Do It For The Children

When children hurt, we all hurt. But when we hurt children, we must be stopped. Like so many of my fellow human beings, I’m outraged and heart-wrecked that our country founded on freedom, and built by those who crossed borders and seas to live a better life, has any part in fissuring families. Okay. So I’m sad. I’m mad. So what???

I have an inkling of how those little children feel. One Saturday night when I was seven years old, the welfare barged into our house, accompanied by police officers bearing guns. I hid in the kitchen cupboard, but they found me and pulled me out. They separated me from my only parent, my mother, an alcoholic whom they deemed unfit. They separated me from my only sibling, my older brother, and my life’s protector. They put me in the back of a police car alone.

The foster home they thought had been arranged, hadn’t. So now there was no place to put me. I remember people arguing about where they could put me.

“Put me back where you found me,” I cried.

They ignored me, decided there was only one option to “help” me, and they drove me to jail. Grown up jail. They thought I was safe and better off because they gave me my own cell. I won’t tell you what happened, and I won’t compare my plight with the pain of the children around the world who are being separated from their families, but I will tell you that this is my country, and it won’t happen here if I can help it. Kids won’t be able to just “get over” what’s happening to them. Their parents will not morph into whatever the powers want them to be.

This situation will not change until we change. We do that by speaking up, standing up, and looking up. The God so many have forsaken may well be the only power with the strength and the wisdom to remedy this.

If any good is coming from the horror, pain, and outrage, it’s a glimpse into how malignant and misaligned a cohort can be, but above that, how compassionate humanity can be when united in a just and desperate cause.

Erase the political lines and bond us.

Let’s find a better way. Let’s speak up until we are heard. Let’s stand up until the bullies stand back. Our voices are the ones that must speak for those who can only cry in the dark for “Mami” and “Papi.”

You know what? Those welfare reps and police officers thought they were doing what was best for me. They thought they’d bully my mother into becoming “fit.”

They were wrong on all accounts.

So now what do we do? We pray, first and fervently. We call our representatives.  We keep calling until they answer.  We change leaders and we change laws. We go to the polls in droves. We go to the borders if we have to. We hold the children and hold ALL those who harm them accountable. God help us to never become calloused or complacent where a child suffers.

And we’re all children.

And all one family.

My prayer is that we’ll remember that and start acting like it.

Love is the only antidote for hatred. But love demands action and so let’s love on a higher level than we’ve ever loved before. Let’s do it for the children.

Trying To Stay Connected

Somewhere along my journey, I picked up the idea that the only three things we carry into the next life are: the wisdom we gain, the relationships we make, and the personality that we develop.

 

I have a hard time knowing how to fortify relationships with my beloved kids and g-babies that live so far away. I visit when I can. We Facetime and talk every day. Sometimes we read stories at night. But it’s not enough. I still miss ‘em like mad.

 

Maybe because I spent a chunk of my life as a photographer, images are important to me. I look at photos and paintings and drawings to remember moments and experiences. Looking and remembering make me feel not quite so disconnected by distance. That’s why when Adelaide sent this winning image of her rapturing in a facial, I thought, “I’ll let her know how much I wish we could be sharing a facial side-by-side.”

 

Her response? “G-Mom’s so silly and just way too cute.”

 

Adelaide and I have those things in common, even if we’re divided by a million miles.

No Room for Racism If…

20150706_201123Buckle up my dear readers. My advice to myself has always been to write when I’m hot and edit once I’ve cooled down. But after this weekend’s attack on the innocent, my temperature is just not dropping.

My skin is Danish white and pink. I have two children whose skin is African brown and black. To me, all we are is family. (The photo is of two of my sons.) But to others, looking from the outside in, we’re something different. There are actually people who have said and done things to threaten me for mothering these stellar boys. Mostly, I just let it roll.

I’m done with rolling because this isn’t about how I’m treated. It’s about how my sons and millions and millions of others are treated. Is there a way to stop the hatred? Is there a cure for racism? The easy answer is love. The hard answer is love.

Babies aren’t born with the ability to hate. It has to be nurtured and nourished. One generation teaches hatred and so goes the cycle. I keep hearing, “How could this happen in our country?” It happened because enough loving people didn’t stand up to the hating people. It happened because it feels safer to stay quiet. To stay home.

My outrage and pain sought solace in a call to my congressman. Add disappointment to my list of churning emotions. Frustration, too. I attended a rally to listen to voices that quivered in the very emotions surging through me. But I didn’t find any solutions.

Then I came home to my youngest son needing a ride to football. And news that my other son just got a job promotion. I scoured the kitchen and bought a gallon of white pain to perk things up around our house. We read stories from people who live with violence every day. We talked about those stories and talked to some of those people.

I found myself asking the same question: What can I do?

“Just live the love. Do what you’re doing.”

That answer seemed so small and flimsy.

I wanted to stand on a pinnacle and shout the words that would change hearts.

Foolish me. Martin Luther King Jr. and a host of others, far more poignant and profound than me, have done that and will continue to do so.

The only way I’m going to affect change in this country and the world, is to live love within the walls of my own home. To speak words that edify and educate. To stand with those who have been knocked down. To not stay still or stay quiet, but to use resources carefully and constructively. To pay attention, seek awareness, and attend to what needs attending to.

