Book Giveaway: Life After Art by Matt Appling

Matt Appling has graciously allowed me to give away two copies of his new book to my readers. As someone who always wants to create, but doesn’t feel ‘good enough’; as someone who has been stuck in the mire of depression, and still struggles sometimes; as someone who strives to be childlike, but wrestles with the grownup world – this book was like a great, warm blanket wrapped around me.

There are so many secrets to be learned within the world of creativity, and Matt helps us understand that creativity is not limited to the traditional definition of art. (Which, as you know by this post of mine, For People Who Feel They Fail At Creativity, is a epiphany near to my heart.) I recommend this book particularly to anyone struggling with depression, stagnancy, or hopelessness. I wish I’d read it years ago, and I look forward to reading it at the beginning of every new season of my life. If you’d like to go ahead and purchase Life After Art, you can do so here. It’s on sale!

Safety is not something we often find in art as adults, and Matt helps us find it again. Thank you, Matt.

PS: Would you mind Liking this post too? I want as many people to see this book as possible, because I think it’s so important and so encouraging! Thank you! xoxo

To the girl who feels guilty for sleeping with someone.

Preface: I am writing this because during my years as an unmarried woman having sex, I felt that everything written, spoken, or preached to me was solely to persuade me to stop having sex. I desperately wished someone would have abandoned the topic in order to speak to me where I was at, without their desperate attempts to end sex in my life. Even when most had good motives, I needed someone to write a letter to me, Lauren, and not to The Not-A-Virgin-Anymore. This evening, I rallied my past and my present, and wrote the words I craved for years and years.

Hello, lovely.

Before we begin, would you get a little piece of paper? Please?

Write out your full name.

You are this particular woman. You cannot escape it. Do you know this?

You will never be another. You cannot escape it. Do you know this?

Tomorrow, the day after, and all the days: You are this woman.

And thank goodness, because you are the only person who deserves to make the most of everything you have experienced this far. 

And thank goodness, because you have within you a capacity for Love that you would not believe even if you were told.*

* * *

I want to say that I see you. I am you. I was you, a long time ago. I will be you. We are.

Love sees you. Love knows you. Love adores you.

Goodness, hate, closeness, abandonment, purity, brokenness, wholeness, confusion, clarity, trying so hard, and given up. He looks at you and sees nothing but the infant girl that was born into this magnificent world, this middle ground, this holding place. This universe in which we only see in part.

You are three years old. You are five. You are seven. You are standing in the grass, in the backyard, by the impatiens, by the trees. You laugh at the wind, you smile for a camera, because It Is. Because You Are. You know nothing, except how to Be.

Joy, infinite, as it was created to be. Innocence, eternal. Embedded permanently into every cell of your being as your shoulders caved and your back broke as you wept that you needed Something, Someone – and Love promised to be there. Innocence, eternal.

Do you know that this is what you are? Do you know that this is who you are? Do you know that you are white as snow, pure as gold, spotless as your baby teeth in the family videos splashed across your mother’s TV that you will never again sit in front of because she no longer sees you the way that Love does?

Do you know that condemnation, loneliness, hatred, failure, and Innocence Lost are only lies you have thrust upon yourself**, and words that Friends and Church and Family have pelted at the sky in a way that has fractured your heart as they have rained upon you and everyone around you?

Do you know that you are still Joy, infinite; Innocence, eternal; The Name Of Your Heart, written upon His hand?

These are things I forgot. These are things that broke over me in the shower, in my bed, in his bed, in our bed, on my walks, in my mirror, in my pages, in their pews, in my home, in my breathing and numbness and depression and even in my laughter, my happiness, my beauty.

These are things that I put aside as I sang that Love is here and Love still remains, that He is my Father and I am His daughter. These are things that I left at the church door, and clothed myself with again as soon as I left How Great Thou Art. These are things that I remembered and remembered well but only so long as I did not, could not face that which we have named That One Thing.

And so I fall into a thousand pieces alone, and with you, Girl who feels guilty and confused and angry at the hypocrisy and the expectation and the Great Ache.

And so I remember the nights I felt it was wrong, the mornings I felt it was nothing at all; always backwards for me and never anyone else. But grief, it comes with the night, and joy, it comes in the morning. Maybe this is a great truth that the Lover has given us in all things, not just his own.

* * *

I write to you, past-present-and-future Self, and to you, girl-I-do-not-know-by-name-but-can-see-from-here: I write to you because I wish that someone had written to me. 

