Tag Archives: gratitude

Ethiopia, Day 11: What Separates Me from You?

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Do our children in the West matter more than the sweet ones I work with here in Ethiopia?

It’s a question that plagues me as I see children who cannot go to school here. Or my sweeties I teach who would not be in school if not for generous people donating anything from $5-$20 and more.

day11-7Those donations don’t just show up. People who give a voice to these precious ones have to pound the pavement asking. I don’t consider this aid; I consider it equality. To me, it is saying my child in America does not matter more than one born in a place where education is not for all. It’s saying you — these dear, sweet children in Africa — DO matter.

What makes you alive? What separates me from you? These questions are forefront in my mind when I work with kids so poor you truly can’t imagine. I know many parents in my home country, and I have a wonderful set myself. There is little they would not do for their child; the bond is inseparable and remarkable. I think of what it must feel like for a parent to not be able to send a child to school or provide for their beloved one for a variety of reasons, from death to where and to whom they were born.

It is not my intention to be dark about the situations I see — there is so much we could learn from these precious little ones and their community — but I’m simply sharing my thoughts. You cannot come here to Ethiopia and not be changed and moved by the duality of the beauty, joy and loveliness and the extreme poverty and injustice.

No matter how much time I spend here — and this is my eighth trip — every time is new. I am never used to it or unaffected. I am as moved by how lovely, kind, open and generous in spirit the people are as how it makes me feel to see a parent want basic human rights for their child.

day11-6These are my experiences as I work with the children, my thoughts. But I cannot sign off without telling you the incredible joy of sharing, exchanging and creating with them. It’s done with an innocence, a lack of entitlement and a desire to learn that I cannot stress enough is a contrast to what I have seen in my own country. That makes me sad for us, sad for America, and I wish Ethiopia could offer us aid in these ways.

The children were brilliant, and I felt joy about my partnership with Ethiopia Reads. They are really doing amazing work here in Ethiopia. Education is hope. May you all be grateful today, not for what you have but for the opportunity to author your own life, an opportunity that is not a foregone conclusion. It’s one your education played a large part in, and may we all pause to consider that things do not bring happiness — only attitude can do that!

With gratitude,
Stephanie

Interested in supporting education in Ethiopia? Click here to donate, or “like” my Facebook page to see daily featured SSA items, 100% of proceeds from which will go to Ethiopia Reads!

40 Days of Giving Thanks

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heartGratitude is the best place to begin and end, isn’t it? No matter the circumstance, gratitude is always a good idea. Right around my 30th birthday, the idea of birthdays changed for me. The “me-centered,” gift giving, party-driven theme just didn’t fit. What felt more true was to use the date as a time of reflection to look back and give thanks, learn from mistakes and look forward to coming goals, dreams and ambitions.

This year, I have the blessing of turning 40, and how do I feel about that? A overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for a really great life, bumps and all. Grateful for where I am. Grateful for dreams and reflections. To celebrate the occasion, I am committing to 40 days of giving thanks. My actual birthday is Aug. 12, but I’m using Aug. 1 as a kick-off point. I’d be humbled and honored if you join me.

Here are a few things I am thankful that 40 years of life have thought me:

  • There is no “me.” We are all connected and one can not flourish alone. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a village to live a life, and, most definitely, no one succeeds as a island. Every great person I know has a team along with them to champion them, encourage them, believe in them — and sometimes carry the load. Thank you to all my champions.
  • The present moment is all there is. It’s been said so many times before because it is true. Yesterday is history and tomorrow hasn’t happened. Come back to today. When you make art, this becomes even more apparent: You have to be so present with the process. Art isn’t math; it’s not about a formula to achieve a predictable result. It’s more a dance, and improvisation becomes important. So does not judging yourself.
  • Art changes lives. It has that power, and it embodies the miracle of creation all at the same time. While it is greatly undervalued in our culture, I feel lucky — no, unbelievably blessed — to live a life dedicated to art: making it, educating in it, and generally promoting its joy and depth.

All of this gratitude doesn’t turn a blind eye to the struggles and hardships of life. Life is indeed hard. It’s also as hard as you make it. It’s filled with ups and downs. While the making of art is my passion, I would be doing you, my readers, a disservice to pretend it flows out of me like a fountain. Sometimes it’s an all out wrestling match, and I don’t win. Every day, in fact, there are struggles with the paint/canvas and myself. We argue, I get distracted, check my email way too often, worry about the “business”  side of things. I try really hard to not judge this and just accept it is the way of things.

While I am committed to 40 days of giving thanks, I will do my best to share some of the struggles as well, because I think all too often, we are not honest with each other about the difficulties. We are all left feeling alone, and like perhaps we are the only ones who wrestle with this or that. Let’s together also give thanks for the struggles.

With humble thanks, I invite you to join my journey here and on Facebook, and together we will give a whole lot of thanks! I invite you to share with me what you are thankful for, and let’s see if we can start a mini revolution of gratitude!