Some things I learned while abroad

20170629_103555Just as a prelude, it’s not helpful to ask someone “How was [X country]?” if they spent an extended time abroad. How on earth am I supposed to tell you how my 6 weeks in South Africa were in a way that encompasses everything important and isn’t too long that you’ll get bored by my answer? Not that it’s a bad question, but some better questions that people have asked me were, “What were your favorite and least favorite things you did there?” “What were your living arrangements like and your opinions of those?” “When were you most afraid?” My personal favorite question (asked by the lovely and insightful Marianna) was “what did you learn while you were abroad?” So, I will answer that question in blog format because it does encompass a lot of the big things I did ther.

  1. I learned that I adapt well to new situations. I mostly knew that already, but I could see it very clearly while abroad. I would say things like, “Well everyone here speaks English, so I don’t feel like it’s that different from home,” which is actually kind of comical, now that I think about it. South Africa isn’t ridiculously different from the US, but there is much more nuance to it than I was giving it credit for. But beyond that, I learned that because I make a home quickly, I became uncomfortable by the same things that would make me uncomfortable here at home. I have a whole post about this coming soon, so that’s all I’ll say about it for now.
  2. I learned ways that I have contributed to making people of color feel uncomfortable in spaces, things that I now can change to go against that. Like, even if I do not verbalize (to others or even just to myself) judgments against something important to people of color (a style of music, for example), my face can show judgment, making me unapproachable. But the goal is not just to make myself approachable for people of color but to humbly approach them, relinquishing the power I hold in white-majority spaces to become a true ally. Obviously, there’s a whole lot more than that, but that piece stood out to me the most.
  3. I learned that I respond very strongly to natural beauty. I really enjoyed our rural homestay (pictured above), even though we had to kill cockroaches, we had to use long-drop toilets, and bathing was a major struggle. But for me, the natural beauty of our surroundings made that all worthwhile.
  4. I don’t really want to teach. I saw the future teachers around me light up in classrooms and dream about the day when they would be in charge of their own classrooms. But that didn’t happen to me. More often than not, I felt uncomfortable with the learners. But hey, it’s helpful to know what I don’t want to do!
  5. On the flip side, I really loved being able to talk with adults about anything and everything. One of the most impactful experiences I had was a 2-day initiative we did with a prison rehabilitation program in an actual prison. I saw life there, I saw humanity there, I saw regret and redemption there. Those robust conversations were incredible, and I’m going to look for ways to do something similar when I go back for my last year at university. (more about this experience will come, don’t worry!)
  6. I learned a new reason to have hope in God and the gospel. I had my closest moment with God not in a big church or among “impressive” people; I saw God most clearly in the face of poverty on a day that I had lamented not understanding how I could have hope in God. This is also a really big, complicated story (that may one day grace this blog—we’ll see!). Feel free to ask me about it.

That’s it for now, friends! More will be coming soon!


Ears to Listen and a Heart that Wants Change

Sometimes I just can’t deal with how much privilege I have.

Oh, hey guys, I should probably give more of an intro than that. It has been several months since my last post. I’ve finished my first semester of college and wondering where the time went and where it will go. I’ve learned a lot, about myself, about others, and about normal things like chemistry and such. And as usual, I’m blogging to procrastinate working on an application. But hey, it’s actually due in January, so I’ve got plenty of time to procrastinate.

One thing I wasn’t expecting about college, other than how quickly it all fell into routine, was how discouraged I would feel. No, nothing huge and terrible happened. There were just days when I felt like I couldn’t handle school or studying science, not many days, but it did happen. I cried for people I didn’t know and for people I did know. I read so many articles that broke my heart and not just the viral ones. I had to question how it could be possible that people could do such terrible things to each other. I’ve wondered where the goodness in the world was and if it could be truly good.

And I did find goodness. In cute animals and dancing and kind strangers and the understanding testimonies of people who have felt burdened for the world in the same way I have (seriously though, cute animal videos are the best). So I’m okay. I’m excellent, actually. The funny thing about me is that I haven’t really suffered at all myself. I just suffer for other people, and that can be surprisingly painful. But yeah, I’m good. Because I have hope, and I see goodness, and I have an idea of what I want to do with my life (crazy, right?). I have emerged triumphant from my short spell of melancholy.

