Monday, July 31, 2017

Anatomical


"All the colors 
Of the rainbow
Hidden 'neath my skin
Hearts have colors
Don't we know?
Red runs through our veins"
 - Kaleidoscope Heart, by Sarah Bareilles




The day was overcast. A chilly wind came in gusts, whipping my skirt around with a tantalizing sort of urgent frenzy. I wore large, Audrey Hepburn-style sunglasses; without prescription lenses my eyesight is so abysmal that if I squint at all I am quick to slide sunglasses over my eyes, a protective reflex. Yet if I'm honest I admit it's also partly to guard my privacy, my expression a little more hidden when strangers shove flyers my way or call out with their wares. 

I wore a sundress, because in summer I do my best to dress like it even if the season wishes to disagree. Yet I wore it with a sweater knotted at my waist and a light grey scarf thrown about my neck. The sun on the equator is deceptively strong, even on cool days, thus I've taken to wearing light scarves to protect my collarbone area in leu of sunscreen. Beneath the scarf, my silver anatomical heart necklace lay heavy against my bare skin. I love its unexpected weight, a feature which surprised and delighted me when I first held it. I had picked it out online, craving it for ages before my sister gifted it to me two Christmases ago. I am drawn to delicate things, yet the weight of the charm seems to say "I'm stronger than I look", a feeling I hold with quiet assurance. 



I visited a shopping center and bought office supplies and stocked up on gift bags and wrapping paper for when birthdays happen at the ministry I work with. Here, wrapping paper is most often sold by the individual sheet, so I picked out the patterns I wanted from a display rack, counting up 4, 5, or 6 sheets per design. The large sheets, along with gift bags, tape, envelopes and paper clips, were put in an awkwardly huge plastic bag. It bumped against my legs as I headed downstairs to the grocery store. Just inside the entrance, I lifted my huge bag to show the man behind the counter, letting him decide if he'd hold onto it for me or merely tape the opening shut. The man saw me and a smile broke wide across his face.


"Good afternoon! Welcome!" he boomed. He took my bag and handed me a plastic card with the number 5, nodding and murmuring things like, "With pleasure" the whole time. I thanked him as he continued to beam at me and repeat, "Welcome, welcome!" His enthusiasm was so strong, when I turned away I actually looked down at myself to make sure I was fully and properly dressed. My hair was pulled back messily and I had on hardly any makeup, so either he thought I was pretty anyway or was simply a robustly outgoing person.


I filled my cart with cereal and coffee, milk and cheese, bell peppers and onions, bananas and strawberries. I heard once that eating berries every day is essential to good health, though they're somewhat expensive here. I get them as a treat when I can, still missing my favorite fruit of all: blueberries.


I finished my grocery shopping, exchanged the plastic card for my bag of paper goods, and went in search of a cab. I ran towards the street, hailing a cab whose break lights flashed a steady red as the driver gave me a confirming nod. The silver pendant beat against my chest: a second heart, going thump, thump, thump.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Quiet Accolades


"You must do something to make the world more beautiful."
- Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney



If someone said, "Come see the future,
for the a nickel and a dime."
I think instead I'd shake my head
and say I didn't have the time

Some being are born with greatness
it is in their DNA
Still there's sweat and tears and blood
for every single accolade

If I have naught of greatest
I'm alright to simply see
How singing to a couple people
could means all that's good and free

For my mother never faltered
when I asked her for a song
Thus the music's born in me
and I will bear it right along

I think we're all born holding
up a candle in the night
Just hoping human hope
that we may see some other light

At times we will need people
who will guide us on our way
Before we shine a light to others
who are wandering away

For there's beauty in the mystery
And there's poetry in pain
I'll give life my very damnedest
Even if there's much in vain.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Feel



"I feel it all, I feel it all
The wings are wide, the wings are wide
Wild card inside, wild card inside."
 - I Feel It All, by Feist


The above lyrics run through my head often: I feel it all, I feel it all. It seems to me sometimes that another person's pain can be partially transferred to me, as though I'm given the privilege and burden of carrying it so that they won't have to do it alone. That's what is meant by human connection and empathy, isn't it? 


