"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


my sweetest downfall

The Intrepid Lobbyist (who, while still quite Intrepid, is no longer a Lobbyist, and is therefore in need of a new nickname - ideas?) and I were talking a few weeks ago about her new life in Seattle when camp came up in the conversation, as it always does, and somewhere in the memories, one of us brought up the maxim by which generations of campers and staff before us were admonished upon departure to some out-of-camp activity, be it a trip to the boys camp on the other side of I-40 (What can I say? We're Baptist. By the time you're 16, you know how to get across without getting caught.) or a hike to the ice cream parlor down the mountain:

"Girls, remember Who you are, Where you are from, and What you represent."

It was the camp's first director, Miss Bell, who was long gone by the time either of us were there, and her successor who always said that. (I never saw it written down until googling it tonight, but I always imagined those letters in capitals. Especially the "What.") It was generally delivered as a threat, not an encouragement. And generations of campers who heard it from them became counselors themselves, and said it to their own campers, and it stuck, not only at camp, but also in our hearts. Who you are, where you are from, what you represent. Remember. Because if you forget, there will be consequences.

Sunday my pastor preached about losing your life to find it, and how all our experiences make us who we are. Favorite Kid #1 and I were huddled together for warmth because we forgot to bring sweaters to guard against our freezing-cold-even-when-it's-95-outside sanctuary. No doubt his words hit us differently being as we are at very different stages in life. She is getting ready to jump out and discover who she is, to learn that where she is from matters so much, and to figure out what she will represent, and how. So much has happened to me since I was her age that I can only imagine the adventure she's in for, learning and living and putting together her own story in community with those who love her now and those who will love her in the future.

Ann Miller got me at an impressionable age, and therefore as soon as the pastor said that our experiences "are a catalog of who we are and what we are and what we are like," I thought of Tennyson, the ringing plains of windy Troy, "I am part of all that I have met," all of it. Who I am is a part of all that I have met.

Today is the date of the date that was still the best date. No matter how hard I try to believe it never happened or wasn't so, it did, and it was. We were and then we weren't and I was home and just as suddenly I was lost.

I had lunch yesterday with my friend T, who doesn't live in Austin anymore, and who's going through what he described as "a dark period." We talked about faith and life and simplicity and jobs and research and church and how sometimes, if you're honest with yourself, you have to admit that you just don't know what you believe, don't have the slightest clue as to what it is you are supposed to represent.

I am a part of all that I have met. Floydada and Franklin, Naples and New Haven, Washington and Waco, Black Mountain and Midtown, Africa and Austin. Summer camp and internships, late night talks and boys who broke my heart, tears at unimaginable misery and so, so, so much love.
Something happened to me this summer, something I'm not sure I can put a name on, and something that I'm not sure I fully understand, but that I know is good.

The last few years have been a little rough; the cumulative effects of the frustration of being stuck in graduate school with a difficult advisor, the end of a rather unhealthy relationship, the stress of living in the Congo, and processing the horrors I've seen there took their toll. I spent most of 06-07 just exhausted. I dreaded this summer's trip; I cried at the airport and wanted nothing more than to not have to go back.

But something happened, and it happened the minute I walked up to the border in Goma and saw Ben's shocked smile that mirrored my own. It happened when Nicole welcomed me home, when Anna and I ran into each other on the street one day, when Uncle Rene picked me up at the dock in Bukavu, when Anne-Marie welcomed me to her home with an unripe lemon and a prayer of blessing. It happened when I realized something I forgot:

God didn't forget me.

It's amazing how difficult people and difficult experiences can make you forget who you are. It's incredible how one person can cause you to forget that your heart has a true home, one that is full of laughter and friendship and caring and sacrifice and love. It is remarkable that self-doubt and wrestling with impossible questions can make it hard to remember what you represent.

Something happened to me this summer. A lot of people prayed for me, prayed that things would be better with the Advisor, that research would go smoothly, that I would be safe. They are, it did, I was. And somehow, through all of that, something happened to me. Somehow, through all the experiences and fears and sadness and guilt and worry that come along with going out into the world, I remembered.

And somehow, I am free. We are all free. Free, not just to jump off perfectly good bridges and flip through Class V rapids, but really, truly free. To let all these experiences shape us, to know that there is something solid that keeps us safe and guides us along. Free, in other words, to live.


Blogger euphrony said...

Well said.

I had mentioned Sara Groves' new album, and how it was influenced by her trip to Rwanda in 2006: she says some of the same things you just said, a little differently. The picture she paints of the people in Rwanda, the people she's met who were rescued from sex slavery, etc. is one of persistent hope. As you said, God has not forgotten us.

I'm glad that you have been able to feel His presence here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 11:57:00 AM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Blessings, Laura. It's difficult, but I hope you hold onto the experiences of grace that swept over you this summer for future "dark nights of the soul."

Though we have never met, I celebrate you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 12:13:00 PM

Blogger Angela said...

Thanks for the blessing of this and the blessing of you, and the reminder of light after the dark moments; glorious light. And thanks, more than anything, for the reminder to "remember who you are and who you represent."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 8:33:00 PM


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