Racism, Heresy, and Hope

When the events of Charlottesville happened, I was hopeful that real conversation would ensue. Many of my white Christian friends seemed genuinely puzzled by what was happening and the swift explosion of condemnation to it. I thought, perhaps, they would seek to understand perspectives they had not before fully considered.

Of course, I was wrong.

moneyMy social media pages are now full of memes poking fun of people “offended” by various things, (as if that’s what any of this is about), quotes from token conservative black people (as if the fringe should ever silence the collective whole), and false equivalencies (no sane person wants to remove the names of our founding fathers from anything), all of which were posted by fellow believers.

It’s for these people this post was written.

Sunday, our pastor spoke on Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece.” He shared that a work of art comes from the inner most part of who the artist is. And he asked this question:

Is it possible to stand before a masterpiece and not recognize it as such?

The answer, of course, is yes. What I’ve learned in the last few weeks, is that while some of us don’t recognize a work of art because of simple ignorance, many of us refuse to see. Willful ignorance is our downfall. Standing before us are people of color, individual masterpieces of God, and we refuse to acknowledge them as such.

I can hear you protesting as you read this. You are denying that you are racist. You would never wear a swastika. You love everybody. You don’t even notice color. Purple, green, brown, yellow, whatever, it matters not to you. People are just people.

You simply don’t understand why this is such a big deal now, in 2017. Slavery was outlawed hundreds of years ago. Civil rights were won over fifty years ago. The playing field is level and you’re tired of everyone playing victim and throwing the race card. You’re convinced the media is playing us all against each other and creating drama where otherwise there would be none.

Does that about sum it up?

Well, I contend that you are not just racist, a case could be made that you are also dangerously close to heresy, which is defined as adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma, or code of tenets.

One of the basic doctrinal principles of our faith is Imago Dei. Genesis 1:27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

All of us are image bearers of God, worthy of respect and equality. Instead of honoring that, you are placing your opinion, your experience, your desires, and your rights above people of color.

Collectively, people are sharing their experiences of being black in America. They are sharing their pain, their fear, and their reality. And your response is to silence them, to whitesplain what really happened, how they should really feel, and what’s really going on.

Because you have never had to worry for your life in an encounter with police, you are convinced that is truth for all. Because you have only ever been pulled over for valid reasons, you are sure that is true for all. Because everyone you know has a shot at a fair trial with a jury of their peers, it can’t possibly be true that people die without deserving it.

Because you have the luxury of living in a system created for you, your skin color, your culture, your hair type, your manner of speech and dress, you don’t ever have to think of race or race relations except when it’s all over the news, therefore, you are convinced that suddenly, race relations are “worse than ever” and it’s probably Obama’s fault.

Thinking about these things makes you uncomfortable and defensive, so instead of actively listening and lamenting, you poke fun and trivialize it, not realizing that you prove the point that equality is a myth by your very actions. It’s all about your comfort level, your feelings, your opinions.

By denying people of color their lived experiences, by whitewashing our history, by trivializing and belittling their woundedness, you are demeaning their humanity. You are denying their equality. And you are spitting on the artist who skillfully created them, the God you claim to serve, the God in whose image they were cast.

You are viewing these masterpieces through the value system designed by our culture, instead of the Word of God which tells us in Psalm 139 that they, like all of us, are skillfully and wonderfully made.

You are not adhering to Imago Dei.

Another tenet of our faith is loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is so easy to say, it has almost become cliche in our churches. Of course we love our neighbors. We are nice to the barista, we don’t throw the finger to the guy who cut us off in traffic, and we faithfully pack our shoe boxes every Christmas.

But love is more than that. More is required. We must love all people as we love ourselves.

In the same way we desire only the best for ourselves, we must want the best for others. As everything in us rises up to defend ourselves, we must rise to defend them. Just as we would fight to the death to preserve our own lives, we must be willing to fight for theirs. In the same way we seek comfort and solace in the face of heartache, we must reach out and offer it to them. As we want people to react kindly to us when we are not our best, we must extend grace to them.

So, what have you done with the plethora of emotion an entire group of people is experiencing right now? Have you come alongside to better understand, to right injustice, to bring healing, to be a bridge?

confederateYou have not. You have dug in your heels, defended your position, and shouted down the wounded. You have put objects over people. You have done everything but love your neighbors.

And you’ve done all of it with a self-righteous zeal…in the name of God. (Saul would be so proud.)

Again, I stand by my statement. If you have participated in this mess, you are not just a racist, you might also be a heretic, not even standing by two of the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

I’m calling you out. It needs to stop. You need to stop. It’s time to step away from Breitbart, FoxNews, AllenBWest, and all the memes that are telling you it’s okay to be a bigot.

It’s not.

But here’s the good news.

You don’t have to stay here in this mess. You, too, are a masterpiece of God and the rest of Ephesians 2:10 says this, “He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” That’s the amazing thing about our God, we always get a fresh start in Jesus and he has good things planned for you.

Are you ready to do good things?

Become a student. Here is a sample of recommended reading to get you started:

Books:

Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity Within the Church by Doug Serven

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity by Edward Gilbreath

Articles:

Anything from Jelani Cobb

Toward an Understanding of Prejudice and Racism

The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics & Data Post

Why I Stopped Talking About Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking About White Supremacy

It’s uncomfortable and it’s not easy. Everything inside you will want to well up and defend yourself as you learn more, but don’t you long to be a bridge of healing and a source of hope? I know, as a follower of Jesus, you do, and I believe that together we can.

I know from experience, there is grace for that.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

 

 

 

 

 

Self Preservation, Heart Surgery, and Refugees

A new kind of war hit social media last week. Accusations flew, mud slung, inaccuracies were rebutted but then resurfaced, over and over.

