, through no fault of anyone. I now earn markedly less than my husband. My husband loves and supports me, but truthfully, we have made the choice to pursue his career first. It has been the most practical, logical consideration for us as a couple who plans to stay married for a lifetime.

 

A Part-Time Dream is Better Than No Dream

I know men that don’t have time for dreams because they are working 40+ hours a week. I know women who have babies and lay down their masters degrees. But then I have friends like Peggy, who works at a nonprofit part-time helping women in the sex industry (with a baby!), and there’s Ben, who’s trying to make movies on the side.

A part-time dream is better than no dream.

I started to chip away, little-by-little, at my childhood dream of writing. I have a part-time job in professional freelancing.I negotiated a schedule with my mother-in-law to take my one-year old once a week. I fought to be the person I knew I wanted to be 10, 15, 20 years from now. I’m nowhere near the place I want to be, but I haven’t giving up.  I’ve found a dream flexible enough to fit snugly into my other dreams, and I choose to write for 30-minutes a day because it matters.

When I was a dorky-sweet ninth grader, I wrote and made journals.

This was written in sparkly pen all over one of those journal scrapbooks:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

I love to think of ALL OF US as the music makers (okay, I can’t carry a tune to save my life) and the dreamers of dreams.

We are the future generations of writers, musicians, doctors, and pastors. And full-time or part-time, men or women, your dream matters. Even if it doesn’t look the same as it did when you held a handful of Crayolas in your hands.

photo credit: Fibonacci

photo credit: Nicole Pierce via Flickr

This is How You Believe: On Rainy Days, Mints, and Espresso

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I could smell Zoe from 3 feet away. She smelled like Crest. I caught her peeking around the corner of the stairs.

“Mommy, I ate some mints!”

Three glinting wrappers.

Her face looked like it was slapped with chocolate cream pie. It was raining outside. Big torrents of rain followed by light pitter-patter.

Zoe is a human-sized clock. Two children (I should say one) scramble into our beds and kiss our legs with gooey soft lips like the warm udders of a mama cow. It’s lovely. It’s chaos. It’s cozy.

It’s early. I mean:

I’m not even sure if I’m a person at this time of the morning.

Barista! Make that a triple-shot.

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Today. Today I set my alarm. This is the first day I’ve done that in months. I set my alarm because I wanted to learn how to show up again.

Raising two babies is like being on a white-water rafting trip for 24-hours with two tiny people (who are steering!) that you have to keep alive.You better have enough popsicles and  Krispy Kreme Donuts to muster the energy to pull your hubby close. Try reeling in a water-logged drowning person onto a boat.

That’s what it’s like. Sucks. Sugar is the only way.

Ya’ll. I haven’t been my best self. I haven’t even been half of my best self. I catch myself boomeranging words to slice off another person’s head, or lop off my own. I find myself saying things that I shouldn’t be saying. To myself, to Chris, to anyone.

Conversation Example #1 : Chris says day is sunny and beautiful.

Briana says BUT it is TOO shiny. The sun is in my eyes.

 

Pitter-patter of feet this morning, and the nose peeking through the door. 7.5 minutes into the day. Sweet kisses and a warm body ambling into my lap. She watches the rain, and I watch her. We sit at the window and she marvels at how it pours down.

Her eyes widen. “Mommy, can we go outside?” She begs.

“Can we run in the rain?” Outside, the rain has created puddles at the bottom of the driveway. It looks like the dark filter on my iPhone. Can we run in the rain? I stare at her.

Ummm…. (read: how do I get out of this?)

It takes a child to say it. Can we run in the rain, please? Guys, it’s seven simple, silly words. Remember running outside in the rain, and letting the wind whip through your shirt plastered to your body? Chasing your friends around the block. Watching lightning split sky into puzzle-pieces?

Wild and human, loved and up-to-the-sky filled-with-thrills. Will you run in the rain with me? It’s a bonafide, no-holds-bar invitation.

I need Zoe. I need her to help me remember how the whole banana split fits together.  I don’t have to live here anymore in the land of life-sucks, let’s-go-to bed-because-I’m-beat. The HERE that has been here for a while.

Zoe and I grab her church shoes. We show up sans rainboots, her hair in crazy threads. My face is stamped with the loopy grin of someone-who-hasn’t-had-her-espresso.

Unprepared. We don’t count the raindrops. We don’t wait for a more godly hour. I don’t think of the ‘never enough,’ and the ‘what-ifs’ and the I-don’t-know-where-I’m going-track that has played through my mind for days.

The rain splashes our ears, our faces, the tips of our noses. We hoot.

We hold each other’s wet bodies. We clasp hands like two little drunken sailors.Zoe’s face is shocked with wonder, tipped up to sky.

I’ve been waiting for God to make me fall in love with him. I’ve been waiting for something to jar me out of being lost. I’ve forgotten that what was lost has already been found.Communion is standing outside of our front door like the UPS guy ringing the doorbell during my kids naps. Always there.

We linger on the inside of a house, waiting and waiting, as the rain pours down, because we can’t believe that wonder and compassion and love is available and free. Free like Trader Joes Samples of mini noodles and meatballs. Free like ballpoint pens with company logos. We don’t have to pay for it. Life is ours for the taking, in great torrential buckets. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.

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It takes a small child, a baby, to remind us of the extraordinary bounty. The pile of mints on a table. We don’t choose life. We’ve been chosen for it.

We skip down the gravel. There is the tinkle of Anne-Lammott-laughter like “carbonated holiness.” Zoe stops abruptly. The drops slip down her forehead and into her eyebrows. She grins.

The whole world stops in it’s tracks, and I see life flash forward and back, and freeze like a photograph: a toddler in the downpour, her face rapturous with joy. Her countenance is teaching me. I’m a slow learner.

