Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How long, O Lord, how long?

How long will we keep killing each other? Abusing each other? Robbing each other?
Breaking each other's bones? Shooting each other? Beating each other with impunity?
How long will we keep responding to injustice with more injustice?
How long will we allow for such inequality in our schools, in unemployment rates, in pay scales, in imprisonment rates, and in sentences for crimes?
How long will we disregard human dignity because a person looks a certain way, has a certain level of income or education or sexual orientation or religion or way of dress?
How long will we try to explain it all away so that we don't have to work to make it stop?
How long will we wait until we work to change, truly change our violent, angry, retaliatory ways?

How long will we make excuses for the people who are most like us and condemn the people who are least like us?
How long will we maintain these boxes,  the ones that divide "us" from "those people"? Who are "those people" anyway? Are they not mother and fathers, daughters and sons of somebody? Are we not all somebody's baby? Who are they if they are not us?
How long will we justify our fearful acts?
How long will we excuse our hateful acts?
How long will we dismiss our ignorant acts?

How long will we have to wait until good news is broadcast as readily as bad news? Good news about those who are protecting the vulnerable and not taking advantage of them? Those who are providing safe places and nutritious food for the disenfranchised? Those who are working to end homelessness and joblessness and hopelessness so that crime becomes less of an attractive option? Those who are working for freedom, justice, and peace?

How long will we ridicule those who still, after all this, maintain the audacity of hope? Hope that the violence can cease? Hope that executions will cease? Hope that peace will prevail? Hope for change, heart change, soul change, life change?

How many more videos do we need to see?
How many more stories do we need to hear?
How many more sons and daughters need to die?
How many more parents and spouses and children need to grieve?
How many more cities need to burn?
How long, O Lord, how long?

Dear Prince of Peace,
Our world, our nations, our cities, our homes, our very hearts
are being torn apart by fear, by greed, by anger, by sorrow, by poverty.
Our young men and women are being abused, beaten, kidnapped, trafficked, killed.
Cities are burning. People are rioting and looting and weeping and pleading for justice.
The earth is shaking under the feet of our brothers and sisters in Nepal and Oklahoma.
The things that some of us used to take for granted,
our wealth, our homes, our health, our families,
our skin color, our gender, our religious affiliation -
those things have proven altogether insufficient to protect us from much.
Please forgive us for our callousness, our selfishness, our fear.
Please forgive us for thinking we can ignore the needs around us and within us.
Please forgive us for trying to diminish the suffering of the vast majority of people in the world.
Please forgive us for trying to take advantage of their suffering.
Please, Lord, please have mercy on us and forgive us. Forgive me.
Please strengthen us to be people of peace, people of grace,
people of courage, people of forgiveness, people of joy,
people of hope, people of love.
Please give us eyes to see the things we have tried so desperately to not see.
Please give us ears to listen to the stories of those we know and those we don't yet know.
Please give us compassion to work on behalf of others and not only ourselves.
Please give us the will and the wherewithal to have mercy on each other
and forgive one other all the grievances we have against one another.
Clearly, we cannot do all of this on our own.
Clearly, we cannot fix this mess we've made on our own.
We need your tenderness. We need your love.
We need you, God. We desperately need you.
Draw us to our knees. Draw us to your table.
Draw us toward each other. Draw us toward you.
For the sake of your great name, for the sake of our wounded souls,
For the sake and salvation of all people everywhere,
please, Lord, have mercy on us.

Monday, April 27, 2015

And I Like Boxing

Thousands have lost their lives in Nepal as a result of the earthquake.
So much suffering. So much loss. So much sorrow.
Thousands of women, men, and children are sleeping outside there tonight and will have to do so for many weeks.
Thousands are hoping and praying for rescue, for food, for water, for medical aid.
Today on NPR, someone mentioned the fact that human traffickers take advantage of the chaos and separation of family members to kidnap and traffic people into sexual slavery.

Help is on the way - airplanes loaded with supplies and personnel are jockeying for space to land nearby and provide aid and assistance. Much more is needed. So much more.

There are many aid agencies asking for donations and sending donations.
Millions of dollars are needed. Thousands of flights.
Hundreds of organizations. Ceaseless, countless prayers.

