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.

Baby Brain Miracles

Yesterday I was honored to be present while my daughter ever-so-gracefully gave birth to my newest G-baby, Tomlyn Abree Rayne. I’m kinda squeamish, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch…you know, the actual birth part. But what an absolute wonder it was!

It took months of worry and curiosity…then it took anxiety filled days of anticipation, and an expectation that it would take hours and hours more, but in the end the whole thing happened with doctors running, nurses running, and Taylor championing through two minutes of the greatest imaginable miracle. Then she was here. Little Tomlyn blinked and looked around and found her mommy’s face and that was that. Eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart-skin-on-skin. We were all awestruck that something so tiny and new could be so wise and in charge. And so so so beautiful.

How can you NOT believe in a loving, all wise and perfect God when you’re privy to such wonder? Only four weeks into gestation, a baby’s brain is developing 250,000 neurons per minute. Billions and billions of links form between neurons and trillions of circuits weave their way right where they need to be. This is no haphazard act. This is perfection at its divinest.

Depending on how much stimulation lil’ Tomlyn can handle, her visual cortex and eyes will continue to develop. They are her introduction into this big ol’ marvel of a world. Over the next three years her brain will triple in size and develop more than 1,000 trillion neural connections. Her brain will prune itself of the connections that aren’t needed. Seriously. Prune itself. Her developing brain will hog half the calories Tomlyn consumes. Until she’s about five years old. When she starts to babble, the left side of her brain will literally “light” up. When she listens to her mommy and daddy sing to her, the right side of her brain will glow.

Tay has been using the right, or emotional side of her brain for the past months, preparing to bond with Tomlyn. If she’s been more forgetful than usual, that’s why. If she was more sensitive, that’s why. But now that the baby is here, her left or logical side is going to step it up. She’s going to recognize the baby’s facial expressions and the nuances in her cries. They’ll all sound the same to us, but not to Mama. She’ll know what Tomlyn needs. Her brain will tell her.

I could go on and on, but who wants to hear about neuroscience when there are baby toes to count? And cheeks to kiss. Check ‘em out. Tomlyn’s got cheeks for weeks. So I’m off, but I just had to pause long enough to share the great news that after all the fears, mother and baby are fine and dandy and our hearts are busting with gratitude. Hope that you’re all equally blessed.

I Was A Refugee

When I was in Syria I made friends with a woman who had lost her husband and her sons in a war she couldn’t understand. Pushed from her home and country, she now pays rent on a crate behind a café by selling her body. Up to ten times a night.

In Southeast Asia I was blessed to be part of a campaign to rescue children enslaved in human trafficking. These children, and I do mean children, were torn from their families, or SOLD by their families for money. Every one of them was a refugee.

By definition, a refugee is someone who has been forced to leave his or her home/country to escape persecution, natural disaster or war.

I’ve been honored to stand with refugees all over the world and to understand a little of what they are suffering.

When I was twelve years old something so horrific happened within the walls of our home, I was forced to flee for my life. I had nowhere to go. It was the middle of winter and by midnight I had run out of quarters telephoning and begging relatives to open a door. They all said no.

By three o’clock in the morning I was numb with cold, loneliness and despair. A stranger finally took me in and gave me a warm bath and a bed and a meal. The next day I was driven to the police station. I never went back “home”. I’d already lived in a number of foster homes. There were more in my future before an uncle and aunt took pity and gave me a real home. For them, I will forever be grateful.

I don’t share any of this so you’ll feel sorry for me; I share it so you’ll know that I know what it’s like to be a refugee. Sometimes for weeks at a time, I lived on city streets, dodging cops and perverts. Foster care usually only fostered abuse. But I’m cagey, and I survived. Today I am blessed beyond measure. What matters now is that I have a home that’s warm. I can open my doors to refugees. A couple of years ago I learned of some families that had arrived here with nothing. Eli and his friends went through our neighborhood late, late at night asking for various items to help set up these desperate families. It was easy to give a pan or a lamp or a blanket. In fact, when Dev and Mike recently moved to Hawaii, they donated most of their furnishings to refugees that had no dishes, no clothes, and no furniture. It was simple.

But now things aren’t so simple. I don’t know what to do to help. I feel frustrated and desperate. I understand that President Trump doesn’t want “undesirables” let into our country. I understand that America has enemies that would destroy all of us if they could. I get the policy. What I don’t get is a chance to help the hurting and that hurts me. If a stranger had not taken me in that December night so long ago, I would have frozen to death.

