Christian Social Justice

Last Saturday, after a happy hour meeting centered on social justice, four educators and I sat and discussed our schools and the diversity work happening within them. After some extended sharing about my school’s programs, racial demographic, and religious climate, a new acquaintance craned his head toward me in a sort of gesture mixing kindness, solidarity, and pity, and said, “You are in an odd place to be doing diversity work.”

I have been thinking about that comment more and more this past week as I think through the beauty and the complications of having a passion for diversity and social justice in a predominately white, conservative, Christian high school.

Today, I attended this year’s Educators for Social Change conference, and the first keynote speaker Keith Catone said, “I cannot keep calm and carry on, because I am filled with anxiety!” He laughed as he shared this statement. “Who here has felt anxiety recently due to the current political climate? Who has felt anger?” I raised my hand for both.

As Keith spoke about advocacy and agency, especially for the youth in our classrooms, he gave an example of a student-led walkout in Rhode Island, which occurred at 11:08a.m. the day president Trump was inaugurated. He spoke highly of the students’ decision, praising them for their ingenuity, their willingness to walk out during class time and take unexcused absences, their intelligence in asking adult leaders in the area to support them and meet them outside with supplies as they encountered police (presumably there for their protection). He said, as adults, we should not criticize them and ask each other whether they took the right action and what the consequences should be; we should instead be actively embracing the pedagogy of walking out. If we as adults did not “get this election right,” and they as students were not old enough to cast their vote, we should be paying attention to them. We should allow students to teach us about what they’re doing and why. We should let them take the lead and listen in to what they want for their future.

Keith spoke freely about his reservations, fears, and anxieties about a Trump administration. He joked with relative ease, seeming to hold an assumption that each person in the audience was anti-Trump and stood with him. And I understand this assumption in the sense that Trump’s presidency (thus far) and presidential race (in its entirety) has had little to do with inclusion and social justice, which was the purpose for our gathering today. However, I teach classrooms filled with a seeming majority (or a loud minority?) of Trump supporters. I teach in a place where students proudly wear “Make America Great Again” hats and Trump socks, where some scoff at the mere though that someone could be pro-choice or a feminist or support stricter gun laws. Sure, there are students who are pro-choice and who are feminists and who are supporters of stricter gun laws, but they seem to be a quiet minority – or at least don’t relish the idea of locking horns with a boasting Trump supporter in the middle of their school day.

This makes me ashamed and angry sometimes, quite honestly. This makes me reflect.

I have thus far endeavored to be a teacher who does not share my political or social views in the classroom – other than to help them critically think from different angles and play devil’s advocate to their ideas. When students tell me they want to write a research paper advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, I say, “Sure. Why are you passionate about this?” When another student wants to research transgender issues and says that everyone should just “stick to their born gender because all this transgender stuff just makes people uncomfortable,” I nod and say, “Okay. I’ll look forward to seeing what you find in your research, especially the opposing viewpoints.” Students all day contradict each other’s opinions, and in many ways, this is the beauty of America’s fabric. We are a United States who believes diverse views help create a vibrant and functioning democracy. However, I raised my hand today when Keith asked who else had increasing anxiety over the country’s current political climate. I raised my hand when he asked who was angry.

Those who doubt, question, and naysay about social justice work in my school community are probably not as high in numbers as they seem – just loud, persistent, and ever questioning our “agenda.” Yet, their voices make them seem more heavyweight than they are. So to support, for example, a student walkout at the time of a presidential inauguration seems extreme to me in my current teaching atmosphere. And yet, in the audience that surrounded me today, this stance was applauded, seemingly condoned as normal and right. Educators for Social Justice seemed clear in their convictions. But do they share those convictions in their classrooms? And is that right? And why do I stay quiet in mine? Is that right?

The challenge for me in vocally or actively supporting a walkout or any other form of student democratic resistance is this: to defend it asserts that the resistance is right. It assumes that the students are clear in their opinions and well informed and that we stand behind what their voices are saying, that we trust they have thought through it well. And on top of that, to share my political views would embolden some students and parents to think, “Yes! I knew that’s what she thought!” while very likely creating walls between myself and those students and parents who disagree with my views, breaking down relationship and limiting their full engagement and growth in my classroom. And for the record, I am not a proponent of walls, at least when it comes to countries and relationships…

Maybe I was raised not to act as an adolescent without parental and teacher permission, or maybe it is just me, but I know now that there is a moral – even more, a fundamentally Christian – lens with which our school (and I) view resistance and frankly any other earthly action. This lens asks us to analyze our and our students’ actions by filtering them through God’s laws and commands. If one of my students wants to publicly support Trump’s immigration ban, I must ask how that fits within a Christian view. If another student wants to protest the ban, I must critically assess how that fits. I suppose it depends upon how one interprets the Bible’s commands or if they are even thinking about them in the first place… However, with my faith as a guide, I do not believe that I can just support any old opinion that my students form and say, “Bravo! I stand with you! Use your voice and your agency!” I cannot condone just anything that they are swept up in as part of a cultural or political movement. My job is to help shape them, to help them see both sides (or even better, to change the either/or, us-against-them political narrative. Why must that be so?). My job is to sharpen them in such a way that they can make their own decisions in due time, teaching them to do so with their faith and their community in mind.