Earlier today, I turned on the television and watched about three minutes of an episode of a show called Fast N Loud. The guys on the show buy old cars and repair them, refurbish them, rebuild them. Today they were working on two old Firebirds. They said they had a budget of $365,000 to refurbish the two cars. WHAT?!?!?!? To refurbish TWO CARS!???!

This coming Saturday, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will box. In Las Vegas. At a casino. The plan is that millions of people will watch from their homes and from bars - at the ridiculous price of $99 each on Pay Per View. I cannot imagine what they charged for tickets to attend the fight. It has been suggested that they will split $300,000,000 between them. Three hundred million dollars.

While thousands sleep outside in Nepal without food or water or safe shelter.
In New York. In North Carolina. In Las Vegas. In Los Angeles. In Boston. In Chicago.
In Spain. In England. In France. In Italy. In India.
In tents. In cars. In doorways. In the homes and on the couches of friends and family.
I remember hearing that there are entire generations of people born in certain places that never sleep indoors. They weren't talking about people who live in remote villages or in the outback. They were talking about people living in big cities, babies born on the street, raised on the street, become adults. have children of their own, and never live in a house, never sleep under a roof.

I am rendered almost speechless about the injustice and imbalance of such radical misuse of money. Nearly four hundred thousand dollars to work on two cars - more money than many people spent on houses they were then foreclosed out of.
Three hundred million dollars for two men to punch each other in the face as hard as they can without being knocked unconscious by the opponent.
Preposterous. Outrageous. Brutal. Unfair.
And I like boxing - at least I used to.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Everyday is Earth Day

For the beauty of the earth - 

I am thankful today for the beauty of the leaves on the trees in our backyard, providing shade from warming light of the sun and privacy from the gaze of our neighbors.
I am thankful for the bounty of fruit and vegetables, eggs and nuts, milk and meat, bread and blue chips that I rediscover every week at the supermarket.
I am thankful for the farmers who plant the seeds, the migrant workers who harvest the crops, the packers, the truck drivers, and those who stock it all in the stores. (Sometimes I wonder if I talk about food and the supermarket too often in these thankful Thursday posts, but then I remember that I eat many times each day, so being publicly thankful for the wonder of food once or twice a month is dwarfed ten thousand fold by the abundance this earth pours into my life on a daily basis.)
I am thankful for the sounds of the birds and squirrels and dogs and owls, for the giggles of children and the laughter of adults.
I am thankful for the buzz of wasps (as long as they don't land on me) and the fearless gaze of deer (as long as they are not advancing in my direction).
I am thankful for the variety, the exquisiteness of each person I see - in the supermarket, at church, on the street, in their cars, on television, online, in magazines, in books, and in my memories as well.

For the glory of the skies -

I am thankful for rainclouds that bring the sweetest, most necessary liquid blessing - rain.
I am thankful for the rainbows that appear after the rain has ceased.
I am thankful for the brightness and warmth of the sun.
I am thankful for the deep Carolina blue sky that the sun illuminates every day.
I am thankful for the sliver of moon that blossoms into the full circle of glorious light.
I am thankful for the stars that I don't often see because of the bright lights of this big city.

For the love which from our birth over and around us lies - 

I am thankful for the love of my mother - who calls me and cooks for me and always welcomes me into her home, her heart, and her life.
I am thankful for the love of my brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, the in-laws, and the outlaws.
I am thankful for the two children I have been blessed with and the love they lavish on each other, on my husband, on me, on their friends, and on those that matter to them.
I am thankful for being invited to the weddings, the funerals, the celebrations, the laments, the pool parties, the bridal showers, the baptisms, and also the quiet thrill of wine and conversation shared in the homes of friends and neighbors.
I am thankful for coffee dates, lunch dates, dinner dates, drive-by hugs, and sleepovers.
I am thankful for Facebook, WhatsApp, Facetime, and texts because they all keep me connected with friends and family who live far away.
I am thankful for the courageous, thoughtful, determined, and passionate women, men, and children whose love for the earth and its inhabitants move them to defend, to demand honor and respect for, to stand behind, to sit with, to kneel beside, to speak up for, to protest injustice against, and to work on behalf of those - both human and otherwise - who cannot do those things by themselves or for themselves.