This post is not about the response of the American government to the Syrian refugee crisis. We have no control over that other than to call and write our leaders with our own opinions and hope we voted well.

This is about our public response as Christians to what the government may or may not do.  

These are a tiny sampling of the comments from fellow Christians I culled from Facebook. It’s fairly representative of those that oppose Syrian refugees resettling in America, neither the worst, nor the best:

These are women and children who have been taught from infancy to hate Jews, Christians, and Americans. It doesn’t matter what the facts are concerning the make-up of the group. What matters is the culture of “death to America” which we are bringing here. That is a sad fact. But it is the only fact that matters.

If God has opened your heart to helping these people, feel free to hop a plane and go. Until people are willing to GO YE, don’t talk to me about opening our country to that type of violence. God has blessed my family with 5 children on earth to care for. Their safety has to be my first priority.

if you want the refugees to come here and then put them in your backyard in tents- all of them. Also pick up hitchhikers every time you see them and encourage your children to do the same. Round up every homeless person that you pass on the street and put them in your house every night. And while you’re at it release every prisoner from every Prison in America because apparently we can Jesus the evil out of them. Christians were not meant to be mamby pamby flower children- we are to use our brains to uncover the truth about evil

We are not talking about helpless women and children- a MAJORITY of these refugees are 18-25 year old men who grew up baptized in 1 truth… Those who do not submit to Islam must die. If someone broke into my house with a gun would it be more “Christian” of me to welcome him in for tea or do whatever I needed to to defend my family. These men are coming from devastated war torn countries with no respect for government or rule of law… What the heck do you think is going to happen when they get here and are told what they must do to be an American citizen? It’s ideologically impossible to impress democracy onto people who fundamentally believe that everyone should believe the same garbage they do or die.

Why isn’t such heart and love put into OUR OWN homeless people?! We cant help veterans but we can welcome alllllll of these fleeing people with open arms? Another question, why are MEN fleeing their country? Why are they not joining their military to fight for their country instead of running away to good ol America? It’s nonsense.

I am a Christian, but I am also a mother, I am not willing to risk my life or the lives of my children for anyone! It’s a risk and they should be denied!!!! Period!! America needs to start taking care of AMERICA!

So many logical fallacies, I don’t know where to start. Too many theological errors on which to comment, not to mention factual inaccuracies. Oy vey.

It’s been said repeatedly that we can hide who we truly are and only project an image on social media. While that may be true with parenting, financial success, or home management, it does not seem to hold water with actual faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, we just post whatever gut thought we have or whatever sound bite has been fed to us by those whose ideology we rely on for “truth”.

Our underlying worldview is revealed in times like this. It becomes painfully obvious to all what beliefs guide our core. The world sees clearly what is in our hearts.

  • When fear for our own safety, stability, and comfort overrides our human response to the plight of other humans…
  • When we post hysteria based, bigoted, ego-centric comments without basic fact checking…
  • When we condemn those that disagree with our views with pride and venomous words…

It’s time to step back and examine our hearts.

So I did. In doing so, I admit that I have been guilty of all of the above, most obviously, bowing at the alter of being right. I love a good debate and I love to research, two things that mix poorly with social media graciousness. Did I mention that I have little patience for people who just blindly repost things without checking the source/facts? Clearly, last week was a tough week for the likes of me. (Sarcasm intended.)

I take the plight of the refugees personally. Maybe it’s because for the twenty-five years I’ve worked in healthcare, many of my colleagues have been immigrants. I have worked alongside people from the Philippines, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Jamaica, Mexico, and Africa. We have laughed over language and cultural mix-ups and shared each other’s lives, celebrated one another’s victories, and mourned a few losses. They have brought a richness and color to my life, to our community, and to our country.  I have been blessed for the experience.

In my book, refugees, immigrants, people are not a drain, but an investment. These folks, once settled, are productive members of society and often harder working than their American-born counter-parts. Their children are educated among ours and become tomorrow’s physicians, scientists, artists, engineers, etc.

But in thinking deeper, it’s more personal still for me. Perhaps it’s because, for all intents and purposes, I am parenting a refugee.

My son was rejected by his country of origin, denied basic civil rights, and faced eventual, but certain death had he stayed. He fled to the United States. Even though he posed a threat to no one, there were many Christians who questioned his right to come here.

  • “What about all the children in this country who need homes? Why wouldn’t you adopt an American child?”
  • “Don’t you have enough children? Aren’t you worried what this will do to them?
  • “Who’s going to take care of him after you’re gone? Eventually, he’ll be a burden on the taxpayers.”

All questions/veiled accusations I heard before we adopted him and many I occasionally hear to this day. And while I have sound, logical answers for all of them, they often fall on deaf ears. People believe what they want.

So when my fellow believers circle the wagons against “those people”, outsiders, those who didn’t have the good sense to be born in the United States, it hurts my heart. Because my son is the other. And while he will never read your words, I know many others will.

And that’s the problem with social media and American Christianity. We spend too much time circling the wagons against the “other” to preserve our way of life. This time it’s refugees, but there have been more – people whose brand of sin we abhor, those whose lives are in shambles because of poor choices, addicts who’ve been helped only to fall into addiction again, welfare recipients, etc.

And people are watching. Those who don’t know the first thing about Jesus read our gut responses  we so freely share, the mud we so liberally sling, and scroll past our ugliness disgusted or worse, confused.

They see our prayer memes and Scripture posts, but in moments of global crisis or political disagreement, they see walls of self protection and preservation of our own comfort. Our rights are the only ones that matter.  Loving our neighbor, ministering to the least of these, dying to ourselves… all of these take a back seat to self preservation.

