Monday, November 28, 2016

"We are praying each other strong"

Back in the spring, in the midst of a very dark valley on our life journey, a friend from church came over with muffins and a card with words of encouragement and support. She just showed up, unannounced. Unexpected. In her card, she wrote a phrase I had never heard or read before,
"We are praying each other strong."

When I read that phrase, I knew it was exactly what I needed at that moment.
At that dark and challenging moment. At that fearful and inescapable time of trial.

There's so much packed into that simple declaration.
Beginning with the "we." Plural. Together. Not alone.
Her wise words reminded me that I was not alone; after all, "we" are "we."
I am not alone now.
I have never been alone.
Nor are you. Not now. Not ever.

"We are praying."
It's an ongoing activity.
The praying wasn't finished when she arrived that day. 
The praying isn't finished now.
The tears were flowing freely back in the spring when she dropped by. 
The tears are still flowing now, at the end of November. 
The emotions are still real and raw, and so the prayers must be as well.
Real and raw prayers.
Lord, in your mercy...
Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me - give me peace...
Heal our land...
Please send rain...
Don't you care that we are drowning?
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage.
We pray together. We pray for each other. 
We continue to pray.
We are praying.

"We are praying each other..."
I'm not just praying for you.
You are not just praying for me.
We are praying for each other.
We are praying each other's names and stories and needs.
We are lifting one another up. We are holding each other up.
We are asking for healing and peace and joy and grace and wholeness for each other.
You know what I need. I know what you need.
Whatever we don't know, and there is so much that we don't know, 
that we leave in the hands of the One who knows us both better than we know ourselves. 
And we keep praying. 
Keeping it simple. Keeping it honest. Keeping in plain.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

"We are praying each other strong."
We aren't just praying for healing or for a job and for marriages to survive. 
We aren't just asking to get through this - whatever "this" is.
This horrendous aftermath of a horrendous election. 
Yet another inexplicable act of violence at a school, Ohio State University. 
We aren't just praying for an end to acts of aggression and hatred.
We aren't only praying for peace and courage.
We are praying each other strong.
Strong to face all that lies ahead for all of us.
Strong to stand against the power of money to manipulate and control us all.
Strong to stand against those who want to pollute and desecrate sacred land.
Strong to stand against politicians who seek to roll back civil, religious, social, and personal freedom.
Strong to stand against the fear and anxiety that cause us to want to 
"do it to them before they do it to us" - whatever "it" is.
Strong to stand against racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, anti-Muslim sentiments,
and all the other fear and intolerance, indignity and indifference that poison and threaten us all.
Strong to fight the good fight, the long fight, 
the fight for justice, righteousness, and all that is good.
This is going to be a long, hard battle. 

I confess that I have wavered in the battle.
I have heard too many tales of terror in the past twenty days.
Stories of people being called names, being beaten up, finding epithets spray painted in public place.
Stories of domestic acts of terror. 
Those stories have planted seeds of fear in me.
Those stories have kept me indoors when otherwise I might go out for long morning walks.
Those stories have brought tears to my eyes and increased my heart rate.
Those stories have driven me to my knees, pleading with God to protect my children, 
my brothers, my nieces and nephews, 
and the children, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews of so many people I know and love.
I have had days lately when I have chosen to not look people in the eye in the supermarket
or at the gas station or even in my own neighborhood.
I have been afraid that I will see hatred and fear in their eyes.
I am afraid they will see hatred and fear in my eyes.
I have been afraid that someone will say something hateful to me.
I have worried that white people are feeling freer to speak words of racism and hatred towards black people. 

But then I remember. I am not alone. 
I remember: white people are not the problem.
Black people are not the problem.
Muslims are not the problem.
Donald Trump is not the problem.
Fear and hatred are ultimately not the problem.
They are all symptoms of what is really ailing us.

Brokenness is the problem. 
Sin is the problem. 
And until we face that thing that is broken within us,
that thing that is broken among us,
until we are willing to confess that we are all in desperate need of healing 
that we cannot provide for ourselves,
until we are willing to lay our weapons down, and lay ourselves open,
then this painful, this dreadful, this fearful thing we are facing now,
it's not going anywhere. 
And we will stay stuck in these repeated patterns of kill, hate, kill; 
fear, loathing, fear;
run, hide, run;
justify, explain, defend;
kill, hate, kill again-
ad nauseum

I refuse to give up. I refuse to give in. I refuse to give over to despair.
So I will do what Flo wrote about in her card back in the spring.
I will be praying you strong.
I hope you will be praying me strong.
We will pray each other strong.
And we won't stop anytime soon.

