Crayola Crayons

I remember going school supply shopping in elementary school. I looked forward to it all summer. There’s just something about the clean, bright, crispness of new folders and notebooks and an art box that isn’t yet covered in marker stains from the year before. It all just makes you so excited to start a new year. But the best part by far was the crayons. Crayola. Always Crayola. If you showed up with Rose Art your whole year would be a downward spiral.

One year my mom let me buy the 64-pack of Crayola crayons. The one in the big box with the sharpener in the back and random unnecessary colors like “macaroni and cheese” and “cornflower blue.” For those first few weeks you’re always so careful. Being sure to take out only one crayon at a time, taking care to put it back in the exact spot you found it in, so that even after countless uses your box still looks brand new.

But eventually it happens. Eventually you lose one, or the paper starts to peel off on its own, or the worst of all…your crayon breaks in half. Yesterday I was helping to work on a set for a play and my crayon broke in half. And I got that feeling that I used to get in elementary school. That there-goes-the-end-of-perfection feeling. That what’s-the-point-in-trying-anymore feeling. Maybe that sounds a bit over dramatic  But crayons are a big deal. I think that people are like crayons. I think that I’m like a crayon at least. You know, really good at trying for those first few weeks, until something goes wrong and it’s time to give up because you know that nothing will ever be perfect again, and the crayons will never all fit in the box the same way anymore.

But the best people in life are the broken ones. The ones who are a little rough around the edges because they know what it feels like to hurt and cry and have their wrapper peeled off a little bit at the corner. I think those people get it better than the rest of us…that it’s only when you’ve experienced nakedness that you start to understand the value of vulnerability, and it’s only when you’ve had that deep sorrow pain in your gut that you can see someone else is having it just by looking in their eyes.

The best part of broken crayons is that once you break them, then they can be shared. And that’s worth much more than them all lined up perfectly in a box. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s worth a whole lot more.

Something to Talk About

I’ve tried this blogging thing far too many times in my life. I always feel like I need to have some thing to blog about. Like I’m not smart enough to just talk about the normal things in my brain, so unless I’m doing something really exciting I better just keep my thoughts to myself because no one wants to hear them. And maybe that’s true. Maybe no one does want to hear them. But I also know that I read a lot of crap that I don’t really want to hear, and I’m damn proud of people’s right to put it all out there.

In perusing through my past blogging endeavors I eventually made it all the way back to my middle school Xanga. Once I got past levels one through seven of embarrassment, I eventually made it to level eight (which is the level of beaming pride.) Yes. Pride. Pride in my awkward gawky 14-year-old self who for some crazy reason thought that whatever she had to say was worth sharing with the whole entire cyber universe. For the record, most  of it wasn’t. It wasn’t but it was a step. It was a step in a person beginning to grow and develop into someone intelligent and mature with thoughts and ideas that maybe are worth sharing. And you can’t always wait until you are that person to start sharing. In fact, maybe the most important step in becoming that person is realizing that you will never fully get there…that you are always growing and changing and learning and being knocked the hell off of your “look I’m so high” horse. But the more times you get back on the more times you can learn, and it will make you stronger, and wiser, and more humble, and oh so much more beautiful.

So here is day one of the Amanda who doesn’t wait for things to be perfect. Who realizes that she can say what she thinks and it won’t offend the whole world, and that even if it does then that’s ok too because at least it will be something real and something honest, and that should be enough to make it worth talking about.

Month Numero Tres

Ok. I know. I suck at this blog updating thing. I actually haven’t even thought about it for awhile, but today I had the entire day off, which hasn’t happened for a few weeks now, so I decided to make no plans and just sort of see where my day went. By the time I had woken up, dropped my roommates at the prison, eaten breakfast, met with Chris, my supervisor, to catch up, folded my laundry, and given my room a thorough cleaning for the first time in awhile, I found that the only logical thing left for me to do was to sit down and work on giving the corners of my mind just as thorough of a cleaning in order to remember and process just exactly where I am and what it is that I am doing here.

