Saturday, December 31, 2011

one last day

It's down to the hours now.  Six hours and twenty minutes before this year is done.  Before it's over.

Oh how I wish it were magic, that ball dropping, that ten second countdown.  As if... after 3, 2, 1... everything really did change.  Reset.  Turn a page and start over.

So much happened in 2011.  Isolated events, which changed our lives.  There were beautiful moments from the get-go, when we realized things would never be the same.

Much of the spring is lost somewhere in the recesses of my memory.  Like packed up boxes you shove to the corner.  I remember thinking I was leaving.  I remember trying to wrap my mind around being gone for a whole year.  But only vaguely.  What I really remember is the moment I woke up and realized I didn't want to.  And my path changed again.

My little sister graduated high school.  A bittersweet reminder of how quickly time passes and how much my heart belongs to my three sisters.

At some point in that lost span of time, I turned 23.  Finally the age when I thought everything was going to happen.  The special year that had been burned into my mind from an early age.  I'd always known it would be important, this year.  How could I have known?

It was very quickly after this milestone birthday that things did change.  I started quitting.  Paring down my schedule, walking away from roles of leadership, breaking down old boxes of toxicity, thinking I was going to get better.  That I was going to make myself well.

The month of June came, highlighted by an urban camp with some of my kids.  2011 brought me Urban Impact, I do remember this.  And am forever and eternally grateful.

But it the midst of the "quitting" and the "walking away" and the "resting" I was supposed to do, I spun around on my heels and submerged myself in some real inner city work.  And in June, I spent a whole week with some of these precious children.

But we also went to Icthus that week.  Taking a few teenagers with us to listen to the Christian hip hop and rap artists.  After a bet over a funnel cake, Kelsey and I met a pair of men.  After 23 years of believing, deeply, that I was unattractive and undesirable, in a moment there it all changed.  Like the I-75, I-64 split.  One road became two.  And I veered left.

The month of July is lost on me.  My blogs show no record of it, and neither does my memory.  I think I spent most of it drinking tequila at the pool with my step mother.  Tuesday and Thursday nights on Limestone with two girls with the same name -- one who would cherish me, one who would try and destroy me.  I think I spent July meeting people who did not know me.  Learning how to dodge persistent men, and how to get their attention, all in the same breath.  There was another camp in July too... an arts camp.  Teenagers learning how to think in a brand new way, to see with eyes scrubbed fresh and skin peeled back and sensitive.

August came.  I was supposed to leave on a year long trip, and instead I woke up under far different circumstances.  Laying beside my own mistakes and choices, the morning dawned and a squad launched.  And I was not with them.  Instead, I would drive to Richmond.  Steal a last kiss in a Dairy Queen parking lot.  Pack up a duffel bag and casually head to the airport.

August was Haiti.  Hot and sweaty and full of laughter.  Of remembering and "I think I can's".  Living with bubbles and children in my lap and dirty feet and looking through a lens.  He stole my heart, the quiet one in the corner.

Haiti was an escape.  A familiar place on an unfamiliar highway.  Like I took a pit stop, put all else on pause, and regained and recollected my heart and soul.  Testing brokenness, checking strength, challenging endurance.

I came home to a tiny little apartment right on campus.  With every intention of making this space my sanctuary, it only became my place for hiding my secrets.  The place I came once it was dark and stayed until it was light.  Apartment 6.  It is dusty with all the knowing, and the walls creak and moan with the heaviness of it.

September, like most of 2011, was full of mistakes, classes, and bachelorette parties.  I was chin deep in a 250 hour practicum with Urban Impact.  Stretching some muscles and conditioning myself in ways I'd never anticipated.  Working with 25 children who would steal whatever was left of my heart.

In September I got my hopes up.  And I was let down again.  I loaded up my car with another man's junk and helped him move, hearing the wind chimes and knowing that despite the running I was doing, God knew exactly where I was.  He was going to find me, wherever I tried to hide.  So I decided to quit hiding.  I ran smack dab into confession on Pine Street.  Pulled up into a familiar hug and ineffectively dodging the truth.  Confession has a way of letting all the air out of your defenses.

In October... I gained a brother.  My sister got the wedding of her dreams and dedicated her life and love to a man who actually deserves all of it.  Once again, our family dynamics changed.  He makes us better, this brother.  A gift.  Not just to my sister.  But to me.  This Christmas he hugged me, not letting go.  He held the back of my head and whispered, only half joking, "it's going to be ok, Anna.  It's going to be ok."

November, also a blur.  Lessons learned and heart developing more calluses.  It seems, the only ones who can break through the hardness, are small people with lots of love to give.

Ever since December, I have been fast forwarding to this day.  To the end of this year.  I've been beckoning it, urging it to come faster.  I've misplaced blame on the year 2011.  For breaking me in all new ways.  In destroying fortresses I have built and exposing a foundation stronger than I'd realized.

I picked up on a pattern.  Of a good year, followed by a bad year, followed by a good year.  This gets me a little giddy inside, knowing that if the pattern is true, a good year is coming.  That starting tomorrow, I will begin the climb into blessing.

Over the past few weeks God has sent encouragement upon encouragement my way.  Through random texts and facebook messages.  He has been reminding me that He has a plan.  And that through the sticky mess that is 2011, He has proven His faithfulness.  He is exercising His redemptive nature.  Beauty for ashes.  An invisible summer, found in the depths of winter.

In 2011, I learned where to place my walls.  Vulnerability and confession were abounding in the safest places.  I clung to the truth and consistency of a few, beautiful men and women whom God has given me as a gift.

In 2011, I found my confidence.

In 2011, I reestablished my passion.

In 2011, I lost a lot of battles.  And a lot of ground.

There is one last day.  Now, only five and a half hours until it's over.  I'm sitting here in the dark, getting ready to cook dinner for two of my best friends.  One who just got engaged, only a few hours ago.  I am thinking about my resolution this time last year.  To do better.

I failed.

But that happens sometimes.  Sometimes we try things and we fail.  We have good intentions and we mean well.  And we have no way of knowing what's coming our way.  No way to really prepare for the battles we are going to fight.  To predict the ways we are going to turn.

2011 was about a plot change.

Veering off onto a different highway, which would take me in a different direction, directly into the grace and mercy of God the Father.  Lots of construction on this highway.  Lots of fog and guard rails.