This. This mom.

This is how you believe.

 

How To Find Your Personal Decorating Style

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For years, I thought that I didn’t have style. My sister is the fashion-crazy girl in our family. I wear t-shirts. I am lazy about my makeup. I slip on yoga pants at every opportunity. I love to just lounge. All the time.

A few years ago, I would never have even attempted to write this post. I was constantly looking around me to see what everyone else was doing. My thought process was this: if everyone else likes something, there must be something great about it. Therefore, I must buy whatever everyone else has. The result was a malatov cocktail of a million random pieces of clothing and furniture that didn’t go together in any way. My house looked like it had vomited 500 different (cheap) catalogues. It was like living in a Goodwill. The worst part was, I still had no idea why it didn’t work.

Since then I’ve realized that I do like very specific things. I’ve realized that I often don’t like what other people like at all.  I’ve let this set me free.I’ve become more confident. I’ve become more proud of what I love.

Maybe you’ve discovered that you don’t feel as passionate about owls, or Corningware is not your best friend. Maybe you like bright colors and Fiesta dinner bowls. Great. Keep figuring it out.

Guess what? You are free to hate the latest trends. You are free to dislike the putrid yellow bowl your cousin gave you for your wedding.

Once you train your eye to look for the beautiful in the mundane, the extraordinary in the ordinary, you’ll start to realize that what you think is extraordinary is sometimes not beautiful to other people. It doesn’t matter. You are the curator. You are the lover of precious beautiful things. You get to fill your house, or apartment with anything that looks beautiful to you.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned a few things about decorating that have given me no end of joy:

(1) To be Good at Decorating, You Have to Practice
In one of the books I recently read, it said you have to spend 10,000 hours practicing to be a master at something. Obviously, you’re probably not going to become a master decorator. But you would be surprised how much better you can get at decorating just by paying attention.
All artists live, breathe, and die by their art. They curate good art. They practice good art. They fall in love with art. If you want to have an eye for decorating, you have to practice. This can be as simple as Pinteresting everything you love to get an idea of what you gravitate towards.
It can mean ordering a few magazines. Examining your friends house for details that you love or hate. Really, it means paying attention.

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(2) Figure out What You Absolutely Hate
This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s really important. How can you know what you love if you don’t now what you don’t like? This was huge for me. Huge. I am ambivalent about everything. Maybe I like that gold chain necklace, maybe I don’t? I don’t know? It’s enough to cause massive anxiety if you let it.

Develop a passion for saying you hate something. Here’s a tip: If you are not sure, then you probably don’t like it.

I started doing this about a year ago. It’s much easier for me now then it was when I bought everything under the sun that I could see someone else wearing, or buying.

I hate long skirts. I simply will not ever wear them. I hate mittens. As far as decorating goes, I am not a big fan of dark browns and wine red. I rarely wear heels, and my gosh, they better be comfortable.

Do you love cozy and dark spaces with low lighting? Do you gravitate to emeralds and deep crimson hues?

Do you feel more at home on a comfy white couch? When there are clean lines? Lots of light?

You probably won’t like BOTH of the above scenarios. The one you don’t like is not you. Don’t live straddling the decorating line. Figure out a side to be on, and stick to it until you know your taste better.

(3) Don’t Fall for the Idea That Decorating Is Expensive
Most of the “decorating” I do is rearranging what I already have. I’ve rearranged my couch three times. I’ve enlisted my parents to help me put up pictures. I’ve “found” objects on the side of the road–including my favorite side table, which I painted white.

I’ve bought a myriad of picture frames at Goodwill for $1.98. It’s not expensive unless you make it expensive. Part of the fun is in being exceptionally frugal. The other half is the surprise and joy of culling through a collection of random ugly things for that one beautiful orphan object. Give it a new family of other things you find exceptionally delightful and beautiful.

 

(4) Throw Stuff Away
If you’ve ever been in an art museum, you’ll notice that there is a lot of WHITE SPACE. Even for tiny photographs, the room is 80% white space and 20% art. Why do you think this is? Too much stuff is overwhelming to the eyes. Every beautiful thing should have a stage. All the other stuff should have a place.

Learn to throw everything away that is not functional, beautiful, or sentimental. If it is sentimental, make sure that you have a space for it, otherwise consider what  it’s worth to you. Have a yard sale. Donate to Goodwill.

When I was in college I created pastel drawings for Chris that have been lying in a dusty drawer. My next project is to get those out, buy a cheap Goodwill frame, and display them. They are beautiful. They are sentimental. They deserve a stage. If it can’t be put up on a wall, or used, it needs a serious reason to stick around.

(5) Have Fun

Once you’ve figured out what you love and researched your style, you’re ready to start decorating. This is the fun part. I had my dad and mom come over for the weekend and we used our combined years of experience to put a lot of art on the walls, and place curtain rods. We moved furniture. We probably spent upwards of 8+ hours “decorating” with what we had.

In Zoe’s room, I  bought a red book holder that matched my primary color theme. I painted Kaiden’s crib white with homemade chalk paint. We rearranged the toys on top of a relatively inexpensive white Target 8-cube. The quote is a gift from my sister from years ago. I had also painted the rocking chair a bright blue because I wanted one thing to stand out and be a little wild. Here are the results:

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Ignore the fact that my son’s face isn’t in this picture yet! I found all three of these at Goodwill for less than $10 total. I grouped them by color and they fit together perfectly because they have a nautical type-theme, which is one of my decorating “loves.”

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The most important part of decorating is becoming comfortable with saying “I love this.” Say it loudly and proudly. Rearrange the precious things you have and you’ll find that somehow, with a little tender loving care and attention, you’ll end up with a personal style.

