Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why It's Okay That I'm Not in the Top 7

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook are overly aware that I’ve been competing in a competition to win a contest to travel to Rwanda with Noonday Style and International Justice Mission.  The top 7 will move on to the next round, and I ended the competition in 9th place.

Obviously, it’s disappointing.  This trip would have taken me to a country I’ve wanted to visit since I was a child.  I would have been able to network with some really great women about the issues Somebody’s Mama is working to address every day.  And don’t get me started on the feelings I have about the outpouring of obsessive-compulsive voting love that I’ve experienced throughout this process.  My village showed up in a major way, and that alone was worth being in this competition on a personal level.

So, what now?

Well, life.  In the midst of the flurry that was this week, I was still an Air Force wife waiting to hear back about when my husband might come home from deployment.  I was still a mom who got to feed and clothe and teach and snuggle two boys.  I was still half of Somebody’s Mama, working to finish out a maternity unit in Sierra Leone.  I was still a council member planning a spring stewardship fair at my church for this weekend.  I was still the daughter who got to fly in and surprise her mom at her retirement party.  All of those things happened while we were tap-tap-tapping away for votes on anything that would connect to the internet.

I shared this week—when I reached 8th for the first time—my thoughts on what would happen if I never moved up from 8th.

“…Because my heart is brimming, I'm questioning what happens if I never get past 8th place. What does any of this mean if this is as far as I get? So, in your honor, I have responded to every opportunity for kindness that has presented itself, keeping in mind the kindness that you have had for me this week.

TOGETHER, we shared pizza with a man whose sign said "Hungry." Together, we threw change into the fireman's boot for MDA. Together, we bought a Sophia the First DVD for a stranger in the line at Target whose card was declined (he hugged us and cried with us). Yesterday, we took leftover wedding centerpieces to my friend Erika's elderly neighbors. I wish that moment of watching our boys sharing fresh flower love with Carolyn (aged 102) could have been frozen in time. We did every single one of these things TOGETHER because I believe the love we take needs to equal the love we make.

I started counting up the number of people who have liked or shared the link and decided something should be done in your honor. I lost track at some point when the number went over 100, so I'm just going to round up and donate $150 to the Somebody's Mama maternity unit project on behalf of all this social media love. So, this morning, whether I move up or not, we are being love together, and I can love because you loved me first.”

And then, I DID move up from 8th.  In fact, this morning, I was still in 5th place when I woke up.  All day I watched as I fell further and further behind, baffled as person after person shared and voted in a frenzy.  In the end, I’m not going to say something stupid like “everything happens for a reason.”  The reason I didn’t get to 7th place is because other people got more votes than I did.  We tried our damnedest.  We really did.

We even made this awesome video that still makes me teary every time I watch.
I called on my village to rally, and rally you did.  And when the clock struck 11:59 (or 9:59 in the Pacific time zone where I am), people immediately started sending messages of encouragement.  Let me just tell you—I can die a happy woman after the nice things people have said during and after this competition.  I mean that—it was like a week long eulogy for which I didn’t have to die to hear.

So, THANK YOU again for all of it.  I blogged a million years ago about failure, and since then, I’ve been trying more and more things to get used to failing.  Maybe that sounds stupid, but I think it’s an important life skill to hone.  We’ve all heard the stories about how Michael Jordan’s high school coach cut him from the team and how Abraham Lincoln lost a gazillion elections before he became president.  Those guys turned out okay, so I’m pretty sure I will, too.

This whole thing started because they asked for storytellers to apply.  One thing I know about writing is that sometimes the best pieces go from good to great because of editing.  I have removed sentences, paragraphs, sometimes entire chapters to a make a story better, so that's what I think is happening here.  This chapter doesn't fit in my story, and my story will be better for it.

