Monday, January 15, 2018


My Favorite Lesson from Israel

    The first night after moving away from home is truly the worst. The first night of college was different. I remember that even though I felt so strange and out of place, there was some bizarre comfort knowing that the girl sleeping five feet away from me was having the same anxious thoughts I was (not to mention the 500+ other nineteen year old females who inhabited Vail Hall, the freshman girls’ dorm at Samford). The first night you move away by yourself is not only different, but it is extremely painful. This past summer, I decided it was my destiny to intern in Atlanta for a designer whom I adored. It was all big, beautiful dreams until I was tucking myself in, in a house I didn’t know, in an unfamiliar metropolis, feeling like a five year old girl who wanted to go wake up her mom and crawl into her parents’ bed. I remember lying there thinking, “What the heck have I done? This is terrifying….I am terrified. I will never get used to this. Why didn’t I just stay in Birmingham?” Of course, I did get used to it, and I am actually going back. I am now enthralled with my life there, but I hate thinking back to having that feeling the first night. And, unfortunately, it is not an unfamiliar one. At the worst times in my life, I had the same thoughts but magnified ten times—complete loneliness. And the reason behind the loneliness—fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of problems that have yet to even bear the tip of their noses into reality. Loneliness is that feeling of evil when fear asks you, “Are you sure that this will work out? I don’t know. It seems like God doesn’t have a plan this time. No one is here but you.” And even though we know full well that God has always given us yet another stepping stone to move forward from the past, we suddenly refuse to even stick out our foot, betting that there’s no stone ahead. Fear of loneliness: it’s the root of the root of all that is evil on this Earth. It is scary and unknown, but the hope in the midst of the darkness is that Jesus felt it full well, too. Just like me. Just like you. He was there.
     I’ve grown up in the church, so I like to think that I know my Bible pretty well. I had read and heard the story of Jesus in the garden multiple times. I could recite it for you in my own way, but there was a huge part of Jesus’ story that I had completely missed until I was sitting in the actual Garden of Gethsemane, alone on a bench in the back, reading Matthew 26:36-39.

Matthew 26:36-39 The Message (MSG)

    36-38 Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane and told his disciples, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, “This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”
    39 Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me             out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”

    Somehow in twenty-one years I had missed the one line that changed everything: “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this.” Jesus, fully human, and in my opinion, the closest to sin He ever was, pleading with God that there had to be another way than this immensely painful one. I used to think that those tears of blood were the start of Him taking on the sins of the world, but now I believe that they were tears of the utmost human emotional pain. Can you imagine how alone Jesus felt? Even with his closest friends with Him, they couldn’t stop falling asleep, leaving him with no comforting words that it was going to be okay, but probably with more doubts than before. He sees the temple fall in His visions, he sees His people who to this day do not believe He is the son of God, and all at once—it’s too much. He felt it all, and He broke. In some Biblical versions, the text even reads that He said, “This sorrow alone is going to kill me.” Honestly, I’ve never read anything more beautiful.
    I used to roll my eyes when people would say, “Jesus has felt everything you’re going through.” I always thought to myself, “But Jesus never sinned? There’s no way He knows.” Now, however, I have the most beautiful picture of Jesus’ human understanding. Of all the times I’ve broken because it’s been too much, and said things to God that I should not have said, or questioned His sovereignty, I now know it looks much different than a Father disappointed in His daughter—because of Jesus dying on the cross for me, taking my place. I now picture Jesus at God’s right hand, looking down, agonizing with me, crying those same tears as in the garden, remembering Earthly pain and loneliness, saying to God, “That’s our girl. She needs us. That really hurts. I remember.” And He does the same for you. The accompany of a lifetime.

Infinite X’s and O’s,


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Handing Out Your Flowers Before Getting Some of Your Own

"Never suppress a generous thought."
-Camilla E. Kimball  

In high school, I wrote a poem that was published in a book, a collection of writings from Alabama students. The poem is about the irony of how we as a society lavish the dead with flowers. We buy hundreds of bouquets to place at their funerals, and we shower their graves in rosebuds. Yet the person who has passed on never gets to see these or enjoy them. The poem ends with how we should instead be focused on giving people flowers while they are living, celebrating, breathing.

