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.

 

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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.

How Do You Know When You’re Ready to Get Married?

Marriage tends to be a popular topic this time of year—June is the busiest month for tying the knot—but earlier this month marriage made the news among evangelical circles for surprising reasons. The first was an article from Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church and wife of Rick Warren, in which she confessed she and her husband had spent many years living out a marital hell. The second came from Lysa Terkeurst, President of Proverbs 31 Ministries, when she announced that she was divorcing her husband of 25 years due to infidelity and substance abuse.

Reading honest depictions of the struggles of marriage from two women who, from the outside, seem to have both the marriage and spiritual living thing all figured out, is not just refreshing, it’s essential: Those who are dating and considering marriage need to know that marriage is a long road, filled with both joy and sorrow, pain and healing and that, sometimes, there is no happily ever after.

In other words, marriage is not an institution for the faint of heart or weak of spirit. So what if you’ve met the partner of your dreams, and the two of you are beginning to talk about the “M” word? It’s important to know if you’re truly prepared to tie the knot and give your best toward a healthy, happy marriage for decades to come.

But how do you know when you’re ready, let alone when your partner is? Read my five signs for marriage readiness at Relevant Magazine.

Cuddles’ So-called Life

I almost ignored it.

I was raking thatch out back, watching the kids pretend long, fallen branches left over from winter storms were light sabers, and our willow tree Darth Vader. Vader had won this battle and the kids were headed in, the youngest crying at his loss, when I saw something shimmery and black wiggle a little in the grass. I thought for a second it was a trick of the light, but then remembered the baby copperhead we found a couple of months ago and figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

Three steps later and I was staring at a mostly naked baby mouse, no mama mouse in sight.

I had no idea what to do. It was too young and cute for me to have the typical “mouse” reaction, and besides, it was barely breathing, let alone moving. What could it possibly do?

I dropped my rake and ran in, calling for the kids to come outside. Aaron resisted at first, still crying but now sitting at the kitchen island. “But Aaron,” I said. “It’s a baby mouse!”

If that mouse does nothing else in its entire life, it can always say it stopped a four-year-old’s tears.

The three of us went to look, the kids getting too close, while I went through the various scenarios in my head.

We couldn’t kill it. And we couldn’t keep it. And we couldn’t just dump it over the fence and make it someone else’s problem. Maybe drive it to a field and let it go? No. It was too little; it would die.

I decided to call Andy, who was still at work, but thankfully his office is in our basement so he didn’t have far to travel when I said, “Come to the backyard ASAP, please.”

He didn’t know what to do, either.

“If we leave it alone its mom might come back,” he said.

“No.” I’ve worked with neglected children long enough to see the signs, even in a 5-inch long rodent. “It’s been abandoned. It’s going to die.”

We took pictures. We hemmed and hawed. We told the kids not to get too close or to touch. We shushed all the pleadings to take on a new pet.

“I’m making an executive decision,” Andy said.

I immediately got nervous. I don’t do executive decision too well, unless I’m the executive.

“We’re leaving it alone to see if its mom comes back. I’ll check on it in a couple of hours.”

We agreed and went in the house, but went straight to the window overlooking the shiny, black, clearly dying lump of almost-hairlessness in our backyard.

I started dinner.

The kids and Andy played Uno.

The dog wanted out.

“Oh no. He might eat the mouse.”

“He wouldn’t eat a mouse.”

“He tried to eat the copperhead.”

“Yeah, but snakes are tasty.”

“Andy…”

“Well, Winston eating it might save the mouse from something worse.”

Rachel started screaming.

“I’m also worried about Winston bringing mouse-mouth into the house!”

“Oh, right.”

Rachel was still screaming.

“We aren’t going to let him eat the mouse, Rachel. Sit at the window to play cards. If Winston gets near the mouse tell me and I’ll get him.”

Winston didn’t eat the mouse. He didn’t even try to.

