#firstworldprobs

One in 10 children lives in a country or region defined by armed conflict. This means about 230 million children grow up in the midst of war and serious conflict, according to the 2015 UNICEF Report. Many of these children experience bomb attacks in their schools and homes. Many of them are kidnapped, raped, sexually abused, recruited as soldiers before the age of 12, if they’re not killed. MANY of 230 million children live this way.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

From 2013-2015, at least 70,000 children were born on the floors of refugee camps. These floors are typically dirt floors.

In 1993, the UN General Assembly declared an elimination of violence against women and created an action plan. 20+ years later, one in three women still experience physical or sexual violence.

At least 200 million women and girls have experienced female genital mutilation in 30 countries, most of them experiencing infection as a result. Almost all experienced this mutilation before the age of 5.

As of 2012, according to UNICEF, 2 million children were subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade. It is estimated that 600,000 to 800,000 women, children, and men are bought and sold across international borders every year and are exploited for forced labor or commercial sex (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime).

I don’t always get what I want in life. My life has not always been a cake walk. Yet when I reflect on the reality of the world around me—the WORLD around me—it helps me regain a realistic perspective.

I don’t know why, but I have nothing but #firstworldproblems.

God forbid I ever forget that and unjustly spend my time focusing on or whining about problems—including politics in this relatively peaceful country of mine–which are not really problems at all.

 

Dear Momma

This letter was written by Gabrielle Holmes, one of my students, as a tribute to her mother.

Dear Momma,

I want to let you know how thankful I am to still have you in my life considering all the obstacles we have faced in life. Since Pawpaw died, you have stepped up and really showed me there is life at the end of the tunnel.

mother-429157_1280I want to thank you, Momma, for helping me with my children even though I know it’s a hassle for you. I want to thank you, Momma, for always inviting me and the kids over for dinner even though you don’t have to. Thank you, Momma, for being my biggest fan through every single stage of my life. I just want you to know I couldn’t have ask for a better cheerleader.

Thank you for becoming my best friend and being my biggest confidant. You always answer your phone with the same friendly attitude every time I call no matter if I call ten times in a row. You have shown me how to respect people and treat everyone with kindness no mater what. You let me know it wasn’t okay to judge people at a young age, and I respect you for that.

You have been my rock through breakups, life decisions, and new chapters. Thank you for teaching me the importance of hard work and the importance of getting your education so  I can have something in life. You have always told me if I wanted something in life, I have to work for it. Thank you for making me independent and telling me to never rely on anyone. Every single day I become more confident in myself.

My hope this Christmas season is for you to find joy, peace, and happiness, and let’s not forget to still cook! I just want to say I love you and thank you for being my backbone.

-Gabrielle

I’d rather be wrong

Recently, one of my friends reached out to me to inform me that she’d been viciously attacked by her boyfriend (now ex). She described the bruises, and she admitted she felt scared for her life.

“You were right about him.”

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

In the pit of my gut, I winced.

There was a time when I reveled in being right… being right during factual debates, being right at work, being right regarding hot, controversial topics, and being right about you, your life, and your decisions. I thought I knew best for everyone and made sure they knew it.

Over the course of the past decade, I’ve hesitantly accepted that I don’t even know what’s best for myself. I’m rarely right. But for years, I lived in denial, made terrible choices which affected many people, and suffered. I’ve stopped playing God and have turned my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him.

A childhood friend killed herself a few years ago after battling depression and enduring domestic abuse. Two years before, I’d reached out to share my experience with similar problems and offered the solutions which had worked for me.

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine. I’m just worried about him.”

Another childhood friend died last year in a sketchy incident involving drugs. One year prior, I’d hugged him desperately in tears at a funeral. I begged him to get himself into a 12-step recovery program. I told him I thought he might not make it otherwise.

“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m doing fine. I haven’t done anything in months.” Alcohol emanated from his pores.

A woman I know and love came to me and shared about her marital struggles. I shared my experience and encouraged her to seek help and concoct a plan for starting a new life for herself. She stayed for another year. Her eyes are still dead.

Being right is the worst feeling in the world now.