Lord of all, to thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.

Lord of all, to you I offer thanksgiving for these and all the gifts of life.
I thank you for life itself, for breath, for strength, for courage, and for love.
I thank you for the chance to share these gifts with others.
I thank you, Lord of All, that even when loved ones leave,
when cherished relationships shatter,
when drought devastates the land,
when excess rain does the same,
when the pantry is empty,
the bank account too,
even then, we can, I can find reason to give thanks.
For the earth. For beauty. For love.
For who You are, Lord, and not only for what you provide.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I Still Hate Kanswer

Kanswer sucks. Don't let my quietness on this topic of late lead you to believe that I'm not still pissed off about having gone through that journey. I'm doing great. I'm feeling great. I still love my short hair. I'm loving the fact that I will never have to wear a bra or undergo a mammogram ever again. That is a beautiful thing.

Life is good right now.
But kanswer still sucks.

I still hear way too many stories about this dreadful disease.
Stage 4 pancreatic kanswer diagnosed in a friend's husband.
A missed breast kanswer diagnosis, late treatment, rapid advancement, and the far-too-quick death of a dear friend's mother.
Breast and uterine kanswer in a very young friend of mine.
Skin kanswer removed. Several times.
I hate it, hate it, hate it.

But even in the midst of it, even in the worst of it, I hear stories of strength and courage, beauty and honor, dignity and love abounding even in the midst of the suffering. Stories of life well lived even while facing down the demon of disease. Stories of stopping treatment in the interest of peace and a gentle end. Stories of being surrounded by friends and family to the very end. Stories where the very end was postponed after treatment, surgery, and a whole lot of prayer.

Recently I read an article about black women and kanswer - how often we are diagnosed late, not offered curative care, and for those and other reasons, black women in the country tend to die at a higher rate than white women with similar diagnoses. Here is a link to the article I read. Powerful stuff. Beautiful women. Sad stories.

Speaking of beautiful black women and sad stories about kanswer...

Flipping through a photo album a month or so ago, I was reminded of a trip I took to Portland, Oregon, more than ten years ago to see my best friend from college. She was dying of colon kanswer that had returned and spread to her brain. She was a medical doctor, so she knew what was happening to her and had a pretty good idea of how her story was going to end. Soon.

She spent most of her adult life as a vegetarian, then a vegan, then she and her husband stopped eating food out of pots that had ever cooked meat. They were serious about eating well. How does someone who lives like that get colon kanswer?

I sat with her for two and a half days. I read to her. I told her stories. I held her hand. I offered her food. I watched her sleep. I prayed with her and for her. I cried. A lot. She wasn't yet 40 years old, and she was dying.

On my last full day there, she asked for something to eat.
One of her Portland buddies and I knelt down beside her to listen closely.
"What do you want? Anything you want, we will get it for you."
Her voice was weak. Her eyes were closed.
But she spoke clearly - "I want barbecue ribs and Pepsi."
Then she named the place she wanted the food from.
"No problem. We will be right back."
Her husband was not as agreeable - "She can't eat that. It will make her sick."
"Sick? She's dying of kanswer. If she wants ribs, she can have ribs."
"If she wants Pepsi, Pepsi it is."
He said NO. We said YES.
We left. We bought it. We brought it back.
She ate two or three bites of the ribs and took two or three sips of the Pepsi.
That was all she needed before slipping back into a morphine induced slumber.

Before leaving her house to return to my hotel later that evening, I leaned over her, kissed her smooth forehead, and told her I was going. She opened her eyes, thanked me for coming to see her, and told me to travel safely.
I told her to do the same - I wished her traveling mercies on her final journey.
I left for home the following morning.
She moved into a hospice center a few days later, and then she left for her eternal home very soon thereafter.

Kanswer sucks!