Recently this poem became a great analogy in my life. I was working at the Samford Football Hospitality Tent as an Ambassador with my friend, Hunter Gibbs. I saw a lady walking by in the most beautiful blue, peplum top with jeans that fit her perfectly, wedges, and her hair done in the most gorgeous, high ponytail. She looked like Julia Engel, my favorite Instagram blogger, except with a few more curves. I looked at Hunter and said, "Wow, she looks beautiful." Hunter looked back at me, confused as to why I was telling him this. He asked, "Then why don't you go tell her?" It made me aware of all the times I have withheld compliments or encouragement, just because it meant that I would have to (barely) step out of my comfort zone. But aren't people worth that? I thought of encouragement as being like a bouquet of flowers. The irony is the same for both funeral words and bouquets. It makes just as much nonsense to lift up the deceased with honoring words that no one ever told him or her than to pamper them in flowers they will never see or smell. I want to get to the end of my life and have given away all of the encouragement and flowers that people whom I meet deserve to receive.

Go lift someone up. Go give someone flowers.

Infinite X's and O's

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Most Perfect Blueberry Cupcakes

My favorite holiday has always been Easter. Mainly because it is my favorite story of the Jesus whom I love. He conquered the worst thing that could ever happen to you and me--death, so that there is nothing holding us back from God's love. I just can't get over it. There was a story told in church this morning that gave me all the feels, and I want to share it with you, along with a recipe for some very tasty blueberry cupcakes. Enjoy.

There once was a priest, and every day he was haunted by a sin he committed while he was in seminary school. It ate away at him, and no matter what he did to cover it or forget it, there it always was, reminding him of his guilty, humanly self. There was a woman at his church who began to tell others that she saw Jesus in her dreams and would have conversations with Him. Skeptical, the priest decided to try out her "dreams." He requested that the next time she had a dream in which she spoke with Jesus, she ask Jesus what the sin was that the priest had committed in seminary school. The woman agreed, and a few weeks later the priest asked her if Jesus had told her his sin. She said, "Oh, yes. I asked Him what your sin was, and He told me that he couldn't remember."

What truth, right? How beautiful it should make you feel that God looked upon you with such sadness for your lost and weary soul that He sent His only son as the only offering Satan would take for your sins. Because of this, you and I get to live free and be in the House of God forever. When Jesus and God look down and see me, they see the best Claire McKee there is, no matter how I've messed up that day. What a sweet life it is. 



 Blueberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Yield: 12 cupcakes

  • 1 2/3 cup cake flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened*
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/4 cups frozen blueberries, plus more for topping (for topping get fresh)
  • Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened (I prefer 1/4 cup unsalted and 1/4 cup salted)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift cake flour into a mixing bowl, add baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk 20 seconds, set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (I recommend using a beater blade, otherwise stop mixer occasionally throughout entire mixing process and scrape down sides and bottom of bowl), whip butter and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in egg, then mix in egg whites one at a time. Blend in vanilla. In the liquid measuring cup used to measure buttermilk, whisk together sour cream with buttermilk until smooth. Working in three separate batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture, add 1/3 of the flour mixture alternating with 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture and mixing just until combined after each addition. Gently fold in blueberries.
  • Divide batter among 12 paper lined muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full (about 1/3 cup batter in each). Bake in preheated oven 20 - 24 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Allow to cool in muffin tin several minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, pipe or spread cream cheese frosting over tops and garnish with blueberries.
  • For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (I recommend using a beater blade), whip cream cheese and butter until smooth and fluffy. Mix in vanilla, then stir in powdered sugar and continue to whip until smooth and fluffy (if it seems slightly runny, chill then stir before piping or spreading).

Friday, January 13, 2017

Into the Grey

If you look up 'Type A' in the dictionary, instead of reading as "a personality type characterized by ambition, high energy, and competitiveness, and thought to be susceptible to stress and heart disease", it should probably just read "Claire McKee."

I like things organized because this makes me feel in control of my life and less stressed. I appreciate confrontation because it results in resolution. I don't like what I can't understand or when I can't figure out something. Lukewarm is frustrating to me. I like things right or wrong, yes or no, black or white. 

What I don't like is grey. 

White is good. Actually, white is better than good--it's great. White is when life hands you lemons and sugar water and cute little cups with colored umbrellas, and then you make a batch of lemonade and drink it with friends. White is when you worked really hard all semester and you got all A's. White is when you are not in a single predicament with anyone close to you at this particular moment. White is healthy family and friends. It's the job that you always wanted and you got. It's when you love the person you always dreamed of and he or she loves you back. White is sure and it is good. White is what everyone wants. 