We are praying each other strong, folks.
We will be praying for a long time. 
Because we are going to need to be strong from this day forward.
All the way to the end.
Wherever and whenever we come to the end. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How Can This Be?

How can it be that swastikas and confederate battle flags and hands raised in the nazi salute are being normalized?

How can it be that our state governor, who has never before mentioned anything about rigged elections related to his own past campaigns or the most recent campaigns of others within his political party, is now whining and complaining because he's behind in the vote count this time around? Suddenly, now the election is rigged and there has been voter fraud.

How can it be that people who have never felt any fear for themselves or their loved ones are now looking around and wondering which of their neighbors wants others of their neighbors to be deported? And which of their neighbors might hate, resent, fear, or ridicule their LGBTQIA child, their other-abled child, or they themselves - simply for being who they are, who they have always been?

How can it be that inter-racial families, inter-national families, inter-religious families now have to make contingency plans in case some of their loved ones have to "be registered"?

How can it be that I feel like I don't want to make eye contact with some people out of concern that they may say something racist to me?

How can it be that nowadays I am surprised when white people treat me with respect? How can it be that I have come to expect to be mistreated, disrespected, or ignored simply because of the color of my skin? How can it be that I've been so sheltered for so long?

How can all of this be happening in the United States of America?

On the other hand...

How can it be that so many coalitions are forming between groups and individuals that have never worked together before - coming together for peace, unity, protection, and non-violent resistance?

How can it be that more churches are beginning to figure out ways to be sanctuaries for those who might be deported?

How can it be that plans are already being made, that plans are still being made, that plans cannot stop being made for long term subversive action, long term commitments to long term solutions to our nation's long term problems?

How can it be that in the midst of the angst, in the midst of the uncertainty, even on the days when my heart rate climbs precipitously at the mere thought of my beloved son being stopped, harassed, beaten, or even killed by someone bent on evil, someone in the small southern town where he attend college, when I shudder at the thought that someone might speak harshly and insultingly to my precious daughter - how can it be that even in those moments, a few deep breaths, a prayer, a long conversation in a parking lot with a prayerful friend, an exquisitely written poem by the daughter of a soul sister friend, two pieces of watercolor art made for me that now hang above my desk, and a timely text from a wise friend all arrive at just the right moments, and serve to guide me back onto the path of peace, of strength, and of hope for a brighter future?

How can it be that in two days I will have both my children at home with me again, two or three of my son's college friends, along with my mother and one of my brothers - all eating and drinking (I'm gonna need a couple of strong drinks, for sure), talking, watching television, laughing, sighing, and giving thanks?

How can it be that my mother and others in her generation can watch all that is transpiring in our country since the election, and while shaking their heads in dismay, still rest in the blessed assurance that they have seen this foolishness before and survived it? They saw worse. They went through worse. They sang and prayed and walked and boycotted and laughed and cried and mourned and resisted their way to victory once - and they believe that we will do it again. How can they be so hopeful, so joyful, so powerful? How can this be?

How can it be that simply repeating the name of Jesus - Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - is enough to reignite the embers that keeps my subversive hope simmering?

How can it be that in less than a week Advent begins? The days of preparation before the celebration of the birth of that same Jesus remind me that, even in the darkest days (the people group to whom Jesus was born lived in a land that was under occupation by violent, hateful people), in the most unlikely of circumstances (Jesus' mother was a young woman, unmarried, pregnant, in a community where such an occurrence could be resolved by execution), even when everything feels hopeless, frightening, and completely out of any single person's control, light shines. Faintly. Dimly. But it's there. Hope grows. A tiny seed. Barely visible. Hardly reasonable. But it's there. Love is born. Again. For the first time.

How can it be that I need Advent, I need hope, I need faith, I need love, I need Jesus more than ever this year?

Isaiah 43: 1b-3a - Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk though fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. 

I find myself wanting to remind God of this promise and all the others that I read in Scripture - promises that I will never be left or forsaken. Promises of peace that passes understanding. Promises of justice. Promises of a future with hope. The truth is that I don't need to remind God; I need to remind myself that those promises are real and true - and I have already experienced their fulfillment in my life. Many times. Many many times.

