Sunday, September 29, 2013

the year of the grasshopper

For the second time this year, I received my expedited passport in the mail.

And it's just in time, because for the second time this year, VoiceBox Media is going to Africa.

This trip to Ethiopia with Doma International has been on the horizon since early this year and now here we are: five-and-a-half-weeks from departure.

5.5 weeks until I leave Austin and embark on a journey of many airplane rides, a very long road trip, and a 6-mile hike with mules bearing luggage.

5.5 weeks until I'm embedded with a team of 12 medical professionals from all over the country while they set up medical clinics in rural mountain villages in and around Bora where an estimated 10,000 people live six miles from the nearest doctor.

5.5 weeks until I hear their stories, and the stories of the people they're serving.

5.5 weeks until I, with your help, have the opportunity to hand them a microphone: SPEAK. And bring their message back to you.

This trip, much like VoiceBox Media's last 10 months of existence, could not happen without you, and we still need support to make our storytelling mission in Ethiopia possible. Together we have raised $1,480 to cover the expenses of airfare to Addis Ababa - Ethiopia's capital city, and now we must join forces to raise $1,500 to supply my interpreter, food, lodging, a mule to carry my frugal luggage, and in-country transportation, including 14-16 hours in a van.   

Our journey with VoiceBox Media has been a series of leaps of faith and trusting; more trusting followed by another leap; provision at the precise moments we've needed it preceded by many prayers.

I don't prefer it this way.
I'd like to have everything today, because in truth, the leaps are scary. Trusting is uncomfortable because it means I am not in control and it means there is the possibility of failure.

It also means abandonment; it means leaning in to something greater than myself, and it means opportunities to create transformational partnerships with people like you.

It is a journey of faith, of grace-for-the-moment, of peaceful deliberation, and of holding on to purpose in the face of the unknown, even when I'd rather all the unknowns be known.


In the words of Amber Kaufman, Doma International medical coordinator and project director, "“It’s astounding how many people can be impacted by one reporter going to Ethiopia.”   

To support VoiceBox Media's trip to Ethiopia, you can:

1) Send a tax-deductible donation in the form of a check made payable to Doma International, and send to Doma International, P.O. Box 21987, Columbus, OH 43221 with my name (Holly Wise) in the memo line. 

2) Make a donation via Paypal through VoiceBox Media's website, or contact me for a physical address.

3) Purchase a handmade lap-sized quilt (cotton or flannel) for $75. All proceeds benefit VoiceBox Media's trip to Ethiopia, and all quilts are handmade by me.

Thank you for your prayerful consideration.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it's the only thing that ever has." — Margaret Mead

Monday, September 23, 2013

hair and head transformation

To read about my hair to shaved-head transformation, click here.

Sept. 2, 2013

Sept. 2, 2013

Sept. 20, 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

grateful celebration of turning {30}

In October 2012 I was driving from Kentucky back to Texas and I thought, "I want to return here for my 30th birthday party and I want to celebrate with some of my most favorite people."

Fast forward to September 2013 and that's what happened. 
When I look at the pictures from that weekend and when I think about being surrounded by that much love, I'm grateful.

I'm grateful for acceptance.
...for the friends who drove a lot of miles to get there.
And for the friend who flew across time zones.
I'm grateful for a friend's lake house and their inspiring generosity.
I'm grateful for the photos and the memories we created.
...for morning coffee on the floating dock.
...and for conversations till 2 a.m.
I'm grateful for falling asleep mid-sentence.
I'm grateful for the kids who sang me original birthday songs.
...for their handwritten notes and cards.
I'm grateful for the gifts my friends brought - the kind they knew would mean the most.
I'm grateful for laughing, for crying, for reminiscing and for creating.
I'm grateful for a town that is home, a campus that welcomes me the same as it did 11 years ago, and for streets that are as familiar to me as, well, home.
I'm grateful for the women who cradled me and for my mom who organized that surprise.
I'm grateful for our "love fest" and for the affirming gift-words we gave each other (I WAS SO EXCITED TO DO THIS!!)
I'm grateful for friends who couldn't come, but sent me a party hat.
...and homemade beer.
...and a beautiful letter.
I'm grateful for the football games that played, the football conversations, and the "hook 'em, Horns!" pictures with my 3-year-old friend.
I'm grateful for my mom who did most of the driving, for friends who watched Skye, and for the terrific boarder who cared for Tuck.
I'm grateful for the quilts I gave as gifts and for all the things they symbolized.
I'm grateful for sunsets over the lake, and for a sturdy deck with rocking chairs.
I'm grateful for turning 30. be living this new decade with so much love.
Y'all give me the warm fuzzies.
(and not in a moldy-kind-of-way)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

