I’ve Forgotten How Fun This Can Be

scfta1I think I had forgotten how much fun it is to write.

For me, writing is usually heavy. It’s learning. It’s a spiritual discipline. It exacts something from me each time. That might be in part why I avoid it sometimes.

Writing, for me, has been at times life-giving and at times life-taking. But in any season, it always costs me something to write.

It’s been so long since writing was fun to me. There was that brief period in the fall of 2012 that I thought I would write a novel (I still haven’t completely given that up) and that was so. much. fun.

Fun? Writing is fun? It had always been at the most, cathartic. It had always been a passion and a thing by which I came to greater understanding of God, myself and the world. But fun: Yes. I learned it can actually be fun.

I have forgotten that until recently.

A friend suggested that maybe I should start a different blog alongside the one I already write. Maybe an arts blog? Or something about culture and music. You do a lot of those types of things, Sarah. There are people out there who want to read about it.

So. Yes. I thought about it, came up with the name and concept on a six-hour drive up the middle of California with just me and my girls.

californialovescultureorangeheartsmallMeet California Loves Culture.

California Loves Culture is an offering of local happenings and great things to do, eat and experience in and around Southern California. I’ll be exploring the arts including theater and music events, local food including farmers markets, restaurants and eateries, local travel and local culture.

I’m kind of excited. Actually I’m really excited.

As a result I’ve had a few questions:

Sarah, will you still be writing your regular blog:

Yes. As much or more as I am now. Hopefully more. I’ve just been a little burned out on writing lately. I’m hoping this infuses a little more life into me creativity-wise. And that this kind of writing (a little more light hearted) will be a good thing for me personally.  I am also still writing regularly for (in)courage, Deeper Story and The Art of Simple.

What if I don’t live in Southern California? Will I still like it?

Well I hope so! Do ever plan on visiting? Do you like seeing pretty pictures of the beach? I’m slightly kidding, but I’m not kidding. I’m primarily directing this toward people who live here in Southern California and are able to go to the places I’m featuring, but I’m hoping it will inspire people to make a trip out here as well!

I don’t live in Southern California but I live a different part of the state. Will you ever be featuring other places?

Yes and I hope so. Part of my four-pronged approach is local travel (Arts, Culture, Food and Drink, Travel). My favorite vacation destinations are all within this great state. (Is there a name for people who are prejudiced toward California?) So I’m planning on writing about nearby destinations. Also, if I’m lucky, I’d like to also take submissions from other people who live in NorCal, Central Coast, Central Valley and San Diego with their local favorites. But that will be later.

I’m a local business owner. Will you be writing about anything like that? What if I have an idea for you?

Yes. Hopefully. If you have a suggestion, whether it be a local business or event, or anything else, please email me and let me know! I’m highly curious and I have a loooong running list of places to go, people to see, things to visit so throw them at me.

Follow CAlovesCulture on Instagram. I’ll often post where we are going before we get there so maybe we can meet up sometime if you live local!

And I’ve gone and gotten myself a Facebook Page as well. Hop over to it and find me there as well.

Click over to the new site itself to take a peek!

This is fun. This is just what I needed.

What about you? What kind of “different” thing have you embarked upon lately that has infused you with energy?

 

What We Do When We Don’t Plan

horsesuntetheredI only had neighborhood friends growing up for about 3 years. The years before and after the Ueckerts were so much less brilliant than the ones during and my neighborhood was empty without them.

There were 3 sisters. The oldest was my age and they other two girls each a couple years younger. So with my sister and I, there were five of us. And since we were really the only kids on the whole street, we ruled it.

The sisters introduced me to Madonna. They introduced me to pomegranates. Their dad was a Lutheran pastor so they, in a way, introduced me to the sacraments.

They introduced me to riding bikes in the neighborhood and boogie boards at the beach.  They even introduced us to scary movies and Halloween celebrated the way Americans intended it to be enjoyed.

What a good, easy-going, way to shake up a little evangelical girl’s safe upbringing in Long Beach, California in the eighties.

One autumn Saturday our family jumped in the van with theirs and headed all the way down to a little town past San Diego called Julian. This simple excursion was so unlike our family’s planned-out, controlled existence. After two and a half hours on the road we found apple orchards and pumpkin patches and a big slice of apple pie each.

On our way home my mother mentioned to the group that her uncle and aunt lived in the nearby town of Escondido.

“Well let’s stop!” the girls’ mother exclaimed.