Back in January, my Spanish mother died. One of the kindest, most generous, loving, family-oriented, God-loving people I have ever known passed away. The breast kanswer didn't kill her. The pneumonia didn't kill her. But they both seriously complicated her life. Her daughter and I are sisters of the heart. Whenever I go to Spain, I stay with her and her husband and their two sons. Whenever I face a challenge, she supports me from afar. And I try to do the same for her. After watching her mother die, after watching one of her dearest friends die of bone kanswer not long before that, my friend sent me a message today reminding me of what I try to remind myself of daily, hourly - Life is meant to be lived. So live it fully. Live it well. No holding back. No second guessing. Be grateful. Be grace-full. Be joy-full.

I still hate kanswer, but I am grateful that because of its attempt on my life,
I have learned to cherish each day as the gift that it is.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thankful Throwback Thursday

In some circles, today is also known as "Throw Back Thursday." On Facebook, many people post photos of themselves or their friends or family members from days, months, years, decades gone by. Today I posted this photo.
It is a photo of an image on the wall of my mother's home.
My college graduation portrait.
I knew so little then. So very little.
I was madly in love.
I longed to return to Spain.
I was about to begin life as an adult - but I was such a baby.
I look at the face of my 21 year old self 
and I thank God 
for protecting me from more foolish decisions 
than anyone ought to escape from unscathed.

These are my parents around the time of their wedding in 1956.
In the 1980s, their wedding album was stolen from their car in Manhattan.
My mother and I recently talked about how sad we still are about that loss.
We are convinced that the thieves discarded it once they saw what it was.
I'm glad she still has several photos of them from those early days.

Sitting at the piano in the sanctuary of the 
Sixth Avenue Baptist Church,
Brooklyn, New York. Circa 1973.
I am the youngest of four children and the only daughter.
Was I already daydreaming of escape?

A few years later in my parents' living room.
We had come a long way since that piano portrait.
I miss my father - so much.

I shouldn't even be alive. I should never have been conceived. Let me rephrase that - I could never have been conceived if my parents' plans hadn't been drastically altered. When my parents met each other, they were each already engaged to other people. 

But God...

My father had returned from World War II and settled in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Mount Pisgah Baptist Church where he sang in the choir. My mother was a student at Shaw University here in North Carolina and went to Brooklyn one summer to work and earn money to pay for college. She spent that summer living with one of her brothers - who was a member of Mount Pisgah Baptist Church. My mother joined the choir. Before long, their other engagements ended. They were married less than a year after they met. 

Three sons.
Then me.

My mother tells the story of being heavily sedated for my birth and upon awakening being told that she had a daughter. She says that her response was, "Doctor, you better not be kidding. I have waited a long time for a daughter." Well, there I was. 

I owe my mother a deep apology for being such a tomboy during my childhood. I wanted no part of ribbons or fancy dresses. I wanted to know why I couldn't wear pants all the time like my brothers. I remember telling her that God didn't care what I wore to church; she said that she did care. Why couldn't I play football and basketball and baseball with them all the time? I played with them a lot, for sure, but I wanted to be with them all the time. 

One day, in a vain attempt to keep up with them on a bike ride, I fell behind, and was pursued, overtaken, and bitten by a dog that had broken free from its chain. My rear right bumper - butt cheek - took the hit. Ouch. 

I owe her another apology for disobeying her direct instructions and running directly across the street from my cousin's house instead of walking to the corner and crossing at the light per her direct order. As my mother watched in horror from our front door, I was struck by a car. Ouch again. 

A concussion at Sunshine Acres - the summer camp I attended and worked at for years.
A fractured ankle during a basketball game when I was in tenth grade.
Suspended from school for (not) drinking a beer on a choir trip during my senior year in high school Full disclosure: It was the spring of 1983; the legal drinking age was 18. In the company of several other students at a restaurant in Georgetown, I ordered a beer, took one sip, hated it, and left it on the table. Unfortunately for us, the choir director and the other chaperones arrived at the same restaurant soon thereafter, saw our drinks, and very graciously/foolishly allowed us to finish our meal with the assurance that justice would be meted out later. But the choir director and the headmaster didn't care about the technicality of not drinking it. I was punished just like everyone else who got caught. I wonder if that incident is part of why I have never, ever liked beer. 
Anyway, I messed up. (Mom, I'm sorry for bringing dishonor to our family.)

Throwback Thursday.
Thrown back into memories of mistakes, accidents, bad choices, and bad behavior gone by.
Thrown back into memories of blessings, protection, and adventures gone by.

