To Juliet, On her Seventh Birthday

Dear Juliet,

Yesterday you turned seven. Seven. You did a lot of growing up this year. You have more grown up teeth in your mouth than little ones. Your pants are constantly too short. Your arms and legs seem to grow at a pace that is only matched by your appetite. You are always hungry. You are just so long.

Yesterday, after cupcakes at school and dinner at the play place with your cousins, and ice cream cake you picked out yourself at the Baskin Robbins, your cousin came home and told your Aunt Jill, “Juliet is a good sharerer.” You are. At seven years old you are exceptionally good at sharing, at including, at kindness. You spend most of your time at your Aunt’s house playing with your baby cousin because he needs someone to play with. You are quick to let people play with your new toys. I have lost track of the number of adults who have pulled me aside to tell me of the encouraging word you told them.

“You are doing a great job! You are beautiful! Your baby is so cute! I see you are a good mom!” I have heard all of these things come out of your mouth right to a stranger, and I have seen their faces light up as they look at me astounded. Please don’t grow out of giving strangers compliments. They desperately need to be told how good they are, we all do.

This year, you have decided that you are going to grow up and be president. You were a little worried about who would take care of your kids if you did that. I offered to move into the Whitehouse, your sister promised not to protest you as long as you didn’t do anything bad. You have been discussing with her, very seriously, the laws that you would employ. Mostly, you just think everyone should share, and everyone should be kind to each other, and no killing. That is it. That is what you want the world to look like.

The older you get the more I can see the ways the world is pressing up against you. You are just so innocent. You are just so joyful. You are just so willing to believe the best about everyone, everywhere, every time. I spend equal moments being in awe of this, and worrying about when this spark will be extinguished. This year though I am beginning to suspect the answer is never. You are more resilient than I give you credit for. I think this is just your gift to the world. I think you are just a gift to the world.

All my Love,

Mom

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White Women, Can We Do Better?

I participated in the hashtag #thingsonlychristianwomenhear. I finally recognized that God was calling me into the ministry when I was a member of a Southern Baptist church, a church that did not affirm my call because I was a women. Their policies didn’t allow it. It was a confusing time and an especially hurtful blow from people who were so readily affirming me in so many other areas. It was hard. I loved my church, they loved me. But they could not support me in what I was sure God was calling me to do. It felt like they could not totally see me.

Like most social media phenomena that catches on, there were a huge number of women tweeting their own stories through #thingsonlychristianwomencanhear and then some weird male replies about how we needed to stop talking about the church like that….it was weird. And completely unsurprising.

The next part is also completely unsurprising. There were some round up posts highlighting some of the tweets. Almost all of those highlights disproportionately highlighted white women. There were women of color using the hashtag. Mostly, they were not included in the roundups. Mostly they were not heard.

I wish I could tell you I noticed,  but I didn’t. Danyelle at the Unfit Christian pointed it out to me. I was just excited my name was on the same list as some of my favs. Oops.

As white women who are saying, we are told especially harmful things because of our social location in the church, it is imperative that we hear our sisters say that same exact thing from a different social location, one that we in some ways share (ladies unite!) and also one we could never know (hello racial disparities).

Here is the thing that is TOTALLY BIZARRE to me. We say the exact same things to our sisters of color that we completely role our eyes at when men say them to us. When a man tells us they don’t know any gifted women who want in the pulpit, we know it is because they haven’t looked. If you twitter feed was covered in those who looked like you and no one else using that hashtag, you aren’t following enough women of color. They are there. Can you see them?

Y’all, we know WE KNOW how hurtful it is when someone cannot see us because of who God has designed us to be. We know, WE KNOW what it feels like to go into a space knowing you are not really wanted there. We know, WE KNOW how hurtful it is to go to someone and say “hey, will you see me?” and have them brush it off with a shrug and a comment that makes it clear that they will not.

Those of us familiar with this wound should be the first who are able to say I am sorry to those who have inflicted the same kind of hurt onto. We can do better. If we are the ones who are familiar with this hurt, we are the ones who should be the first to recognize when we inflict it on another.