I’m not sure my mother intended for the entire nine of us to make a detour but we did. Off the highway we pulled and followed her directions to the small home of my grandfather’s brother and his wife.

I remember her violets. My great aunt’s violets. And I remember not worrying about

getting home on time

traffic on the freeway

a place to be.

And neither did my family. By the time we piled back into the car it was dark. But we had stained fingers from pulling of the road to eat pomegranates from a fruit stand and we were oh, so tired. The adults chatted and dodged headlights all the way back to Long Beach and the children dozed in the back seats.

So much of my life I spend worried about where I need to be and when I need to be there. I plan out the next thing, next time, next place that I miss the pomegranates and violets. I do.

I hate it. Because I love the freedom.

When my neighborhood friends moved away {I’d been told their father had been called to pastor a church in Arizona} it was well before the middle-hardest-years of teenage-hood.

On the day I graduated from high school and as I was walking out of the door to don my cap and gown I looked across the street and in a juxtaposition of important events, there was my friend, visiting from Arizona and stopping by her old neighborhood.

She ran across the street and I took a minute for us. I didn’t have long, but I stood on my front porch with her and hugged and talked. Then she left. What do girls talk about who have been separated for most of their boy-chasing, music-listening, high-school years?

There have been seasons of my life during which my closest people have been non-planners, easy-going dreamers. The liberty in this kind of spontaneity is so very attractive.

I want it to be me.

She was first in a long line of friends {and eventually a husband} who live in this untethered way. I’ll never be able to shock my body or my soul into totally releasing feelings of trying to control my environment or time. I’ll always be 5 minutes early wherever I go. But God, if I don’t learn something from all of them, I deserve to die in my regulated prison of worry.

I pray often, untether me from concern.

What about you? What do you learn from your friends? Who have been your consistent friend-types over your life?

Every Spot is Sacred

wilderness5As the preacher read the Baptist wedding vows I realized I had never actually been to a Baptist wedding. I sat three rows back, right behind the family in the heat of the Northeastern Summer sun and watched the beauty of a sacred act: two people covenanting themselves to one another and to God in front of the witness of friends and family.

Then the cheer. The kiss. The joy.

The sacredness of it all is breathtaking, I think.

They stood on the vast green lawn of a school, nothing consecrated about it except the very act of God meeting us here. There is nothing hallowed about the space at all. No sweeping architecture, no stained glass, no long trip down an aisle.

Just Massachusetts sun, oak trees and close souls gathered around.

But it is sacred. This place is sacred with the covenant and the invitation of the Spirit.

This whole earth, I am reminded, is filled with the sacredness of God…

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Quiet Prophets

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I used to think that to be a prophet one had to do all the yelling. We had to say all the things so loudly that no one could getawordinedgewise. And we had to be passionate and outrageous about the things we were yelling about.

We had to wrestle the spotlight away from someone else that stands in it and we had to get people to listen.

But then I realized that quiet can be more powerful than loud and gifts given are just that: given. They are not the same as gifts taken.

There are some of us who are quiet prophets. Or maybe we’ve just begun this business of quiet propheting because we are just now realizing it. We don’t shout. We don’t argue.

We don’t yell.

We listen and we love; we grace and we invite. We divine the divine sometimes just for ourselves and sometimes for others.  We hear the sacred whispered in willows and we see it scripted on the sea. And then we write the words.

Even Ezekiel layed himself down from time to time.

And I’ll never be Isaiah or Ezekiel. I’ll never be the one who shouts from a roof or climbs to the top of the tower to tell the story that burns in the heart.

I have stories the sear the heart, yes, but I’m quiet. Maybe so are you. 

I’ll whisper the words in modest corners and tell the stories from humble places.  I won’t hike the steps of the pedestal or even the steps of the stage. I’ll let those who want to shout have the single sphere of the spotlight, loud and clear and big.

They can be prophets in that way but I’ll do it this way: with small stories and unpretention. I’ll do this quietly. Because if I’m honest I’m really tired of the socialness of media and I’m tired of the poetry getting splashed across photos of the ocean when all we need to do is stand ankle deep in the waves and hear the poetry splashed across our souls. I’m tired of force-feeding my words when it would be so much better to simply feast on the quiet rhythms of the sacred world.

We can quietly prophesy as we work our desk jobs, our home jobs and our jobs that don’t feel like they fill the soul. But as we put our heads down to do all-the-things that we have to do so that we can do what we want to do we remember that even here, we’ve been given the quiet words to be prophets.