I look forward to remembering and celebrating those promises around our dinner table on the ultimate Thankful Thursday, two days from now.

How can this be?

PS. I know I've mentioned Kathy before on this blog. She's a strong sister in the faith who lives in Colorado and writes and lives and speaks and preaches and breathes her faith. Out loud. Even when it hurts, especially then. She inspires me in ways she can't even imagine. This is her latest blog post - about the length of the journey ahead of us, all of us. I found it on Facebook earlier today and this is the caption I added when I shared it on my timeline: "Thank you, Kathy Silveira Escobar, for yet another message of hope and determination and forward momentum. This is gonna be a long, hard journey. May we learn to walk together in ways we never have before. Together. In peace. Unstoppable."

That's exactly how we have to get through this, whatever "this" is and whatever "this" becomes -
together, in peace, unstoppable.

You in?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thankful Thursday: Kanswer still sucks

This morning, my husband and I were talking about the results of the election - as were most of the people in this country. I said, "This is the second consecutive presidential election in which we have been forced to rethink who we are and how we will live." He said, "What happened last time?" Four years ago on election day, I was diagnosed with breast kanswer (this is how i spell the name of the "c" word. Back then I wondered about the answer that that disease was going to bring into my life). We celebrated President Obama's second term on the same day that my life was turned upside down. The mammogram and biopsy I endured before getting the diagnosis were followed by tests. Scans. Appointments. Protocol decisions. More tests. More scans. More difficult decisions. And all that before a single step was taken to get the kanswer out of my body.

Mine was a fast growing kanswer, so the decision was made to do chemotherapy first, then surgery, a double mastectomy, and fortunately I didn't have to undergo radiation because of the surgical decision I made. During the arduous weeks of chemo and the difficult weeks following surgery, I remember thinking that the kanswer itself hadn't bothered me. I didn't know I had kanswer. I wasn't in any pain, nor did I feel any other discomfort. It was the treatment that nearly killed me. Things got progressively and profoundly worse before they got better. I cried and complained. I worried and prayed. And now, four years have passed and I feel healthier than I have ever felt in all my 50 years of life. But in order to get to this place, I had to be told what my problem was. I had to admit that, even though I thought I was eating well and exercising enough and taking decent supplements, something was dreadfully wrong in my body, something that could kill me. I had to get the diagnosis, accept it, and treat the problem. And that was gonna suck. Kanswer sucks, and so does the treatment. But if I wanted to get rid of the kanswer, I had to do something. Something drastic.

This past Tuesday, our nation revealed that it has a slow growing, long term, malignant kanswer. We've had it since the first days of this nation. Since before we became a nation. We have lived in fear, acted from a place of supremacy, and been harbingers of hatred since day one. I know that not everyone has felt that way. Not everyone has lived that way. But there has been a kanswerous undercurrent of hatred that has run through our nation's veins throughout its entire history.

This recent election has served as our national MRI, our bone scan, our EKG, and our blood test. Our heart is damaged. Our bones are brittle and porous. It's in our lymph nodes. It's in our gastro intestinal tract. It's in our lungs. It's in our brain. Our entire body, our entire nation is in need of major work. Healing work. Restorative work. Reconciliatory work. But first we've gotta name what's ailing us. We have to accept the diagnosis.

There have been many biopsies down through the years. Small samples taken out of larger contexts - samples of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and lots of other isms oozing out from under a very thin layer of gentleness and kindness that has covered them for decades. People have been pulled out of their cars and homes and places of work and schools - and insulted, assaulted, lynched, beaten, shot, dragged behind cars, and in many other ways humiliated, hurt, and murdered. That layer of goodness was pulled back this week. It's still there, for sure. More people voted for her than for him. Protests against the outcome of the election have already begun.

But the results are in - we are sick. We are dreadfully sick.
The USA has stage 3B kanswer - not stage 4 just yet.
I don't think it's terminal. At least, I hope it's not.
But things look pretty bad right now.
Are we ready to start treatment?

