The Friday Five

As the International AIDS Conference wraps up today in Washington, DC, here are five memorable voices from my time there.

1. Ibubetaylor,  13-year-old girl from Nigeria

I was born HIV free. Thank you, Mom. I don't understand why other children are born with the virus and why they are still without treatment. I want all children to be born just like me, free of HIV. Please let us make this world an AIDS free generation.

2. Dr. Jim Kim, President of the World Bank

The end of AIDS is actually something within our reach. My pledge to you is that the World Bank will work tirelessly to drive the AIDS fight forward until we win. Strong partnerships with civil society that delivers results for the poor will be a signature for my service with the World Bank. 

3. Annah Sango, 24-year-old HIV positive woman from Zimbabwe

We are getting tired of repeating ourselves. Why do so many of the same old problems still exist in women and girls accessing the treatment and care that they need? Why are women still marginalized in terms of resources? Why is there failure in speaking out against violence against women? HIV thrives when gender inequality and poverty combine. Include us in this conversation. 

4. Bill Gates, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Even if you take the most efficient way at doing this work, the number of people will increase in who needs to be on treatment. There [currently] aren't enough funds. The world will have to make a decision on how much these lives matter.

5. Pernessa Seele, CEO and Founder of The Balm in Gilead

Ask God to give us courage to uphold the spiritual law of grace, amazing grace. And this amazing grace is for EVERYONE. That God's grace is present in everyone and for everyone. Our ultimate partner is the one who has called us to do this work. Calling is to manifest wherever we are amazing grace. And that amazing grace flows for everyone everywhere. 

The Tapestry of Broken People

This week I walked through the Washington DC convention center filled with people who didn't look like they belonged to one another. Millionaires in business suits. Students in jean shorts. Women in saris and sandals. Muslims with head scarves. Gay men with AIDS ribbons. African bishops with collars. Politicians, NGO workers, musicians, rabbis, children, doctors, journalists, sex workers, pastors, scientists. There were more than 20,000 people from every corner of the world who convened together because they actually did have something in common: fighting AIDS. 20120726-230435.jpg

HIV/AIDS has devastated our world. It is the cruelest of plagues that mocks the immune system, breaking it down so that it cannot survive basic infections that a healthy immune system could naturally fight. Worse than that, it carries with it a social stigma that most HIV positive people would claim is more personally and emotionally excruciating than the actual physical effects of the disease. The virus has taken millions of mothers, fathers, children and friends and has left a continent of orphans in the rubble of loss and grief. There is no current vaccine and there is no cure.

And yet, there has been so much progress since HIV/AIDS entered our human world 30 years ago. Today, HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. It is a chronic disease that can be managed with the proper treatment, care and support. Today, an HIV positive woman can prevent passing the virus to her baby. Today, many people living with HIV/AIDS can be open about their status without being ostracized by their communities. Today, it is completely reasonable to believe in achieving an AIDS-free generation. This is REMARKABLE.

We are at tipping point in the fight against HIV/AIDS and we cannot back down. There are still too many people who do not know they are carrying the virus; too many people who don't have access to the life-saving drugs; too many girls and women who can't protect themselves from sexual violence; too many nations that have backed down in financial commitments to the Global Fund; too many fears by people who struggle to move past judgment.

Because HIV/AIDS affects the physical, social, emotional, spiritual and economical health of a person and a community, the fight against HIV/AIDS has required scientists, activists, corporations, development workers, philanthropists, healthcare providers, economists, congregations, and many, many others. They are as diverse as they come. Some of them have been working toward the end of AIDS since it first showed up 30 years ago. And some of them have recently joined the fight with fresh energy and passion. Some of them HIV positive. Some of them HIV negative. All of us HIV affected.

And as oddly matched as we all may seem, it is a beautiful tapestry of broken people who are bound by a relentless commitment to reach the end of HIV/AIDS; and I am so proud to be one of them.

The Friday Five

Here are five photos to share for the week: 1. Marsabit District is populated by pastoralists who move around the desert of northern Kenya. The curved branches on the camels assemble into a dome, and they lay materials over the structure to create their homes.


2. AIDS Support Group in Torbi, Kenya. The woman on the very far right in the blue dress and gold earrings is Clara, our fearless leader and nurse who ensures that those who are HIV positive are receiving proper care and support.


3. Paloma Grace, our 4-month-old niece has made it strongly through an open heart surgery and another follow-up surgery. We are overjoyed to see photos and hear that she is thriving.


