Intentional Adulting

Having been away from teaching Sunday School for a while due to health reasons, I am THRILLED to finally be back at it. And when I say thrilled, I mean bound-out-of-bed-happy-three-hours-before-church-even-starts kind of thrilled.

Anyone who knows me—virtually or otherwise—knows how much I love children. Put me in a room split into kids and adults and I will always find some reason why I should be in the kid group. I’m pretty sure part of the reason for this is because my own childhood ended too soon when I became a mom at fifteen. Or maybe it’s because I’ve lost a child and through that gained a different (and hopefully uncommon) perspective.

But rather than try to pinpoint it, I think it’s safe to assume it is the sum of various life experiences that has led me to discover and deeply understand the complexity, joy, and needs of childhood, as well as the honor it is to be an adult in a child’s life.

But let me be clear: children are not amazing because they are commodities. They aren’t amazing because they’re our future. They aren’t special because they may some day cure cancer or put a person on Mars or any of the other feats we all mention when looking into a child’s potential future. We make the mistake of defaulting to these ideas as well as descriptors such as  “innocent” and “joyful” because there are simply no words, or at least none I know, that can truly embody the essence of what makes children so special.

I stand in awe daily at the privilege it is to be in a child’s life, even if briefly. Every single interaction adults have with children is an opportunity to shape who they are, who they will become. How that child will parent, be called into God’s work, be a friend or a spouse or a random person passed on the street whose smile brightens a stranger’s day. Let that truth sit for a while until its enormity hits you.

That is huge and, frankly, overwhelming.

The collective “we” never know what might stick with a child forever and always, for good or for bad. We might never recognize that one off-hand comment that spirals their self-esteem, convinces them to be an astronaut, makes them feel they have failed everyone and everything, leads them to God.

That’s a lot of pressure. I don’t recommend thinking about it all the time; it’s too big a yoke to bear. But truthfully, it is our yoke. Not thinking about it all the time is one thing; never thinking about it is another. Perhaps adults should spend a few minutes each day reflecting on the fact that every word, action, or inaction that comes from our being shapes the children around us. Those mere few minutes should be more than enough to bring us to a place of intentionality in how we “adult,” at least most of the time.

I readily admit that I do get frustrated with my children. I’ve even met a couple of kids I didn’t like. And I am far from consistently intentional. That is my very human failure I attempt daily to rise above, but sadly too often fail. But my emphatic hope and prayer is that I live a life reflective of my privilege and responsibility as a shaper of human beings.

It is an awe-inspiring wonder that our system of human existence relies so heavily upon generational influence. That is no mistake, but rather the hand of the divine at play. My actions shape the small beings who live in my house or attend my Sunday School class or stand behind me in line at the store. Knowing that brings out the best in me which, in turn, brings out the best in others. Not always. Not perfectly. But some.

So take it seriously, folks. As frustrating and runny-nosed and loud and chaotic and time- and energy-sucking as they are, children deserve and need the best from us. And in the amazingly perfect symbiosis of our universe, when we give them our best, we too, get the best in return.

Fiona Hill’s Defense of Women

Democrat, republican, or a member of the who-gives-a-damn party, anyone watching Dr. Fiona Hill’s testimony yesterday was surely impressed. Having watched the impeachment hearings from start to finish (I’m recovering from surgery so have had plenty of time on my hands for TV watching), I can say emphatically that she was the most impressive in a line of impressive witnesses. I use the word “impressive” here not necessarily referring to the content of testimony but rather to the poise and intelligence of the witnesses (even Sondland, whom I otherwise take issue with regarding both character and veracity).

But Dr. Hill… she blew them all away. Her no-nonsense attitude, clarity, poise, steeliness, and resolve were gratifying both because she’s a woman and because her expertise is a credit to career civil servants. I don’t know her politics (though she referenced both non-partisanship as well as leftist ideals in line with the UK, not US, definition of “left”) or personal history beyond what she disclosed. On the face of her performance, however, I stand by my complete takenness with Dr. Hill.

