Humility and the Prairie Dog

prairiedogI ran over a prairie dog on the way to the coffee shop. I swerved as he darted into my path, but he changed course in a split second, right under my tire. I checked my rear view mirror hoping, somehow, he’d miraculously avoided certain death, only to have my fear confirmed. I was unprepared for the sudden wave of nausea that hit me. I began to tremble, and had to pull over as heaving sobs wracked my body.

As cute as the little critters are, I knew this wasn’t about hitting a rodent.

This is the fallout from weeks of advocacy for the weak. (Really months and months as each new “policy” threatens a vulnerable population.) I’m exhausted, shredded actually, emotionally spent. I’ve had numerous sleepless nights. I’ve researched until my eyes burned, making sure I’m sharing the most accurate information. I’ve been on the phone with the offices of all of my elected officials and sent countless emails. I’ve raised funds for non-profits that hire immigration lawyers to represent the children and parents at the border.

I’ve tried to educate and counter the prevalent misinformation abounding on social media with facts. I’ve challenged theological fallacies with sound doctrine in hopes that eyes would be opened and hearts changed.  I’ve been called a “libtard” and “condescending”,  told I was being “used by the media”, accused of being “naive” and “stupid.” I’ve felt gutted by my fellow Christians who staunchly defend a policy that strips children of their parents and cages them, in the name of following the law. I’ve been deeply saddened by a complete lack of empathy and compassion on the part of those who call themselves Christ-followers.

I’m worn out.

Should I simmer down and step away from this type of thing?

politicsThere are those (almost exclusively on the other side of this “issue”) saying we should all just get along, and stop “letting politics divide us.”

But they don’t understand. This is not politics. This is PEOPLE. It’s about imago Dei. It’s about humanity. I cannot walk away from the mistreatment of fellow humans. I cannot let bygones be bygones when it comes to people. 

Some may be surprised to learn that I do believe it is a government’s responsibility to control its borders. Immigration reform is a necessity. That is a political issue on which most of us agree.

But it is a Christian’s responsibility to love everybody, always…to love our neighbors as ourselves…to treat others as we want to be treated. I want to be someone who acts justly, loves mercy, and walks humbly. (Micah 6:8)

It will be a shock, I’m sure, to realize that it’s the last part I struggle with the most. (Read, sarcasm.) Justice and mercy are how I roll. When I see injustice, everything in me burns with righteous anger which fuels me to right the wrong. My heart is rooted in mercy for those who struggle in a society where the deck seems forever stacked against them.

Oh, but humility. Argh.

When I’ve picked a hill on which I’m willing to die, when I’ve done the research and I know for fact injustice IS occurring, when people are suffering and time is of the essence, and some yahoo on social media posts false information justifying the injustice in the name of MY GOD?!? I fear I don’t respond very humbly.

pearlsAnd yet, humility would very much save me so much angst. It would keep me from casting my pearls before swine. It would prevent me from engaging in futile arguments in which my blood pressure raises to perilous levels. It would remind me to walk away. I can educate, but it is not my responsibility to change hearts. It is not up to me to condemn those whom I believe have lost their way and chosen nationalism over Jesus, safety over compassion, comfort over love.

Maybe, if I had chosen all three: justice, mercy, AND humility over the last few weeks, instead of cherry picking my favorite two, I would’ve had the emotional reserves to mourn for the prairie dog appropriately, instead of sobbing uncontrollably for a rodent, God rest his soul.

Oh, fix it, Jesus. There is grace for that.

Together, We Are Legion

You may not be that familiar with us. You may not even notice when you see us in “your” space. Or, it could be that you resent us taking up space at all. You might be one who sees us with genuine curiosity, wishing to know us better, but unsure how to bridge the divide. Or perhaps, you view us with suspicion, worried we exist simply to take something that belongs to you…your property, your privilege, or your “rights.”

Who are we?

We are members of the disability community, people of color, LGBTQ, and immigrants. Some of us are simply their allies – those determined to make sure they have a voice and that it is heard, determined to find them a place at the table.

Collectively, we are the other.

Some of us met in metaphorical Holland, a place we never planned to even visit, let alone linger. But it’s there we became more aware of the others. That’s when we understood that our exclusion was theirs, too. Our lived isolation was being replicated by other groups. Discrimination is something we’ve all encountered and we all share. Our uniqueness, our different, precludes us from having equality. We are rarely heard or really seen, and when we are, our message is too often filtered through a lens of your privilege.