I did not do better this year.  That is my confession.  May it bounce off the walls and seep under the door.  May it be known that I never claim to have it all together.  That I walk around in my hi-top sneakers and listening to India Arie and cheering on the UK Wildcats and catching the eye of dark men and stealing the attention of small children.  That I am more and different than most will ever know.  And those of you who take the time to see, to learn, have my devotion.

I did not do better this year.  But there is hope in demolition.  In the middle of all kinds of dust and debris, bent metal, and caution tape.  There's a promise of reconstruction.  Of rebuilding.  Of sweeping away the old, to make room for the new.

One last day.  Just one, last day.

Monday, December 26, 2011


I came home from work tonight, not having eaten since a meal at my mom's earlier in the day.  One of my Christmas presents from her were the ingredients to make guacamole.  A healing agent.  Despite the fact that it was 11pm by the time I got home, I walked into my little studio bound and determined to make some homemade guac.

I pulled the avocados and the lime and the tomatoes and the onion out of the fridge.  Garlic, salt, pepper.  I chopped up the onion, put it in a bowl, and then took the knife to cut open the first avocado.  I rolled it around in my hand, a little bit wary.  It didn't feel ripe.

But I cut into it anyway.  Slicing it longways around the pit.

Not ripe.

I laid the avocado and the knife down on the counter and just looked at it for a minute.

The very thing I wanted was right there in front of me.

But it wasn't ready yet.

I could keep going, try and make guacamole with unripened avocados.

But it wouldn't taste good.

Everything was ready, prepared, provided.  Except for the last ingredient.

I would have to wait.  I would have to wait if I wanted it to be right, if I wanted it to be good.

Some things just take time.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

This is Christmas

I have to allow myself some autonomy.  Usually, autonomy is not something you must allow yourself.  But I am my greatest dictator.  I am the one who is making the decisions, here.  I'm old enough to choose where I go, who I spend my time with, where I invest my heart.  Christmas is the hardest time of the year for me to do this, because of a deep-seeded obligation I feel.  But over the past four years things have slowly unravelled.  We have all grown up and apart and away.  And I find myself standing in a tangled mess of old traditions and requirements and twine for tying.

So I break the rules a little.  My own rules.  No one else's.  No one is really disappointed when I don't show up on time.  How narcissistic, to think I am always missed when I'm not present.

After four years of adaptation, I have freedom that I don't often embrace.  I am suddenly, that family member.  The one who comes late and dips out early.  I understand why he did it so many years ago now.

Yesterday I ate omelets at my mom's.  We opened just a few presents and then I left.  Short, sweet, and only a little Christmasy.  I was supposed to be on Severn Way next.  But I took a turn instead and prayed as I drove up a quiet street in my favorite neighborhood.  If I pray hard enough, they'll be outside... I thought.  Even as I whispered my prayer, I topped the small hill and saw them running around in the front yard.

Merry Christmas to me.

I parked and was bombarded.  By hugs and kisses and "miss yous" and the prophets running to the front door, brand new Nikes on each of their feet.  I spent only a little time there, with little girls dangling off my limbs and pulling at my clothes.  The big boys acted like they didn't want to be hugged, but they stayed.  They stayed until I left.  I kept saying, "merry Christmas" and they kept saying, "it's not Christmas yet".  If only they knew.

Then it was on to my Grandparents'.  The only house I have a serious emotional attachment to.  I walked in the door and almost ran into Grandmom, who was sporting a horrible bruise on her face from a fall the night before.  My Granddad was serious and quiet and detached, and I bolstered up my heart.  In myself, I felt this knowing.  A deep knowing that said, this would be the last year we did this.  He helped her climb the stairs in their age-old dance.  Sadness and age lingering behind them like a strong cologne.

Pictures, food, some gift giving.  And then Olivia sat down at the piano.  Thank the Lord I was sitting there, curled up in the big chair.  Tears welled as she played.  Looking like Larry.   In a face that really looks nothing like his, she set her jaw and set her eyes on something I have never been able to see.  Playing something by memory, something from her own fingertips. And she played.  I begged her not to stop.  This, this was home.

I left there early too.  After a big, hilariously awkward family photo.  Over the years, the size of the Vaughan family on Severn has dwindled.  But along with the unravelling that's happened, new members have been added.  And how well chosen they have been.  Seamless.

Quickly after, I went to a Christmas Eve service at a place I once called home.  Cried as they highlighted a ministry I work closely with.  And waited patiently through renditions of old Christmas songs, until I could get out.  Candle wax dripped down my hand as my eyes were drawn to the diversity in the room.  I knew where I needed to go now.  I knew where I'd find Christmas.  And it wasn't there.

To see them.

The rest of them.

Darkness highlights every fearful aspect of the ghetto.  Even Christmas lights cannot dull the ominous shadows that hang there.  But my heart does not feel it.  Light shines brightest in dark places, and I watch it go before me as I walk up to every door.

Three.  Their hair cut fresh.  Kisses and dish washing and mama on the phone.  This was a good idea, I knew as soon as I saw them.   I could have stayed there all night, and I think they would have let me.  I wanted to sit on the floor with the one who looks old.  Just sit there and watch Christmas come together.

At the next house, I knocked.  Hearing the shuffling inside, the familiar "who is it?", followed by the loud: "It's Miss Anna and Miss Chloe", and the immediate throwing open of the door.  He's getting skinny.  In the growing "up" phase, which comes before the growing "out".  Last week, I took him home sick.  He still has the remnants of it, dry lips and glossy eyes.  I gave him chapstick and tickled his baby cousin.  Lots of hugs and odd looks from a grown uncle.  We are strange to them, in our comfort and our boldness.  But every once in a while, I see a glimmer of acceptance.  A sweet opening of a door.

He came to the door in a robe.  He's mine, this boy.  A special part of my heart belongs to only him, because I chose him.  Out of the crowd, out of the chaos of a lunchroom, he wriggled his way into my attention.  This family wouldn't let us in, they never do.  So we hugged over the threshold.

After visiting at least eight of them, Chloe and I piled back in the car.  I don't know how we fit, swollen hearts and all.  But we did.

I found out that J and C ran to Keyaira's house this morning.  Excitedly proclaiming that their best Christmas present was seeing Miss Anna and Miss Chloe the night before.  Arguing about who got the better hugs.

