Three ways to be.


My mother learned how to salsa dance in between a table of sheer glittered tank tops and a rack of leather jackets.

That’s the kind of woman my mother is & always will be, the kind to wear red flip flops in mid-October and a platinum gold satchel on her hip while stepping on the toes of a 20-something Colombian named Carlos who was innocently folding men’s dress shirts in the middle of the clothing store before my mother pulled a thread within him. Unraveling his whole life story. The Seams of Carlos All Tangled Up in My Mother’s Humanity and Salsa Dancing.

Carlos was in America for the year on a futbol scholarship and had just then began to feel the waves of homesickness push in as the holidays began sneaking under doorways and into the store fronts of Sears and Macy’s.

So my mother invited Carlos to Thanksgiving dinner, but only if he taught her a dance. Hence the salsa dancing. Hence the 20-something Colombian learning to knife a turkey at my kitchen table.

My mother reeks of good human being. It pours out of her.

And even though we are often fighting over a) dishes b) bags left on the kitchen table c) student loan checks d) frying pans (all which sum up to the fact that I need a t-shirt that reads “Creativity ruins my Domesticity”), I still want to shake her by the shoulders while screaming loudly, “I wannttttttt tooooo beeeeeee jusssssttttt liiiikkkkkeee yooouuuuu.”

The key word is Be. I want to Be. Just like mother. She gets it. The Being part. She Be’s all day, every day.

She Be a blessing. She Be a lantern. She Be there. No questions asked, She Be there.

And if I can just sort it out, just unravel it the way my mother unraveled Carlos and his homesickness and his need, as if he were a pool of yellow yarn laying on the ground at her feet, then maybe I’ll Be too.

These are the notes I’ve taken thus far.

Be a blessing.

Lean in closer so that I can tell you a secret: People get all weak in the elbows when you spend time on them.

Suddenly we shrink back into the days where our teachers complimented how nicely we folded our hands in our laps and then named us Line Leader for the day. It’s that kind of weakness. A sweet, sticky glow that comes out from the cheeks. All because we stop… and think… and then act intentionally for one another in the form of care packages to cool down the homesickness like a hose, love letters to ward off the loneliness, baked goods to plump up and soften the heart, playlists to make the rains come like clouds breaking open and clearing the drought from our eye sockets.

If you are sitting here, scratching your head and thinking: I want to be someone unlike anyone else in this world then start here. Start by being a blessing. & learning the exhaustion that comes from it but the joy that pours out of it. Be sacrificial. Go out of your way. Don’t take credit. Forget yourself for the sake of someone else. And the let the awesomeness rollllllll in, darling.

People will look at you strangely at first. They will wonder what makes you different but they’re going to seriously start unraveling the parts inside of themselves that don’t look that way if they stare at you and your humility long enough. They’re gonna whisper to the lovely beside them, “What’s that light inside of that one?”

Be a light.

Or a lamp. Or a stoplight. Or a lantern. Or a flashlight. Or the flicker of a candle. Just be a light. If you’ve got light, then be light.

People are looking for it. And they will tell you they are looking for a purpose, a higher calling, a lost shoe, their car keys, a deeper meaning, a better story. And it’s really all just light. We all really just want something larger than us to pour through the cracks and light up the darkness we feel, even when the sun is out.

I think we all just want to dance somewhere in the light, shimmy and shake and hand jive and waltz somewhere in the middle of this quotation: “If you want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out. To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.”

Somedays I truly think there will be no better feeling than when there’s Old in my bones and a rocking chair beneath me but I’ll have wrinkles & stories to prove that I was a source of light to others. That I lifted them when they felt weak. That sometimes we just sat, side by side, and said nothing at all and yet the best conversations & revelations were founded that way when we let silence dance with presence. When we just stopped telling the world how very busy we were and we just decided to be there for one another.

Be there.

You know, I don’t know anything about how it will be to die.

I’ve not a clue how the thoughts will spiral through my head when I realize that these toes are going, these hairs are going, these legs will be no more, this mouth of mine will hush, but I bet I’ll think about people like Carlos. People in my life who got all wrapped up in me. And I got wrapped in them. All Tangled. And it never even mattered that blue bled into yellow because somehow we knew that together we’d make green, something we could never do apart. Something really miraculous but something we could never accomplish on our own.

I want to say poetic things when I’m lying in that bed and the doctors are whispering that the time will be short now. And I want someone to hear me when the last breath goes, someone who will have been all the life & jazz I needed for many the years before this. I want to tell him it was wonderful. That the dancing was good. That the laughter was thick. And we’ve got no reason to look back with dismay.

That I think we done good. That I would have never wanted to go this thing alone.

“I needed you to make my green,” I might tell him in the quiet of the room. “I will always be your yellow and you are forever my blue.

Something really beautiful like that. Something that will belong to only us and the things that only we know.

I want the angels to come when I am tracing faces with my eyes closed.  I want to spend my last air thinking on the times I needed you and you were there. When I took you by the hand and dragged your tired feet. The time when we both stared hopelessly at one another, with skinned knees but polished souls, saying into the April air, “I won’t regret a single second of this. Stay, please stay, and be the keeper of them all.”

Until the rains come…

As the Hours Pass

Breaking of the Fast: A letter of thanks

Just as our fasting broke this morning, so did some news regarding a new social media campaign with today’s biggest entertainers involved, to benefit our East Africa Fund.

Translation: I have been too busy to even think about wrapping up my fasting update.

At 9am this morning, my colleagues and I broke the fast with a light breakfast and some sharing of stories. When we felt hungry. How it made us feel. When it all sunk in for Each One of Us.

I found it both overwhelming and encouraging to see the number of people who put their hunger aside to hold out and fundraise for the kids. Buckets of “thank you”s to anyone who donated to the fast.