Black is bad, but at least it's black. Black is the end of something great. It's a death in the family. It's your lowest point. Black is when you worked hard all semester and your poor grades don't prove it. It's that job you always dreamed of that goes to someone else. Black is when the person you love doesn't love you back. Black is no more cookies in the cookie jar. Black is certain and it's bad. Black is what no one wants. 

Grey is neither black nor white; it's the in-between. Unlike black and white, it is unsure. Grey can so quickly go black or white, and that's why it's scary. Grey is the waiting.

Grey is sickness. Grey is that friend who won't call you back. It's the anticipating your grades at the end of the semester. Grey is losing a possession that meant the world to you. It's the not knowing what comes next. 

Most people believe that black is where Satan works his magic, but I beg to differ, because unlike definite black, grey holds all of your "What ifs?", your worst case scenarios, and your biggest fears. It's where you start to give your emotions to lies about what the future holds. I've always hated the grey. It makes me nervous and anxious to not know what comes next. When I'm in the grey, I feel as though I'm in the middle of a foggy ocean. Even though God has provided millions of stepping stones in the past for me to keep moving, I suddenly stand still, unsure that He has placed another steady one ahead. Satan speaks, "But are you sure? I don't see one. What if He didn't?" So I stand still, refusing to even reach out my foot, and I let fear eat me alive. 

However, this past year I've learned something shocking about the grey. God has shown me that while Satan uses the grey for a playground, God uses it as a magnifying glass. The grey is where God sees my heart and my faith the most clearly. It's where I have no one but Him to rely on, and I can either trust Him and keep on moving, or I can doubt and fear and stand still. 

Black. White. Grey. They are all inevitable. You and I will make our way through each one, time and time again, during our human lives. As we all enter a new year, a new 365 days of black, white, and grey, I encourage you to remember who already has all of your "What ifs?" handled. God was behind you, He goes with you now, and He is ahead of you. He is always there, waiting for you to call His name. Patiently He waits for your summoning, to remind you that after the millions of stepping stones He has already provided, why would He stop now?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

It's Been Three Years Since I Handed God the Pen

Where did you take your first steps?

Was it in your living room? Or maybe your backyard? I definitely don't remember mine, but luckily, I have many pictures and my parents’ confessions to prove that I did indeed take my first steps in Jordan Hare Stadium, home of the beloved Auburn Tiger football team. You may be thinking, "How ridiculous," to which I would like to say, "Agreed....... I didn't have much say in the matter considering I was around the age of two." But after I was born, my parents toted me down, game after game, and when I was three, my sister, Abbie Caroline was born. And then, just like before, but now together, we were carried down to games, pictures with Aubie, and to days full of Toomer's Famous Lemonade in our sippy cups.

As Abbie matured, my parents realized that Abbie had some traits that were different. When I was twelve and Abbie was nine, Abbie was diagnosed with Asperger's, a form of autism. If you don't know, autistic brains have an miraculous ability to memorize large amounts of information. Most autistic kids latch on to one subject or one event in history that they are interested in and learn all they can about it. Abbie's first subject for which she cultivated a love was the Royal English family tree. So instead of hearing bedtime stories of fairies and Goldilocks, we heard bedtime stories of Bloody Mary's brutal Catholic Revolution and Elizabeth I's navy captain who was actually a pirate whom she pulled out of prison.

As she grew, Abbie amazed us. Once she had learned about all there is to know about the Royal English family tree, she next became enthralled with Auburn football. She memorized excessive amounts of stats, players, coaches, and seasons. And we watched in amazement as Gene Chizik fell in love with her, and alumni players and coaches asked her difficult questions to which she knew all of the answers. You could literally give her a random number of a football player and she could tell you his name, hometown, position, stats, and GPA. And like we never thought possible, our family fell even more in love with Auburn.

When my senior year rolled around, it was to no one's surprise that I enrolled at Auburn, was accepted, turned in my rush packet, found amazing roommates, and was on my way. One fall evening of senior year, my dad called me into his office and suggested that I go to Auburn and stay with a friend, see a game, and attend all the events that a student there would go to, just to make sure that it was the right fit. I found this extremely amusing. "What would I not like about Auburn?" I remember thinking to myself. But what high schooler is going to pass up a weekend at an SEC football school? So I packed my bags and headed down. I remember so clearly, during the long drive, saying a half-hearted prayer in my head because it hit me that, while everything about my college future was falling perfectly into place, (which I figured was God's okay on everything), I had never asked the Lord for His preference, nor for His guidance. It was a simple, straight-forward prayer, but I thought absolutely nothing would come from it.