This, this is Christmas.

It's been quiet this year.  More alone time than ever.  Chinese food and Redbox movies, quiet slipping aways.  It wasn't until tonight, after going to see the traditional movie with my family and Cass, that I felt the twinge.

The deepest twinge.

No tears this Christmas.  Just a deep, cold ache like I've been out in the winter wind too long.  A quiet asking, a subcutaneous loneliness.

It was not a bad day, this Christmas.  Not bad at all.  But Christmas stirs it up, sending it all down like snow in a snow globe.  Catching the light, falling back to the floor.

So we begin the quick descent to the new year.  And on my breath is a bold dare.

Friday, December 23, 2011

poison & wine

Life and circumstances will try and turn you into someone you were never meant to be.

I see it happen every single day.

And as much as I knew it to be true in the ghetto, it has become true in my own heart.

Freeze frame.  People are stuck in motion.  Laughing, talking.  Familiar faces surround me and I look at them.  Bits of their lives swirl around my head and I am overwhelmed at what I know.  And even more so by what I don't.  My eyes bounce from each corner of the room and suddenly, all is in motion again.

It stemmed from a deep feeling of defeat.  A sudden giving-up.  Circumstances had piled high around me, blocking out the sun like so much garbage.

From there, direct exposure quickly hardened my heart.  I learned much, quickly.  Seeing what I'd always assumed, but hadn't understood.  And before I knew it, there was little other option.  To survive, I had to learn.  To preserve what little was left of myself, I had to step it up.

So I'm sitting on this big, red couch.  With a sweet little one sleeping in the next room.  And Christmas starts coming tomorrow.

There are tears in my eyes.  Unbidden, as always.  But I suppose if there is a place to let them flow, this big, deep couch is the place.  No one to see.  No one to hear.

I learned how to play the game.  With the best of them.  To separate action from emotion.  To expect the worst and push hope deep, deep down.  Names flow through my head.  And it becomes clear to me why I have become so detached.  It is so much easier not to feel.  All this mess, these hot tears pouring down my cheeks.  I'd rather them not.

So the tears flow in the safety and privacy of this home.  I look out the window at this dreary, December day and feel my cheeks dry sticky with the tears.  No Christmas trees for me this year.  No lights.  No presents.  Just another day I hold my breath and barrel through.  The spirit isn't here this year.

In May I am supposed to leave.  Today, I am tempted to just pack up my station wagon and drive in some direction for some hours until I reach some place that is not here.  Deep, I know that Atlanta is six months away so that Atlanta in and of herself won't be my running away.

I'm pretty tempted though.  Because the only thing that even resembles a solution to this mess is to leave.  The urge, the itch, to just get out of here is so strong I can't see anything else.  The alternative is isolation.  The loneliness I know I must choose in staying here, the self control I must employ if I stay even one more night in Lexington.  I am overwhelmed with it.  Burdened by the knowing.  How do you consciously walk into such a thing?

I can stop playing the game.  I can remove myself from the situations, which are not bad in nature, but have bred deepest hurt.  I could turn my phone off.  Say hello and walk away.  But where do I turn?  Those situations are deeply similar, in both the sanctuary and the bar.  Where do I go that is safe?  Where do I go where I will not be met by the familiar face of that loneliness?  I have been forgotten in that place, and used in that one.  I have been replaced here, and walked all over there.

Everyone has an answer for me.  On their side, they see the solution.  Perhaps they even see the truth.  Less blinded by emotion or hardened by pain.  But it feels more like, in their blessing, they've forgotten the sharp pangs of this life.  I'm not sure they're not totally right.  Actually I'm pretty sure they are.  But ...

But I'm here, waiting for something I've not even been promised.  Wanting something with my heart of hearts, that seems so distant and so unattainable.  I feel nothing but unwanted.  Nothing but worthless.  Nothing but desperate.  Wanting only to curl up and be held.  Wishing that Christmas this year did not mean a lot of moving around and a lot of light cast on my being the only single adult Vaughan left.

There's an ugly paradox.  And it has a face.  Multiple faces.

Life and circumstances will try and turn you into someone you were never meant to be.

Even through the tears, I'm fighting.

And praying a most desperate prayer.  That the good would find me in the mess.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the heart of the city

I just finished one last thing.  250 plus hours under my belt, this morning I had a final meeting to wrap up my semester.  There are things that happen to you, things you choose, which you can quickly look back on and recognize the impact they had on your life.

I sat at a table this morning with five other people who have had such an intense impact on my life.

A few years ago I met Marcus in my sister's house as we packed her belongings.  She introduced us and he said, "oh yes, you're the sister who talks too much."  As much as I have always resented this negative character trait of mine, I wonder if he had any idea how true this was.

Yesterday I was part of a Christmas event with my kids.  More than 30 of them in the same barn at a local tennis club.  I picked up a handful of them, strapped them in my car, and carried them there.  The rest poured in shortly after.  It never fails, no matter how many times I do this, that my heart brims with love and devotion for these small people.

I watch "A", letting him roam and wander.  We keep him in our sight, but give him much more autonomy and freedom than the others.  He is old.  Fragile in all his brute strength.  There was a hidden joy bubbling up in him yesterday, a light rekindled in his dark eyes that captured my attention.

He was sick.  I heard someone say he was in the room and I dropped everything to go find him.  He looks grown.  In a way a fifth grader should never look grown.  I described him to a friend as one of those children who has so much anger and so much light in himself at the same time.  A visible, tangible battle waging before my very eyes.  Even in his sickness he saw me and ran to me, throwing his arms around me.  I spent part of the day rubbing his back, wishing he knew how hard we were fighting for him.

Another was sick too.  "Miss Anna, my head hurts" he said as he climbed into my back seat and buckled himself in.  He was subdued, quiet.  Definitely not feeling well.  He rubbed his head, his hands, gave him water, chalking it up to dehydration.  I kept one eye on him for the next few hours, watching him in his lethargy.  And I am who he came to find when the fever hit.  He leaned forward, his head on my stomach, eyes half closed.  "Miss Anna, I can't do this anymore".  I bent low, like my Mama used to do, and felt his forehead with my lips.  He was burning up.  I laid him down on a bench and went to grab my keys.  Maternal instinct kicked in and I carted him out the car, buckled him in again, and let him sleep in the back seat as I took him home.  I knocked on his door and was greeted by a much smaller version of my sweet "J".  I was told not to come in.  I was told I wasn't welcome, they'd take care of it.  And I watched as J climbed the stairs on all fours, my heart fuming with resentment because I knew he wouldn't be taken care of the way I could.  I was tempted to storm in, yell at them to pull up their pants, and carry J out with me again.