The most significant thing I can say is just how not significant everything seems. I don’t mean that in a negative way; it just all seems so much more normal than I imagined it would. I have ceased to be phased by the idea of working with inmates or teaching ESL to potentially undocumented immigrants or the fact that a significant portion of the drug exchanges that occur in Wilmington occur just a few blocks away from my house. I love my house by the way. I love the bright green kitchen and the drab brown wallpaper in the dining room (though I am the only one of my roommates who holds the latter opinion). I’m even (maybe) beginning to find the mice a bit cute, though I really really wish they would stop pooping on the counter. Really.

Anyway. My point is that maybe this feeling of normalcy about serving the “lesser” ones is exactly what I could have hoped for. Maybe that’s the whole idea. Realizing that it’s not weird because they are no different than us. On Monday one of my ESL students got a little confused with her possessive pronouns. She accidentally matched the pronoun “we” with the possessive pronoun ”theirs” because she forgot the difference between “we” and “they.” I kind of like that. I’d like to think that there are less of “them” and more of just “us.”

On Saturday, I went to Silver Springs, Maryland for the annual Encuentro Franciscano, which is an all day gathering of all of the Franciscan Hispanic parishes in the Holy Name Province, which extends all along the East Coast of the United States. Tons of people came from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and as far as North Carolina. The entire day was in Spanish, and I had gone without my roommates so I had minimal understanding of what was being said for the majority of the day, but I had the opportunity to observe. I couldn’t help but admire the way the friars allowed themselves to be welcomed and embraced into the Hispanic culture. These really were their people, and the people saw these men as their priests, even with their terrible accents and out of tune singing and laughable attempts at dancing the salsa. It didn’t matter because they have all chosen to embrace something bigger than themselves, and to embrace each other in that process. It’s a truly beautiful thing to watch, and an even better thing to be apart of.

I have tons more to say about community living and Franciscan spirituality and all of the wonderful people I’ve met, but for now I will just leave it here. Still so happy and grateful for this experience.

One Month and Counting

So one of my roommates just knocked on my room door to remind me that today is exactly one month since I came to Delaware. This fact being of particular importance to me because I mentioned to all of my housemates during our first week here that I had never actually spent longer than two consecutive weeks outside of the state of Georgia. That seems almost impossible in our generation of internships. study abroad programs, and backpacking trips across Europe. Nevertheless, it’s true, and I don’t think I could have picked a better location for my first long-term stay away from home.

Things I have learned over the course of the past month:

  • Delaware doesn’t have a sales tax. So when you buy yourself a new planner for five dollars, you only have to pay five dollars. No change.
  • People who live on North Van Buren Street provide excellent soap-opera style entertainment after dark.
  • Having a college degree does not guarantee you the ability to tutor math at a 4th grade level.
  • If Chris Posch asks you if you want to go on a “Mystery Ride,” you should say yes. It will probably end with ice cream.
  • The 9am mass at St. Joseph’s will end at 10:45. The 9am mass at St. Paul’s will end at 9:55.
  • When you say “y’all” people look at you like you’re really cute and foreign.
  • Sam Racette’s mom makes the world’s greatest cookies.
  • Amish are really good at making donuts. Really good donuts.
  • Chocolate covered bacon. Just that.
  • Actually just food in general. If you live across the street from a church highly populated by Mexican women, you will never go hungry. Ever.
  • Teaching English to immigrants who are eager to learn is perhaps one of life’s most rewarding experiences.
  • Just because your class is a class of adults doesn’t mean they won’t still make dirty jokes. It just means you will laugh with them when they do instead of pretending that it isn’t funny.
  • Female prison inmates have a great sense of humor.
  • Living with people you admire is a blessing not to be taken advantage of.

There is so much more. But it’s late, and I would like to give real storytelling the benefit of a more well-rested mind. Suffice it to say, I am falling in love with this city.

Happy one month anniversary, Wilmington, Delaware.

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Settling In

The thing about blogging is that it seems that there is always either too little to write about or too much to write about, and both scenarios seem to result in not writing at all. At the current moment I am definitely experiencing the latter, but I’ve given up on trying to cover everything.