And I come back to my opening sentence. Because even though I am okay, there are so many people who aren’t. And I feel like I don’t really have the right or the experience to write this post, but I’m going to anyways. Because I want to speak out. I don’t want to be someone who just sits on the sidelines hoping for things to get better but not doing anything about it. I have so much privilege, and sometimes I just can’t deal with it. Because even though I’m an empathetic person, I will never actually experience certain types of discrimination, such as racism.1507593_1013346725359142_141624265100650192_n

Sure, my life won’t be completely rosy. I will probably experience gender discrimination, and money has always been a bit of an issue. Not that it’s a big deal. There are many people who have it much worse than I do. And I feel like it’s helped me to be less attached to material things. But anyways, that’s not the point.

The point is that I am a straight, white Christian (see my post about religious privilege here). I’ve never been super burdened about racial issues, and you can see that in the fact that the post I wrote about privilege was about religion, not race. I don’t really have any gruesome anecdotes, harsh realities, or even inspiring stories about racial issues. All I know is that people are hurting and even dying, and that’s a problem.

As I’ve said, I really don’t have anything to bring to the table except ears to listen and a heart that wants change. And hopefully, when the time comes, hands and feet that are willing to act. As with religion, I think it’s important to articulate where I am privileged and do what I can to help those who don’t have that privilege. And I guess that’s where I am right now. And I hope that’s okay.

Brianna Kathryn Meeks

I’m signing with my real name because I don’t want to pretend to hide behind a fake name (most of you know my real name anyway).

A Light in the Darkness

I realized that I’ve talked a lot about the good things of humanity: our desire to create art, our ability to love, and many others. But I haven’t talked much on the darkness in humanity. Because, to put it quite plain, we aren’t perfect.

Yesterday, I cried. I cried when I heard the news of the terrible, awful shooting in Connecticut. I’m sure you’ve heard it, and if you’re like me, you probably cried, too. And now, as I browse through my news feed on facebook, I see lots of people with honest emotions about the situation. But some of them bother me. “That man who did that was a monster and nothing less!” I disagree with that. He was a human being, a person. I’m not trying to make an excuse for what he did; it blows my mind how somebody could put it in their heart to do such a thing. But he’s still a person. 

In this situation, there are a lot of people to pity: the children who died, their families, the other people who died, their families, the children who survived that will be traumatized by this. Nobody seems to think of the gunman himself. I cannot imagine what it’s like to be in such a state of desperation and hopeless that would make it okay to do a thing like that. I pity him. But he’s still a person.

People think they’re invincible, that even though bad things may happen to them, humanity on the whole is pretty good. We make masks for ourselves to pretend that everything’s all right. But situations like this make us realize how truly BROKEN humanity is. How broken WE are. But we try to make people live up to our expectations. And often, those expectations are of perfection. That’s why we judge people so easily. I mean, that’s what people did of this man. We judged him by the one bad deed we had heard of but didn’t try to see the world from his point of view. (Once again, I’m not trying to make an excuse for him; I’m just trying to create an easy illustration.) But we also fall prey to the expectations of perfection. We give ourselves to everyone’s image of perfection and when we look  in the mirror, we don’t even recognize ourselves. 

Now I’m feeling dreary. Where’s the solution?!? Is there an answer?!? How do we escape from this dark destiny we’ve created for ourselves?!? 

Personally, I have hope. Because I’ve been loved and saved by God, I know that there is a brighter future for us and that Christ already gave the solution. I know a lot of people don’t have that hope. And I pray for them. I pray for you, whoever you are, because we can always be blessed by God, whether we’re saved or not. 

Thank you,

Epylle Spydre

Drowning in Hope

Guess what? I have officially been blogging for a week. It’s pretty exciting. Not that you care, but it’s still pretty fun. Now, onto the lovely topic of hope.