It's amazing I have even a piece of my heart left.  As much as they've stolen.  With their inquisitive faces and heavy attitudes and vulnerable spirits.  It really is a miracle I have anything left.  They've stolen it all, it feels like.  I'm okay with this.  I wish I could give them more.  I wish I could give them everything they need.

I haven't seen these two in a few months.  Schedules have kept me away from their site.  They are thinning out, getting taller.  New braids in their hair.  It's almost like a tradition, the way we do things around here.  I saw them walk in, planted my feet, and called their names.  Dark eyes look up for the source of a voice familiar to them and they take off running.  Never have you seen a child launch themselves off the ground until you've met my children.  She wrapped her arms and legs around me and "M" waited patiently for her turn.  Hurt runs deep.  Love runs deeper.  I replay images in my head as I embrace them.  Of "M" in a bathroom stall, screaming uncontrollably.  Of "N" leaning close to my forehead as we talked about grace.

They are mine.  And I love them in a way I didn't even know was possible.  A few years into this, I still have my doubts about my own capability.  Am I cut out for this?  Do I have what it takes?  When everyone else demands respect and obedience, when everyone else seems to be in charge, seems to know what they are doing, I often stand at a loss.

Last night I was walking through our city with two of my best friends.  Beautiful women who have rarely seen me in my element, but they know.  They know my heart and what pumps this blood through my veins.  To be fully known and completely loved is a miracle beyond comprehension.  And I am thankful for them.

We were walking through Triangle Park.  A place where so much life has happened to me.

I saw him then.  My snotty nosed, theatrical, intelligent older boy.  He and I do not get along.  Not even a little bit.  He makes me laugh uncontrollably.  But I have resisted, on multiple occasions, just tying him to a chair to keep him sitting still.  In the middle of discipline he often cocks his head, and in a voice drowned with snot just grins and shakes his head, "Anna, you know it's funny.  Come on.  Just laugh, you know you want to."  He was there.  Walking through the park.  In white Nike and a gold, fur lined coat.  I almost didn't go after him.  We don't like each other, after all.

But I did.  Because in the brief moment of hesitation, I heard Him say "he is yours too.  Go get him."

He ran from me.  I am not surprised.  But he was with his god brothers and cousins and sisters.  Children I didn't know... yet.  Within five minutes I had a big five year old sitting in my lap.  I was calling names and chasing little boys.  Swinging them up into my arms, carrying them on my back.  My two dear friends stood there, watching something they'd never really seen.  My heart exploded with the sweetness of it.

They are mine.  I claim them.  I ask for them.  I, along with a host of others, have rallied around them.  Daring the world to try to take them back.  They belong to us -- to the God who made them.  And in that moment, surrounded by Christmas lights, I knew.  Again and again I am reminded.  Only to forget again.  So I can remember, I suppose.  Because the moment of remembering is the sweetest.

I was made for this.

I am most myself when surrounded with small people.  Small people in need of a big love.  The fight in me, the energy I have left, belongs to them.  As much as they are mine, I am theirs.  What I wouldn't give to have a big house where I could take them all.  So that I'd know they'd get tucked into bed at night.  Eat good meals.  Learn about life in a way not so destructive.  So that they could play and be children -- small, small children who the world cannot touch.  My heart breaks for it.

In a year, the only tears I have cried have been for them.

I am better for this.  The past four months have changed me in a way I could never have fathomed.  The sweet moments when Marcus said, "you're getting it".  And the bittersweet ones when I ran face first into the things I am not good at.  The days I walked away in defeat.  The days I laid on the floor in a puddle of what felt like failure.

I am not done.

But I had to walk away this morning, wiping tears from my eyes, wishing the caring didn't hurt so much.  Wishing I was one of those lucky people who got paid to do what she loves.  Wishing there was room for me where there is none.

I am better for this.

I hope they are too.  My sweet ones.  After countless hours in the cafeteria and in the classroom.  Hundreds of long division problems and sounding out words.  Every fight, every match of strength and will.  Every demand for respect and obedience, every failure of mine to stop and see.  We push through and I only hope they hear.  I hope, at the end of every day, they know I love them.

With all and every piece of my tired, broken heart.

Monday, December 19, 2011

When All Else Fails

I am sitting on my bed.
The lights are off.
And I have nothing to do.

No papers to write.
No discussion boards to submit.
No tests to study for.

I finished something I thought was impossible.
I survived something I sincerely thought might kill me.
I succeeded at something I thought I couldn't do.

I go back to the end of 2010.
Reading slowly the words I wrote then.
I don't remember her, the woman who wrote them.

This time last year, I declared 2011 would be the best year yet.
How could I have known?
That when I said, "go.  leave slowly.  end well" what that would truly mean.

Christmas is nothing but a day standing in between me and the first day of a new year.
I look back at the patterns in my life and I know for every hard year, a glorious year follows.
This hard year, I pray, will be followed by such.

I did not do better this year.
For years, that has been my resolution.
Nothing more than, "do better".

In 2011, I did not succeed.
Not by my standards.
Not by the standards of those around me.

I come to you a new woman.
Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually

New body art.
Smaller waistline.
More life etched into her face.

New stamps in my passport.
Three different addresses.
A new brother.

I found my words again this year.
And stumbled headlong into my heart, right after having a chair thrown at my face.
Finding the courage to quit and move on.

A hardened heart.
A brand new confidence.
A desperate understanding and appreciation of grace.


If I were to tell you about love, I would have a greater understanding.
If I were to tell you about fear, I would be well versed.
If I were to tell you about resilience, I would have more words.

After this year I could tell you about full arms.
I could tell you I spent more time on my knees, looking into the eyes of a fourth grader.
With my arms wrapped around a small body who doesn't know security.

Last year I told you about story.
I explained to you what a pivotal moment is.
An inciting incident.