And I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t understand the fear.  I do. Fear is so powerful and has stolen more of my life than most. Maybe because of that, I know there are so many promises from our God that directly address it. He has not given us a spirit of fear; when we walk through the fire, He’ll be there; Be strong and courageous; and on and on.

People, others, are reading when we post scared, judgmental things and it drives them away from Jesus. The reality is public policy will likely not be swayed by our posts on social media and most of us will probably never encounter a Syrian refugee,  but our neighbors who need Jesus may be turned off by who they think He is after reading what we have to say.

Can we not offer them hope instead of fear?

Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength; and to love our neighbor as our self.

We love God with all of who we are, first.

And then, we love those around us with the same love we have for ourselves. In the same way we desire only the best for ourselves, we must want the best for them. As everything in us rises up to defend ourselves, we must rise to defend them. Just as we would fight to the death to preserve our own lives, we must be willing to fight for theirs. In the same way we seek comfort and solace in the face of heartache, we must reach out and offer it to them. As we want people to react kindly to us when we are not our best, we must extend grace to them.

Whatever privilege, rights, comforts, and benefits we cling to, we must insist that those around us can access them, as well.

We love them as we love ourselves.  

Can we take a breath and remember that kind of love when we feel threatened before posting our response on social media? Can I remember it before responding when I feel someone has spewed something asinine? I don’t know. I’m working on it and while my delete button has been used a lot lately as I reconsider pressing enter, it could certainly use more action.

“For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45b

It’s not a social media or a keyboard problem. It’s a heart problem. Whatever’s in there is going to come out. So rather than just censor ourselves, I suppose we should allow God to perform a little heart surgery. I know I’m due and I think I know just where to start. It is a terrifying prayer, but one He has been ever so faithful to answer the few times I’ve bravely and sincerely asked, “Lord, please break my heart with what breaks yours.”

I have to warn you, though. The last time I prayed it, I brought home a refugee.

 

 

 

BUT

Once upon a time, I watched the video of Rodney King being beaten by police officers in abject horror and wondered what in the world he did to have deserved it. It didn’t seem like anyone should’ve been subjected to a beating like that, BUT I knew there had to have been more to the story than what the media was initially portraying.

Of course, I was right. This wasn’t about race. He was a convicted felon who led officers on a high speed chase to avoid being caught driving under the influence, a violation of his parole. Yes, the officers used excessive force, BUT if he’d just pulled over when they first tried to stop him, none of this would’ve happened.

The officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and excessive force. They were acquitted. I again watched in horror as riots ensued and a city I loved burned. Still disbelieving that this could be about race, my twenty-two-year-old self muttered intelligent things like, “If they want to be taken seriously, this isn’t the way to do it.”

I was a fool. 

Yesterday, I ran across a post on Facebook by Rachel Held Evans. She posted a video with this statement:

We don’t “need all the facts” to see clearly that in this video, a white male police officer straddles a young, defenseless black girl in a bathing suit, shoves her face into the ground, and then sits on top of her for several minutes. When a few of her teenage friends try to come to her aid, the cop pulls a gun on them. This is inexcusable. This is misogyny and racism and excessive force. And perhaps the saddest thing is that my black friends, as angry as they are, are not surprised. I am surprised because I am white, because I am privileged, because I have not had to face racial profiling all my life, because no one looked at me sideways when I showed up to a pool without a pass for a party as a teenager. The reason “Black Lives Matter” has become a mantra is not because advocates for racial justice are unaware that all lives matter. They know that. “Black Lives Matter” has become a mantra because black bodies are consistently deemed less valuable than white bodies in this country. And as so many black women know, their bodies in particular are often regarded as property, just as we see in this video. What happened to this girl and her friends was a violation of their humanity and therefore a violation of the image of God within each of them. May it spark holy outrage and a commitment to radical change.

Of course it didn’t spark holy outrage and commitment to radical change. Later, author Jen Hatmaker also addressed the video on her page commenting: The McKinney video has me trembling. Words are failing me. Kids everywhere at a pool party. Only the black kids detained, cuffed, and thrown to the ground. When that tiny girl was thrown to the ground by her hair and kneeled on by that officer while she sobbed and cried for her mama, my heart shattered into a thousand pieces. I cannot believe not one adult stepped in to defend these children. Christ have mercy.

I watched the video and sobbed. I wanted to reach through my computer monitor and stop it. I imagined what I would do if I were there in the flesh and I can tell you that I would be sitting on my butt in a cell right now without a doubt. Holy outrage doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings.

And then I began to read the comments on Jen’s post and my blood boiled. Calls for her to “simmer down”, not “jump to conclusions”, and calling her an “Al Sharpton.” Okay. Breathe. But then the BUT posts became the norm. The ones I was familiar with from my Rodney King days.

“yes, the cop over reacted. BUT the kids also need to listen.”

“I am not saying the way it was handled was ok by any stretch. BUT everyone is saying poor pitiful kids who bullied the residents before the cops arrived! Bottom line, if the kids weren’t there, it wouldn’t have happened.”

BUT if the kids would have stopped the nonsense & listened to the cops, it would never have gone to this.”

“Yes the officer seemed to take it a bit to far BUT she very clearly was resisting.”

“The cop over-reacted for sure, BUT good grief, how many times did he tell her to quit running her mouth and to leave?”

The posts that excuse the brutalization because, basically, she had it coming. She deserved this.