What I’m Into: August Edition

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This weekend, we celebrated my daughter’s 3rd Birthday with a fluffy sweet chocolate angel food cake and plenty of presents.It’s hard to believe my sweet girl has turned three. It’s harder still to watch her head off to pre-school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She’s still my baby girl.

 

In these last two months, where I’ve only posted sporadically on here, I’ve done some thinking. I am re-branding and re-orienting my blog. I have some ideas about what this will look like, but I still have some more planning to do. My next post will dig into that, but until then, I’m linking up for What I’m Into!

 

Books

Cheryl Strayed (I love her, I love her, I love her!)

Wild-Reese-WitherspoonNot Cheryl, Obviously. But Reese Witherspoon will play her in the movie that is coming out soon!

The book “Wild” is a stand-out. I read it after my good friend Sarah Torna Roberts suggested I read Tiny Beautiful Things first. Wild is an emotional rollercoaster.  In a good way. I wasn’t prepared to cry half-way through. I read this in a day-and-a-half.

If you think a story about a twenty-something hiking through the wilderness isn’t interesting—you’ve got another thing coming. I’m eagerly anticipating the next thing dear Cheryl might have up her sleeve.  The only thing I’ll note is this: her story is very much that of a ‘wild’ young adult. Both books contain sensitive topics including drug abuse, sex, and rape.

Days of Deepening Friendship by Vinita Hampton Wright

This book impressed me on many levels. It both an easy devotional book to read, and the kind of book that reminds you: nothing good comes from trying harder. In the first few pages, she writes: “I suspect that whoever has picked up this book feels the same way. After a point, we become weary of thinking so much and trying so hard…Our souls have become needy in a profound, relentless way, and we cannot ignore the symptoms any longer.”

She goes on, not to offer any ‘wisdom’ or ‘advice’ but to ask you to consider the simplest of ideas: friendship with God. This book reminded me of a modern Madeleine L’Engle in style and tone.

Drive by Daniel H. Pink


Drive delivers on incentives and motivation. Basically: rewards don’t work. Your drive is inside of you. Sounds fruity, but also true, huh?  I loved it. It’s a business book, but I think it applies to all of life. Some thoughts:

“In other words, rewards can perform a weird sort of behavior alchemy; they can transform an interesting tasks into a drudge. They can turn play into work.”

“The best predictor of success, the researchers found was the “nonphysical trait know as ‘grit’ – defined as ‘perseverance and passion for long-term goals.’”

The Power of Habit

This nonfiction book explains why we brush our teeth. Yes. You heard me right. Apparently brushing our teeth is a new thing. Like in the last hundred years. It was made popular by advertising. Advertising caused people to make brushing teeth a habit. Want to know why we do anything? This book makes a pretty good case that it probably has to do with habit and the power of rewards. It is a fascinating read.

Blogs I’ve Been Reading

 The Hollywood Housewife: This blog has become a regular read for me. It is tasteful, beautiful, and always interesting. It’s more of a lifestyle blog, but I love that she delves into everything: personal stories, faith (sometimes), fashion, and living.

Photography Problems

I’m sick of my blog. There, I said it. (Frankly, I’ve been too lazy to get my act together). I’m figuring out what will make my blog more interesting to me, and, of course, to you.  I’m taking more photographs. I’ve attempted to figure out what it might look like to have a more well-rounded approach.

Photography is so important. I’ve rediscovered Canva and PicMonkey and hope to actually use  editing software. I’m spending time editing just in iPhoto. I’m off the grid trying to tweak my blog approach.

Television Shows

Chris and I have fallen for Longmire, a gritty drama based out of Wyoming with long shots of just sky. It is crazy beautiful out there, people. I feel like I’ve traveled to Wyoming just watching this TV show. The best part is the characters (something I say about every show I love). Using a typical detective show formula, the show transforms routine interactions into scenarios that would only happen in Wyoming. Rodeos, Native Americans, Cowboys, and Roadkill feature on a regular basis.

How Pinterest and Yoga Can Help Iraq and Syria

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This last weekend Chris and I attended a wedding in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Chris’ mom arrived at our house to take care of Zoe and Kaiden, and we both eagerly woke up the next morning to board flights back to the Midwest.Danielle and David, the bride and groom, are the kind of people where the first time you meet them, you cross your fingers that they will get married. You know that they are the forever-and-ever type. They are the ones that learn life lessons at the feet of one another.

At the wedding I talked to a girl named Jenny. We graduated the same year from Wheaton, a bare 4 years ago, though it feels like yesterday. I told her about the book I’m writing.

She relayed her journey as a newly-minted counselor She told me  on a daily basis she deals with heart-breaking stories of sexual abuse and self-destruction.

 I asked softly: How do you deal with such complex, heart-rending stories?

She said something that astounded me, but made complete sense. “It was killing me to have trauma everywhere around me. I had to do mindless, life-giving, taking-care-of-myself things to keep going.”

She said she Pinterests and does Yoga. She naps. She watches hours of television.

These are the things she does on her days when she isn’t hearing about trauma and sexual abuse. When she isn’t engaging it, in every graphic detail.

Just to stay psychologically able to continue her incredible work, she’s had to step back from many of her professional roles to process the grief and the secondary trauma associated with counseling.

I completely understood that need—that need to get away for a little bit because you are engaging. You’re engaging so much that you feel the weightiness of it all, the heaviness of little children on your shoulders.

This might not be a popular concept, but I think that sometimes, just sometimes, we need to move away from Ferguson and the Middle East, from trauma and unrest, from things that get us so riled up that we are of no use at all.