The other week, a woman I know returned from a visit to see her family in another country. These visits are always some form of horrific; her family is, after all, the ones who sold her into sexual slavery as a teenager in order to have drug money, but this time was worse. This time, she was raped by two men a relative let into her room for that exact purpose. (Likely, it was a beyond sick bargain for something). When she returned, we sat down outside and talked. She would begin to tremble, and I would put my arms around her shoulders. She pulled down her clothes and showed me the deep purple bruises. She described what happened. I wanted to put my head in my hands and weep. I wanted to howl with grief and rage. I wanted to break something, or preferably someone: I wanted to find those men, mace them, and beat the shit out of them. Instead, all I could do was lean my head against her shoulders as she shook and shook.

Later, I was in the kitchen about to leave when she came up to me, shaking her head slowly.
She said, "I really don't feel well." Then she fainted. 
I caught her, the two of us sinking slowly to the floor. Another friend rushed in and closed the kitchen door as I held her head in my lap. She came to fairly quickly and we supported her to a nearby room with a futon. We covered her in blankets and had her drink juice. She was so traumatized by recent events, she had barely eaten in days. 

I kept crying all the rest of that afternoon, the rape and all my friend was going through playing like a horror film in my head. The next day I was helping lead a team, and I received a call as I was rushing to get over to Casa Gabriel which frustrated the planner, organizer part of me. This time, alone at home, I did scream: all the emotions of frustration and everything else coming out in force. When I arrived at Casa G, the director could see something was wrong. Feeling like a fool, I couldn't help crying. It had been a week full of difficult encounters. He prayed with me, thoughtfully, and I pressed my emotions downwards, focusing on work. 


I think the event with my friend effected me so strongly for a number of reasons. One, because I've known her for over two years. I've also known that when things are particularly difficult, she's self-harmed and even attempted to take her life. Two, because everything she shared with me was so tangible: her bruises, her fainting in my arms; the razor-sharp reality of it all, cutting into me. Three, because all women have an innate fear of being raped. It's a panic-inducing terror, this fear of an event which happens to so many and costs so much. Few men can truly understand. I cried for my friend's pain, imagining the lasting imprint of such an inhumane event. The outrage of it. I feel it ... 


She is doing better now, thankfully. For me, the residues of anger still linger. If it is between grief and anger, grief comes out first for me, a torrent clearly visible, while anger is the storm  brooding just over the horizon. But I was not the one who suffered. Pain by proxy is real yet heals quicker. My friend is the one who felt it all and will continue to feel it for ages to come. So pray for her, please. Pray for all those who have suffered as she has. There is grace and healing and mercy and beauty from scars, if only we can let it in. If only we can get through the grief and anger and feel it all once more. 



Monday, July 10, 2017

Strength



"Long live the pioneers
Rebels and mutineers
Go forth and have no fear
Come close and lend an ear"
 - Renegades, by Z Ambassadors 


The photo above is from my first 5k: The Color Run. I was convinced to run it by my friend Shelley, a talented photographer. We ran with a group of other friends and at the end of the run, Shelley took photos of us covered in the colored powder. Temporarily, our faces, hair, arms and legs (and of course our white shirts) were dyed blue, purple, green, yellow, and pink. For one photo, Shelley had me take to one knee, a football player's pose, fists clenched and a determined look on my face.
When I showed the photo to my mom, she chuckled. 
"You're not so tough," she said. 

It's funny: at the time, I felt taken aback. Was I weak, then? Not strong? Of course this wasn't what my Mom meant at all. I know my Mom knows I am strong. I think instead, there's a distinct disconnect: daughters have a longing to be fierce, while mothers see the overall and/or inner gentleness. Mothers see the children and babies they once were, see the tender parts which help shape them, while the daughter must learn how to face the world with strength. 

I was reminded of this because of seeing a similar interaction on Facebook awhile back. A friend posted a photo of herself staring down the camera, with dark football smudges under her eyes. Her mom commented something like, "I know you're not tough." The girl commented back, "Wow, thanks Mom." Like, gee, bode of confidence. Yet I believe it's simply fate: a mother to see her daughter as gentle even when the daughter is determined to be strong. Tough, even. 


The other day I walked over to Casa Gabriel, only to find that the large metal front door leading into the yard was stuck. It tends to expand in heat and require force to enter. Without hesitating I gave the door a swift, hard kick as I turned the key. It swung open with a bang. Behind me, the boys gave a whoop. (It must have looked funny, as I was wearing a skirt and flats while kicking in the door. Of course.). Feminine and tough. 


Perhaps someday I'll have a daughter of my own and will see her as gentle, sweet, and dear even while she climbs trees and plays sports and has intelligent conversations and learns self-defense. Maybe one day I'll be given that privilege. Till then, I'll kick down doors and carry a knife in my pocket ... and be reminded that some will always see the gentleness underneath. 