I look at photographs, journals, letters, postcards.
I look at notebooks filled with sermon notes, class notes, teaching notes.
I look at mementos, posters, artwork.
I look at scars, wrinkles, laugh lines.
And I remember the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
I remember falls and breaks, crutches and stitches.
I remember hugs and tears, kisses and farewells.
I remember safe landings and flat tires. 
I remember late nights with fevered children and early mornings with chemo chills.
I remember wedding parties and funeral processions.
I remember so many names, so many faces, so many stories.

On this thankful Thursday, my thankfulness goes all the way back to 1955,
when Otis and Eleanor linked eyes, hearts, and futures,
took a chance on each other, even after having committed themselves to two other people.
My thankfulness goes back to early 1965, when they chose to try one more time for a daughter.
My thankfulness goes back to the God who made all of this possible:
a man from South Carolina met a woman from North Carolina in a church in New York.
A man who loved God more than he loved himself or anyone else.
A woman who loves and follows hard after God to this day.

 Their love created space for our love 
and our love created space for these two amazing people

who have grown up to be two young adults that I now count among my best friends.

My thankfulness goes back and includes 
every step, every stumble, 
every laugh, every love,
every friend, every frustration, 
every trip, every treatment,
every book, every ballad,
every hymn, every hiccup,
every joy, every journey,
every prayer, every promise,
every sorrow, every secret,
every grace bestowed,
every pardon granted,
every day, every hour, every moment
that has brought me, carried me, welcomed me,
to this place, to this time, to this night.

Where and how far back does your thankfulness go back tonight?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Retraining My Eyes

When I was a child growing up in Brooklyn, New York, one of my favorite things to do with my family was taking the subway into Manhattan, to Times Square, and walking a few blocks to a Christian bookstore on 43rd Street near 8th Avenue. My parents, walking behind me and my brothers, would often say, "Don't look to the right or to the left, kids. Just look straight ahead." To the right and to the left of us, back into the 1970s, were pornographic theaters and sex shops, prostitutes and trangendered men and women in drag. My mother and father wanted us to retrain our eyes, to not look around us with curiosity and intrigue at the fear and strength, the loneliness and the courage, the desperation and the searching that must have been palpable and visible on the faces of the people behind the neon signs and the thick layers of makeup. They instructed and directed us to look towards our destination, an oasis of books and records, toys and games that would help us stay focused on our faith, our beliefs and on our God. I confess that I peeked both right and left a few times, but I have always wished that I had looked around a little more often. That I had had enough compassion to look into the eyes of those who must have looked curiously at our blinkered family rushing single-mindedly past them.

On one of our epic family vacations one summer, we drove from Brooklyn all the way to California, camping in a tent nearly every night for the three weeks of our adventure. At one point we stopped at "an Indian reservation." That is the term that comes to mind every time I recall that day. We watched a "wild west" reenactment that involved cowboys in large hats, heavy boots and leather chaps fighting against indians in feathers and "native attire." Even at the tender age of eight or nine, I was horrified by the whole thing. Terrified and horrified. How could they be shooting at each other? Why were men falling off of roofs onto the ground below after being shot? Why didn't someone bring this violence to an end? And why were we, as children, forced to watch?

At the end of the show, the spectators stood in line to have our photos taken with the actors. There is a picture of me in a recently purchased bonnet with one of my brothers in his replica of a cowboy hat - and three Native Americans, headdress, war paint, moccasins, feather fan, weapons, and all. One of the people in the photo is younger than I am and several inches shorter. I vividly remember thinking, "These people must hate this, hate these photos, hate being looked at this way. I wish I didn't have to be in this picture. I wish they didn't have to be in this picture. I hate this."

That was a moment when I wished I could have retrained my eyes - to look away from their pain, their anger, their suffering at the hands of a nation and a world that would want to pay and make money based on their annihilation. Tears fill my eyes even now as I gaze down at this sad photograph.