It all sunk in this morning as I pulled apart the bagel before me and took that first bite of food in 24 hours. This whole experience became a living definition of a quote that I have tucked close to my heart for several years but never fully understood up until now: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

This whole fast is not to “help” the children of the East Africa food crisis, but to stand beside these children—their tiny feet, their tiny hands, their tiny faces—stand beside them and be human. Humans reach out hands to one another, I reckon that is why God gave us two of them. Why he equipped us so favorably with Hands that Hold. Ears that Listen. Mouths that Speak Out against injustices such as the food crisis in East Africa.

We could very easily get bogged down by the news and the discouraging coverage, throw our hands up in the air and say “I cannot do anything!” but clearly, by the awareness and money we raised, there is something we can do. We can be living examples of compassion, humanity, and above all, love. The 24-hour fasting is over, but our chance to be Love to others has just begun…

Thanks to everyone who supported Save the Children in the last 24 hours. Especially those who found a way to encourage, inspire and lift our spirits with just 140 simple characters. You are a marvel. Always and always.



Pin my heart to your tomorrow

Little children, I cannot begin to know how it feels to take on even an ounce of your pain. I don’t know the pangs of hunger beyond 24 hours, I am not forced to walk & walk & walk in the hopes to find food. But I can pin my heart to you today, pin my heart to your tomorrow. Each day and every day, I can promise that to you.


O.k., this is real now. Really real. Tired. Hungry. Irritated. Headache throbbing. And yet I am sitting here, counting blessings. I am in awe of how much I took food for granted up until this point. So many times today I have eyed food around the office and just wanted to grab a few pretzels or sneak a chocolate or two. Aint gonna happen. I am in this until the end, alongside my Save the Children staff members, Grey’s star Kevin McKidd, supermodel Iman and the rest who have joined on throughout the hours. Stay strong everyone. “We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.” –Mama T


So for a stretch of time I was very hyper, feeling more energized than I have felt in days actually but mind you, that was short lived, the headache is coming on but my stomach has not rumbled since mid morning.

But here I am, 23 years old, and understanding why I feel hungry right now. Why? Because I am voluntarily fasting… How could you possibly explain this to a 4 year old? Or to your own children? That there’s no food, that they need to wait for the rains to come.  Empty stomachs are nothing compared to a breaking heart for the kids who have to feel this everyday. Please consider donating today.


Three hours into the fast and already I am seeing how much my body has come to rely on getting food every couple of hours. Around this time I would have already had breakfast and a mid morning snack. The hunger pains are not intense by any means, and I am all too aware that I will be eating again in less than 24 hours. It is really making me reflect and think about the kids who have no choice, no other option, but to keep trekking on until they reach the refugee camps. Even then, they are not guaranteed food to put into their hungry bellies. I am keeping these children in my thoughts throughout the entire day.


The news coverage on the crisis in East Africa has crippled our spirits and our news feeds for the past few weeks but we are not completely helpless to the issue at hand. I don’t often mix my work life with the blog but I wanted to share with all of you what my colleagues and I at Save the Children are doing to keep the children of East Africa at the forefront until the rains come.

From Monday, August 8 to Tuesday, August 9 (9am-9am) we will host a completely voluntary 24- hour “Fast-A-Thon” to raise funds and empathy towards the food crisis in East Africa, what the UN has declared as the worst drought in nearly 60 years. I will be fasting for the next 24 hours with the hope to raise $100 dollars to feed a child for 100 days. Our overall goal?  Utilizing our social networks to raise $10,000 to feed 100 children for 100 days.

One dollar a day is all it takes to keep a child alive until the deadly drought passes and the rains come.

I appreciate all support, thoughts and prayers for the children and their families at this time.

To participate in the Fast-A-Thon, check out the site here. If you would like to donate to the cause, click here or text “SURVIVE” to “20222” to make a $10 donation.

Ways to Get Involved

PLEDGE TO FAST:  On Monday, August 8, fast by skipping a snack (or coffee), missing a meal or fasting for a day beginning at 9 am EDT (GMT 13:00).  RSVP

PLEDGE TO FRIENDRAISE:  Invite your friends, family and co-workers to socialize about the event on Twitter (#fastathon) and Facebook.  Friendraise

PLEDGE TO FUNDRAISE:  Ask your personal, social networks to support your pledge by donating to our Cause, or donate $10 by texting SURVIVE to 20222 (U.S. only, standard rates apply).  Fundraise 

We’ve all got some good love, that’s what my mama says.


I had no choice but to ask my professor for an extension while reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved for the first time.

She recommended we read the book by candlelight so we would be forced to scrunch up our eyes to focus on the words. One by one, as they marched on the page. Taking our time to dip our toes into each word. Because the words within that book’s spine are rich words; the skins of those letters are practically coated in dark chocolate. Sweet Goodness.

So, against my better judgment in knowing all the dorm’s rules and regulations about the use of fire within four walls, I would sit curled up in the shoe closet of my apartment beside wellies and rain coats reading Beloved by candlelight. Reciting the words out loud, rolling each sentence around in my mouth like a hard candy I hoped would soon dissolve so I could finally swallow it whole.

Trust me when I say this: I didn’t make reading by candlelight look elegant or tasteful. Or romantic for that matter.

I could only sit with the book for fifteen minutes at a time before needing to take a walk. Take a drive. Something nested inside of my stomach every time I picked up that book and melted quickly into a pool of tears and snot, cross-legged in the middle of a broom closet.

“Hatred,” my professor told me. “You are feeling the wrath of hatred. Of the way humans have learned to hate one another.” Is that what this feeling is, I wondered? This knotting, sinking feeling in my stomach over the way human beings can treat one another so badly? This is Hatred?