I kept cooking and they kept playing cards. Every 5 to 10 minutes, one of us would check on the mouse to see if it was still breathing. It always was.

As I cooked I thought, what are we doing? This is crazy. A month from now I’d try to kill that mouse if I saw it. We have mouse traps in our basement for crying out loud. And babies are always cute. Then they grow up and turn into adults and sometimes become completely unlikeable.

But still.

This was a baby. Its eyes were still closed. It wriggled and writhed in the grass, clearly rooting for its mama and her milk.

I called Petco.

“No, we don’t take wild animals. Sorry.”

I called our vet.

“No, we don’t take wild animals. Sorry.”

I started to say thank you and hang up.

“But let me give you a number,” I heard just in time. I wrote it down, but it was 4:55 on a Friday. What could be done?

I called the number anyway and got a woman’s voicemail telling me she was only accepting baby birds on a limited basis. She didn’t mention mice, I thought, so that must mean she’s taking them in droves. Score! I left a message.

We ate. We checked the mouse. We told the kids to eat. We checked the mouse. We finished dinner. We checked the mouse. We started to pick up. The phone rang.

It was the limited-number-of-birds lady.

“Sure. It won’t be the only mouse I’ve ever raised.”

She told me where to go – a town 30 minutes away. On a Friday. At rush hour. Right before the kids’ bedtime. And those kids also need baths.

But still.

She told me how to transport it safely. How to warm it if it were cold to the touch. How to cup it in my hands and rub life into it and give it sugar water in just the tiniest amounts because otherwise I could drown it.

I donned gloves. I filled a Tupperware with Kleenex. I grabbed a dipping bowl and medicine syringe and headed out back, the kids begging to do the work for me.

I noticed it had rained while we were eating. The mouse was now even slicker, shinier. Colder.

I scooped it into my hands.

“It’s a boy!” I said to the three people gaping at me through our open living room window.

I carried it inside. I laid it in its box. I let the kids touch it, ever so gently. I dribbled sugar water into its mouth.

“Was he cold when you touched it?” I asked the kids. They nodded.

Well crap.

I would now incubate a mouse.

And it worked. Slowly he started to wiggle more in my hands. His heartbeat became stronger. He twitched his little mouth and drank the sugar water. His ears – once flattened against his head – were somewhat softer. Perkier. After a few more minutes, he wriggled more. Became ever more alive. And I didn’t want to put him down. Feeling that life come into fuller being in the palm of my hand was … miraculous. Somewhat indescribable, although not entirely.

Eventually I put him in the Tupperware, leaving one corner open just like the limited-birds woman told me.

“Y’all better hurry. She said time was of the essence.”

But still I stood there, plastic box, tissue paper, and life grasped in my hand.

I told Rachel that she was the mouse keeper. She would have to be the one to keep him safe during the thirty-minute Hanauer Medi-Vac trip. Her smile was huge.

Aaron, however, sat at the table, sad.

“Should I take him?” Andy mouthed to me, gesturing slightly towards Aaron.

“Why not? It’s Friday. May as well.”

I said good-bye to Cuddles, placing him safely in the van, Rachel’s keen eye watching the whole time.

I turned to go in and saw a box against the garage. A delivery.

Well crap again. I knew already what was in it.

Inside, I grabbed the scissors, sliced open the box, and saw before me peppermint oil – mice don’t like it – and mouse traps. Ordered two days ago, BC: Before Cuddles. Before I became an incubator.

Earth Day is tomorrow. The next day is Sunday. I could hear the Sunday School lesson forming in my head as I stared at those traps, then realized I wasn’t teaching that week. What a shame. I’m sure there’s a lesson in this somewhere.

Just as I sat down to post this, the phone rang. I noticed the call was coming from the town 30 minutes away.

“Hello?”

“Do you have a cat?”

It’s the bird lady.

“No, just a dog.”

“Well, he’s a bunny.”

“My dog?”

“No, the mouse. He’s a bunny.”

Of course he is.