During chemotherapy I was told to drink as much water as possible. A gallon a day was recommended. Although I don't think I ever consumed quite that much, I made several valiant attempts over the four month treatment period. One of the inevitable side effects of increased liquid intake is frequent urination. Day and night, I made trip after trip to the can in the john. At night, as I made my way across our bedroom towards relief, I would inevitable glance at the clocks on both my nightstand and my husband's. For weeks, I saw hours I had not seen with any regularity since my children were nursing infants - 2:17; 3:28; 4:09; 5:35. All in the AM.

Did I mention that fact that there was an old-fashioned, battery-operated clock hanging on the wall above the toilet? Tick tock. You're awake. Tick tock. You're awake.

Often, upon returning to bed, I would stare up into the darkness, praying that sleep would sweep me away from the reality of why I kept having to pee. One night as I prayed for healing and peace and sweet dreams, I also resolved to stop looking at the clock every time I got up. I began by turning my brightly lit digital clock-radio away from my bed. Within days, I unplugged it and donated it to Good Will. I wanted to turn Steve's clock in the opposite direction as well, but recognized that it wasn't fair of me to keep him from seeing the time if he wanted to. So I retrained my eyes - forcing myself to divert my eyes from the glow on his side of the bed and the clock staring down at me in the next room.

Not long after chemotherapy ended, I underwent transformational surgery. I instructed my doctors to cut away and cut out as much as possible to keep me from having to repeat the trauma of breast kanswer and to prevent me from ever dealing with uterine, cervical, or ovarian kanswer. Snip, snip, chop, chop. Done. Or so I'm hoping and praying.

The time that I used to spend staring into the mirror at my long dreadlocs and at my aging body, at the ravages of pregnancy, weight gain, weight loss, gravity and time, morphed into time spent staring at the after effects of kanswer, chemotherapy and surgery. I had to retrain my eyes, to stop looking at and looking for what was no longer a part of my physique and to focus instead on the short hair and the long scars that reminded me of all that I had overcome.

As I take long walks through my neighborhood, I have learned to gaze down at each footfall, to look out for cracks in the asphalt and divots in the grass in order to avoid twisting an ankle, or worse. I have learned to listen for dogs that emerge from shadowy driveways and beneath thick bushes. I have also learned to look far enough ahead to calculate if I will have to walk around a garbage or recycling bin while avoiding oncoming traffic. I have learned to look ahead to see if there will be anyone working in or mowing lawns so that I can wave to them if they look up or cross the street if their machinery is spewing debris in my direction. I have learned to scan the street for roadkill not only so that I won't step on it, but also so that I can retrain my eyes to not look at it as I pass it by.

On this, my life journey, I am learning to retrain my eyes in my home, to look at the scratches on the hardwood floors and stains on the carpet and seeing signs of life fully lived rather than messes long ignored. I am retraining my eyes to see scratches in my pots and pans and stains on my countertops as evidence of meals prepared and enjoyed rather than signs of my ineptitude as a housekeeper. I am retraining my eyes to see my husband and children as loving, attentive, funny, generous, forgiving co-travelers on the pilgrimage called life rather than as selfish, sneaky, remorseless, formidable competitors vying for a limited supply of Trader Joe's organic corn chips and peach salsa.

On my faith journey, I am learning to retrain my eyes as I look around at the broken, the beautiful, the lonely, the lovely, the desperate, and the delightful people who walk with me on this journey. I am learning to look to the right and to the left and straight ahead, to look others and myself in the eye. As often as possible. As deeply as possible. As tenderly as possible.

I am learning to retrain my eyes as I read the Bible, recognizing myself in stories of betrayal and denial, in stories of judgment and forgiveness, in stories of wanting to stone the adulterer and also knowing that I deserve that same punishment, in stories of forgetting how blessed I have been and complaining, in so many of our sacred stories. I am learning to retrain my eyes to see my family members, my friends, my neighbors, and even those I dislike, distrust, and fear in those same stories. May the light of grace, peace, and love radiate from the stories of Christ in the Scripture and increasingly blind me to the faults of all people and my own as well, retraining my eyes to see in all people a flicker, a glimmer, a reflection of The Light of Life.

I hope and pray that my sight, my hearing, my taste, my touch,  my heart, my soul, that all of my senses and all of who I am will be continually retrained. That I will see and hear and feel all of life, with its complexity and simplicity, its allure and its repugnance, its catastrophic storms and its eerie calms, more deeply, more fully, more completely.

