she walks in beauty

When I left, my only expectation of myself was this: I will not close my eyes. And so I flew over a days worth away and went with eyes ready to see and hands ready to tell the stories. And knowing how crazy tired we were that week, it was a true miracle that the stories were seen or told at all. There was one night when I couldn’t lift my arms, couldn’t open my left eye. But I still, somehow, managed to write one last post, hit publish at 11 pm, crawl into the hotel bed, and wake up at 4 hours later to get to the airport in time to fly home.

Looking back at it all now, over a week later, I may have been at least seven shades of crazy to go at all. I kid. But we don’t say yes looking back, we only make decisions with eyes faced forward to the future. And looking back, I would still go again with my eyes open just the same.

I’m sure I’m having difficulty adjusting to being back home, but I haven’t the luxury of figuring that out yet. What is happening, it seems to me now, is that even though I had my eyes open while I was in the Philippines, I have had them tightly shut once I’ve arrived home. It is simply too much to bear. It isn’t just in the Philippines; the poverty is everywhere. I know so many of you have seen it in India and Guatemala and Haiti and Peru and the Dominican Republic and Mexico. And it’s also in its various forms in Florida and DC and Seattle and New York. So many of you have seen it so much more than I have. But seeing it once is all you need for a good shake up.

When I got the packet of information about the child I sponsor in the mail weeks before I left for the Philippines, the little paragraph under Stacey’s photograph told me she likes to swim and help her mother in the kitchen. I don’t know what I thought that meant, exactly. I guess I pictured them living in a house kind of like mine, only a lot smaller, of course. Maybe a Little House on the Prarie-like feel of a house; a one room cabin with a loft for the kids and a fireplace.

I know better now, because I have been there. I have walked down the dirty street to Stacey’s front door. Or at least, to her doorway. I don’t remember there being a door. I have passed through the “kitchen where she helps her mother”. As it turns out, Stacey doesn’t have a kitchen. She has some pots and pans, a few utensils, some rags. You can see it there in the photo – the mop is in her doorway and just to the right of it is where they keep their pots.

There isn’t a kitchen, and I can’t say I don’t know. And so since I’ve been back, I’ve read a whole book just for the fun of it. Also, perhaps, for the escape of it because “she helps her mother in the kitchen” is haunting me. Find me a fiction book. Lose me in a make-believe story, because babies are growing up in this world who have so little and I can’t take the knowledge of it. Slowly, I began to realize that Clara Carter, the heroine of my book, was making a discovery of her own, one that was uncomfortably similar to my own.

“And though I had never known this part of the city, I found I knew this place. I knew it from the pages of Mr. Riis book. This was how the other half lived. They lived here in this place that stank of overripe food and overripe flesh.”

-Siri Mitchell, She Walks in Beauty

It seems that God would not have me run too far away. It seems that He has ways of weaving truth and reality into even our most desperate attempts at fiction and pretend and escape. It seems He would not have me forget. And so I finished my book and I sat in the quiet and I realized I haven’t had much quiet since I’ve returned.  The quiet brings memories and memories bring tears. And then I realize all over again Great. I only have melancholy to share with my blog friends. Again.

But I cannot forget the sweet relief and the hope that showed up while I was there, the voice that whispered as I walked through the dirty street to Stacey’s doorway, Come. I want to show you what I’m doing. I want you to see where I’ve been. It was so clear, that voice, that I couldn’t help but smile as I walked. His Spirit brings beautiful into even the darkest places.

He sits with her on that bench while she works her word search filled with the names of the counties in Ohio. He watches her as she chases her dog Aang around on the always-wet pavement. He follows her as she walks into that dark house without a kitchen. He made her and He knows. He knows. She is not forgotten by Him. There is a grace that doesn’t give up and a love that does not turn away.

There is something really familiar about her, the way she is so much like my girls here even though she lives there. I continue to think of her as I peruse this lovely series my friend Amy is doing over at Playing Sublimely called The Mothering Daughters Experience. As I read these posts about what it means to mother daughters, I think of my girls and then I think of Stacey and how, in a very small way, I mother her as well.


  1. says

    Thanks for sharing this. “But we don’t say yes looking back, we only make decisions with eyes faced forward to the future.” So true.

  2. says

    Don’t ever feel bad about only having melancholy to share with us! You’re sharing your heart, and you’re sharing honestly, and there is nothing wrong with that. I have loved reading about your Compassion trip, and I love just as much reading about how you’re dealing with it to come back home. It’s never easy to return to “normal life” after going on a trip like that. Thank-you for being brave enough to truly tell us what you’re feeling!

  3. says

    “There is a grace that doesn’t give up and a love that does not turn away.”

    That grace and that love – is for you too, Emily.
    He is perfectly fine with your melancholy today.

    Praying you can be present in the moment today, and that you will see and feel and experience His goodness in great measure toward you.

  4. says

    oh so glad you share your heart. i wouldn’t keep coming back if you didn’t. experiences like your are god-ordained and for a purpose – to change our hearts and eyesight and hearing forever. not many have the platform or talent that you have for sharing. thank you.