Its obvious that most of us have missed the point entirely, and that is what’s discouraging. When will we stop justifying brutality with the excuse that the abused had it coming? It’s not about the party circumstances. Each of those kids could have been at fault and non-compliant. You don’t treat anyone like that. Especially a minor. If you need to make an arrest then do so in a controlled manner. Your rage cannot dictate your actions. You wear the badge. You don’t draw a weapon unless you fear for your safety. This was gross abuse of power: Plain and simple. In today’s polite society, most people are not actively racist. The problem is so many of us are passively racist, or maybe classist is a better term for it. We love African Americans, so long as they behave. We even have friends from that community, we claim as some kind of trump card for saying every other offensive opinion that we harbor or share. Those friends—they likely enjoy the same socioeconomic status as we do, and they are probably well spoken and always say please and thank you. They don’t talk too loud or ask for a handout. We love the African American community, as long as it stays in its place and doesn’t mess up ever. Because apparently as long as you’re misbehaving, or out too late, or play your music too loud, or knock on the wrong door, or talk back to an officer, or steal a bag of chips, or go into a Walmart, or sell loose cigarettes, it’s completely justified to be completely dehumanized or worse. You had it coming the moment you stepped out of line. The ugly truth is that I as a white man retain the liberty to reason and protest against police abuse of power. My African American brothers and sisters do not. Unless they sit quiet and shut up when they’re in trouble, then all bets are off and we’re all ok with it. God forgive us. —Travis Shillington

And most have no idea it’s even a thing. That we harbor passive racism in our hearts and we are shocked when something like this hits the news and “the race baiting begins.” Because it’s never about race for us. We’re white. It doesn’t have to be. We sit back and, as some strange rationalization, think black people enjoy “playing the victim” as we like to call it. Yeah. Because being victimized is something we all aspire to. And so we do what we do and start calling for all the “facts” and posting links and spewing details so we can prove that this really wasn’t about race.

When, if we had a heart at all, we would just shut the hell up and lament. But, if we can’t do that, maybe instead of fact-spewing, we can ask questions. Why do black people think it’s about race? Why is there underlying tension with police? What is “white privilege” and why does it make me so angry when people say it?

These are the first steps to healing, to a changed heart, to an open mind. It can take the BUT right out of you.

Recently, the Duggar scandal was big news. I quietly watched as, in the comment section on article after article, Christians defended Josh Duggar, fully pardoning his “teenage mistakes.” By far, the most over used Scripture in his defense (almost every third comment) was, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7)

Yesterday, as a young woman was publicly brutalized and humiliated for teenage mistakes, Christians applauded her victimization by their BUTs. And I have to wonder, where was all the invoking of John 8:7 then?

Dear Conservatives

Dear Conservatives,

I used to be one of you, exclusively. In the interest of objectivity, I’ll throw out my bias here and let you know, politically speaking, I have no idea where I fall anymore. I am all over the map. I still have conservative leanings. Occasionally, I still enjoy a good Chicks on the Right or even (shhhh, don’t tell anyone) Matt Walsh post. To be clear, I often read them, as I like a wide array of perspectives, it’s just that I only enjoy them occasionally.

I read the comments, too.

I have to tell you. As a former you, I’m a little appalled at the hate speech. The vitriol is thick. You seem to really relish in painting all liberals with a really broad, nasty brush.

Don’t worry. I’ve read plenty of comments from the other side, also. The vitriol is thick over there, too. Turns out, you’re all unthinking idiots, as well.

But, dear conservatives, you get this post because you have one bomb in your repertoire that you use liberally, no pun intended. And it needs to stop.

Libtard.

You probably thought it was so clever the first time you heard it. A genius mish-mash of liberal and retard, blended together to show those filthy liberals just how stupid and worthless they really are.

Except it’s not clever. It’s lazy. Instead of articulating a valid argument to characterize the flaws in another’s point of view, you just sling a name at them to make yourself feel better. So clever. Perhaps you should consider the old adage: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

But it’s more than lazy; it’s hate speech.

By using that word, you’re no longer just slamming your opponents. Now, you’re marginalizing and denigrating an entire people group, those who have fallen under the medical diagnosis, Mentally Retarded (now known as Intellectually or Cognitively Disabled.)  And, frankly, those people put up with enough crap without you trying to puff yourself up with your own importance at their expense. Stop it! And don’t tell me you didn’t mean it that way or you weren’t talking about them. As the mom of two boys who fall into that category, I don’t believe you. You are making a clear and distinct comparison to my boys and people like them when you choose to use your own particular brand of that word.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re rolling your eyes and thinking about your right to freedom of speech, by golly, and how this politically correct business has gone too far.

Maybe. Except, I’m telling you that using the R-word, in any form, is incredibly hurtful to me and to families like mine. It wounds us a little each and every time we hear it or read it, even in the comments section on polarizing articles.

You may not realize this, dear conservatives, but people to the left of you view you collectively as a group who doesn’t care about people, only about your rights and your need to be right.

So here’s your chance, conservatives. Stop using libtard. Grow a vocabulary and prove them wrong! Care about people, after all. Maybe then you will actually be heard.

When Knowledge Is Fear

They say knowledge is power. Sometimes, they’re wrong. Sometimes, knowledge just increases fear and the feelings of helplessness.

The Serb is going under the knife tomorrow. He’s having another tympanomastoidectomy, the same surgery for the same ear he had in November of 2013. This time, his surgeon doesn’t need to reconstruct the small bones of the ear canal which is good, and he doesn’t think the tumor is back, but he doesn’t actually know what he needs to do because he’s not sure why the results were less than stellar last time. This surgery is more “explore and patch” in nature.

No matter, my boy suffered last time. He did great in the hospital with the IV pain meds, but once they sent us home and we could not get him to take pain meds no matter how many tricks we tried, he hurt and was miserable and it was awful.

Last time, he was not a seasoned patient and was a more willing participant of whatever treatment they doled out. He is older and wiser and, I’m sure, will have none of it. He knows too much.

Last time, the risks of not having surgery far outweighed the risks of surgery. This time, it seems less clear, less life-threatening, more open to second-guessing. We know too well what this could cost him.