It was as if I’d never knew of the word all the years it pummeled from my mouth on the playground at school or after a geometry class I really could not stand.

Is there medicine to take for this? A cure for this? Am I ever going to be normal again, or am I destined to cry over slavery right in the middle of casual conversations for the next few years? Because I can hardly eat and barely think over something that happened over 100 years ago. I am a wreck, Professor. An absolute wreck leaking Titanical tears in Dunkin Donuts with chocolate munchkins wedged within my cheeks.

“Read on, there has to be love somewhere.” Oh, but its dark and terrifying when you cannot just have the love front and center. All love. And no hatred. Some would tell you quickly, the world just does not work that way.

I recently read that when the Dalai Lama first encountered the word “hatred” he needed to have it explained to him several times. When it finally clicked, he put his head into his hands and wept.

The thought of His Holiness trying desperately to make his way around this word has clung to almost of all of my thoughts this week; dangling off of to-do lists and swinging from conversations over coffee with friends, making me back track to my days in the broom closet crying over Beloved.

Because how? How do you explain such an awful & sad concept to a man who has never known it before?

I can picture a crowd around the Dalai Lama, young and old, those brought forward to try to explain to him just exactly what Hatred means.

“Oh Dalai, dear Dalai, it’s so ugly and rotten. No makeover, no matter how epic or extreme, will ever turn this word pretty,” a young woman cries.

“Oh Dalai, dear Dalai, Hatred is doomed to roam the earth; ugly, heavy, and unwanted. But powerful; too, too powerful,” an old woman joins her.

“And you better watch out,” comes a man out from the crowd, speaking in a hushed tone. “Because it doesn’t walk… and it doesn’t talk… It slinks and slunks and slitherssss. It roars coming out from the mud!”

“It’s more like a bonfire,” another man says. “Eventually we pile enough “Should” and “Could” and “Would” onto an already booming flame and it makes people stop wanting good for one another.”

“I think it took my mother in the night!”

“And it destroyed my village!”

“It ransacked my home!”

“It split my country!”

“It killed my people!”

I can see him now, face poured into hands, weeping for the way the world operates off of Hatred. How we strap it to the backs of one another. How we slip it into speeches and watch it cut… a person, a population, a country apart. Pulling the Fam from the Ily and the Hu from the Man.

And suddenly a Little Girl emerges from the crowd, tears streaming down her face as if she just left a candle burning in a broom closet as she walked away from a classic novel.

She rises on tip toes and tugs on the garb wrapped tight around the Dalai Lama’s waist. “Don’t let them give up,” she whispers. “Or the hatred will spread. We’ve all got some good love, that’s what my mama says. My mama says its Goodness but its like a lantern that will flicker and fade… I don’t want my Goodness to fade.”

“I agree with your mama,” I think he would say. “But you and I, we cannot cry much longer tonight. For tears, in closets or in palms or upon cheeks, will never do the world good unless they are transformed into something Stronger that we can use to combat the Hatred and make sure that Goodness never fades.

The ones who keep the lantern burning, they don’t cry and then give up. They find a cause that rips the world to tears and then they set out to dry the eyes. With loud voices. And louder actions.

So let your words be good, your actions be good, your intentions be best, and your lantern be bright. Don’t let that hatred sink like an anchor deep in your stomach.  You’ve got the Good Love, so spread it child, spread.”

This will give us enough of a good feeling, a right feeling, to go on knowing nothing at all.

My best friend smells of leather ballet slippers and lavender hand soap. 

The scent mingles with the highlights in her hair as I hug her, taking me back to the nights spent sharing secrets on hardwood dance floors while nursing the blisters that came from uptight tap shoes.

And though I file away people I have met, placing their name beside a concordance of eye colors within my head, smelling my best friend became a new addition to daily routines only after I met Maggie.

Maggie was the queen bee of the nursing home I was forced to visit during a day of service in college. Truth told, I didn’t want to be spending my Saturday morning playing gin with old folks sharing stacks of Aces and Spades with the dentures sitting on both sides of me.

I made the Macho Mistake of checking my phone beneath the table while waiting for Maggie to make her move.

I don’t understand all you young people,” Maggie spoke, directing her comment right at me without a tinge of hesitation. “You are always talking to one another on a screen. My grand-daughter talks to all her best friends on a screen. That is not a best friend! You need to be able to see your best friend, touch your best friend, smellllll your best friend.

Maggie will forever be the reason why, when my first child asks me for a cell phone, I will retreat to a cedar chest settled beside my bed and pull out a chalkboard like the ones the pilgrims used to practice their ABCs upon.

Here,” I will say, stringing the small board up with a bright red cord and saddling that little sucker right around my child’s neck. “This is even better than text messaging. You just write that message down and pass it your friend.”

Presto, handwriting practice and social interaction all in one swift swipe.

And then I will pull six more chalkboards from that cedar chest and plop them onto the table beside my child. “Here’s more, in case you need to send out mass messages.”

Yup, this conversation will take place right after I buy my girl her first petty coat and teach my son all the Right Ways to walk along the Yellow Brick Roads that Pave the Hearts of Young Girls: Tell her she is beautiful. Always.  Never tell her she looks big in those jeans. Buy her flowers even if there is no occasion. Admire her and do not fear being in awe of her; there is nothing more radiant to watch than a young woman who knows her way. 

But, in all seriousness, I am already fearfully watching from the car window as my children scurry onto the school bus; already pleading endlessly with the gods of socializing that they will sit beside Someone. And that they will like the bus ride adventure beside that Someone so much that they decide to share lunch with that Someone.

Their feet will grow bigger. Their hands will grow bigger.