In the aura of community

“Love is the very difficult understanding that something other than yourself is real.” Iris Murdoch

Inside a little house on Sept. 20 a group of women met.
There was food and cucumber water.
There was a roll-y white chair and a lamp for lighting.
She sat down and shared with us: LOVE WINS.
And she took off her hat.
There was a documentarian and cameras rolling.
A horseshoe-shaped cluster of women enveloped her.
There was music playing: “You Make Beautiful Things.”
And there were voices joining in.
There were stories swirling around, and then the sound of clippers.
There were tears.
And smiles through the tears.
Pieces of hair fell freely to the floor, passing first through the loving fingers of the woman who cut it away.
There was laughter and silence and singing.
There were fist pumps, outstretched arms, cheers.
There were hugs, and head kissing.
There was rain.

This morning I’m rubbing my own near-bald head. I’ve been trying to come up with the words to introduce it to you, my friends.

I wanted to do this three weeks ago, but I wasn’t ready, so I didn’t do it.

My hair was long and I loved it that way. About two months ago, I had it trimmed. “Please take only enough for it to be healthy, but long.” Natalie cut barely four inches.

From the first day we received word of Brooke’s diagnosis, I knew that if she ever lost her hair, I would lose mine too. When that chapter of her journey began, I cut my hair off and donated 11 inches to Locks of Love.

A quiet inspiration spread from friend-to-friend. There was never fanfare, and every woman has her own story of why, how, when. Last night, conversations started based on, “Nicole, tell me your journey of how you came to make this choice,” and her story was powerful and unique. And then Sheree shared her jewel story. And Lynn and Annabelle.

Inspiration upon inspiration has built. When I look at my friends and their bald heads, I see pure, authentic beauty. I see bright eyes filled with peace, and I see confidence. My rough calculations indicate more than 50 inches of hair has been donated to Locks of Love.

I went to that little house last night in joyful anticipation. Lynn wanted to cut hers a little shorter, and so when the house started emptying and most everyone had changed into their comfy clothes, Lynn and I disappeared into the bathroom with Sheree and Natalie.

Sheree shaved my head. It was inspiration come full circle. She says my hair cut three weeks ago gave her confidence, and her willingness to follow her heart gave me confirmation of the nudge I’d been feeling. We laughed a lot and said things like, “You have a good-shaped head,” and “Your head is so soft, I just want to pet it all the time,” and “LOOK AT MY GORILLA-TUFT!”

About six months ago, a group of men and women met in that same little house.
Nicole. Brooke. Me. Lynn’s husband. Sheree’s husband. Nicole’s fiancĂ©.

We were going to Haiti together.
We talked.

I was impacted by their stories of why, how, when.

A lot of life has happened in the six months between then and now. The walls could tell you.
Bad news.
Good news.

But somewhere in all the chaos of life, beautiful things are being made.
The walls could tell you that, too.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

For the love of a friend

The #victorybirds!
I've competed in a few races with mostly one thing on my mind: can I beat my personal best? Can I shave off a few minutes, seconds?

Time was the last thing on my mind during Sunday's BrainPower 5K, and when we crossed the finish line 56 minutes after we started, the only thing we were celebrating was our beautiful friend who climbed out of the jogging stroller and crossed it with us.

Us. A team of 50 #victorybirds who ran and walked the 5K with her.
Her. She's a marvel to me. Her grace, vulnerability, grittiness.

Flying into the finish line!

There will never be a finish line that rivals this one, and if there is, I can't imagine it.

We approached the last stretch.

There was a long line of local high school cheerleaders cheering everyone down the home stretch, and crying as we victoriously passed them, joining in their cheers and celebration.

Hundreds of people were lined up near the finish line. We parked the jogging stroller and she grabbed the hands of two of the friends closest to her. The rest of us crowded in and near her. The sound of the 50 of us cheering was nearly deafening and the hundreds of people in front of us joined in.

By the time she pointedly crossed under the finish banner, everyone near us was crying.

There's a lot of love here.

 Whether it's walking the streets of Haiti together, strolling down an oncologist's hallway, or crossing a finish line, every step of this journey with this friend is a gift.

(photos courtesy of the friends who were busy with their cameras!)

Saturday, September 7, 2013


If you were to ask me 10 years ago what my bed would look like when I turned 30, its current state would not be my answer, which makes it a metaphor for how different real life is compared to expectations.

Not bad. Just different.

For starters, my bed is a nest and not an orderly sense of....anything. It's rarely made, outside of grabbing the edges of the sheet, blanket and duvet and spreading them haphazardly over the top of everything. I typically wouldn't even do this, but the dogs sometimes nap there and I draw the line at dog hair on my fitted sheets.

