Saturday, March 9, 2013


First published at The High Calling

The journey by car to Cahul, Moldova, from the capital city of Chisinau, is apparently not often attempted in December. But we were scheduled to perform a Christmas concert at an orphanage that day, so we loaded the van with our equipment and pulled out of the heavily gated courtyard of the Baptist College just as the snow turned to rain. The unplowed streets were icing fast. Mercifully I fell asleep as our van bounced around the city gathering supplies for the journey south.

When I awoke everyone’s nerves were on alert. Oleg spoke quickly in Romanian and gestured to the road. We were silent as the wheels struggled to gain purchase. Beyond the frosty front window the terrain was an even white and grey. Iced-over, uncut branches of ancient trees extended into the road like ghost fingers.

I fidgeted with my BlackBerry. Matt, my husband, filmed with his iPhone.

“We have excellent cell service,” Oleg said as he glanced at us in the rearview mirror. “We get cell technology before the rest of Europe. They test it on us first, in case it causes cancer,” he said, chuckling. We passed barns, cottages, a herd of sheep with a switch-wielding shepherd close behind. A dog chained to a pole shivered in the freezing dusk. No electric light warmed the windows of the homes. No street lights lit our path.

“If you don’t grow it and can it,” Oleg continued, “you don’t eat. You starve. People starve every winter out here.”

We were only beginning the second leg of the journey and it was getting dark. We inched slowly south, passing paralyzed, abandoned cars and tractor-trailers sprawled across the road. We were headed to an orphanage which would be hosting twenty or thirty deaf-mute children from a nearby town in addition to the dozens of parentless children who called its musty corridors home. They’d all be waiting, eager for the rare chance to laugh, to sing and enjoy; eager for the chocolate and music we were bringing.

It would be our second orphanage visit on this trip. The first orphanage felt like a rundown inner-city school until I visited the restroom. The smell of untreated sewage nearly toppled me before I made it to the outhouse door. The little girl guiding me down the cold, unlit path looked nervously at her feet.

Moldovan orphans are among the most vulnerable in the world to human trafficking. Music and chocolate was our entry fee into the orphanages, but our other, more surreptitious goal was to gather information about the children who would soon become eligible to be moved to Oleg’s safehouse once their time at the orphanage was up—typically at age sixteen. We learned that many are sold to traffickers by the very orphanage workers tasked to care for them. They are easily convinced to go willingly with the promise of a good job abroad, or of education. The orphanage where we were headed was in the city of Cahul; because Cahul borders the Black Sea traffickers easily load victims onto illegal ferry’s that shuttle them to Istanbul where they are then broken down, abused and intimidated into compliance. Oleg’s safehouse provides a stop gap; job training, education and hope for a very different outcome than what many have faced, what many will face.

After seven hours in the van, the city lights of Cahul began to color the night sky and I exhaled. We quickly unloaded the equipment; we’d have to head back to Chisinau before it started snowing again. We would be singing Christmas songs, while others led games, contests and drama. There were about forty children gathered in the overheated room, it’s walls and windows draped with colorful hand-woven blankets and tapestries. Many older kids had little ones nestled on their laps.

In the first row, to my right, a tiny girl sat alone, folding herself neatly into a plastic chair. She sat perfectly still; her wide brown eyes met mine. She wore a pink sweater and her reddish brown hair was cropped close to her head. I wondered if she could understand what we were singing.

On the right side of the room, the children who were deaf and mute watched our translator expectantly. Olga, a missionary from Cahul, signed everything we said and most of the song lyrics. As we finished, I suddenly felt an unfamiliar anxiety.

Did we really drive seven hours to be with the children for an hour? Were we doing them any good?
As we packed up our equipment, I felt a tug at my sweater. I looked down into the same brown eyes I’d met earlier.

“Thank you,” she said in perfect English, chocolate bar in hand. “Thank you for coming all the way from America. Thank you so much.”

In that moment, I felt the emotions I’d held in check throughout the journey rush at me. I felt the miles we’d traveled, the anxiety. I felt the distance narrow between me and this tiny girl; she whose features so closely resembled my own, who could so easily pass for my sister, my daughter.

I leaned down and asked her name.

“Christina,” she said, smiling.

I put my arm around her as someone took a picture.

“Thank you, Christina,” I said. “Thank You.”

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Grief over Connecticut tragedy should move us to prayer-- then to action

first published at Culture Map Houston

I was going to keep my mouth shut about this for as long as I could. But then, today I read this: "I need some kind of spiritual armor that I may not possess for every time I see this composite picture of everyone killed on Friday. Mercy."

Mom, and blogger Laurie White (@lauriewrites) made an achingly honest statement, one that most of us can identify with, regardless of our spiritual or religious affiliations should we claim one at all. All of us, if we are human and haven't been living under a rock for the last few days, are shattered by the senseless tragedy that unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

And it's a wound that keeps getting torn open every time we see one of those precious faces, every time we hear the names and see the pictures of the ones killed. But something tells us we shouldn't let that wound open and re-open. Something tells us to be strong, move along, shut it out, get on with life.