But still, they will itch to sit with people and find Someones. And call before texting. And just show up even before calling. And know how to use those ten fingers of theirs.

Lesson Number One, my little kiddies: Your hands will never feel so full and so well used as when they find themselves enveloped and interlocked with those of another soul in need. 

Another Restless, Itchy Soul who needs Love. Well, don’t we all need love? We might not know much of what we want in this life, nevermind what we actually need, but we know enough to distinguish how it feels to rest our heads on Certain Shoulders or to be wrapped up tight into Certain Arms. And let’s face it, no one told us we had to know everything so I think that sticking to knowing Shoulders & Arms & Ten Fingers and the power behind them is plenty.

Because that will give us enough of a good feeling, a right feeling, to go on knowing nothing at all.

No, I don’t want my children to miss out on that. To miss out on Certain Shoulders and Life Changing Conversations because their noses are super glued to Kindles or their minds are surfing the Internet ten thousand miles away from the dinner table they are sitting at. Their Faces Illuminated by the Glow of the Screen from Beneath Them. 

I want them to know certain things that will never be unearthed from a pile of mobile devices, certain things that I believe will define their lives and leave them without worry as to what this life is actually for: the way it feels to say sorry in person instead of cowering behind an email address. The way it feels to gush over another human being without fear of being cut off after 140-characters. The way it feels to sit beside someone with Palms Sweating and Heart Racing; feeling so awkward, so uncomfortable, so anxious but so incredibly alive. 

Lord knows one day I will be sitting in the same spot as Maggie, preaching to a restless youngin’ of the days when we still received letters in the mail and we trotted over to the neighbors to borrow a cupcake tin.

Cupcake tins, neighbors, and handwritten letters may all be extinct by the time I play gin with young college students.

But perhaps they will learn from me what Maggie so graciously taught in her preaching of smelling best friends: we have precious time upon us; spend it with friends. There is laughing to be heard, names to be learned, manners to be used and friends to be pulled in after a long spell of “Missing,” transporting you right back to the days of lavender soap and sitting on dance room floors.

Forget me before nap time. Remember what I want for you when it comes time to dream.

Just tell me… are you going to do it?” He asks her, “Tell me right now. Just tell me right now, Diana.

Diana, dressed prim in her lavender princess dress, hairspray clutching her curls into perfect spirals from the 7a.m. hair appointment, looks away from him and keeps staring into the mud below the magnifying glass. Looking for the inchworm.

Tell me now, are you going to break my heart? Tell me. Will you break my heart?” Bryan puts his hands on this hips; the bumblebee finger puppets still saddling the tips of his fingers.

Welcome to the conversations that plop from the mouths of four-year-olds when you dress the herd of Bieber Fever Babies “to the nines” in spring attire to take a single photo with the Easter Bunny.

Suddenly, suddenly, they are snorting a thick smog of romance from the air and carrying on “grown up” conversations in the science area. Forgetting their soap opera rhetoric from time to time to stare at the inchworm below the magnifying glass.

“I…like…Josue…better.” Burnnn.

And don’t look now Diana, but Josue is buttering up Katelynn in the corner of the block area. Telling her he likes her Sunday dress better than yours and would like to dance with her during exercise time.

In a 2-day span, Josue can date Diana. Break up. Hold hands with Katelynn a few times. Katelynn will then get tired of Josue, move on to his best friend, Joel. Joel will pine over Katelynn, then move onto Jamell. All the while, Isis and Madisson will be fighting over a clearly disinterested Josue.

And then next year they will all move up in the world, split into separate kindergarten classes and forget one another.

Not to put a grim spin on it all.

But they are four.

They forget what cereal they had for breakfast. They forget what month it is. They will forget one another. They will forget they ever had a “Miss Hannah” for a preschool teacher who was a pro at doodling princesses onto papers they clutched up until nap time.

I’ll forever be a pre-Facebook, pre-mobile phone, pre-email, preschool teacher to these children. Give these kids a few popsicles, a summer vacation, and a new teacher and I will be as good as gone in their pint-sized memories.  I am no match against Disney World or birthday parties at the hair salon.

And so what is a girl to do when she knows she will be forgotten?

Well it leaves me learning a good, hard lesson in the reason behind being alive right now. 

It leaves me learning that my name will never matter, nor will my face. And that my only job, Right Here, Right Now, is to plant this “Break Your Heart From Being So Full” Kind of Love that I have in my possession all over the place. Plant it until it hurts. Plant it long after it breaks my heart a dozen more times. 

Setting my heart on mastering this whole “loving until it hurts” thing suddenly makes it much clearer to see what to do with this Very Little Time and Very Tiny Space.

Love, though it involves risks and the art of “forgetting,” is all I can imagine I would want these kids to take away from me. Long before they remember the color of my hair or the flowers on my dress.

Remember how special I think you are, I want to tell them. Remember that you are limitless, I want them to know. That you shouldn’t be fearless but don’t let those fears dictate your choices. That you may never remember a girl whose hair magically turned from curly to straight from one day to the next but remember her love. Her Morphing Love.

This is all your Little Bones need. A Love that morphs into Ambition. Imagination. Creativity. To Grow Them Strong.

A Love that will leave you seizing days and dreams with both hands long after I have stopped holding them.

It is rainy days like these, where the Easter Bunny is in town and the Sunday “Tacos” have come out to click clack on the floors during circle time, that I want to tell every single one of them to forget me before nap time, so long as they remember all that  I want for them when it comes time to dream.

For years following that night I thought I might tell people that closure was smashing a teddy bear with your father’s hammer until the voice box inside gave out.

“Do you think closure exists?”