Importantly, Dr. Hill stood firmly in defense of herself, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and Congresswoman Stefanik in the face of sexist treatment. These women have been bullied by primarily white, primarily male politicos, and, in Stefanik’s instance, support of male bullying by those on the left who would—and do—cry foul at similar treatment of women by the right has reeked of hypocrisy. I have little doubt that Dr. Hill has faced bias throughout her career in a male-dominated field. Knowing this, I wondered if this bias is what has led, at least in part, to her steely, no-nonsense demeanor. Men often label women’s anger and indeed any show of emotion as histrionic, and women seeking respect and career advancement must quash emotional responses, whether those responses are warranted or not.

Earlier this morning, President Trump stated on Fox and Friends that he was told by others in his administration they had to be “nice” to Ambassador Yovanovitch because “she’s a woman.” This is disturbing whether it’s true President Trump was actually told this or whether it’s a fictitious account. No, women do not need to be treated “nice” because they are women. Kindness is a trait we should all work to demonstrate, but in the hard-knock world of politics it’s absurd to expect genteel kindness based on gender. President Trump’s statement furthers discriminatory treatment and hiring practices by giving credence to a belief that women in the workplace will require special treatment and kid gloves lest they break down in tears, scream in anger, or lodge a harassment suit against unkind treatment.

Dr. Hill’s testimony lays this myth bare, exposing it for the fiction it is. Anger at times is warranted, such as when one is being undermined in their jobby others acting in direct opposition. In this precise circumstance, Ambassador Sondland characterized Dr. Hill’s anger as “emotional,” to which Dr. Hill replied, “Often when women show anger, it’s not fully appreciated. It’s often, you know, pushed on to emotional issues or perhaps deflected onto other people.”

Indeed.

I applaud Dr. Hill for refusing to allow that kind of disregard and disparagement go unchecked, whether it is against her, her colleague Ambassador Yovanavitch, or congresswoman Stefanik. Sexism is not bound by political party and our reactions to it should not be, either. Dr. Hill’s across-the-board calling out of bias is either proof of her non-partisanship, proof of her deep belief in gender equity, or proof of both. As we continue along our political journeys in a deeply divided United States, I strongly urge us all to remember and emulate her example. Disagreements over policy, candidates, and politics are one thing, but disagreement over equitable treatment of our shared humanity is simply not debatable.

A Way to Help

The following is a testimony I gave at my church earlier this year. I have provided an update at its conclusion.

I spent summer and winter of 2018 in a state of rest that we half-jokingly called my “sabbatical.” This was a time for rest and healing and, as the balm of those two things took hold, of active listening for the Word of God. In those months I lost many things I knew I could not get back, but I also knew that as I healed, God would call me when and where I was needed. I now had time on my hands and space to breathe; all I needed was God to point me in the right direction.

A couple of months ago, Andy and I got an email from a local advocacy group asking if anyone would be willing to sponsor a family seeking asylum. The family was in Tijuana and wouldn’t be allowed to cross into the US unless someone on this side would promise to get the family here and help them out once they arrived.

I had time. I had space. I had resources. I emailed back within minutes. Andy and I would be happy to help, I said.

This last Tuesday the mom, whom I will call SJ, and her three children arrived on a red eye from San Isidro after spending several hours at a McDonalds where ICE had dropped her and children. Gratefully, through a network of concerned individuals, we were able to secure overnight respite in the house of a well-placed angel willing to help a family in need.

At 7am Tuesday morning, I watched SJ walk through the airport, carrying a one-year-old baby and an extra-large duffel bag—did I mention yet that SJ made this journey without a stroller? That means she was lugging a one-year-old from Tijuana to San Isidro to Maryland.

So perhaps it goes without saying, but SJ is an amazing woman; her children are, too. Her oldest is a brilliant artist and has handily beat my daughter in chess many times. Both she and SD have made ample fun of my Spanish skills. The one-year-old is a champion sleeper and the eight-year-old boy and my son hit it off immediately, speaking a boy-language of shoves and wrestling moves and video games.

When SJ and her children left their home behind, they also left behind two bunnies—both named “bunny”—a chow puppy named Chowbella, and a big yard to play in. They now live in a two-bedroom apartment with a total of 10 people. The 10 people are spreading what money and food they have between them, but ten mouths are a lot to feed.

Andy and I are continuing our sponsorship of this wonderful family and are learning as we go how to best do that. Tomorrow I take SJ to see an immigration attorney and Wednesday I will drive her to enroll her kids in school. Thursday Andy will take them to Baltimore for their Immigration check in. Beyond that, we’ll play things day-to-day.