     "God, if this is not where You want me, show me."

As I turned off that familiar highway onto an even more familiar road to Auburn, I felt a pit form in my stomach. Maybe I was just really hungry, or maybe I was getting sick. It didn't even cross my mind that this pit I felt might be an answer to prayer. All weekend I tried to get rid of it. I laughed, I ate, I felt fine other than that horrible feeling in my gut. And then, in the midst of football, tailgates, dorms, and concerts --I heard Him. Not like an audible voice but just a thought in my head out of nowhere. Has that ever happened to you? You weren't even on a train of thought when an idea or thought just pops up in your head? Then it keeps rushing through and won't stop? That's how God talks to me. And this is what He said,

    "Claire, You and I both know that I can't grow you here."

Now, side note, please understand that Auburn is not like a hell hole. I'm not saying that if you want to or attend Auburn, you have refused to listen to the Lord or done something immoral. But God and I both knew that where I was as a person during my high school years would not be a glorious fit at a state school, even my beloved Auburn. So I decided I would listen.

On the long drive back, I questioned everything. I was confused, scared. I asked, "But where now?" I hadn't even applied to any other colleges because I was so set on Auburn. I was so excited about their interior design program because it is so well recognized. Where will I go with a great, credible program? Then, He spoke again: ”Samford." "Samford." "Samford."

Samford??!? Doesn't it cost like a million dollars to go there? No, that's so close to home! Do they even have an interior design program, because I definitely was only thinking of The Cheesecake Factory on the one Samford tour I even went on.

Again, He spoke: ”Stop asking why. Say yes."

So I did. For the first time in my life, I stopped asking why. I stopped asking why, like when I asked God why Abbie was diagnosed with Autism over and over again, or when my dad wouldn't come home from work and traveling and I asked God why I wasn't loved. The truth is, ”Why?" is selfish. "Why?" is about me. "Why" does not trust the Father. It questions His sovereignty and His provision. So for the first time in my life, I said yes.

I handed God the pen instead of trying desperately to write my own life and make it perfect. And here's what happened:

I was awarded the Presidential Scholarship to attend Samford, so it did indeed not cost a million dollars to attend. I found roommates and friends who boost me and my spirit. I found an Interior Design program that finds my gifts and is rewarding my future already. I've lived 200% in three new countries instead of the one I was planning to hopefully study in at Auburn. I find myself in a place where I know God is holding my pen. I found a place that God wrote, not me.

As I was walking through New York City today, underneath all of the twinkly lights that make a person feel as though you can do anything and go anywhere, God whispered something small to me-- "Claire, remember where you were three years ago? Look at all I've done since then. Look at where you are." And I realize that He was right. It’s been three years since, for the first time, instead of asking why, I said yes, and it has changed every aspect of my life. If you're at a crossroads and you're scared, and your pen is out of ink because of how many revisions and changes you've made to the plan that is your life because it has yet to please you, hand it over to the One who wrote how the stars burn and how the moon shines. He's been waiting.

Infinite X's and O's,


Monday, August 8, 2016

Take a Minute: Love This Place

I left for India from a nation with its flag at half mast....There's a fire station in Madison that I always drive by where you can't help but notice the flag pole out front. The flags on it stand out so vibrantly against the dark building so it's always easy to notice if our country is in mourning that particular day. On the morning I left for my trip, I glanced over as I always do, and for what seemed to be the one hundredth day in a row, the flags lifelessly hung halfway down the pole. I remember being somewhat glad I was leaving the country. With all of the chaos that had been going on, I felt that the rest of the world was possibly safer than here. "This place is falling apart," I disgustingly thought to myself.

We flew from Atlanta to Amsterdam and spent some time touring the city because of our long lay-over. It would be an understatement to say that I fell madly in love with Netherlands. The air there is so cool and clean to breathe, it's like you can't get enough of it. It feels so good filling up your lungs. The people are so friendly, and the shopping is incredible. And you know those few foods on earth that, even if you're being healthy, you just don't give two flips of guilt about eating because they're so good. Let me tell you that I ate a chocolate croissant the size of my face in a bakery there that made it okay for me to go ahead and die after I finished it. It was that good. I was actually upset that it melted so quickly in my mouth. On another high note, my history-loving heart was immediately stolen by the Anne Frank house, and all at once I found myself happily one hundred percent infected with the travel bug. However, Amsterdam in all of its European glory still didn't feel like home. And as I found myself traveling and loving every inch of the world I had never laid eyes on before then, I found even more love in knowing that when it was all over I got to go back to my house, to my home.