The letters of the text message, restless and exposed at the front of my inbox, begin rising with a leavening of old love stories we once spent hours telling to one another.


It is funny how the very word can send doors swinging wide open after having been locked for years. Doors you swore you lost the keys to.

She’s asking me because I am a relationship guru, a closure Buddha, I think. Because I have mastered the art of letting go, that’s why. No, she’s asking me because the word has meant a lot to me in the past and I am still not perfect when it comes to closure. Turns out, none of us are.

When I was younger my definition of closure was two parts what I digested during Dawson’s Creek and one part my attending a Closure Ceremony in the 9th grade.

A Closure Ceremony. My first and only one.  Translation: A group of girlfriends sitting on the driveway as July hissed humidity into our hair, watching our friend with a broken heart bigger than her own body take a hammer into her hands and begin smashing a slew of keepsakes that a boy had given to her throughout two years.  

I am over him,” she said, after chucking the broken pieces of a charm bracelet he had assembled for her tiny wrist into the bog beside her house. “I don’t want to think about him ever again.”

For years following that night I thought I might tell people that closure was smashing a teddy bear with your father’s hammer until the voice box inside gave out.

But the part of it all that I didn’t understand was that even after the Closure Ceremony she still waited, ready to pounce on any conversation that carried his name. To Spill Ten Thousand Stories About Him as if she were being granted permission to speak after years of silence. To make herself a victim to Ten Thousand Stories where the ending never gave her any sense of “Happily” or “Ever” or “After.”

And so instead, closure became a word to me that didn’t make much sense and yet the world was obsessed with talking about it as if we were legitimately closing things. Toy Boxes. Screen Doors. Treasure Chests. A concept that allows us to mold excuses like play dough to explain why we cant get into that next relationship or why it is just too difficult to move on. 

It just seems like a fancy metaphor for what we all really need to say but never find the space or place to say it out loud: This hurts. It hurts really, really bad. And sure, it is in the past but I sometimes feel the prick as strongly as the day it happened. And I don’t know how to move forward. And I cannot inch my way around trusting that it won’t happen again. And I want to stand still and dissolve a little. Because it hurts. There, I said it, it hurts.

But I have always believed that this is what humanity is all about: learning to dance even in that pain. Even with every single door around us swinging open and closed. A Symphony of Swinging Doors. And Yet We Still Dance to the Rickety Tunes Life Spins onto Our Record Players.

To close, for good, would mean to stop telling a story that we know by heart. Not to forget the beginning or the middle or the end, because that won’t ever happen if we are thinking practical. But to silence our heart when the story comes up and threatens us with sadness that perches like gargoyles on old, beautiful cathedrals.

Closure. I think it does exist. But only when we stop living in circles of “what was” to meander our way into “what could be.”

Only when we admit to ourselves that we deserve Good Stories, Better Stories. The Best Stories. Without so much bruising and battering on a daily basis. And surprisingly, it takes a lot of courage to want that for ourselves.

Only when we validate with words that, “Yes, that time in my life was painful and it was hard, but I got stronger. Maybe my heart broke, my knees shook, and maybe sometimes I wish that it never actually happened but I am writing a better story off of what I know now. And with just one look I can already tell you, my sentences are stronger than they have ever been before.”

Show me a girl with pencil shavings on her forehead and an imaginary cousin by her side and I’ll show you a fireworks display more smashing than July 4th.

Picture a girl in elementary school, legs as thin and long like two yard sticks holding up a torso, anxiously rubbing pencil shavings onto her forehead in the girls’ bathroom before running out the door to meet her imaginary Italian cousin at ballet class.

It made me terribly uneasy to know that my peers got an entire holiday to put ashes on their foreheads and then proceed to whine about not being able to eat meat on Fridays.

I was envious that their mothers made them give up soda or that they wore white communion dresses and got a second middle name halfway through life.

And I was especially jealous that they had all these cool prayers to repeat as if each one were a secret pass code to a club I would never be invited to: The Catholic club.

I am convinced that a normal child would ask questions and then get over it. Embrace the nondenominational religion she was given.

Go back, reread several posts of mine, and then say this to yourself, “She was not a normal child.”

Hence my decision to rub the lead from my unicorn pencils on my forehead to blend in with my soot headed peers and then proceed to spend the next forty days grumbling the loudest over not being able to have soda or chocolate.

You don’t even like soda and you are allergic to milk chocolate,” I could remember my best friend saying to me.

She wasn’t Catholic, wasn’t getting ashes, wasn’t eating fish on Fridays and (GASP) didn’t care!

“You don’t understand, at least you still get to be Italian.”

And so, when refusing to talk to my best friend whose life was easier for being Italian or the God who made me into a pale mess of Irish freckles and German roots, I turned to Gabby.

My Italian cousin.

Had we been in the same fifth grade class I would have told you about Gabriella Vacaldo or you would have found her on my family tree. Gabriella was my Italian cousin and a star gymnast. She was the best in her class at pottery and she had long curly brown hair. Her parents gave her a cell phone at the mere age of 12 so she could call me anytime.

I imagine she would have called me all the time, if only she existed.

Yup, I made up a cousin in the fifth grade and I probably rubbed lead on her head as well. But in all fairness, everyone knows there is nothing cooler than having an Italian cousin to hang out with after school; at least there was nothing cooler at my lunch table.

So. as all the other kids scuttled off the black top at 3 p.m. to go play with Vinnie and Antonia, I was “making a call to Gabriella.” Translation: Lead head Hannah going off to play by herself, all the while kicking the dirt over the fact that she wasn’t Italian or Catholic. Tough. Life.

Both these stories fall into the chapters of my life spent trying to fit in. To fit the mold instead of break it. To make plea bargains with the gods of normalcy that they would remove any trait that was a) distinguishable b) unique c) quirky d) different, so that I could slide through life being happily ordinary and blissfully average.