On this day, my sponsorship activity is this testimony. Both so you can feel the joy of a successful story—against every odd they made it to the United States—and also so I can ask you to consider what you might be able to do to help this family get on and stay on their feet.

Their main needs right now are adequate housing and assistance with daily expenses such as groceries and toiletries. If assisting this family is something you feel called to do with the time, space, and resources you have, please let me know.

Most importantly, please remember this family in your prayers, and ask for God’s providential care over them as they begin their new life in the United States. Remember too, that when we slow down and listen, God will speak.

Since I wrote these words several months ago, much has changed. The two school-aged children are thriving, making friends, learning English, and becoming accustomed to a different way of life. The baby is confident, smart, and obsessed with our puppy. Most importantly, SJ and her children have found an apartment to call home. Each month is a struggle to make ends meet; SJ’s income does not cover essential expenses and we are often scrambling to find a way to ensure each person’s basic human needs are met. To that end, we have established a Go Fund Me page to help this family with their day-to-day expenses. Any amount helps, and I ask you to consider whether a donation to this family is right for you.

 

 

 

Every Child Matters. Every Child.

According to an audit done by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), in the summer of 2017 there was a significant increase in children who were separated from their families at the US/Mexico border. The Trump administration did not officially announce its family-separating zero tolerance policy until June of 2018.

The children detained after the policy’s official implementation have mostly been released to their families, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintains that the children detained prior to implementation have been similarly reunited.

So. No harm no foul?

I don’t think so.

There are a number of frightening things at play in this latest bit of breaking news, one of which is that while DHS and other government agencies can say these children have been released to their families or “sponsors,” the truth is, we simply don’t know. It appears that the government agencies responsible for these children can’t really know either, as the number of pre-policy detainees has been put in the vague range of “thousands” of children, and no adequate records of these children exist.

There are many (MANY!) jaw-dropping pieces of news floating around right now, but I implore you not to ignore this one. Even if the relevant agencies knew without doubt the exact number of children and had proof positive of reunification, the question remains: how did we, the American people, not know about this?

(DHS spokesperson Katie Waldman maintains that the practice of detention has been going on for decades, and so at this point it should be well known and old hat. What Waldman is referencing, however, is detention of unaccompanied minors, which is not what is at play here. I’ve worked with a few of those minors in the past and feel generally well informed about what goes on in those equally sad cases.)

There is no need to wax on about why this story should break your heart, make you so angry you could spit, or send you to the streets in protest. I assume you already feel all of those things and more.

But what feels even worse is what this all of this implies for the collective soul of our nation.

As someone who prays daily that we might all be able to fully realize one another’s humanity, it is this type of news that renders me breathless and overwhelmed. I cannot think of many clearer cases than this of failing so completely to see the face of God in others. When a parent of five knowingly and intentionally separates a child and parent, I can think of no other reason for it. Because if the humanity of “others” was realized, that person would know there is no difference in how “their” children versus “our” children feel when taken from their parents. No different heartbreak for a mother or father when his or her child has been taken to God-knows-where and is being cared for by God-knows-who. Have no doubt about it, memories of this moment in time will be reflected by history books, and we will not like what our grandchildren will read of it.

And then there’s the helplessness to stop it.

Because yes, while we, the American people, put so much pressure on the President that he signed an executive order meant to end the practice of separation, and the courts compelled reunification of the families, we didn’t even know about the thousands previously detained.

As a mere citizen, there are a large number of things I don’t know about what goes on in the world. I’m well aware of that, and I know that in most instances there is little I can do about it. So, I push those things aside and focus on what I can do now, and how I can learn to do more in the future.

But this. I didn’t know about this?

As a long-time child advocate, as someone whose primary concern in life is the care of children, this frustrates, saddens, and angers me beyond belief. It is something I feel in my gut. In the tips of my toes and in the pounding of my temple. It is one of those things that makes life unbearable, and yet makes me realize that with the one life I have, I better live it well and for not just myself, but for the well-being of others.

News stations don’t seem to be focusing much on this story, although every reporter I’ve listened to says the news is “huge.” Instead, the focus today is on the letter-writing pissing match between Speaker Pelosi and Mr. Trump. Today’s other, more important news is a much-needed reminder to focus on the things that truly matter. Not trips to Brussels, but children.