The day after we arrived in Delaware we left immediately for a Jesuit retreat house in Maryland. It was on the Potomac River and was absolutely beautiful! We spent five days there on retreat, which was a nice way to ease into the program and to spend time getting to know the volunteers from other sites. It was a good time for community building and learning how to best serve both in ministry and in community, and on the last day there was a really beautiful commissioning service during which we all received blessings to carry us through the year, as well as our Tao crosses, one of the favorite symbols of St. Francis.

 

 

But now we’re back in Delaware. We’ve been here for a full week now, and it’s finally starting to feel like home, especially after we made sure to devote a day to giving the house a solid cleaning.

We’re still in orientation phase, so we’ve been spending a lot of time visiting all of the different ministry options available to us before we choose which ones we each want to commit to. On Monday morning we visited the Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, the only women’s prison in the state of Delaware. It holds a host of women from those awaiting trial to those who have been sentenced for life, and therefore ranges from minimum to maximum security. Most of us are hoping to get involved in the education program there, and apparently they’re looking for a fitness program, so Sheila and I are hoping to start a Zumba class! I never imagined myself teaching Zumba in a prison, but I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Yesterday we spent the whole day at the beach with the migrant workers from Delaware Park. Delaware Park is the horse race track outside of Wilmington, and the workers who take care of the horses are mostly immigrants who live inside of the park. Because their food and housing is taken care of, their salaries are just enough for them to get by, but not enough for them to get out of the system. A surprising number of the workers are actually legal, but they travel around the country depending on where work is best at the time. Some of them have been in Delaware for years, and some of them never stay anywhere for longer than a few months. Most of them haven’t seen family back home in ages. It was great to spend time with them at the beach; they have so many stories to share and just want someone who is willing to listen. A lot of them will be in the ESL classes that we’ll be teaching at St. Paul’s, but honestly their English is much better than my Spanish, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to get a few lessons myself!

It’s still hard being so far away from home, but I can already feel myself starting to fall in love with this place and its people. I have a feeling it’s going to be a really great year.

On another note, I live with these folks, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

On the Train to Wilmington

When I was little I went to the airport with my grandpa. Most likely we were dropping off a family member who had come to visit for the holidays. I remember nothing of the trip except for one thing…riding the train.

The great thing about having family out of the country was that when they came to visit they always flew into the international concourse, which is the very last concourse in Hartsfield-Jackson airport. We would get to ride the train ALL the way through concourses A until the end, and for a small girl of no more than 10, this was an adventure within itself.

As the train got nearer and nearer to our end point, I excitedly watched as travelers entered and exited, always in a hurry. No one is ever not in a hurry at the airport. Everyone is always on verge of something new and exciting, and this always manages to add the slightest sprig to their step. I imagine it would be exciting to work in an airport, knowing that almost every person you encounter is in the middle of something completely out of the ordinary from their everyday life.

Anyway. We got to the last stop and I motioned for my grandpa to follow me off the train, but he in turn motioned for me to sit back down. I looked around. No one was left on the train, and the automated voice was heralding something about how you must exit now or else blah blah blah.

But my grandpa had that knowing twinkle in his eye, and I was just barely brave enough to sit back down, if only because he had never steered me wrong before, but I knew he was human too, and my anxiety only heightened as the train entered the realm which so few had seen.

I tried not to show it at first, but the farther we went I wanted almost to cry. “Grandpa this isn’t fun!.” I said. “ We’re going to get stuck back here forever and ever! Have you even been back here before? Do you know what’s back here? You don’t and we’re going to get stuck just because you wanted to go on some stupid adventure!”

But I only half believed any of this. The other half of my anxiety was fueled by excitement and the possibility of adventure. So I held my ground and waited quietly with only minimal fidgeting.

And we made it all the way to the back. And we saw all of the trains. My ten year old brain would have said hundreds, but twenty two year old me knows it was probably just a few dozen. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I was brave, and I went on an adventure, and because of that I got to see something that I wouldn’t have.