Looking back over this year, I have trouble naming them all.
Simply because of sheer volume.
Those moments when you whisper quietly to yourself, "and... scene".

I was walking through the Farm.
He was wearing sunglasses, quietly watching over me.
As I met him -- who was wearing them too.

A sanctuary full of young ones.
A heart full of tears.
Words of everlasting and wings.

A Thursday night.
When I walked into a strange world where suddenly, I was seen.
Once invisible, once ignored, once unattractive.  No more.

I wish I could tell you about it all.
Put it into words, down on paper, daring to make it real.
But I would need a confessional.  And you'd need to wear a white collar.

I would tell you about him.
Hiding in the corner of the orphanage. 
And the last day when he ran to me from across the room.

I'd tell you about him.
Accused, punished.
So much anger and so much light in one young face.

I'd tell you about this tiny apartment.
My sanctuary.
The place I keep my secrets.

I'd tell you what it means to throw away a pair of jeans too big.
A pile of hair on the floor.
Of looking in the mirror and not walking away in disgust.

I'd tell you about my desperate attempts to feel.
About dry eyes.
And my even more desperate attempts to keep those feelings at bay.

I'd tell you about bad dreams.
And moments of epiphany.
Desperate clinging to hope and utter defeat.

I messed up this year.
And in that messing up... 
I know I have not lost.

There's too much to tell here.
My heart is brimming with it.
My lips are burning from it.

But as I dive into the last few weeks of 2011,
One truth burns stronger.
When all else fails, end well.

Friday, December 16, 2011


I'm really frustrated.

Frustrated, actually, doesn't even begin to cover it.

Tell me, how do you see people?

Men and women?  Rich and poor?  Beautiful and unattractive?  Black and white?  Educated and uneducated?  Saved and lost?

Ever since I was a young teenager, I've had a dream.  A magnetic pull from deep within myself.  I was drawn to a culture other than my own.  Attracted on various levels to people who, by society's standards, were different than me.

But one night I was assigned to write my own obituary.

And one Christmas my Papa said something horribly racist.

One late night after a football game they came running down the street, stopping to dance for us.

And for many, many days and now years afterward I have allowed a deep part of myself to be set free.

But along with this freedom has come an intense amount of judgement.

They would never call it racism.  Such a dirty, dirty word.

But on their condescending tone, in their critical eyes, through their exasperated sighs, I see it.

Over the past few years, I have evolved.

Please point out a woman in her early twenties who is not doing the same thing.  Who is not on a desperate path to self discovery.  Who is not trying it all on, to see what fits.

But the woman who is emerging in me is far different than any of them.  The men I'm attracted to, the populations I work with, the shoes I wear, the music I listen to.  I am a diverse, multi-faceted woman.  Who can curl up in a Goodwill arm chair, wrapped in an African blanket, read fantasy fiction, while listening to Wale.

I am not confused.

I am here to tell you I know who I am.

I know how my heart swells when I walk into a room that is diverse in nature.  Age, race, culture, gender.  I crave it.

But when I walk in wearing hi top sneakers and my bass is booming and the children I hold in my lap do not have the same color skin as me... and neither do the men I am attracted to... people start talking.

So I've come here with all my frustration.

Because if I wanted to marry a white man, work as an elementary school as a teacher in a middle class neighborhood, wear UGG boots, and listen to Kelly Clarkson, no one would think twice.  Not twice.

I am not sure what to do about it.  In wisdom, I know there's nothing I can do about it.  But love the people in my way.  Love the people God has put in my care.  And lean into that magnetic pull.

I am tired of the off-handed jokes.  Of the rolling eyes as they whisper "seriously, would you never date a white man?"

I'm here to tell you I have.  I have dated two wonderful white men.  Who I loved not because they were white, but because of who they were and who we were together for a time.  And if a white man, an Asian man, a blind man, a deaf man, an amputee stole my heart... I wouldn't hesitate.  Because that's not how my heart works.

But the same way you like blue eyes, and a skinny build, the same way you swoon over a man who wears Chuck Taylors and plays a guitar....

My heart skips a little beat when he walks in, wearing his Brodney Polos with waves in his hair.  A bright white smile in a dark face, deep dark eyes, and passionate internal rhythm.  

But it's been turned into something else to those around me.  It's been a source of ridicule.  Mockery.  Whether it's because you think this is something I've forced on myself.  Or because you think it's wrong.  Or because you're uncomfortable with it.

I am just frustrated.

Because I finally know who I am.  I am more comfortable in my skin these days than I ever have been in my entire life.

And along with that evolution has come your widespread misunderstanding.

As old as time.

In the words of my sweet friend, Recina, "I don't know what kind of Heaven y'all are plannin on goin to, but there are lots of colors there too."

Sounds like my kind of place.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


It broke.

Like a fragile leaf on the last day of autumn.  Barely touched.  Dissolved.

I've been trying to hold it together.  All the swirling pieces, but my arms don't have enough span to catch them before they're caught in the wind.

I have this ability.  It is, hands down, my most dangerous, detrimental, and self-preserving skill.  To detach.

Physically, I feel it happen.

Rise.  Pause -- in fear, almost always.  Breathe deep and push it deeper.  Straighten shoulders and carry on.  Feeling hinders.  Encumbers.  Weakens.

The lie has permeated me.

But it failed me.  This mechanism.  There was an error in operation.  With one memory, spoken.  An unimportant but deeply personal fact, remembered.  And reality ricocheted off the ceiling, landing in my chest.

Where the tears are.

Laying on my side, burying myself deep, trying to find the safe, numb place I've built.  The tear slowly slid down my cheek.


The sunrise met my face, bleeding through the closely built houses, in between the power lines.  Eye on the horizon, Anna.  Keep your eyes there.

My brittle self is maneuvering cautiously today.  One ill-timed touch and I will crumble.


Dreams fall heavy on my sleeping.  Dreams, not terrifying, but fearful.  Causing me to start, jolt, and roll over... unsure of anything.

There, I slept peacefully.  Woke up to the quiet light of morning and sinking body under the sheets.  I had not fallen backwards into the dreams.  It is that comfort that pulls my heart.

But a dream was sent to another last night.  While I was fighting the breaking.  While I was battling all feeling.  A dream was sent to her.  A foreshadowing.  A most hopeful premonition.  She doesn't know me yet.  Never seen my face.  But I was there -- in her dream.  On the streets in Atlanta.  Playing with children I haven't even met yet.