I wish that someone had just stop, stop, STOPPED for one moment and seen me as a person with a heart, a mind, with intelligence, with thoughts and feelings and with damned good reasons – and not as the statistical young white Evangelical female who was raised right and fell out of virginity, left to sit silent in her bracket until she picked up the Purity Ring once again and joined the ranks of Did It Wrong But Am Back To Right Again.

I wish that someone had let up on me for just once, because I know all of these things they tell me. I fear everything they scare me with. I think about all the revelations-that-keep-you-from-sexual immorality before you preach them to me. I know what you believe, what I believe, but I am Woman and so help me God I am not A Belief.

Maybe we chose It because We Are Now and we are scared that later may never come. Maybe we chose It because we knew the risks and we rolled the dice in favor of passion, love, comfort, and warmth. Maybe we chose It because we were terrified of the dark nights and even darker mornings. Maybe we chose It because They told us not to. Maybe we chose It because It knocked on our door and embraced us and promised to never let us go and It arrived in feelings and waves, and not in conscious decisions like we always thought It would. Maybe we chose It because It was and is everything we want, and do you know, it will be okay even then – even then when we are in that place? Maybe we chose It because we felt there was no better option. Maybe we did not choose It at all; some of us do not have the luxury of choice in a world where Men can thrust our decisions upon us as they pin our hands behind the arch of our back and repeat the words we’d heard from another man so very long ago.

Maybe we still do not know, and now we see the ghosted image of who we were, reflected back at us as we sit in ice cream parlor window seats and write in hopes of finally understanding.

Maybe the mothers and fathers and preachers and friends and everyone around us want to love us, protect us, but their words sound like things much more dangerous than the hand on your leg and the kiss on your chest. Darling, I know. I know.

* * *

I write the words I wish had appeared long ago, on a piece of paper on my kitchen table:

You are still you. I swear to you, you are.

Your future has not been ruined.

Your value remains.

Opportunity has not been lost.

These things sink deeper than your skin, yes, but God has sealed your heart in His Name and the great mystery is that we are made Untouchable by Grace.

You are not damaged.

Your wholeness comes not in Right-ness but in Love given to you by your Maker, and learning how to see yourself as He does.

You are capable of making any decision you wish to make today, or tomorrow.

It is okay if you cannot make the change you wish you could today.

It is okay to not be strong.

It is okay that you are confused.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ***, and this more than includes That One Thing.

You will give birth to a resiliency that shines brighter than the sun.

The heart is a muscle and it operates like one; these things strengthen you. You have not given your heart away and lost your ability to take it back. Women have survived and risen up despite brutality, gang rape, famines, the Holocaust, assault, torture, barrenness, and divorce: You will not be destroyed or permanently handicapped by a severed romance or loss of virginity.

You will marry a man that turns your past into a shadow, and your old self into a whisper that sings praises of redemption. Your bad decisions, your good-decisions-gone-wrong, your I’m-not-sure decisions will all swell into a wave of Peace as you realize that the man who truly Loves you has just taken an oath before God to see you as a new creation and he rejoices in the strength you have derived from Every Day You Have Ever Lived.

You are still you. Put it on a post-it and stare it down daily.

Forgiveness and understanding do not come only after you gather the healing and courage and strength to leave; they arrived and attached themselves to you the day you first asked them to. And they will stay with you every waking moment. You will find more strength in that fact alone than you ever will find within yourself.

God has not forsaken you and refused to return until you forsake That One Thing.**** It is in the deepest moments of questioning that you will hear Him, again and again, and get to know Him more than any other time in your life. Do not miss out on them simply because you think He has nothing to say until you can Heal Yourself or Change Your Ways. It is in our weakness that his strength is perfected.

* * *

And so, here is everything I wish had been said to me. Here we are. With our decisions to sleep with him, or to not sleep with him. With our desires to change, or our desires to stay the same.

For me, I wanted both.

But I only had the strength for him. For them. The one who asked nothing from me or of me, and who gave love and comfort and pleasure and rest. The one who held me when I cried and kept my body alive when I could not do it myself. The one who did not ask me to change, to become someone I was not, nor to face my weakness.

I understand. I believe that for some of us, this is necessary to our story. Sometimes it feels as though others chose the things that have become our story, and that is okay. Weakness, whether it be physical, emotional, or mental – it is something to be taken seriously, and speaks of our Great Need for one another.

I will tell you that one day, in a moment of extreme pain, I heard a whisper that flamed into a burning sensation in my chest. I heard it say, “I require nothing but weakness. We are still here, and we are still here together. I have written your name on the palm of my hand and I have called you in the darkness so that you would know it was I.”