Many people, many black and brown people, have been talking about this disease for decades. For centuries, really. Most of them have been told they were being alarmist, over sensitive, and exaggerating. We were essentially being told that we were and we are hypochondriacs. Looking for trouble where it didn't exist. After all, we elected a black man to be our president, twice. Well, look at us now. People are already being verbally attacked, threatened, made to feel unsafe in the country we were born in. Swastikas have already appeared. On college campuses, in high schools and middle schools and elementary schools, students of color, immigrant students are being bullied and harassed in public.

It's happening, people. The kanswer is growing. More rapidly now.

Beneath the facade of "political correctness," the demands for basic human kindness, decency, and respect that many have criticized for years now, there is a deep, gangrenous infection. Rottenness. Hatred. Fear and loathing. Mostly fear - being manifest as anger and hate. So much hate. So much fear. The illusion that many have lived under, the illusion that our nation is not so bad, that we are beyond racism, that we are beyond the ravages of Jim Crow laws and institutional bias and systemic oppression, that illusion has been shattered this week.

I know that many people who voted for the president-elect didn't do so with malice in their hearts. They genuinely want a change in the way things are done in Washington. They want to see new blood and new ideas and cling to new hope that someone with no connection to big government will somehow be different and do different things. I get that. I do. But along with voting and hoping for change (sounds oddly familiar...) they voted to open the door for all the -isms that so many had fought to extinguish to come back out into the open. Those who have worked and continue to work unrelentingly hard to bring justice and freedom to those who are oppressed and living in fear knew that the hatred was still there, that intolerance was still real, and that there was still far too much kanswerous bitterness in our midst. It was just slightly muted, buried in a very shallow grave. As a result of this election, that mutant and barely dormant virus has been reinvigorated in the bloodstream of our nation, and it is running down our streets and boulevards already.

So I sit here wondering: are we ready yet to name what ails us?
The many things that ail us? Are we? All of us?
Are we already too afraid to speak up and tell the truth?
I confess to being nervous about hitting "publish" on this blog post for fear of angry reprisal, hateful rhetoric, and threats of violence.

Are we ready to endure the painful work of healing that is necessary?
The chemotherapy that must hit every cell of our bodies,
every faith community, every town, every city, every village, and every suburb,
every club, every place of employment.
The chemotherapy of honesty about our complicity and our silence,
the chemotherapy of confessing our participation in systems of oppression,
the chemotherapy of being vulnerable enough to hear what others have to say about the disease that has racked our body politic, our churches, and our communities for ages,
the chemotherapy of listening to the stories and pain and fears of those whose opinions we don't agree with, even them. Especially them. Whoever that "them" might be,
This is gonna hurt. We are not going to want to finish the treatment.
We are going to writhe and we are going to suffer. All of us. Together. And alone.

There will need to be surgery too. Probably radical surgery.
Bilateral surgery - both sides, all sides - need to cut off some stuff that is rotten and toxic.
Our empty promises. Our no longer veiled threats of violence.
Our dismissal of and disdain for those we consider to be our enemies.
Gotta cut it off, cut it down, cut it out.
All of us. Each of us.

I remember when I was first diagnosed and made the decision to do chemotherapy, I read many articles and blog posts about not doing chemo. About eating really well for an intense period of time. About doing lots and lots of enemas. And drinking strange concoctions. I was told to go through the healing process naturally. I was told to go to health food stores and get information about the right supplements and potions. I was told to have more faith. To go to other countries for treatment. I was told to just do a lumpectomy. And all those people meant well. I know they did. But for me, I knew chemo was my choice. I knew that a double mastectomy was my choice. I knew that I didn't have enough faith or patience to eat five pounds of kale and drink two gallons of fresh pressed juice every day with the expectation that my kanswer would be beaten that way. I just didn't.

And today, I feel the same. Healing what ails this nation is going to take more than sitting together and drinking green juice. More than good, hearty heapings of hope and good will. It's gonna take a whole lot of people standing up and speaking up, speaking out against what they hear and what they see happening. It's gonna take the political will to defy any and all attempts to deport millions of people who live here peacefully while working hard to provide for themselves and their loved ones. Any and all attempts to intimidate anyone because of who they are and how they have been created. This kanswer isn't gonna go away if we ignore it or downplay its seriousness. It's just gonna keep on growing.