So, here is what I know:

  • Donald Trump is our president. I am praying for him and need to do so even more often.
  • I am a feminist.
  • I largely don’t worry about our safety as a nation; though I acknowledge that I have no idea what it is like to have my personal security seriously threatened.
  • I do not agree with Trump’s immigration ban.
  • I do worry about our gun laws.
  • I do want to love and embrace the LGBTQ community and let them know that even though their sexual orientation and lifestyle is not condoned by my faith, they have just as much inherent worth, value, and beauty as any other person in God’s creation.
  • I do think there is a huge racial wound still festering in America.

Here is what I don’t know:

  • So much.

 

But I’m willing to learn and to listen to both “sides,” and I want my students to do the same.

And I am left pondering two questions tonight – because I don’t actually think that I’m in an odd place to do diversity work. The one who created diversity – of landscape, of wildlife, of skin tones, of genders, of personalities and opinions – is the very God who I worship. And the Lord expects more from me, from my students, than just for us to be who we feel like being or to say and act on what we think and feel within a cultural and political climate. For that reason, I cannot and must not approach social justice and political resistance the same way that every other school does.

So here it is:

For a faith community built on the belief of Holy Scripture, a community for which unity in the body of Christ is paramount, a community in which any stance “in the minority opinion” sparks (or would very likely spark) criticism or an engulfing divide, how do I help my students take a stand? And how do they speak up and resist injustices without doing more harm to their community than good?

Here is what I have so far:

With love.

Please help me from there.

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For my black brothers and sisters

 

I can only relay what I hear from black members and their loved ones in our fractured society – from those most publicized and from those most known and dear:

Fear, so much fear. For yourself, for your family, for especially your beautiful black sons, for your future, for your increasingly bitter heart…

Anger, sadness, profound disappointment, numbness, hopelessness… I am unable to encapsulate all you feel or know to be true. My words are too meager, too removed. However, I was reminded last night at a prayer vigil and this morning in reading the Word that God has much to say, Himself and through his people, and those words are strong and true and will come to pass.

In Psalm 6, while being pursued by enemies, David cries out in prayer:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
    But you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
    save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who will give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
    it grows weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.

He hears your pleas, too.

If it is of any encouragement, I have been praying Psalm 9 over you this morning, my dear brothers and sisters. May you be strengthened and your heart reoriented:

But the Lord sits enthroned forever;
    he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
    he judges the peoples with uprightness.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
    Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord!
    See my affliction from those who hate me,
    O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises,
    that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
    I may rejoice in your salvation.

15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
    in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
16 The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
    the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion.[d]Selah

17 The wicked shall return to Sheol,
    all the nations that forget God.

18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

19 Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you!
20 Put them in fear, O Lord!
    Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

Take heart that the Lord hears you. He sees you. He knows your heart. You are not forgotten. Our God is one of equity, of justice, of caring for the afflicted and oppressed. I will seek justice and reconciliation with you now, here on this earth that I am called to help renew, and I know while we struggle for that realization, ultimately full justice, full equity, full judgment will be realized, without the mar of sin or error. That is the character of our God.

For now, while you respond with your family or publicly through prayer, protest, or other activism, hear the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

 

Standing with you,

Lauren

 

“11 small ways to feel less helpless this week,” continued.

Earlier this week, I, along with hosts of other Americans, experienced heartache and a host of other emotions at the announcement of another black man killed by police. Alton Sterling, though a person whose life is swirling with controversy and whose police record and history is currently being scrutinized from every feasible corner and cranny of America, did not need to die that day. Then, a day later, came reports of Philando Castile’s death in Minnesota, who was shot four times by police in his car with his fiancé and child watching. Philando Castile did not need to die. Trayvon Martin did not need to die walking down the street that day. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and so, so many others did not need to die those days. I am not posting these statements to start any sort of debate; in fact, internet debates are fairly loathsome to me due to the anonymity that can often invite tactless, hurtful comments. Sympathy and empathy are often lacking without the ability to see each others’ faces and tears, discern voice inflections and intentions, hear cries, hold hands… My aim is not a debate. My point is just this: as humans made in the image of God, it is a tragedy that these boys and men lost their lives through violence. It is wrong. This is not the way the world is supposed to be. And even if some of them committed crimes, even if some of them resisted arrest, even if [fill in the blank], it is still a tragedy when life is lost. Families and communities still grieve. Someone lost their son, their husband, their father, their brother. Can we at least agree on that?

And in times when huge portions of our country are grieving, anger and accusation are not the first reactions I crave (and there are plenty of people online who are venting those feelings and ideas, in healthy and unhealthy ways). Instead, I would like to reproduce and add onto some wise advice I read after another American tragedy of a different kind which occurred not even a month ago. So whether you are still reeling from Orlando, from Alton, or from any other intense struggle you are facing, here goes.

I’ve added a few thoughts in italics with asterisks, but the rest is credit to Annie Wright, a trained therapist.

“To help you hold the weight of this world, I want to offer some actionable suggestions for things you can do this week, both psychologically and socially. Hopefully, these small things will help you process, feel less helpless, and even help those around you this week:

1. Acknowledge and feel your feelings. All of them.

There’s no such thing as a bad feeling (though some may feel more comfortable than others). Allow yourself to feel today, tomorrow, and this week, and to be with whatever comes up for you around this. Process your feelings safely and constructively.

2. Don’t isolate. Connect.

Connect with your loved ones, your local community, your larger communities (even if by phone or over social media). Share how you’re feeling. Talk it out, let others hold space for you while you hold space for them.