I gave my weakness a chance. I gave his strength a chance. I fell, and fell often, as we all do. It was new for me, and I found a new Love.

I pray for you, as I do for myself, that we would continue to learn how to allow ourselves to be weak in order that we may find a Love that transcends everything we do know and everything we don’t.

But remember: no matter your weakness, or your strength, you are alive. And you are Joy, infinite; Innocence, eternal.

Do not leave their sides. They have not left yours.

* Look and watch– and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. Habakkuk 1:5
** I will remember their sins no more. Hebrews 8:12
*** Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:12
**** Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5

– Comments addressing or attempting to derive my position on “is sex a sin or not” will be moderated. Thank you for understanding. – 

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a fleeting moment at dusk, in our quiet hallway

i always want to remember evenings like this.

My Hair Tutorial for Long, Thick Hair (But fine strands!)

I’ve been putting off this post for about two years now, mostly because I feel like I wrestle with my hair daily, so I’m the last person to be promising you all these Magical Secret Solutions. But, then I realized that I’ve learned some things in my fighting, so I’m HERE TO SHARE. Haha.

It’s important to note that my tips probably won’t work for you unless your hair is really similar to mine: long, thick (in amount), and fine (in diameter of hair strands). It’s VERY important to know the difference between your amount of hair and the nature of your hair strands. A lot of us are told at one point, “oh your hair is so thick!” and don’t realize that ehhhhhhh that doesn’t really explain our hair that well. For example, you could have an average (or even less than) amount of hair, but your strands are really coarse – and it would seem thick to you, but really, you just have course, heavy hair!


1. I only wash my hair twice a week. Natural hair oils are a gift, if you know how to use them. Infrequent washing keeps your hair from being stripped, helps your scalp stay healthy, is just overall a good thing. The longer than you can go without washing your hair, the more dry shampoo, and the more volume/texture. : )

2. Shampoo & Conditioner. I swear by good conditioner, but shampoo is pretty important too. You don’t want something that strips your head, or coats it in wax (all Pantene products). Right now I’m using Davine’s stuff, and I love it. If you only have money to spend on one, pick the conditioner. It comes in a pot and lasts forrrevverrr. If your hair is uber-stripped from over bleaching or something, rub coconut oil through it and let it sit for 10-15 mins before showering.

3. Brush your hair in the shower. If you have long hair you’re probably already doing this to get the tangles out, but make sure you brush or comb your conditioner through your hair. Otherwise you only condition like 1/3 of your head. And ONLY condition the lower 2/3 of your hair. Don’t get close to your scalp. That weighs down your hair. No volume for you. : (

4. Dry your hair half-way, upside-down. Flip your head upside down to blow dry it. I don’t blow dry completely because that usually frizz-es me out, and it’s really easy to fry your hair when you have SO MUCH THAT YOU JUST HAVE TO BLOW DRY FOREVER AND EVER.

< friendly note > Make sure your hair has finished air drying before continuing to the next step.< /friendly note >

5. $3 Suave dry shampoo. You can also use baby powder, but I highly recommend Suave’s aerosol can since it doesn’t result in me accidentally dousing my shirt in white stuff or smelling like a baby’s butt. You can get this at Target or your drugstore. Shake the can, and hold it 2-4 inches from your scalp. Spray liberally (but not so much your hair turns white!) and then rub it in with your fingertips or palm of your hand. I usually work my way around the crown of my head just so I get good lift and volume (and soak up all the oil) from all directions. Some people wait to put this in until Day 2 or Day 3 (whenever their hair gets oily) but I do it right out of the shower to help add volume immediately. I re-apply whenever I need.

6. Teasing/back-combing. Dry shampoo is my Epic Secret #1, and this is Epic Secret #2. If you’ve never done it, it’ll take a little practice to figure out how your hair needs to be teased. Don’t be too aggressive. Start your comb at 2-3″ from your scalp and backcomb towards your scalp, and then you can do a loose backcomb at about 4-6″ if you want super intense volume, but I recommend waiting to do this until after your hair is fully styled.

7. Natural waves. If your hair is like mine, it does its own thing every day. Some days it waves or lays nicely, others I just run through it REALLY loosely with a flat iron, but sometimes I want some prettier looking waves (Read: Calmer. Heat, for some reason, just does beautiful things to hair like ours). Use a 1.5″-2″ curling iron and wrap chunks of your hair around, but DON’T go all the way to the ends. You can run it through the ends briefly just to “seal” or “treat,” but don’t actually include it in part of the curl. Hold the curl for a few seconds before you release. The curl will loosen, and if you don’t wrap your hair all the way to the ends, it will retain a natural wavy look. This is a good video for how to use the curling iron, though this girl has significantly less hair than I do, and they didn’t add volume to her hair.