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Come Running


"I was never that cool
But I won't be taken for a fool
If they wanna talk trash they can talk, talk, talk
But they better come correct
And if you ever need me, call me
I'll come running straight to you"
 - Sydney (I'll Come Running) by Brett Dennen


I imagined adulthood as including less scraped knees and bruises.

I fell while running yesterday. My toe caught on a fraction of uneven sidewalk higher than the rest and I went flying, landing on my knees and palms on the concrete. I stood slowly, ignoring the inquiring looks of a taxi driver across the street. I rubbed my knees, scraped up even beneath long running pants. This has happened so many times before: always a shock, a jolt, followed by a grim shake of the head.

I've gone sprawling while running or simply walking many times, always while tripping on something small and otherwise innocuous. Plus, the amount of times I've almost tripped - a slight stumble, usually accompanied with an "Are you okay?" from the friend I'm walking with - is just embarrassing. On top of that, I seem inordinately prone to running a hip or thigh into a countertop or table, a shoulder into a doorframe, to trip while walking up stairs or to take a final step when the stairs have ended, landing with a hard stumble on one foot.

Last night while getting undressed, I gingerly touched the bruises on my knees, and noticed a large red patch on one hip. Road rash. There's just no easy way to fall flat on concrete.

I don't know that there's any moral to my clumsiness. It amuses me somewhat that I can do things of fine detail without problem - cake decorating, jewelry making, embroidery - yet just walking around seems unusually dangerous. Maybe it's that my daydreaming, planning, wondering thoughts are racing elsewhere while my body is simply moving fast to keep up. If that imagined reason is at all true ... then maybe I'm not complaining. Scraped knees and all.

Monday, June 26, 2017

More Than Just A Trip



“We owe Christ to the world--to the least person and to the greatest person, to the richest person and to the poorest person, to the best person and to the worst person. We are in debt to the nations.” 
― David PlattRadical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream



Over the past few years, people have started questioning and re-evaluating short term mission trips. Since most things can stand evaluation, this is good. Time gives insight and new perspective, if we let it.

I've been on a number of short-term trips and now, of course, have been living overseas for the past three and a half years working full-time as part of a permanent missions community. When asked, I have to say that short-term trips, even ALL mission work, has it's pros and cons. It can be done well, creating a pathway for people to find God and receive help and hope, yet it can also be done poorly, creating habitual dependency, even jealously of the Americans who come in with their resources and supposedly better ... everything.


Two summers ago, a church from the States sent a huge group of people - mostly teens - to Ecuador on a mission outreach. They were not involved with the ministries I work with; I encountered them because someone heard about the EsperanzArt jewelry ministry and asked if jewelry could be brought to their hotel for them to purchase. (This is a good thing, because the girls at Casa Adalia are paid per piece they make, so we need avenues to sell the jewelry to pay the girls and purchase materials).

Yet as I set up the table of jewelry, I came across some personal road blocks. First of all, their hotel was one of the ritziest in Quito. I walked in and knew that even in the States, I would be hard pressed to afford a place that grand. Next, everyone on the team was participating in Wacky Hair Day, because I guess making everyone create crazy hair styles bonded them as a group? That's cool, have fun. (kids these days). They were also preparing to do street evangelism using goofy costumes and skits, which I hope can reach people for Christ yet have personal hesitations about. I rolled with everything until a woman stood and gave a long presentation. She spoke on a Bible story and gave illustrations which frankly, I don't remember. What I do recall was how she talked about her Sleep Apnea machine and how now that she can actually get a good nights sleep sleeping will become her new ministry, ha ha, and that she was a sort of traveling evangelist speaker person who was happy to come to your church if you told your pastor to hire her. Then she talked about how next year the church would be sending a team to Haiti, and by golly everyone needed to sign up for that trip right away because (and I quote), "That is the trip which is going to break you."

I stood in the back and thought, "Really? This trip isn't even over, and you're practically dismissing it by saying that the next one is the really good trip? The trip which will really make YOU grow as a disciple of God from everything YOU are able to experience and give to those poor people in need?" I may have had a problem with that woman's statement. Bless her heart.


I've seen some incredible things happen on short-term trips, including clean water wells being dug for communities drinking from the same dirty river they bathe in, churches built from the ground up, and evangelism in remote villages who have never before opened a Bible. Those things are awesome and should absolutely keep happening. But if I'm 100% honest with myself, I should admit that on those short-term trips, I usually received more than I was given.