And we speak

Grace.

We speak

Love.

We speak

Invitation to the margins and the left-outs.

And here is where we live: in this business of quiet propheting.  When we are quiet it is then that we can hear the best, things we wouldn’t hear if we were shouting.

Now I know this about prophets: when we are given words to whisper, write or sing, we prophesy. And those of us who hear clearly with uncluttered ears and clear hearts perhaps we are quiet for a reason.

Let us always be a people who are humble in message and peaceful with our words. Let us never wrest the spotlight away from the ones who are better designed to live there.  And let us live with quiet words and hearts, telling our stories to the ones who want to hear.

 

L O V E: The Only Way to Live

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I’ve lived a lot of the last week risking my own heart.

We take a step toward love. We take a step toward the next adventure. We take a step toward people and when we do we take a step toward vulnerability.

When we say “yes” to love we say yes to all that may come as a result. Hurt. Pain. Leaving.

So all loving is a heart-risk but all loving is worth it.

Our children. Our partners. Our friends. Our parents. The people we meet along the way. It’s all risk but it is all a part of the beautiful hard journey of living.

Loving is worth the risk.

My dear friend Lisa stamps L O V E on this brass piece and strings it on a chain. And she sends it to me the day after I get back from all that risk, piled high in a mound of mail.

And so it means something so much more than perhaps it would have before I left.

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She’s giving me a very special discount code to all of my readers. Click here and when you find what you like enter “sunshine” at checkout to get a full 20% off anything in the shop {this code is good until May 3). 

Also, for today only use “momlove” for 25% off.

L O V E.

Let us love with all the risk we can. With all the deep vulnerability we can because I’m finding that is the only way to live.

The Long Road

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There is a long road that no one travels.

Mopeds with three and four people apiece race up and down it as a truck full of something tries desperately to make its way over the pitted surface. The mopeds dodge an occasional goat or a child and drive as quickly as the road allows the long way down the canal.

But no one travels down the road to Drouin unless one needs to. It’s hot and dusty and the water in the narrow canal looks milky-dirty. Stuck in a valley, no breeze blows in Drouin.

Even so we leave the highway near Saint-Marc and turn toward the rice fields. Rice fields that now, seem to teem with growing things, but not so long ago they did not. After the devastation of 2010 this community lost its livelihood as foreign aid poured in to flood the market. Those who grew rice in Drouin could not sell rice when all the rice in Haiti was free.

Small mud homes flank the rough dirt road with small “yards” that brandish a goat or two and maybe a chicken. Children run from the cars or they stare as we pass at an impossibly slow speed.

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At the point that I would understand later was only about half-way down the road I wonder if this trip is going to be worth it. What could we find at the end of this road that would be worth the jarring and the banging and the jerking on this horrible road?

It’s a road that nobody chooses. And a road that no one cares about.

But near the end of the road is a school. And a kitchen with a woman who makes rice and beans and fish broth for the students. At the end of the road is a home with a mother who’s life has been changed because of the school. She can feed and house her children because she is employed now. At the end of the road is a classroom full of French and Creole words and joy and singing. At the end of the road a fire of hope has begun to burn brightly in the form of education and school supplies and uniforms and teachers doing what they have been called to do.

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So we stand in the school in Drouin this time last week, the place no one ever goes, and the principal tells the children in his beautiful Creole that we are their “benefactors,” that we are the ones that provide the school books and the food they ate.

And it is too much.

Amber looks wide at me and I can see the tears well up in Erika’s eyes and now we are the ones who are staring. The children, they grin and clap and in turn look back at us with the same wide eyes.

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This. Is. Too. Much.

It isn’t me, I want to tell them. It is someone else. We are merely standing in for the hundreds of families that support this beacon of hope at the end of the road.

So this is a role that I must grow into, I think as I stand there. I must become what they say I am because it is true and right and these people deserve someone to stand for them. This end-of-the-road community deserves someone to remember them daily.

So I leave them that day with a rent-open heart and tears still brimming. What do I do with this weight? What do I do with this little spark of life down a long road?

Home again, I’ve realized something.

This insufferably long road is something we can travel down daily if we choose. We don’t have to wait for the SUV to crash us over the rocky path. We don’t have to wait for the next trip or the next plane flight. We don’t have to wait.