Now I’m older and wiser and I went to the airport again, this time with both grandparents. They stayed with me all of the way until I boarded, not a train this time, but a plane for Wilmington, Delaware. And as I tried hard to look brave and hide my anxiety, I looked back over my shoulder one last time to see the knowing twinkle in my grandpa’s eyes.

I’m not going abroad or doing the Peace Corps or any of the so many exciting adventures that I could be. I suppose that leaving for the northeast for a year isn’t really something that should be that big of a deal, but I’ve decided that it’s ok that it is for me. It’s ok if it’s a little hard to stay on the train sometimes, especially when you’re not so sure where it’s going to take you.

But I’m not going to get off mine, and hopefully I’ll get to see something that I wouldn’t have.

Nap Time

Squirmy little bodies on little plastic mats

In little classrooms

With little tables

And little chairs.

Closing their tiny little eyes and pretending to sleep.

Pretending.

And as they lie on their little plastic mats

They have big dreams about big plans

To have big jobs like big people.

To be big firefighters and big policemen and big businessmen

Who do big things.

Meanwhile big people are in big offices

With big desks and big plans.

Pretending to feel as big as they seem.

Pretending.

Wishing their own names were big enough to fit on the

Big name plates on their big desks.

Working for bigger people.

With bigger jobs.

And bigger names.

And all the while they keep inside their

Little hearts

The little secret

That they wish they could go back to being little people

In little classrooms with little tables and little chairs.

Closing their tiny little eyes and lying on little plastic mats.

With nothing as big as their

Big dreams.

The Flower

They travel from around the world to see

(Or rather, to not)

Quite the magician

Her disappearing act is really

somewhat lovely…

In so far as she is invisible.

(Oh, the wonders of nothing.)

Inspire, inspire, inspire

Her only true aspiration—

To will the little flowers to bloom.

She secretly loves the spring.

(Despite the magic of winter snow.)

There’s just something about those flowers…

What courage! To come up from out of the ground!

She, however, much too fragile to inspire—

Ever-dependent upon red droplets,

Shed for one little seed.

A mustard seed?

(No, not so great as that.)

Did you know that even orchid seeds are small as dust?

Talk about invisible…

But still, for one as small as she,

Blood could be shed.

Should be.

Must be.

“Oh little flower, how I love thee.

Won’t you please to see how much.”

A crown of love(ly) thorns.

Adorned with rubies.

And so it seems,

Red droplets

Shed from an olive tree,

Just might inspire

(Inspire!)

Her small dust-like faith…

From out of the ground.

The Definition of Beauty

Last night, I had my heart broken.

One of the priests at my home church is being moved to Spain, and there was a big party thrown in his honor. I didn’t know him terribly well, but I was home for the weekend anyway, so I decided to go along.

We got there kind of early and were downstairs helping get things ready in the church gym when a little girl approached me.

“Is that your brother?” she asked, pointing at the troublesome 6-year-old who was, at the moment, making faces at her from across the room.

“Haha, yup.” I replied.

“Well, he’s kind of annoying, I mean I don’t mean to be rude…I’m just letting you know.”

Things that annoy me: When people say “I’m not trying to be rude.” You are being rude. Just embrace it.

Anyway, I let it go and she just started talking and talking. She asked me what “grade” I was in, and when I told her I was a senior at UGA she asked “UGA high school?”

I’m not gonna lie. This girl was weird. I felt uncomfortable enough being accosted by a complete stranger, but something about this girl was off and I really wanted the conversation to be over. This however, seemed impossible. Everyone was still upstairs in mass, I obviously didn’t have anyone better to talk to, and she did seem a bit lonely…so we sat down.

Over the course of the next fifteen minutes I learned that her dad had died in a car accident, but that didn’t break my heart. It just chipped away at a little corner.

It was ok though, because she had never really known him. He had been in jail most of her life…another corner gone.

Why was he in jail? “Oh, he tried to kill me. He gave my mom poison when she was pregnant with me. I’m really sorry I’m telling you all of this.”

The awful thing was how casually she said all of this, as if it was just a normal part of her life, and her apology was only that she had taken up so much of my time.