8. Salt water spray. This is a new fad, but you don’t have to spend $30 on it. Just get a little 99 cent spray bottle from Target or JoAnn’s, fill it with water, and put 1-2 teaspoons of salt in it. Shake well. Salt water drys out your hair a little bit, but gives it a lotttt of texture. This is what you’ll have to experiment with the most. IF YOU USE SALT WATER SPRAY, make sure you flip your head upside down and re-dry with the blow dryer. Soaking your hair will make it all go flat again. Weight of any kind is your enemy. Also, experiment with doing it at different stages in the process. Like right before the dry shampoo.

9. Tease/backcomb again. Or add in more dry shampoo. If you have little baby wisps or fuzzies around your face, you can touch up with a flat iron.

10. Remember to create more volume in the bathroom than you actually want. BE BRAVE. Your hair will fall naturally, so over do it at first. : )

Don’t be frustrated if your hair doesn’t look as amazing as you want the day you take a shower and try all this. Day 3 is best for me, and it might be Day 2 or Day 6 for you. Play around with backcombing and salt water spray and dry shampoo til you find how it all works best for you.

adventure to the salton sea: part one


a weekend at home: in photos.

a weekend at home. beginning to stoke the flames of the fire starter sessions, farmers market flowers, watercolors, and finding peace again.

For People Who Feel They Fail At Creativity, And For We Who Battle Depression.

A few minutes earlier, I tweeted:

But what counts as “creating?” What if you aren’t a “creative” person?

There are two things we know:

1) God’s first recorded action was to create. His first creation was planet earth, and us.
2) He created us in His image.

This means that He created us with both the desire AND the ability to create.

* * *

I would argue that one of the greatest lies we can believe is that we aren’t a creative person.

The only way we can possibly come to this conclusion is by comparing ourselves to others.

I can’t draw like he can.
I can’t paint like she does.
I can’t decorate like they do.
I can’t design things like she did.
I can’t take pictures like that.
I can’t sing as well as everyone else who “sings.”

Believe, if you wish, that you aren’t like someone else. But DO NOT believe that your differences make you Less Than, or None At All.

* * *

I know from my personal experience with life and with depression that creativity is the greatest weapon we will ever have against depression. And it makes sense that this is true.

Depression is when the loss of hope has become so complete, we have loss of Self. Loss of value, loss of perception of who we are. Death.

Creativity is the expression of self. Not in an ego-way, but in an I-proved-that-I-am-an-individual-because-without-me-this-couldn’t-exist. Creativity proves self. Proves value. Proves life.

Creativity has the power to disprove much of what we’ve believed that has led to our depression.

* * *

So, we decide to believe that God created us to be like Him, to create. We realize that creativity is necessary to our emotional survival. So we realize we have the desire to be creative, but we…can’t.

Maybe we need to make sure we have the right definitions of creativity.

Creativity: The use of the imagination, or the use of original ideas, especially in the production of artistic work.

Create: To bring something into existence. To cause something to happen as a result of one’s actions.

Creative: Relating to or involving the imagination.

Art: The expression or application of human creative imagination, typically in a visual form. Works produced by imagination.

Artistic: Having or revealing natural creative skill.

Skill: An ability, particularly to do something well.




* * *

As you read those definitions, you will realize that you possess Creativity. You have the ability to Create. You are Creative. You have made Art. You are Artistic.

The ONLY PLACE you are hung up is on your definition and understanding of skill. And the very nature of skill can exist only in relation to others. The perception we have of skill is defined with and by Comparison.

That is good. That is beautiful. It is motivating, it is inspiring. It encourages growth, collaboration. It allows us to perceive our progress.

But if skill and comparison have locked handcuffs on your wrists, laced their wires behind your back and up your arms, if they have crept into your mind, darkened your eyes…

—then fear has beat out Love in your life.

And that battle is one you must fight in the silence of your heart with Love, with Salvation, with Self.

It is a battle that demands insolence, anger, pain, and rebellion from you. Yes. I said that.

Insolence towards the voice that keeps you from creating, anger towards Death, pain to spur you into action, and rebellion to shout, “I CAN CREATE. I will. I will. Even amidst fear, even despite the loss of love, even in confusion, and in failure.”

Depression and Apathy are sisters, and in their family, Anger, Pain and Rebellion are the three strongest motivators in any direction. Use them, and use them well.