It’s hard to stay in it. Its sticky and uncomfortable and makes you want to cry and curl up in a ball at the same time. But there is a time to be in it, and there is a time to walk away and know that you’ve been in it. Especially, especially, if you’ve offered a hand, as Jenny does each day to girls who are suffering.

There is black tar on us—we are sticky and complicit in our unease, we are alone and yet surrounded by worldwide despair. Ebola, Ferguson, suicide, the killing of a journalist in Syria.

But I’ve taken a page from the airline stewardesses: put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others.

If there is one thing we can do it is this: take time to hope again, before & after we fully engage the darkness.

Otherwise, we will burn out. We will become desensitized because of image after image, story after story.

We must NOT erase the images of children being devoured by Iraq, Yazidi babies being used as fighters and weapons of war.

But in order to participate in restoration, in order to be of any use, we must rest in between the sprints of compassion and peace-making.

What I am not saying is “do nothing.” We should be jarred. We should also feel like we need a break—as Jenny needed a break from stories of sexual abuse, addiction, and pain. I’m not saying that you should turn on Pinterest the second a news story breaks, , but there is a fine line between burning out completely and just needing some rest.

There is a small space between guilt and inaction–I’ve been there– the thickness of being overwhelmed and suddenly feeling paralyzed because of the trauma. Being useless with the explosion of words and manifestos.

In the uproar on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve watched myself slowly withdraw from the stories and feel empty–just completely empty and discouraged. After all, what do we say in unspeakable violence/race riots/slaughtered children. How can we talk about our vacations and houses, our weddings and baby dedications?

But here’s the key part: without weddings and beautiful moments, without watching two people engage in a riskier leap into the tremendous, gut-wrenching hope of marriage, we wouldn’t be able to live in the dark. We wouldn’t be able to see a light out despite the constant barrage of information. We need to take a step back, find our voices so that we can be a voice for others again, in the small moments, in donations and fundraising, in real life.

We need to spend time in silence, away from  the worry and the fear. Then we can go back into it like soldiers who have been on leave, bouyed by weddings and intimacy, by hope and silence. It is in this knowing silence that we will find the ability to continue seeing, to continue hearing the voices of the oppressed.

I know that this may sound like an unpopular choice for some, because I’ve seen the internet erupt in chaos over Ferguson, and I’ve felt the need to for white people to “stand up” and to “say something.”

I’ve heard many Christian bloggers call other Christian bloggers out for not saying anything. And yet, all over my Facebook feed, everyone is saying something. I’m not quite sure that a lack of awareness is really our problem. Maybe what we lack is the discipline of thought and silence.

Maybe our voices aren’t really helping. Maybe we should be sitting back to listen and give space and hope that in the margins we will hear a still, quiet, voice that calls us to act.

I know that I’ve had to sit back and be silenced. I know that I’ve reflected more than ever on my privilege. I know that the voices that speak louder don’t always help me to find my own conviction and my own courage to act. But then again, there is a time for all things: a time for a strong voice, a time to listen, and a time to reflect. May God grant us the wisdom to know, each one of us, where we lie on the spectrum. Also, if anyone has practical/helpful ways of meeting the gross amounts of need that I’ve seen voiced online (i.e. organizations that are able to meet the needs of Christians in Iraq, ways to donate money to Syrian refugees, etc.), please, please please leave a note. Below are some of the practical ways I’ve found, in my time of stepping back.

Ways to Use Your Reflective Voice To Meet Needs:

Word Relief Crisis in Iraq

“Fighting in northern Iraq has forced thousands of families to flee. Christians and other minorities targeted for persecution chose to abandon their homes rather than their faith. Many endured a long journey in searing summer heat to seek safety.

More than 1.5 million have been affected, and 1.2 million have been displaced, according to U.N. estimates.

Families and children seeking refuge are suffering and need immediate assistance, including food, water, shelter, and medicine.

World Vision plans to respond with emergency aid and supplies. We need your support.

Your gift will help rush emergency supplies and let children affected by this crisis know they’re not alone.”

Samaritan’s Purse Crisis in Iraq

“It’s a nightmare,” Diana said a few days ago from Erbil. “If this situation continues, lots will lose their lives and some will lose their faith. Many are asking where is God.”

World Vision Responds: Disaster in Syria

By the end of 2013, the UNHCR estimates that half of the Syrian population will need humanitarian assistance, including 3.45 million refugees and 6.8 million internally displaced people. Currently, those in displacement camps face overcrowding, inadequate access to basic services, rising rent and food prices and high levels of competition for limited job opportunities.

(Part of World Relief’s Response is to Provide Trauma Counseling: appropriate, considering this essay. Training for Jordanian Christian counselors from the Jordanian Church community to provide trauma counseling for victims of the Syrian War.)

July: What I’m Into or A Much Needed Vacation

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This morning my close friend Kim had her baby, little Whitcomb, and he is safe and sound, and somehow that makes everything seem a little more right in the world.

We just arrived back from Sequoia National Park in California. It was a last minute camping trip (with two toddlers!) that had to be taken due to some epic plumbing situations we’ve encountered.

Let’s put everything in perspective. Once-upon-a-time there was a twenty-six year old girl who thought she knew a lot, but she didn’t know what the words “crawl space,” “water heater,” “foundation,” and “spinning meter” had to do with regular life. That girl no longer exists.  I still don’t know much, but I do know how to hike up my pants, put some heavy shoes on, and trek out to my front yard with a wrench. I know how to check the water meter. I also know how to go up into a crawl space and turn off the water from there, creaking the wheel shut to the right while swiping dirt off my nose.

If only I could have done all of this without the inherent drama, tears, and confusion I seem to bring to all situations that involve change. I’ve kicked and screamed my way through the past few weeks–I’ve been a difficult “third” toddler in our family.