Maybe we make you uncomfortable. When we speak up, our accents are too thick, our speech unintelligible, or our words too piercing. We upset the status quo. You tell us if we would just follow directions (given by people like you), everything would be fine and we could all go back to “normal.” If we would just stop making waves and settle down, we wouldn’t get arrested, or hurt, or killed. If we would only fit in the box you made for us, we could rise above.

You keep reminding us that good people don’t have health problems. Good people work within the system. Good people don’t need any help. They simply work hard to get ahead.

What you don’t realize from the inside of your box, is that we don’t fit in it. And the system does not work for the many on the outside, goodness be damned. Those living here on the outside disagree on much, but we are united in this: all people have intrinsic value, deserve equality, and desire acceptance.

We may have started out in Holland, but we are coming home. Beware America. We are coming for you. Your status quo is no longer safe. The bubble you have long floated in will burst. We will shatter your box. You who are living under a thin veneer of perceived return to greatness, where you have all the power and are without challenge, are in for an awakening. We will cower no more. We refuse to be further silenced.

And, rather than feeling threatened or intimidated by our presence, you should connect with us. You never know when you might one day need us. While your country of origin, your color, and your sexuality are pretty well set, disability can happen at any moment and knock the wind out of your sails.

We strongly believe that Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) Allies are always welcome. Won’t you join us?

Separately, we are minorities, but together, we are legion.

handsofcolor

 

Dear Pro-life Friends

Well, here we are, America. President Trump was inaugurated less than a week ago.

I am a registered Republican, but I could not and would not vote for him. (This is my third time in a row on the losing end of a Presidential election. Here’s a tip…if you want to win, vote against me.) Many people I know and care about voted for this man for one main issue…abortion. Maybe you were one of them. Maybe you really believed that a vote for him would save a life.

If that was your sole motivation, I can respect that, even if I disagree.

But here’s what I want you to know.

For the last five years, I worked in a skilled nursing facility, or nursing home as they are commonly called. I got to know many of the certified nursing assistants (CNAs), most of whom were single moms. These are the people who provide hands on care to the elderly and disabled residents who live in the facility. They bathe them, dress them, feed them, put them to bed, and change the diapers of those who need it. Those who are good at it (and there are so many), do it all with a smile and a sense of humor. They treat “their” residents like family.

For all this skilled labor, the average pay was $10/hour.

I know these women. I know how much they love their kids. I know how they are barely scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck. And I know what an unexpected pregnancy evokes in them…

…Unabashed fear. 

So many questions…How will they ever manage the co-pays for maternity care from our crappy corporate health insurance? Or the 20% co-insurance for the hospital stay? How can they possibly afford to take time off for maternity leave when all of their paid-time-off was used up caring for sick children? How will they ever be able to pay for childcare for another kid? What about diapers, formula (and/or pumping equipment), etc? How can they continue doing such a physical job right up until the end of the nine months? What if something goes wrong with the pregnancy and they can’t continue working? How will they take care of their kids, then?

These women are not opposed to another baby. They are not selfish monsters if they consider abortion under these circumstances. They are scared moms who feel like they are without hope. Even if they want the baby, they are terrified for the children they already have.

Do you see how a livable wage, affordable healthcare, paid maternity leave, low cost childcare, and even welfare for low income families can reduce abortion? Do you see how they can save a life? All of these things are traditionally shot down by our Republican party.

So, I’m asking you, my pro-life friends, can we please stand up for these women?

Can we support legislation that is not traditionally Republican, but will actually save lives? Or will we continue to call ourselves pro-life but be more concerned about the child in their womb than the children in their living room? Will we stand on principle and insist on being right just because that’s the way we’ve always thought, the way we’ve always leaned, or the platform of our party, even when we know it will drive more women to clinics to end a life for which we say we care so much?

Maybe we can think beyond the legalities of the issue and seek to reduce the demand.

I know it will make a difference.

Hope always does.

 

 

 

American Idol

I’m no longer shocked, or scared, or angry. Now, I’m just kind of sad. I feel I’m watching the American Christian evangelical church topple. For years, it’s been perched on the edge of an abyss and the ground is slowly crumbling under it.

Our sin is taking us down. Not the moral failings of our culture, for which we’ve threatened doom over the years. Not the sexual immorality we ignore in our midst but for which we disparage the world. And we can’t blame this one on the LGBTQ community.