Speaking of sheets, mine don't match, and I have a random blue and yellow pillowcase that has nothing to do with one brown sheet, a maroon one, a cream blanket and hot pink duvet. Or the brown blanket, or the pink and brown spotted one, or the other green pillowcases. What the heck?

Yeah, crazy. I always figured myself for a matching-sheet-set kind of person, but now there's a comfortable element in my mismatched, imperfect sleeping gear.

It's not unusual for me to find Tuck's appropriated toys mixed in with the bedding.Oh lovely, your dental bone. And the shoe you stole from me. And your tug toy. If I'm lucky, I'll find them before I go to sleep. If not, then in the morning when every piece of bedding is rolled up into a human-shaped ball because apparently I'm a death-rolling alligator in my sleep.

Some nights I toss myself into bed diagonally because that's how I feel like doing it. And that's how my pillows were situated.

My bed can be a war zone, and the space closest to me the prize. My dogs still haven't reconciled who gets to spoon with me. I think they tried to work out a rotating schedule.

My mattress is actually the base of a fort. Do not think for one minute that I will not drag that sucker into the living room, surround it with chairs, and throw a bunch of blankets over it and the TV. No one should ever outgrow the thrill of a fort. 

Speaking of bed, here's the man who most often makes himself comfortable beside me while I'm reading, and then settles on the floor beside me when it's lights out:

I'm actually five pounds and you can't tell at all that I'm even up here.

Not exactly what I had planned, but sometimes life's expectations don't unfold as planned and, if you're like me, you're pleasantly surprised that what you have now is exactly what you need and your heart swells with gratitude for the life-journey you're on.

Different. Unexpected.
But fulfilling in only the way a messy bed that's rarely (properly) made filled with dogs and dog toys can be.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

my first act as a 30-year-old

Four months ago we were in Haiti together and she taught me how to French braid my hair.

Six days ago we were in her kitchen together and she pulled off her hat. "Wanna see my head?" I rubbed my fingers over the places her cancer treatment has bared. 

Three days ago I turned 30 and I cut off all my hair. Elevenish inches were donated to Locks of Love. 

Today (together) we're rockin' a new style.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Revolutionize. Play. Create. {repeat}

I’ve lived 30 years.

Not sure why, but something about that sounds…seasoned. As in, I’ve seen 30 years of gnarly shit and I can learn ya somethin’. Or, gather ‘round my creaky rocking chair while I knit socks and spin tales from a bygone era.

I was a wee miss living on a farm in Tennessee and I helped my mother train a Jersey cow to be a milker…when I wasn’t tending my flock of chickens.
There was a time when a blizzard (the worst in 50 years) knocked out power in the New Mexican Sacramento Mountains and we lived for something like 45 days off the light of oil lamps, the heat from a woodstove, and maintained sanity by putting together Jigsaw puzzles.

On a bitter cold day in the dead of winter, I took pictures of a bull’s swollen gonads and sent them via text message to my mom: “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH HIM?!”

I feel comfortable saying I’m entering my third decade with a concrete amount of animal reproductive knowledge (consistent denominator: foreplay), a fair dose of animal and human first aid (pressure first, exam later), a bit of heavy-equipment operation (move all gears and throttles SLOWLY), no sense of direction (“Mom, I’m on the road to Chicago…am I supposed to be in Memphis?”), a healthy amount of survival skills (if push ever came to shove and I had to, you know, live outside for upwards of 24 hours), enough stories to write a book (oh…wait…), and just a few bits of advice for the wee-babes still swaddled in the innocence of their 20s.

I said: a few. Don’t get your hopes up for the 30 Pieces of Advice from Holly, or the 30 Things Holly Thinks You Should Know, or Here’s the 30 Things I Learned From Birth (which I don’t even remember) to Now. No. None of that.

In all honesty, your twenties can be a real bitch. Mine had their moments. I mean, there were glamor shots and celebrations, but every victory seemed to be precluded by a shit-ton of effort, and at the risk of sounding clichĂ©, there’s so much discovery that goes into being a 20-something. You know what I mean. (Code for: I’m not spelling out all the awkward moments of self-discovery that bereft you in your 20s, because you’re probably tracking with me, right? And if not, you’re probably 19).

But I digress.

Bit of Advice #1: It’s not about how many friends you have, it’s about having ones you can call after you’ve decided to put your best-loved family dog to sleep and you need someone to tell you you’re making the right choice while you’re sitting on the toilet crying snotty sobs, and have a friend who stays with you on the phone while he dies.