Last time, my friends list didn’t include fellow adoptive mamas who’ve lost their children with Down syndrome.

I find myself afraid. Can’t breathe, eyes welling up, constant migraine, afraid.

I want so much for him to never feel fear or experience pain, but that’s an unrealistic goal for any of us. Instead, during this hospital stay, I want to keep him from unnecessary harm, to comfort him well, to advocate for him with wisdom. I want to be a good mama.

And, if things go awry, I want to remember to breathe and know there is grace for that.

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Forty-five, and What Remains

So, I turn forty-five on the fifth of next month. FORTY-FIVE! How the heck did that happen?!? I very clearly remember being in my twenties. Wasn’t that just last week? I remember thinking, erroneously apparently, that people in their mid-forties must actually know what they are doing. They are grown-ups, after all.

Turns out, I was wrong. Or maybe all the other forty-five-year-olds do know what they’re doing and I’m the anomaly. That would be about right.

Not gonna lie. Forty-five is kicking my butt. I’ve never had a problem with any other age. Thirty wasn’t a big deal. I’d just had a baby and had more important things on my mind like how to eke out another five minutes of sleep and if my shirt really stunk like spit-up or was the stench just permanently burned into my nostrils. Forty is the new thirty, so that wasn’t a big deal, either.

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This is the face of nearly-forty-five. Yikes!

But forty-five? There’s nothing cute to say about that. It’s just old. Close to fifty. I look at the hands typing this post and they’re not mine. They’re veiny and wrinkled with swollen knuckles. They’re my grandma’s hands. How did my grandma’s hands get on the end of my wrists? It’s very troubling.

I have one thing going for me. My stress and anxiety have decreased my appetite so much that I lost weight recently. I am now the thinnest I’ve been since high school. Sadly, I’m here to tell you, a size six forty-five-year-old body in no way resembles a size six seventeen-year-old body. There is nothing cute about it. There are all kinds of dimples and sags and squishy and just…ick. Sigh.

I’ve always been told I look young for my age, but nearly two years of sleep-deprivation is taking its toll on my face, as well. Upon finding out I have eight kids, a new patient of mine (who is eighty-four, herself) responded, “Oh, are they all grown?” What the heck? I wanted to ask her just how old she thought I was, but I was afraid she’d tell me. Another patient, just today, mentioned a hairstyle that would look better on me as I’m apparently “showing too much forehead.” Ouch.

If I’m being honest, while my vanity is taking a hit as I age, it’s not my greatest struggle. I’m disappointed in the person I’ve become…or rather not become. Let me try again. I’m disappointed in the person I’ve remained.

While an honest assessment reveals some personal growth and maturity over the girl I once was, so much of her remains. I continue to trudge around mountains I thought for sure would be long conquered by now. I hoped middle age would find me firmly planted in the driver’s seat, not with a death grip on the door handle, legs flailing behind, waiting for one good pothole to completely throw me off track.

I thought I’d know more stuff. Well, more useful stuff, anyway, although I do enjoy beating my younger counterparts at Trivia Crack. Just when I think I know something useful, like how to use my phone, bam! Time for an upgrade.

And my old nemesis, pride? I really thought I’d have licked it by now. I thought for sure humility would have won the day and I’d be all gentle and Titus 2ish, as an older woman. The other evening at rush hour, I was heading out the door to take one of the girls to basketball practice and UpcycleDaddy tells me to take a different route. My normal route, the back way, has an intersection that doesn’t have a traffic light and it’s nearly impossible to turn left onto the main street at certain times of day. Like rush hour. On a Friday. Which I now understand, but as I steered the SUV the original route, my internal conversation went something like this:

“Go the front way. Really?!? I take this way everyday on the way to work. Pretty sure I have the stones to make it out there. I bet HE doesn’t go the front way. He just said that because he doesn’t think I can drive. Give me a break!” 

Guess who sat at said intersection for nearly eleven minutes making her daughter late to practice? (While her daughter innocently asked, “Didn’t Dad tell us to go the other way?” and steam came out of my ears.) Yeah, still waiting on that gentle spirit.

I guess I thought, was hoping even, that I’d be someone else I liked better, admired even. But it turns out that me at forty-five is just me, only older, and more wrinkly, and squishy.

And less sure.

I remember that younger me was so certain. I don’t know where actual conviction ended and bravado began, but I do remember feeling sure of things from theology to politics to parenting, especially when thinking about everyone else’s life.

This me is different in that regard. While I have more certainty in my own choices, or at least certainty that they matter less than I once thought they did, I see so much more gray in the choices/lives of other people. Grace is bigger than I could’ve imagined it to be. I wish I’d known that once upon a time.

I could’ve used a lot more grace along the way. I could’ve given it, as well.

Jesus compares us to sheep in the book of John and says that we will recognize His voice. I find that I am better at hearing His voice as I’ve gotten older, but I spend less time listening for it. I don’t know why that is. The cacophony of voices compete for my attention and He doesn’t, I suppose. And I’m too full of myself to allow Him any room. (Again, with the pride! Yeesh.)

So, while everything in me wants to well up and dye my hair pink, or get another tattoo, or pierce my nose as rebellion against the calendar as time marches on, I think, instead, I’ll turn inward and focus on what remains.

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. John 3:30

And I will unplug more and listen to the voice of my Shepherd and let Him direct the passion (that I thankfully still have) and continue to extend grace to myself and those around me. Because there is grace even for forty-five.

Although, I do love pink and my roots have grown out…

Hospital Jesus

The radio preacher’s words echoed back to me, “Without Jesus in our Christmas season, we have no reason to celebrate.” I knew he was right and I was ashamed that in my haste to check things off my list, I’d neglected to even think about Jesus of late. As I headed into work, I determined to find Him in my Christmas, beginning that very evening.