I don’t know how to solve systemic sexism, or racism. I don’t even really know how to get my kids to church on time on Sundays, but I do know that God calls us to do what we can with what we have.

I went on Twitter and started the hashtag #womenofcolortofollow (after first starting one that incorrectly labeled these women. Y’all. I’m not trying to put myself out here as perfect. I messed up. I corrected it. I was not yelled at. I was thanked. We can do this.) If you don’t have a lot of women of color in your life, in your blog role, on your twitter feed start there. Other people have joined in.

White women, here I think is ultimately my question for each of us. Will we use our hurts in being excluded in conversations as a reason to box out other people so we can keep our space? Or, will we practice allowing the ways we have been hurt to inform our hearing hurts our sisters of color? Will we work toward the kingdom of God?

On being whole and taking Prozac

My word for the year is “whole.” I had decided sometime in December that I wasn’t going to get my word for 2017 until epiphany. I would just let it go, and just like that it came into my head. Whole. My word for 2017 is whole. I spent January and February and some of March writing it everyday on my hand. All capital, all lower case, all cursive, big, small, colored ink, blank. Every day on my left hand: whole.

I want to be whole.

I gave up negative self talk for Lent. I announced it cheekily on my Facebook page and invited everyone to join me. Only, I couldn’t. I could not give up the voices in my head telling me I was not enough, telling me I would fail, telling me that everything was too hard and I was too soft and I just could not keep up with my life so why try? Praying it away wasn’t enough.

How do you commit to being whole when every third thought you have is that you are irreversibly broken?

When I went on vacation with just my husband and still could not shake the feeling that something was coming for me, that I was not enough (Y’all all we had to do all day was wander around and eat, how could I not be enough?) I knew I could not do this on my own. I called from our hotel room to take advantage of the free student counseling through my school. I got in the next day, and the day after that I got a psychiatrist referral, and the day after that a prescription for Prozac.

I gave myself permission to take it for two weeks, be incredibly gentle with myself, and just try to maintain C’s. I told some of my professors. My preaching professor, who I have ridiculous amounts of respect for looked me dead in the face and reminded me that my wholeness was more important than any grade I could get. I knew this, but being reminded was certainly God’s grace to me that day.

I am almost at the end of my two weeks. My appetite is kind of off, and I feel a little shaky at the wrists, but I am not so scared of life anymore. I am able to see that some of my thoughts (like they are going to kick me out for incorrect citations) are maybe not totally rational, and that maybe there is no need to hold myself to an impossible standard then berate myself for not attaining it all the time.

Monday after school I was able to take the girls easter dress shopping. It was hard, but not impossible. After we picked out my dresses (they really wanted me to get a pink lacy one, I declined. Dresses with rhinestones were also quietly vetoed) and I tried them on. (Priscilla says: That one is cute but so not you. She was right. It was returned to the racks.) They wanted the same experience, so we collected three dresses a piece and tried them on and chose.

I know my plate is always full, but I would not have had the space for this without meds. Of that much I am sure. It was a big win. I could follow today in systematic theology without talking myself down. I am not as anxious that I will fail out of school.

A week ago today I planted seeds as an act of prayer. It wasn’t my idea, these seeds of hope. I was too far in the dark. I am too used to killing off plants. I took this little pot and put it on the window. I would have told you that I forgot about it but I must have been looking at it every day because I noticed when it sprouted. My seeds of hope sprouted. There are four of them now, and they keep getting taller.

I am not fully healed. I think I am headed in the right direction but there is still some work to be done, some blood tests, some checking in, probably some therapy. But there are seeds of hope. I can sort out the thoughts as helpful and not. I can take my kids Easter dress shopping. I can do my assignments without talking myself down. These are all good things. I can nurture this grace that is growing inside of me. I can feel it growing. I am working my way toward whole.

 

If the Yoke Ain’t Easy

I am over at She Loves today writing about quitting. This season is hard. I mostly feel like I am treading water. I mostly feel like the waves are coming anyway. Five weeks until the end of the semester. I got this. I hope.