I implore you to have your ‘voice of reason’ friends – the ones who will talk you off your crazy ledge and convince you that, no, in fact you don’t need ANOTHER dog from the pound, and yes, sign up for another round of eHarmony, because you deserve to get excited about emails in your inbox from strangers who you’ll probably never meet in person.

You need at least one or two friends who are dirtier-mouthed than you, and who laugh at you when you say the “f” word (“Every time you say it, I just laugh”). Have friends who will never hear you curse. Ever.

You need friends to dance Cupid’s Shuffle with approximately one million times, friends who get just as excited as you do over your handmade bookcases and quilts, and a friend or two who makes fun of you.

Please have a friend who challenges you. It wouldn’t hurt if they all did. They should challenge your beliefs, your way of thinking, your sensibilities. Let them push you to be a better person, to take a few chances, to say yes when (maybe) you should say no, and, at all costs, to move forward, but if you need to cry over a glass of wine first, that’s OK.

Have friends who are a bit ahead of you in their life-journey (they can help light the way), and a few friends who are a bit behind you.

Let them teach you how to resolve conflicts and how to stay friends when miles, transitions, careers, families separate you.

Be the kind of friend who goes running to your friend's side in the middle of the night (it's gonna happen), and who volunteers to whoop some ass on behalf of your girl-possee. Just. Be an awesome friend.
Love your family ferociously. So much that it hurts. Be true to yourself.

Bit of Advice #2: Educate yourself. Maybe college isn’t your thing. That’s cool. But never stop learning.
Read books. Real books. From a library.

If you’re curious about something, research it, answer your own questions, don’t rely on some other brainiac to give you the deets. Be nerdy. And if you do graduate from college with a couple degrees, buy yourself a gigantic dictionary. Never stop learning.

Learn about your heart, too. Ask yourself the tough questions and love yourself enough to answer honestly. Get a therapist. Your insurance should pay for one and if it doesn’t, you can work it in your budget. I’m doing it.

Learn how to be healthy and learn what your body needs. Remember to take care of yourself in all ways: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, sleepually, sportsually.
Bit of Advice #3: Get the hell up outta yo momma’s crib. Just don’t ever say you won’t be back. And if you do go back (for whatever reason that’s unknown to you when you leave college all giddy and fresh-faced), know it’s probably one of your better hook-ups. I’m not gonna say you get free cable and shit, but there are perks.

First, though, live on your own. Set up your own house or apartment or cardboard box. Realize that streaming YouTube videos 24/7 actually costs something, and that your cell phone is not a basic human right. It’s frickin’ expensive as hell and guess who has to pay for it now?

I don’t care if it’s by the skin of your teeth, learn to be independent. Cook extravagant dinners for one, figure out how to put the electricity in your name, and when the budget doesn’t allow for cable, bunny ears, or a DVD player, be perfectly content scouring the junk stores for used VHS tapes.

Bit of advice #4: Explore everything. Visit a random middle-of-nowhere-town in a rainstorm. Go somewhere just to say, “Oh yeah, I’ve been there,” or “So there was this one time, I went…” Find your dream house, and then make an appointment with the realtor just to dance circles in the living room and pretend that it’s yours. Check up on it regularly to make sure it hasn’t sold (it’s totally waiting for you).

Explore faith and religion. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid of the answers.

Leave your hometown, your county, your state. See what the sun looks like when it sets over the Texas landscape, and smell a New Mexican thunder storm. Swim in as many bodies of water as possible and whisper to yourself, “You’re in the Caribeean Sea off the coast of Haiti,” or “This is your favorite lake, this Kentucky Lake.”

Travel the world. Chase an adventure. Go somewhere alone. Spend the night in an African airport. Don’t be afraid of people who speak a different language. Participate in broken-English conversations. Get lost…repeatedly.

Make spontaneous plans. Do them. Leave your camera at home once. Train your mind to capture the memories: the sights, the sounds, smells, what you were wearing, what the moon looked like.
Do things just to say you did.

Explore relationships. Don’t rush. Buck societal traditions; it’s liberating to be 30 and single. Follow your journey.

For all their grueling, sometimes sadistic, mostly necessary, and always lesson-worthy twists, turns, bumps, hallelujahs and let’s-get-the-good-times-rolling, my 20s were made to remember from the perch of my 30s where I’m told life “kinda evens out,” and “you have a better handle on where you’re going and how you’re getting there.” That could be a bunch of horsepooey. We’ll see.

At any rate, I’m as thrilled as a BCS National Football champion to be turning 30. I.Am.So.Excited. For reals. I think I laid it all on the line in my 20s, and my only expectation for this new decade is that I live it as fiercely and as scaredshitlessly as I did the previous.
“We are too young to realize that certain things are impossible... So we will do them anyway.” ― William Wilberforce