I wish I could say all of my awkwardness evaporated and that I took her in my arms and told her everything was going to be ok. But that didn’t happen. This was not my turf. My heart was going out to this poor little girl, but I didn’t know what to give her. I didn’t even know where to start.

But then she did it. Then she broke my heart.

“You’re really pretty.” she said. “I wish I was really pretty.”

“Excuse me?” I whipped my head around and looked so hard into those big beautiful brown eyes. I saw this poor innocent creature just begging to be loved. That’s all she needed me to give her. Just love.

“Honey, I said. You are beautiful.” She laughed and pointed at a bump on her nose, a bump which I had quite frankly found kind of cute, but I began to loathe it for what it was doing to her.

She said she used to think she was pretty, but that her cousins told her she was ugly. Her cousins, and the kids at school, and the mean kids at church, oh and I’m sure the fact that the first thing her father ever did for her was try to kill her really helps her self-esteem.

There is this soap box on top of which I am really comfortable. It’s the “all girls are beautiful” soap box. If you know me, you’ve heard the speech. You’ve probably rolled your eyes, maybe argued some…or argued a lot, a select few have actually humored me. But humoring won’t cut it. This is big. This is really big.

You see, when a girl hears the word “beautiful” it doesn’t mean, “oh you have a pretty face” or “oh you are attractive on a superficial level.” It means that you are worth something. It means that you have value and purpose just by being who you are. It means that the world would be worse off without you. It means that that you were created perfectly, that you don’t need to change a single thing. It means that you are loved. Yes…loved. It’s that simple…and that terrifyingly powerful.

So tell your mom, and tell your grandma, and your sister, and your aunts, and your cousins, and your girlfriend, and your friends who are girls and the random lady that you walk by on the street. Tell them all. Tell them that they are beautiful. Tell them that they are worth something. Tell them that they are loved. They need to hear it more than you could ever know.

A Life of Fender Benders

Yesterday I was driving to a friend’s 21st birthday party. It was one of those cheesily perfect out-of -a-movie moments. The rain was falling and somehow the mix cd playing in my car happened to be the perfect rainy day soundtrack. “Stop this Train” by John Mayer came on as I merged into the right lane, and I noticed that the words on my side view mirror were a bit faded and almost not readable.

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

I couldn’t help but apply this as some sort of metaphor for life. Perhaps our pasts are coming up faster than we think, ready to bite us in the rear. However, in actuality, I tend to feel as though I’m always more aware of what is behind me then what is ahead of me when I’m driving. Perhaps the real warning label should be written right there on the dashboard. So often the excuse for fender benders is that people “thought they had more room.” How could we think we had more room? This isn’t an obscured mirror image, this is real life. Objects in front of you are exactly as close as they  seem.

And yet we continue crashing into our futures at full speed, constantly wondering where the heck they came from.

I arrived at dinner with a room full of once giddy little girls, now grown up in high heels and pencil skirts and clutches to hold the tools necessary to rectify any possible make-up malfunctions. I only knew two of the girls, but that didn’t matter, we had grown past the juvenile “who is THAT girl?” from middle school. Now we all had one significant thing in common to make us all friends for the night…our childhoods.

Sure we talked about classes, and majors, and possible study abroad endeavors. And we politely chatted with Mr. Future Plans. (He doesn’t like to be dis-included.)  Our real best friend for the night, however, was Mr. Rear View Mirror.  We talked about Disney channel stars and where they were now, and had miniature freak out when we realized that a good number of them were married, or pregnant, or just plain old. We went on about elementary school teachers, and 90s movies, and how long it had been since we had taken a geometry class. (7 years, thank you very much.)

We were giddy little girls once again, and as I glanced around the room I didn’t see high heels or clutches, but rather hair ribbons and frilly dresses with puffed sleeves. And finally one girl turned to me and pointed out the cold, hard truth. “We’re reminiscing.” she said. And we were. Here we sat a bunch of 20-somethings and we were reminiscing about the good ol’ days.

Somehow on my date with the past I fender bendered right into the future.

I played “Stop this Train” on replay all the way home.