At the same time that I know I am overwhelmed just in my day to day I am also overwhelmed by the pressing needs of my community, my state, my world.  I am paralyzed by this more than I care to admit. I do not have a life that I can be paralyzed in. The Lord is working this out with me.

 

Everywhere I look there is work to be done. Everywhere.

My kids’ school sends home fliers asking, always asking. For wipes, for Kleenex, for dry-erase markers, for paper. They need chaperones and cupcakes for the Valentine’s Day party. They need time and resources and they are doing good good work, and I want to help. I do. But I only have so much time and resources. If I am totally honest I would much rather fill out a grant application for a teacher than chaperone a Pre-K Valentine’s Day party.

My church is doing good good work. We have a breakfast ministry and a community closet. We have an arts ministry and a partnership with a village in Haiti. We have about 60 kids who scuttle off to Sunday school every Sunday. We need greeters and parking attendants, and people to make the coffee. Who will cook? Who will serve? Who will fold clothes carefully into bags or teach children about how much God loves them?  We have a congregation who are all right around the same age as me. We are all in our tired thirties. Who has the time? Who has the energy? Someone needs to do it or the church won’t run.

You can read the rest here.

On Being Frozen and Learning of Abundance

I.

I wore black the day after the election. Black pants, black tank top, black blazer. I wore my darkest lipstick. I didn’t know what else to do. I had a class to go to. We met in the youth detention center. I had things to do, and people to see, and Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited to discuss. But I also desperately needed to mourn. I desperately needed to show on the outside the despair on the inside. I woke up in a foreign land, one I thought I knew but no longer recognized.

I don’t know that the darkness has lifted for me. I wake up in a start a lot. I have been having a lot of trouble sleeping, (especially if I don’t limit my Facebook scrolling). I never really know what is coming next. Sometimes it is the thing that breaks my heart, but often it is the reaction by a church I feel I no longer know. I thought you taught me to love my neighbor. I thought you wanted me to make big sacrifices for God. It is like coming back to my childhood home only to find not just the furniture re-arranged, but also the walls.

II.

I have been invited to more Facebook groups than I can count. Women of the Resistance, Georgia Blues, Ten things in Ten days. I see them. They are all doing good work. I want to do that work. I want to flip my county and resist, and do ten things in ten days. I want to be a part of the change I need to see in this world. I want for things to be different. But mostly, I scroll through my Facebook feed and feel afraid. I think about how there are other things to do, make dinner, write my paper, go to a protest, call my senator…again. I could paint post cards and sell them and donate the profits to the ACLU or the Refugee Relief Fund or even to the social worker at my girl’s school. We need shoes, and snacks, and paper. I should do all of those things. Instead I sit on the couch frozen until my kids remind me that they are hungry. I pull the bag of  chicken nuggets out of the freezer and pre-heat the oven. I decide that and an orange is good enough for all of us. Again.

III.

I sit in the back of the church scrolling through my social media feeds. I know this is sort of rude and inappropriate but I can feel myself coming unglued and I do not want to break apart in the back pew. Again. I get a text from my friend. She is about to go to the front and tell us about the work she has been doing. Can I record her? I hold my phone and watch her explain to the congregation about answering a post on social media from her bed. Yes, she could take her youngest to an apartment complex and tutor a woman who has come to America as a refugee. Yes. She could do that. I laugh with her as she explains her anxieties, how she is terrible at small talk, but they don’t speak the same language so that is a non-issue, how kids and moms are the same in some ways across all cultures, how saying the same word over and over again becomes ridiculous no matter the cultural barriers. I watch her and there is just a flicker of hope inside of me. I don’t need my screen because this knowledge grounds me: This thing matters. Going to a woman’s house and teaching her the words for her groceries matters. My friend is doing the work of the Lord, every day she goes into that house, and also right now, her testimony does holy work in my heart.

IV.

I sit on the couch of a friend who has moved to the opposite corner of the country than me. It is a rare thing to find a couple whom you adore in equal parts. We have managed to maintain our friendship despite the distance. We are talking about the contrast in the messages we grew up with in our evangelical youth groups. We are talking about the ways we feel abandoned in the adult versions of a belief that we were given as teens. Do you think it is because we were too fast or too slow? he asks. Neither of us are people who are used to not understanding. I drink some wine and think. Both? I respond. We were fast in understanding the implications of that message, maybe better than they did. We were slow in the ways we believed that they believed what they were telling us as surely as we did. Now we are drinking wine together, silently, wondering what land our faith has left us in.