I’ve fought with the warranty company, requested a customer service agent’s supervisor’s supervisor, and doled out cupcakes to our friendly and uber-sweet plumber, Ron. And yet, I’ve still done it all with a measure of Chicken Little in my veins. I feel like the world is falling on my head. It very well might be, as far as I’m concerned.

But then, there was last-minute California due to a benevolent plane ticket from Chris’s dad (and because our plumbing situation escalated).

I am in awe of those stately, grandfatherly trees that guarded my children as my babies fell in dirt, squealed, and dived in again. Sequoias are bastions and citadels of history. These trees were just baby saplings when Mary’s little one suckled her breast–what a thought.

There was snuggling in the musty damp tent with Chris as I breathed in the mountain air and dozed off. There was our sleeping bags grazing, toes tucked, and the sound of people gathering around the campfire, clinking pots and pans. It felt archaic and removed, gentle and real– far from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

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I felt that lovely lovely feeling of being very very small. It is one of my favorite feelings, because sometimes I puff up too big and I forget, but for the mountains and the trees, I would think that the world revolved around me. I am in charge and this terrifies me.

But they remember, and they whisper to you the reassurance that  you are just dust. You are dust, my dear. It is a kind of lullaby of being very very small.

And I remember briefly, in my lyrical subconscious, those moments that were dust. I remembered that it was all so much simpler than I thought it was. There is both a relief and a sorrow in being so small. There is the question of God.  There is what the ancients must have felt in their perpetual focus on the most basic of needs, that God must be very very big and possibly very far away. But there is also peace and acceptance and the flickering fire.

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There was the calm of rough-and-tumble dirty kids and parents.  I was in my element. I only attended to our most basic needs.

The kids ate bacon for breakfast, just bacon one day.

I soaked my son under the high pressure of a water spout.

I roasted a marshmallow for Zoe and watched  as she took her dirty finger nails and licked every bit of stickiness off.

They looked like the children of  a chimney sweep, or an oil worker. They were smeared with grime. It felt all the sweeter to hold their sweet dirty cheeks between my thumb and forefinger and squeeze their cheeks into soft pouches .

I kissed them in their sleeping bags as I had kissed them when they first arrived–muddied and messy–into existence.

When they first arrived, messy and dirty. Dust to life. Life to dust.

Hands & Feet

 

15370_2390152993401_73649816_n   Sometimes other people know how to live life better than you. When you listen to them, you see your life as a sea shell in your hand, you notice for the first time that there are intricate curves and swirls, spirals and concave lines.

You thought that life was a straight line.

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In February of this last year, I cried until my birthday, when I asked for two things: to go to a doctor and get prescribed medication, and to go to our pastor for help. I don’t know why it took me so long to ask for these things. I needed help. And I got it.

Within a few days, when I admitted to a few friends that I had post-partum depression, my friend Chelsea sent me a little box with bath salts and chapstick. It was grape-fruit scented and all-together delicious. I was in awe that someone cared that much about me that they went online, found the perfect gift, and sent it across the country.

Then we went to our pastor. Our pastor told me that I was not in a good place. I needed that. I needed someone to say: this is not okay. We need to get you better.

I listened and nodded, and inside I felt like a dam broke within me. I felt like something was going to change. I knew it.

Sometimes there are points in your life where you need help. Where the most you can do is to ask for help. You have to ask for it, though. You have to believe that other people are listening. That they want the best for you. I asked my pastor where God was, and why he wasn’t showing up. God was so far away.

 

I’ll never forget what my pastor told me. “Briana,” he said. “Maybe God is showing up today, and maybe the help we can get you through counseling is God saying: I’m here.” I had never seriously thought of it that way—that God’s hands sometimes look like the soft callouses of other people’s fingers that reach down and tuck into your own, folding over and under and around your palms. That sometimes his hands are those of a counselor writing notes about your life, scribbling healing into the shadows.

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Today  I squeezed Kaiden’s hands into mine and strolled him around the wading pool. His chubby legs churned and shuffled awkwardly. The sun’s rays heated our twin skins as we held each other’s fingers. Once I let go for one second, and he splashed forward, came up, and chugged a small amount of chlorine. He whimpered. I pulled him into my breast again, and squeezed his hands tight so that he knew: I’m not letting go again.

The other day my counselor said to me, after I had bemoaned some of the circumstances I had gone through, “Briana, have you ever thought that life is just hard? If you zoom out from the small things, the big picture is that we have to adjust, we have to learn to morph  with the unrelenting change we experience. Sometimes, you have to go under the problem, like an obstacle course, or around it. Sometimes you just have to go through it,” or as Frederich Buechner eloquently wrote best: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

Life is not a box. It’s not a series of boxes. There are no labels, like those in my bathroom with “Lotion” and “Contacts.” No trim little boxes lined with identical objects. Our lives are jumbled-up mixes of fried rice—it’s impossible to pick apart the entire narrative, or even the trajectory of our lives.

For a long time, I felt that this meant we were all spinning out of control—like Pluto, out there on the edge of the cosmos, separated from everything and everyone—just a tiny non-planet— we humans seem to be distinguished only by our veils of individuality and selfishness. But I can’t live like that. I can’t live like I’m alone. It doesn’t fit. Holding Hands What does fit for me is the feel of people’s hands—the appendages that guided my childhood, the grandfathers that swung me into the air. My Nana, who positioned my fingers for the first knit stitch. My Memere, whose hands guided me into the warmth of her blue house. The hands of my peers—a particular friend of mine—who sifted through the locks of my hair—at a time where I’d misjudged my worth and jumped off dangerous cliffs into the stormy seas of adolescence.

How appropriate the term the “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,” is.

How true-to-life.