Despite my jet lag, I was then ecstatic to hop on the plane in Amsterdam and jump off in Dehli, India, our destination.


One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Dehli was a taxi with these words written on the back: "This Taxi Respects Women." (Most things are written in English in India because of their being under English rule for so long. No grandma, I did not learn Bengali while I was there.) I remember thinking, "Well that's good, I guess that just means that the driver is nice to women when they get in the car." However, I quickly found out that this phrase on the back of the taxi referred to the taxi actually stopping if there was a female in the road. How crazy, right? Who wouldn't stop for a human being in the road just because of their gender? But a week prior to our arrival, a ten year old girl had been hit by a bus and actually died from the accident, solely because the driver of the bus would not stop for her because she was female.

Listen, I get it. America has feminist issues. If I was in the same job as a man and did not get paid the same amount, I would be really upset and confused, but while we are pushing ahead to solve more issues like this one, may we also be really proud of our progress. We have a woman running for president for crying out loud! Not so sure she's the best girl we could come up with, but that is about as big an act of feminism as it gets. The reason I want to bring this to attention is to say this: Next time a man holds the door for you, or pulls out your chair, or a waiter asks your drink order before the males out of respect, please notice and appreciate it. It's hard to understand how good we as American women have it until you're in a country where a car won't stop to avoid hitting you just because of your gender.


When I got back to Amsterdam, my heart broke as I heard about all that had happened in America while we were away, the largest incident being the Dallas Shooting. I don't know what happened in the incident to spark it because, to be completely honest, I wasn't there (and neither were you). All I know is that I have been taught my whole life to respect authority and be honest with them. However, I also know that in every profession in this world there are twisted employees, and there always will be. That doesn't mean we need to eliminate the entire human race. That doesn't mean that anyone has to right to take out any innocent group of people.

The reason that this incident especially touched my heart is that I realized such a love and honor for the American police while in India. Some Indian girls, caught and forced into the Red Light District, have pretty much only one hope, which is to somehow notify the police. (The Sex Trade of India is "illegal" there believe it or not). Nonetheless, most of their police are so caught up in the trade themselves, they never do anything about it, even if they do get a report or phone call. Sometimes, they pretend to not see the girl when they arrive to search the building, or they just ignore the situation completely. Can you imagine? Picture you get taken in America, and you get to a phone and call the police. You have a long conversation with them, and then they never show up to rescue you. Or they show up and pretend not to see you and leave, and suddenly your last glimpse of hope is obliterated.....I have full faith in our police officers that if I were ever in trouble and could stay on the phone and explain where I was and what was happening, I would be rescued, no question. And so would you. Don't ever take that for granted or disrespect that protection while the rest of the world has to try to survive without it.


I'm not writing you all of this to persuade you that America is not as bad as it seems in the news. I do believe we're at war, and I do believe we have large issues we must handle to move forward as a civilization, but I am writing this to tell you that I've been to a place where the police are truly not on the civilians' side--and it is not what you want. It is frightening and unnerving and makes it hard to fall asleep at night. I've also been to a place where women are truly treated like dirt, and it is nothing like our culture.

So, next time you hear of an incident and want to take to Facebook, dogging the country you live in, don't. This culture has told you, screamed at you, that you deserve to be heard. You have to share your two cents on every problem that falls across your path, but God whispers something different. In the book of James, God makes it really clear that he isn't about all the complaining and empty chatter. It's actually where the phrase: Don't just talk the talk, walk the walk, comes from. James talks about how someone as a Christian should go from hearing about an issue, to doing something good in return. Never does he mention, "and in between, share with all of your friends your complaints and how stupid you think the world has become." God knows this one truth about the planet we've been put on: there will always be: an ISIS, lying, cheating, gossip, hard Presidential Elections that divide groups of people, sickness, death, SIN. But hasn't life has always been about the test of what you will do with what has been dealt? Whether it's a country-wide issue or a personal one...did you add to the world's dark chaos and empty chatter, or were you different and making others different, too? Let's appreciate what we've got. Let's appreciate this place.