V.

I was taught to look for my Esther moment, for my such a time as this. And I feel like I am in a foreign land, and I am shocked by the cruel and unjust decisions of my leader, and I wonder if God has abandoned us because of our hard hearts. Where is Moses leading us out of this mess? Where is Esther, born to subvert the king she sits next to? Where are the prophets doing weird life as performance art in the name of God? I know these things are supposed to have 5 parts, but this story isn’t over.

VI.

I ask these questions moments before I get into a car with someone I have known since 22 to meet with women I have only ever met on the internet. I come wandering, wondering, empty. I come to meet with women who mostly feel the same way. One by one they stand up and say the things they are doing, are feeling, are called to. Each one isn’t a whole lot, until it is. Until you have had your head held by a woman who spent a whole year learning to be present, until you get an eye brow raise and a ‘let’s try it’ from a woman who has spent years learning to say yes her dream, until you get thanked for following your calling to seminary by a woman saved your faith so many times you lost count. These things that you felt in your hands don’t matter, in other people’s hands it is broken open, like manna from heaven, like fish and bread. Maybe all you have is so small that you want to just go back to bed. Maybe you do it anyway. Maybe it is enough.

You Were Made on Purpose.

This month they are talking personality tests at the Mudroom and if you know me, you know I am into that! 

The first time I read the description of the ENFP in the Meyers Briggs personality test I took, I cried. Gregarious, full of energy, passionate, an ability to inspire others, I knew who they were talking about because I was who they were talking about. I cried because if I was one of 16 types than I wasn’t created on accident. I didn’t have to work to be a little less, a little less enthusiastic, a little less in love with other people. I didn’t need to tone it down. There were REASONS I was so boundless in my energies. I was an ENFP, and this was the way my tribe navigated the world. I was supposed to be talkative, I wasn’t wrong. I was me, an ENFP.

I cried again when I found out which number on the enneagram chart I was. This wasn’t because I was relieved. This was because I was horrified. I am not alone in this feeling after discovering I was the helper. Turns out the two is most sensitive to criticism and your enneagram number is really best found when you think of yourself at your very worst. But I also cried because I didn’t totally understand what the enneagram was for. I thought it was telling my HOW I was to behave and not WHY I was behaving. The enneagram isn’t very interested in labeling your behaviors, but rather telling you why you might be doing those things. I thought I had been made incorrectly again, I thought I was being told I was behaving outside the bounds of a two.

But as I continued to work through my understanding of the enneagram I came to realize that, again, I was made on purpose. I didn’t have to fit myself into an imperfect box.

You can read the rest here. 

If You Want to Subvert Betsy Devos, Choose Your Neighborhood School

“There are no such thing as other people’s children” – Glennon Doyle Melton

It has become rallying cry amongst women like me. Most of us white, Christian, maybe a little more liberal than our pastor or families suspect, (but maybe not since the election, when we outed ourselves on Facebook). There are no such thing as other people’s children. This is a thing that we say, because this is the point at which our activism began. Our motherhood linked us to global motherhood and we could hear the cry of mothers with less privilege than our own.

This is why the appointment of Betsy Devos has made so many of us so angry. The system of education that she promotes is a system that employs an us and them dichotomy, one that makes you believe that the best education of your own child requires that you abandon the kids who do not have a choice to leave. It is a system that pits mother against mother, instead of one that demands that all children we treated as precious and worthy of a quality education.

Like most of the fury in this country, we are both angry at the things that this women promotes, and furious at a system that got us here in the first place. We rallied, tweeted, we called our senators and pledged to actively campaign against them. Some of us pledged to run against them if we had to. We were, and are loudly and proudly against the threat this woman is to public education, and in particular to special education. We were clear, and we were ignored.

