Minimize with Meaning - Week One

Hi again... Did you enjoy my week of silence as much as I did? Well, don't get used to it because I am back with loads of thoughts and opinions and shenanigans to share. For example, I have committed myself to a little project for the month of November that I am calling #theminimalistproject. I have been doing a lot of  mindless websurfing  research about becoming a minimalist and since I love swinging from one extreme idea to another, I thought "Yes, let's!" To be clear, I am not getting too technical with the term "minimalism," I am more interested in purging whatever is unnecessarily in my life and home, as well as raging against excess, and an entitled American mindset. So, for the month of November I am attempting to become (my version of) a "minimalist." The challenge is quite simple, on Day 1, you get rid of 1 item. On day 2, 2 items. Day 3, 3 items. (If you need me to keep walking you through the rest of the month, I invite you to never read my blog again, because, no.)

Days 1-8 have been, quite honestly, very simple for me because I am - by nature - a purger. I do not like to hold on to things, for the most part. I will share embarrassing proof of my de-cluttering... but, for now you will have to take my word for it, because I wanted to kick off this project with a little perspective, which my friend Melissa  was manhandled into giving  happily agreed to offer. I will let her tell you her story, but here is what you need to know about Melissa:
  1. She's the best.
  2. She's smarter than you.
  3. Don't worry, you aren't alone, she's smarter than all of us. Maybe combined.
  4. She is humble and generous and amazing.
  5. She might look like she hated posing for this engagement-style photo of the two of us, but she actually has it in an 8x10 above her mantle. 

Without further ado... I give you, Sweet Melissa.


Greetings from Freetown, Sierra Leone.  It is perfectly fair to say that baby Jaylen’s arrival was the catalyst to my friendship with Lara, but as a childhood friend of Tom I knew of Lara’s blog and was an admirer of her writings for years - so it’s cool to be able to say a few things on here as a little contributor and not simply be known as the girl who hates kindness.

**warning  - this post is gonna get a little intense. But I know you can handle it.**

I send you well wishes from this vibrant country where the only things more beautiful than the landscape are the people. I was shocked at how gorgeous this place is with its rainbow of scenery --  a dance for the eyes.  Red clay roads along white beaches hugging sapphire pacific waves with green palm-covered hills jetting out the sandy coastline. There isn’t a single window with a bad view.  Also Sierra Leoneans are ridiculously attractive. I told my friends I’m surprised there aren’t modeling scouts here on a regular basis because wow. And almost every night I stand on my hotel balcony, and pray, and watch the sun go down because this happens

and this happens    

Although this place could be paradise – it is not paradise.  Sierra Leone has suffered through years of war, exploitation, corruption, and disease. Only 35% of the people can read. There is limited access to healthcare. Education is meager. Jobs are scarce. And the people are poor – very poor.

…and now…Ebola. 

Although good work is being done here the infection numbers are still on the rise because these people were already so vulnerable and the region so challenged. I told Lara a couple weeks ago that she should use her powers for good and tell America to stop freaking out over Ebola. It was infuriating to see what I see here, to hear what I hear here, and then turn on BBC and watch another story about the Ebola panic machine taking over the United States. That unjustified terror was affecting aid relief here in West Africa and even now is rippling with unfortunate consequences. So let me simply and lovingly say that I’ve been here for a month and I don’t have Ebola - and you won’t get it either. 

Ok scolding moment over.

I’m here in Freetown working with the U.S. Embassy in their public affairs/communications office.  Yesterday we conducted a program for the sowie population about Ebola and how to prevent transmission. Sowies are women tribal leaders who are influential in their communities and are often sought after during times of illness or death. Seventy percent of Ebola transmission cases here are due to unsafe burial practices so we had to educate the sowies on how to care for their community without performing traditional burial duties. 

Sowies are lively and colorful and are generally older members of society. But I noticed a lot of younger women and made a remark to my colleague about one in particular, “Marilyn, did you see that one? She was so young. She looked like she was 12.”
“Did you see she wasn’t wearing shoes?”
“No.” I said.
“She doesn’t have any shoes.”

And that’s all I could think about for the rest of the day. 
I just kept repeating that over and over in my head.  “She doesn’t have any shoes.”

Ok - I live in New York City and sadly am no stranger to poverty or passing a neighbor who lives on my street….literally….on the street.

But I was so consumed by the Ebola prevention training that I didn’t even notice she wasn’t wearing shoes.

People. I’m only here in Sierra Leone for about a month. And I brought 9 pairs of shoes with me.  Three pairs of heels, three flats, one pair of rugged hiking shoes, one pair of sneakers, and one pair of flip flops. 

“She didn’t have any shoes.”

Even writing that now makes my stomach clench and my chest tight and my eyes water and yet I still have 9 pairs of shoes strewn about the floor of my hotel room. 

There was a similar moment a few weeks ago that sent me into that same soul spin which I wrangled Lara into when I sent her this picture

Lara asked if they were playing and I said no, “they’re collecting drinking water from the ground.  Look closely.”

“I was afraid of that,” she said.

I couldn’t get those little ones out of my head. I told Lara that I stood on the balcony of my nice hotel that night and sobbed like an infant because I felt like such an ass. Here I am, up here with my ocean view - and there you are, little ones, with your puddles of drinking water.

That image also had an effect on our faithful blogger because the following day Lara sent me this message, “Our texting was very convicting to me last night. Which is what I needed. I am in that mode where I am exhausted, and drained emotionally, and just feeling done. And it makes me want to go to Jamaica.  And I really mean that. I believe I NEED to go on a vacation. REALITY CHECK: I need clean water. Check.”

I know the next segment of posts from Lara will focus on the “stuff” in our lives. And knowing Lara I’m sure she will touch on all the different layers of stuff that we pile up. There’s the stuff that clutters up our homes and makes us reluctant to let guests in. And there’s the stuff that clutters up the deepest recesses of our hearts that makes us VERY reluctant to let Jesus in.

But maybe if Jesus had access to those deepest darkest mustiest places in our hearts -- maybe we wouldn’t be so unnecessarily fearful (about Ebola in the U.S. or life in general), maybe we wouldn’t be so obsessively, and often times unknowingly, materialistic (about shoes or life in general),
maybe we would have wisdom to know how to be good stewards of what we’ve been given in this world (so babies don’t have to drink rainwater off the street), maybe we could be more like some of the people I met here in Sierra Leone. They would give you the shirt off their back, and for some of them it would be their only shirt. 

Matthew 25:34-36 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."
Ok that was a really heavy post so I’m gonna conclude with this picture because a woman with a head full of maxi pads is awesome and needs to be shared with the world.