Fireflies and Fear

It’s summer, which means vacations and seeing family and lazy mornings for my kids. After traveling for 19 days straight this month, the boys and I have logged some serious hours this week wearing our pajamas all day and reading for hours on end, breaking only to eat or go swimming. 

Tsuneaki Hiramatsu

Tsuneaki Hiramatsu

One of the books we’re reading together is Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee. I picked up a signed copy at a writer’s conference I attended recently and thought it would be the perfect summer bedtime book for my animal-loving seven-year-old. (If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of McGhee’s picture book Someday. I dare you to read it without getting cloudy with a chance of eye rain.)

A couple of days ago, we snuggled into a giant pallet of pillows and blankets in the playroom and started reading. I was only about six pages into the story when Will interrupted and said, “I bet there are hundreds of stories like this in the world.” 

Confused by his seemingly critical comment, I said, “What do you mean?”

The story opens with a description of one of the main characters, Firefly, who is part of Firefly nation (we meet Cricket and Vole later in the book, both part of their respective nations). In the firefly nation, young fireflies go to school and learn to recite the three Fundamental Rules of Giants: 1) Giant are to be feared, 2) Giants are the enemy of firefly nation, and 3) Giants are to be avoided at all costs.

After a short pause, Will said, “This is one of those stories about how people are afraid of something, so they spend all their time being afraid, and in the end we’re going to find out that it was dumb for them to be afraid.”

Ben added, “Except in this book, it’s fireflies instead of people.”

“Right.” I took a moment to think about my response. “Why do you think so many authors write stories like this?”

Without skipping a beat, Will answered, “I think it’s easier to use fiction and fantasy to talk about the world’s messed up problems. About how everyone is just walking around afraid of stuff because people are different or because we don’t know each other.”

Ben said, “But in these stories, there’s always one firefly or person or whatever who isn’t afraid.”


Look, here’s the deal—I spend a lot of time telling funny stories about my kids in real life and on social media. Sometimes I wish I could have a video running to capture these moments to replay later because I need them. Badly. 

I am someone who is deeply affected by the big picture stuff—headlines about terror attacks, child abuse and neglect, and general inhumanity seem to flood my feed, and I have a really hard time disconnecting in a healthy way. I don’t mean shutting it out to pretend it’s not there—I would never suggest that as a reaction to pain. I mean that I have a hard time keeping these things from affecting me emotionally and psychologically. I don't have whatever coping mechanism is required to separate the pain of other people from my own. And I don’t really think I want to. Because what bothers me almost as much as the violence and hate is the reaction we seem to have every time something tragic happens. We’re stuck in this outrage/apathy cycle. We’re mad and sad, and seconds later we analyze the hell out of the tragedy before we’ve even had time to lament, and the next morning we turn the tragedy into memes.

I want off the ride.

I wholeheartedly believe in the words “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Those lyrics have become a mantra for me every time something horrific happens. Instead of engaging in the useless cycle of keyboard wars, I meditate on those words.

I cannot stop terrorism. I cannot stop mass shootings. I cannot stop rapists. I cannot stop bigotry and xenophobia and sexism. I cannot control the actions of crazy, hateful people. I cannot protect myself or my family from those crazy, hateful people.

But I can focus on my tiny heart and the tiny hearts in my home. I can love and serve and protect my children in ways that keep them from becoming those crazy, hateful people. 


We read books.  We read fictional books about brave fireflies who aren’t afraid of giants, crickets who long to know what’s beyond their tiny corner of the forest, and voles who are looking for the courage to do new things. (We’ve only read four chapters, but I think I can safely recommend this book to anyone looking for something to read as a family.)

And then I post about the wisdom that flows effortlessly from my children’s mouths. I post the funny things, the insightful things, the shocking and thought-provoking things because I refuse to believe that violence and hate have the last word. To use a hashtaggable phrase, the kids are all right.

It’s summer, my favorite time of year—warm nights, lemonade and popsicles, and the appearance every night of hundreds of fireflies in the yard, each one of them a reminder to 




Final Thoughts Before the Climb

Tomorrow morning, I’ll board a plane in St. Louis bound for Atlanta and Amsterdam and finally Kigali, Rwanda. For four months, I’ve been preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as part of the One Million Thumbprints campaign.

In the last two weeks, I’ve gathered thumbprints, shopped online for necessities, and spoken to crowds about how sixteen dedicated people from around the U. S. are banding together to raise awareness and funds to help women in war zones.

Me and my mama collecting thumbprints at Mascoutah High School

Me and my mama collecting thumbprints at Mascoutah High School

I’ve been wearing my 1MT shirt around town, the back of which reads “Tell the truth, take a risk, make your mark.” Over and over again, people have asked me what this means. 

There’s a cliche that I hear sometimes when we talk about these big concepts—genocide and rape as a weapon of war and extreme poverty—people talk of “unspeakable truths,” and that phrase rubs me the wrong way. I’m not satisfied with a life that denies the suffering of others. So, I am determined, compelled even, to speak these truths.

When my husband and I said yes to this venture, it was with the understanding that there are risks involved, and my agreeing to be part of the team guarantees that we will leave a mark and as Jeremy Courtney says, we are attempting to “unmake violence” in tangible, life-altering ways.

A couple of weeks ago, I was pulling into my garage when one of my sweet neighbors was walking by with his dog. He flagged me down and said, “My wife said she saw on Facebook that you’re going to Africa!”

After chatting for a few moments, this man who is about my dad’s age and who has been a fantastic neighbor and friend since we moved to this neighborhood said, “Well, I have to be honest. I’m worried about you. It’s so dangerous over there.”

I answered, “That’s why I’m going.”

I’m going to an area of the world that has been rife with violence for the last few decades. Some of the greatest human rights crises of my lifetime have happened in central and east Africa. Some of our friends in these places have begun to rebuild, and some are still living under daily threats to their bodies. I’m going to visit for two weeks and then return to the comfort of my charmed life, but the women for whom I’m raising money do not have that luxury.

I understand why people are questioning my sanity and worried about my safety. I do. One of our fellow climbers, Ruth Bell Olsson, reminded us of a quote from Ruth Messinger that we cannot “retreat to the convenience of being overwhelmed.” Yes, I am overwhelmed by the gravity of this undertaking, but I will not retreat.

People have worried, but they have also been kind and gracious and enthusiastic in their support. Right after we have the “why?” conversation, they usually follow it up with “What can I do to help?” Here are some simple ways:

  1. Give your thumbprint—these thumbprints and names will form a petition that we will take before the UN showing solidarity with the women living through these atrocities. (You can also do this by texting the word THUMBPRINT to 51555.)
  2. Give your prayers—for our safety, for team unity, for physical and mental strength. (If you’d like to read along in the devotion we’ll be reading on the mountain, you can download it here.)
  3. Give a little of your time—share our story with your friends and family in person and on social media. Host a Love Club if you feel strongly about standing with us.
  4. Give your money—Somebody’s Mama has a goal of raising $19,341, a dollar for every foot of mountain I climb, and every penny will go to projects serving the women of South Sudan.

I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in days because the adrenaline won’t shut off no matter what I try, but I am not anxious or worried or scared. I am at peace. I am prepared. And I am operating from a place of love where there is no room for fear. I am ready.

Thank you for reading, and please follow our journey on Facebook at both the Somebody’s Mama and One Million Thumbprints pages. 

Let’s climb a mountain.