I was heartened by the enormous support of a NO vote on Devos, but I am afraid that when it comes down to kindergarten registration, there will be such a thing as other people’s children. There will be an us versus them. There will be a quiet getting in line to go to the schools with the best reputations, because while there are no such thing as other people’s children, I still need to do right by my own child. I still need to protect my own, even if that means other people’s children get left behind. This dichotomy is powerful; it is also a lie.

I am one of the few middle class parents in my area who has decided to send my kids to the local neighborhood school, despite the space available in the neighborhood charter school. What started as a “well, it is free so we will see” spot in the pre-k program has turned into a deep love for the community that is my daughter’s school. I have the principal on speed dial and the PTA president in my text messages. I hear every day about how well-loved my babies are, mostly from my babies who are thriving there. I have been blessed by a community who teaches reading,writing, and math to my kids, and also has time for a robotics lab experience and a deep commitment to raising good citizens. It is also poorly rated on the state website. Because of this, most of the parents who look like me won’t even give this school a chance, because this school was set up by the system that Betsy Devos represents.

No one wants to fail their babies by sending them to a failing school. The schools in this country are given this label based on test scores. The test scores do not in fact reflect learning and positive environment accurately. All they reflect is how much money the kids in the school come from. Mostly, standardized tests test for poverty. They also tests for whiteness. A school with a “failing” score is pretty much guaranteed to be impoverished. It is also very likely to be primarily students of color. The system is rigged to create an us versus them and to capitalize on white middle class parents making choices out of fear. This lie encourages parents to pull their kid from the neighborhood school and send them to a safe school, whiter, richer, less kids with special needs. It isn’t about that these other kids are bad, it is just that the this lie works. Our schools are more segregated than they have ever been because parents are afraid of the label failing that has been foisted upon schools that serve communities of color.

I know it is no small thing to send your kid off to school. I know it is serious business, educating our children. I spent almost 10 years doing it. I know how important this decision is.

Betsy Devos isn’t the beginning of the systematic dismantling of our public schools. She is simply the face of a faceless nameless entity that has been subverting public education since I went to college to be a teacher, probably before that.

The system  she represents currently uses the rhetoric of competition and choice, ignoring the fact that these choices are not available to every person within the community. Ignoring the fact that competition means someone will lose, and our kids are too important to participate in a system that has a loser. But the truly amazing thing about this rhetoric of choice and competition is that the parents still have a huge amount of power. As the mother of two daughters in a public school, I have far more power on the local level than I ever did as a teacher.  Parents, the choice is still ours.

We can choose to reject the dismantling of the public school system. We can say, we have looked at your choices. We have chosen not to choose them. Our choice is a vibrant and beautiful community school where all kids are looked after. I choose to believe that the education of my child is wrapped up in the education of all children. I choose to believe that my neuro-typical child benefits from the inclusion of children all over the spectrum of learning. I choose to believe that my child will benefit from a diverse environment that accurately reflects my community more than my child will benefit from any special programming a charter or private school may have to offer.

I can give you the research that backs this claim. ALL children benefit from a diverse learning environment. ALL children benefit when disabled children are included in the learning environment. I can give you years of personal anecdotes from my time as a teacher in an inclusion classroom. I can give you testimony as a mother, who is benefiting from a neighborhood school that I love.

But I am afraid this will not matter. The lies that the schools are in fact failing, that sending your kid to a school with low test scores is to fail them as a parent is a lie that is powerful and prevalent in this country. It is one that I was almost willing to believe, and it is now one that I find on the lips of people in my community on almost a daily basis. But it is a lie.

I am afraid that the very parents who have fought, and yelled, tweeted and sent letters, marched in protests against this very appointment because it will hurt our schools, will not be willing to put their children in my school. Instead of staying and demanding equality for all, they will take their child and all the resources that go with her, and run to the haven of a school with higher test scores. I am afraid that when it comes right down to it, Betsy Devos can be maligned, but her system will be used by the very people who vocalized so loudly against her.

We can still defeat her system. We can still win this fight. It is going to take committing to our public schools in word, deed, money, time, and especially in the sending of our own children. If there are no such thing as other people’s children, there needs to be nothing but all of our schools.