The Morning After

We are not a Christian nation, but we sure like to say we are.

Somehow, so many people in our country have confused Christianity with Republicanism.

Somehow, the words of Jesus about how we treat our neighbor have translated as the least important words to follow, even though He sort of said they’re a big deal–one of the biggest deals.

Somehow, the message of grace comes after the message of repentance when we talk to people, even though Jesus always showed grace first.

This morning, I woke up with a heavy heart and a sense of dread.  I’m not a political guru.  Like, at all.  I don’t closely follow most of the issues or most of the stances.  I find overwhelming all of the moving parts of how the country runs, the competing values and interests and needs and the right way to allocate the limited resources, and all of the nonsense that gets added to bills and measures in order to pass them.  There is a stunning lack of clarity about how things get done, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.  But I’ve heard some the things that Donald Trump has said, and I just don’t understand how America got here.

Our Father God has a plan for all of this.  He is sovereign over all and that brings me comfort.  But the biggest response to this, as a Christian, needs to be repentance.  We have work to do, sisters and brothers in Christ.  We, the church, need to do better.

If you are a Christian, and you voted for Donald Trump, I would like answers.  Why did you vote for him? How are none of these things priorities?  How will you respond?

When you see you black and brown neighbors and friends, after they are stopped and frisked, after they are the victims of police brutality that is endorsed by the President of your nation, how will you look them in the eye and tell them that you loved them as yourself?

When you see the millions–MILLIONS—of women who came forward and shared their sexual assault stories after Donald Trump bragged about his own compulsion to grab women, and then pooh-poohed his comments as just locker room talk, how will you look them in the eye and tell them you seek justice for the oppressed?

When I first heard that audio of Trump, I was awake all night.  I lay in bed, reliving and re-experiencing multiple sexual assaults.  I wound up getting up and trying to write down all that I could remember just so that I could maybe get some sleep.  I was shocked by how much I remember, and I was also shocked by how much I can’t remember.  In case you’re wondering, I only ever tried to report one of these incidents, and I was not believed.  I am not the only woman for whom this is the case.  And that’s only counting the ‘big’ ones, and not the regular occurrences of men smacking my behind, grabbing onto me and refusing to let go, making vulgar comments, or otherwise making me feel like an object instead of like another human being.

When you talk to your daughters and your sisters, how will you explain how an overly qualified woman had a chance to be the first President of the United States—seriously, the best resume for the job that a person could have, ever—and the man without any experience was chosen instead?  (Note that this also happened after this same political party made it very clear that the future first black President was ‘unqualified’ because of his lack of resume.)  How will you look them in the eye and tell them that you love justice?

When you see your Muslim neighbors, how will you apologize for the fear that they feel?  How will you avoid oppressing the sojourners among us?  Remember that you know the heart of the sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

When you see your brown friends, whose racial identity isn’t obvious, and as such experience the fear of getting pulled over by the police or questioned at an airport or otherwise harassed because of their lack of whiteness, how will you explain to them that it’s okay?  When you see people whose religion is different from yours being persecuted by authority figures solely because of their religion, how will you demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit?  Can you tell me how I explain to my eight year old daughter that, no, even if Donald Trump insisted he would build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the country, he will not be doing that?

When you see your LGBT neighbor, how will you look into their eye?  How much fear and dread will you see there?  How will you help to maintain the rights of the afflicted?

When you see a POW, or a disabled person, do you think the things that our future President said to and about them is kind and loving?

I just don’t understand what politics you, Christian Donald Trump voter, put before the well-being and safety of these, your neighbors, sisters, and brothers.  Please, explain it to me, because I want to understand. 

Do you really think that God is more concerned with fiscal policy and Supreme Court justices than how we treat our fellow citizens on Earth?

We Christians have work to do.  We need to repent and turn back to the God who loves everyone.  He doesn’t just love everyone in a general sense of the world, he loves every. individual. person.  He loves them right now, in who they are today.  He loves them even if they’re brown.  Even if they’re Muslim.  Even if they are unsure of their sexual or gender identity.  Even if they have hearts full of hate and vitriol.  God even loves you, Christian Donald Trump voter (and maybe I need to do better at remembering that myself, in my anger and hurt and confusion).