3. Limit your media consumption if needed.

This is so important with news being blasted at us from every angle. Monitor how much news and content about the tragedy you can tolerate before it starts to feel like too much.”

*** Additionally: I found that submerging myself in social media and news after Eric Garner’s death, especially watching the video of him taking his last breaths, threw me into a mental and emotional tailspin. I, too, could not breathe, and I could not seem to pull myself out of the vortex of reading hateful comments and processing news and updates. Despite that “lost day,” I’m thankful for that experience in some ways – seeing that video made me experience his tragedy in a much more much more personal, human way rather than just conceptualizing his death intellectually. However, I learned much about my limits that day, and because of that I encourage myself (and whoever read this) to take care in educating ourselves but not to an unhealthy extent.

“4. Refocus on your self-care and healthy coping resources.

Garden, cook, knit, craft, go for a long walk, journal, sit outside in the sun. Do whatever you know helps you feel grounded, safe, and healthy.

5. Stick to your routines.

Routines and schedules can be incredibly grounding in times of stress. Keep up your daily and weekly rituals.

6. Exercise.

Moving your body can help process and metabolize the stress and anxiety you may be feeling. Add in an extra walk or two and really make grounding and focusing on your body a priority.

7. Dance, draw, paint, or photograph your feelings about this.

Create art and process your experience through creation.

8. Turn toward supports and ask for help.

If you need additional resources, book a session with a therapist, speak to your local clergy, or call up a trusted mentor. Let those who care about you help you.

9. Get involved in any way that you can.”

*** Participate in activism, have face-to-face conversations with those in your family, your community, or your church which would further compassion and understanding. Educate yourself (in healthy ways). Read books and articles by educated authors! (And let me know if you’d like a recommendation or two.)

“10. Host or join a community process group.

Check out your local YMCA or church or university offerings to see if they’re hosting a support group for those impacted by the tragedy. If none are offered, consider hosting one with a friend or local helping resource.

11. Pray.

Yes, pray. […] Close your eyes and ask something greater than you for guidance in troubled times. Receive the support that can come from being in prayer.

Being a human is often scary, overwhelming, and vulnerable.

Tragedies […] illuminate the fragility and unpredictability of life. I think that, for most of us, this can be a very hard thing to face. […]

 

But these same tragedies can call upon us to open ourselves up too.

They call on us to be more vulnerable, to be more fully alive and in touch with our feelings, to be more compassionate and caring toward others, and to be more active and peaceful in our politics and social engagements.”

Original article by Annie Wright published here.

 

At the end of this day, this week, I hope you’ve cared for yourself and for others, as well as you’re able.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.[…] The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  […] But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – 1 Corinthians 12

I know that I have friends as well as fellow Christians who are suffering. I suffer with you.

 

 

“The List”

Like any writing teacher worth her salt, I am always looking for creative prompts that might allow my students or me to dig into memories and pull out some verbiage and truth. This one, though not presented as a prompt, piqued my writer’s curiosity. Parents teach us lots of things. Some are stated clearly, but most seem subtle and therefore tacitly inferred. Inspired by Amy Poehler’s Yes Please in which she included a list of some sweetly thoughtful and many more hilarious ideas, I began ruminating on my own list. After much jotting and revising and smiling through funny memories, here is my compilation, albeit incomplete, of what I learned growing up. There is a story (or many) behind each one, but it was fun to synthesize the many tales and skim across the surface for a while. I found it a welcome ski down memory lane and hope you enjoy it as well.

Things I Learned from Mom:

  • Always plant flowers in odd numbers.
  • Respect your father. He loves you and works really hard.
  • When kids relentlessly taunt you, don’t react. They will get bored and leave you alone if you can just stand to ignore them.
  • When girls want things from their fathers, there’s a certain smile that works every time.
  • Girls everywhere: when considering a husband, choose wisely!
  • Never cancel plans with one person to do something “better” that comes along.
  • If you do not like something at a restaurant, send it back.
  • Respectful kids always greet their friends’ parents. Head-nods don’t count.
  • Everyone has endearingly weird family members. Some of their stories deserve to be told again and again.
  • People who grow up in chaotic households can become amazing people.
  • Never change boyfriends as frequently as you change your underwear.
  • Yellow is not your color, and you may want to think about not parting your hair down the middle.
  • Dogs work their way into your homes and then your hearts.
  • You deserve to be listened to, and it is okay to cry.
  • Being silly is encouraged.
  • The night is young!
  • Boys should treat you right. No idiots or losers allowed.
  • If you are dating an idiot loser, your mom will know and will set up boundaries that are irritating but don’t cause massive rebellion. Mom will also send in reinforcements to sneakily make sure he’s not being too loser-y. When you end up breaking up with him, which you will, you will thank her later.
  • Education matters. Go. Dream. Work hard for it.
  • Women can be beautiful, smart, and confident.
  • Now that you’re 21, have a drink, girl! Better yet, let dad make you one or buy you one.
  • Beaches are the dream.
  • Being a grandparent is going to be the best, and until then, not-yet-grandmothers should hold as many other random women’s babies as possible.
  • Your faith and love for your family matter more than anything else.
  • Moms will do anything to protect their kids.