* * *

A few thoughts on processing creativity, and on allowing depression to move outwards:

– There is no grief too extreme for God
– There is no pain you cannot overcome
– Scaring yourself is okay
– God cannot be offended or disappointed by you
– The emotions now allowed to live will not be able to die
– All things can be destroyed after they are created
– God shows no favoritism
– That which is created by you will be subject to no favoritism or partiality or comparison
– Negative feelings are not sinful
– Cliches are found in everyone’s feelings; do not be ashamed of them; do not feel ‘lame’
– Everyone feels pain in its different weights, even if caused by different things
– Doubt, fear, pain must exist in order for faith, love, and joy to exist
– Negative emotions are proof that we are whole in our emotional state
– Wholeness is necessary for health
– God feels and expresses anger, grief, pain, compassion, hurt

* * *

A word on originality: If you have not acted out strongly before, or reflected upon yourself well, you may find it difficult to know who you are. If your actions are laden with Safety, with Good Reputation, then it may be difficult for you to see yourself as an original person.

It’s important to remember that even Solomon knew “there is nothing new under the sun.” Your originality comes not in what you output, but in the cells that make up your body. God may be the sole owner of what is New, Wholly Unique, Original, and Perfect – but YOU are what he has made that is New, Wholly Unique, Original, and Perfect.

This allows you to create as a way of playing, as an expression of self in joy (the end goal) – and releases you from the need to create to prove yourself. You have already attained what everyone else is trying to prove.

* * *

What are ways of Creating, being Creative, and experiencing Creativity that we do not typically identify when we think of “art?”

Please comment.

*NOTE: As someone with clinical depression in my family, and someone who has needed anti-depressants for seasons in my life, I understand that creativity is not the single “solution,” but also that it is very powerful in all scenarios and causations for depression. If you have people you trust in your life who are recommending that you try an anti-depressant, I recommend it. We are whole beings, and it is important to incorporate things like creativity, medication, prayer, etc when wrestling with depression – in the same way that BOTH diet changes & physical activity are necessary for physical health.

“Community” and My Disenchantment With It.

I have a little confession. I’ve had beef with the word “community” for a few years now. I always kinda squirm when people ask me, “So do you have community?” I never know exactly what they’re asking. I sometimes feel that it is a sneaky way to say, “So… do you have people in your life that hold you accountable to not sinning?” But I can’t blame anyone for asking it. I’ve asked it too.

This week has given me a new definition(s) of the word community.

Community is not accountability to sinless-ness. Jesus has already given us that.

Community is the people who surround you that ease your burdens.

Community is the people who fight the same battles that you do; laugh when you laugh, cry when you cry.

Community is the people who are in the exact same predicament you are in. All the same struggles, all the same questions.

Community is the group of people where, when you enter the room, you can collapse on the sofa and not care if the way you’re sitting makes you look like you have a double chin.

Community is those who are equal to you.

Maybe this is a hard concept for me in America because our churches and lives are set up in hierarchies. There’s the head pastor, and then the assistant pastors. There’s all the people that teach classes, head up the different ministries. And then the small group leaders. And then there’s us. You know. The people just trying to attend church and get it right. We identify people that have it together just a little more. Men and women with families we wish we had. People who don’t seem to struggle with what we struggle with. People that seem…not all that equal.

It makes sense that community in this environment seems contrived, uncomfortable, and insecure. It makes sense that we feel we are always lacking, or unsafe to be ourselves. It makes sense that “having community” makes me feel like someone might ask me to change who I am, and they’d be right, because they’re a better person than I am.

And then, even among “us,” the people at the bottom who are just trying to get it right, there is better and worse. They make more money than we do. She’s prettier than I am. He has a better personality than I do. Their kids go to the rich kid school. Her parents are paying for her college education. They take more vacations.

When no one seems equal, and community IS equality, it makes sense that community is nearly impossible to find and hold onto.

Maybe this is why I struggled to understand how child sponsorship positively affects an entire community, and how a community even operates. I think in dollars and cents, roles and leadership, individuality and families.

* * *

Meet Ramnamma.

She was born in India, and her family still lives there. When she was 16, a extended family member from Bangladesh visited her family and asked if he could marry their daughter. He told her parents that he had a good government job, and a home, and would take care of her. Eager to guarantee security for their daughter, they agreed, and they were married almost immediately.

And then he brought her here.

“My home is..four or five times bigger in India. My parents cannot come visit because they cannot see the conditions where my family lives. They think we have good jobs, big house. This would make them sad.” She shares this bed we are sitting on with her husband and 2 teenage sons.

And yet when we ask what we can pray for her when we leave, she says, “That my neighbors would be as happy as I am.”