We Christians need to remember that the way out of the evil we see on earth isn’t through government mandates or political opinions.  It isn’t through legislating sexuality or women’s reproductive issues.  It isn’t through condemning people with different viewpoints than us.  We overcome the evil on earth by loving first.  By loving people in a radical, crazy way that Jesus loves us.

So, to my black, brown, LGBT, Muslim friends—I love you.  And I am here for you and I am sorry that hatred and fear of difference seems to have won out over justice.  Our home will always be safe for you, and we will do everything in our power to stand beside you and keep you safe.

To my Trump-voting friends—I love you.  And I am sorry for the anger in my heart towards you.  I hope to have conversations and understand and help work towards the change and the life that Jesus called us to.

So, please-contact me! Christian Donald Trump voters—please help me understand why and how you could have voted this way.  Because I can’t get there myself, and my heart is so sad today.  But I will listen and I will hear you and I will try to understand.  And if I can’t understand, I will love you anyway.

Christians, let’s love harder and better and more completely.  The only way, going forward, that I can see right now is to pray and to love and to love some more.  Every single person.

This Week, It Hurts

Most of the time, it doesn’t hurt.

It’s been four years, and the life we have here now is good.  Like, we are right where we are supposed to be, and knowing that and feeling that is so reassuring.

But this week, four years after we drove away, leaving still hurts.

This week, texting my best buddy from Chicago just doesn’t feel like enough.

This week, after the Cubs’ World Series win, I think about taking Hazel to her first ball game at Wrigley Field.

This week, wearing my I❤ Chicago shirt, I noticed that I’ve washed it so many times that the heart has worn partially off, so it looks like a broken heart.

This week, as I made pizza for my kids to eat, I could almost smell the pizza place on our block where Kullervo and I ate so many dinners.  But I can’t quite remember it anymore.

Don’t get me wrong–Chicago wasn’t perfect. Finding a parking spot on (or near) our street was sometimes impossible and digging out of the snow in the winter was an enormous effort.

I became a stay at home mom in Chicago, and the transition from working to being home was really difficult.  Figuring out how to make friends when I didn’t have the daily convenience of adult conversation across the desk from me was like moving across the country partway through my freshman year of high school.  All the awkward.  All the insecurity.  And no idea how to start over.  Figuring out how to be at home with my kids and actually feel like I’d accomplished anything and also not resent my children was also difficult.

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Living the dream in Chicago

But I made friends.  It was actually the first time in my life that I had adult friends who were not my coworkers—they were my friends because they wanted to be, not because they were stuck looking at my face all day.  We also learned how to be neighbors—what that could look like.  My kids would play outside in the afternoon, and eventually all the kids on the block would join.  It was the magical age before we were beholden to sports and activities every day, so our only constraints in the afternoons were dinner and bedtime.  And my neighbors were awesome.  There was so much laughter, so much annoyance, so much living life together while our kids grew up.  I was sure that we would all grow old and move to an old folks’ community where we’d sit out on our porches in the evening, drinking and complaining about our good-fer-nothin’ children who don’t come visit.

And then, in what seemed like it should be the middle of all the magic of living in Chicago, it ended.  Kullervo got a job offer in Baltimore.  We packed the house.  We said goodbye.  We drove away.  Kullervo drove our moving truck; I drove the minivan with the kids.  I am fairly certain I cried the entire drive.  We left on November 3; we arrived at our apartment November 5.

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The door to our Baltimore apartment.

Oliver started school, but I had to push him onto the school bus every day; Hazel stayed home and fell into a deep depression (which is super sad on four year old Hazel).  I wasn’t much help for her—I was too busy being sad all the time myself.  We cried together.  We watched a lot of My Little Pony, and when I would turn it off, she would just sit on a chair and stare at the blank television.  I tried to unpack into our apartment, but I didn’t have the strength to tough it out.  We had no drawers in our tiny kitchen, which only showed how awful this new place was going to be, forever.