We can make the journey when we write a letter. When we pray. We can make this journey each day when we support the students of Drouin.

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Can you make this journey with me? With them? As a community if we can sponsor just 75 more students in Drouin we can send 250 more students to school for free in a community and a nation where schooling is not free. We can purchase farming equipment for this tiny village. We can pay their teachers.

We are already 25% to our goal. And it won’t take much more. There is joy, hope, and even the future of the nation at the end of the road.


How Six Days Turned into a Decade

13885426695_5a69c14816_z Chad calls me the queen of non-profits.

I work for my father and a Christian student leadership organization here in Orange County and I also work for Help One Now taking people to places like Haiti (link).

When someone asks me what I do for Help One Now I usually say something like this:

I connect authors, bloggers and storytellers with Help One Now for the purpose of activating them for long-term advocacy.

That’s a fancy way of saying I help arrange and plan those trips that allow people to see the boots-on-the ground good work of a good organization and then tell a good story about what they see.

But what happened this last week during my first time to this country was something I was not expecting at all.

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In the van on the way to dinner on our last evening, our friend Mike asked both Amber and I the same question.

“You don’t have to answer now,” he began, “but how (if it has at all) has this trip affected your perspective on anything?”

I looked out the window at the people and the mopeds and all of the colors and sights that make up Port-au-Prince.

“And maybe it hasn’t,” he continued.

Amber, in her Alabama words that I can hear even now as I type this, talked to us about the global church and leadership and all the good things that we’d been learning from the Pastors this week.

She knew and she understood. She got it.

“I don’t know.” I said. “I’ll take you up on telling you later, okay?”

As I lay on the bunk later that night and listened to the fan (and prayed that not too many mosquitos would eat my legs) I thought about my “perspective” on poverty, the orphan crisis, and the global church. I thought about Haiti and about how much I still don’t understand, and maybe never will. 

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I understand how helping can hurt and I get the new models of orphan care and orphan prevention. My perspective didn’t really seem to change much because I felt like I was seeing something I had already thought about deeply.

But then I thought about Sarah and Mike seeing the school at Yahve Shamma for the first time, the same school that was dreamt about on the last trip of storytellers. I thought about the full-circle-ness of it all.

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I realized that I want to see the children of Drouin go to secondary school and I want to see that little forgotten community thrive. I want them to drink clean water and farm their fields well and prosper from them.

I understood that I wanted to witness Ferrier Village ten and fifteen years from now and see those babies turn into adults who rescue more babies. I want to see an orphan care system there that does so well they don’t need outside help any longer.

I want to never have to say goodbye to Widia.

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And I then I got it. (Or I got it as much as is possible in a six day trip).

Six days in Haiti had wrapped me up into my own elevator pitch. Six days in Haiti turned into a decade almost overnight.

I had been planning and planning this trip and I knew that I cared but I didn’t know how much until the very end. It was a place that was altogether more brilliant and intense than I would ever imagined and I had never expected that the long-term advocacy that I was dreaming about for others had actually grabbed me around my heart in the form of little hands and wide smiles.

I’ll never claim to truly understand Haiti, but even so I want to. And I can’t imagine living a life where I never came back. I feel like I am the one who has been “connected.” I am someone who is activated and advocating. I am someone now who wants to see it flourish and grow over the long haul.  I am the one who’s perspective has been changed because now it isn’t simply working for a non-profit, it is getting to watch the future of a nation change little by little.

And it is beautiful.

If you want to be a part of this story, click here.

All photos by the talented Scott Wade

The Struggle of Stewarding a Story

I listened to an NPR story last week about a songwriter who had written a song about a man wrongly accused for murder. He sat in prison for 40 years without having committed a crime.

When he wrote the song and sang it on small stages and big stages and collective venues and all over the country he began to forget who and what the song was about.

He said, “You can’t help but change the story by telling it. You become part of it. It is a big responsibility to steward someone else’s story.”

***

haiti 113859212655_781ca9a299_zI’ve been walking in the dirt of Haiti for the last five days and I’ve been struggling  with how to steward the stories of other people and do them proper justice.

If only 100 children can become sponsored in one of the poorest communities in Haiti then we can send them to school and feed them every day. We will even be able to buy farming equipment for their community and pay their teacher’s salaries. Drouin, the place that no one loves needs love.

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And at Ferrier. Oh Ferrier. Where we piggy-backed the babies and watched their new homes being built. And we listened to their pastor and patron tell their stories about borders and brothels and seven-year-old girls who were rescued from them.