I think this is alright, as long as we're honest about it instead of magnifying what we actually gave. Going on those trips stirred my heart to do long-term work, work which I was qualified to do. Because I went on those short-term outreaches, I clearly felt God calling me to do more, until here I am, over halfway through a five-year commitment to working with at-risk youth in Ecuador. Short-term is how most long-term mission workers end up in the field. It's an immersion into another culture meant to shape and define you; the question is what we do after the trip. That's where it often counts the most.

However I've also heard of teams which repaint the same church walls every summer, even of the church telling the congregation to purposefully dirty the walls so that the US team will have something to do, because they don't want to stop the yearly flow of actually needed donations such as shoes, clothes, school supplies and food. Painting a wall, holding babies, and returning home thinking about what a blessing it all was; in truth, shouldn't there be a better way to enable the community to be able to buy the things they need on their own, and not be reliant on a yearly team? The world doesn't need more dependency. It needs more entrepreneurs who can enter a community and say, "Let's use the resources you already have available to better your community and your way of life."

One thing I love in working with the boy's home, Casa Gabriel, is that I am one of only two North Americans here. There's Phil the Director, myself, and then the rest of the team - house-parents, tutor, psychologist, and relief house-dad - who are all Ecuadorian. Phil is careful to blend any of his American ideas with Ecuadorian culture and tradition. He hopes that if he leaves one day, the ministry would continue to thrive.

I may sounds cynical about some things ... and I guess I am. We Americans and Europeans DO have a lot of resources, yet even with the best of intentions, the sincerest compassion, there must be evaluation. Are we helping, or hurting? Are we doing this for them, or for us? Churches, please keep going, giving, and praying. Be involved in something bigger. Just be humble. Be honest. Don't simply  be a band-aid. Take in the big picture, partner with locals, see the beauty and strength and resourcefulness of a community, and not just the poverty and sadness. If you go on a trip "that breaks you", do something with it. Be changed by it so that in turn you can make a lasting change in others, whether an overseas community, your own, or both. Don't let it just be a one-time feel-good memory. Do.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Playing Pretend


"Farther along we'll know all about it
Farther along we'll understand why
Cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We'll understand this, all by and by"
 - Farther Along, by Josh Garrels


My siblings and I loved to play pretend. We would pick characters from favorite books and movies. often finding a role we liked best and sticking to it. Favorites of ours were Peter Pan and Robin Hood. My sister Teal and I would take turns playing Peter Pan and Wendy, then Robin Hood and Maid Marian. We would fight pirates and swordsmen, and also spend time locked in a turret or tied to a ship, about to walk the plank. We would take turns being the one working to save the other, swooping in at the last moment, heroically. Robin and Peter were bold and dashing. Marian and Wendy were more nurturing, singing lullabies to the imaginary lost boys, and encouraging Robin in his fight against tyranny.

Something I loved about our games is that it never mattered that Peter and Robin were male characters. They were interesting, and we played them without gender bias, as I think children should always have the freedom to do. For us, what mattered about the characters was their defining qualities: for Robin and Peter, that meant bravery, selfless sacrifice, being quick-minded so as to outsmart the bad guys, and of course impressive skills with a bow and sword. For Marian and Wendy, it meant a willingness for adventure matched with a gentle kindness. Wendy leaves her windowsill to fly into the night, looking after her younger brothers the whole time. Marian gives her heart to a rebel who is fighting for justice, risking both her regal birthright and her life in order to support him and his cause. This is why these characters are so timeless. Even in their mistakes, there is nobility, honor, and always the good of others at the heart of their adventures.

We loved to pretend in those moments that we could truly be the heroes of anything. Correction: not pretend, we believed it, the thorough faith of those who haven't experienced enough of life to know any differently. The buoyant optimists who chose to say they're flying instead of falling, every time, no matter what anyone else is shouting warningly at them.

We played these characters for years. We fashioned bows out of pliable juniper branches, and arrows out of straight yucca rods. We made swords and daggers and climbed trees as high as we dared, designating them as castles and ships and secret hideaways.

We had plenty of more traditionally girl games as well. Tea parties and families and cafes. Yet it was the adventures of good fighting against evil which I recall most fondly. We were also knights in shining armor, off to fight dragons, and explorers like Christopher Columbus, searching for new lands.We set out to do what we were convicted in our hearts must be done. Pretend or otherwise, that is all which really matters.