Except when I finally got home, I discovered that the abscess behind our little Serb’s ear had doubled since the day before and was clearly not responding to the prescribed oral antibiotics. A quick call to the ENT confirmed my suspicion that an ER visit was in order. So much for Jesus, I thought wryly.

After his daddy fed him a quick snack, the little dude excitedly handed me his shoes, convinced we were headed for some epic adventure. Poor kid. As is their policy, they got us in a room and seen almost immediately, the boorish doctor talking over me to his entourage and ignoring my insights into Bo’s medical history. I caught the eye of the staff member with the laptop as they filed out of the room behind him. “Left,” I said. “What?” she asked, startled. “The doctor keeps saying it’s his right ear. It’s not. It’s his left. He should at least get that right,” I curtly responded. She smiled. “Got it.”

A nurse ushered us into a waiting room to wait for the CT scan. We waited, and waited, and waited. We used up every last entertaining item I brought plus everything I could make up to keep him occupied until the poor kid was just DONE. His behaviors escalated until Mama was DONE, too. After my arms were black and blue from pinches, my glasses had been knocked off multiple times, he’d thrown every item he could reach, and I’d re-plugged my phone into the wall for the thirty-seventh time, I finally soothed my over-tired boy with Christmas hymns as he snuggled on my lap. My favorite, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, seemed to be his favorite, too. I laughed when the nurse returned and asked, “Is he always this good?”

Knowing my boy as I do, on the way to imaging I said, “I cannot imagine this being remotely successful.” I was stunned and immeasurably grateful to be completely proven wrong when he was told to lay still and he settled in and did just that for the entire scan. We returned to the awful waiting room and the nurse mercifully told me he could eat and drink. He made a colossal mess with a giant chocolate chip cookie I had in my bag and was much happier after he washed it down with a juice cup. He flicked the lights on and off and knocked all the magazines to the floor while I was cleaning up his mess. I was ready to throttle him, but managed to hold him on my lap and again soothe him with caroles, instead.

The migraine that had been building just behind my left eye was full-blown by the time a new doctor now on shift came in with a slightly panicked air about him, mumbling something about ambulance transport to the children’s hospital, aggressive infection, eroding the bone. “I know he looks okay, but the CT scan shows he’s a very sick little boy.” The migraine fog pressed in heavier but I managed to ask some rational questions which seemed to be met with irrational answers. Later to my husband I dubbed that physician, “Dr. Chicken Little” because he seemed convinced the sky was falling. The husband was on his way and I was so grateful because I couldn’t seem to make sense of anything. Waiting for him, I remembered my quest to find Jesus in my Christmas. “Where are you, now?” I wondered.

Taken back to a room to start an IV, Bo was grateful for a change of scenery until four staff members gathered around to hold him down. He kicked, and cried, and wrestled while they poked and dug and poked some more. I stayed out of his line of sight and stroked his hair and prayed for mercy. Just as I opened my mouth to call them off and demand the pediatric professionals, the nurse who had been holding his legs and had only moments before switched places with the original poker, expertly drew a blood vial and started the IV. While Bo will never be a fan, he quickly became my new hero. Bo was more appalled with the stabilizing board they attached to his arm than with the entire ordeal and spent the next several hours devising new and successful ways to remove it, often with his toes.

I was told the ambulance ride was necessary because he needed IV antibiotics stat and could receive them in transport, only the infusion was completed before the ambulance arrived, negating the necessity. I tried to stop the insanity, but the wheels were already turning. I work in healthcare. Common sense has little place there, a truth that invites madness. The delight on Bo’s face as he was loaded into the ambulance may have been worth the crazy and the wasted healthcare dollars. His eyes were huge and, once I climbed aboard with him, his smile matched them.

The newness worn off, the questions answered for the forms, and my head still pounding, my mind wandered to my Christmas to-do list. The next few days off work were supposed to be my time to catch up. Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen. I sighed. I noticed how old everything in the back of the ambulance looked. Nothing like the show, Chicago Fire, my only reference point to date. Strange how shiny they keep the handles on the doors, not even a hand print on them. Someone had taped a paper wreath on one of the cabinets in an effort to be festive, I suppose. “So, Jesus, it’s still Christmas. Where are you in this old ambulance with the shiny handles?” I just heard traffic.

We checked in at the children’s hospital which was draped in festive decor to offset the reality that we all would rather be anywhere but there, especially at this time of year. We dutifully recited the medical history they already have in the computer while our boy showed them they needed to find a crib with a top as he scaled the extra tall sides and attempted to shimmy across the light fixture before Daddy snatched him down.

The activity finally died down long after midnight and little man and I tried to get some sleep. Once the second bag of antibiotics were started, he suddenly remembered that he had an IV in his arm and became offended all over again. He reached for me and cried and, as I held him, he raised his arm up to my face so I could kiss it repeatedly. He rested his head against my chest and tucked his arm under mine, then over my shoulder, then between our bodies in effort to get comfortable enough to succumb to sleep.

Alone in the dark hospital room with my migraine finally easing, and my sweet son, once an orphan, clutching me for comfort I was struck with the realization that there was nowhere I’d rather be. This child was giving me the greatest gift by allowing me to comfort him, by looking to me for reassurance, by needing me. I chose this boy to be my son, but nearly two year later, it appears he has finally chosen me to be his mom.

As I pondered this, I realized that we were not alone in that dark hospital room after all. For all my irritated, half-hearted searching for Jesus this season, He was there. Emmanuel, God with us. He was with us all along. Thinking back, I could see Him in my husband as he prepared the snack that got Bo through the first few hours, hear Him whispering in my ear the right caroles to sing to soothe the savage beast, watch Him beside us as the boy laid quietly for his scan, and feel Him giving me sweet grace to endure the pinching and the migraine with some semblance of patience.