For years, we’ve made America an idol.

bible-american-flag

We’ve worshiped at the altar of her freedoms, her history (our whitewashed version of it, anyway), the comforts she affords, the safety she provides, and the power we wield in her leadership. We’ve blurred the lines between her Constitution and Biblical truth. We became convinced that WE were God’s chosen people. The abundant life Jesus promised morphed into the great American dream.

Instead of being the bride of Christ, we chose to wed the Republican party. We pledged to them our allegiance and looked to them to feed us, to teach us, to lead us. When they told us morality would save us, we were all in. The war had begun and we were on the side of right.

The men leading it stirred us in passionate speeches about the evils of the left and the biased media who could not be trusted. They pointed fingers at dirty deeds and described them in glorious detail. When some of them were caught in the same deeds, we mourned the fallen, and railed against the media for twisting the facts.

The church is as enamored with America as ever. We are willing to sell our souls for her “greatness.” We are willing to turn a blind eye to the world around us and the desires and needs of the people in our own country in order to protect our rights within her.

In September of 1998, Dr. James Dobson, then president of Focus on the Family sent a scathing letter of Bill Clinton to his supporters. In it he wrote this:

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world!

Fast forward to 2016, and that same Dr. Dobson, wholeheartedly supports Donald Trump -a known adulterer, accused sexual predator, and habitual liar (among so many other things) – to lead this nation as President of the United States. Moral relativity, anyone?

Dr. Dobson is far from alone. Mr. Trump is the Republican nominee and while many in our party and in the evangelical church have distanced themselves from him, so many more are adamantly in support, simply because (in their words) “he is the only one who can save this country.”

His supporters may admit to his odiousness and moral failings, but they don’t care or are willing to overlook them because we must protect our religious freedom, the second amendment, babies, keep the Supreme Court from being overrun with liberal judges, and seal our borders from those who would blow us up or steal our jobs.

And, as a lifelong evangelical Christian and Republican, I want to know why. Because I look at this list of things we’re selling our souls to preserve and other than the baby part, this all seems completely self-serving. It’s all about our rights, our comfort, our way of life, our status quo. It has nothing to do with Jesus. 

We are admonished in Scripture to take up our cross and die to ourselves in pursuit of following Him. We’re supposed to expect tribulation and trials. We’re supposed to expect persecution, not avoid it. We’re supposed to remember that we’ve not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.

I’ve looked at the two greatest commandments. Loving our country didn’t make the cut. Loving our neighbor did. That means loving our immigrant neighbors, our black neighbors, our female neighbors, and our disabled neighbors, all of whom have been targeted by our GOP nominee.

So what do we do? Most of us find the Democratic choice to be morally reprehensible, as well.

First, we need to examine our individual hearts to see if/where we’ve made our country an idol and placed it before our sovereign Lord. In the same vein seeing if comfort, ease, safety, the American dream, etc, may also be idols, as well. It’s so easy to fall into that in the land of plenty.

Second, we need to stop the Chicken Little rhetoric that would tell us the sky is falling. Fear has no place here. Not only is it contrary to our core beliefs as Christians, but it also undermines our testimony to the world around us. What message of hope do we have to share if we are counting on a human savior to heal our land?

Third, I would love to wrap this up in a tidy bow and tell you, of course, we should all do _______ in this election. But, I can’t. There are third party options. If one should garner 5% of the vote, it allows that party to get federal campaign funds in the next election, therefore increasing the likelihood of a viable third party in the future. Or, you could skip the presidential part of the ticket and vote like mad for everyone else you wish to see elected. Just because we have the right to vote, doesn’t necessarily mean we have the obligation, especially if our own moral code prevents us from choosing any candidate. Don’t let anyone tell you that’s not valid.

Fourth, pray. Like most, I’m concerned about November 9th and beyond, regardless of the victor. Our country has much from which to recover.

Fifth, be the Church. Love your neighbors as you love yourself.

Charity

Be the glorious exception to what the world thinks when they hear the words “evangelical Christian.” Step outside your comfort zone to minister to the poor, give until it hurts, listen when you want to speak, read the other side to every issue, befriend people with whom you disagree and find your commonalities, make orphans a priority, never forget to look for Imago Dei in every person you encounter, and love everyone. Remember to be brave, authentic, full of grace, and to be there.