Ramnamma is 36 now. She wakes at 4am and travels to go sweep the streets. So does her husband. She is in the lowest caste, and this is considered a job for the “untouchables.” They live in a slum. She has two sons, 15 and 18. In a culture where daughters are a burden and sons are the security of a family, she is a blessed woman. Most women I have met have 3 or 4 daughters, and one son. That son will provide for his parents in their old age, and for their sisters unless they are married. As well as their own wife and children.

“So you can see, it is important that my sons go to university. I dream for them that they start a business. Or that they help people travel to India. I do not want for them the job I have.”

I ask what she does with her time when she comes home from work at 11am, since her husband is away working all day and her sons are in school.

“I sell snacks!” and her face brightens. She points to the bags of chips hanging from her doorway. The translator explains that she is part of a Women’s Savings Group through Food for the Hungry, and has been for the last 5 years.

I ask what this means for her.

“I meet with women, my friends, one time a week and we learn to do things. We save our money, ah, 15 cents a week. I take a loan from the group to buy these things, and now I have things to do. My husband, we much happier because I do this. Our marriage happier. My sons, they have no chance to go to university but now I know they can go. I am happy woman. Very grateful to Food for the Hungry.”

She beams, and talks faster and faster and she gets more comfortable. It is so precious to me how introverted and shy these women are.

I ask what she did before Food for the Hungry came to her community to teach her how to do these things.

“Ahh…” She looks embarrassed and looks to her friend for encouragement. “I do nothing. I worry for my boys.”

“What brings you the most joy in life?” Logan asks, sitting beside me.

“The children. The happiness on the little children’s faces when they come to buy one snack. It makes my day very good.”

I ask her if she misses having little children, and she does. But she looks forward to her sons getting married, after university. I think of my own mother, and how many times I have heard her say this. We are all the same.

* * *

Immediately after leaving her home, we get to visit a Woman’s Savings Group a few doors down from hers.

Devi is the girl who now teaches this tiny crowded room of older women. She was massively malnourished as a young girl, and is probably only 4′ 6″ tall and 80 pounds. She only completed school through grade 5. When Food for the Hungry partnered with their community, not a single woman in the room could read or write. 7 years later, Devi is fluent in 3 languages, can support herself on her new candlemaking skills, can operate a beauty parlor, and teaches these women lessons on nutrition before my eyes.

All of these women can now read and write, and can balance a checkbook. They are fully equipped to run their own small businesses from their home, to support their children. In only 7 years, this community has been radically changed from an impoverished group of families with no ability to offer their children a better life to one where the women make up for lost time as their little babies go to school a few doors down.

It is because the children in this community have sponsors, that all of this happens. After a week of hearing these stories, I slowly begin to understand how sponsoring one child can have this much impact.

I slowly begin to understand that this is community.

This is how simple and how beautiful it is.

Community is just…life. Willing to give, willing to receive. Willing to believe that we are all equal, and no one moves forward without the other.

How silly of me to think that a small child could survive on her own, and how silly of me to think that sponsoring that child would affect no one else’s life but hers.

Ramnamma’s sons will provide for her into her old age, and she will see them begin better families of their own.

Devi, though probably unable to bear children, will prevent dozens or more children in her little neighborhood from the malnourishment that stunted her growth. She will teach their mothers that vegetables contain vitamins, and how to create things to that bring income and security with the small resources that they have.

These four-hundred-and-something children will graduate school and have a chance to leave the slums.

Within a few years, Food for the Hungry will re-allocate their resources to another slum community, but the child sponsorship program here will continue to change the future of literally thousands of people.

If you want to join me in sponsoring one of these children in Bangladesh, please do. I never knew before this week what $32 a month can do.

Click here to sponsor a child in Bangladesh.

What It Was Like To Meet My Sponsored Child – Something I Never, Ever, Ever Thought I’d Do.

Yesterday morning I woke up at 5 a.m. Dhaka time with an hour and a half drive ahead of us. Today was the day. I was going to meet the child I sponsor.

When I learned I’d be going on this trip to Bangladesh with Food for the Hungry, Max & I decided to sponsor a little girl named Kajol through their program. Max already sponsored a little boy through Watoto, and I a little girl through WorldVision, but I knew somehow that this was necessary. Although always a skeptic about where my money is going, and if non profit organizations actually give what they say they give, I’ve learned that generosity and trust are two beautiful things I want to possess. And so I am practicing.