Love needs attending to. If love is there, there’s no room for racism and all its ugly relatives.

My little part is to make sure that my children know the power of love is always, always stronger than the force of hatred. I’m not positing that hated can’t plow into the innocent and claim carnage. We all know that happens. What it means is that hatred cannot steal what it cannot touch. It cannot touch the love I have for my sons. It cannot diminish the value of my diverse community. It cannot suffocate a spirit that is fueled from within. Love provides its own kindling. Hatred has to be fed externally. Think about that, will you?

So while the situation might feel helpless, it’s not. And our little parts aren’t really so little after all.

I’m Celebrating Mother’s Day Differently This Year

I must love and trust you all because I’m sharing something that’s sacred to me: a portrait of my mother. It is, after all, that time of year to honor those who gave us birth and those who’ve given us life. (think about that for a sec, will ya?)  I’ve always loathed Mother’s Day because I leave church as wilted as the little pink geranium passed out to the mothers in the congregation. I never measure up to the standard preached from the pulpit. I never will.

This year I’m in a mind to turn the whole thing upside down. Mother’s Day is no longer about my kids honoring me. It’s about honoring the women who have mothered me. They are legion. My own mother was my world when I was growing up. She was an alcoholic, so my childhood was mapped with all kinds of experiences: good and anything but good. Mom was gone long before I became a teenager, leaving me an orphan, someone in dire need of mothering.

John Updike believed, “It’s easy to love people in memory; the hard thing is to love them when they are in front of you.” I spent most of my life assuring myself Mom was a wonderful mother because to say anything less would be disloyal to her memory. But then I went to therapy. That’s where I learned I could still be loyal, still love Mom, and still tell the truth. That’s when I saw my mother as something more than a woman who had given birth. She was a woman with a past, a woman with dreams that came true and disappointments that devastated her. She had relationships. She had talents. She had secrets and desires. She had addictions and she had breakthroughs. My mother’s wild side led her to a long-term friendship with Judy Garland, a fur coat from Howard Hughes, and a catastrophic plunge from the top of a building.

Being able to admit that Mom wasn’t anywhere near perfect brought me blissful freedom. If I could love her—flaws and all—I could love my very imperfect self. That set me free to love others, and to celebrate the phenomenal mothers my daughters have become.

We don’t just love people for their strengths. We love them for their struggles. I suppose the lesson is in learning to trust that God trusts us. Flaws and all.

That means this Mother’s Day I’m celebrating unconventionally. I honor women who have never even given birth, but still they’ve mothered brilliantly. I honor the mothers who cry real tears, not over the messes they’ve had to clean up, but over the messes they’ve made for others to clean up. I honor the bruised, broken, battle-scarred women who are still in the fight. I honor the ones with the guts to present themselves genuinely. I honor those who sew and bake from the home front and those who march on the front lines. I honor those with stellar faith and those who admit God is foreign to them. I honor all their shapes and sizes. I dance in happy circles at the rainbow of their cultures and varying skin colors. Oh, how blessed am to be encircled by so many different women who mother.

This year let’s focus on miracles instead of mistakes. Let’s lavish love. Forgiveness. Joy. Let’s let go of the judgment and the self-criticism and simply celebrate that we’re partners with the Giver of life. That puts us, not on a pedestal where we can fall, but at an elevation where we can see clearly: we’re all in this together doing our best.

My friends, I love you. I love you because you try. I love you because you dare. I love you because you give it all you’ve got. I’m thinking of my friend whose child is incarcerated. I’m thinking of my friend who sings lullabies to the world’s babies. I’m thinking of my friend whose only daughter died this month, and another whose son is in his last days of cancer. I’m thinking of my friend whose child hasn’t spoken to her in a year. I’m thinking of my friend who desperately wants to bear a child, but can’t. I’m thinking of aunties, grandmothers, and an abundance of friends. I’m missing my own Mom. A lot. Maybe because I’ve matured enough to ache for a sit-down with her to discover who she really was: “How’d you get that scar? Why are you scared of the dark? What’s life like from your viewpoint, Mom?”

If you’re blessed to still have your mom available, please get curious about who she is as a person, not just a mom. Get to know her and to appreciate her for more than the resources she offers.

No judgment, no justifying, just loving. Celebrate those people who’ve managed to love you when you weren’t so easy to love. And do me a favor…please release the stranglehold you’ve held on your own throat. Inhale. Exhale. There. That’s better.

Now have a safe, memorable, peaceful weekend, celebrating love. Isn’t that what this day’s really all about?

My Most Authentic Job

Creativity is great for the brain and the heart. That made me realize that my lawn looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. Dandelions and weeds everywhere—in spite of some very expensive fertilizer stuff guaranteed to kill the bad and nourish the good. Truth is, my life sorta resembles a Pollock painting. There’s nothing linear about it at the moment. I’m circling in a lot of directions, splattering, and making a work of art that some people will love and others will judge as trash.

I’m good with that. So good.