We could very easily do this for the rest of our lives. We could an entire 365 days out of our years fitting in and never pouncing on any plan that might make us stick out from the crowd.

We just need to ask the question and then assume the role: Leader or Follower? Leader or follower, baby?

Take it from someone with experience, wads of it. I spent a good 76% of my life on the path to being a follower and there isn’t much excitement in it. The footprints to follow are already in place and it tends to get very boring, especially with huge ideas keep chit chattering in your head like gossipy freshmen. Someone did the something we dream of doing before us, yes, but do we really want to spend our lives playing in their shadows?

Wait, wait, wait.

Still one more option to hurl on the table. Before I sway you into being a leader. Yikes.

We could just wait until tomorrow instead of starting today. We could wait for a better time, a more manageable schedule, a better support team. But we might be waiting for a while. Waiting Forever. You cool with that? You down with being labeled as a time waster?

A dear friend of mine, and a huge role model to boot, sent me an article today that was all about the notebooks we keep, bursting at the spirals with brilliant ideas. Except, after a certain point, we can exhaust the world with our blabbering about this good idea and that amazing idea.

After a while we need to actually put the ideas into action. Become, as Katy Perry would tell us all, our own firework in this world. We only need to glance upward to see that a million others have already started bursting and they would never choose to sink back into line again.

It’s funny that she even sings those lyrics, to proclaim the fact that we are all fireworks. What a scary thing to be… it means we need to be willing to gear up for an explosion. It could be  fantastic but the thought of lighting the match is quite petrifying.

You see, that would be a point of no turning back. That would really set us apart from the rest of the world. That would really make us stand out.

And so we must ask ourselves if we are ready to swap out the firework display that has been playing in our minds for years for the real deal.

That could be a real risk.

But, secrets told: I want to be one of the ones shooting up in the sky and yelling back down to the hesitant ones on the ground, “Baby, get up here! It’s something worth living out loud!”

He had this Dream of turning the Jangling Discords of this Nation into a Beautiful Symphony of Brotherhood.

Wade in the water,
Wade in the water children.
Wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water

I gather my Strength in a place where people have no choice but to come through the door wearing a full armor suit’s worth of it.

I fold the Strength up into my arms like a little child, his legs dangling over the sides, as I stare at the front door and envision it three hours from now. Swinging. Swinging. Bringing in Hope, Carrying Out Heartache. Bringing in Heartache, Carrying it Out Again.

Right now the space is deserted. Empty but Loud. Creaking with its Emptiness. Let the King Hand of the Clock Round the Courtyard and 60 Royal Seconds Three More Times and then watch as this place fills with a Concordance Of Faces that know Promise, Angst and Hard Work but very little English.

It has become almost ritualistic. My slipping from beneath the white covers at 5a.m. to walk down 2 flights of stairs and find a spot to sit, Curled Up, in the middle of an Immigration Center. Not many people can say that their living room doubles as a heartbeat to hundreds of people within the inner city.

The center pulses at this time. The Sun has not even begun to stir or think about hitting snooze on her alarm clock but already the Immigration Center & I are drawing up Strength for the morning. Strength for the sun and the way the door will swing in just a few hours. Even the walls are beginning to speak; I am certain that if I hold my ear up to just one of them I will fall deep into the telling of Ten Thousand Stories.

I did not fully meet Strength up until this year. Only heard about Strength from other people but never really saw it in action so fully until I began calling this borough, “home.” Strength does anything but take up a resting spot in this place. It sits in the classrooms of this Immigration Center, upon the faces of individuals who are trying desperately to remember Letters on a Chalkboard. They know full and well that Language has Edges & Angles in this Country, not so much like the cushioned space in their mothers’ arms. Strength sits in the classroom, and in a church, and in a line for the food pantry or the seats of the 4 train that carry these people and their Tired Soles to their Jobs.


Jobs that pay $7.50 an hour. Not enough to feed the family of five or keep a mother from the fear of teetering over into welfare. The people of the Bronx are still rallying like in the days of Dr. King to fight for a living wage. A Living Wage. A Wage That Allows Them To Live.

There is so much that I don’t understand. A lot that makes me uncomfortable. A lot that I will never again be able to hold my cheek away from. I guess we reach a point where we can never turn away again. Never Walk Away Again. But Still, There Is So Much I Cannot Change. So Much I Cannot Process.

It makes a girl wonder, as she sits cross-legged in the middle of a Immigration Center that Pulses So Loud: What am I to do today? Why am I here? How come I am the one who will get to walk away?

Pack up my bags come June. Wave farewell to a Borough that Learned to Burrow A Break In My Heart, and sink back into a life that doesn’t yield a $25 a week stipend. But a Career. A Career that Provides Much More than Just a Living Wage.

It is here, in these quiet moments when the Bronx is still stretching her arms and readying herself for the day, that I realize that Love is my only option. It’s not technologically savvy. It is not resume worthy. It doesn’t take experience in HTML or CSS Coding. It is not something we even want to mention anymore unless we are standing knee-deep in the card aisle at Hallmark. But its all that matters. Loving. Loving until it hurts. Until it shatters our souls into a million little pieces. Perhaps it is not the desired solution of this world, but it is what keeps me intact, what keeps me holding the hands of preschoolers that I want so much for, what keeps me staring into the eyes of young children on the UNICEF posters whispering promises to them that one day they will be So Much More than Just Poster Children.

Love until it hurts. Love After it Hurts. Keep Loving, even when it would be so much easier to just walk away.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, he had this dream. It was Deeply Rooted in the American Dream, the same one that is still not within the grasps of each body that claims this soil as home. He had this dream to turn the jangling discords of this nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

One day,  I think to myself.