Deep is calling.  Hope is crooning my name.  And the opposition I am facing is not of Him.

In my brittleness, I am sitting very still.  Tear still lingering in the corner of my eye.

Monday, December 12, 2011

escape velocity

I have been thinking a lot lately about generational sin.

I never used to understand this term.  It didn't make sense to me that I would suffer the consequences of the mistakes others made before me.  That didn't seem the way of the God of grace I follow.

I didn't understand because I hadn't seen it happen yet.

Today, I regret to say I understand completely.  


Remember your name.

Growing up, we all had adults tell us to remember who we are.  Remember where you come from.  Remember whose you are.  For years, the statement was thrown around as an encouragement: "you're a Vaughan".  

It needed no explanation.  Growing up, being one of us meant you were strong.  It meant you were resilient.  It meant you were stubborn as hell and that you would survive.  Against all odds.   

But as years go by, things have a tendency to fall apart.  Fortresses, once strong, tumble.  And I feel the effects of residing in a dilapidated structure.  

What could be more sad than looking at something that used to be strong and finding it no more?  


She told me to remember my name.  And hugged me like I was on the fast track to hell.  

I sigh in defeat, wishing they could see.  They see the way I've changed, but they don't understand why. They feel the effects of my disassociation and see the fine lines compassion fatigue has drawn on my face.  But they blame the wrong source.  They pray for me.  As if I'm the lost one.  As if I'm the one who's lost her way.

But such is the pattern of a people who share the same name and little more.

I love them.  Too much estrogen.  Creativity oozing from all our veins.  Excessive hugs and kisses.  Good food and obscure metaphors.

But tradition has crumbled at our feet.  Life has hit us hard and often.  There is some truth in what we used to say -- in the stubbornness and the resilience.  We are a scrappy group of fighters.

And we keep lots of secrets.


I remember the day I realized I was an adult.  Almost five years ago now.

Secrets shared over pasta.  Light shed on what had intentionally been kept in the dark so long.  A deep, irreparable crack in the foundation.

A few weeks later, I would get a call.  She had fallen.  On the way to the hospital now.  He needed me to go to the house, the only house I really call home, and clean up the blood in the kitchen.

This is what it means to be grown up here.  To be let in on the secrets.  To be called in to clean up the mess.


A phone call.  A younger one was in the ER.  I am the older, though not by much.  But my love for her doesn't know that.  Her secrets spilled all over the floor, evident through the hospital gown, and I was there to do my job.  To mop them up.  To quietly absorb and faithfully love.  I could have told the doctors that day, don't worry.  I know what's wrong here.  Let me take her home.  She needs coffee and ice cream and to know she's not carrying it by herself anymore.

A phone call.  An overnight bag.  Truth we'd known, confirmed.  Sworn to secrecy.  A cycle continues, unhindered because it's what we know.  I want to say, I know.  Don't worry.  I'm carrying this with you. But the toxicity of the secrets is wrapped up in the not telling.

Passport in hand, I'm handed a new one.  One that explains it all.  Like a bright flash of light in a dark room -- blinding more than revealing.  I sigh in the knowing.  Nod in the understanding.  And not knowing what to do with it, I tuck it away.  Aperture opened wide, shutter set slow.  Catch the motion.


So what does it mean to me when I hear someone tell me to remember my name? 

That I belong to a patchwork group of people who love each other fiercely, in the best way we know how -- however short that falls.

That we keep each others' secrets.  

That I know things you don't know I know.  And I love you anyway.


What does generational sin mean to me?  

It means that unintentionally I grew up surrounded by the secrets.  Knee deep in the brokenness we learned from each other.  That as I get older, I find tendencies in myself.  An innate ability to keep those secrets. 

To love anyway.

To fall short.

To bend low and fight through the barrage of dysfunction and role confusion.  


I resented the words.  I resented that she thought I had forgotten.  When in fact, forgetting was the last thing I'd done.  Every second she held me, I knew she was praying.  And it wasn't the praying that stung.  It was that she was praying for the wrong thing.


There is a term in physics.  It refers to the force needed in order for an object to escape the grips of gravity.  The speed and energy at which an object must move in order to climb higher.

Escape velocity.

This is how we endure the sins of generations.  

You're the first in your family to go to college.

The first to not be a teenage mother.

The first with a clean record.

The first to choose sobriety.  

The first to ask for help.

The first to leave.

The first to be faithful.

Each takes a measure of force stronger than what's been holding you down.  Requiring you to exert yourself, to aim higher, to fight harder to escape the grips of all you've learned.


The beautiful thing about broken generations, is that you learn how to love people right where they are.  Brokenness teaches you to adapt.  To empathize.  Dares you to desire more and gives you the grit to go find it.

As I build momentum, I just wish they understood.  

I just wish I didn't have my own secrets.  

I wish I wasn't so good at keeping them.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


When you hear the word trauma, perhaps images of flashing lights, hospital rooms, tears, and police reports come to mind.  Emotions run thick, fear and anger and sadness.

What happens, then, when you experience trauma... and don't recognize it as such?

I am acutely aware of the people walking by around me who are hurting.  You can see it in their faces.  In hollow eyes, in gaunt cheeks, in stoic expressions.  But more often than not, there are people who carry the hurt deep within themselves.  It has not surfaced.  Tucked deep and away from sight.

Perhaps we have hidden the hurt intentionally.  To keep from exposure.  To keep from being found out.

But what if it has been hidden because we just never realized how much it actually hurt?  What if we gave it a different name, walked away from it, and it lingered... without our permission.  Settling deep.

It takes someone else to take a look.  To examine this thing you've mislabeled.  To give it a new name.

A new name, however, means a new kind of hurt.  The kind of hurt you avoided when you put it away in the first place.

A new name means fighting a battle you thought you'd successfully avoided.

And taking a long, hard look at something that's festered deep within yourself.  Acknowledging what has hurt you, something that is ugly.


I may have experienced this misnamed trauma.

Let it settle deep with in me, like sediment.

Subconsciously I was aware of what it led to.  I saw the repercussions of the hurt, saw the effects of the defeat.

I made conscious decisions that today I can link directly back to a night on Clay Avenue.