 

Things I Learned from Dad:

  • When you find the right girl, don’t be deterred.
  • Respect and love your mother. She’s great with finances, scary smart, and has a mean ring-finger punch.
  • Always “marry up.”
  • Tip generously, if you’re able.
  • Work hard.
  • Between bouts of working hard, spend weekends at the lake.
  • When spending weekends at the lake, listen to 60s, 70s, and 80s music.
  • Capitalize on your best singing and dance moves, but only ever so often.
  • Embarrassing your kids can be really fun.
  • Call people back as soon as possible. Not doing so is rude, and some times these people are worried about you.
  • Your kids deserve the best opportunities, and the best dads believe that for their daughters as much as their sons.
  • Go to bed early sometimes, or even better, all of the time.
  • People constantly snapping pictures of you is obnoxious.
  • Exercise should be more for your health later than for your body now.
  • Well-timed spanking really works. If your kids are raised to respect you, sometimes a very disappointed stare works even better.
  • If a boy honks when he arrives at the house, he better be dropping off a pizza, because he sure isn’t picking anything up.
  • Don’t mess with your “old man,” especially when there are hot dogs for dinner.
  • Tickling people is tons of fun.
  • Tortilla chips and afternoon naps are the dream.
  • Dads who were the social chairs of their fraternities sometimes worry that their not-yet-21 daughters aren’t having enough fun.
  • Once said daughters turn 21, some dads become the ultimate in-safe-company drinking instigators.
  • Yard chores are a must. There is a rake with your name on it – literally.
  • Most situations can be navigated either with a firm tone and serious expression or with sarcastic humor. Choose your delivery method wisely.
  • Say, “I beg to differ” often. It sounds serious and befuddles everyone.
  • It’s weird how crazy some people are about their dogs, but when no one is looking, you should feed dogs scraps from your plate and whisper sweet things to “your girl.”
  • There are so many ways, other than with words, for someone to say, “I love you.” Cleaning your kids’ cars and slipping them occasional twenty-dollar bills are a major part of that.
  • Be generous with your kids, and encourage them to do the same.
  • Talk about everyone, especially your family, with respect.

If Only These Walls Could Talk

The last two weeks have been a blur. We bought a new house – unexpectedly. It’s amazing. (YAY!) We had a short, euphoric celebration, and then our realtor(s) promptly told us that we had exactly three weeks to put our current house on the market. Say wha??? was probably my legitimate inside-noggin response. So now, life is a blur. We’re in the fast lane. It’s a work-constantly-sleep-less-try-not-to-vent-about-your-problems-because-everyone-else-is-exhausted-too-and-remember-this-is-all-supposed-to-be-rainbows-so-be-thankful-and-quick!-move-that-furniture-pack-those-boxes-rightnow!-don’t-forget-about-your-neglected-dog-don’t-panic-that-you’re-wayyyyyyy-behind-on-your-schoolwork- keep-moving-crash-wake-up—rinse-and-repeat. We are thankful but tired. Tired but thankful. Anything before the “but” doesn’t matter, right? So I have to type it both ways. Both are true.

We have one more week to get our house on the market, and all I know is that despite the thankfulness/exhaustion duality, I’m also in the in-between emotionally. I’m ready for this to be over, for us to be in our big, second, fairly-dreamy house, but at the same time, I’m not. The other night, like every night, we did all we could to pack and rearrange for more workers to come through. This time was new carpet installation in our office and bedroom, so the night before, we crammed and consolidated and stacked all furniture and personal belongings into our living and dining room. And yes, it is currently a ridiculous, hoarder-type maze in our house, and I might be currently nestled between several sets of blankets and bedding on my more-than-packed couch. I am most certainly peering out over my computer at dressers and bookshelves crowding my dining room, there are boxes and tubs piled high, and our mattress, box-spring, and bed are dismantled throughout the living room… but that’s not the only view I have. I’m also typing next to my sweet, snoozing dog (which is one of my very favorite things) with a clear view of my sleeping husband on the couch across from me, and they are both resting so peacefully on the two-couch living room cul-de-sac we’ve created around the coffee table. I woke up early, as I often do, and in the early morning stillness, I have been convinced to remember that our life may be messy right now, but I love this house, and I love our life. After all, wasn’t it just two months ago on that dizzyingly beautiful Christmas morning that we sat, just us, in the same spot on this couch, exchanging gifts with the sun warming our skin, and we agreed we didn’t need to go anywhere? We wanted to stay longer… Wow, how life changes in the blink of an eye…

I love this early morning peace, typing in this house on this couch, under this blanket. I love the sounds of the cars outside, their tires wet with the melted ice from last night as they rush by. I love my dining room (when it’s not stuffed with extra furniture) and the light that pours in from the bay windows each morning. Our little grass-green kitchen, which is now painted grey. Our back deck. My garden. The birds chirping good morning outside. The quirks of cozy, tiny rooms. Even the creak of the floors. The memories here. Even with all of the chaos, I am remembering to love it.

