“These Names,” by Ashley Olson
October 20th 2015
(Reflections from an Arise Thailand team member who ministered in September 2015)
Lists of girls met.
Lists that bark at me “no hope.”
Girls I wish sometimes I could un-see.
Situations that haunt me in the darkest of mornings.
But I stare deep.
I tug my heart strings.
I resurface their stories to turn memories from black to white.
It’s getting dark now and we’re ready to move.
A herd of us blending into a sea of tourists and gawkers.
Numbered off, put in pairs.
I can hear my breath; I can feel my heart pulsing through my shirt.
Am I ready for this? Can I really affect change?
We walk in.
My eyes see red lights, bald heads, fake smiles.
Find a seat, remember the rules.
Don’t be too much, don’t be too little.
Uncomfortable. Peripheral vision slowly fading.
Breathe, smile, eye contact.
And there she was in front of me.
I asked her name.
I didn’t catch it, so another spoke up.
“Yah know, like the song! ‘Oh Na Na, what’s my name? Oh Na Na, what’s my name?’”
The whole bar started singing and there was an eruption of laughter.
It was as if the angels of joy had cut through these darkened, heavy skies to bring us peace.
The grip on my throat loosened.
I could feel air filling back in my lungs, new life bubbling inside me.
My brain gripped onto her name, that song playing endlessly through my head.
“What’s my name?”
“What’s my name?”
Does she tell them her name?
Does she tell them of her family needing to be fed?
Of a mom and dad that can’t make it without her?
We play games, we drink Sprite.
We laugh when I lose and I see a twinkle in her eye, a nose wrinkled.
I marvel at her.
I hold her gaze for awhile, smile spreading across my face.
I tell her she’s beautiful and strong.
She begins to speak, to open up.
Thai language, but I can feel the softness of her words.
Two kids. Eight years of this work. Tired.
Just wants to be home.
Now I know her name.
This name which has a face that holds a story.
This name which means “graceful”.
She wears her name well.
And as she speaks, who I am breaks.
I flash back to the days I let myself be used.
Where I forgot I was worth something more than what I could physically give.
I remember the warm drinks down my throat, fuzzy in my brain.
The long drags of smoke filling up my lungs.
Dimly lit dance floors, crowded bars, deafening music.
I remember being scared, but plastering on a smile.
I see myself in her; see who I use to be.
I see hurt, loss of innocence, never feeling enough.
And in that place of past come to present, I know hope.
Hope of a God that makes all things new.
Hope that tells me it’s not too big. Small steps matter.
That I’m not alone, that she’s not alone.
He knows her name, He knows her story.
He sees her when they don’t.
And all at once what was breaking inside me burns fire of Truth.
I am known, so she is known.
That night, now only a memory.
One memory out of many.
It’s heavy, dark and brooding.
But it’s lighter as I hand the list, one-by-one, to Him who knows the names of us all.
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