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.

 

Thinking too Deeply about Marie Kondo

I’m bad at many things in life (math, geography, and basketball come immediately to mind), but one thing I know I’m good at is tidying, cleaning, organizing, and maintaining a clutter-free environment (household members’ spaces excluded, since those aren’t mine to touch).

So other than for pure OCD enjoyment, I’ve generally stopped reading about the best ways to purge, organize, and clean.

A recent exception to this is the work of Marie Kondo.

After seeing so many of my Facebook friends referencing her, I decided to check her out for myself. I see why she has such a wide following! Her ideas and methods are simple, clear, and steer us towards a place too few other things in life do, which is that of curating our lives for the sake of joy rather than materialism. If it doesn’t bring joy, out it goes!

With that said, I’ve also read several articles pointing out the KonMari method doesn’t really work for those with small children (which is true), and that prior to Kondo’s smashing success, NAPO took issue with perceived all-or-nothing draconian ways (there’s debate about this). But what I find myself struggling with is neither of those things, but rather the impact of Kondo’s work on historical preservation.

My mother lives in my home and has quite a few things in her possession that she has made clear she expects me to keep after her passing, then leave to my own children when the time is right.

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Mother’s, grandmother’s, and mine.

Most of these things don’t bring me joy, nor do I think they bring joy to her. But they do have a significance that if overlooked would be tragic.

For example:

My grandmother’s sorority pin (I was never in one). The torn and faded photo of my great-great grandfather with safari hat and rifle, holding up proudly the jungle animal he’d just killed (vegan here). The leaded oil and vinegar set no one can use anymore because, you know, lead.

What about handmade quilt fragments from several generations ago that take up valuable linen closet space and smell slightly (or not-so-slightly) of mildew?

To be fair, Kondo does make exceptions for certain things: super special baby clothes? Frame them. Art from the first day of kindergarten? Put it on display.

And yet … there is so much more than that to a family’s history.

Will anyone want the cremated ashes of my recently-passed German Shepard? Probably not, but when my great-great grandkids find the lovely (sealed) urn and corresponding plaque, and realize it goes along with the photos neatly arranged within a dedicated photo album, they may think it’s a little weird and creepy, but they will also be awed to hold those bits of history in their hands.

The Spode Christmas dishes I bought for 80% off? 100 years from now a future descendent will lovingly set them out for Christmas dinner, admonishing her children to be very careful with them given their family significance and age.

My mom has always said one of the meanest gifts you can give someone is a Bible they don’t want, like, or need. Why? Because who the heck is going to get rid of a Bible? (Don’t answer that). And they’re big! I have so many Bibles from so many family members that they take up an entire two shelves in my home library. Do I need all of them? No. Do they all spark joy? Not really. Some do, like my father’s. But what of the family tree neatly chronicled in Uncle-what-his-face’s Bible? I may not have ever met him, but man, that handwritten tree is historic.

As I read through the specifications of the KonMari method, I began to question my recent decision to save in a special box all the Christmas cards we receive each year. My original thought process was that someday a future generation will stumble upon and untie the box, and fully enjoy the found faces of babies, now grown or gone, or notes that at the time were quickly jotted – “pray for us during the shutdown!” – that have since become museum-worthy.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t note that sometimes items saved don’t just fail to bring joy, they actually bring great sadness.

And yet … in that sadness there is a memory we would never choose to purge.

The clothes of my first son, gone now for over two decades.

A red rose saved from my father’s casket.

A photo of a broken-out window, leftover from a marriage gone horribly wrong.

These are things that remind us who we are, where we’ve been, how we’ve loved and been loved. Of how we were once brought low but then rose up by virtue of a strength we otherwise might forget we have, and by a God we learned would always be there, no matter how bad things might get.

So while I say tidy up! Declutter! Fold your socks until they are perfect rectangles that stand on end! I also say keep. Remember. Hold tight.

Because what’s important doesn’t always spark joy.

What sparks joy doesn’t always do so for the best of reasons.

And the space we want to see decluttered might be better off overflowing with what will later bring joy to someone we’ll never meet, tell a story in need of telling, teach a lesson in need of teaching, or lift someone from the ashes of despair as they see historic proof of struggles overcome and the life-affirming work of a still-speaking God.

Our spaces are not necessarily ours to keep, and it isn’t just our personal joy we’re responsible for sparking. So as you hold each object in your hands, waiting for it to speak to you, listen not just for yourself, but for the generations yet to come.

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.