 

One of the Lucky

Yes, yes. I realize my blog has been dormant (or shall we say fallow?) for quite some time now. No need for me to go into that; if you want to know why you can read this.

But things have been improving over here in my snowy neck of the woods. Since September I’ve followed a whole food, plant-based diet (WFPB), and the results have been extreme and miraculous. Does that mean I’m cured? Nope. Right now my hands are swollen and painful, my knees and ankles ache, and my Raynaud’s is flaring because I dared to have fun outside with my kids. But man, the difference between now and pre-September is astounding and life changing and God-given. But this isn’t a post about that. It’s a post about equity in the world of chronic illness.

Over time I’ve realized ways to work around common problems encountered when living with illness and pain: Jar openers, “grabbers,” a really good cane, my Sleep Number bed, Daily Harvest, not working, having a housekeeper, my WFPB vegan diet, and a number of other things I won’t bore you with here.

Perhaps you’ve already noted that these are not inexpensive work-arounds. Me writing a blog post recommending these things to others is akin to Sheryl Sandberg telling minimum wage female employees of color they should simply lean in.

The truth is, there are Rohingya women with lupus (and men, but I will say women). There are women with lupus working physically intense and demanding jobs. There are women with lupus who are single-parenting, living in abusive relationships, a cardboard box, or facing the prospect of homelessness.

Women with lupus who are at this very moment seeking asylum, living in refugee camps, or going without life-saving medication because of the government shutdown.

I may bemoan what this illness has done to my life, but the truth is, I am one of the lucky ones.

Today I promise to count my blessings, pray for those suffering, and give thanks for all that I have. Please hold me to it.

 

 

Out of the Darkness

Over the last two weeks, our hearts have been wrenched dry by news of Syria, Parkland, and more. Yet our kids enter into church bright eyed and laughing, the joy of youth on their faces. Before long, their joy becomes mine, bringing me out of the darkness of the news cycle, the darkness of wondering why.

Not just why things happen, but why I can’t do more. Why I can’t make some calls, pull some strings, throw some Mama Magic in and make it all better. I have no doubt you feel the same. But we don’t have those kind of connections, and those who do won’t always use it.

How, you may be wondering, is this relevant to CE?*

It’s because while we may not have connections, or strings, or magic enough to spare, we have ourselves. Our families. Our kids. We have the ability to love those things nearest to us, and to spread that love as far as our circle of influence allows. The funny thing is, that circle seems to grow bigger with each use, until suddenly we realize we do have a connection that can make one small thing happen. Maybe a safer policy on how visitors to schools are screened. Or an email to someone in power that garners more than a boilerplate response.

When we love, things happen. And the thing about kids is, when we love them, they get better at spreading love themselves. This is one of the reasons I enjoy being with kids so much: how we love them is how they’ll love others, and that is no small thing. Maybe we can’t pick up a phone and solve a national crisis, but it’s enormously important that we have those bright eyes and smiling faces to nurture in the way we wish the whole world would.

Because while it may not, we can and we do and we will. And with God’s good grace, that will make a difference.

*This post originally appeared on my church’s Christian Education (CE) blog. You can find it here.

Slow Kingdom Coming

I’ve always thought of myself as a justice-oriented, do-gooder-type person, but over the years, I’ve become a bit fuzzy about what exactly that means. For example, most people would say it’s good to donate to charities and worthy causes, but how many times have charities and worthy causes misspent, misappropriated, or misjudged? What about donating goods after natural disasters? International adoptions? Microloans? Many things that sound good on the surface—and that are almost always well-intended—aren’t necessarily doing the good work we think they are. It also seems that far too often when someone says “justice,” what they really mean is good intentions and a quick fix.

In his new book, Slow Kingdom Coming, Kent Annan makes clear that good intentions can only take us so far, and that the work of building God’s kingdom is anything but quick. He writes, “we don’t want to think … that our good intentions are enough, as though God wouldn’t expect us to love our neighbors in the best possible way.” And the best possible way, he continues, is by creating deep and lasting change that, almost by definition, comes slowly.

You can read the rest of my review of Slow Kingdom Coming at Red Letter Christians.

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