That’s because it’s finally sinking in that I’m here to paint a life that God wants. That’s it. I’m not here to judge anyone—including myself. I’m not here to rant about the unfairness of the world.  I’m here to change my world. That means I love without borders. I give without thought of getting. I can’t worry what others think of me. Odd as it seems, that’s not my concern. My concern is to live a life that serves, restores, creates, appreciates, and grows the good stuff like love, forgiveness, laughter, joy, music, art, relationships, faith and loads and loads of hope.

Unfortunately, I’ve been brutal to myself. I’ve believed the worst that others had to say about me. Living in that deadly shadow has only made me feel insignificant and unwanted. It’s made me sick and weak on the inside, tho I might appear strong on the outside. Now I realize that I don’t have stop progressing because someone doesn’t approve of me. I especially realize that the self-judgement has to stop and the self-love has to flow.

Did you read the story about the teacher who took twin apples and secretly bruised the heck out of one, then set them side by side and asked her young students to speak kindly to one and cruelly to the other? When she cut them open, the apple that had been praised and loved was whole, crisp and juicy inside. The apple that had been mocked and judged and abused was brown and mushy and injured inside. That’s what bullying does. And don’t think it’s just kids who bully.

This Easter weekend as I reflect what it means to be a true Christian, I’ll focus on resurrection of the body and the spirit. I’ll reflect on a life that teaches me how to love and how to live now, so that death has no string. I’ll use my faith and the power of God to resurrect what’s bruised and broken and even dead within me.

I’m so far from the person I want to be. I’m so sorry it’s taken this long to learn that I’m not here on Earth to paint or criticize someone else’s art, I’m only here to create my own. (So sorry for the unwanted splotches I’ve flung at your canvases, my peeps.) I’ll be here if you need to borrow a brush or paint. I’ve got a lot of indigo to spare because that’s my favorite color. The Old Testament says it’s God’s favorite color too.

In the meantime, my hope for you is that joy sneaks up on you and hugs you tight. That sunshine warms your soul from the inside out. That whatever hurts within you begins to heal. I don’t believe I’ve ever been more grateful to be alive. Just alive. So get out there and paint the life that’s in you so you can share it with the world. Trust me, we need your beauty and creativity—every brushstroke matters.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned

The photo is of my little Adelaide “wondering” what it would be like to jump into the Gulf of Mexico. I told her not to get wet, but she’s three and raging with curiosity. So I just stood in awe and took photos.

The etymology of the word wonder means of ultimate unknown origin. It also means to magnify or to be astonished. Have you ever wondered why your life has not gone as planned? I mean no one gets married planning to get divorced. No one drives to work planning to be broadsided by a semi. No one pencils “get cancer” into their weekly schedule.

Last week I heard a story about the Children of Israel’s plight when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took Jews captive. What business did “God’s people” have living in a land surrounded by idols? What business did they have living so far away from their beloved temple? The Babylonian king’s strategy was brilliant…let the foreign captives live among his own, and in time they were bound to adapt the Babylonian way of living and thinking, especially the younger malleable generation. The stunned and indignant Jews just knew that God would not leave them in Babylon for any length of time. So, they prayed and planned for their imminent deliverance.

I’ve read the Old Testament a couple of times yet I never realized that these good and faithful people wanted exactly what I want out of life—to live it according to plan. MY plan. The Jews prayed that God would vindicate them and return them to their rightful land. That was their plan, but God had a different plan. He told them to be patient, that their captivity would last up to seventy years, so they should settle in, build houses, plant gardens and eat what they grew. The people, especially the older ones, knew this meant they would never return home. Imagine how they felt. (Jeremiah 29)

For a lot of us, we don’t have to imagine too strenuously. We know how it feels to have our plans come undone. We live with ongoing disappointment. Well, after Sunday’s sermon I realized that faith in our Highest Power means having faith in divine unflawed love, a force that wants us to be happy and successful. Try telling that to the woman who desperately wanted a husband and children, but remains single. Tell that to the spouse who was faithful to an unfaithful partner. Tell that to my friend whose baby, the one they waited thirteen years to have, the son they hinged all their dreams on, was born with trisomy 21, an extra copy of chromosome 21.

My own life has known a lot more dead ends than long stretches of open road. I’ve learned that it’s better to be alone than in a toxic relationship. My friend who was initially devastated to learn that her son had Down Syndrome, now celebrates the fact that the kid manufactures pure joy. He’s taken his family on a wondrous detour they never would have chosen to journey. In the process, they’ve all evolved in a way their original plan could not have facilitated.

It’s fitting that a rabbi said: Man plans and God laughs. It’s time for me to stop complaining and start trusting that when I hit a brick wall there’s an unseen reason. Maybe it’s to make God laugh, the way a parent does when a toddler tumbles, only to spring back up to cheers. He knows that every time I get back up, I’m transformed. Maybe the wall is to stop me from making a mistake, or turn me in a different direction or protect me. No matter. I’m going to rewire my brain’s rutted circuitry and see it as a plot twist in the story that’s my life. What would a story be without an unforeseen plot twist? It’d be boring and predictable. I can hardly wait to turn the next page because the Author and Finisher I’ve come to know does not do boring and predictable. He does wonder.