  5. says

    Thank you so much for posting… this one and all the others too! I have utterly enjoyed (and have been challenged by) your honest posts about your trip. The first time I traveled to Uganda I returned home with so many questions and emotions I could not even categorize. I remember going to the mall a few months after returning and sitting in the parking lot in tears… only I couldn’t even articulate why they flooded my eyes. But God in His wisdom continues to use that experience for Him and for me and sometimes for others too. He has used your experience in the Philippines in our lives… so thank you for going, for telling their stories.

  6. says

    I’ll take your melancholy any day because it’s always sprinkled with hope and grace. { I’m so neck-deep in my own shades of melancholy these days, I can’t seem to share a thing. So see? At least you are productive in the midst of yours. : ) }

    This is a beautifully honest post. I’m so glad you’re sharing your process with us.

  7. says

    “…I sat in the quiet and I realized I haven’t had much quiet since I’ve returned. The quiet brings memories and memories bring tears. And then I realize all over again Great. I only have melancholy to share with my blog friends. Again.”

    : ) I know. Me too. For completely different reasons, but me, too. I think that’s why I read your blog – because we have much in common and it’s always good to hear from another who shares some of the same tendencies yet is also always being rescued by our merciful, gracious God. And the melancholy has to come out somewhere, doesn’t it? (which reminds me I’m overdue for getting it out of my system right now, too. Ahhh… maybe that’s why I’m sort of avoiding the Quiet.)

    Love you, Em. Praying for you as you and your family transition into summer and you find your footing again walking next to Christ in the world He’s placed you in.

  8. says

    What a gift to meet your child! I sponsored a Sri Lankan boy starting my senior year in high school, using some money my grandmother left me. Ranil grew from a boy to a young man those years I sponsored through college and my husband’s time in seminary. We were down to our $20 when World Vision told us Ranil had “graduated” from their program (and God’s timing allowed for some groceries before my next paycheck came).

    I still keep his seven-year-old picture in a frame on my bookcase.

    In the midst of the heartache, I hope you can cling to the things you know about Stacey and her world.

  9. says

    She walks in beauty…..I read this book a few months ago. It was so well written.
    Im not sure if this would be helpful for you but here goes. I was searching books suggested for artists on Amazon and it linked one that resonated deep within me. “The heart of the artist” by Rory Noland. I had clicked on the book to see an excerpt and page 17 was there for me…… reading it with tears streaming down my face he talks about the artist and the melancholy temperament. My husband continually reminds me how he loves the deepness of my heart, feelings, thoughts. But I fight it and am my own worst enemy. Noland speaks about artists being used to speak out, make us more sensitive for the downtrodden, lost……. We have a place. I know I am adding this book to my “I need” list, as God continues to do a good work in me. Using my gifts and talents to worship and glorify him who gave them to me. Keep up the good work. Keep putting the truth and the heart of it all into words and on paper. Allow it to be His gift to you, and others. Eyes to see……. really see.

  10. says

    Yes! This is the only reason I can go where He Leads: “His spirit brings beautiful into even the darkest places.”

    Your “melancholy” words point hearts to Him in the most graceful of ways. Thank you.

  11. says

    i have tears streaming down my face. He watches her and walks with us just the same… but He needs us to walk with each other. He needs us to be the voice that you were last week. thank you for taking us all along with you.

  12. says

    Oh Emily, I’m with you. I can’t get Denise’s house out of my head, either, especially as we packed up our house last week (the week after we returned from the Philippines). I noticed that the stack of our boxes was the size of Denise’s entire house. Our belongings, though few, could fill up Denise’s house from floor to ceiling, and then some.

    I can’t wrap my head around it well, either. And it’s affecting my writing, too, though in a good way (I hope). Yours is in a good way, too, sister.

    Praying for you, and for all of us.

  13. says

    Sweet Emily! I love your heart in your words. You are living through some grief – grief over what your young friend there lives, grief over your life here while she struggles (survivor grief)… praying the tender hand of God would help you through this transition back and the waves of the grieving you’ll do in response to your obedience to see “where He’s been and what He’s been doing.” Bless you for your courage. Hugs.

  14. says

    I don’t really have the right words to say about what you’re writing these days. Or more accurately, about how you’re writing. But I am experiencing it. And I hesitate before I click over here – because I know I need to be prepared for what I will receive. I don’t read here helter skelter. I come deliberate. Ready to receive.

    Thank you Emily.

  15. says

    Hi Emily,

    I started subscribing to your Blog while you were in the Philippines. It isn’t just melancholy you’re sharing with us, I’ve felt nearer to my sponsored children through reading this post. Helping in the kitchen, when they don’t have what we would think of as a kitchen. Yes; thinking about it, something like washing the dishes (so simple here) would take such effort there. I guess they’d have to go and get water, heat it on the fire etc. Thank you for being a voice for the children who live in these conditions. Seems to me you’re helping Compassion as much back home as you were when you were away.

  16. says

    Thank you for these thoughts, Emily. I so appreciate your honest sharing of your thoughts as you return. It is good to enter into the emotions of it all … and pray that God uses your experience to open our eyes even more to His heart for the poor.

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