At the time, the only saving grace for Hazel and me were the deer.  Our apartment complex faced into the woods, and we had huge windows to look out and see all kinds of nature.  It was beautiful.  She was certain that they were actually reindeer, and not just any old reindeer, but Santa’s reindeer.

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The view from our apartment…

I couldn’t eat—my go-to unhealthy coping mechanism.  I joined a gym and made tentative steps towards familiarity and friendship.  We found a gymnastics place for Hazel to take a class.  We looked at every house on the market in our price range and out of it and fired multiple real estate agents for either insulting us or not getting us, until we found a woman who guided us to our neighborhood because we were looking to recreate that neighborhoody feel we were missing so much.  We bought a house, and then found out that we were pregnant (so maybe the three-bedroom was too small… too late.)

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Moving into our new home

Nowadays, I know that we are right where we need to be, and my life here has become so full—of good times, good memories, good people.  This is home, and I don’t want to leave—I cannot imagine starting over all over again, again.  We have a new magical existence we get to live in, and I would not change it or go back.

But this week… this week, I’m missing Chicago fiercely, and being here in Baltimore hurts like I left yesterday.

Ink for 15

According to the lists I found on the Internet, on the 15th wedding anniversary the gift should either be watches or crystal.  I have a works-well-enough-for-me watch and no desire to own any crystal.  Like, ever.  So Kullervo and I decided that we would forgo tradition and go for ink instead.  While he has a handful of tattoos, this would be my first, so I wanted to make sure it was just right.

Our next decision involved figuring out what the tattoo should be.  What would represent us–fifteen years of us–with all of our inside jokes and arguments and values?  On a long road trip home from Tennessee, we made a list.  We wrote down all the things that we could think of that described Kullervo, and me, and us, looking for something to jump out at us.

Nothing did.  Or, rather, nothing did in such a way as to really capture who we are in a form that would translate to skin.

Driving down the Interstate, we grew quiet.  The radio was playing, the kids were reading, and we were lost in our own thoughts.

Some time later, Kullervo said that he might have an idea.  At the same moment, I thought that maybe I did as well.

He wanted me to listen to something, and cued up a YouTube video for me to listen to.

While we waited through the ad at the beginning, I butted in, “What about a mason jar?”

His video came through, and we listened to this together.

This is a part of a series called “For the Life of the World” and is really a fantastic video series.  And in this chapter about love, hipster Adam and hipster Eve say yes to each other.  To sacrifice and to pouring themselves out into the world, into children, into messiness and brokenness.  They say yes to each other.

As it happens, when Kullervo and I got married in the Mormon temple, we didn’t say ‘I do’… we said ‘yes.’

And right then, we both knew that our tattoo had to say yes.

But what about the mason jar?  Why that?

We only drink out of mason jars.  Water, chocolate milk (don’t judge), beer, wine… we serve it in a mason jar.

And if you know us, you might know that we have intentionally structured our life in such a way as to follow Jesus Christ as best as we can.  And one of the ways that we really try to radically live that out is through hospitality.  What’s radical about hospitality?  After all, it sounds like the same kind of radical that geometry homework is.  Or being told that your talent is that you’re a compassionate person.  It sort of sounds boring.

But here’s the thing.  You can come to our house.  It will be messy, it will be chaotic, but you are welcome here.    At midnight, you can show up at our door without notice, and we will bring you in and feed you and love you and not resent it even one bit.  More on that here:

Not only that, but a few years ago, we started canning our extra food and making our own jam.  We grow some food, we preserve it, and when we pop open a jar of tomatoes to toss into our spaghetti sauce, we wash the glass and it joins the other glasses.  And when we have too many glasses, we realize it’s time to start canning again.  There is something really neat about the ebb and flow of having, and then pouring what we have out for the sustenance of our family, and then taking what’s left and pouring into it for the short term needs of hydration.  Our mason jars are work horses.

For us, the mason jar represents following Jesus and living into the gifts He provides and the ways we can use those gifts to provide for others.  It represents our marriage because we intentionally live into that, with all of the messiness and sacrifice that it brings.

So, sitting in the car that day, we realized we’d both just had the right idea.  And we realized that a mason jar, which usually has the brand name written on the side, could say Yes instead.  All of a sudden, we had our tattoo.