We often let that verse slide away from us, as a reference to some ‘other’ evangelist or person of authority. We don’t bring the good news with our own hands and feet—these dirty messy appendages—certainly not—or perhaps rarely.

How do we claim to “bring good news” to people? What a claim! And yet, and yet, hands and feet have arrived consistently. In the most unlikeliest of forms. In the secret places. In the wide-open spaces. Hands and feet of the serious-eyed brassy-haired girl I once knew (the one who does not know how much her loyalty sustained me), the soft touch of both my grandmother’s translucent hands. They hands of my father, placed softly on my knee in the teen years where I needed to know—of all times—that I could cuddle up beside him.

My mother’s hands, the ones that pressed band-aids, that caressed my hair in the dark when sleep had overtaken me, my body strewn-out defenseless. They are hands that held me tight in the midst of a tantrum—when I was the most difficult child, when I felt out of control —there were hands to remind me that God, He is here for us,  and He is bringing hands.

Teach Us To Want Review: A Cup of Cold Water For The Soul

I don’t often write book reviews on this site. The other book I’ve loved enough to review was Micha Boyett’s book, Found.

 


I first met Jen Pollock Michel at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in April of last year. She had long, lustrous brown hair, and a tall, striking presence. (Jen is a regular contributor for Her.meneutics and a Wheaton College alum!) She talked about her forthcoming book, Teach Us To Want, with a humility and confidence that I could only describe as mature, thoughtful, and tempered.

Indeed, tempered by the storms of life. Jen’s debut book commences with the shadow of her sixteen-year old self. She details a life rearranged through the quietness of that still, small voice that broke into the tumultuous teenage years. Her luminous prose is at once understated, yet simultaneously simmering with emotion. Intellectual rigor lies just beneath the surface tension of the text. Sections of the book read like story, and then decelerate to delve into the scriptural applications. But Jen doesn’t shy away from the instances in life where she has been cut to the quick. Jen spends years negotiating the pulse of her desire to write, and confronts the tangle of her wants with the requirements of her family of five.

 At one point, her friend confronts Jen:

“I’ve been reading your blog,” Her friend says.

 Jen goes on to describe the occasion in her book: 

“I read and think, ‘Yeah, that’s the same old Jen.’’’ I brace for support.

“You know. You write about how you’re always struggling with the whole motherhood thing, how you’re wanting more. You seem discontent and unsatisfied.”

I nod.

“Don’t you think that’s actually a form of coveting?”

Sticks and stones might break your bones. And words, they gut your insides.

 The sure, solid weaving of Jen’s story is one of quiet heartbreak: the death of her father at eighteen, the suicide of her brother, the blessing of five children (and the subsequent postponing of a dream). Throughout the book, Jen engages deep philosophical questions: Does God care about our bodily selves? What does it mean to long for something more? Where is God in our desires?

Jen’s love for Scripture is self-evident. She deftly intertwines stories from Genesis, verses from the New Testament, and interlaces C.S. Lewis, Buechner, L’Engle, Norris, and a myriad of other Christian giants. Her masterful writing is so absorbing that I often forgot where her prose ended, and the spiritual leaders’ began.

Teach Us To Want is a “cup of cold water,” and a beacon in the dark. It was grace to my tired soul—weary of trying to be a Christian woman (whatever that rhetoric means), exhausted from the analysis of a God I no longer felt I understood. This book spoke gospel to me. It felt like it was written for this season of life—for any season in which one craves a deeper story and feels jarred by strong desires, by  longings—and by the bittersweet taste of loss.

There is not a person in the church who wouldn’t benefit from this book. Women and men, young and old. For those in disparate seasons, those who wonder at the incongruence between their lives and faith, this book offers a roadmap to grace.

 What was perhaps most surprising and refreshing was how evident Jen’s commitment to orthodoxy and relentless grip on the truth of God’s goodness proved to be. Perhaps one of the most telling lines is hidden within the acknowledgements, where Jen writes simply, “To me, each of you has been Christ. And he is the one I long to honor in these pages.” It is a reminder of that simple injunction of Christ: I am the way, the truth, and the life.   

Those three inseparable, tantamount cords: way, truth, and life. Teach Us To Want strives towards the examination and inhabitation of all three, but refuses to bend into Gnosticism or asceticism, instead maintaining a steadfast grip to the solid and difficult ground of community and family—the tactile and the quotidian, the way.

It offers the hand on a hard-worn path, the benefit of a friend on the road to Emmaus, a whisper in the dark that says your name, as Jen’s name was called out so many years before, and as Mary Magdalene also heard that intimate phrase resound to enable her recognition of Christ, so I heard my own name as I turned the pages of this book, Briana.

After I finished this book in a single night, the only applicable response I could muster was a prayer of repentance. A prayer of reconciliation with the gracious, merciful God who Jen paints a powerful picture of in this text. Teach Us To Want is a book that bleeds through the topic of desire into the thirst we all have more a meaningful, and joyous life in relationship with a God who I long to know—that God  whom Jen Pollock Michel is in intimate communion with. Katelyn Beaty aptly summarized in the Foreword that Jen Pollock Michel has offered us in Teach Us To Want:  “a practical theology of desire, a richly narrative exploration of longing.”

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Source: Jen Pollock Michel

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book after I expressed my love for Jen’s writing. All I can say is that I will be buying this book for many other people in my life – I can think of many people for whom this book would be an open invitation to life. 

How I Found Motherhood In The Aisle of Trader Joes, Or How Pride Comes Before the Fall

photo 1-2Trader Joes…aka. The Store I Will Not Show My Face In For a Few Months

I started to think I had parenting “down” this week. For one brief morning, as the three of us puttered around the house, I thought: we got this. I was making coffee, the kids were playing together (miracle of miracles), and I had enough time to brush out my three-day old unwashed hair. Heck,  I might be blow-drying next week! For a brief second I thought, it’s working. I’m an awesome mother. Winnnnning!