I'm writing today to tell you not to. Don't armor up, don't shut down, don't move on. Get sad, get angry, and then get busy.

No secret

I'm a Christian, that's no secret. I became a Christian because when as a self-destructive 25-year-old, I was presented with a picture of Christ as one of us. Not unlike that corny song, "What if God were One of Us?" that we heard playing from every radio and stereo in the late '90s.

I was in pain in my 20s. I'd experienced a good bit of loss, friends who'd passed away tragically and too young, my parent's divorce, addiction. I was in pain and I felt alone in it. I met a group of artists who knew God as someone with them, beside them, someone who entered into their pain and by his presence brought healing.

The pain of Sandy Hook is no illusion. It's real and it's relentless. And it should be.

If you're human you will experience pain, there's no way around it. Many religions see pain as a personal failure, the judgment of an angry God, or simply, as an illusion that through discipline we can over come.

I'm here to tell you that the spiritual armor we seek is our heartbreak. Compassion and empathy in the face of horror and heartbreak are our armor. Entering into this grief with these precious families is our responsibility.

When we fail to be heartbroken over the slaughter of innocents we will have lost our humanity; we will have lost the image of God that we bear.

But once we've grieved, and we are grieving, we must then move on to action.

Time to act

Dr. James Shaw says "We must require more of ourselves than to grieve." We hear too many times from politicians and religious leaders, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families." And while their intentions may be good, that statement is a PC way of saying, "And there's nothing we can do about it."

Gun violence is not a natural disaster. Mental illness is not a natural disaster.

Both of these issues can and must be addressed. Prayers, yes, we'll take them and so will God. They should be constant and honest.

But if we allow ourselves to enter into this pain, and to truly pray, we will emerge focused to enact change, to act. Bringing the Kingdom of God to earth is not a passive endeavor. Mother Theresa didn't tell the people of India, "My thoughts and prayers are with you." She rolled up her sleeves and got to work again and again, bringing change to her small corner of earth.

That work, that corner, has moved countless millions to compassion and to action. She turned her grief and her heartbreak into action, and we must do the same.

Demanding common sense gun law reform is not political, it's human.

Demanding that the mentally ill be treated comprehensively, affordably and with love is not political, it's human.

The very essence of our humanity is the image of God we bear. God who came to our home, our earth, who saw our heartbreak, grieved with us, and then got to work.

Million Mom March, anyone?

Friday, October 26, 2012

I haven't written in a while...

Is that not the ultimate punk out blogger excuse? I hate that I just wrote that!

But I have a really good excuse!

I have been writing a column for Culture Map Houston and so they have sucked up all my (also know as my very limited supply of) good ideas.

Alot has happened. We finished The Rebecca West album. We started another album for our other band, Olivette.

We started a non profit organization for our music ministry and international mission work called - wait for it- "Olivette."

My husband Matt was diagnosed with bladder cancer and had surgery in September.

Our daughter started first grade...

Our cat got fleas and our car broke down. Now I'm starting to sound like a country song.

But the thing is- we are GOOD. We are really, really good.

We have learned to live in sips, appreciate eachother and our blessings a little better. And we've made beautiful music and I've written words I'm proud of.

So I hope you will come to these other places on the interweb and hang with me. I may not be back to these parts for a while.

Come on....

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nellie needs a forever home

This sucks. This sucks. This sucks.

So I've had this dry, irritating cough since the beginning of July. And I've developed asthma as a result. Turns out the pretty little lady you see here is the cause of it. We need to find her a good home, no, a great home. One with a yard and an owner not allergic to her. Can you help? Here is what I've written about her, below. If you could spread the word, we'd really appreciate it.

Nellie is approximately one year old; she is a beautiful, pure-bred Basset Hound who loves to run and play with other dogs! She loves kids and people in general, is sweet and affectionate and has a lot of energy. She is small for a Basset; full-grown at about 50 pounds. She is vaccinated, spayed and microchipped.

We started fostering Nellie about six months ago, hoping that she could be our forever dog, but unfortunately, Nellie is too much dog for our little house and sadly I am allergic to her.

She is the perfect second dog for a family with a yard and “big” kids over the age of 5. Nellie likes to jump when she greets you so not great for babies and toddlers- she thinks they are puppies too! Also- no cats! She thinks they are squirrels and chases them all over the house! Oh, and she’s kinda famous! I wrote and essay about how awesome she is HERE.

She is house broken and crate trained, loves to take walks and sniff everything in the neighborhood, and loves to have her belly scratched. She also loves it when you scratch behind her velvety soft ears. Nellie is not an apartment dog, her bark is loud and musical, and she will sing along if you play an instrument- which is awesome! But maybe not if you share walls with neighbors.

We are praying that someone out there if the perfect forever owner for Nellie! Please let us know if you are interested in more information or you would like to meet her! camerondezenhammon at

Sunday, April 22, 2012


I've written a little bit about the miscarriage I had in the Fall, but recently I've been thinking about it, and there is more I want to say.

