This morning was a rough one.
We were up earlier than normal, because today is not just Homecoming but also Grandparents Breakfast Day. [Great planning, school district.] All of this meant that Adrienne woke up early, too, my parents — excited to go to breakfast with Annalyn, which is awesome — came by to pick up Annalyn, and we were all in my kitchen earlier than we even got out of bed before this school year.
On top of that I realized that a certain third-grader had swiped my mascara and used it on herself. And then lied about it, AS IF I DON’T KNOW THE EXACT LENGTH OF HER NATURAL EYELASHES.
And also-but-wait-there’s-more, my brother is moving to another city for a new job today, which is excellent news but also sad for all of us. Plus, today is the last day in a long week of dress-up as a FILL IN THE BLANK spirit days, and [did I mention?] I’m not as excited as a mom probably should be about cutting my work day in half to take two girls not known for their listening-and-following-directions abilities to a parade in our new hometown.
Like I said, it was a rough morning. I was generally grouchy, tensions and emotions were just under the surface for a variety of reasons, and early wake-up calls and ensuing chaos didn’t help any of it. So I feel I cannot be blamed for wanting to crank up my radio after dropping off the toddler at the babysitter’s house. I wanted to crank up some music and sing along, loudly, and think about nothing other than the speed limit and the clear sky outside my windshield.
Unfortunately, Africa ruined that for me.
After a few minutes on the oldies station singing about a small-town girl living in a lonely world (and remembering the glorious pilot of Glee, back before it was terrible), I pushed a couple buttons and landed on the classic country station. I heard Reba McEntire talking about her favorite song, “Fancy,” and how it took years and years to record it because its content made most people in the industry uncomfortable. I thought that was interesting but was glad when she stopped talking and the station played her song.
“Fancy” is one of my favorite car songs, because in real life (you know, with an audience) I cannot sing this one at all. Yes, I know the words and the rhythms and the notes, and yes, I can twang with the best of them, but my solidly alto voice sounds like an injured cat reaching and screeching for the high notes of that chorus. So, FINE, I won’t sing it for you — but I sure will belt it out in my car.
That’s exactly what I started to do this morning until my brain caught up with my mouth and I remembered just exactly what this song’s uncomfortable content is about. I sang at the top of my lungs until I unwillingly connected a couple dots between Mama buying Fancy a dancing dress with a slit in the side clean up to her hips … and … the term, “survival prostitution.”
Even though I’ve sung — and understood — every word of “Fancy” at least a hundred times, if not more, I’d never heard the phrase, “survival prostitution,” until I went to Kenya this summer. And while nobody told us detailed stories of specific girls forced into survival prostitution during our time in Kenya, I’d read and heard enough stories before that to understand exactly what those words meant.
But now, thinking about women being so desperate to take care of their families — to simply buy one jug of clean-ish water, to have food for one more meal, to have a blanket for the entire family to share — that they would send their oldest or prettiest or smartest daughter out, that they would sell her to take care of her younger siblings, that they would believe slavery is the only way? And thinking of not just faceless women doing this, but the very ones we met this summer, the ones we hugged and sat with and listened to and smiled at?
It’s too much. It’s not a clean, catchy country song about a sassy, plucky girl who turned her luck around, got her a Georgia mansion and never looked back. It’s a cycle, a prison, a hell on earth that even after witnessing parts of it, I cannot wrap my mind around.
So, obviously, I couldn’t finish singing “Fancy” in my car this morning. Instead I let myself cry and think about how this horrific thing is happening, how it’s not made-up, it’s not history, it’s not an exaggeration. I thought about how it happens there and it happens here, and I wondered what on earth I’m supposed to do about it.
I’d like to tell you that another song came on the radio and cheered me up or encouraged my tender heart or otherwise inspired me. I’d like to tell you that I came to a resolution of how I might make a difference in this world, or that I remembered all the good things happening and smiled. I’d like to tell you anything other than how going to Africa kind of ruined everything.
But I can’t.
What I can tell you is that in exchange for blissful ignorance, I’ve seen God’s beautiful handiwork firsthand. I’ve seen Him working and moving in places I had assumed were only dark and forgotten. I’ve seen His peace and joy reflected on faces that have known more real, ruined life than I can even imagine. I’ve seen redemption. I’ve seen hope. Africa has ruined some things, for sure, but it’s given me so much more.
Yes, some days it feels like Africa has ruined everything for me. Just like it kind of ruined church for me, and just like Ann Voskamp and the refugees ruined a Dierks Bentley concert for me last year (it’s hard to really enjoy a good ol’ boy let’s party kind of show after immersing myself and my heart in images and stories of refugees), and Compassion International and their blogger trips ruined sitting quietly while my husband watches shows about middle-aged white men spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on classic cars (I never really enjoyed car shows, but understanding global poverty means they hurt my heart instead of just boring me), Africa has ruined “Fancy” — and so many other things — for me. After all…
I can’t learn about the things happening in this world and stay the same.
I can’t look poverty and injustice and plain-out horrors in the face and go back to normal.
I can’t meet reality and pretend like it’s not a real thing.
This isn’t about feeling guilty, that I was born here and not there, with this family and not that one. This isn’t about guilt at all. It’s about perspective, and being open to change, and listening to what God is teaching me. And I guess it’s about finding a new normal. What was fun or acceptable or entertaining or desirable before (before I read the article, before I heard the story, before I took the trip) might not be for me anymore. And that’s okay. I’ll find my new normal and figure out how I can make a difference in this world I continue to open my eyes and see. Piece by processed piece, I’ll settle into this new knowledge of the world’s pains and the Lord’s promises.
Africa didn’t really ruin everything. Just some things. Like car auctions and flashy concerts…and catchy songs about prostitution.
For more stream-of-consciousness, heart-deep processing about my trip to Africa with Mercy House, click over to this post. To read a quasi-organized report, complete with Q&A, click over to this post. And if this reminds you that, oh yeah, you’ve been meaning to sign up for Fair Trade Friday (that monthly subscription of gorgeous fair trade items literally saving women’s lives around the world), click over to this site. And to learn more about Mercy House and the work it’s doing, click here.