There doesn’t need to be a GOP President for us to be the Church. We have freedom in Jesus that no government can grant or take away. As my friend and former pastor, Jeremy Bialek commented:

Religious freedom to me is what Christ purchased on the cross. It is a freedom to actually be able to worship without the condemnation of death or slavery to sin. It can happen in a US church on Sunday morning, in a Chinese prison, or in an Arab desert before an ISIS executioner. It is not guaranteed by any governmental edict or court as much as it is by my Sovereign, eternal King. I don’t have to fight for that right. It is already mine and no one can take it from me.

I don’t know where America is headed or how she will recover from this. But I hope the evangelical church can recover by putting Jesus first, surrendering our need to be right, swallowing our pride, and loving people. We need to get away from all the talking and get back to doing, with the end goal of being. In other words, we want to be people from whom loves oozes. Maybe then, we can rebuild.

destroyedsyrianchurch

Picture: One of so many destroyed Syrian churches.

Open Letter to Trump Supporters

Dear Donald Trump Supporters,

Your candidate has publicly mocked a reporter with a disability (Nov 25, 2015.) He has denigrated women loudly and openly (pigs, dogs, disgusting, grotesque, fat, ugly, bimbo.) He said we should build institutions for people with mental illnesses (Face the Nation, Jan 3, 2016.)

One man’s opinions and actions matter little to me except that he has followers like you, a lot of you, apparently. In interviews and polls, your reasons for backing him usually boil down to, “He tells it like it is,” so I have to believe you agree with him on these points and deem his behavior desirable.

And that terrifies me. 

As a woman with a mental illness (generalized anxiety/panic disorder) and the mother of two boys with disabilities, I always knew there were haters out there. I follow social media and read the comments on internet articles and have seen hate and ignorance spewed about on a daily basis.

I am acutely aware there are those convinced that people with mental illnesses are dangerous and a threat, when the opposite is actually true and we are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

I know misogyny abounds even today and women are considered a punchline, a sexual object, or even a punching bag.

Most distressful to me, however, is the mockery of people like my boys, or worse, the opinion that their lives are not worth living and they shouldn’t even exist at all. These boys love life, they have intrinsic value and worth, and they have my heart.

This is not about politics for me. This is real life. No matter what happens in the Primaries or come November, I’m afraid now and feel unsafe in my own community.

See, I used to think all those people with all those opinions about my life were just internet trolls who maybe lived in their mother’s basements.

Until your candidate became wildly popular and you began following him, I had no idea I worked with those people, went to church with them, and even invited them to my home.  And, frankly I don’t know what to do with that.

Because while you appear to treat me normally, you support Trump because “he says what everyone is thinking” so I have to believe you think it’s okay for men to treat me with disdain or for me to be institutionalized. While you smile and pat my boys on the head, in your mind, it matters not that people bully, ostracize, and mock them.

Your support of Mr. Trump frightens me, not necessarily because of what it means for the future of this country, but because of what it means for the present. The reality is my world is not as safe and good as I once thought it to be. My neighbors, co-workers, and friends are not the people I presumed them to be.

I now understand, that while you may not intend to hurt me or my family, you would do nothing to stop it were we to be harmed in the name of straight talk, or change to the political system, or “making America great again.”

I know this because you’re allowing it to happen now.

You’re part of a cultural shift in which people who are not like you are maligned, threatened, and sometimes physically tossed about for being different or expressing different opinions. You may not actually be doing the threatening or the tossing, but you’re endorsing it.

Your true character, the core of who you are, is now exposed and to be honest, I’m a little afraid of you.

I’ve allowed my vulnerabilities to seep through in our past interactions. I’ve shown you my hand. My gender was obvious, but you also know of my struggles with anxiety and panic. You know the joys and challenges I’ve faced raising children with special needs and the uphill road ahead of them as adults with cognitive disabilities.

How long before you prey upon those weaknesses or allow others to do the same? 

To you, this may be just about politics, but to me, your support of Mr. Trump paints a picture of who you actually are.

And that makes me kind of sad, and scares me more than a little. 

Erecting my own wall around myself and family,

A fellow American

 

Lessons From the Salon

So, this happened awhile back.

salonredacted

Not my proudest moment. In my defense, I could only hear about every third word, not enough to jump in and educate the room (aka, tell everyone they are, of course, wrong, and how in the world can you actually think such things you close-minded banana brains?!?) And, there was the dye in my hair. I didn’t know how long it was supposed to sit there but I was pretty sure if I got boo’d from the salon and had to drive home it would be way too long and I would end up with green hair.

But still. Bashing the poor? Expressing hatred for an entire people group? Calling it “an invasion”?