If there’s any time I’d prefer to be wrong, it’s when I’m watching someone I love die. But recovery tells me the path to serenity is simple, but not easy. I wish there were an easier, softer way. But I haven’t found one.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

I want to see people I love live. I want them to feel deep-down, unshakable peace and serenity. I want them to laugh. I want them to sleep at night. I want them to focus on the solution and not the problem.

I want gratitude to overwhelm them and cause them to weep without shame every single day.

It’s not for those who need it. It’s for those who want it.

And God, I want it.

For her curls

As I gear up to go back to work full-time this fall, transitioning from an adjunct instructor to a full-time English instructor, I find myself fluctuating between excitement and eager anticipation and anxiety and grief as I let go of this period of my life–the stay-at-home mom phase. No longer will Maggie’s cute babbling on the baby monitor serve as my alarm clock. One month from now, I’ll entrust my child to babysitters three days a week and rely on them to fill me in on the brightest moments of the day, to keep me posted on her milestones and her tantrums and her patterns of behavior. Soon Maggie and I will both have to adjust to a new schedule, a new routine, and a new balance of people in our lives.

With my fellow faculty members on the day I got the news that I'd been selected for the full-time position

With my fellow faculty members on the day I got the news that I’d been selected for the full-time position

Don’t get me wrong–I’m beyond thankful for my new job. If you missed my post about my new job, reading that will certainly clarify any confusion about my feelings about that. For years, I didn’t even think I’d ever have the opportunity to go to graduate school; a few years ago, my husband (boyfriend at the time) encouraged me to pursue my passion for English language and literature, regardless of the practicality of it all… talk about winning me over! I enrolled in a Master’s program a few weeks later, and I’ve never regretted that decision. I feel that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing with my life right now;  it’s a wonderful feeling, and a great way to serve God and other people.

Still, I’m a mom, and I’m a mom who wears her heart on her sleeve sometimes. I’ll be the first to admit that it took me an entire year’s worth of prayer and meditation before I felt absolute peace about the decision to go back to work full-time at this point in my daughter’s life. But it does feel like the right time. If there’s anything God has repeatedly taught me, through practical experience, it’s that He is always right on time (if I yield to His will and don’t push and shove and insist on my own). There’s something easy and beautiful about letting God make things happen.

I would not trade the past 20 months of time I’ve spent at home with my daughter for anything; no amount of money and no thrill or prestige would entice me to reconsider how I’ve spent this period of time.

IMG_3763This morning Maggie and I took a walk down our quiet country road, admiring the bright morning sun reflecting off the surface of nearly every dew-covered leaf in the woods. We played with bubbles in the backyard. Every time Maggie popped a bubble, she excitedly exclaimed, “I gots!” Maggie played in her sandbox, silently scooping and shoveling sand into her little bucket over and over again, occasionally turning to glance at me sitting nearby, maybe to ensure that I was still watching her. The light reflected off her wild auburn curls. I found myself watching nothing but her hair, mesmerized by the light in her curls, the sun spinning around and twisting every time she turned and picked up her scoop and set it down again.

What is that worth, I wondered. What is this moment worth to me?

Everything. There’s nothing anyone could pay me to trade me for this moment, and nothing I’d exchange for the life I have lived with my daughter for the past 20 months.

I know that I haven’t wasted my time because I have chosen to be where my hands are; when I make that choice, I’m never wasting my time.

 

My leap of faith, part one

*Today’s post is part one in a two-part series by my friend LaTresha Woodruff-Johnson. I’m thankful God places inspiring, compassionate women like her in my life. Stay tuned this week for part two.*

I love the LORD; I am not afraid to say it.  In fact, I’ll take any opportunity to tell people that I love the LORD.  But when you say that to some, they ask, “why?”  I say things like, “because HE first loved me,” or “HE gave his only son that we might have life.”  But more importantly “because HIS grace and mercy is new every day, and HE has done so many things in my life; HE’s made a way out of no way.” 

I have so many stories of what HE’s done for me, how HE’s changed my life, but there is one in particular that I find myself telling people over and over and over again.   You see, it’s a timely and timeless story about my “Leap of Faith.” 

I have always sought the LORD’s guidance before making decisions, so when I started feeling my soul moving in a new direction or yearning for new direction, I thought to myself, “It’s time to leave the news business, put down my microphone, step away from the camera, the people/fans I’ve met in my 14 years as a reporter.”