Let my actions outrun my words. Let my life outrun my song.

Infinite X's and O's,

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Dear Reader,

This is a long post, for which I apologize. I vowed to myself when I started this blog a couple of years ago that I would keep my posts short and sweet. However, the more separate stories I wrote while in India, the more I noticed that they all echoed the same message about choices. So I tried my best to listen to the words and stories God wanted me to tell you and to compile them here. Enjoy.

Infinite Xs and Os,


I love my house. I always have. It's a khaki-colored Craftsman, nestled on a back road in downtown Madison, overlooking Mrs. LouAnn's pond. Over the years, my parents have added their special touches, giving it even more beautiful character. My mom has worked hard planning and planting enchanting gardens that anchor good ole 153 Maple (which our newest dog, Scout, thinks is pretty enchantingly fun to destroy). My dad picked out long, black hurricane shutters that add a sense of beachy security and stability to the place. The large, chunky, front-porch lanterns send a welcoming glow of hello, and the wide front porch swing says, "Come on over here and stay awhile." And no matter where I roam from home, I have a small, metal reminder that jingles on my key chain, whispering that no matter what happens, or how far away I go, I always have a choice to return to this safe, beautiful place.

That place where I sleep in until 10:00 on Saturdays, wake up, throw off my fluffy, warm comforter, and shiver as my feet hit the cold, wood floor. Then I take off, doing the same jump-hop down the stairs I've practiced since I was 6, and swing open the front door to find Tom McKee on his fourth-ish cup of coffee, sitting in a front porch rocker, reading the "paper" on his iPad. He looks up with, "Hey, girl!" and pats the rocker beside him, inviting me to tell him about the highs and lows of everything recent.

That place where I head out for a run, come back, grab a water and crash into one of the leather chairs in my parents' room, underneath the ceiling fan, which I have deemed, after extensive research, the coolest possible place in the house. And every time, my mother walks in, asking me questions I don't have the lung air to respond to quite yet, almost like a dental hygienist asking what your future plans are while she holds a metal toothbrush in your mouth.

That place where I'm just about to catch some shut eye when I see my door crack open with all sorts of light rays coming in, only to see Abbie's grinning face appear in the door crack, waiting on me to say, "Come on in." However, she has never given me the chance, and runs and jumps into my bed to tell me all that's happened in her day.

That place where I promised at age nine I would be the next top baker of the world, as I continued to wreck the kitchen that was my paradise, always doing something like leaving the flour out of the brownies.

So I love that place, that house, as I'm guessing you love yours. Houses hold our memories, dreams, and lessons captive, reminding us that they are the buildings on the Earth that have done the most for us. I don't feel that I have ever taken the shelter my parents give me for granted. I never say anything I don't like about my house, and I remind my parents often of how much I love it; I try to say thank you for everything I've been given. I knew India would probably make me more appreciative for what I have, but I didn't think I'd really be shocked by anything. I've seen poverty throughout my life. My parents have been involved in areas of town people don't dare to go; I'm so glad they drug me along, too, because it kept my head and heart humble. Because of my going to these places, I don't live in a middle class, first world country fairy tale where I ignorantly believe my life is all there is to know. But I do think God laughed at me when I thought I knew the worst poverty could show off.


I sat on a school bus in a pool of my own sweat to go pick kids up from the Kolkata trash dump. I actually thought I heard the man incorrectly when he told us "the dump" is where we were picking up the children, but sure enough, we rounded a corner of typical housing and businesses to see a massive trash dump. The bus pulled over, and I watched in utter disbelief as a small boy jumped on the bus exclaiming, "Good Morning!" (in English, mind you) and opened up about half a sandwich bag of dry coffee creamer--his breakfast. I looked at my friend Alyssa's face, which I'm guessing looked the same as mine. We talked about the incident later, and 'Lyss brought up the fact to me that often during the week when we're at school in Birmingham, we go to Target with our other roommate, Abby, and stare at the fridge full of over 15 different choices of coffee creamers. We always joke about getting some ridiculous flavor like Birthday Cake Ice Cream Dreamsickle, but Hazelnut is usually the lucky winner we throw in the cart. You see, I choose everything.

