The Volunteer

Photo: courtesy of njaj/

Photo: courtesy of njaj/

So, I’ve been reading Erma Bombeck’s work. Love her humor. One of my favorites is her piece on volunteers. Have you read it? She talks about a dream she had where all American volunteers become disillusioned and set sail for parts unknown. At first, she’s happy to be done with committees, casserole concoctions, saving particular items and peddling baked goods. But then, she realizes the quiet left behind in places like the hospital, the nursing home…how those in need lift their arms, but no one’s left to comfort them or offer a hand.

She ends with, “I fought in my sleep to regain a glimpse of the ship of volunteers just one more time. It was to be my last glimpse of civilization…as we were meant to be.”

This is from 1975 and still timely as ever.

It’s a good one, isn’t it? Do you have a favorite Erma story?

Help Fight The World’s Fastest Growing Crime

Are you a poet? A writer? Do you know one?

Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world. Criminals buy, sell and trade human beings into the commercial sex industry and forced labor. Take up your pen to help combat this horrific form of modern-day slavery. Submit a poem to the Poetry For Their Freedom Contest.

Poetry For Their Freedom

First prize includes $100, a live reading at The A21 Campaign – U.S. East Coast office’s Be Their Freedom annual benefit to be held on Sept. 19th in Charleston, SC. Additionally, the winning poem will be printed in the Be Their Freedom event program and posted on The global A21 Campaign’s Instagram feed.

For submission guidelines and more information, please visit Poetry For Their Freedom at

Please forward to any poet you think would be interested in becoming an active voice for freedom!

Books That Make A Difference

So many books, so little time…

Are you like me? Do you have multiple pages of wish lists for books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and “To-Read” shelves on Goodreads and Library Thing?

I know this will come as a big surprise to you, but I have an especial interest in books that highlight aspects of humanitarianism and social justice.

Two of my upcoming reads:

Strength in What RemainsStrength In What Remains by Tracy Kidder

This is a non-fiction story about a man from Burundi who comes to the U.S. after surviving civil war and genocide. He arrives with practically nothing, but through the kindness of strangers, finds his path to healing (and a medical degree from Columbia).

All That is Bitter and SweetAll That Is Bitter And Sweet by Ashley Judd and Maryanne Vollers

This is Ashley Judd’s memoir that stemmed from diary entries written during her humanitarian journeys around the world. It details individual stories of survival as well as her own personal struggles.

Have you read either of these? If so, what did you think? Do you read books like these? Why or why not?

If you know of an inspiring book I should add to my list, I’d love to have your suggestions!

Where All Roads Lead

Path in GuatemalaHow closely have you followed the road you life-planned for yourself?

Me? Not so much. I have a B.S. in Forensic Chemistry, but I am a freelance writer and novelist…and write for a non-profit. Writing and language arts always came naturally while math required serious focus.


You’d think I’d have recognized the signs back then. But, my brother doesn’t call me a tenacious bulldog for nothing. I wanted a chemistry degree; I have a chemistry degree. But, my career immediately veered into humanitarian operations and writing. My true north. And it found its way there because of first volunteering.

What have you discovered about yourself regarding your career? Is it what you expected?

The Frasier Contest: A Cut Above

MBT frasier logoAs a writer who lacks stashes of cash, I obsessively research which writing contests to enter. And I mean obsessively. One of the suggested ways to lift yourself out of literary obscurity is to enter contests…along with attending conferences, purchasing memberships to writing organizations and subscribing to services like Publishers Marketplace. The choices can be overwhelming and pretty pricey, so I pro and con my way to my best value options.

A contest that stands out? I’d have to say the Frasier—an annual contest for unpublished authors conducted by My Book Therapy (MBT), a writing craft and coaching community for novelists. It’s open to any fiction genre (and even non-fiction, if that’s your specialty). What matters most is how well you can tell a story.

Last year, I entered the Frasier and I rate it with 3 out of 3 stars. Why? Because it excels in the following value-added categories:

1.  Feedback: A contest that provides feedback is worth its weight in gold, silver or any precious stone of your choice—especially thoughtful feedback.

Nothing is worse than sending out your work and hearing…NOTHING. Unfortunately, that’s how it is with most contests. You enter—and if you don’t win…ah, well, better luck next time. That’s it. You’re left with all the same questions. …Did they not like my story? Do they not find the lives of intrepid humanitarian aid workers interesting? …People who risk so much to try and make the world a better place? Did they not like the writing? Do I use too much dialogue? Do they not like smarty-pants heroines? It can’t be true they’re only attracted to books set in NYC. What’s wrong with Guatemala? It’s exotic. Do the romantic elements come out soon enough? Did it hurt my chances that I don’t have a cat in my story? Or that I include military characters and some cool airplanes? 

