There’s something about this time of year - when Advent is upon us - and the silence the snow evokes can be felt deep in the bones. It’s the kind of silence that invites a richer life, a good look at the heart, the hope of what can be. It’s one of the few times of year that God-as-gift feels tangible, feels close. Like an expectant mother holding her rounding belly, I hold a heart that is swelling. My heart as the inn, emptying itself to make room for the coming king.
Tired mothers push their children in strollers with wheels that are coming off from overuse.
Mere children so afraid of gang violence and cartels that they're leaving their own families before they're in double digits. Walking a thousand plus miles with strangers just to have a chance at asylum. A chance to feel safe.
Mother's hearts breaking as children run off in the night to join the masses.
Pink eye from the dust stirred beneath their sore-covered feet.
Running from the kind of poverty we can't even fathom. Not the food stamp, homeless shelter, food pantry kind of poverty we know.
Afraid of their own government
of political unrest
of gang violence.
Blistered and dehydrated, the children still laugh and play and hope.
How desperate does one have to be to leave their homes, their families, their culture, familiarity, just to have a fighting chance at refuge?
Poor restaurant owners pass out beans and rice and bottled water. The people with the least helping the most.
Then we throw tear gas to those who are just asking for help. 1,243 miles later, and they extend their hands to us with high hopes and are met with poison and push back.
Denying Christ isn't just a verbal renunciation of belief, but the thousand different ways we trample the image of Christ in others.
We renouce Christ by ignoring the cries of the oppressed
by giving stones to those asking for bread
by spraying poison at children asking for peace
by protecting our way of life instead of the actual lives of others.
We deny Christ when we refuse to see his image in the lives of everyone around us: migrant, refugee, native, neighbor, and brother alike.
We deny Christ when we say we carry His name and act nothing like him.
Others will use our lives to define who God is. Do you look like Jesus? The one who offers peace and promise, or are you presenting serpents instead?
We are tabernacled by a holy God.
Filled with the capacity to hold the world within our hearts
to carry the oppressed, the voiceless, the marginalized, and to carry it all with grace.
So as mothers carry babies, and babies carry fear, let’s allow the love of Christ to enable us to carry them.
To respond to their vulnerability with understanding, to respond to their pain with aide, to allow others to jump on the same caravan of Grace that’s been carrying each and every one.
As the leaves are falling and the air is cooling, I think of her and how she loved this time of year. When the crochet hook could come out and there were pies to be made and she could sit a little longer without guilt.
I think of her as I sit in the wooden pew on Sunday. As the hymns are sung, I can still hear her alto voice, harmonizing.
For a fleeting moment when I pass her house I get excited and think I should drop in and say hello, and then I’m pained with the reality that I can’t.
I miss hearing the sing-song way she said “hellll-ooo-oh” when I opened her front door.
I love how she’d send me letters in the mail even though we shared the same tiny town.
I think of her as I enjoy the last of her homemade preserves. I enjoy each bite knowing that next year I won’t have any of the berries her hands have touched.
I miss pouring her “cuppa you know what” into her favorite coffee mug and watching her enjoy that long-drawn first sip.
I miss seeing her interact with my children. While I feel grateful they can say their great-grandmother was a special part of all of their lives, I feel greedy for more.
I miss the diaper coupons I’d get in the mail. Not because they saved me all that much, but because she was thinking of me when she took her scissors to the dotted line, just so she could keep the line between us connected. Intact.
Although she was a tender-hearted woman, she was always very tough. Maybe she wasn’t the person to console the crying, but she’d be the first to send a meal or money or an encouraging letter to remind you that God was near.
She’s not here, yet she always will be. She graces so many moments still, that’s how special she was. I am her namesake and I hope I wear it well. I hope to always remember to breathe her sweetness into those around me, so that I might keep her legacy going.
• I awoke while it was still dark outside. Making beds, opening curtains, waiting for the light I knew would come.
• Relaxing with the warm cup against my palm. I watched her from across the room - the one whose hands were a ballet while she spoke.
