Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

Decoration Day is the most beautiful of our national holidays... The grim cannon have turned to palm branches, and the shell and shrapnel to peach blossoms.
-Thomas Bailey Aldrich

I'm glad to be free and to live in America, and I truly respect those who are passionate about our country.  Those who say  -- with time-worn voices, fully convicted -- that ours is the greatest country this world has ever known.

Maybe it is.  I won't argue that point.  What I will say is even if we are the best, we could stand to be better. 

Hundreds of years after fighting for independence and declaring liberty and justice for all, we still struggle to provide it to our own citizens.  And if we are painfully truthful, our work in freeing some outside our borders sometimes ends up oppressing others.

We find ourselves in war after war after war.  We killed to break free of a King's rule.  We killed to claim new land.  We have killed and killed and killed over who should or should not be free and just how free they should or should not be.

And we've been killed in the process.  Which is what Memorial Day is about.  We set aside one long weekend each year to pause and remember the blood shed by our own in all the killing.

I do not mean to lessen the nobility with which they died.  They died so others may live and live more freely.  As a person who follows a God who died for the very same reason (though immeasurably more perfect freedom), I can deeply appreciate their intentions and their sacrifice. 

But I can't help but wonder if we sometimes romanticize war and fighting.  If we are sometimes afraid to ask hard questions about conflict and conflict resolution in fear that doing so might diminish the significance of the deaths we remember and honor this time and rightfully all year. 

Is the fighting worth it?  Is the cause for which we have decided to kill worth the killing we've determined it will take?

I'm not saying the answer will be no, but I don't think it will always be yes.

Is there a better way to fight?  Maybe with something other than guns and bombs?

Maybe guns are the best weapons, but maybe not always.

I don't know the answers, but I ask the questions for many reasons.  Because I value life and have trouble supporting murder.  Because I think that we can sometimes be too quick to draw our guns (though I know many likely vehemently disagree with me on this point). Because I see the suffering of the men and women who we could be honoring this weekend, but thankfully are not.

I found myself on an airport shuttle van the other night with a young soldier. We had taken two different planes in and each missed our separate planes out. 

As the driver weaved through nerve-wracking Chicago traffic, the soldier anxiously chatted.

He was pleasant and funny and upbeat and optimistic.  But beneath the surface I sensed pain.  In a joke he hinted at PTSD.  I laughed and ached.  What lasting wounds war inflicts on even those who survive it.

Rucksack, deployment, stateside -- words I hardly ever use -- were all regular words in his vocabulary.  Driving away from the airport, I was worried where my tennis shoes might end up.  He was concerned about his government-issued helmet. 

We live two different lives in two different worlds.  A point made even clearer the next morning when we were once again in the same van.  This time he shared that in the few hours since our last ride he learned that he would be redeployed.  He was glad he got to choose between two missions.  Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.  He chose the first. 

How unjust that as he was making that choice I was choosing toppings on my pizza.

I wanted to do more,  but I wished him well as we parted ways. 

I've written before that we honor our military, living and dead, by exercising fully the freedoms they helped achieve.  I still believe that.  But looking into dark eyes that have watched war unfold live, I couldn't help but to wish for a way that doesn't require death.  I couldn't help but to long for peace finally.

And I've decided the best way to memorialize the fallen is not only to ensure their deaths were not in vain, but also to ensure their deaths are not unnecessarily multiplied.  To work for an end to war.  That would truly be the best tribute we could pay.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Week Three Update

Stats and stories can be overwhelming.  That is why Love146 chooses to focus on hope.  Lives can and are being restored.
-Love146 slavery book

Sometimes it is difficult to focus on hope.  This is one of those times.  It feels like there is too much hate, too much greed, too much wrong.  Too many filthy, nasty people free to do filthy, nasty things.

I would prefer to wallow but I continue to walk.  And cling to the hope that it will make a difference someway and things will get better someday.  Even when I can't see the details of how.

More than a quarter-million steps with nine people and three dogs across five states.

At five percent of my fundraising goal with five more weeks to go.


This fundraiser benefits You may donate at . If you can't donate, you can still 'like' and share my page on Facebook and Twitter.

Learn more about modern-day slavery here.

Why 10,146 steps? In honor of the girl who wore number 146 .

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Effective Communication

There are a few moments from behind the glass that stop me dead in my tracks -- times during an interview when a wise voice creates a new opportunity to hear something differently.  To challenge a conceit.  To envelop the listener in the womb of silent storytelling and place one in a position of listening profundity.
-Trent Gilliss, On Being Senior Editor

Make no mistake.  Words have power, deep and difficult to comprehend.  You have the ability to change the world with every sentence you create.

Attribution: Font Awesome by Dave Gandy - in today's world where we have been blessed (and cursed) with our own individual bullhorns (commonly referred to as the Internet).

With the loud chaos of each of us shouting from our bullhorns, it's hard to remember -- or to even recognize in the first place -- that anyone is actually listening.  But they are.  And more closely than you think.

That is why I ended my first post on respectful communication with the suggestion that you thoughtfully craft your message with your end goal in mind.