On November 6, 2012, my life changed completely. In every way. On every level.
And I live with that change, I see the results of that change every day.
No more dreadlocs. No more breasts. No more uterus.
Scars across my chest. Scars on my lower abdomen.
Regular check ups with an oncologist.
Regular visits with a holistic chiropractor.
And none of that is gonna go away any time soon.
These scars are here to stay.

On November 8, 2016, the life of this nation changed completely.
We will live with this change for the rest of our life as a nation.
We are already facing pain. We are already seeing the suffering of too many.
Today my brother had a longtime friend, a white friend, try to explain to him why
"Make Am*rica White Again" isn't racist.
There will be scars. Forever.
There will be painful reminders of this kanswer for the rest of the life of this nation.

Today is Thursday, so it's supposed to be Thankful Thursday on this blog.
I'm not feeling too thankful at the moment - at least not related to this election.
Except for this piece of good news - the disease in our system has been exposed.
Also many people I know and don't know are already at work.
Already making plans for the hard work that is going to have to be done for us to unite what has never been fully united before.
Already reaching across aisles and over walls and past boundaries.
I will walk with friends on November 15th, talking and planning and hoping and praying and commiserating too.
And I will keep loving my family, weeping with my friends, being humbled by the wisdom of younger travelers on the journey, and I will try, desperately try to learn to love my enemies too. How perfect is the timing that the Bible passage I have to translate from Greek into English this week for my New Testament class in seminary speaks to the need to love my enemies. Seriously, God?

Kanswer still sucks.
But we can't treat it if we don't acknowledge it.
This week, we are being forced to acknowledge it.
But are we yet ready to treat it?

Monday, November 07, 2016

What to do on Election Day

1. If you live in the United States of American and are registered to vote,
then please, please, please vote. 

2. Smile at the volunteers at the voting place.
They are going to be working a long and difficult day tomorrow.
Dealing with many hundreds, perhaps thousands of voters.
Some of whom will be angry and impatient.
Please don't be one of those angry, impatient, and mean voters.
My mother is a volunteer at a voting place here in Charlotte.
So before you think to say something rude or mean or impatient,
remember that the person you will be dealing with is someone's mother or father 
or sister or brother or friend. Someone's significant someone.
Please be respectful. 

3. Be kind to folks who express political opinions that are different from yours.
We are all concerned about this country. 
We may not agree on how to deal with our concerns, but we are one nation.
We are the United States of America.
In the words of Rodney King, "Why can't we all just get along?"

4. Pray. Pray. Pray.
Light candles.
Burn incense.
Be still and know.
Breathe deep.
Send up smoke signals.
Whatever you do to beckon peace and calm, please do it.
And you don't have to live in the US of A to do any of that.

5. Make plans to reach out in peace to people who know who are on the "other side of the aisle," extending a peaceful hug, handshake, or high five. Truthfully, we need to find ways to cross the aisles, boundaries, borders, and retaining walls that we have constructed during this election cycle - and during the past several presidencies. We need to find ways to cross the moats and gator infested waters that we have constructed around our tribes and clubs and social circles and faith-based enclaves.

Earlier today, I read this hopeful and challenging piece by a woman I met a few years ago,
a gifted writer, a passionate pastor, and an all around compassionate woman, named Kathy. 
Here is a taste of the wisdom she shares in her blog post about who we need to be and what we need to do after tomorrow, after election day: 

But here we are, flawed messy beautiful human beings, left with an important task as tomorrow comes and goes.
Who will we be?
What shall we do?
Whose image will we bear?
How can we participate in healing and hope and unity and kindness and compassion and generosity and reconciliation and justice and mercy and beauty and presence in this upcoming season?
Here is another gem that Kathy wrote - on the night of the first Presidential debate.