You see? I could go on and on. I’m a writer; I can have entire conversations in my head. Lucky for us, the Frasier lets you know what the judges think of your work—and not just with a numerical figure. They actually comment!!

2.  Prizes: All entries reaching the final round will be judged by Susan May Warren, the founder of MBT who is an award-winning, multi-published author; literary agent, Steve Laube; and Shannon Marchese, senior fiction editor for WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. These are high-value eyeballs to have review your work. If they take an interest, you know where this could possibly lead! Additionally, the winner receives a scholarship to an MBT coaching retreat, valued at $500. As writers, I believe we should always strive to learn more about our craft. In my view, if you stop learning in life, you’re dead…literally. Wouldn’t it be nice to be part of a team from which you can learn, bounce ideas off of and pepper with questions…and even better—in person? Which leads to point #3…

3.  Community: Writing can be a lonely profession. Have you ever felt like, as a writer, you were out in the snow, freezing your bohunkus off, peeking in the window at shelves lined with published books, where everything seems warm and cozy? Well, the folks at MBT have a way of pulling you inside, seating you next to the fire, and shoving a mug of hot chocolate in your hands. When everyone takes a seat and the telling of tales begins, you realize you’re no longer alone in the difficult endeavor of writing a book.

As Susan May Warren, the founder of MBT says, “…we’re your friends, cheering you on.”

Entries for the 2013 MBT Frasier Contest will be accepted through Sunday, March 31, at 11:59 p.m. The contest is open to Voices members, which is FREE to join. For more information, FAQs and to enter, visit or click on the Frasier picture above.

For any of you creative types, what do you look for most in a contest or arts community? What have been some of your experiences…good and bad?


Undaunted“Why didn’t you come sooner?” A young girl once posed this question to Christine Caine—the co-founder of The A21 Campaign, which fights human trafficking. This girl had suffered unspeakable horror as a slave sold for sex many times a day. She’d stared at Christine with despair in her eyes. “Why didn’t you come sooner?”

In her excellent book, Undaunted, Christine Caine says she had an unassailable excuse, but couldn’t bring herself to use it. In truth, she hadn’t come because she simply hadn’t known. But that wasn’t good enough—not in the face of this girl’s urgency, her despair.

Have you ever temporarily lost your child in a crowd? Felt the searing rip of instantaneous fear? However shy your personality, you grip strangers’ arms, begging to know if they’ve seen your child. How can they even consider going about their day when something so absolutely desperate is happening? You’re frantic for a kind and friendly person to find your child and bring them back to you. You pray for the kindness of a stranger.

But what if that is not the type of person your child encounters?

What if your child’s eyes are darting from one unfamiliar face to another for rescue? But that rescue doesn’t come. Can you now blame the girl for asking, “Why didn’t you come sooner?”

“When you’re not lost—when you’re safe—it’s hard to understand the urgency of needing to be found, needing to be rescued.” Christine Caine

With that quote, I think you can already see how Undaunted is a book that hits hard. But it is simultaneously very inspiring. Christine Caine generously shares her own dramatic life story in the hopes it can help ours. She has gone through some really difficult things that could have left her bitter and stagnant…but instead, she has used them to make—not only herself—but others stronger. And she has developed a compassion that has shot past emotion into action.

In Undaunted, Christine talks about why we hold back—how we may want to help others, but common things stop us:

  • We don’t feel empowered
  • We think we lack the courage, the strength, the wisdom, the money, the experience, the education, the organization, the backing.
  • We feel unqualified. We feel daunted.

Personally, I’ve felt all those things, but this book helps remind me how to overcome them.

I’ve written for The A21 Campaign East Coast office for over a year now, but I’ve not met Christine Caine personally. I had the chance in June at our first (soon-to-be annual BE HER FREEDOM gala), but to be honest, it’s not that easy for me to just go up and talk to somebody—especially when that someone is a great and powerful speaker…and doer of so-many-things overwhelming. I guess you could say I was daunted. One time, hearing her speak, my husband leaned over to me and said, “She packs into a 40-minute lecture what it would take someone else an hour and a half to say.”

It’s true. Christine Caine is a slim 5’3” energetic powerhouse. While she travels all over the world, speaking inspirationally to thousands upon thousands, I sit in my office chair, oftentimes staring at my blinking cursor. Although our lives are very different, one of the blessings of her being so open about the difficulties in her own life is that they resonate. Suffering (unfortunately) is a connector for us all.