LaTresha's last day as a reporter for Fox 16.

LaTresha’s last day as a reporter for Fox 16.

So I did what I do? I got on my knees and prayed to my heavenly FATHER.  I asked for guidance, I wanted to hear a clear word from HIM on what I should do.  I felt he was leading me to find something, a job allowing me to be more available to my husband, my church and my community.  I waited and waited and waited but heard nothing!  To me that meant it just wasn’t the time to walk away.  With that, I threw myself back into work. I changed my attitude and tackled each day head on; I started it by telling myself to, “Expect Good things,” and not to allow others to determine how I am going to feel today.  I took back that power.  Soon that burning desire to leave news reporting went away.

But GOD wasn’t done with me on this issue.  Two years later I got that desire in my soul that I was not where I needed to be.  I wrestled with it for a few weeks saying to myself, “I’ve gone through this before–it’ll pass.”  Well it didn’t, and I found myself on my knees one night praying to my Heavenly FATHER again.  But this time when I got up, there was a strange feeling that came over me.  A feeling of peace–my soul seemed to be at ease.  So I talked to my husband, and he supported my decision to resign from my reporting job.  That was April of 2010, but I didn’t have a new job. All I knew is that I had heard from the LORD, and I was following his will.  I ended up staying four more months because the news department was so short-staffed. Yes, I prayed about that, too, and the LORD moved me to stay and help out.

August 27, 2010, was a bittersweet day, bitter because I was leaving what I considered in 7th grade as my dream job, what I was meant to be, thought I’d retire from a big reporting/anchoring gig from CNN.  But it was sweet because I had faith that my GOD would supply all of my needs.  It was one of the happiest days of my life.  I did a great story, a child who was kidnapped but returned home safely.  What a happy ending to a great career; for me it was one of the happiest days of my life!

I gladly tackled this strange life of not constantly going and going from one end of the state to the next in one day, writing stories behind the eight ball and constantly being on alert.  Yes, my days were filled with sleep and thoughts of learning to cook, but they were just thoughts!  This all lasted about three weeks, and I was ready to get going.  See, as a reporter, I was always tackling numerous things at once, never an idle moment.   I started to get a little uneasy, and the LORD started dealing with me again.  I believed HE was saying, “LaTresha your idle time has come and gone; it’s time to get to work.”  By work I believed he meant, find a job, one that lets you help people, find time to volunteer, and honor Me through your works.

I ramped up my volunteering with one agency and became “a Friend” of two other non-profits.  While I started getting that feeling of fulfillment, my tank wasn’t quite on “F” so I started with Big Brothers Big Sisters and became a friend of Habitat for Humanity and Conway Cradle Care.  While I enjoyed being involved with these organizations, there was still something missing.  I could hear that sweet still voice of the Lord saying, “I want more for you. I want you to do more.”  So my job search kicked into HIGH gear.  I attacked the search ferociously!  I set my sights on what are called “Public Information Officer” positions.  I can’t tell you how many times as a reporter I interviewed Public Information Officers from various agencies and thought, “I could do that job with my eyes closed.” 

I applied for about 20 PIO positions; I had 5 interviews where I felt I had “knocked it out of the park!”  Slowly I started getting word that the positions had been filled.  Soon there was just one position left, and I thought, “This is the one.”  After all I had made it to the 3rd round of interviews. I didn’t even know there were 3rd rounds.  I just knew I had this one in the bag, so much so that I didn’t bother God with it anymore.  I remember the day that I got the call about the position, I had decided not to get up early and search the internet for jobs because I was so sure I was about to get this job.  The phone rang. I fumbled for it, cleared my throat, looked at the caller ID, and sure enough it was the hiring manager for the agency.  My heart leapt. I thought, “Here goes, about to enter the working world again,”  and I was excited.

You cannot imagine the heartbreak and devastation I felt when I heard the words, “We have offered the position to a more qualified candidate.”  It was all I could do not to start sobbing right there on the phone.  He went on to say things like, “You possess all the qualifications and would have done an excellent job but…”  And that’s the point I stopped listening.  I can’t even recall saying goodbye and hanging up the phone.  My pity party went on for the rest of the day.  I didn’t even get out of bed. 

