I took my 1-year-old on a mission trip. Here’s what happened

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It’s a scene no mother envisions: your 1-year-old child running barefoot through a church made of two double-wides in the middle of West Virginia. And, yet, this is a quintessential moment from my first mission trip with my daughter.

To be honest, it was a beautiful sight. You see, in coal country, there is an emerging trend to combat vast unemployment, uncomfortable outside aid, and limited access to essential services.

Cease having children.

When I agreed to join this service opportunity, I didn’t realize that my little girl would be the youngest child I would encounter on the trip. I live in the Deep South, and babies are everywhere. But this is not true in the heart of Appalachia, and it would be my daughter who gave this community what I could not: hope.

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Family, at All Costs

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When I was single, I indulged in Hemingway. I have always been equally fascinated and repulsed by his life. His words – the ones that alcoholism and recklessness produced – sang to me a song my heart knew so well: Love hurts.

Early in my blogging journey it became clear to me that I was no Hemingway – that the kind of sacrifices famous writers have made were no option for me.

My family will always win.

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Meeting the Deplorable

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“My insurance is gonna run out soon. Truman promised to take care of us.”

When you’re immersed in Appalachia, this statement translates quite easily: I used to work in the mines.

But the coal industry that sustained life in West Virginia – and, if we’re honest, the rest of America – is now idle. Caught in the political crosshairs, tens of thousands of men and women are now without work.

The local pastor with whom our mission team recently served was quick to redirect our sympathy: “I can’t even go through a metal detector – I got metal in my knees and hip!”

It was a light moment before the grim reality of the region intensified: There is no money.

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Mountains Beyond Mountains

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I don’t believe loving someone is ever easy, especially when it’s a stranger.

Yesterday, I shared a piece I wrote the day after Election 2016. Emotions were high, much of our nation was baffled, and experience reminded me that loving people is complicated.

But, just three days later, the hand I was dealt was angry, white, and male.

And for the very first time, I absorbed hatred in the presence of my children.

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Descending the Ivory Tower

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My uncle is a plumber. To the average American, there is nothing exceptional about his life.

One Christmas, when our extended family still gathered for the holidays, my uncle was late. At the time he was working for a highly-esteemed university in our community.

The reason for his tardiness that particular year? He had been called in to shovel snow off of campus sidewalks.

I remember staring at him in disbelief. “But it’s Christmas.”

“Well,” he explained with an air of resentment, “those professors gotta have clear sidewalks so they can do their work.”

What I didn’t realize then was that this division – between the haves and the have-nots – was bigger than Christmas lunch that year. That it would only grow in the years to come. And that it would forever change our political landscape.

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The Ugly Years

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Just before I graduated high school, I got this amazing idea: chop off all of your hair (think Mandy Moore c. 2003). Ashamedly, I did not have Locks of Love in mind. No, I was entirely selfish.

I wanted a new start.

You see, hair has always been my calling card. I have never dyed or treated my hair and somehow – by the blessing of God – I maintained golden locks for the first three decades of my life.

My mother’s experience, however, would foreshadow my own: blonde until babies. And, right on time, I gradually lost my sun-kissed signature hair in the years following childbirth.

But it was impossible for me to predict the other changes that were simultaneously emerging – the widening hips, the spider veins, and the wrinkles.

The ugly years, without my consent, had arrived.

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