There are shadows and fears and tragedies and roadkill everywhere in this life.
There are people suffering and being stared at and ignored and exploited everywhere.
There is prostitution and addiction and desperation everywhere.
There are scars and sagging skin and tears everywhere.
Splintered relationships. Fractured trust. Deflated hopes. Inexplicable abandonment.
Unconscionable violence. Immeasurable fear. Prolonged adversity.
There are also trees in bloom, flowers budding, farmers' markets and backyard gardens.
There is laughter and storytelling and grace and celebration and welcome.
There is also so much healing and connection and beauty and love and joy.
I am grateful for the ways in which faith and God and people and life are all retraining my eyes to see more of both the former and the latter.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Thankful Thursday

Last night, I spent a few hours with a group of Christ-loving, people-serving, hope-infused folks in a small city about an hour from here. Together we watched a movie called Life of a King. A story of fear and violence, power and hope, determination and perseverance. It is a story about the lives of teenagers in Washington DC, a few cons and ex-cons, and what happens when one man stands up for what he himself never had.

After watching the movie, we talked about what stood out for us, what challenged us, what questions came up for us. We talked about how hopeless we sometimes feel when we think about and see the challenges that young people face. Especially young African Americans. So many of them live lives that are framed and defined by violence, poverty, neglect, drug use, abuse, addiction, and gang banging. When they have not seen others escape their neighborhoods, how can they hold on to hope?

Of course, the reality of despair and hopelessness is not true only in the inner city for young people of color. Addiction, abuse, violence, rape, alcoholism, eating disorders, anxiety, fear, neglect, and gang activity all happen in the suburbs and in rural areas as well. Suffering is impartial and does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, national origin, language, or religion. No group or individual is exempt from suffering.

Earlier this afternoon, I watched the second half of Waiting for "Superman." Our public school system is failing millions of children every year. Some statistics show that, although the United States is among the top five or ten countries in terms of how much we spend on education per student, we are ranked only in the top 20 or 25 in testing for reading, math, and science. If we are going to be global leaders in innovation, we need to do better than that. If we aren't going to make improving our school system a higher priority, then we forfeit our right to complain about jobs being outsourced and engineers, doctors, computer scientists, and others being imported from countries that have bypassed us in these areas.

Last night, as we talked about the film and the desperation that so many children feel in this country, as we talked about the fact that many children don't have birth certificates, children born here in the USA of American citizen parents fluent in English (so we aren't even talking about people for whom English is a second language), we listed several ways in which their progress is hampered, their prospects are curtailed, their hopes are dashed because they don't have that one piece of paper. How does one obtain a driver's license or any form of acceptable ID without a birth certificate? Or a passport? Or registered to vote? How does one apply for a job or join the military without a birth certificate? Actually, the pessimist in me is willing to be that one CAN join the military without a birth certificate. You can be trained to kill for your country but not trained to be a teacher or a lawyer in your country.

Even though we know about the ways in which some states are trying to make it harder for disadvantaged people to vote, last night we heard that the Social Security Administration is also making it harder for people to obtain Social Security cards. If you don't have ID, it's hard to get anything else. But if you don't have any other proof of who you are, it's hard to get ID. Deep sigh. Deeper sorrow.

Today as I watched the documentary about American's schools and the lottery that so many parents enter in the hopes of getting their children into better schools than their local districted ones, tears came to my eyes. Tears of sorrow for those parents and their beloved children. No matter where we are from or what we have accomplished, all parents want their children to be healthy and happy and well educated.

Unfortunately, there are a few abusive, drug and alcohol-addled parents who might not want that for their children, but blessedly, they are the exception rather than the rule.

I wept for those parents whose children were not chosen for their dream schools.
I wept for those children who understood how crucial it was for them to be accepted to those schools in order to have a better chance at a better future - and watched helplessly as their number wasn't called.
I wept for the thousands and thousands of parents and children who aren't even aware that they have options, that there are educational lotteries they can even apply to enter.
I wept for those who were accepted and pray that they were able to take advantage of the opportunity they had been afforded.