I’m in the in-between. I’m ready, but I’m not. Today, once these two sleepy dudes wake up, we will eat breakfast and the moving will start again. Furniture staged, packing resumed, cleaning progressing. Because we have to. We signed up for this. We have one more week. Ready or not, the realtors will come, and we will close and move in to our big, beautiful, new house, and one day (hopefully very soon), we will close on this house. I can already see us rejoicing when the sale goes through and we transition from one house to another. We grow increasingly excited for this move each day. But, I can also see that it will be an emotional day. I can see myself walking the empty rooms of this house, keys in hand to set on the counter and leave behind, touching every surface one last time, even remembering the first time I saw it. We opened the back door to the warm smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. The living room was eggplant purple and seemed positively huge, the storage downstairs endless, the back deck and corner lot near-perfect. Over the years, we’ve outgrown this small house and it doesn’t feel so near-perfect anymore, but it has been a great house, and it’s been ours. It makes my heart warm and sad to think about leaving it behind and to whom we will give the keys next. Will they love it well, as we did? Hopefully. Will they keep it the same? Surely not.

The next few weeks will be curious ones, for sure. They may continue to be fast and furious, and we both may continue to be sleep-deprived and over-extended. However, I’m resolving to do the best that I can to enjoy this little house while I still have it. To crawl over the clutter and packed boxes and have eyes to see the charm and the nostalgia. To try to wake up and not just go, but rather to linger and reflect. To sink into the couch a few more times in this room, give our dog Brooklyn a few more belly rubs on his favorite (newly carpeted) office floor. Walk my familiar, beloved neighborhood trails a few more times, even if it is frigid outside. There is a reason conclusions are difficult. They’re dual purpose – the end of something and the beginning of something else. This one will be no different. But here’s hoping that we can live somewhat well in the reality of both the ending and the beginning.

And here’s wishing that these walls could talk, so they could tell me they’ll miss us too…because these last seven years have flown by like lovely birds, and I’m afraid life won’t be slowing down much more from here.

Joyful Women! Thanks for Being You.

This one’s gonna be quick. Because my belly is rumbling, and I need to wake up my slumbering husband and pup-dog, and I have a lot to do in this gorgeously chilly day ahead of me. Let’s cut to the light.

For a while now, I’ve been admiring the joyful people. You know, those ones who despite difficult circumstances seem to always be shining with lights and rainbows and mysteriously non-trite expressions. Those seemingly well-put-together and fabulously optimistic, wise personas who plague your existence with their fervor and light-heartedness? Yeah, I’m probably talking about you. Or Caroline. Or Rachel. Or Gina. Or Jenna. or Erin. Or Caitlyn. Or Ayschia. Or… you get the drift.

I have so many positively fantastic upbeat, joyful women in my life who put my complaining and moaning and “woe is me” attitude at times to shame. And they do it unknowingly with a smile and skip in their step, as they frolic through forests of lavender and juniper and sunshine. They seem to exude thankfulness, kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, gentleness, encouragement, laughter, tears.

Wait. Errrrrrr [hear screeching of tires]. Scratch. There it is. Tears.

These women… fantastic, amazing, gifted, inspirational, God-fearing women are also experienced with tears. Those who I so admire and enjoy have been through trials, deep ones. They know pain – anxiety, anger, betrayal, sickness, isolation, grief. They’ve known sorrow. And, their joy, I’m increasingly realizing, comes not in fields of ease but is born out of trenches of struggle, the mire, the muck, the heart-wrenching fear, the depth of understanding, the resurrection of hope, the restoration of the redeemed, the knowledge that for those who hope in the Lord, goodness always triumphs over evil. That for every tear, there is dancing in the future. For every fear, there is peace washed over. For every hurt, there is manifold good, offered and promised and held for the right timing. There is peace. And with knowledge and peace comes contentment. Joy. Light and fervor and beauty.

There is pain, but there is hope.

So, I’m going to read Job.

And Psalms.

And if my future posts have some darkness, some lamenting, some “woe is me” mentality, give me some grace, and don’t worry too much about how I’m doing, because I’m going to read through the story of a man who was tested and scourged and stripped of everything but his Lord, and how he came out the other side with joy and favor. Plus some Psalms expressing emotion all over the board [my personal speciality]. Let’s just feel all of those feelings.

And hopefully, prayerfully, I’ll learn more about joy and light and beauty. Because that is the character of the God I serve, and He binds his people to himself with covenant promises of which I cannot ignore. He always restores his people.

And he gives me ridiculously beautiful women of joy as signposts to remind me of those promises: that he is good, always, and he will turn our mourning into dancing.

So, joyful women: thanks for being you.

And here’s too many (though somehow not enough) photos of some said women (and just as redemptive, men).

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Hygiene is a Discipline [a.k.a. some lovely girls don’t shower… that often.]

I’ll be honest. If it wasn’t for all of you clean people with your perfectly coiffed hair, well-scrubbed acne-free skin, and lofty standards of hygiene, I might never shower.

This week, I had to quite literally drag my hinny out of bed. Sidebar: I just found out through the wonderful world of Wikipedia that a hinny is actually a hybrid of a stallion and a jenny (female) donkey. So yes, when I say my hinny, I’m talking about my [@*$- coughs/mumbles]. You’re welcome for that.

No, but really. I did. I had to drag my hinny out of bed to go to the shower. And I had to smile as I lathered up my hair and the hot water and steam rose around me because as my brain became less foggy, I remembered a few years ago when I stumbled across my old kindergarten report cards (thanks, mom). And in so many ways, I’m still that little girl – the one who wants to do well and get all her boxes and “outstanding”s checked off and graded, but I neglect certain areas of responsibility in order to run off and play. Or I would stay in at recess to finish that drawing, and now zone out of the social world in order to check my email and press through that extra load of work. My little preschool or kindergarten report card actually sums me up quite well – high performance and a certain level of neglect. It actually read, “outstanding, outstanding, outstanding” until your eyes travel to the hygiene section which read, “could use improvement.”