This week I have had the great privilege of celebrating with a friend on the upcoming birth of her first child, her first- who will arrive a week or so after the due date I was given by my doctor in September. A date, June 12, that will not pass easily.

I imagine what it would have been like to have babies days apart. Would they have grown up as friends? Sisters? Would they argue over who came first?

I have also had the great privilege of sharing the joy of a new pregnancy with a friend on Friday, only to learn that by Sunday, today, there had been a devastating loss, a miscarriage.

Miscarriage is a crappy word; it's the death of a loved one, the death of the promise of life. Nothing more nor less.

A few days after my surgery, it was a Saturday, I decided to take Sydney to the Mad Potter. We stopped in at Gap Kids and walked over to Starbucks for chocolate milk. I remember thinking how well I was doing, how I didn't even feel sad. The sun was shining, me and Sydney were together, I was going to be ok, I thought.

On the way home, as I turned from West Gray onto Montrose a song came on the radio. Here's what I heard:

I have died everyday waiting for you
Darlin' don't be afraid I have loved you for a Thousand years
I'll love you for a Thousand more

My stomach seized and grief flowed through me like hot blood.

I have loved you for a thousand years
I'll Love you for a thousand more

Mother and child share this sort of connection, and only mother and child. A child is literally "Flesh of my Flesh and Bone of my Bone."

That freckle, that laugh, that sound she makes when she's dreaming- these are all things buried deep in my DNA- things that only my child could share.

My DNA was present, in some form, a thousand years ago, and it will be a thousand years from now.And the child I carried for seven weeks, carried it too.

And then there's God, standing outside of all time,a thousand years in either direction with my child, the one I lost, waiting for me.

And tonight, I will choose to believe He holds the child my friend lost yesterday. As He holds me, and you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Happy Place, or Off My Rocker?

My friend Anna Sneed took this picture of me last night, and more than possibly any photo of me ever taken- it perfectly captures my happy place. Maybe because in part I can't see my face- so I can't focus on all my perceived imperfections- or my hair (wow! I need to see Brandi for some color!) or whatever....

This is just me, thinking about something wonderful, art in this case, and taking a moment to let my frontal lobe do a little jig before I commit my observation to paper.

Thanks Anna. I love this.

So last night I went to see "Cold Storage"- a photo/ collage/ art exhibit at the Alzheimer's Association as a part of Fotofest.

The artist, Nan Dickson, chose Alzheimer's patients as her focus for the collection-- Patients who had gotten the rare, and perhaps more devastating early diagnosis, before age 60.

I am planning a photo essay on it for Culture Map so please check it out when it goes live.

It's a powerful beautiful, show and I can't say enough about it. Go see it.

So who is this new me?

I wish I could say it's an identity crisis- or a phase- or a hobby- the writing that is- but it feels like me. It feels like home.

Am I off my rocker? Or have I truly found my happy place?

Friday, March 2, 2012


They sky is seamless gray,throngs of poets and novelists and essayist's are huddled under the awning heat lamps in the rain, smoking, someone is crying in the ladies room and it might be me.

It's AWP folks, the annual writer's conference - legendary writer's conference- that I am attending for the first time.

I'm in Chicago, and the first blast of frigid air that hit me sideways, on my way to Caribou Coffee, made me feel alive, alert and reminded me to breath, deeply. I can't remember the last time I was hit with a blast of frigid air, and I certainly don't remember it having the properties of resurrection when it did.

It feels like it's always 1997 in Chicago, and this conference, this brief visit to a city where so many of my long lost, indie rock college friends live, is a time warp for me. I spotted people from my days at Carnegie Mellon University the very moment I walked through the massive, gilded doors of the Hilton. I hadn't expected that.

My friend Tina was surprised when I gently laid my hand on the puffy coated arm of an old friend and said, "I'm a ....pastor, now. Don't freak out?" She experienced, and so did I, the gulley- the chasm- the Grand Canyon (!) between who I was, and who I am.

I'm not often reminded just exactly what I've been saved from, but I'm grateful for it when I am. I sort of wish I'd been able to keep in touch better with some of my old friends. That my old self, and my new self, had more in common. But I think that's an unrealistic expectation.

"I don't know if I'd be friends with the old you," Tina, said.

"That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me," I replied.

And I meant it, sort of.

I'm not sure I'd be friends with the old me, so unmitigatingly consumed with my own success in the world- who would I be? whom would I love? who would love me?

Would I be famous? Would my father apologize? Could I make my mother proud?

Before God happened to me, I had only myself. And focusing on, relying on, obsessing solely on oneself makes one an extremely uninteresting person.

I didn't expect to spend these few minutes writing, but I'm glad I did. In a sea of 10,000 writer's I am reminding myself here with these words, that every hair on my head is numbered, that I am seen, that I exist, that my story is a good one, and should be told.