I have seen some very educated and passionate people share their knowledge and beliefs in such a way that increasingly widens the gulf separating them from those who see things differently.

I believe they might come closer to achieving their goals if they instead communicated in a way that built bridges to their opposition.

We would do well to recognize that educated, informed, open people may hold views that differ from our own.  And we should never attack or judge a person verbally (or otherwise) based on his opinion or belief.  Nor speculate on someone's motives or intentions.  Sometimes in the process of criticizing a viewpoint we wrongly criticize those who hold it -- saying the person is sinister or deceptive or dense.

I can't emphasize this enough.  There are people in every political party and in every major religion who are sincere, thoughtful, studious and compassionate.  There is no one group or sect of people who have the market cornered on that.

We have a great opportunity to create and control a dialogue with the world around us, but we must be mindful of the mediums we use and the words we choose.

We hold the power to persuade, to advocate, to move our world forward with our communication.  But all too often we are thoughtless.  Or we use sensationalized, polarizing language to our own detriment.

If we truly wish to build consensus or solve problems, we would do well to refrain from words that we know are hurtful or offensive to those who disagree with us.  Doing so is not 'sugar-coating' and does not make us weak.  Doing so is simply respectful, polite and adds strength and credibility to our message.  To make significant progress we must reach the other side with our words and that can't be done if they feel attacked or fundamentally misunderstood.

This is true of any disagreement -- in politics, religion, business, marriage, family or friendship.

I am offering these suggestions as someone who has tried it both ways.  I have wielded words as weapons and have some irreparably damaged relationships to show for it.  I unapologetically told it like it was, called people out and put them in their place.  I was right and they were wrong.  I was justified.  And I only accomplished deeply hurt feelings.  Nothing more.

In more recent years, I have given words -- and the people I share them with -- much more reverence and respect, recognizing the power to either build up or tear down.  The results have been amazing.  I have cultivated meaningful relationships with a diverse group of people whose beliefs range from one far extreme to the other. 

They have showed me many flaws in my own thinking, for which I am grateful.  And sometimes I've even changed their minds on a thing or two.

Persuading someone to believe something you are passionate about is profoundly rewarding.  As is realizing a truth that is new to you.  Words give us all that ability, if we choose to use them that way.

Communication can be surprisingly effective, if not always easy.  I am most definitely still learning, but will share a few things that have helped me in my journey to find the most powerful, compelling words:

Think about your intended (and possibly unintended) audience.  How will they react?  How will your words make them feel and why?  What would make them feel listened to, understood, respected? 

Get to know your audience.  The best way to reach people who disagree with you is to get to know them.  Don't listen to what others say about them, find out for yourself who they are and why they feel the way they do.  You may realize that you weren't even addressing the concerns they have with your differing belief. 

I have also found that something else happens when you get to know your audience as real people beyond your disagreement.  You begin to feel compassion for them, making it easier to genuinely respect them.

Listen to the experts.  Plenty of people have devoted their lives to studying effective communication.  Thankfully for us, they use the knowledge they gain to effectively communicate with us about how to effectively communicate.  If you are looking for concrete, practical ways to communicate with people you disagree with, I would suggest you start by reading Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

What tips do you have for effective, respectful communication? 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Week Two Update

Walk boldly on that road ahead, no matter where it takes you.
-First Lady Michelle Obama

I walked a few of this week's steps into the gymnasium of my college alma mater to hear the First Lady address Eastern Kentucky University's College of Business and Technology and College of Education graduates.

I was excited when I first heard Mrs. Obama had chosen to come to EKU to honor their outstanding commitment to veterans.  But when the day arrived to actually hear her speak, I was feeling a bit indifferent about the whole thing.  I was exhausted and wondered if the effort was worth the trouble.

On the hour-long drive to campus, I decided it was.  I began reflecting on how poignant it is that I, a poor little girl who grew up in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, could graduate from college and then return to that college to hear an address from the wife of the leader of our country.  How even in this country founded on freedom and equality we would not have had the freedom or the equality to complete such a feat if this was Eastern Kentucky University's 1913 commencement.

That's beautiful progress.  Countless women took countless steps to make that possible.

I hope my steps will make progress toward freeing other little girls to achieve their dreams and goals.

142,044 steps across Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas with five people, two dogs and one sweet little neice who literally ran circles around me.  I'd be afraid to say how many steps she took.

I am still at five percent of my fundraising goal.

Six more weeks to go! Thanks, everyone, for your support so far.


This fundraiser benefits You may donate at . If you can't donate, you can still 'like' and share my page on Facebook and Twitter.

Learn more about modern-day slavery here.

Why 10,146 steps? In honor of Girl 146 .

Friday, May 10, 2013

World Lupus Day

I refuse to sit back and allow lupus to take ahold of me.
-Reeanna Harrilal

I was not uncomfortable with the timidity I initially felt when deciding to write about lupus.  It always feels the same no matter the subject I choose for a blank page -- deep uncertainty on how to fill it.

But lupus is different. 

It's not a new concept for me.  I remember hearing it in whispered conversations as a child.  But it is a new level of hard for me.

