Finding the familiar in a far away place.

Buckingham Palace | London

       In the two days between coming home from my best friends wedding and boarding a plane to London for security training, stuff happened.  A significant relationship ended, a dear family friend passed on, and one of my best friends told me they would be moving several states away in about a months time.

It was one of those times that tears don’t suffice, so you stop crying and live with this hollow achy feeling instead. The reality was I was leaving in 48 hours, sad or not. My heart shut off, and autopilot kicked in. I packed my bags and did what I could to ready myself.

I would be spending 4 days by myself exploring London, and then another 4 days getting trained on what to do if I am caught in crossfire, find myself in a minefield, or people are trying to kidnap me. As much as I wanted to buck up and be excited- it seemed like the next 8 days were designed to remind me of how alone I felt.

Texts from my mom

Pre flight texts with my ma.

I boarded a plane to London with about 100 fifth graders, and I prayed. I asked God to prepare people for me to meet. I prayed that I could just cross paths with a friendly face or two. I just didn’t want to feel completely alone, even if I was.

Despite my complete lack of sleep from the night before (Can you blame the 5th graders for their excitement? They were pretty precious…) I found my way on the tube, and navigated to the hostel where I’d be staying.

Armed with a guidebook, an itinerary from a knowledgeable friend, and an oyster card, I began to explore the city. Each night back at the hostel, a few of my roommates and I shared about what we had seen and done that day. One girl had taken her first plane to London from Montreal, and was staying two weeks by herself. It was comforting to know I wasn’t the only one traveling alone.

Over the next few days, I found myself empowered and excited at the prospect of navigating a brand new city and transit system by myself. By the end of my 4 days, I had this bubbling sense of childish pride. “Look at what I did! All by myself!” Instead of being sentenced to being alone, I was making my own way in a new place.

Vespa | Portabello Road

The next chapter of my journey was security training, and I knew that would be difficult, regardless of how I felt.

The people I met in the security training were from (quite literally) all over the world and had some of the most fascinating life stories. Every night some of us would gather at the local pub and talk about what we’d learned, working in the humanitarian sector, and life.

One girl I met was about my age, also worked in communications, and had also recently gone through a break up as well. We mostly chatted about pop culture, life in London, and what dog breeds are the cutest puppies. In the wake of heavy things, light conversation was a welcome relief.

One night during my security training, I was feeling a bit homesick, and missing my garden. I do realize that sounds a bit silly, but it’s the one thing I do consistently for my own peace of mind.  So I walked across the street to get a close look at a particularly beautiful garden I’d been eying earlier that day.

A group of women were gathering at the training facility for a knitting group. As I walked back across the street, a woman around my grandmothers age approached me. She asked if I was interested in gardening (yessss!) and informed me that it was her garden I had been admiring.

We chatted about the currants, tomatoes, and asparagus she was growing, and how weeds can be so difficult. It was nice to know that someone else found peace in the same place I did: digging in the dirt and watching things grow.

Reflecting back on my time in the UK I see how my prayers were answered in a really beautiful way. Most of the people I met didn’t know anything about what was going on in my life back home. But that didn’t matter. In the midst of my loss, it was nice to know that people, even strangers, are capable of caring for one another.

Portobello Market | London

 

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The birthday party I won’t ever forget

Tony and Afra

 

I met Afra on her 8th birthday. Here, you see her smiling after blowing out her birthday candles, surrounded by friends and family. She’s about to smash some cake in Tony Jones‘ face.

What you don’t see in this photo is Afra’s leg.

Afra was hit by a car at the age of 3, her leg was caught in the rear wheel of the vehicle. The driver meant to playfully swerve at a friend, and instead hit Afra.  He got out, saw the damage he had caused, kicked Afra into a ditch and drove away. Neighbors saw the incident and alerted her mother, who found her in the ditch, unconscious, her leg completely disfigured.

Her family rushed her to the local hospital, where doctors did what they could. After several months, doctors announced they would have to amputate. Her father refused to accept the diagnosis, and demanded they transfer her to the children’s hospital in Colombo.  After a serious infection, skin and tissue grafts, Afra’s leg was scarcely able to be saved. Now what remains is little more than bone and scar tissue.

The result of this man’s actions are twofold. Physically, Afra walks with a perpetual limp. Her Achilles tendon was scarred and shortened as a result of the incident. Afra walks as though one foot is in a high heel, while the other foot is flat. Playing and running are impossible. Walking is difficult.

Emotionally, this man’s actions will continue to follow Afra as each phase of life brings new challenges. Her mother said that before the accident, Afra was an outgoing and mischievous child. The incident has made her shy, withdrawn, quiet. When I met Afra, her smiles were few and far between.

At school, her classmates make fun of her, calling her limp, or ‘Nondi,’ in Sinhalese. She is ostracized by her peers. School has become so much of a challenge, that she no longer wants to go.

My friend Tony Jones sponsors Afra, and pointed out in his blog that getting an education is the only chance Afra will have at financial security. Her father struggles to provide for Afra and her three siblings as a day laborer. If he can get work, it’s roughly $5 a day.

In the future, it’s likely Afra will never marry. Labor won’t be an option because of her physical limitations.  She lives in a culture where having a disability has made survival nearly impossible.

I met Afra on her 8th birthday. We showed up at her home, a tiny one room dirt floor hut, with cake, presents, and a crowd of people.