4. The Sound of Music (well, kind of). The wonderful group I traveled with to Rwanda all agreed that one of our co-travelers, Susan, looked and acted just like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music. We had just finished attending a special Rwandan celebration (note the lime green dresses) and went to Lake Burera for lunch. We had Susan, a guitar, a scenic background and "play clothes" and therefore couldn't resist staging this photo.


5. Community Health Visits in Lwala, Kenya. The woman in red is Lilian, a new mother of twins. The woman in the back is Sheila, the community health worker who has supported her through pregnancy, delivery and post natal care. The baby in the picture is Godfrey.


When a Homeless Man Changed My Life

I believe that God speaks to us in the everyday moments of our lives - the people we pass by on the street, the whispers of heaven through a quiet walk in the woods, the glimpses of new perspective that come from the simple art of paying attention. When I was nine, I met a homeless man who changed my life. He stood alone on a San Francisco corner with a droop in his face and an ache in his voice. He was hungry.

I couldn't stop thinking about him while I was out to dinner with my mom, and I stared at my food like it didn't belong to me. I wrapped my hamburger up and walked back to give the hungry man my dinner. We walked street after street in search for him, but we never found him. Since then, I have been walking through life looking to know more people like him.

When I was 13, I regularly snuck out of church to hang out at the city park with my homeless friends. I'd buy them a sandwich from Subway or Arby's and listen to their stories. I learned that there were countless hungry bellies and beaten souls out there, and that life is a battle for so many.

When I was 15, I showed up to volunteer at the Red Cross shelter and they were so short on help, they immediately appointed me kitchen facilitator - ensuring that the residents would be served dinner each night. I spent three years rushing between school and extra-curricular activities and building a community of friends among the staff and residents of the shelter.

I went to college to become a nurse. But then I passed out every time I visited a hospital. So I got into politics and international studies. I quickly learned that the stories of the poor in America are a mere sample of what the rest of the world experiences. While in nursing school, I had learned about HIV/AIDS and how the virus attacks the weakest parts of our immune system. While studying international relations, I discovered that the HIV/AIDS crisis was also attacking the weakest members of our society: women and children in Africa.

When I was 21, I seized an opportunity to bring attention to those who have been most affected by the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa. I thought of that homeless man and how he was ignored amidst personal suffering, and I wished for a different story for him and for all who have felt written off and forgotten.

Today at 30, I think often about what my life would have looked like had there not been a sacred grace at nine years old when one person's humanity lured my own, and it continues to affect the way I live today. May we all risk the art of paying attention.

On Why Women Still Can't Have it All

The Atlantic published an article last week titled "Why Women Still Can't Have it All." It has become a raving topic of conversations among many of my friends, both male and female. The article is written Anne-Marie Slaughter, a remarkable woman who has spent her life working in highly demanding leadership careers (as Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School and Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department) while raising two boys and maintaining a marriage. She speaks candidly about the real challenges for women who want to be successful both at home and at work. I really encourage you to read the article. It is a long read, but it is packed with relevant issues that we would all be better by engaging in and discussing.

Here are a few take-aways for me from the article:

Having it all, in general, is a first-world ambition.

There are women on my street here in East Nashville who are simply trying to make it to the next paycheck or trying to avoid being beaten by the men in their lives. Most of my female African friends are primarily concerned about survival - of their bodies, babies, and livelihood.  As a woman in today's world, it is a rare opportunity to have the freedom to make choices about work, life and self-actualization. It is specific to an elite population of privileged women, myself included. Before we go any further, I just want to acknowledge that asking the question of having it all is, in itself, a privilege.

We must be realistic about limitation.

While there are enormous societal challenges that make it very difficult for a woman to successfully serve in work and life (for instance, school schedules do not align with typical work schedules), there are also unrealistic expectations about what women (and men) are capable of managing. My priest, Becca Stevens, told me that life is a box, and in that box are various balloons representing the commitments of our life. If we want to fit more in the box, we may have to deflate some of the larger balloons to make room for the other ones. Or we may have to only have two really big balloons or a lot of really small balloons. The point is, pay attention to the balloons because the box isn't going to get bigger.  And we live in a culture of broken boxes and popped balloons.

We need a new paradigm shift. 

James and I are replacing work/life balance for something we are calling vocational rhythm. We mean vocation quite literally as “calling”, which includes work and life, business hours, vacation hours, children, family, friends, and job as pieces of an integrated pie, not diametrically opposing forces. In the vocational rhythm paradigm, all parts of our lives are working toward one mission, telling one story. I am interested in what it looks like to integrate the whole self into a vocational rhythm. I am curious if there will be a cultural shift to continue to encourage that for everyone.

What do you think? Can women have it all?