The place, the night, I lost my hope.

Today I have a story far different than any I thought I'd ever have to tell.  And while I have been in control enough to have chosen differently, there is a deeper seed of hurt that is spurring me on.

But you feel the tinges of the pain and push it down.  Don't feel it.  Don't feel it.

I have effectively desensitized myself.  To avoid emotions at all cost.  Unfortunately, avoiding one emotion often means avoiding them all.  Somehow, pain and joy are connected.  In some way, anger and peace are intertwined.  To feel one,  you must have to feel them all.  What a paradox.


In the misty glow of the streetlights, the keys hit the pavement.  Voices taper off as CLOSED signs illuminate.

My name is carried to my ears and I have just enough time to turn around.

I am small.  Never realized how small, until faced with something -- someone -- entirely bigger and stronger.

Not fear.  But pure anger.

The word unfair plays around in my mind, even though I've never truly believed in fairness.


And then they take a look.  Months and months later.  They see the irreparable damage and seek its source.  Finding it, they removed the name.  And I am forced to take a closer look.

Tears pour.  Because I know it hurt more than I had ever acknowledged.  Because I'd tried to be tough, tried to be stronger than the things I couldn't control.

Disregarded, because the hurt I've experienced can't even hold a candle to those around me.  I'm knee deep in the hurt and pain of other's lives.  I know their stories by heart and have stood on the sidelines cheering them on as they face their pasts and their baggage head on.  I've been their ally, their confidante, a soldier in their army.  And I know how bad it can get.

And what's happened in my life, it's not been so hard.

It's this mentality making it so hard to deal with my own.  My own hurt, disappointment, pain.

I don't even like using those words... I don't like the attention they draw, the gravity of them.

But with just a few words I know it must be drawn out.  If there's ever a chance for the healing to begin.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


There is a pattern emerging and my heart has caught on.

I sense this rising.  Feel that long forgotten feeling of something being stitched together.

Frantically I try and pull apart the seams.  Undo what's been done.

No, I shake my head.  I know better.

I have managed, thus far, to remain somewhat detached.

Self preservation.  Survival mode.  I know what I must do to make it through.

Expectations are clear.  I am never surprised.  Even a glimmer of hope feels misplaced, based on the truths I know.

But it happens, then, that something beyond the norm catches my eye.

Something whispers of more and I pause, hold my breath.

Surely not.

No, no.  I shake it off.

Even as a hope is realized.

Inhale, exhale through the fleeting sweetness.

I do.  I know better.  

Rain pelts against the window and I long to stay.

There is a rhythm here.  An unexpected comfort.

This whisper of more is heavy as the cloud cover.

Pause.  But only for a moment.

One look, one glimpse.

I shut the door behind me and turn my face from the downpour.

If only, lingers on my lips.

Oh, the dangers of hoping.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Want to hear a secret?
Maybe it's too early to tell.
I don't want to jinx it by saying it out loud.
But my heart learned long ago that the Lord I love, Papa, He's not spiteful.
He does not withhold for His pleasure.  But for His purpose.

So when I heard Him say, "Anna, do what I have asked you to do then so I can do what I have planned to do", I knew that the proverbial ball was in my court.  I was calling the shots -- I hate calling the shots.  He has said, leaning back in His chair and indicating with His hand, "It's your move."

That's how this will move forward.

Last night, curled up on the couch, I replayed the last six months of my life.  Like rewinding an old VHS, watching it go by in a blur.  Highlights stick out in my mind, moments when I knew things had changed forever.  There have been so many of those. 

And so even as I wrap up my tenth semester of college, as life rushes by in a chaotic breath of hugs and term papers and tight budgets, I hear it. 

I recall the many hours spent praying.  The many years spent begging.  The many opportunities He has allowed me to pursue, always calling me back here.  To this place on the map.  He's called me to change.  He's called me to do something different.  He's called me to grow and stretch and strengthen.  But He's never let me leave.  Not yet. 

In a wild whirlwind of pursual and emails and ideas, I submitted an application.  Seven pieces of paper, which were easier to fill out than anything else I'd ever completed.  A quick email.  A quick response.

And in the whistle of a train, on the lips of a poet, in a color now set apart. 

I hear it. 

It's time to go.

Did I hear Him right?  A smile finds its way to my lips.  I guess we'll see.  This is my secret.  And just like every other road I've explored, every opportunity I've pursued, the door may be shut and I will be sent on my way.

But I hear it.  Ever so faintly.  The words have come as peace.

It's time...

Loud & Clear

I felt it building.  It still is.  All of this, working it's way up, escalating.  I am hearing again.  Listening again.

I was made for so much more.  I can only hope you know that feeling.  The feeling of finding yourself in the very place you belong, whether in nature it is physical or emotional or spiritual.  No one else can understand quite how you feel when you're there.  They misunderstand.  They see differently than you do. If you're lucky, there are a select few who see how your countenance changes.  They see the light spark in your eyes.  They know.  They see it.

My heart has been listening, therefore hearing.

And last night, as I drove out into the dark, I heard His forewarning.

I am about to get real loud.

I am about to show you something your heart needs to see.

Listen, my love.  I am about to speak loud and clear.

My prayer as I sat in the parking lot was that the truth I've learned would not apply to what I was about to encounter.  I ached to be taken off guard.  To be surprised, pleasantly.  For dirty truth to be cast off by light and by love.

It is not until you get a glimpse of what God wants for you and from you that you realize how far everything else is off the mark.

He answered my prayers last night.  Through the words of others.

When she opened her mouth, the very first word, I had to pause.  I forgot what I was there to do.  It seemed as though she caught my eye and I just nodded, lost in the rhythm of her voice.

Inhale, exhale.

The rhythm of words synced with my own and I felt the hiccups ebb.

There was truth.  Stirring in that room.  I felt it, heavy and reminding.

I turned to walk up the stairs, laughing.  I caught it then -- the light in his eyes.

How long it's been since I've seen such light.

Blame it on the stage lights reflecting off his glasses.

But it was there.

What you know does not apply here.

I felt at a loss.  All this love I have in my heart, coursing through my veins, for people.  This culture.  The draw I feel, as if in myself there is a magnet.  Drawn by force.

Words echoed.  Pierced.  Confession rippled and repentance cast an incandescent light.