Like her, I, too, know exactly what it’s like to hear a doctor say, “I’m sorry. I can’t find a heartbeat.” Perhaps, pain is not always so similar in nature, but we have all suffered. We can understand loss. We feel compassion. What we do with it is the main difference. How we handle it is up to us.

Many former human trafficking victims are now huge advocates for the cause. Other activists, like myself, may have no personal tragedy to associate with the cause, but “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” -Benjamin Franklin. Human trafficking is not only a horrific crime; it’s also the fastest growing in the world. The trade of people now outsells the trafficking of arms. If we don’t fight this, it is not a stretch to consider a future where we will know someone who has fallen victim.

Christine has a wonderful prayer in her book, Undaunted. “God, help me not to close my eyes to other people’s horror or ignore injustice. Help me fight the injustices you hate. Help me value people and speak up for those who have been silenced.”

I know I’m quoting her a lot, but hey, she’s got a lot of good stuff to say. Here’s one last: in reference to the rows and rows of posters of the missing. “These photographs should be in beautiful frames on a mantle, or in the pages of a family photo album on a coffee table… They shouldn’t be plastered coldly here, taped across the peeling paint of an airport wall.”

The New Year is a great time to stand up. Don’t you think?

Chris Cleave: Victims of Terrorism…to Refugees…to Olympic Athletes

I discovered the British author, Chris Cleave, when I was in one of my “happy places” (the bookstore) and picked up Little Bee. As you can tell from the title of this post, Chris Cleave doesn’t exactly choose the lightest of topics. But that’s fine because I don’t always read fiction to escape. Sometimes, I need an author to slap me in the face a little—make it impossible for me to ever look at something the same way again.

But why am I writing about this author on a blog about volunteerism?

Topics: I just read Writers Digest’s interview with Chris Cleave in this September’s issue (Yay! I’m actually ahead since this is still the beginning of August) and several of his answers really struck me. His novels, he said, “really break down to two things: They put people in extreme situations, and then they ask those people what their answers are going to be to big ethical questions.”

For Little Bee the question was: How much of our comfortable lives should we give up to help people who have less than us?” Ooh, tremendous question—one I struggle with. And close to home, since my book (finished, but still chopping away at word count) is about what makes people volunteer to be international aid workers, leaving behind their comfortable lives to work in some of the world’s most dangerous and isolated places.

Skill: I’m also writing about Chris Cleave because in Little Bee, he wrote one of the best opening pages I’ve ever read. And trust me, as an aspiring writer, I’ve read a lot of first pages, analyzing how writers manage to hook readers right from the get-go. Chris Cleave does it in such an artful, skilled way, I found myself smiling as I read it…and then, re-read it twice more. A young girl, a Nigerian refugee in the UK, is wishing she were a British pound coin—jealous of where it can go that she cannot. How much of her current situation, her past, as well as her hopes, he gets across in such a short segment is masterful.

Didn’t stop with words: Chris Cleave wrote on the subject of refugees and now advocates for asylum seekers. In his new book Gold (which I have yet to read, but definitely will) the two main characters are Olympic athletes—one of whom has a daughter with leukemia. Chris now fundraises for leukemia research. I love this sort of follow-thru…words in action.

Side note: Publication for Gold was obviously well-timed with the Olympics. Yet, his first book, Incendiary, had uncanny timing in a different way. It came out the day of the London bombings in 2005 and was promptly pulled back off the shelves for its terrorist subject matter. (Must’ve been a stab to the heart for the author.) Obviously, it found its way back, promoted by people unafraid to look difficult subjects in the face—and paradoxically find a source of hope rather than a deeper dirt-pummeling.

Do you read books that you know will make you uncomfortable? That will likely alter your perspective or make you aware of something that does not have an easy solution? What books have had the greatest impact on you?

Who Doesn’t Need A Little Validation Now And Again?

INFJ personalityA few months ago, a multi-published author mentioned to me that she sometimes uses a personality tool to add variety to her characters. Studying psychology, she said, can be a great resource for adding depth and realistic reactions for characters with very different personalities and temperaments. I was intrigued. I took a writing class shortly thereafter that included a segment on character psychology.

It also made me wonder if there were certain personality types more prone to volunteer for causes.

Whatever your profession, I’m betting you’ll find this personality test interesting. Have you ever taken one? This one is called Human Metrics and its based on Jung and Myers-Briggs typology. Online, there are about 70 Yes/No questions. It’s a quick click-thru and at the end (obviously), it gives you a summation of your personality type.

Now, I tend to be skeptical of anything that smacks of extreme reductionism. We, humans, we’re complex, right? How could a few questions possibly hope to encompass and define my personality?