He was in the middle of the IV fiasco spurring hero nurse to action and guiding his hand. He was in the dingy ambulance with the shiny handles, allowing my worn out boy some moments of delight.

Emmanuel. God with us.

We look for him in our cathedrals, and our decorations, and our finery, but God put flesh on and dwelt among us, to do life with us, all of itAnd life is messy. We can find Him there in the middle of our struggles, in the hurts, in the hard, in the hopeless. A God who chose to be born amidst manure is not offended by our stench. Even my cynical questions to Him and clear irritation with my circumstances did not run Him off. He is gracious. He is loving.

He is with us. 

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Matthew 1:23

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Selfie in the ER, early in the ordeal.

(Update on the little Serb: He’s home and his ear is fine. Dr. Chicken Little misread the situation thanks to Dr. Boorish speaking over my insights into his medical history. Not fully realizing he doesn’t actually have a mastoid as it was removed last year, Dr. CL panicked and thought the infection had eaten it, thus initiating the unnecessary transport to the children’s hospital. All the IV antibiotics were for naught, as well, it turns out, as his cultures turned up yeast and not bacteria. The right meds have made all the difference and he is definitely on the mend. Oh, and my Christmas to-do-list is almost caught up.)

To My Son With Anxiety

My Dear Son,

Anxiety is a thief. It sneaks in and robs us of peace, and the overall sense of well-being. It steals sweet sleep replacing it with hours of clock-watching worry. Sometimes it captures actual breath, replacing oxygen with a flood of adrenaline and a racing heart. 

Anxiety is a bully. It lies in wait, patiently watching for a revelation of weakness before pouncing and exploiting the vulnerability. It twists the truth and leaves us confused and wretched in its wake. 

Anxiety is an enemy, forcing us to draw up battle plans and research medicinal weaponry. It attacks from behind, slamming us to the ground leaving us gasping, clutching, writhing, and terrified. 

Anxiety is a liar. It magnifies the mundane, convincing us monsters really do exist, the end is near, the crack is ever growing. It turns shadows into beasts, joint pain into cancer, whispers into pink slips.

In our home, there are two of us who struggle with anxiety disorder. 

But it affects us all. 

I struggle with panic attacks that often visit in the middle of the night if I’ve been awakened for any reason. After I reign in my breathing and convince myself that my pounding heart and aching chest are not the beginning of the end, I lie awake for hours and listen to the ticking of the clock. I mitigate the night wakings with a white noise machine, a silenced phone, black-out shutters on the windows, and strict instructions to you children to wake Daddy if you have a bad dream instead of me. Inconveniences that add guilt to the worry cocktail I find myself sipping in the throes of it. 

You, on the other hand, struggle with outbursts and anger when you feel out of control or ill-prepared for some new event or change in routine. We’re often lulled by our own complacency and are caught unaware when a meltdown occurs, usually when we are pressed for time and ill-equipped to deal with the fall-out. The whole house is up-ended and you are left exhausted, sullen, and scared. We try to mitigate the meltdowns with calendars, daily schedules, and verbal notification of what’s to come. But, sometimes we forget. 

We get busy and forget to put the checks in place. We set you up to blow. And blow, you do. As soon as your anxiety builds and the bomb is triggered, I realize what we’ve done and how we’ve failed you. I am so sorry, son. I have no excuse. The guilt washes in like a wave, triggering my own anxiety, and the cycle continues.

I want to warn you, honey. As you get older, there are those who will tell you anxiety is due to sin, some personal moral failure on your part. Others will be convinced your faith is weak. If you spent more time praying, seeking, reading the Bible, rebuking the enemy, repenting of sin, singing praises, and memorizing Scripture, surely you could lick this.

You’ll want to believe them. Sometimes you’ll think maybe they’re right. Maybe you’re not doing enough. Or, maybe you’re just not enough. It’s discouraging and demoralizing to think about. You’ll feel the weight of it becoming heavier, the shame of it almost as paralyzing as the condition itself. 

The temptation is to minimize and pretend, to act as if you have conquered this. A past struggle is acceptable fodder for conversation, a testimony, a celebration. No one wants to be reminded of a continued thorn they’ve already prayed with you about a hundred times. The clear message will be that your inability to overcome must be your fault. 

But it’s not. 

It’s not your fault, son. In the words of Carlos Whittaker, those who would tell you otherwise should “Read the Bible. It’s filled with crazy people like me killing it for God.” Striving to do enough or be enough to vanquish your anxiety only keeps you focused on yourself and renders you ineffective. I don’t know why we do that to one another. Frankly, you don’t have time for that. Wallowing in the why and being ashamed is counterproductive to your purpose and a distraction you can’t afford. 

Don’t let them steal your time. 

There is a whole community around you with gaping wounds to be healed, people who are desperate to know the God who gets you through. Because God will get you through this. His grace is sufficient for you. His strength is perfected in your weakness. He has not forgotten you. He loves you. He knows you and He is on your side. 

I hope this nemesis fades away as you leave childhood behind. I hope this letter is never needed. But if you do find yourself with anxiety as your foe, I hope we will have provided you with the tools you need to cope, to find peace, to love well, to leave this world a better place, and to shine. More than anything, I hope you know this: 

There is grace for that.

Love,

Mom  

 

Speech and Snuggles

I admit it. I was a doubter. At Bo’s recent IEP, I almost spoke up and said it out loud, but the goal was already written and I kept my mouth shut, thinking we’d erase them next go around. I almost said, “Let’s just remove all goals related to verbal communication. It’s pretty clear he’ll always be nonverbal and it seems silly to keep beating this dead horse.” 