!! [insert shocked face]

I might have even been the stinky kid! Except that my mom and dad loved me enough to make me shower and brush my teeth and learn how to wipe that hinny.

Guys, really, there is a reality to the fact that if I could hole myself up in my house, I might be quite happy in my pig sty, writing blog posts, getting sucked into the vortex of social media, eating delicious meals, snuggling with Brooklyn, and checking off to-do lists that have nothing to do with cleaning. But, there are certain moments in your life when you realize things need to change. Like when you decide to go for a summer of college without deodorant, you know, just to see if you can, and your boyfriend Brian kindly tells you one day when your arm lifts above your head that perhaps you should attend to that smell. Or when your feet have been neatly tucked away in your shoes all day, and it’s not ’til the end of the day that you pull your feet out of those sweatshops that we call “flats,” and an odiferous aroma fills the room. Or when you have to have that conversation with your sixth grade students every spring that, “You know, guys, I love you, but we as a group…. we don’t smell great.” And talks of deodorant and showers and brushing teeth happens. Every year.

I would like to think that I’m above it all, the common disciplines that make me human. I’d like to think that I could go for a week without showering, several nights (or even one!) without sleeping, a marathon of work without breaks, a lifetime of slovenly eating without exercising, a year or month or even a week (heck, for me a day!) without reading God’s Word, but it’s not true. I am human. I do need discipline. I do need the simple fact that the society circles I generally run in dictate cleanliness, sanity, being fit, and hard work. And none of these things are bad. I need them. In fact, in many ways, all of these things contribute to my well-being as a person. However, the question I want to ask this morning is, what is it in your life that you give up in order to do what you feel needs to be done? What discipline or which disciplineS do you forgo in order to run out to recess or slave over that last spreadsheet or get that bonus hour of TV? I know my own vices. I work hard, and I play hard. But I don’t usually do them both well. I go, go, go, go, go, and burn myself into exhaustion, or I crash. Then, I’m on the couch staring like a zombie at my phone or TV screen (or at nothing), my hand shoved absently into a cereal box, and my disheveled life neglected around me.  Finding the balance is very hard for me.

But what is it for you? Which disciplines do you neglect? For some habits enslave us while others make us whole. At times, even writing for me (which generally brings me great GREAT life and joy) feels like a chore. And I have to drag my hinny out of whatever funk I’m in to just type some words onto a screen so that catharsis begins. Healing begins.

Showering, staring at the sky, writing, reading my Bible, really praying – these are all things that get me off of the hamster wheel of my workaholic or perfectionistic or escape-laden nature and infuse life into my bones and sinews. I begin to feel put-back-together again and made whole. I know that. But it still feels like a chore or a discipline much of the time.

Don’t read what I’m not saying. Work is important. Cinema and television are generally hilarious and cathartic, and social media is an avenue I use often to reach outside myself and connect with the world. These are all inherently good things. But, when I make them ultimate things and become a slave to them, I cut myself off. I do myself harm. And I need to wake up and open my eyes, remember that no one wants a stinky teacher or wife, and drag my butt out of bed to go rinse myself with some hot water. Okay, and maybe I forgot to use conditioner on Wednesday. And I didn’t read my Bible that morning. But, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. Because you know what I did do? I took a shower. I wrote. I dragged my rear out of bed. And that in itself felt like quite a heroic discipline, and oddly, a joy.

For When You’re Sick and Weary

What do you do when you’re sick? Of yourself? Your circumstances?

All of these feelings, these words, these thoughts, these repetitious tendencies and cycles of events?

What happens when it feels really old and stale and oppressively recycled? Like a moldy shower curtain that won’t seem to come clean no matter how much bleach you scrub it with. Like a taste you can’t get out of your mouth. Like a bad penny that just keeps showing up.

What then? How do you move forward? How do you keep from throwing your hands up?

The past two years, I’ve heard a similar sermon on rest this time of year, preached by local St. Louis pastor Zak Eswine. This year, I wasn’t afforded the privilege. This year, I just have to remember. And what I remember is that he says that there are different kinds of pains and different kinds of rest. Often times, we try to treat one kind of pain and weariness with the same kind of rest that we would another. For example, you are behind on sleep, physically exhausted. So you sleep. You are emotionally exhausted. So you sleep. You are mentally or spiritually tired. So you sleep. However, not every kind of weariness will be solved with sleep. Not every kind of weariness will be solved by time. Or reflecting. Or working harder. Or resting with our eyes open. Or escaping.

Some kinds of weariness require other solutions.

What is your go-to salve, your way of dealing? Music? Eating? Running? Hiding? Perhaps you need to vent, to clean, to purchase. None of these things, inherently, are bad, but perhaps your go-to fix just isn’t cutting it anymore. Perhaps the problem persists, the hurt still bruises, the fog won’t clear. Because diagnosing an emotional problem with a physical treatment is like slathering Bactine on a broken heart. Sure, it might help if there are some accompanying scrapes and cuts, but what’s really going to heal that break? Resetting and a cast just won’t do.

Are you physically exhausted? Sick? Perhaps you need sleep, or medicine, or other rest.

Are you emotionally exhausted? Perhaps you need time, or a friend, an outlet, or a [brief] escape.

Are you spiritually exhausted? Perhaps you need prayer, truth, a reminder.