*Note:  I asked Kullervo what to say when people ask what the tattoos mean, because this is sort of a long-winded explanation.  His response?

“Just say that it’s some hipster shit.”

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Dinner at a hipster restaurant post-tattoo.

A Whale of a Bad Time

It was Sunday.  We were on our way to Kullervo’s biannual family reunion (read: incredibly fun vacay with an incredibly fun group of people), and stopped in Knoxville, TN to see our old stomping grounds.  We had planned a day of restaurants and places to bring the kids, and stopped first thing in the morning at the University’s Latter Day Saint Institute building (college ministry for the Mormons) where we’d first met.

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This is where Kullervo was sitting when I first saw him. I knew right away that I wanted to marry that boy… I just had to convince him!

We got out of the car to take a few pictures and tell the kids the story of how we’d met.  We decided to walk the couple of blocks to see my old dorm,

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Clement Hall… my first home in Tennessee!

and then we walked a few blocks the other way to show the kids the building we’d lived in when we first got married.  

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Laurel Apartments – no longer married student housing, and totally lacking in the complex smells associated with the multitude of international students who used to live there.

We were close to the church we planned on attending that morning, so we just walked over.  

After a lovely church service filled with hipster beards and bow ties and a well-written sermon about the Church being made up of regular people and what that means for us, the church-goer, we walked back to the car to continue our adventures around Knoxville.

But when we got close to the van, something was wrong.  I saw a lot of broken glass on the ground, and I was fairly sure I didn’t remember it being there when we parked.20160703_123914

While we were at church, someone threw a rock at the car, shattered the window, and stole my purse (along with about $250-300, an iPod touch, my wallet with my credit cards, bank card, passport card, the spare key to my van, all of the chargers for all of our devices, and some sentimental stuff (as well as other stuff I haven’t remembered yet, I’m sure).

They left the rock.

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There was shattered glass everywhere.  Everywhere.  The kids’ stuffed animals.  The car seats.  The Moon Pie that I had started but not finished on the drive the day before.  The steering wheel, the seats, the floors, the cup holders.  The bags of library books were covered in glass.

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We realized that they ONLY grabbed my purse.  They did not take the Kindle or the iPad, or the musical instruments.  Our laptops were in the car (but hidden).  It was not as bad as it could have been.

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Kullervo called the police.  I called the credit card companies and canceled all the cards (and managed to do so before they were used!).  I called the insurance company to find out how to proceed.  They told me that they could send a glass person out on Tuesday.  It was Sunday.  I asked what we should do in the meantime, and they said they could not advise me on that.  I asked what I should do about paying the deductible.  They said I’d have to pay it to the glass company.  I told them that I’d canceled all of my credit cards, and my purse was stolen, so I actually had no money.  They said they could not advise me on that.  Kullervo pointed out that their customer service was bad, but a problem for a different day.

He called some friends in town, who dropped everything, made us a bunch of sandwiches and brought us lunch, fruit, and water.  They also brought us moral support and an ear for our outrage.  I picked enough glass off of the driver’s seat to drive to vacuum as much glass as I could out of the rest of the car.  And I cried.

Kullervo’s brother was also on the way to the reunion, and he stopped by and gave us a credit card to use while we’re away from home.   We made jokes about Calvinism and God’s grace.  He took the rest of our valuables in his car, since ours was obviously no longer secure.

Kullervo and I prayed and thanked God that we hadn’t gotten hurt.  That we were in a place where the kids could be safe while we dealt with the mess.  That friends were close who could bring us sandwiches and water.  That Kullervo’s brother was close by with resources to share.  That the weather was relatively pleasant and it wasn’t raining.

And we went to Walmart and bought a shower curtain to cover up the hole.  And duck tape to hold it in place.  And, because I wanted something cheery to brighten up a sucky situation, I bought whale duck tape.

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I’m keeping the rock, and I’ve named it Forgiveness Rock.  And I’m praying for the people who did this, because they are hurting too.  They are suffering too, because if you can get to a place of moral ambiguity, it means you’ve been hurt and you’ve been damaged, and somebody did that to you.  And I hope that they can take the money and the iPod and find help.  And I hope they find the prayer card that my daughter wrote in church one Sunday telling  God that she knows that He loves her and she wants to follow Him, and I hope it sparks something in them.  I’ll never know the end of their story, but I hope it results in change for the better.