• I admire my collection of sunrise photos my 7-year-old has captured on my phone. Especially the ones where there is a bit of the windshield or a finger in view. He calls them a masterpiece and doesn’t even realize.
• I’m caught reflecting on the ways I might be building military bases on the holy sites of others.
Motherhood is such a beautiful ideal, and an extremely difficult truth. We have such difficult scales to balance - to nourish adequately, to help our children navigate their way out of their unkempt outpour of emotions. To teach them to be flexible and to share, to be kind and brave, and to steward their belongings with care. We feed and nap them, we give deliriously without asking for anything in return, except the hopeful anticipation that our children will be happy and love well in the end. We manage all of these aspects of their lives, while we, ourselves, are sleep-deprived, and have our very own emotional gardens that need tending.
In the midst of chaos - the no's and time-outs, the tantrums and upset, the whining and general non-cooperation - I can experience a lot of anxiety, especially when the delirium of sleep-deprivation sets in. Most days, I deal with the messes as they come. I can take one incident at a time, isolate it from the rest of the chaos, and move on with relative ease. But there are some days when my mind is overstimulated from multi-tasking, "exhausted" is an understatement, my fine motor skills are more like a joke, and my nerves are raw and exposed. I feel the anxiety creep through me like a sickness, and I internally implode over every rebuttal of my authority.
I don't check in with myself, I continue to justify every nuance of frustration until anger is born. I lose it in front of the very beings I am teaching to have self-control. I yell and I cry and I feel such an enormous amount of relief from unloading. I take all of the weight back when I realize the repercussions of what I've done.
I am guilt-ridden and overwrought with the fact that I am giving my kids life-tools. I am personally handing them mechanisms to deal with conflict and to navigate reconciliation and peace. I am the one that will set the standard for their lives. What I say and how I react in one moment, has the power and opportunity to settle into their personalities, and to become their inner dialogue.
So I take my children into my arms. I humbly ask them for forgiveness, and I vow not to behave so recklessly in the future, and a miracle happens, one that makes me realize that I'm doing alright at this parenting gig, despite my mishaps. My children embrace me right back, and through teary-eyes, they forgive me. They forgive me.
We can't be perfect, but we can be sorry. We need to sit with our children and let them see that humility and forgiveness have power. I realized in that moment that my children are understanding their role in conflict resolution - their very choice. Our home will never be completely conflict-free, but we can all make the individual choice to forgive. We love each other enough that we can make allowances for each other's mistakes because the safest place to practice...is at home.
So we move forward, safeguarding our hearts with practical ways we can diffuse our frustrations before they give birth to destruction. I promise to keep more careful track of my emotions, to keep better balance of chores and fun, to put down the dish towel or the laundry and to guard our relationships most carefully when the stress meter seems dangerously overworked. And above all, to have a little grace for each and every one of us.
I was able to teach my children a valuable lesson - albeit the wrong way - and they taught me one too: that love is messy and imperfect, and ALWAYS a choice. No matter what, we are there for each other, and that is what matters most. Love is a powerful motivator, and they are doing it right. It compels me to be a better person, to love harder, and to let go of the things in this life that pester and nag me into defeat.
(First published in The Village Magazine's blog in October 2017)
I know in the past I have discussed the dangers I see with this recent trend of self-care, and while I don't wish to be belabor the point, I find myself continually coming back to it. Social media feeds are filled with the topic, and typically revolve around splurging, overspending, and feeding an insecurity by fulfilling its wishes. I see these things, and I feel so unsettled by the definition of self-care that our society has found true.
Intrinsically, self-care is not negative (obviously). Our bodies make non-negotiable physical demands, our minds need time to process and rest, and our emotions really need our attention. The chaos of work and paying bills and dealing with our feelings is a part of life that all of us are trying to find balance within. We are all learning how to give space to these aspects of life, and to do so in a healthy way. However, most of what I see practiced when people use terms like "self-love" or "self-care," has more to do with consumerism and less to do with connection and communion with self.