When I feel compelled to write about a topic I always follow a similar process.  I recall my past experiences, do some research, do some reading, thinking, praying, take a deep breath and then jump in.  It takes a long time, and I never know where I will end up or how I will get there, but I've taken the journey enough that the inevitable bends in the road usually feel at least somewhat familiar to me.

Writing about lupus was not a familiar journey.  After hours of research and reading, hours of searching for an entry point, I still felt as confused as I did when I asked my aunts all those years ago: 'What's lupus?'

They told me then that lupus was a really bad disease that some people just get.  No one knows why.  You can't catch it from someone.  There is no cure for it.  It makes people really, really sick.  Sometimes it can make people so sick that they die, but people with lupus can also live for a long time.

That explanation sounded horrible enough to me as a child that I decided not to ask any more questions about it.

As an adult, I've asked more questions.  But to be honest, I still can't really give a better definition than that.

Lupus is complex like no other issue I've studied.  Some call it a 'cruel mystery.'  I searched for a better description, but have yet to find one.

There's relatively little known about who gets lupus and why.  And even fewer treatment options.  No cures, except for the miraculous.

But lupus gets even more complicated.  It is different for different people.  Every case is unique.  Some types are completely debilitating.  Other types are... is it fair to say... a lifelong nuisance in comparison to severe systemic lupus?  I read a very encouraging story about a type of lupus that can go into remission.

There is little I can say for certain about lupus:

It is vicious and merciless to those whom it attacks. 

In the past, those people have remained in the shadows.  In silence.  They deserve to be heard.  They deserve our support in whatever ways their situation calls for.  And they deserve answers. 

There are many questions surrounding lupus. And today -- World Lupus Day -- is about finding those answers.

To learn more about lupus, you may visit .  You'll find information about the disease and ways to advocate for research and a cure.

If you're the creative type, consider purchasing the All About Hope stamp kit from Unity Stamp Company, currently on sale for $10.  It was designed in honor of Lupus Awareness Month by my uber-talented friend who also designed this logo.  And she's not just my Facebook friend.  I've been to her house for dinner.  Sorry for bragging.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Week One Update

We are the orphan boys and the forgotten girls.
We are lost and far from home.
We are the fatherless, born of dust and nothingness.
We are lost and far from home.

There is no love like yours in all the earth.
There is no love like yours in the universe.
There is no love that heals my broken heart.
There is no love like yours at all.

-Orphan's Song, Karla Adolphe,

This song came on tonight as I was walking my steps for Tread on Trafficking and I couldn't help but think of the children I am walking for and the hope I have for them.

This first week has been challenging and rewarding.

I have walked 71,022 steps in five different states.  Five people and two dogs walked 29,514 steps with me. I am at five percent of my fundraising goal.

I also watched my husband walk across a stage to mark the completion of one of his goals: A college degree.  And it is my hope that our steps will help free enslaved children to take their own steps toward their own dreams.

Seven more weeks to go!  Thanks, everyone, for your support so far.


This fundraiser benefits  You may donate at .  If you can't donate, you can still 'like' and share my page on Facebook and Twitter.

Learn more about modern-day slavery here.

Why 10,146 steps?   In honor of Girl 146 .

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Running for freedom...

Image created by
In college -- inspired by a Bible verse (1 Corinthians 9:24) -- I summed up my life's mission with four words: Run for the prize.

My mission is not so much a physical one.  I'm not a runner.  Not literally.

But I am fascinated -- intrigued -- by people who are. 

I have heard many of them say that they run for the people who can't.  Those who may not have the energy or ability to run.

When I learned of Love146's summer fundraiser -- Tread on Trafficking -- I immediately thought of my athletic friends who would be perfectly suited for such a challenge.  I began praying that one of them would pick up the cause.

As I delved deeper into the issue of human trafficking and slavery, and specifically the child sex trafficking travesty that Love146 is fighting against, I felt more and more convicted that I should be the one to run for these girls. 

Mainly because I can't fathom their bondage.  Because I know they would surely run and play free if they could.  Because I agree with the definition of success that includes the criterion of using my freedom to free others.

So, I have decided to participate in the fundraiser myself and to run in an effort to free these children.

Well... my version of running.  Walking.

10,146 steps a day.  In honor of Girl 146.  Starting today and every day until June 30.

And I'm asking for your help. 

First of all 10,146 steps a day is a lot, and I have at least four travel days scheduled in these next two months.  I'm not even sure how I'll do it.  So, encourage me and root for me however it is that you choose to encourage people.

If you see me, walk with me.  No, seriously.  Did I mention 10,146 steps is a lot?  No time for sitting.  I'd love to visit, but can we do it while we take a stroll?  Plus, I'd love to include you on this journey of taking physical steps toward ending child trafficking.  That would be beautiful.

Start your own Tread on Trafficking fundraiser if you'd like.

And finally, if you feel so moved and are able, please donate.  My personal goal is to raise $1,000.  But I also really enjoy blowing my goals out of the water.


Learn more about modern-day slavery here.