I also wept tears of gratitude for my children, for the ease with which we obtained birth certificates and passports and driver's licenses for them, for the gift it was to homeschool them, for the way in which they have both adapted to college life.

I am grateful for the privilege of being able to stay home, of not having to work outside our home since 1991, so that I could teach them and travel with them and cry with them and laugh with them and go for long walks with them and pray with them and read to them and cook with them and learn right along with them.

I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to work with, to walk alongside, to talk to, to laugh with, and also to cry with mothers and fathers as they guide their children through traditional and non-traditional education. Through opening schools. Through the choice to remove children from traditional school and begin to homeschool. Through the choice to return to school outside the home. Through college decisions. Through the undoing of college decisions. I am grateful for every text and email and tear and giggle and conversation and heart-wrenching decision.

I am grateful for the advocates, the teachers, the superintendents, the principals, the parents, the guidance counselors, bus drivers, the janitors, the cafeteria workers, the athletic directors, the coaches, the trainers, the tutors, the lawyers, the judges, the community organizers, and everyone else who is dedicated to the teaching, the coaching, the training, and the preparation of our children for their future and for the future of our world.

I am grateful for the many people and stories and movies and books and documentaries that have opened my eyes not only to the rich blessings of my own life, but far more than that, I have also been reminded that it is imperative that I too get involved in making a way for others to be blessed, to learn, to live, to laugh, and to love freely.

I am grateful for the invitations to join in on conversations like the one we had last night, for the "co-incidence" of seeing the film today about our failing schools, and how all of this ties to many of my own hopes and dreams about how I will live out the rest of my life.

I am grateful for the ways in which those stories have broken my heart wide open.

I am grateful that there is always, always, always cause for hope.

If you've got a couple of extra hours and a box of tissues nearby, I would recommend both of these films: Life of a King and Waiting for "Superman." And also this one, a film about how the educational system affects the lives of the highest achievers as well: Race to Nowhere.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Thankful Thursday

If this story of Jesus is true, if on a Thursday night just over 2,000 years ago, Jesus ate the Passover feast with his disciples, broke bread with them and drank wine with them, if they went to the garden and Jesus was arrested, if Jesus was crucified, and if, by some unimaginable, unfathomable miracle, Jesus rose from the dead three days later, if this story is true, then this ought to be the most thankful of all Thursdays.

If this story is true, then this also ought to be the saddest of Thursdays because it means that Emmanuel, Jesus, God-with-us, was betrayed by someone he loved and served and whose feet he washed the same night on which he was betrayed. It means that the one who swore he would die with Jesus denied knowing him. It means that the others who followed closely for three years all ran away when their leader was taken. 

It means that I am no better, no different, not an exception.
For I too have betrayed the One who loves me most.
I have denied how much I love my Lord and how much Christ means to me.
I have worried what others would think about my commitment to my faith journey with God and because of that concern haven't spoken the truth of what I believe and have experienced. 
I have walked away, sometimes run away, when discussions begin about religion and spirituality and faith and God and Christianity and the Bible and how to interpret the Bible and how Christianity relates to other religions.
I have avoided situations where I knew I would be called upon to defend something someone else has said or done in the name of Jesus and against the name of Jesus.
I am no different from those men and women who fled when the trouble started on a Thursday night so many years ago.

But if this story is true, if Jesus knew everything they were going to do and loved them anyway,
if Jesus knew how fickle they would be and washed their feet anyway,
if Jesus could feed them, heal them, talk to them, tell them stories, walk with them, 
eat with them, drink with them, and promise not to ever partake of that feast again until
all those who love him are with him again,
if Jesus kept the promise to be with them until the end of their lives,
if Jesus kept the promise to give us the Spirit to lead us and guide us, teach us and empower us,
if Jesus is now before the throne of God's amazing grace praying for us, for you, for me,
if all of that is true, then this is back to being the most thankful of all Thursdays. 

It's gonna be a quiet couple of days around here.
Good Friday - the day of the crucifixion and the burial.
Holy Saturday - the day the stone sealed off the tomb.
A lot to ponder. A lot to pray for and through. 
Darkness. Silence. 
Sitting. Waiting. 
Praying. Hoping. 

Spoiler Alert: SUNDAY IS COMING!!!