It’s Louisiana’s birthday, and here’s why you should be proud

Today Louisiana celebrates her 202nd birthday.

I have found that I am one of the few students at LSU who is proud to be from Louisiana, and wishes to remain here. My classmates bash her all the time:

We’re fat, uneducated, ignorant, and close-minded. We have awful roads and mediocre schools. Our politicians are corrupt. Our crime is staggering and our health is shocking.

My classmates dream of living in glamourous places like Los Angeles, or New York, or London. It is there, they say, where opportunities of success thrive.

“Why would you ever stay in a failing state with more problems than you can list?” they ask me.

Here’s my reply.

Louisiana is home. This place is filled with good, decent people who care about the well-being of their neighbors. This place is filled with warm, welcoming people who know how to have fun. This place is filled with caring, loving people who protect their communities.

I care about these people. I don’t want to see them living in poverty and living with diseases. Louisiana deserves better. We’re not perfect. But I want to stay here to fix the problems of those good, decent, warm, welcoming, caring and loving people. My fellow Louisianans need help. We need money and resources. We need leaders who are driven by passion instead of power. We need bright ideas.

I believe in these people. And I believe that I can help them. And I believe that they can help themselves if they are given the right opportunities and resources. But how will they ever get the opportunity if the best and brightest young people lend their valuable talent and skills to states already overflowing with entrepreneurs and engineers and thinkers and leaders?

I challenge my classmates to stay! Love your home! Fix it, better it, be the change! Stop complaining about our issues and use the blessings God gave you to show the world that Louisiana is not a place to be ashamed of, but a place to be proud of.

Happy birthday, Louisiana. I wish you 202 years different than the ones we are leaving behind. I wish you a future where your homegrown people cling to you and help you and build you up to your fullest potential. You are beautiful and wonderful and mysterious and fun and eccentric and hospitable, and I don’t ever want you to lose those traits. I wish for you that your sons and daughters use those characteristics for the good of your being. Here’s to you, Louisiana. Grow and flourish.

What I Have Missed And What I Will Miss

Beside my friends and family, here’s a list of things I’m most looking forward to enjoying again when I’m stateside.

9. Dollars.
DOLLAH DOLLAH BILLZ! Counting Euros is no fun and too complicated.

8. Mustard.
Yup. No mustard to be found in Ireland. I’ll never take it for granted again!

7. The Accent.
Oh the Irish lilt is great, but I miss the Southern accent terribly! Howdy y’all.

6. Burgers.
I never thought making a burger took such talent, but after trying a few here, I’ve come to the realization that Americans are simply better cooks – or maybe Louisianans are better cooks. Yeah, that’s probably it.

5. Hair Straightener.
I haven’t straightened my hair for a month because there’s simply no point for putting in effort. It’s going to rain all day anyways! On the bright side, my hair is healthy again.

4. Ice.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GIVE ME A GLASS FULL TO THE BRIM OF ICE. If you ask for ice here, you’ll get TWO ice cubes – and that’s if you’re lucky.

3. A Routine.
I’m a very particular person, and I will be so thankful when I can do my morning and evening routines the way they’re supposed to be, not jumping from hostel to hostel sharing a bathroom with 8 other girls.

2. Air Conditioning.
Yeah, yeah, they don’t really need it here because it’s so cold. But, if it gets just slightly warm outside, that means it’s stifling inside. No AC + no ceiling fans = a sweaty mess of tourists.

And the thing I’ve missed the most about the U.S. of A.?
1. TEX MEX. Yes, that savory, spicy, ooey gooey, cheesy, crunchy wonderful thing that is Mexican food. Give me chips and salsa, give me a burrito, an enchilada, empanada, flauta, chimichanga, anything! I’m sick of potatoes and just want something Mexican!

And here are a few things that I’ll miss about Ireland:

9. Bueno Bars
Okay, so this might be German and not Irish, but we should definitely bring these back to the US!

8. Walking Distance
I love driving, but it sure is nice only having to walk a block to the grocery from your hotel.

7. The Accent
I just said that I missed the Southern accent back home, but I’ll also miss the Irish accent! Won’t miss potatoes, though Niall. Think I’ve had my fair share… for life.