I wanted to talk about hope today. I was also thinking about talking love or joy or peace or something else like that, but I felt led to talk about hope. Besides, I feel like hope is a bit misunderstood by people. I think this, because at one point in time, I didn’t understand it very well. So, off we go! Hopefully this will be enlightening, both for you and for me.

Whenever I talk about just one word, I like to get a dictionary definition. However, I didn’t like any of the definitions the dictionary gave me, so I’m not going to give you any of them. The hope that I’m talking about, in my own words is “not having to be afraid, because you know there’s something better”. Yup. Pretty much. And while this may seem obvious, it’s the opposite of hopeless. And you’re looking at me like I’m stupid. No, seriously, it’s easier to define hope as the opposite of hopeless rather than give you twenty million definitions of the actual word. I can tell you’re still kind of skeptical. Here we go.

What does hopeless mean?? The dictionary actually gives us some good words for this (there are some others, but I liked these ones the best, because they show my point), “beyond optimism, despairing, feelings of futility, of passive abandonment to one’s fate”. Aha! Now there’s an interesting idea. Passive abandonment to one’s fate. Let’s say, for example, that you are drowning. You went down to the river by yourself, and you are jumping on rocks, ’cause you’re just silly like that. Then, you slip, fall, and in the water you go! Unfortunately, the river’s very swollen and you’re not the best of swimmers. As you’re drowning, you remember that your mother told you never to do this, and you feel a pang of longing for her. For somebody, at least. But you want your mother, because she makes you feel safe. Water goes in your mouth, you can’t breathe, and you finally accept the fact that your mother isn’t coming for you. You are (I bet you can guess what word I’m going to use) hopeless. And that would be correct, at least in my book it is.

Unfortunately, I just used a bad example, because most of us aren’t drowning every other day (but that part is fortunate, I’m not saying it’s unfortunate that people don’t drown every other day). People do feel hopeless almost every day of their lives, however. Not everybody, but a lot of people. I’m sure this has happened to you: he doesn’t even know my name, oh gosh, how will I be able to explain my grades to my parents?, totally BLEW that audition, what am I going to do with my life now?? These are melodramatic, but we do hear it almost every day. It doesn’t make any sense, because, as with the last example, just because you messed up an audition doesn’t mean you have been sentenced to death and your life is over. Some cases of these melodramatic scenes are the ones who are hopeless, and there are countless of others. I have met people who feel completely alone, and their aching body does nothing to comfort that fact. I have met people who are so plagued by their past, and they can’t. LET. IT. GO. It’s sad, awful actually, especially since I can’t help them with it. I’m reading a book in English right now (summer school, and no, I didn’t fail) called The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien about the Vietnam War. Just reading the first chapter weighs me down with a deep and utter feeling of hopelessness, and I hate it.

You see, I have been given hope. We were talking about hope, remember? And it’s no big feature of my own, it’s a gift from God. Hope, in my definition, is being able to be in those situations where you have every right to be hopeless, but you say, “There is something better.” This isn’t the last straw. I may feel broken right now, but I’m holding out for something better. I’m not afraid, because my hope is in a higher power. I’m not trying to preach here, I’m just trying to tell the truth. I have hope in God, and because of that, I never have to be afraid. I never have to worry if I just ruined my life or worry about what the future is going to be like. I don’t have to wallow in pain and guilt when something bad happens. When circumstances tell me to abandon myself to my fate and wallow in self-pity, I can say, “No. I have hope that there’s something better. Because nothing can take away the promises the Lord has given me. Even death is only a small trifle when compared with the everlasting life I will have after. When death is the worst thing that can happen to me, why should I be afraid?”

Let’s go back to the drowning example. Because I have hope, I can say, “I’m drowning. But that’s not the worst thing that could be happening to me. I could be burnt at a stake or tortured slowly. Hey, at least I had this chance to live, even if it was only a small chance. I may die, and I mean, there is a small chance that someone will find and rescue me, but I’m not afraid.” That is what hope is. Hopelessness is abandonment to fate, but hope is abandoning the present and looking forward to the future. And that definition works for anyone, no matter what god you believe in, or even if you don’t believe in one at all.

Epylle Spydre