Binge eating a box of donuts during emotional turmoil is not self-care, it's impulse happiness. It's an aversion to the deeper issue. A manicure or spa day, expensive new wardrobe can all really feel like we're treating ourselves, when actually, we are running. There are times when it's appropriate to make space for ourselves, where we can be alone or someplace beautiful, or even buy ourselves a latte, but if most of our "self-care" is based on treating ourselves to consumer goods more than it is feeling and processing our emotions and assessing our failures or re-strategizing, than I hate to say it, but we're doing it wrong.
I have personally found that self-care is often the exact opposite of excessive indulgence. It's about restraint and denial and self-control. It's usually doing the hard, ugly, unbeautiful, everyday things that push me closer to peace and security. Ways like: reconfiguring a budget or a plan to get out of debt or increase savings, creating a healthy meal plan, or just making time to sit with my emotions until I can find resolve. Consumer self-care is a form of escapism, and will only make us more selfish. Nobody becomes a whole person by running.
I have a history of running. Of changing scenery. Of busyness. It has taken years of practice for me to be able to confront the conflicted and wounded feelings within myself, and really am still very much learning to navigate through such things, rather than hiding behind a book, a podcast, or another commitment. Self-care is quite ofte, me, sitting humbly (and embarrassingly) before all of my unsavory feelings and tendencies, and asking myself hard questions that will get me to the why.
Before we engineer another deed committed in the name of "self-care," I pose that we ask ourselves if this is something that will benefit our health and overall long-term wellness. If self-care is the preservation of one's self, than we have to be able to ask which part of ourselves we'd like to preserve.
A friend recently asked me for children's book recommendations that address race, and sadly, I realized that I didn't have a single book title to offer her. This motivated me to take a closer look at the message I have been giving my kids - at how deliberate I have really been, and to search for new ways to tend to this essential message. It is so important to me to integrate the foundation of equality into the lives of my children. While I am always looking for new and organic ways to introduce conversations about race with my kids, these are some pretty major ways that I already engage. Let's begin with the idea of proximity.
This will always be my go-to solution for the whole issue of the "other." When you're directly involved with people who are different than yourself, you welcome an environment to not only expand your worldview, but your ability to empathize as well. You can overlook the differences by realizing how very much the same all of us humans are. Providing my children innumerable collisions with great BIPOC themselves and introducing them to great black thinkers, writers, preachers, humanitarian and civil rights leaders, educators, and our very own kin, can only reinforce that people are people no matter what color they are. It creates a healthy normal where whiteness is not the standard. Not setting white as the standard inadvertently avoids making POC the deviation. In my opinion, this is the beginning of how to protect the image of those that are BIPOC.
In that same vein of thought, it is our responsibility to call out the cultural stereotypes that present themselves strongly and ceaselessly. Entertainment and advertising are completely tainted with innuendoes that set a social map in our children's impressionable and forming minds. I recently watched a show that my kids enjoy and found (in only one episode) that the Indian kid is genius, the Hispanic kid is overweight, lazy, and hygiene-deficient, the Chinese girl is overworked, over schooled and neurotic, while the lead white girl is rich, dumb, and of great moral standing. These seemingly benign messages cannot be tolerated and must be dissected with our children. If you are one to argue that these works of fiction couldn't possibly lay any real foundation for our children's perceptions, I introduce to you, the Doll Test.
In the 1940's there was a psychological experiment designed to test the degree of marginalization felt by African American children caused by prejudice, discrimination and racial segregation. This was the Doll Test. While the evidence of this study helped shut down the dangerous "separate but equal" ideology for African American kids in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education, it has been reintroduced in recent years to measure children's attitudes about what color has to do with "pretty" or "good"/"ugly" and "bad." The test used identically diapered dolls that only differentiated by color. When these dolls were showed to children of different races between the ages of 3 and 7, the majority attributed the positive characteristics to the white doll, assuring us that racism is internalized, and very early on at that. Black children couldn't explain why the white dolls were better, they just knew that the world reinforced this belief, and so it became their own. We have to talk about what our kids are being propagated to believe.