6. Adventure A Day
Something exciting happened every day here!

5. Bulmer’s
Delicious cider – enough said!

4. Gelato
I know it’s Italian, but IT’S EVERYWHERE IN EUROPE AND AMAZING.

3. Mountains
They’re BEAUTIFUL!

2. Cool Weather
No sweat, no problems.

1. Trad Music
I want to dance and sing and shout and cry all at the same time.

Thanks, Ireland for such great craic! You’ve treated me so kindly, but now is my time to go home.

St. Patrick

“You will move on your belly
and eat dust all the days of your life.
I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed.” Genesis 3: 14-15

Growing up in south Louisiana, you learn about “snake moving season.” Anything muddy, bushy and overgrown is considered “snakey” and you don’t trample through those areas barefoot. Many family legends include those little devils as main characters, like the time my grandmother swore a black racer chased her from the pond to her back porch, or the time my teenaged aunt courageously jumped over a cottonmouth on the living room floor where I, a baby, was playing. She swooped me in her arms, ran out the door and called for help.

I’m terrified of snakes. I have reoccurring nightmares involving the slithering serpents; they slip up my leg and bite me. I always forget what the snake looked like, and therefore can’t receive the right anti-venom. When I finally wake up in a cold sweat, I instinctively check the place on my body where the snake bit me in my dream. It’s only a figment of my imagination, but the fear is real.

I had a meltdown Tuesday. I noticed a mockingbird screeching and flapping her wings awkwardly near our back porch. I observed closely, thinking she was hurt. But then I saw what she was screaming at: a two-foot long, dark gray snake coiled up at the bottom of the porch steps.

I frantically shouted for my dad to come. Seconds later I looked back out the window, and the snake was nowhere to be seen. That’s when the hot tears rolled down my face, and I found myself crouched over gasping for air. I’m not kidding – I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown all because one snake had slithered away from the vibrations I’m sure he felt from my bellowing for help.

The only thing that my dad could do to somewhat calm me down was to reassure me I would be away from snakes for a whole month in Ireland. I leave tomorrow for the Emerald Isle, and I am so thankful God blessed Ireland without any snakes. As Irish legend goes, St. Patrick fasted for 40 days until he drove all the snakes into the sea and away from the island. We know now that due to glacial waters, snakes were never able to migrate to Ireland. Either way, I am elated that I am going to a place for a whole month where I don’t have to fear for snakes. God bless Ireland, and God bless St. Patrick!

St. Patrick drives all snakes from Ireland into the sea.

Hero

“We knew with that phone call, we would be celebrating while another family would be grieving. It was bittersweet, that Momma could live at the expense of a stranger’s death.”

My mother wiped a tear away under her sunglasses as we drove into town. She was explaining the complex emotions of her family as her mother, my grandmother, waited for a life-saving double heart/lung transplant. It was one of the first of its kind, and Debbie, a non-smoker, needed it desperately with her rare and fatal lung disease. At 35, she was a wife and mother of three. My mom was the eldest at 13, and my two aunts were 11 and 6.

“It was the end of ball season,” my mom recalled when Debbie moved to Houston for the summer to wait for someone else to die. “I wanted Momma to live. I didn’t want anyone to die.” If I could speak to that young man’s family, I would tell them he is my hero. His organ donation added 18 years to my grandmother’s life. She got to see all three of her daughters graduate high school, and she got to be my grandmother for 13 years.

The conversation came up when we were discussing the sad story of Sarah Murnaghan, a 10-year-old girl in dire need of a lung donation. The thing is, transplants for children are rare because children don’t die as often. Plus, very few adult lungs fit the cavity of a small child.

Before you read anything else you must understand this: no one, not me, not my mother, wants a sick child to die. But there are a few things the media is not shedding light on, and I have an issue with that.

No news article I’ve read has mentioned where on the adult list Sarah falls now. If I had to guess, there are now other people below her. Who makes this decision? Why should one person be given preference over another? How does one decide who has more reason to live than another? I don’t want to know the answers to these questions. As happy as I am for Sarah’s new hope, I am also sad for the people who are now bumped down the list.

And the biggest kicker of them all: no news article I’ve read has stated the reason Sarah and 120,000 others across the country have been waiting for years is not a policy statement, but the lack of organ donors! Only 28,000 organ transplants were performed in 2012. Just think if more people registered to be donors.