Was that clear enough?  Did I speak loudly enough?

A veil was pulled and suddenly I found myself staring at my own battle.  Turmoil I had never recognized, acknowledged, as such.  Under my cardigan I felt the warmth and protection of armor.

Loud and clear, You were heard.

And there is so much hope swollen here in my chest I can barely breathe.  Reaching, I find myself with a strengthened desire to find such light.

Friday, December 2, 2011


It is quiet and it is dark.

And in this dark quietness I pray.  Because that is what I know to do.

Because I know I am heard.

I wait, wait for the answer.

It comes, as it almost always does.

Exactly what I asked for, only a little different than I expected.

Burning slowly I wait.

Breathing in the power of a request.

It hangs here, in the shadows.  And when I hear it, I reach out and hold on.


I know what is required of me.

I know what I have been asked to do.

I also know this heart, setting this rhythm here, is capable of more.

The prayer I pray and the answer I get both confirm.

Door shuts, paper slides.

And in the darkness, I pray a prayer that rises with the smoke.

One of those prayers only safe to pray in the quiet darkness of your own space.

Where no one else can hear.

The answer to the first will lead to the answer to the second.

I pile on the blankets, ward off the cold.

And ask for the return of something I'd scorned.

Prayer and truth linger.

In the silence, I hear so much.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mantras & Hiccups

I have a few mantras.  Larry taught me about those.  One of the greatest coping mechanisms I have.

A mantra is what gets me through a run.  Through an argument.  Through tears.  Through conversations with people who annoy me.

Simple and repetitive.  There's a good chance if you don't know what I'm thinking (which for some of you, is quite often) Im repeating something in my head that sounds like this:

Don't freak out.  Don't freak out.  Don't freak out.

I can do anything for (insert time frame here, i.e. "two weeks" "one semester" "today").

She's hurting.  She's hurting.  She's hurting.

For the longest time, I've been repeating a mantra to myself and teaching it to others, which I know to be more true than almost anything.

You teach people how to treat you.

I know them to be true.  Because I've seen it.  For the codependent, for the insecure, for the people-pleasing we must repeat these words to ourselves on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

My heart knows it.  My mind knows it.

Which is rare.  There's almost always a disparity between the two.  In this case, there's no miscommunication.  There's nothing lost in translation.  There is a strong, steady connection between what I logically know and what I feel.  The break comes in the action steps.  In the doing, rather than the saying.  In the steps, rather than the knowing.

I try my hardest to treat people the way I want to be treated.  I try and take care of people.  I try to encourage.  I try to motive.  I try to comfort.  I try to respect.

Again, if you don't know what I'm thinking, there's a good chance that my busy mind is watching you.  Figuring you out. Because you are important to me.  The barista, the bartender, the gas station attendant, the child, the teacher, my best friends.  You matter to me.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in this world who don't think, act, or live like this.

And very often I feel the repercussions of this broken world in that very way.

I don't do it in order for it to reciprocated.

Which is why this long-lived mantra, you teach others how to treat you, is so important.

In my subconscious I fight an eternal battle.  Metaphors run through my mind constantly.  Spinning tires, growing muscles.  Some days I feel like I'm waging a war while suffering from a case of emotional hiccups.

A hiccup is just a spasm in your diaphragm.  That's why just holding your breath doesn't work.  Why drinking water upside down makes you look silly.  And why scaring the hell out of someone almost always works.

I get the hiccups and I stop whatever I'm doing.  Put my hand on my stomach.  Breathe in slowly through my nose, hold it for a second, and then intentionally breathe out through my mouth.  Even as my diaphragm fights the spasm, it's fixing itself.  It's a rhythm thing, hiccups are.

Hiccups come when your body's lost its rhythm.

What do hiccups have to do with anything, you ask?

In our daily lives, hiccups show up everywhere.  They're the result of us losing our rhythm.

So daily, as I remind myself to teach people how to treat me, sometimes I lose my rhythm.

Especially with men.

Rephrase: especially with boys who think they're men.

I used to believe that no members of the opposite sex found me physically attractive.  This was a hiccup. A loss of rhythm, an untruth.  But I believed it.  It consumed me like the worst case of the hiccups always does.  Embarrassing.  Annoying.  Persistent.

On a consistent basis I was told that I had a beautiful heart, a great personality, but "he" (the multiple, "he"s) did not find me attractive.  These are the kind of hiccups that you forget about until you're about to speak, and then you release an awkward noise instead of words.

I found my rhythm again about a year ago.  Inhaled, put my hand on my proverbial stomach, and exhaled until I found it again.

But a new case of the hiccups found me not long after.  A different case.  The kind that hurt.

I know now this is not true.  That I have my own beauty.  In my own simple way I can be physically attractive.

The paradox, however, is I found the "men" whose eyes find me pleasing do not care about my heart.  My personality.  My character.  The most important, attractive characteristics I bear.  The paradigm shifted.  And I caught more hiccups.

You teach people how to treat you.

The teaching process is painful.  It means lots of loneliness.  An unprecedented effort to weed out.  It means hardening.  It means calluses.  It's education and preparation.

I look back to almost a year ago now, and I realize how little I knew.  What I have learned, through experience, observation, trial, and error, is invaluable.  But I paid a high price for it.

The only comfort I find in this mantra is it keeps things in my control.

At any moment, if I can muster up the courage, I can change my circumstances.

Granted, "change" means walking away.  It means a quiet shake of the head.  A break in eye contact.  It means moving his hand.  It means not even trying.  Not even responding.  It means walking through rooms where all, or not a single eye turns your way.

Those small actions sound easy.  But I've learned.  And I know.  You know too, if you've been here.  Those tiny actions, those small steps, set you apart.  They're the hardest to take.

And set apart is an unbelievably lonely place to live.


You teach people how to treat you.  By what you tolerate.  By what you require.  By the way you respond.  By the standards you set for yourself.  By the way you hope and the faithfulness in which you wait.

Exhale.  Slowly this time.  

Searching for the rhythm.  The rhythm set by your heart.  The pace set by your spirit.  

So internal.  Determined by only you.

Hiccup.  You use it to describe a minor setback in a plan.  A wrinkle.  A temporary disparity.

But sometimes hiccups last a long time.  A long, long time.

Then you breathe.

And they're gone.