It was only the next morning when I forced myself into the shower that I started thinking clearly.  Sitting in the shower I realized that I got ahead of myself.  When things looked like they were going in my favor I didn’t ask God if getting this particular job was His will.  I left him out of the equation.  He’d been there leading and guiding me through it all, but I decided I could handle it from here. When I put my hands on it, God took his hands off.  It was as if He was saying, “If you think you can do better than your Heavenly Father, go ahead give it a try, you don’t need me.”  I asked my heavenly father’s forgiveness and gave in to what I already knew–that He would take care of me no matter what.  I knew He didn’t bring me this far to leave me! 

So my journey continued. 

Good times

*Today’s post is written by my friend Debra Dickey.*

Highway signSometimes when I’m driving home late at night after a catering event, with only the quiet and darkness to keep me company, the sounds of the twilight bring back velvety memories of earlier times in my life.

My Mom was from the North, and although my Dad is not, because of work opportunities, his family ended up there as well.  Matter of fact, that’s how my parents met!  Anywho, owing to this fact and that we farmed, my parents rarely got to see their families except once a year and that was at Christmas when we kids were out of school for the holidays.

The very Friday that we finished classes, Mom and Dad had our suitcases packed and loaded, and we left that afternoon and drove through the night, or our suitcases were packed and we all got up and left about 4:00 a.m. the next morning.  Either way, our destination was 500 miles away which, on a two-lane road and going the scenic route that my Dad preferred, took 12-13 hours.

In the early years, we made this journey in a pick-up truck. There were four kids–one in Mom’s lap, two sleeping in the seat, and I usually sat in the floorboard and napped with my head on the edge of the seat.  For us, it was an exciting time.  I think I slept less than the other kids, so I must have concentrated more on the sounds of the trip itself.  Driving in the early morning hours was such a surreal feeling.  There was hardly any traffic, so the miles ticked off in quiet serenity, hushed and blanketed, as if time and space were standing still.  Peaceful, as if all the world had melted away, and all that remained were the six of us going down a ribbon of black toward the edge of the universe into another dimension.

Don’t get me wrong, we had some mighty fine adventures on those trips, not always smooth-sailing, and often goose-bump inducing. Since it was the end of December, and we were headed north, we always expected snow, and that’s usually what we found!  Often we would need to stop to put on snow chains before we even got out of Arkansas, but one year halfway there, the newly-fallen snow had accumulated to the point that there were no lanes left.   Cars were stuck or off the road everywhere, and the only way to proceed was to stop, help push the car in front of you out of the way, go half a mile, and do the same thing all over again!  I’m not sure how long that went on, but I do know that particular trip took 22 hours all told!!!  My parents — indefatigable.

One time a car in front of us flipped, and the occupants were trapped inside, so my Mom and Dad stopped, told us to stay put, then went to help pull the two young people out of their wrecked vehicle and brought them to warm up in our truck until assistance arrived.  That was scary.  Another time, we brought back two Shetland ponies in the back of our pick-up truck.  Poor things stood up for 500 miles, in the cold, but they were fine.  Luggage, you ask?  Yes, Dad created a space in front of the sideboards to stow our luggage.

Good times!  Getting to eat in restaurants, getting to shop in a department store, being treated to a new environment, and family reunions with as many as 45 people all at the same time. Fun stuff, and we’ve never yet figured out exactly how they managed to keep secret our Christmas presents the whole way!

So, nowadays, driving home, windows down, no radio/CD on, in the cool quietness of the night conjures recollections of timeless experiences, vivid and poignant, reminiscent of another life in another time.  Christmases long ago.  A grateful time.  A life and memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world!

Day 11: Dear Peacemakers

*Big thanks to my friend and former college roommate, Sarah Donaghy, for sharing her grateful thoughts on Day 11 of the Dear Gratitude project.*

The hardest part about being a guest blogger this month was deciding to whom or what I should write my letter of gratitude. I dwell in gratitude. Even in times when nothing is going right, and I see challenges on every front, I still feel grateful. When I choose to sit in disappointment, anger, pain, or sadness, I still feel grateful. Living in gratitude is a choice, and it’s a practice that works for me. So, as I looked forward to writing this post, I’ve spent the last few days with lots of ideas rattling around my head… dear hugs, dear change, dear Mom, dear adventure, dear garden full of weeds, dear Mary Oliver, dear loss, dear name of friend, dear name of another friend, dear body, dear education, dear Louis CK, dear pets, dear modern appliances, and so on.