Perhaps you need all of it.

Tonight, I’m wishing that it wasn’t just hindsight that was 20/20. I’m praying for new eyes, for insight into the heart and mind, for clarity and sight into what will heal and renew, for what kind of “funk” causes this sickness-  the stem, the root, the system that planted it. I don’t just want to slap a Band-aid on my exhaustion; I’d rather get a second opinion. I’m all in for full healing, for homeopathic remedies that really reach home. Into the depths. Inside, out. I’m all in for rewriting the story, for making the sad things untrue.

Perhaps you’re looking for that too. What’s the diagnosis, the issue? Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, right?

It just might be time for another check-up. And after that, well, not just any treatment will do.

I’m “White.” What Do I Say?

I had the distinct privilege of attending an amazing panel discussion on Saturday, November 22nd, just two days before the verdict in the Michael Brown case was released. The incredible nature of this event stemmed not from the size, location, or even the notoriety of any members on the panel, but instead on the diverse voices present. The reason I left so full of thought and inspiration and with a sort of hopeful skip in my step was because of the unique perspective of each person on the panel, the varied background and experience, the opportunity to lean in and really listen to others with education in their minds, distinct experiences from myself, and peace in their hearts. In short, it was the stories.

For the last few years, I have had the following sentiment on my teacher website:

“Life is all about stories. It’s our story and other peoples’ stories and the stories that have been written and told and recorded since the beginning of time, all weaving together in this beautiful tapestry we call life, and it’s our job to read as many stories as possible, hear as many stories as possible, and write and tell and paint and photograph as many of our own stories as possible in order to see how it all weaves together. What joy we will have telling our stories this year!”

In fact, those sentiments were part of my interview at my new teaching job and have been since the beginning of my teaching career eight years ago (part of my first day spiel to kids). “Listen, guys and gals, you have a voice! You BELONG! You have something to say. You matter.” One time, I was so wrapped up in saying this to my students on the first day of school, that I locked eyes with students, one by one, and what I saw there was surprise… and hesitancy. Surprise that I was inviting them “in” on the very first day of school? Calling for connection, validating them? Perhaps surprise that I wasn’t explaining a syllabus and putting them to sleep? Hesitancy, it seemed, in whether this would be true in the future, or if it was all just lip-service for this first-day, first impression. As I locked eyes with these kids and repeated, “You matter. You do. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise…” I felt my voice crack. I smiled, paused, cleared my throat, stood up, and fought back the tears as I transitioned to our next activity, a community-building game with sixth graders.

I have always loved stories. Maybe that sounds childish. Or naive. Romantic? Idealistic? Sure. I’ve fallen into those categories many times in my life. However, today, I’m placing myself in the category of Bleeding-Heart Realist. I make no apology for my big heart, my profuse tears, my deep well of emotion that often rises to the surface when I sense hurt or injustice in my life, the anger that rises up in me when I hear stories of someone I love being hurt or mistreated… even the inability to fight back tears at every stinking baptism I’ve witnessed since the age of twenty. I’m a feeler. Deal with it. Or, more gently, as my husband would say, “Don’t apologize. You have a huge heart; you were made that way.”

So, let’s get back to that Bleeding-Heart Realist idea. What do I mean?

Well, I mean stories matter. Experiences matter. In fact, they are the only equalizer and anger-diffuser that I have found in my short thirty years of life. In my story, in my experience, I have had the honor and privilege to teach students of very varied backgrounds in Saint Louis, Missouri. I have taught Jewish, White, Black, Indian, Hispanic, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Christian, Hindu, Atheist, straight, gay, curious, wealthy, middle class, poor, homeless, prominent, marginalized, liberal, conservative, independent, moderate, and indifferent. Take your pick. And in my humble experience, I have heard stories. I have experienced. I have created stories with my kids, with their families. My heart bleeds often from these varied experiences; it does. Yet, if I’m being real, which I usually am, I would have to say that the bleeding heart is good. It is, my truth told, the only way I have heard people stop spouting opinions and say, “Oh…” or have I stopped repeating my same tired words and settled into, “I didn’t know…” or had an angry parent after a difficult day of teaching her daughter move from telling me, “I just don’t think you know how to teach people who look like us,” to her student bounding up to me with a bear hug later in the week, and even a full two years later, sitting on the steps with me in front of the school, her ebony skin wet from tears of the day. “Mrs. Simpson, you don’t know how this teacher treats me,” and because of our shared stories, I can respond gently, “Hey, sweetie, do you remember how mad you were at me two years ago? What if you’re just misunderstanding each other? Maybe you two should talk, like we did,” and she says, “Maybe…”

Do you want to know how we healed? I started the conversation. She told me stories. I listened, and I responded. She cried. I cried. We hugged. We healed.

Allow me to be real.

We need to listen to stories.

Because you matter. She matters. They matter. Because you’re human. She’s human. They are human. Because you’re alive. He’s not. They’re protesting.

And, sure, it’s about Mike Brown. He’s the impetus for the movement. But even past that, it’s about life. Specifically, black life, in this moment, in this city, in this country. It’s about American life. About human life. And lives matter. They do.

I’m trying to listen more. It’s difficult… much of the time. I really stink at it, especially when I’m already armed with my own ideas and justifications for my beliefs… but it’s important. It matters.