While there is a deficit in children's literature (that I've found anyway) that specifically addresses racism and slavery, there is a ton of great literature that shows racial and cultural diversity, and this is equally as important as addressing the history of colonialism itself. Around the holidays, I borrow library books that highlight different cultural celebrations so that my children can peak into the windows of other families who exist with their own unique traditions, as my own family does. While reading books together, I identify and talk about those differences, I praise those differences in all of their equal and beautiful ways. Driving the beauty of diversity into their growing minds will help them to see that different isn't bad or dangerous or inferior, it's just different.
While the Doll Test showed some improvements for believed "white bias" in black children since the 1940's, the results of white children have shown that they remain invested in believing stereotypes. Children notice race early in their lives, and so we, as parents, have to help shape healthy views. It is so vital to take every available opportunity to lay the groundwork for your children. Talk about the differences you see, don't attempt to stifle the issue just because you don't know how to answer questions, or address such issues in a way that you fear might offend. Do the work, educate yourself, start conversations to even see where your children are at with their beliefs, and keep the momentum going by showing your children how to cohabit this world in a meaningful and safe way for all.
Sadly, no matter how deep I go with my children, I realize that their experience is whitewashed and that there will always be a certain amount of effort that will need to be put forth to understand logically (never experientially) the burden that BIPOC carry. While the Doll Test showed some improvements for believed white bias in black children, the results of white children have shown that they remain invested in believing stereotypes. This is why it's insufficient to assume that if our children aren't explicitly taught racism in their home, that they can't grow in discriminatory ideologies. Our children will be shown what to believe about race at every turn, and it's our duty to not only avoid racist rhetoric, but to actually take it a step farther and to be proactively anti-racist.
While I am certain I have messed this thing up from time-to-time, or passed up valuable learning opportunities, I am striving to do what I can to learn, to keep my children in recognition of their privileges they have simply from being white, their responsibility in dismantling the corrupt social structures, to raise compassionate, thinking, loving human beings who will never overlook someone for their skin color, but will embrace them more deeply because of it.
Trauma can radicalize the amount of time I spend in the past. Even when my thoughts are in the present, my subconscious mind is always searching for unsafety. The moments when my children's laughter grounds me, or I experience total embodiment from a beautiful sunset, those moments only last so long. Those brief and enlivening moments when I am fully present though, they are what it means to be human. So I want to keep my eyes on the tender moments of now, so that I can experience my children's laughter without looking for sharp edges. That I can see the beauty of a sunset without the fear of the darkness that accompanies.
Maybe instead of time being the one that gives (because it never does), maybe I need to bend a little more to the holy time that I am given. I can't smooth the wrinkles of life, but I can coalesce to the grace of the moment. The grace that's always there when I'm looking for it. I've found that I can't be what everyone needs me to be. I can rarely be what I need for myself. But I can slowly pour myself out: offering a hug, a roof, an ear, a meal, a heart of compassion. In giving, I'm also surrendering. Surrendering my expectations, acknowledging my limitations, understanding that it was never my role to be everything to everybody.
All I can do, all that is really asked of me, is that I pour myself out. My insubstantial and fragile abilities and efforts could be broken like the little boy's 5 loaves and 2 fish. That all I have to do to participate in the miracle, is to show up and be willing. To come with my holy and meager offerings by saying here I am, and to know that God's hands can take the little pieces of me and spread them before the multitudes with grace and fulfillment (and even leftovers). There's always multiplication in the breaking. When I give what I have, (which is never enough, but always the right amount), when I am broken from the inside out, I can expect the empty spaces of me to be filled with God himself, and that my life becomes more of a blessing because of it.
Through all of the recent police shootings of black bodies and the inconsequential legal battles that follow, there have erupted many protests, some turning riotous. While I don't condone violence for any reason, we have to be able to look back with some degree of context to understand why these occasions are becoming typical.
The first Africans were brought to the English colonies in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Our country laid legal foundations for the racialization of America starting in 1640: The Law of Hereditary Slavery that perpetuated the slave status to anyone born of a slave (an endless cycle), the prohibition of interracial marriages, the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law which enlisted black slaves to life-long service. These and many others were the groundwork that the first colonies adopted, becoming the moral foundation of our country.