Afra's birthday

Before our arrival, Hasanthi, our translator and handler explained to us how good it was for Afra that we were celebrating her. Many children who are ostracized by their communities, are accepted after they are sponsored. When their community sees an outsider accept the child, they often follow suit.

After candles were blown out and cake had been cut, most of our group left. Tony and I stayed behind to spend some more time with Afra and her family.

Afra’s parents opened up to Tony about the incident and Afra and I played together. Soon there was a crowd of neighborhood children around us. I tried to think of games that were easily translatable to entertain them. We limboed, did what simon said, and played duck duck chicken, because in Sri Lanka there are no geese.

Outside, I laughed with Afra and the children, internally, my heart was filled with a somber, silent prayer. It sat in my chest and grew stronger the more time I spent with Afra. My heart was filled with so much joy and desperation all at once.

By the time I left, the desperation had all but overtaken me. Seeing Afra smile so genuinely and freely kept me glued together.  Everything in me wanted Afra’s heart to be etched with the truth that she is beautiful, valuable, and loved. I don’t think I have ever wanted something so much for another human being.

I was desperate to drown out the message sent by so many in her life: the man that maimed her, her schoolmates and community. The message that she wasn’t enough. That somehow her disability made her less than human. That she wasn’t worth it.

I pleaded with God.

I hoped that somehow our gifts of cake and presents wouldn’t be trivial and temporary, but would speak a lasting message- Afra you are worthy of celebration.

As we left, Hasanthi again provided hopeful insight. Some of the children that had spent the afternoon playing with us were the same kids that teased Afra at school.

Again, I prayed this would be a turning point– but this time for Afra’s tormentors. That taunts and jeers would turn to friendship and acceptance. That they would also see the truth that Afra is beautiful, valuable and loved, and treat her accordingly.

While I might not know the intangible impact of our birthday party for Afra, I take comfort in the fact that Afra has been sponsored through World Vision. This ensures that despite her family’s hardships, she, her family, and the rest of her village will have access to clean water, food, education, and healthcare. Sponsorship brings hope to children, families, and communities. It produces sustainable change,  and empowerment to people in need. I have witnessed it firsthand.

To me, this is the heart of  World Vision’s work– meeting people’s needs because they are beautiful, valuable and loved.  Be a part of caring for children who need it- sponsor a child like Afra.

 

 

 

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There are no words for the loss of a child.

My nephew, Archer Beeme, has a unique name because he has a unique story.

A year before Archer was born, my sister miscarried. As I try and think of a sentence to elaborate on what she must have felt, I feel a lump forming in my throat and tears in my eyes.

There are no words for the loss of a child.

Keep reading the story here.

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What I wish I knew when I was 20.

I sat across the table from my interviewer. Up until this point, I had answered each of her questions confidently and without hesitation.

This one caught me off guard

“What do you wish you had known when you were 20?”

The interviewer, our team’s [awesome] intern Catherine, looked at me waiting for an answer. I felt clueless. I’m sure it was written all over my face. 

I listed off a few things (which I am failing to recollect now) and said “I might have to get back to you on that one… “

So here it is.

What I wish I knew when I was 20.

1) Forgiveness doesn’t come through your strength or timing. It is slow and steady in it’s arrival. Chances are, there won’t be much grandeur when it finally shows up, but it shows itself in small, subtle changes.

2) Ask yourself often, will this matter in 5 years? I tend to worry about a lot of things that generally won’t matter.  Be okay with letting things go.

3) Hard work pays off. Maybe sooner, maybe later, and sometimes in ways you didn’t expect. Chances are, if you are working hard, you are surrounding yourself with people who do the same, and you can learn a whole lot from them.

4) I know it’s really trendy to say “Boys are so much less drama than girls, girls just back stab one another.” But think about it. Boys are human too. They will hurt you too. So don’t miss out on amazing girlfriends because you were too busy being ‘drama free’  with your homeboys.

5) It’s okay to work at camp this summer. Again. You only have so many summers before your ‘real life’ starts. Enjoy them while you can.

6) You really can’t thank your parents enough. So keep saying it.

7) People will have it easier than you. People will have it harder than you. This is a fact of life.  Ask yourself what you can do now with what you have been given.  Fixating on what you do or don’t have is a dead end either way.

8)  Life is what happens when you are making other plans. I don’t know who said this one, but boy, they were right. So buckle up, and get ready for life as it comes, rather than the life you’ve planned.

9) Take care of yourself. read this again: take care of yourself. No one else will. Well, maybe your mom will offer to do your laundry on occasion if she is feeling generous. But really. You are young and eager to prove yourself. You are of significantly less value to a company, your school, team, whatever if you are burnt out.  So take care of yourself. Your job won’t, your mom won’t, that boy won’t. It’s your job, do it.

10) Life is cyclical.  I loved the Disney movie “The Sword and the Stone” as a kid. There’s a song that goes “For every high there is a low, for very up there is a down, that’s what makes the world go round.” The good news about the bad times? They won’t last forever. The bad news about the good times? They won’t last forever. Do your best to keep your chin up when life is rough, and enjoy every minute when life is good.

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Justin and Kaitlyn

A week ago, I had the pleasure of second shooting Justin and Kaitlyn’s wedding with the uber talented and equally fun Kristin Boyett. It was an absolute blast. Kaitlyn was gorgeous, and Justin was totally enamored.

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