We were told about a year ago that he’d likely never speak. Because of his lengthy intubation following complications from open heart surgery in Serbia as an infant, his vocal chords were damaged, to what extent, no one knew for sure. His ENT explained that we wouldn’t know until he attempted to speak, if he attempted to speak. Some kids with Down syndrome are not verbal, usually due to severe speech apraxia, a language problem. 

He was able to make sounds, but they were forced out and breathy, leading me to believe the doctor was correct. Plus, he struggled to even learn simple sign language. It was a year before he used even one consistently. 

And then, a few weeks ago, Ellie excitedly asked, “Mom! Did you hear that? Bo20141006_174459 said, ‘Eat!'” I looked over to see Bo happily waiting for Ellie to put the bowl of applesauce in front of him. With her encouragement, he said emphatically and loudly, “EAT,” while he signed it simultaneously.

It was the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard. His first word at five-years-old. His voice is slightly raspy – god-fathery, I call it – but loud enough to be heard in our chaotic household. Thrilled with the results of his new found word, as we rewarded its each and every use for awhile, he’s added new ones: Go, yeah, and “kan koo” (thank you), as well as adding in some never-before used signs. Apparently, communication beyond pinching is fun. Who knew? 

 

Our little boy with co-existing autism is also learning a bit how to socialize from Eon, of all people. He’s been watching how Eon interacts with me and attempting to imitate it. Every morning, we get both of them up for school but Bo gets on the bus almost an hour earlier than Eon. While UpcycleDaddy is getting Bo dressed at the foot of our bed, I lay at the head of it and snuggle with Eon. Bo watches. 

One morning, it was cold and I grabbed Bo and pulled him under the covers with me. He laid there next to me, stiff as a board, looking around like, “Am I doing this right?” The next morning, as soon as he was dressed, he crawled up to where I was laying and laid down about two feet away. UpcycleDaddy said, “Tara, he’s trying to snuggle.” And he was. I pulled him in again. 

Now, it’s part of the routine. As soon as he’s dressed, he climbs over to me and snuggles right in. He’s learned to relax into me and Daddy often has a hard time getting him downstairs for breakfast. 

He melts me. 

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A White Woman’s Response to the Ferguson Fall-out

I am a white woman. I live in a diverse neighborhood, but work and attend church in a white world. While I have black acquaintances and neighbors, my circle of friends is predominantly white.

As such, I have not voiced an opinion on the events surrounding Ferguson.

Until now.

Someone recently posted, “My kids tell me there is an app that will tell you which of your friends is racist. It’s called Facebook.” I could not agree more. It has been enlightening and appalling to watch the fall out from this incident on social media.

I’ve un-followed some for blatantly offensive statements, and frankly, those weren’t all that surprising to me. It’s to be expected that some will be open in their leanings. The memes that demean protesters as jobless or falsely assert that whites don’t riot, plainly label those who share them as the bigots they are.

It’s the subtle racism that pops up in my newsfeed unexpectedly by my educated, middle-class, Christian, mostly Republican friends that takes my breath away. When people repost the facts of the case, it’s an affront to people in mourning. When they publish statistics of black on black crime, or stories of white unarmed suspects being shot by police, they ignore the frustration, anger, and grief of an entire people group. It leaves me cold.

I have no answers. I don’t pretend to know anything other than the visceral response I have every time one of my white friends expresses an opinion on this. Four of my white female friends linked the remarks of Voddie Baucham, a male black pastor, which pointed to rampant fatherlessness in the black community as a root cause to many of its ills. The piece seemed directed at other black men, as they are the only ones in position to respond to that charge and yet, these white women felt the need to repost it. Why? They have no dog in this fight. 

Likely for the same reason another FB friend, a white man, “liked” a piece written by a black man with a title similar to “Justice Prevailed in Ferguson Failure to Indict.” Why, as a white man, did he feel the need to click “like” on that?

I know why. Because as white people, if we can find a black person who agrees with us, who sees it our way, we can stick it to all the other black folks who are clearly wrong. We can wave that person’s opinion around as if to say, “See? Don’t you see? One of your own agrees with us. We’re right! It’s not about race, at all!” Because that’s what it comes down to. We don’t understand how this is about race and not simply facts in evidence, and rather than seek to understand where all this emotion is coming from, we will stand on principle and keep spewing facts.

It’s a need to be right over a need to be compassionate. It’s blatant defiance of Scripture which tells us to “weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)  We are wrong, my friends, when we believe that racism isn’t a thing. If we would simply listen to those who are living the burden of it, really listen to their stories and hear their hearts, maybe then our eyes would be open and our world would begin to change.

I want my friends, my white, Christian, God-fearing friends to do this one thing. I want them to stop talking. Stop insisting on being right. Stop having an opinion on a truth you haven’t lived.

I mentioned that I’m white. I have no experience with racism. But as a mom to kids with special needs, I know a little about discrimination. Several months ago, I was involved in a conversation about the church and disability. I tried to communicate how wounded many of us have been because of rejection our children have faced in the church. I was told, by those on the outside, that we in the special needs community were being overly sensitive, that no actual discrimination was taking place, it could all be explained by over-worked volunteers or misunderstandings. It was infuriating to have our moments of discrimination minimized and ignored by those who haven’t lived them. It was demoralizing to have my lived truth diminished by those without shared experience. I was angry. I was hurt. And I felt impotent and defeated. It wasn’t the first time on this journey and it won’t be the last. I’m grateful for every one of them because it gives me a tiny bit of insight into what it must be like to live it daily.

When people are hurting, you don’t tell them all the reasons they shouldn’t be hurt. When they are offended, you don’t tell them they have no right to that feeling. When they are weeping, you don’t tell them there is no basis for their tears. You simply listen to them tell the tale.

And you weep, too.