The question, “What do I say?” in response to any person experiencing pain and anger may not actually be the needed question. I, slowly and painfully, am having to realize that whether it is my coworker sad and angry about the verdict, someone I love who agrees with the court’s decision, or my friend miscarrying her baby (which I received another two emails about today), my words will not always give answers. In fact, sometimes, my words hurt, even unintentionally. So, instead, I’m trying to focus on stories. Who else’s words can I share? What stories of sadness and hurt do I know by heart? By tears? Or perhaps, even, I throw the words aside, tuck them away in the folds of my brain for another day, and I just am. There. Here. And I listen.

Perhaps that’s what I say. Or don’t.

St. Louis: A City on a Hill? I Pray.

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I should be working. Grading papers. Or walking my dog. Or making dinner, hydrating myself, making a watering plan for my church’s new fall landscaping, or… a lot of other things.

Instead, I’m preparing myself for tomorrow.

I’ve been largely absent from media this week, especially mainstream media. I had decided to delete Facebook from my phone, post either seldom or more carefully on Instagram, and turn off the TV, for really no other reason than I had little to no time for it, and I seemed not to be using my time efficiently when I had very obviously too much to do.

Then, yesterday, the head of my school made mention of an impending verdict in his address to the student body, all 1,100 of them and the faculty surrounding them. Then my friends started talking about whisperings and questions. And, this morning, Ferguson was mentioned in a letter read to us from the Director of Diversity, a letter that he has prepared to send when the verdict is announced – the grand jury verdict that decides the fate of Darren Wilson and has the power to ignite the passions of millions of people all over our country.

So, afterward, as a small group of four who were processing those ideas, we listened, and we discussed, and we prayed.

We prayed for awareness and sensitivity to others, for deep understanding, for calming of fears, for peace… Most importantly, we prayed for the Lord to be with us. Be WITH us, God… Be before us and behind us and among us. Be at work, and in our midst, and allow us to SEE you and FEEL you with us as we open our eyes to a new day… a new day in which everything and nothing may change all at one time.

Tomorrow, we will open our eyes to a new day, and the verdict may be announced. Maybe. Some reports say 7pm. At that time, I will be home or possibly at a friend’s house enjoying fall drinks and spending time with wonderful women. I will have just finished teaching all day, oddly discussing To Kill a Mockingbird with my students on the heels of a really hard lesson about the Jim Crow Era and the systematic, racial caste system that our country experienced (and to some degree, still experiences) for so long… We will have talked about white guilt, about racial stereotypes, about the sad and incredibly wrong things that have been going on in our country for a long time, about the way the media is such a powerful force to be used for great good or great pain, about the power of our words and our actions and our very loud silence, about our responsibility to stand up and be advocates and leaders for change, about the beauty and fragility of the human heart. And I will send those intricate, wonderful souls out into the streets, to their homes, to their friend’s houses, to their Instagram accounts and Snapchats and Twitter feeds and coffee houses and theaters and living rooms and beds, and these ideas will be swimming in their heads while they receive the news in the coming hours or days… the news that may divide an already divided city.

I am full of fear and hope for this city, for these students, for myself…

I fear what we will do to one another, how we will wound one another in the wake of this verdict. I fear the words and actions and silences that will speak so loudly about the state of our hearts and our understanding and also lack of understanding. I fear for physical pain and vandalism and destruction that may occur to people in this city and in others, all of whom were made in the image of a peaceful and ultimately just God. I fear for friends in my city who are nervous – White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic alike – about how people will respond, about who or what is about to descend on this city, and when we will hear and see with our own ears and eyes.  I fear for the future… and yet I have so much hope. I see my city filled with so much beauty, so much grace, so much peace. I see adults and students everywhere who are peacemakers, who long to see our city united, who are pining for the day when we embrace each other even more than we already do, who are making real and concrete preparations for that. I see students who have wide eyes and open ears and soft words who speak confidently about what confuses them, angers them, fills them with sadness, as well as what brings them needed laughter and joy. I see teachers who love their students well and provide space for those conversations. I see adults who have deliberately placed themselves in situations and conversations and environments that would open their eyes and extend hands across deep lines and divides. I am so encouraged by these things, these stories, these lives, these words and hearts.

I am full of fear, and I am full of hope for my city.

So instead of working, or walking my dog, or making dinner or any of those very important things I could be doing, I am writing. And I am asking.

Will you be aware? Will you be sensitive?

When the verdict is released, will you process in whatever healthy way you can in a safe environment? Will you be aware that others will process this news very differently than you will? Will you be aware that some won’t care as deeply as you? Will you be aware that some will be hurt or sad or angry or confused or all of the above? Will you be sensitive to those reactions, and will you listen, truly listen, with the intent to understand? Will you protect each other? Love each other well? Be a body of people who supports and defends and unites, a city on a hill?

I pray that you will, and I pray that I will…

I will make every effort to do so, and I am already preparing myself to ask for forgiveness when I fall short. Because I’m a woman of good intentions, but boy, do I learn every single day, over and over, what a flawed person I am and how much I have yet to figure out. I will need to process, to listen, to discuss, to pray.

Bear with me. Bear with each other, and love one another well. Today, tomorrow, and every day.

Our city is crying out for it. The structures and surroundings, both manmade and Godmade are ready for it. The city is being prepped and prayed over. The verdict is descending. Will we be ready? Will we be aware? Will we be sensitive? Will we seek peace?

St. Louis, may it be so, I pray.