I choose not to eat dry coffee creamer for breakfast. I choose what college I attend. I choose where I will live at college. I choose what I will study there. I choose whether I will throw on a t-shirt and Chacos or dress up for class. I choose what I eat for lunch. I choose my friends. I choose my boyfriend. I choose if I will grab Starbucks or Juice Bar for a pick-me-up; I choose my job; I choose EVERYTHING. But the snake that is poverty has a funny way of wrapping around and around as it gets worse and worse until it is so restrictive and choking to a person that they can't move. They can't choose anything. They get what poverty allows them to barely grasp and they take it.

Another thing I knew about India was that I would be meeting women who had recently left the sex trade, and I would be experiencing an organization that then provided them with good jobs. I didn't know how I would be with this; I just prayed for strength and love.

I didn't have a mere thought of what was coming.


We arrived at what looked like every other city street in India, and went into a four-story building to meet the man and woman who started the organization Freeset. We sat down with coffees and teas in big comfy chairs in a cool room, and as I began to get about the most comfortable I had been in India, my heart began to grow more and more uncomfortable as I listened to the words the founders began to say. Less than a mile from where we sat was one of the largest red light districts in the world. My selfish, worst-case-scenario thought was that maybe I should send Tom McKee a dropped pin just in case an incident from the movie Taken began to play out. I felt unsafe and I couldn't believe we were so close to "The Line," what the Indian people call the district. However, the founders explained to us that in order to reach the most women possible, they needed to put their organization in the dead center of it all. They needed to be these women's neighbors and friends, and hopefully, one day, their work managers. The hairs stood up on my arms as they told us that the building where we were sitting had been used by the Sonagachi (the people who keep the red light district going) for all sorts of evil. When Freeset began remodeling the space, they even found an illegal abortion clinic behind a wall. I got that horrible, raw, stinging feeling in the back of my throat and in my nose as I tried to hold back tears. Tears came anyway. And just when I thought my heart had been pricked and prodded and stabbed enough with upsetting emotion I could not control--Nina walked in.

Nina looked like a sweet, southern grandma who used too much butter in her recipes, except she was Indian. She had this certain toughness about her. Maybe it was her tone or the way she held herself. I couldn't understand a word she said because she only spoke Bengali, so one of the founders translated her story for us. I think this made it worse, too, because I watched Nina struggle through a few Benglai words, trying to fight the tears, and I desperately wondered what she had just said, trying to come up with maybe what it was in my head before the man translated it. And every single time, what the man translated for us was so much worse than what I had guessed. I want to share Nina's story with you, and I only pray that I do her the justice she has deserved for a very long time.

Nina was born in Pakistan which went through a civil war when she was a child and split. The area she is from is Bangladesh today. She and her family were placed in a refugee camp during the war. While in the camp, a woman befriended Nina and offered her a job as a maid in India. With her family already in poverty, they decided this was the best decision for her future. Nina told us that she has forgotten most of the trip from the refugee camp to India. However, she recalls that when she arrived in Kolkata, she was given a Coca Cola. Nina, being a small-village girl, had never had a Coke before, and therefore did not notice that it probably tasted funny because it was heavily drugged. The next morning she woke up in a room with two men she had never seen. She quickly realized that within 24 hours, she had gone from a refugee camp survivor to the newest addition to one of the largest red light districts in the world. For the next many years Nina would live on The Line and would eventually become an alcoholic to try to numb the pain that was her life.

When Freeset was introduced to Nina, she took the chance and got a job there. She was one of the first 20 women who chose to work for Freeset and come off The Line. Now she is one of their managers and is involved in the planning of new locations for the organization. She returned to Bangladesh to try and find her family once she was safe in Freeset, but found that by the time she returned, they had all passed away. Not only did Satan take most everything from her, but he also took her time with her family. For women like Nina, poverty doesn't give them a choice. Poverty tells them that to provide for themselves, for their families, they can't move from where they are. But God speaks freedom in choice.


So what can we do? Well, for starters, Freeset needs more business from the United States. Whether it is birthday or Christmas presents, or your company or sorority is ordering tshirts, log on to to give more women the decision to choose true life. The more we buy, the more freedom can be given.

I pray that my words touched you in some way. If you can take some piece of what I took from India--take this. You and I, we get to choose. What will you do with your choices? Will you use them for good? We get to choose most everything. We weren't given that right for nothing. No, you and I were trusted with the freedom of choice so that we would make the right ones. Choose good. Choose freedom. Live a life you and God are gonna be really proud to look back on someday.