As I think about what our country might feel like and sound like at this time tomorrow night (11:45 pm), I am reminded of images we have all seen of the aftermath of tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and floods. Buildings demolished. Landmarks washed away. Whenever I see those images, I think about the tremendous amount of damage and the prospect of a tremendous amount of work that must be done to discard the debris and rebuild the affected cities and towns. 
I keep thinking that our nation has suffered a political tornado, a hurricane, an earthquake, and a flood. Where does all the debris from this storm get taken? Where do we dispose of the angry words and accusations that have been levied so freely and frequently of late? The dismissals and insults of entire groups of people, nations of people, and other political candidates? Where do the disgruntled and angry voters, the ones whose candidate doesn't win, where do they take their grievances and grudges? What happens to all the people who are convinced that the whole process is fixed and fake and there is no reason to have faith in the next President or in each other? What do we do with all of our conspiracy theories and blaming of "them" - whoever that "them" might be? Where does all that bitter bile go? I do not know.
But what I do know is that I promise to be part of the clean up crew.Part of the peacemaking team.Part of the rebuilding effort.Part of the joy brigade.Part of the "free listening" squad.Part of the crew that will never say "I told you so," no matter what happens.
A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling down my Instagram feed. I'm one of those people who joined Instagram to look at other people's stuff, but I have never posted anything myself. Is that the same as being a stalker??? Anyway, I started to scroll down the feed of one of my social and political heroines, Rebecca Walker. Several months ago, she posted this: 
How long is the fight? Forever.
How many conversations do we have to have to change the world? A million.
How will we accomplish it? One carefully chosen interaction at a time.
Healing is going to take a long time, a lot of conversations, and patience that we have clearly not had with each other over the past year or so. But it will happen one conversation, one encounter, one exchange, one hug, one smile, one walk, one meeting, one march, one changed law, one school integration plan, one new job, one storytelling session at a time. 

What am I going to do on election day? I plan to consciously and intentionally engage in conversations that I hope and pray will contribute to changing the world, the nation, this city, and my own home. And I plan to continue having those kinds of conversations the day after that and the day after that.

I'm not going to vote tomorrow - but only because I voted on the first day of early voting here in Charlotte. Instead of voting, I'm going to spend an hour with my spiritual director in the morning. Sharing my joys and sorrows with her. Listening to her wisdom. Filling several pages in my journal with her questions and comments and insights on how to be a woman of peace and grace and strength and courage, no matter what. Then I will have lunch with another wise and gentle, thoughtful and loving friend. We too will invoke words of peace, prayers for calm, and encourage one another to stand firm, with kindness and gentleness, always unwavering in our determination to live lives of love. And all the while, every step of the way, I will be in deep prayer for our nation and for our next President - either one. In fact, I will pray for all the candidates in all the elections, the ones who win and the ones who don't. 

More than that, I will be praying for each of us. For all of us.
For our future as people living together in the same land.
Working together.
Learning together.
Walking together.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I am going to vote again tomorrow.
Tomorrow I will be voting for peace.
Voting for reconciliation.
Voting for hope.
Voting for joy.
Voting with my mouth, my feet, my heart, and my life.
I suppose, on those terms, it is indeed perfectly legal,
and actually we should be encouraged to "vote early and vote often."

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Even in the midst of it alll

In the midst of this horrendous election cycle

in the midst of all the hateful trolling on the internet

in the midst of the barrages of insults that ensue during and after every political exchange

in the midst of the aftermath of an Alabama pipeline that has had two major explosions in the past three months

in the midst of the uproar over that oil pipeline being constructed out in North Dakota (how can not we understand why there is this ongoing protest when those two explosions and oil spills have happened so recently? do any of us what such a pipeline running through our property, through our family graveyards, or through our cities?)

in the midst of the clean after weeks of from major flooding here in the south,

in the midst of all that,

there was also a church that was burned down and the words "Vote Tr*mp" spray painted on the side of the damaged structure (I won't even spell his name completely for fear that an internet search might bring someone here looking for news about him)

there were also two police officers ambushed and killed in their police cars in Iowa

just after the story of their tragic deaths was made public, there were many reactionary, angry responses that involved blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for their deaths (turns out the murderer was an example of why the Black Lives Matter movement exists - it was a racist white guy who some suggest was still angry about being escorted out of a local high school football game because he waved a confederate battle flag in the faces of black fans at the game)

there is continued bombing of civilians in far too many Middle Eastern cities to list

in the midst of all of that, there are still reasons to be thankful.

More of the Chibok girls kidnapped from their school in Nigeria in 2014 have returned home.

Rice and beans are being loaded onto a school bus here in Charlotte, and that bus will soon be shipped to Haiti to help offset some of the devastating after effects of the hurricanes that have affected that embattled island nation.

Gatherings, conversations, and planning for a brighter and more united future are still happening here in Charlotte, in places of worship, in places of work, in private conversations in living and dining rooms, and in public gatherings across the city as well.