I considered writing a piece about how it gets better. How the tumble-dry, wet n’ wild miasma of two plus kids fades into a slow era of quiet play. This piece would describe my coup d’état. I took over and gained benevolent control of motherhood. Whenever I have these thoughts that I am all the things, I immediately receive a surge of energy. Kind of like a rechargeable battery. I think I must do all the things.

Pride comes before the fall. And what a fall it is. The first lesson of parenting is this: the moment you think you have succeeded directly precedes a moment where you will be humbled.

I had to pick up some prints at Staples. Just around the corner from Staples was a Trader Joes. After we traipsed out of Staples, I put on my aviators and marched into Trader Joes. If the measure of my gait, the effortless sunglasses staked on my nose, and my demeanor could be summarized, they would say something like I’m a mother of two, and an awesome mother of two, people.

It only took about 30 seconds. Everything devolved. I should have internalized that none of the other mothers  were venturing near the sample desk. They were handing out, of all the worst things: noodles with spaghetti sauce.

Now when I go to Trader Joes, I always eat the samples. I eat as many samples as they will let me eat.  I only stop when I think they are about to say, “M’aam, you cannot eat three samples just because you have three people in your cart. We also know it’s you. We know you cycle back through the aisles, notice the turnover of the sample employee, and go and get another round of samples. We. Know. It’s. You.This is not an open bar at a wedding.  This is a store where other people exchange dollar bills for things.”

That’s when I stop eating samples, when they start giving me the evil eye. When my blinking Bambi look isn’t working anymore.

I should have taken notes from the wariness of the better-than-me-mothers.  They avoid the sample aisle. They distract their children with “hey, look, there’s Gouda, let’s get some Gouda!”

But no, I swerved into the sample section and grabbed three sample cups. I am THAT mother. The mother who grabs three spaghetti-laced sample cups that might as well have been spiked with Ritalin.

Close Curtain. Open Curtain. Scene: A shopping cart crime scene. Spaghetti everywhere. Red sauce everywhere. Noodles on the floor. Pasta in the hair. Toddlers screaming, “But I want some morrrrrrre.”

Zoe dropped a noodle on the floor. She picked it back up. She devoured the dirt-flaked noodle in front of the Sample Lady. Kaiden screeched and locked his legs until I let him slobber a Bow Tie in the cart.

But it got worse. I was already attracting some minimal attention. If you are a mother, you know the goal of good motherhood is to draw as little attention as possible. The goal is to be the slow-moving Elephants on the African Sahara, not the skittery, crazy, birds that shake up all the dust and end up strangled to death by a hyena.

 At some point, with a trail of blood-colored noodles behind us, we swerved into the checkout lane. Every mother knows that the checkout lane is like coming into third base on the field. You know you’re about to slide into home.

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 In the checkout lane, I allowed Zoe to eat a strawberry and Kaiden  dispatched some blueberries while the cashier rang up item after item in the friendly-Trader Joe style.  When all was rung up, I slid out my lone credit card from my wallet. I swiped it.

Then I looked up into the cashier’s eyes as she softly beamed, “It’s declined. Do you have another one?”

And in that second, with my children gulping down berries like they were in a strawberry patch, I realized I was in deep doo-doo. In fact, I was screwed. I had $150 of groceries and no conceivable way to pay for them.

You see, my husband and I haven’t raised our limit on the credit card since college, when our limit was a paltry $1000 based the fact that we were….college students.  We have just bought a house, and we put multiple payments up front on our credit card: termite inspection, regular inspection, appraisal, fees, fees, and more fees.

Our credit card was maxed out. That morning, Kaiden had snapped my debit card in half, something I didn’t even know was possible because, well, debit cards do not easily snap in half. Have you ever TRIED to snap a debit card in half? Yeah. It’s not easy. It bends into a little curled up card, but it will not snap when you want it to snap. You have to go find those scissors stashed somewhere in your medicine cabinet and slice that baby up. Execpt when your 20 lb baby gets a hold of that card, it will instantly snap in their able hands.

So here I was, sans debit card, sans credit card, with no hope in sight. No savior. Two kids had demolished half of the fruit in our carts in the 10 minutes we stood in line. And the cashier looked so hopeful, like I was certainly not the type of person to be standing in line with no conceivable way to pay for my groceries. I wanted to live up to her expectations, I really did.

But then, as I shifted, and hemmed, and hawed and pretended like I was looking for my “other” card, her face began to shift. I saw the tendrils of doubt appear. The possibility that I was delinquent emerged.

“We can put this on hold.” She suggested, expertly maneuvering the cart while picking up her little kiosk phone and calling “Ben” over to “suspend a transaction.”

“Yes, please. I’ll call my husband and figure it out.” I mumbled.

What I really meant was, I will cry on the phone in whispery tones even as I lock eyes with people in the milk aisle and pretend like I just can’t find that 2% nonhormone based milk or goat milk or something. I will beg him to call our bank and get them to transfer money from the debit to the credit RIGHT NOW.

When my husband gets them on the phone and they ask to talk to me, I will threaten them with switching banks, I will stifle my crying and begin talking in a measured-kidnapper, psychopath manner. “Get me my money.” I will whisper with a voice somehwere between a curse and a threat. The two ladies on the line will reassure me like I have hostages. I am clearly volatile.

In one ear I can hear, “M’aam, we are going to do our best to send you another debit card, as you husband explained we need to ask you some questions…”

Meanwhile, Zoe will be climbing into the milk fridge and then pivot to the strawberry section to pilfer from more strawberries like she is a street child in Aladdin  .