I had no idea what to expect when we left for their small rural town. I felt a sort of guilty for knowing so little about her. I had zero relationship before meeting her. A friend of mine once got to meet a child they’d sponsored for years, and said it changed their life. I remember thinking, “How amazing would that be!” adding it to my assumed list of things that, let’s be honest, would never happen to me.

We drove out of Dhaka proper, and through rural areas….

there is no room for landfills, so they burn their trash. this is common alongside the roads.

…and had devotions with the staff working in the small village when we arrived. All the staff are locals, so they all speak Bengali. While it is awkward and clumsy to repeat everything in 2 languages, I’ve learned that the heart of God and the heart of man are exquisitely simple, despite their vastness. It is slowly calming the noise in my head I’ve grown accustomed to crazy from hearing.

The villages are small, but they have something like a long “main” road with little roads shooting off that end in groups of little homes, built amidst a jungle of trees. Empty fields break out into the background in certain places. Joy and Logan went to their respective little road to meet their sponsored children, and Max and I walked down our little road with our translator.

I have no idea what I was expecting, but I thought maybe someone would point a child out of a crowd of them and say, “That’s Kajol! The girl you sponsor!” And maybe we would hug and I could meet her family.

Instead, we walked into the center of the group of little homes, and every single person and child gathered instantly around us, staring unabashedly. Our translator rattled off some Bengali to a few women, peeked his head into a little home, and informed me, “They have powdered her face. This is, this…this is unusual. Come this way.”

photos by esther havens

A tiny, tiny girl in a bright gold dress appeared in the doorway, face to the ground. Her mother pushing her forward, I saw that she was full-body shaking. Her face had been powdered a shade lighter than her skin, her hair was wetted down with a flower barrette planted right on top, and she was wearing the jewelry of every woman in the village. Necklaces, bracelet after bracelet, rings, eye shadow, eye liner, all of it. Contrasted with the half-dressed, dusty children, it looked like she was being offered as a sacrifice to the white people coming to her village. She walked towards us slowly, eyes never lifting.

My heart was crushed in that moment.

Everyone in the village was clamoring round, shouting or whispering, pointing and staring. All at this tiny, tiny girl who seemed to have no idea what was going on – and at me, the overwhelmed introvert, who felt handicapped and unprepared in a thousand ways.

What was I doing here? Who is this child? I love her. I love her I love her I love her. She is so scared. I am so uncomfortable. What do I do? What do I say? She is shaking. I’m going to cry. I’m crying. Everyone be quiet. I want to hug her. I want to take her away. Please look up at me so you can see in my eyes that I love you and that I am safe. I CANNOT MAKE HER FEEL SAFE. Please feel safe, please feel safe, please feel safe.

I commanded every cell in my body to attempt to orchestrate a smile on my face. Maybe if she sees me smile she will know I am a safe person and there is no reason to be afraid. Have you tried to smile hard and not cry at the same time? It makes it all worse.

I reached out my hand to touch her. Maybe if she felt my hand on her shoulder she would feel comforted. She jumped, and I choked. I looked to Max with a desperate hope he would be able to miraculously do something, anything, to make this better for me and for this tiny dolled-up creature.

“Amar nam, Lauren.” I choked out as I put my hand over my heart. “What is the word for beautiful?” I asked the translator the thousandth time. I still cannot remember. I want to tell her I love her, she is beautiful, she is safe. I expect nothing. I have only love and gifts to give. She owes me nothing. I want to apologize for this nonsense and for putting us both in a situation that terrifies both of us. I want to say, “It’s okay. I am shy too.”

But all I can say is amar nam, my name is Lauren. All I can do is squat at her eye level as she and her auntie put flowers-strung-on-thread necklaces around my neck, and try to keep the feeling of guilt from drowning me entirely. I do not deserve these gifts.

I ask if we can go sit somewhere. This standing with everyone around me is just terrible. The translator nods and points to a blanket set out for us on some sort of porch of someone’s home. I reach down and take her tiny hand to walk with her. She reaches up to take mine too, and it’s freezing. I walk slowly with her, a crushing combination of frustration and love welling inside me with each step as I realize that I am beyond unprepared for this. I should have studied her language. I should have read her sponsor sheet more closely. I should have asked more questions about what to do when this moment came.

I sit on the blanket next to Kajol and Max. The translator sits, Heidi sits, and a beautiful young woman in a red and gold Salwar Kameez sits next to Kajol. I am told it is her mother. With a massive sigh of relief, I smile as big as I can and rattle off my statements and questions. “Amar nam Lauren! Apnar Nam ke? I have ech bhai, dui bon (one sister, two brothers). How many children do you have? Where is your husband? What is his job? I am so excited to be here. You are lovely.” I ask again what the word for “beautiful” is. The translator nods his approval at my Bengali attempts and fills in for my English.