Every Wednesday night for the past nine weeks, I have been able to sit in a room with more than a dozen other people who love someone and, in most cases, live with someone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness. The laughter, the tears, the stories, the empathy, the sympathy, the advice, and the strategies shared around that table has truly been life changing for me. The class is called "Family to Family" and it is put on by a local chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The two teachers of the class, like everyone who works for NAMI, are volunteers AND every employee has a loved one in their own family that has been diagnosed with a mental illness. In other words, everyone involved with NAMI "gets it." No judgment. No shocked looks on anyone's faces. No one who thinks we are exaggerating. No one who says we should have spanked them more or we shouldn't be so indulgent or that we are overreacting to bad behavior that we need to just fix. It is truly a safe place for each of us and for all of us. It's called "Family to Family" not only because each teacher has a family member affected, but also because the group begins to feel like family as the class progresses. I will miss these courageous, terrified, funny, heartbroken, hopeful, determined, exhausted people when this class is over two weeks from yesterday. I sure hope we keep in touch.

Last Friday, I got to hold an eight week old little girl in my arms for over an hour. She is the fourth child of a 32 year old woman who was diagnosed with breast kanswer when she was 30. That precious little child was a surprise gift to and for a young couple that was still reeling from the trauma of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, and several complications from both the chemo and the surgery. That tiny little body felt even more miraculous than usual - because isn't every newborn baby a miracle to behold and to be held?

I got to spend three hours with a four year old last week. I pushed him in the swing for a while. We played soccer for a while. Every time we heard an airplane, we would stop and stare up at the sky until we saw it fly over us. At one point, he asked me why the clouds were moving. What a great question! I said something about the wind moving the clouds, but he wanted to get back to running and falling and kicking that soccer ball. When he got tired of all of that, we went inside where he watched a couple of television shows and I recovered from chasing him and the soccer ball.

My daughter is less than six weeks away from completing her undergraduate senior thesis - and she will graduate from college!

Halloween happened. Small clusters of children and parents strolled down our street, the former running across meticulously manicured lawns to the doors of frustrated homeowners who gave them candy anyway while the latter watched, often while holding a beer in hand. Between their visits, some of us, the residents of my block, chatted with each other, laughing at the antics of the costumed candy-grubbers, bemoaning the invasions of ants and moles that we all seem to be suffering through, and wondering aloud about how we will resist the urge to eat all the leftover candy. I love my neighborhood and my neighbors.

This past Sunday, nearly two dozen people wearing the distinct green We Walk Together tee shirts gathered at The Harvest Center here in Charlotte to pack hundreds of ziploc bags with socks, gloves, snacks, cosmetic supplies, candy, and handwritten notes of encouragement for homeless folks who will sleep there three nights every week this winter. We converged in that sacred space to do something small, something that some might even criticize as insignificant and counterproductive in the fight to provide permanent housing for those who don't have a permanent home. In the midst of that criticism, we did the work anyway. We lovingly packed those bags, praying that they will bless those who receive them.

One of the things I am always a little uncomfortable about when I write these Thankful Thursday posts is the sense that I am minimizing, trivializing, or ignoring the many terrible things happening in the world. How can I write about giving out Halloween candy when there are millions of starving and displaced and rejected refugees pleading for assistance all around the world? How can I rejoice over packing a few ziploc bags in the midst of a world where plastic is clogging landfills and floating out on the ocean? How can I be so selfishly focused on my daughter's imminent completion of her university studies when there are millions of young women her age who have been forced into marriages against their will or sold into sexual slavery?

Ultimately, my goal here - on Thankful Thursdays or any other day that I write a blog post - isn't to answer every question that plagues us or to offer resolutions to every crisis that grips us. It isn't to uncover every political misdeed, criticize every wrong perpetrated by every public figure, or expound on every passage of Scripture that has been misappropriated in ongoing efforts to exploit the planet's natural resources or oppress other people. There's plenty of all of that out on the internet and right at our own kitchen tables. There's plenty of anger and outrage and righteous indignation out there. There's plenty of thoughtful and meaningful work being done in the world and reported on the internet. But none of that is why I do this.

My goal here is practice gratitude
to spread a little joy
to plant a seed of hope
to bring a smile to my own face
and hopefully to yours
as I recount the often overlooked goodness of God
and the vastly underreported goodness and good news in our world
and on my own life's journey -
even in the midst of it all.