Eighteen people will die today waiting for an organ donation.

You should know that Sarah is not alone. Her family is not the only one to suffer and fight and hope and fear. I pray tonight that Sarah gets an organ donation. I pray tonight that families make the decision to donate life. I pray tonight that I can influence others to make the right choice to register to be an organ donor.

You can sign up here. It’s that easy.

The Little Way

I have a book addiction.

I have a book addiction.

I consider myself a well-read 20-year-old. I’ve read Shakespeare, Bradbury, Rowling, Orwell and Austen. My top bookshelf teeters this way and that. Because all the shelves are packed, the only way to stack is up. My childhood summers consisted of me staying indoors reading The Boxcar Children and The American Girl series. Some of the only times I’d leave the house was to walk down McHugh Drive to the local library – only one block from my front porch – to check out multiple novels at a time. The librarians knew me by name, and they didn’t worry when I came in without adult supervision. I treated the books with respect and care. After all, the characters were my friends, and the yellowed pages were their homes.

I love reading because it’s an escape from reality. I can travel from sweltering Louisiana to mysterious Narnia, Neverland or Oz. I like to read because I can forget about my own life for a few hours.

But every once and a while, there will come a book that will plunge into your soul and make you uncomfortable. It’s not a train to another land, but an intruder that trespasses into your own home, into your personal life, forcing you to ask deep questions about the betterment of yourself and society.

At 1:32 a.m. this morning, I turned the last page to The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. It was one of those rare intrusive books.

Here’s a quick synopsis: Ruthie Leming is the author’s sister. She was born and raised in West Feliciana, just a few miles north of my home in Zachary. Ruthie lived a simple, country life and Rod Dreher, her brother, tells her battle of cancer and the fight for faith, family and community.

Mr. Dreher isn’t afraid to stray to difficult scenes of passive aggressive quips, and theological discussion of God’s will. It is simply fantastic writing around a wholesome and real family.

You know you are reading good writing when you have to sit back, put the book down, and ponder questions like: do I tell my momma I love her every day? Do I question God too much? How can I be more welcoming to others?

A common theme of the story is God has something bigger for us than what we want at the time, and sometimes we can’t see what good will come out of tragedy until long after. Mr. Dreher, I believe this book is one of the things God wanted to come out of this. The Little Way isn’t just an archive for your descendants; your account of your sister made me think about the way I’m living life, and how I can be a better person. It also gave me hope that one day I, too, could be a writer from unknown Zachary.

Thank you and your sweet family for being brave and selfless for sharing your Ruthie with the rest of the world. Just like you said Ruthie touched everyone she met, she will touch even more souls from heaven in the pages of your book (I know she inspired me). So, thank you for the read. I loved every page.

Thanks for reading,
Danielle

Adventure

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My boyfriend Grant says there’s no middle ground with me. Either it’s one extreme of the other. Maybe he has a point since I consider our non-dinner-and-a-movie dates “adventures.”

Yesterday we went on an adventure.

We started the day off by roaming Barnes and Noble and picking up a few summer reads. On my list were The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Grant bought The Best Short Stories of O. Henry and The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

After a pit stop at the LSU Student Union, we headed to downtown Baton Rouge to visit the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium. We were the only two viewers of the 2 p.m. showing of Digital Universe, which was quite mind boggling. When I think of the size of our world within the known universe, I feel small and insignificant. Anytime I marvel God’s creation is humbling. It was also a surprise when I read in the credits that family friend Bob Courtney had voiced the film!

Then we drove north three miles along the river levee to the towering beauty that is the Louisiana State Capitol. We entered the magnificent entrance hall and turned right toward the House of Representatives. My ZTA sister Missy met us in the peanut gallery above the bustling chamber to fill us in on her job as a page. She told us about the myriad of gifts the legislators receive: flowers, fruit and one day bushels of fresh tomatoes from a local farm. Missy scurried back downstairs before it was found out she was missing, and Grant and I listened to the questioning of the bill on the floor. The representatives spat out data and numbers, bounced from desk to desk, and asked leading questions to throw off the bill author. Grant was on the edge of his seat, his right leg jittering like it does when he’s concentrating. His eyes were wide and his lips pursed.

It was adorable.

“This is what I want to do,” he said.

Thanks for reading,
Danielle