I ask Kajol about her younger sisters. I ask what she likes to do.

Sweet Heidi reminds me I can simply ask her anything I’d ask a six year old in America. “But I’m already terrible at this in English, I can’t do it here!!”

Kajol is still shaking, staring at the ground. She’s still too shy to make eye contact. I remember being told yesterday that girls here love to dance, so I ask if she likes to sing or dance. Her mother starts yelling and nodding and gesturing, and the translator tells me that she wants Kajol to sing a song for us. “No! No! She doesn’t have to! No, please. Don’t. I just wanted to know.” I start waving my arms. Dear God I’ve just gone and made this whole thing even worse. Her mother keeps nodding and insisting and Kajol stands on the blanket. Her tiny, quiet voice starts singing.

[if you cannot view the video of her singing, click here]

I keep a smile plastered on my face and try as hard as I can not to cry. I clap and clap when she finishes. I ask about her school, and she jumps up, runs to get her school books to show me. She reads an English poem, a Bengali poem, and points at her math. “She is very bright for only 6 years old!!” our translator tells us. I ask if she picked the flowers from along the street or if she has a garden. She wants to take me to her garden. She grabs my hand, jumps up again, and leads me to a large bush of marigolds.

I ask the translator if every family has a cow, or if they share. Her family has a cow, and I learn that cows are her favorite animal. I happen to adore cows too, and I suddenly realize that maybe I am right at home here, and this is much more simple than I am making it. Kajol darts ahead of me and we walk across a little plot of land to meet her cow. I’m not allowed to pet the cow because livestock isn’t safe for me, and EVERYTHING IN MY BODY ACHES BECAUSE I CAN’T HUG EVERYTHING. Hugging is my coping mechanism and here in this culture it’s not even appropriate to hug my husband, though he seems to be the only thing here that won’t give me a parasite.

photos by esther havens

I ask if we can give her the gifts we brought for her, and the translator agrees that it is an appropriate time (finally!) and we walk back to her home. She shares one room with her mother, her 4 year old sister, and the 2 month old baby. They sleep in the same bed, and their father comes home one day a week. He works in Dhaka, at least 2 hours away. The entire “neighborhood” follows us back and crowds around up into the doorway to watch. There are no doors, no privacy, and “can we come over?” is a concept that does not exist.

We sit on the bed and Max pulls a coloring and sticker book out of his backpack, a stack of pretty stationary, and a box of crayons. As we hand them to her, her entire demeanor changes. Completely enraptured, she instantly starts coloring. I watch her color in the lines without a single flaw, and when she is done, I watch her count the crayons on the box and see that she puts them back in the box to match the color order on the package.

“Kajol is OCD!” I laugh and announce to Max. She stacks the stationary on the coloring book, the crayons on the stationary, in order of size, and carefully stands atop her pillow to store them with her 3 school books.

photos by esther havens

After half an hour of coloring and playing with stickers with her, she has adopted me as her new best friend. She finally smiles, she laughs, and she looks me in the eyes. She jumps around and sits in my lap. I decide to go exploring with her, and ask her to walk me around. I find a tiny white flower in the grass and pick it for Kajol. I hand it to her, and one to her friend, and they run ahead of me out into a giant field of mustard plants and pick flower after flower after flower to give to me. For the next half hour, flower picking and giving is the game. All of the children in the village participate, and yes. This. This is all I’ve wanted. I can do this. This is me.

photos by yours truly

When it’s time to leave, I realize I will most likely never see this child again. I cannot let myself think about it. She is my baby sister now. She is a child. She has a personality. She is shy, and smart, and bright. She is organized. She is quiet. She loves her friends. She loves flowers and cows. She loves her baby sister.

But most importantly, because of the sponsorship program that FH has introduced into their little village, Kajol will live her childhood as a child. She will go to primary school, and she will have the opportunity to attend university. She will not need to be married at 15 like her mother. She will not need to work and drag her 40 pound body through manual labor to help provide for her mother. She will grow into a woman who, unlike most women around her, will be able to read and write. She will learn a trade. She will never have to wish she had an older sister, because she will have one in me. She will have someone to speak hope and care to her, and someone to believe that she has potential and value no matter what anyone around her says.

Never in my life will I be able to find something better to spend $32 a month on. And I will forever remember the difference a friendship makes to this sweet little girl.

If you want to sponsor a child and give them a life they couldn’t have otherwise, please do. Click this link. All my love to you.