One day we might just hear that Symphony.

Together will begin with the slow start-up of a cello. Equality will join in with the violin. An Acceptance Trio will begin to hum. Acceptance of Color. Acceptance of Religion. Acceptance of Sexuality. Justice will enter in on the piano. And Peace will sit atop the piano that Justice plays and she will look around and smile. She will shimmy from the side of the piano and step up to the microphone after a few chords.

Brothers and sisters,” she will sing. “Get up, get up, it’s time to get up.”

The microphone spans a couple thousand miles.

“Get up and dance. Get up and swing, children.” Peace will Sing. Peace Will Sing.

And we all will stand, lace up our shoes and begin to shuffle towards the dance floor. Shuffling. Shimmying. Holding Hands.You with Me. Me with You.

Fox Trot. Box Step.

Shaking Our Hips to a Symphony of Brotherhood.

Once Upon A Time Someone Gave a Little Girl with Cowboy Boots and a Blue Tutu a Chance: Girls’ Education & a Chance to “Be the First.”

She stood before the class today and formally introduced herself.

They’d all seen her before but this was the first time they would call her by name. Sitting tall with her back straight, she seemed poised and ready. A younger but practically identical version of her sat to her right.

This is the letter ‘J’,” I tell the class, using a pencil to accentuate her long and slender trunk. “Can everyone make the sound of the letterJ’? Juh… Juh… Juh…

A chorus of juh’s circulate the classroom.

The letter J continues to reveal to us all of her closest friends:  Jungle. Joke. Jump. Jenny. Josue. Jelly. Friends that would be Nowhere without Her.

After we count nearly 36 comrades of the ever so popular Letter J, the Little Ones scurry back to their seats and practice drawing portraits of our New Friend. Happy are they to be tracing her trunk and filling in her curves with Gold & Silver Glitter Paint.

Every time I introduce a new member of the alphabet family to my preschool class it feels as if they are another step closer to unearthing a treasure they have no idea they are scavenging for. They might not know it yet, rightfully consumed with their dolls and action figures for now, but one day letters and the ability to use them correctly could be the greatest gift that they have ever received. One Day, 26 Precious Letters Could Open Many Doors For Them.

Some days a child goes home not knowing a ‘J’ from a ‘K’ because they spent their day fixed on a double T word: Tattle Tailing. Some Days They Chatter. Some Days They Look Away. And on these days, where the attention spans fly out the window quicker than the holiday season, I am tempted to put down the pointer and fire up a lecture, “You don’t know it now, but these letters are important. So Important. They will be the base of your education. The key to opening up a world where you can get lost in a classic novel. The key to having a voice in this world that is articulate, powerful and purposeful.” They are only four, they will get it eventually. I can only pray that someday they will look back and realize they were not merely painting the letter ‘J’ with a palette of glittered golds and silvers. They were painting a future for themselves. They were learning to paint this world better. Paint this World, Not Only to Look Like a Better Place but to Be a Better Place.

It’s hard to say where these Little Ones will go as they grow up or how they will learn. I am often forced to wonder if they will be inclined to stay in a Classroom as this Borough gets harder on them. I feel as though I could plop down a younger version of myself into this Bronx Preschool and she would adore the sandbox and the Mr. Potato Heads with all the other children but I cannot help but think that the Little Me would still be holding something tight in her hands. Something given to her that was not guaranteed to all of her Preschool Pals or to millions of other children scattered across the continents.

You see, Once Upon A Time Someone gave a Little Girl with Cowboy Boots and a Blue Tutu a Chance. Over and Over again, she received a Chance. And she didn’t know it at the time but a Chance was a pretty big thing. A Pretty Rare Thing.

A chance to color code her outfits to her highlighters. A chance to pull out a tiny piece of plastic from her jumper and, with it, pick out any library book of her choosing. A chance to turn Alphabet soup into sacred stew. A chance to play construction worker for a good two hours until her “Encyclopedia Fort” was built at long last. And there she would sit as the Little Hand of the clock lapped the Bigger Hand several hundred times. Never Looking Up. Soaking Up the World and Everything in It, in Perfect Alphabetical Order.

The Little Girl with the Chance grew taller and swapped her Cowboy Boots for Platform Sandals. Her Tutu for a Tankini. But still, she held the Chance to fall in love with Rhett Butler several times before she ever even glanced at the boy with the locker next to hers. She had the chance to plaster her walls with the Editor’s Letters from the pages of Seventeen Magazine and draft up dreams of one day working there. Of one day having a Career.

And still the Little Girl Grew, and she was given even more chances. A chance to write her personal statement in a College Application and walk through a door into Higher Education. A chance to Brood over Fine Literature with her Fellow English Majors.

And then there came a time when she held tight to the word “Young” but swapped out the “Girl” for a more suitable title, Woman.  And once again, she recognized the Glory in a pair of Cowboy Boots and a Blue Tutu. So Vintage.

She moved to the City of her Dreams and Walked into the United Nations only to find herself fixated on learning of the Little Girls who were not always given the same Chance. Over and Over again, she Uncovered these Chance-Less Girls. Sudan. Indonesia. El Salvador.

They are virtually everywhere. A Population of Beautiful Girls Without Grammar Lessons. Children who Deserve to Meet All the Luscious Letters and to Hear all of their Sounds. To Have all the Words Bow & Curtsy Before Them at the Front of a Classroom and then Grant Permission for the Children to Use Them. To Fill Blanks in Stories. Plots. Conversations. Notebooks. Silences.