Over the past few days I have also received a number of reminders that Veteran’s Day is coming up. The first was when a member of the local food club asked if the Monday pick-up would be rescheduled due to the holiday. I looked at him blankly. “What holiday?” I thought. He read my mind. The second was when an aunt let me know that a package she mailed to me would arrive on Tuesday since the USPS won’t be making its rounds on Monday. The third was the cover of the Sunday newspaper’s magazine section promoting a special report inside titled, “What Did You Do in the War, Mommy?” about the challenges servicewomen who are mothers face in coming home after a deployment.

It then occurred to me that Bethany would be publishing my letter on Veteran’s Day. Thus began the second hardest part of my task… how to address my letter and what I would say in a letter expressing my gratitude.

 

Dear Veterans – Thank you.

 

Or

 

Dear Grandpa – You talked about “the war” like New Yorkers talk about “the city”… sure, there are other cities, but none of them compare to your city. The war defined you, and the war never really ended for you, and thus, the war is something that defined and never really ended for my mom and her siblings as well. A generation removed, the war – your war – certainly impacted my life as it was a major influence in the way my mother lived and parented. While I remember many an afternoon sitting on the blue sectional couch in front of the picture window looking at the Bridger Mountains and listening to your war stories, the first things that come to mind when I think of you as my grandpa are your grilled cheese sandwiches, the way your jeans hung on you, your love of ice cream, riding in your truck to check on the cows, your hugs, and your incredible generosity – to me and to complete strangers. I hope there are no wars wherever you are now.

 

Or

 

Dear Grandpa – I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing you directly but I know it was a pleasure for those who did, particularly your family. You were also in the war… the same war and yet, it seems it was an entirely different experience for you. You rarely, if ever, spoke of your experience. In fact, one of the few “war stories” recounted on that side of the family is about your wife, my Grandma Lulu, taking the train across the country – from New York City (the city) to Seattle – to see you when you were stateside, a visit during which, I think the story goes, my father, your first child, was planted. So while I’m sure the war had more of an impact on your life than you spoke about upon return, it’s not what comes to mind when I think of you as my grandpa, and I’m confident saying it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when your children think of you as their father. I hope that you and my dad are enjoying each other again, and I hope there are no wars wherever you guys are now.

 

Or

 

Dear Man I Met in a Bar a Few Months Ago – I only met you once, but you have the honor of being someone I will likely always remember because I was celebrating the launch of RadSab that night. I only remember a handful of things you told me about yourself, and I don’t recall if it was Iraq or Afghanistan or with what branch of the military, but you said you were there a few years ago. I couldn’t help but think of how that must have been for your daughters – I remember you have two of them, girls old enough to have known you were away and likely why you were away and how hard that must have been for them… how hard that must have been for you.

 

Or

 

Dear Couple I Recently Had the Opportunity to Reconnect With – You were amazingly open and honest with a group of mostly strangers, and having your participation was my favorite part of our discussion course. You guys are a reminder to me that people’s stories don’t start at the point where I meet them. Something I didn’t know about you, Mr., was that you were a Marine, and I appreciate what you shared about that experience. I’m not sure if that was before or after the Mrs. became such, but I couldn’t help but think of how that recent part of your young life must factor into your marriage. I love how brave you are with each other, and I look forward to knowing both of you more.

 

Those are all important things to say, especially thank you, to people who have touched my life in one way or another. And thank you is always enough, but it’s simply too short when Bethany the Blog Boss has asked for a page.

Drawing on some loosely planted Quaker roots, I’ve decided to go with…

 

Dear Peacemakers,

Thank you. You have my gratitude.

I think peace begins within each of us. For me, dwelling in gratitude, practicing mindfulness, and cultivating joy are essential.

 

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

 

014When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

With our voices, our wallets, our votes, and our service, we each have opportunities to sow seeds of peace in our communities, in our country, in our world.

Thank you, Peacemakers. You have my gratitude.

Love and good wishes,

Sarah