As I slip a strawberry back into its case and clutch an upside-down baby in my arms,  I will think, we are losing this game. We have to slide into home base. We have to make it out of this place alive.

People will wonder whose rogue toddler is climbing into the fridge while Kaiden locks his legs, twists backwards, and does a full-on back flip in one of my arms. I will  straitjacket Kaiden and finally scream into the phone, “I need the money NOW! Don’t you understand, I have two toddlers and I need money now. Not later. Not in the mail. Now!” Like a crack dealer.

I consider any leverage I have on hand.

“It’s okay m’aam. We are going to do everything we can…” The saturine-sweet service customer service lingo explodes in my ear.

“I don’t have time for this!” I yell into the phone and wrangle Zoe around the cart. I slip a strawberry back into it’s case and clutch an upside-down baby in my arms. I think, we are losing this game. We have to slide into home base. We have to make it out of this place alive.

Everything is blurring into a Jumanji-like scene. I grab my two toddlers, leave the suspended cart behind us, and soar through the sliding doors like a Football player hitting the End Zone.

We make it to the car. Two shaken-up kids wail angrily. We fly down the streets in our giant Ford Expedition. I do the right thing and call the customer service line. Because I’m an adult. “There was a problem and I won’t be able to pick up my suspended transaction after all,” I mumble into the line. What I don’t tell them is that we’ve stolen three cups of tomato pasta, 5 strawberries, some lone blueberries, and probably a lot of dirt from the floor.

But there is one thing I have learned at Trader Joes. The life of parenting is one inning of baseball after another.  You win some. You lose some. It’s sliding into home base when you are losing anyways. It’s an African Safari where hyenas lurk at every corner and the water hole is clogged and you have babies to feed. It never fails to be interesting, but most of all, it humbles you. It makes you realize that sometimes “good enough,” is just making it through. Sometimes “good enough” is stealing strawberries and walking out in humiliation. Sometimes “good enough” is accepting inadequacy and holding onto the mercy that is in your child’s eyes when she peers out from the back seat and says simply,  “Mommy, I’m sorry.”

Sometimes, it is the debit card that arrives in the mail via overnight service with no extra charges from the two benevolent, kind ladies at USAA bank—as if to say—we know you’ve got it tough. You’re going to be okay.

 

A Love Story: Two Different Worlds

 

   This is the second part of a new series on a love story. You can find the first part here.

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While Chris was walking in straight lines, pattering around a colorful Kindergarten classroom in Pasadena, California, I was taking daily dips with elephants.

We lived down a chalky red road, over a rushing river, and into the jungle. The river wound around to a quieter section where baby elephants and mother elephants congregated in groups with their mahoots, their human riders.  The little ones splashed and played with their trumpeting mothers. Meanwhile, my siblings and I tucked our feet into inner tubes, drifting down the gentle river and into our father’s strong arms.

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Every once in a while, if you stepped off your tube, you’d step in a pile of elephant dung , the size of a large chocolate cake. It wasn’t that gross because it was so common. It felt like a bunch of grass mushed together at the bottom of a river when you scrunched your toes, like wet modeling clay against your feet in the cold. The river was tactile and fresh and real.

The water was as clear as glass, with tiny stones that littered the bottom all the way to the border of a country that I can’t name.  The organization my parents work with would not take kindly revealing the country that bordered us, the country that this tiny river flowed into and through, like a trail into the dark unknown. I often looked down the horizon as the sun set on the mirrored surface and wondered where the river was going, and where it met other villages that adorned the river banks.

I learned my ABC’s and colored with Crayolas in the big house, a solid teak building with an open-air porch that wrapped around the house like arms.  Down below, the buffalo ran the streets. Up above, peering out from the house, you could see ricefields and mountains, and in the rainy season you could almost see the individual sheets of rain moving in like giant walls of water.

The buffalos destroyed the ugly blue PVC pipes my father had painstakingly laid up to the house to provide us with running water. The chickens clucked around outside and underneath the boards, pecking hard grains of rice from the soft dirt. Underneath, I would sit in silence with the chickens and worms and create salads out of herbs, picking hot chili peppers to adorn the greens like sequined red jewels.

The roof was made of giant brown leaves through which giant snakes often slinked and slithered.

It was an ordinary day in the camp if a snake fell off a roof. My mother would call someone to slingshot the snake. Then the snake would spasm and lay still.

On Saturdays, the village children arrive at our doorstep to bring me with them to see the tourists. Germans, Australians, Americans, and English tourists would arrive, looking ridiculous as they wavered back-and-forth on the elephants’ neck. They carried umbrellas and unwieldy cameras, toothpaste and individual candies for the children. They dismounted from the elephants to peer at the villagers and smile apologetically. But we loved them. We loved the excitement of their arrival, but even more so, we loved the things they brought with them. Tiny treasures and trinkets.

The more practical tourists would bring items they thought were appropriate, but we would toss the Dove Soap and the Crest, the myriad of toothbrushes and hygiene items, in favor of cool mints, and chocolate that melted in our palms.We waied our hands, pressed them together, placing our heads down in a gesture of thanks, a bowing posture that communicates in every language. We laughed and stuck together in tight-knit groups, our clothes looking more ragged for the red dust that clung to every corner of the landscape, shading everything with its subtle powder.

Then we would run off to play hide-and-seek in the jungle, or peel banana leaves, criss-crossing them into toys with our intricate weaving.

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This was the world I knew, the dusty, relentlessly hot rice fields. The rice fields with their intricate mazes, composed of long, winding trails less than a foot across, like balance beams criss-crossed through and over little streams.  The hazy green filled your synapses with color until green sometimes took over your dreams and everything in them became a lush and tropical verdure….