I don’t think I ever looked down, opened up my palms and noticed the Chances I have been given all of my life until this year when I was asked to write a letter to my 10-year-old self about why I wanted to join the organization, instead of a cover letter. It was the Best Letter I was ever asked to write.  Only then did I realize that My Chance is a Beautiful, Beautiful Thing. Not to be ashamed of, not to be belittled or discarded.  But to be treasured and used. I can use what I have been given to pass forward chances to the future of this world. Children. To promote something I believe can fix a lot of brokenness in this world. Education.

Because of that letter, I am now wrapped up in a glorious .org that I would like to introduce all of you to.  She’s the First is a media campaign dedicated to giving Girls the Opportunity and the Chance to be the First in their Family to receive an Education. I am lucky and excited to be a new researcher for this organization, linked up with schools and girls’ sponsorships in both Africa and Indonesia.  I recently became a researcher for the organization and I am excited to be linked up with schools and girls’ sponsorships in both Africa and Indonesia.

Here’s to Sweet Syllables. Here’s to More Dreams Upon Chalkboards for 2011. Here’s to More Chances for Little Girls to put on their Blue Tutus and Cowboy Boots and Run to Greet the Alphabet.

Are you there God? It’s me, Hannah.

“It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.

I want to repeat one word for you:

Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.” Donald Miller

On a mediocre day it will take me four or five attempts to get into the perfect position. Sitting Cross-Legged. Curled into a Ball. Knees Folding Beneath Me.

Shift. Shift. Shift.

All to look upward, bow my head and attempt to speak with God.

“I know you are up there, God. But it is awkward.” Shift. “I believe in you, no doubt. But I have no idea what you want from me.” Shift. “Couldn’t you just send me a book, God? I mean, your Bible is great but things might go smoother with me if you could just beam down a packet of cliff notes.” Shift. “Then I would always be doing what you wanted from me, right?” Shift. “A picture book would even suffice, God. A Single Water Color Glimpse at the next page or a chance to see the Bigger Picture from the last few years.” Shift. “God, did you really think this through? Honestly, why did you send me into this Mess of Skin without a legitimate chapter book? Chapter 11: You fall short. Chapter: 26: You leave on the Northbound train. I need to know these things.”

It is in my shifts and position switches that I realize one thing: God will never give us a book. Not an instruction manual. Not an eHow. Not finding it on tomorrow. I better quit praying for one.

As of lately, I can hear Him countering my thoughts, asking me, “Child, why would I waste my time with a single book when you have an entire library before you?Big Swooping Bookcases, Packed Up to the Ceiling. A Library full of Individuals from all over this world, each one packed with endless Stories & Lessons to Learn. Waiting to be cracked open with that first hello or finally closed with that last farewell.

Why sit and read chapter 19 when you could be out living it? Why wait longingly to read the next few chapters when God has granted the world with pencils & paired them with courage to do the scripting?

A Great Friend of mine led an amazing prayer on our mid-year retreat this past week where he asked all of us to close our eyes and envision our lives during the last four months in the volunteer program as a strand of single moments instead of One Long Journey. He guided a group of Close-Eyed Missionaries through a Wide-Eyed process of picking out specific moments of Chaos & Joy and holding them up to the light.

With my eyes closed tight I envisioned a strand of Pearls. Strung together. Simple but Poetic in their Arrangement. The Hard Moments. The Estranged Ones. The Elation. The Spontaneity.

I realized for the first time: Maybe I don’t understand the purpose to all of these moments. Maybe I never will. But none of these moments have been by accident.

All of our moments are like stars in the night sky, waiting for a wide-eyed wanderer to lay down before them and Connect the Dots. Embroider Constellations Amongst the People We Meet, the Places we Step Upon, the Emotions left Stirring Deep in our Souls.

We might not have time to Contemplate our Constellations and Keep Connecting Them all the while. Better we Keep Connecting and Contemplate some other time. Better we keep writing that chapter book instead of sitting down to read.

Lately, I like to believe that Don Miller and I were married in a past life. At one point or another, we sat and drank tea together on the wrap around porch of a house with peach-colored shutters. He reads my soul like a book. He writes my soul into books. In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, he wrote about the grand possibility of sitting down with God at the end of our lives. Sitting with Him. And Sharing Our Stories. God will listen and nod his head and then, when our lips grow silent, he will tell us Why. Why we suffered. Why we loved. Why we were drawn to that man. Why we had to say goodbye to her. God will fill in the blanks of our lives, the blanks we left like puddles that ached for a good pair of rain boots to jump in them. The Why’s, What’s, and How’s, wearing Bright Yellow Rain Boots, Splashing Clarity into the Moments We Craved to  Understand at that very moment.

I grow giddy at the prospect of meeting God at the end of all of this, just like Miller writes. I’ll bring my notes and God will bring His. And we will sit in sun chairs with a fresh pot of coffee between us. Perhaps Pumpkin Spice. Maybe Hazelnut. Together we will sift through a tangle of memories and mishaps like a Good Will bin filled with all the best finds. I will have the chance to tell Him my story from start to finish. And then he will reach into his Godly Right Pocket and pull out the Pearl Bracelet that had formed in the closure of my eyelids. From his Godly Left Pocket he will pull out a pair of scissors and cut the pearls loose to begin stringing them onto a New Golden Thread. All the while, God will tell my life from His own perspective, realigning the pearls to show me the people I impacted without ever knowing it. The difference I made. The Seeds I Planted Even When My Palms Felt Desperately Empty.

Good work, Little One. You have served my purpose well,” I pray He will say to me. Without Shifting. “I brought you into this world with Full Arms and you have come back to me Empty-Handed. You delivered all that I gave you to all the right people. Her Chapter 16. His Chapter 12. My Child, I am quite proud of the cursive I was able to script through you.