1787, time had passed and we had not morally evolved. There continued to be the creation of laws that undermined the dignity and worth of POC, all while advantaging the white population. In the 3/5th compromise there was a dispute over whether POC should be counted as people or property. There were plenty who couldn't contend to the idea of slaves being counted as human, and the ones that did only had motivations that had nothing to do with the humanity of a POC, but of slave-owning states gaining more political power. In 1790 the first rules about citizenship were written and it basically extended to the "free white person" of good character.
After the Civil War the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were added to the Constitution to abolish slavery, to grant citizenship to anyone born on American soil, and grant African-Americans the right to vote. In response to these victories, (southern) white Americans decided to reclaim their dominance by the constructing of Jim Crow laws.
Our laws have been tainted since the beginning, and our justice system has been reinforcing discriminatory, unjust laws. People look at the Black Lives Matter movement and can't fathom a people who have such animosity when they haven't experienced slavery for themselves, but what's not being understood is that the framework of our country has been unbalanced with injustice. An injustice that is still reverberating through the socio-economic, political, prejudicial and emotional realms of POC.
We look at the rates of African-Americans in prison versus whites and conclude that black people are more criminal. If we look more closely, we see the major factor of discrimination (POC more likely to be stopped, searched, given tickets and arrested than whites) the fact that the bail system thrives on poverty, and the harsher sentencing of POC than whites it is naïve to think that POC are simply "more criminal."
Furthermore, we look at the fact that slavery was only abolished 153 years ago, when it was legal for 246 years and practiced for far longer. The constitutional equality has been written, but equality has clearly never been fully achieved. It takes time to undo the damage, to unravel wrong philosophies, and to provide restitution for those injured.
African-Americans and white Americans have different access to justice, different access to the "American Dream," experientially do not have the voice of those of European descent, the promises of freedom and justice have not been met, and instead of speaking up and being met with compassion, they are further stripped of power by being called "angry" or "terrorists." Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the environment that we are again, experiencing on a massive scale. He said this:
"I think American must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so, in a real sense our nation's summers of riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention."
We have to listen to the language of the riot closely. There are recurring issues that have been vocalized over and over again. The voices are getting louder and more angry simply because their appetite for justice is so big, yet their voices are repeatedly shut down. We are creating a hostile atmosphere when we invalidate someone's message because we refuse to (at times) listen through someone's anger. If we start immersing ourselves in the culture of the oppressed, our perspective will change, our empathy will blossom, and we will be able to help bring this world towards the overhaul of justice that is deeply needed. Let's become a country who listens, not an empire that exerts control. Let's listen to the language of the riots and see where it takes us.
I find it so odd that there is any form of comfort found in broken systems of coping. I've never been served in a positive way through the means I have learned to hurt less. Because in the hurting less, I have been investing less, receiving less, keeping a stranger's distance from the beautiful unknown.
I am giving myself breathing room to unlearn some of these habits I've called home. Because I'm learning that life's a balance of the holding on and the letting go. Letting go of things that cause more brokenness, gathering up trust, and holding on to the One who holds all things together. Because you can't grab on to something new when your fists are clenched with the old.
I have always been reaching: a drowning hand from the mire, a daughter who was reaching for a parent to see her and save her, reaching for the children she's wounded with her words, reaching for a way to inner peace, reaching for a way back. The long way back. It's hard to keep holding on when you haven't felt tenderly held. When you haven't let yourself be tenderly held.
My day is full of disruptions to higher ways, but I push through and shove past and elbow every single one out of the way in the name of convenience. Those disruptions are the way to new paths, the narrow path. And because I've had confusion in knowing when to let go and when to hang on, I've not acknowledged my hurts as a result of broken judgement, but I've internalized them as another reason to believe the lie.
The beliefs that I hold deep within my being are what hold on to me. So, what do I believe - truth and lies alike? This balance of holding on and letting go, just feels like I'm perpetually between trapezes. I have to let go of what I thought was holding me stable, and while in mid-aid, wait for the next bar to appear. Thankfully, I know now that it always will.