I can’t let that happen to anyone else if I can help it, and I hate that I’m being told that I can’t. Maybe that’s why St. Peter will never let me relieve him of his sacred Pearly Gate keeping duties. I wouldn’t check the records. I’d just push back the hinges and let everybody through.

Imagine such a heaven!

Right now I’m praying hard for those who are alone, afraid, abused. I am praying for the leaders of our nation and the leaders of the world. Mostly though, I’m praying for the children who are cold, hungry, hurt, confused, and feel abandoned. God be with you!

Things will get better because in the end, love will always, always, always trump hatred.

And Then There’s Henry…

I’m a crappy neighbor. I didn’t even pass out neighborhood gifts at Christmas. I don’t precision mow my lawn or murder weeds with a vengeance like my neighbors do. If they have dandelions sprouting in their yards, it’s because of me.

That said, I’d like the world to know I love my neighbors and I think they’re great people. I especially love their kids and hope they always feel welcome in our home.

A few years back when it was just Eli and I living home while everyone else was away, I had some serious surgery to fix my broken leg, ankle and knee. I was in a full cast for several months. It wasn’t easy getting around, but I managed. Then one morning there was a big snowstorm and I drove Eli to school early. When I pulled back into our little circle I saw that four of my neighbors were out shoveling their driveways and sidewalks. I thought, “I better do that too.”

So I did. I hobbled out there in my pink cast, doing my best to maneuver the snow shovel. I smiled and waved, but the men were busy shouting greetings to each other and didn’t acknowledge me. No problem. They owed me nothing, and to be honest, I’m the odd woman out in our little circle. I’m divorced. I’m opinionated. I’m independent. But I sorta kinda felt stupid. And that’s when I came to the edge of our property and realized that one of my neighbors had beat me to it. He’d shoveled a precise line in the snow to make it clear where his property ended and mine began.

I can’t tell you why, but that clean line was like a blade to my heart. It was a statement of division and separation and it hurt even though it was a fair and accurate line. It made me think of what prompted Jesus to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. It started with a question, “Who is my neighbor?”

I vowed that I’d try to be a better neighbor. But not right then. In that moment I felt wounded and alone and very, very weak. I felt “divorced.” So I headed back toward the house. But the Universe had a lesson to teach me. It was one of those Utah winter mornings when the snow muffles far away sounds and amplifies nearby sounds. Over the words and laughter of the four men came the grrr of an engine. And then came Henry on his four-wheeler with his snow plow.

The man was his own blizzard, waving and barreling down the road, up and down driveways and over the entire circle sidewalk—both sides. By the time he was done, Henry had obliterated that precise dividing line and had taught me what kind of neighbor Jesus called good. First, Henry saw me. Second, he had compassion on me. Third, he bound up my wounds.

With one swoop of service Henry had put an end to my pathetic pity party.

And it wasn’t the first time Henry and his family had proven to be “good neighbors.” When my life first imploded and I didn’t know how I’d draw my next breath, Henry came over, plopped down on my front step and said, “If you want to talk…I’m here.”

Later, when they suspected I had no money, they bought groceries for my kids to have cereal and milk.

Then there was the night that the kids and I were cold and cuddled together in one room. We ran out of wood for the fireplace and that’s when Eli disappeared. He trudged over to Henry’s house to ask if we could “borrow” one of their logs for our fire. A little while later Henry and Diane pulled up with an entire wagon filled with wood to keep us toasty warm.

And how about the time my friend Cindy was toilet papering my yard at midnight to surprise me for my birthday? Since Henry is an officer of the law, he thought he’d have a little fun with her. He turned on his lights and siren and scared the celebration right out of her, telling her she was on her way to jail for vandalizing property. Henry laughed a lot harder than Cindy did.

And then there was last Christmas when we were in the middle of Hanukkah and Henry and Diane knocked on the door dressed and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. Everyone got a chance to sit on Santa’s lap, whisper in his ear, and get a gift that Henry and Diane brought and paid for.

Yesterday Henry was back with his snow plow. He said, “I came to break up the ice in front of your house so it would melt faster and you could park your car easier.”

So yeah, I don’t want to forget this story. I want to remember it forever. I want to honor those who live close to me, and I want to be blind to dividing lines and see everyone as my neighbor. I want to be more like Henry.

I’ve got a LONG way to go, but my first act is to wish that you’re all blessed with a neighbor like Henry, and secondly, to share a quote from G.K. Chrsterton that gave me something to ponder: “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”

Love and blessings to all of you good neighbors!