In the meantime, I’m excited to see how the rest of the competition unfolds and to continue following the work of International Justice Mission.  Excuse me while I go finish this maternity ward.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

On Being Human

Thursday mornings are my Sabbath.  I don't set an alarm, and I guard these hours from busyness with ferocity.  Most often, I do a little laundry, give the kids cereal, and hunker down with a book and/or internet reading I've been saving throughout the week.

I have to confess that the last two weeks I've been feeling a heaviness—one that comes and goes because I live with the curse/blessing of being unable to disconnect from sorrow—not the inner sorrow of being human but the bigger sorrow of being part of humanity (which I've found is actually the same thing).  

So as I scroll through the news stories about kidnapped schoolgirls and racist businessmen and death penalty debacles and D celebrity heroin overdoses, I have to stop and breathe and live with the tragedy.  It hurts because as much as I'd love to stay above the emotions that bubble to the surface with these headlines, I can't.  I don't have the ability to separate headline life from real life.


And that is a big but—I also feel an overwhelming sense of hope in that inexplicable way that happens when life is hard.  Let me just tell you about a few things that happened this week.

One of my kids in Togo posted a picture of a “photo de famille à CEHBED”—a photo of his family at the orphanage.  Did you get that?  HIS FAMILY.  Because our kids—orphans—are being loved and encouraged and brought up to believe they are part of a family—one with a mom and a dad and dozens of aunts and uncles—and the siblings.  So many brothers and sisters.

And the moms and dads with pictures and videos of kids riding their bikes for the first time or singing in the talent show or telling jokes or falling asleep at the dinner table or sleeping next to the dog or throwing toys in the toilet—you know, doing all the things that kids do.  It’s not minor minutia.  These things matter—because these parents are recognizing the joys (and challenges) of parenthood and inviting us to be a part of their story.

And the petitions we can sign to affect change in Washington and around the world, the invitations to write to our congresspeople, those activist friends of mine who take time out of their rat wheel living to say, “Wait just one minute—I won’t let this happen on my watch!”  God bless the activists for waking the rest of us up.

Let’s talk about the devastation from natural disasters, but let’s talk more about the clothing, food, and water drives.  Let’s talk about neighbors helping neighbors—about boyfriends rescuing their girlfriends from falling walls and children found alive in the rubble because rescue workers have gone without sleep for days.  Let’s talk about beauty from ashes, mourning and dancing hand in hand.

And how about the people deciding today is the day to make the big step in the right direction?  The new house in a new city because of a new job.  The writing workshop that marks the start of a new dream.  The first AA meeting—or the first in a long time.  

And can we talk about all the new babies that were born in the last two weeks?  So many—and I cry EVERYSINGLETIME someone posts those gooey, wrinkly pictures with their private parts waving hello to the world because even though they don’t know it yet, these mamas and daddies have just unleashed world-changing potential into the universe in the form of a wiggly, crying bundle of flesh and blood.

And the pictures of all the fighters—the ones with bald heads and puffy faces and equipment in their noses.  My loved ones, your loved ones, our friends’ loved ones—and we’re reading their blogs and raising money for their care by running races and shaving our heads and celebrating small victories in their fight because they’re OURS—they belong to us, and no matter what’s ahead we need the world to know that we’ll be right by their side the whole way.

And allow me a moment to reflect on the work I’m doing right now—my heart is shattered by the statistics about women and babies dying in Sierra Leone.  My friend, Gay, who visited the hospital where we’re trying to build a maternity unit said, “I saw more women and children die in seven days than I did in my more than twenty year career as a nurse.”  It’s enough to make me double over in physical pain, bringing me to my knees in prayer.


More than sixty people have said NO.  We won’t let this be their story—OUR story—we can do better. And we’re doing better.  Together.  Because that’s the best way to live.

So, today, on my Sabbath, I’ll be watching my kids ride their bikes through the window as I fold a basket of laundry and build a maternity ward.  In the immortal words of the prophet, Ben Harper, “I’ve felt pleasure, and I have felt pain, and I know now that I can never be the same.”

Namaste, friends.