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But how do I tell their stories well? When I am not them and I don’t live in their homes and I do not drink their water how can I steward them?

This holy stewardship is stunning in it’s weight.

I’ve become a part of this story and to extract myself from it is almost impossible. But I don’t want to change a single piece of it.

I don’t want to let their beautiful stories filter through my impossibly English words and change them in any way.  I want them to stay amazingly Haitian and island-bound because even in the midst of all the struggle there is insane beauty.

What a sacred duty this is. To feel the hands of these children on my arms and legs and around my waist and through my hair and hope beyond hope that I do them justice.

But simple justice is what they need and it is the same things we all want for our children.

  • Safety (so many little girls I’ve seen walking alone on the streets of Cap-Haitian and Port-au-Prince and I can’t help but think about my little girls)
  • Full tummies (so many stories about eating only every other day so that the whole family can make it)
  • A good place to live (mud homes and no homes and tin homes everywhere along the road)
  • A future (when grief and despair hold a country hostage the future seems bleak)

It is the same thing I want for my girls. The same.

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So I will work hard these weeks to steward these stories well.  I will feel the weight of this holy responsibility and I know that even as I should do my best to extract myself from this story, I know myself too well. I cannot.

It breathes in me and it hopes in me.

 To follow all our stories, click here.

To sponsor a child in Drouin, click here.

To sign up for a garage sale for orphans to help the Ferrier Village Phase 2, click here.

Oh How He is Faithful

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Last night as I fell asleep I prayed for awe.

I wanted to be in awe of both ends of life. The good and the bad. As much as I can be in awe of a sunset and in awe of how something went terribly terribly wrong.  Amazed by goodness and hope but equally distraught about pain and suffering.

Awe for both.

I prayed that I,that we, could be in awe of the hurt and the pain in this broken country as well as astonished by all that is beautiful.

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And oh how He is faithful. Because awe, you know, it comes in waves rushing and heaving over us when we don’t really want it maybe in tears and in laughter. It comes in the form of seeing the child who is newly (oh so newly) orphaned but has found a loving home with sisters and brothers and aunties who love him.

It comes in the form of watching an artist take a brush and paint the beauty he sees in his own nation, a nation that has fought so hard to be whole.

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It is awe for a God who has NOT left a place or a people but is alive and breathing and giving life. Awe for a pastor who rescues children. Awe for another pastor who spends his life training leaders.

And wonder for the deep hardness of a place that has seen centuries of disadvantage and destitution. For the lost babies and lost brothers, for the mothers who have died.

But deep awe for the grace.

And the hope.

And the hills and coffee trees and new life sitting in the pew in front of me on Sunday morning.

And oh how he is faithful.

 

With Help One Now, we want to see 100 children sponsored in Drouin and build more homes for vulnerable children in Ferrier through Garage Sale for Orphans

You can also find us here on Instagram and Twitter under #HONbloggers. We are telling the story both with our words as well our photos. Besides myself, we’ve got Amber Haines, Sarah Bessey, Laura Tremaine, Erika Morrison, and Krista Smith with us. Each of them are beautiful sisters and warriors in this fight.

Being Here

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Apparently the drive from the airport to the hotel was not as long as it could have been, meaning we only had to wait for 10 minutes behind a delivery truck rather than 30.

Amber, Erika and I chatted in the backseat of a truck while Pastor Gaetan drove and Scott sat in the front seat.

One of the girls asked a question and then said, “Maybe I should know that about Haiti but I don’t.”

In the age where we can Google anything, I wanted to know the answer too.  The only book I brought on this trip was a big book about Haiti and I had it in my backpack on my lap. But I resisted taking it out. We were driving slowly through the streets and I had the sights and sounds of the country at my fingertips already.

How sad would it have been for me to stop experiencing to start reading about it?

I kept my backpack zipped up.

Be present.

It’s what Chris keeps telling us. Be Present.

But as a writer, I think I’

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m always working how to tell the right story, the best story, and that’s why we are here. Maybe sometimes I let the words fly through my head when I really should just let myself take it all in.

Be present and be emptied.

So we sat and we bumped across pits in the road and I was present. So. much. to.

see. The book can wait.  And maybe once I finish it it will mean more because I won’t be just reading about a place, I will be reading about a place where I have smelled and saw and touched and loved.

To read more about this trip click here.