My results? I am an Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging (INFJ). Here are a few snippets:

“Strongly humanitarian in outlook, INFJs tend to be idealists, and because of their J preference for closure and completion, they are generally “doers” as well as dreamers. This rare combination of vision and practicality often results in INFJs taking a disproportionate amount of responsibility in the various causes to which so many of them seem to be drawn.”

“INFJs are deeply concerned about their relations with individuals as well as the state of humanity at large.”

“Usually self-expression comes more easily to INFJs on paper, as they tend to have strong writing skills.”

Hmm. Okay, so they mention a few areas and activities that take up a significant portion of my day. I admit it was an unexpected shot of validation because sometimes, I sit at my laptop, staring at the blinking cursor, thinking “What are you doing with your life? Why aren’t you out in the corporate world earning the bucks? Why are you editing this novel about expat volunteers . . . again. The pieces you write for good causes, nobody even knows you wrote them. Not the best way to build an author platform, dummy.”

But maybe . . . just maybe, I’m doing what I should be doing. According to this profile at least, it seems I haven’t wandered too far off the path that my natural compass points to pretty consistently. That counts for something, doesn’t it?

(If you’re interested, read the complete INFJ profile provided by TypeLogic.)

Find out which personality type you are.  I’m not saying they’re right. I just think it’s interesting, and you might, too. Do you feel like your profile aligns with your life and views of yourself? Do you want it to? If you volunteer, what personality type are you? Introvert? Extravert? What jobs and volunteer positions pique your interest?

Who Inspires You?

I don’t really think you can set out to “inspire” someone. Do you? I think you can definitely set out to encourage them, though.

Encouragement is not quite so lofty. It’s more like walking beside someone through the everyday stuff, not just the big dramatic moments. Encouragement takes conscious effort, whereas being an inspiration would be a nice, unexpected by-product.

I’m honored that Creative Liz and MariaGiovanna at Sharing My Italy, have both nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger award. This is a really sweet show of encouragement for me. And I am grateful for it.

I think it’s a blessing when the things we’re passionate about can, in turn, encourage others’ talents in ways that may be extremely different from our own.

When I started this blog, it was my hope to encourage others to:

  • Read broadly: books outside of your usual genre. You might just discover new interests.
  • Travel: and search for the bright side when itineraries don’t work out as you plan. Sometimes, those hiccups end up being your best memories.
  • Write: at least once a week, a note, email…okay, or text, to a friend who could use a little encouragement.
  • Volunteer: it won’t be conveniently timed. It never is. But later, you’ll be happy you did.
  • Experience New Foods and Cultures: Don’t look for the most familiar items on a menu.
  • Persevere and have faith: Faith makes things possible, not easy. I have this saying, hanging in my kitchen as a daily reminder.

But now, I hope these are just starting points for you.

In (mostly) keeping with the rules for accepting the Very Inspiring Blogger award…

7 (Or, how ‘bout 5) Things About Me

  1. When visiting European cities, cathedrals and old churches tend to be my first sightseeing destination.
  2. I managed to kill a cactus while trying very hard to take good care of it. (Maybe that was the problem)
  3. I love Ethiopian food.
  4. I love to cook, but baking absolutely requires the use of a timer or I burn things.
  5. I’m a Midwest girl who moved to the South many years ago and has yet to get over the novelty of having palm trees in my yard.

Very Inspiring Blogger Rules:

~Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them in your post.

~Share 7 things about yourself

~Nominate 7 bloggers you admire

~Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they’ve been nominated.

Bloggers who I find encouraging in their own unique ways:

Beth Vogt: a great author and woman of strong faith and perseverance, who recently returned home after being evacuated b/c of the Colorado fires. Yay! Loved reading her debut novel, Wish You Were Here and enjoy her daily offering of inspirational quotes and ideas to ponder.

Grace, over at CzechtheFlip, who is Filipino, married to a Czech, and has an American son, blogging about life and culture in the Czech Republic.

Ames over at A Dose of Good, who did a year of volunteering

Miss Zari at Travel. Culture. Food. (self-explanatory, don’t you think?)

Shari at My Writing Life, who shares my love of writing and dance.

Shelley at Fraidy Cat Confessions who shares faith, encouragement and a calling to promote awareness for a cause close to my heart, the eradication of human trafficking. She recently wrote a book on the subject.

Melissa over at Tag(g)lines, whose faith and hard work in writing  has just paid off! She just got an agent! Yay! (I know writers are supposed to be sparing of exclamation points, but there are times that deserve them.)

Who inspires you? Do they know it? Think now might be a good time to tell them?