I pretended to read my book and shut them out. And prayed. I prayed for grace and mercy for the bigots in my vision. I prayed that I could see them as people and not “bigots.” I prayed that I would have opportunity to speak if I was supposed to do so.

The loudest of the mouths left before my dryer timer dinged. Another left soon after. During my rinse out, it came down to my stylist and me. I said nothing. She told me all about her exhausting weekend serving at her church. I prayed harder. As much as I love a good debate, being as opinionated as I am, I also really like this woman (plus, she does great hair!) I didn’t want to disagree with her.

She referenced their conversation and I told her I couldn’t hear because of the dryer. So, she filled me in. Sigh.

I won’t go into detail, but we went round and round, her wielding scissors about my head and me often silently chiding myself, “You could end up bald! Just stop TALKING, Tara!” But, of course, I didn’t. And, she showed great restraint, giving me an adorable cut with great color that I love.

But, I was enlightened, although really, I’ve heard it all before.

Some of us are willing to have compassion for those less fortunate as long as they are not eligible for government subsidies we are denied, or do not possess anything we may want.

It doesn’t seem to matter the trauma refugees experienced before they arrived. Serial rape, death of children, brutal murder of family in the dead of night are moot points in the face of free healthcare and tax-free small business, apparently.

It makes me tired and sad. When believers speak in platitudes and post Scripture memes and then focus only on their rights and and bemoan some false sense of “persecution”, I shake my head in disbelief.

In a land where we can worship where we wish, and are free to post those Scripture memes at will, and have easy access to quality healthcare, and food in so much abundance we actually worry over ingredient lists and local sourcing, how dare we, who claim to follow Jesus, begrudge any of the same to others simply because they had the bad sense to be born somewhere else?

Just the other day, I gave a lecture to my children. There is a new round-a-bout not far from our house. This is a new concept to many on this side of town and it’s taken some getting used to for many drivers. I explained to the kids that those entering it must yield to those already on. If I was entering, but was in a hurry and decided my need to get somewhere on time was more important than the driver already on and didn’t yield, I would cause an accident. Somebody has to yield or chaos would reign.

As believers, we are mandated to yield, to love others above ourselves, to lay aside our rights, to die to ourselves. I told my kids they are going to be world changers and that this, this family, these siblings are their training ground. If they can learn to yield to one another, to love each other, they can love anyone.

If you really want to watch Peppa Pig, but let your brother watch Teen Titans Go, it will be a lot easier to let the pregnant teen crash on your couch for awhile when you’re older. If you willingly give your little sister the last cookie, I know you’ll excel at parting with a chunk of your paycheck to build those wells in an African village.

One of my sweet daughters came to me later and summed up what we all worry about, “If I yield all the time, I won’t ever get anything.”

That’s the heart of it, isn’t it? If I’m not looking out for myself, who will?

It is so counter cultural to follow Jesus. To trust that He sees and will provide all our needs. To live with an eternal perspective. To accept there is joy in the cross.

When standing up for our rights as Americans clashes with our calling as Christ-followers, it’s time to step back and remember where our home truly is.

Hint: This is not it.

I wrote most of this post months ago. I needed the reminder today. Fear for our country is welling up in me. Just this morning, I watched, aghast, as a presidential contender advocated for building institutions for the mentally ill, or “sickos” as he called them.

I’m sure he has no idea that our country has just recently been enlightened enough to move away from that archaic notion. I shudder wondering which people he thinks should fill them. I’m sure at least one of my boys would make the list. (Would I? With my anxiety disorder and need for medication?)

It would be tempting to dismiss his ramblings if it weren’t for the sheer number of followers who claim that he speaks their minds, as well. Do they want to lock up my child, too? I’ve read the comments, seen the stares, watched the news. It’s not a leap to think so.

Yet, love, not fear, must win. Love has to be our motivator. We stand up to bigotry and ignorance and we call out injustice, but we do it so love can win. People are valuable – no matter their place of birth, their income, their IQ, their abilities, their color, their past, their perceived potential, or even their political leanings.

When I remember this is not my home, it’s easy to stop fighting for a bigger piece of the pie and instead, share the part I already have. When I remember it’s not my agenda but His Kingdom that matters, I can humble myself and seek His face and ask Him to heal our land. When I remember that Imago Dei is imprinted in all of us (If I pray a lot and squint real hard), I can even see Him in the Trump followers (I’m a work in progress.)

Love and yielding. I know there’s grace for that.