White Privilege

I want to talk, poorly at best, about white privilege.  I am white.  I experience this privilege.  And I generally experience it in such a way that I don’t see it.

But, don’t you see?  That’s the thing.  THAT is what white privilege is.

Kullervo and I were talking the other day about a recent case where a 13 year old black boy was shot in Baltimore by the police.  He was running around with a toy gun.  Kullervo remembered being a teenager at a science fiction convention, and all the teens playing some intricate indoor/outdoor game that involved chasing each other and shooting toy guns.  Kullervo’s brother was drawn down on by the police.  He wasn’t shot.  He wasn’t hurt.  They told him to quit playing, and everyone went on their way.

If my brother-in-law were black, he might be dead.  Or gravely injured.

THAT is white privilege.

Do police lives matter?  Yes!  Of course!  We need our police officers.  Some of my dearest friends are police.  Some of the most formative people in my life growing up were police officers who took me in and treated me like a daughter.

Don’t all lives matter though?  Yes!  Of course!

But, don’t you see?  That’s the point of #blacklivesmatter.  Right now, we treat minorities as if their lives don’t matter.  Or at least not as much as other people’s lives.

I went to the grocery store with all four of my (white) kids the other day.  It has rained for days on end here; they all have all this pent up energy.  Plus, some of the kids, when mixed together with public places, rile each other up in such a way as to be absolutely nuts-driving.  So, they were acting a bit like wild children in the grocery store.  And I was tired and didn’t have the energy to tell them AGAIN to behave.  So I tolerated much more misbehavior than I would have otherwise.

And I left the store wondering if even that is white privilege.  If a relatively young mom of four African-American children took them to the grocery store and the eight year old was playing reckless hide and seek with the four- and two- year olds and the ten year old was asking (nagging) about buying scrapple and the mom was frazzled with the busyness of the store and the lateness of the hour and all the other things that had to get done with the day… what would have been different?  The judgmental looks (which were relatively low for me)—would they have had an added layer to them?

When my kids want to go outside and play unsupervised, I don’t have to worry that anybody will see them and assume they are up to no good

When someone posts about a free bag of Legos on our neighborhood forum at 1pm on a Tuesday, I can send my oldest son out to go run over and scoop them up before someone else does (and I can’t leave because the little one is sleeping), and I don’t have to worry that walking home during a school day with a bag of stuff will make someone suspect him of a crime and call the police.  Because he’s white.

The thing about white privilege is that I don’t even really know what it looks like.  If you’re black, you know that the standards are different, even though they shouldn’t be.  If you’re white, you don’t have to see any standards at all, because they aren’t applied against you.

And if I’m entirely off base here, please call me on it!

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They look sweet and innocent…

Regarding Santa

Growing up in a non-religious household, it never occurred to me that people could possibly have a problem with Santa Clause.  It seemed that the only reason one might have a problem with Santa was if they didn’t celebrate Christmas, and therefore were jealous.  It wasn’t until I became a practicing Christian that I realized that it can actually be an incredibly divisive issue among Christians.

My thoughts: If you want to enjoy Santa, do it.  If you don’t, don’t.  Teach other kids to respect other families’ beliefs, customs, and practices.  As for me and my house?  Santa visits every year.

Here’s the thing.

We absolutely follow the tradition of Santa Claus.  We don’t use it as a manipulation tool to get our kids to behave (there is no ‘naughty or nice’ and no threats of coal in the stockings for misbehavior… misbehavior gets punished in December in the same way as the rest of the year).

Our kids know that Santa Claus – Saint Nicholas – was a passionate Christian known for secret gift giving (and for punching heretics, which my kids love to tell naysayers when other kids tell them Santa isn’t real).  I’m not lying to my kids when we tell them that there is secret gift-giving going on. We let them believe in the magic and the beauty that is someone giving absolutely selflessly, and we tie that in to Jesus giving Himself absolutely selflessly, and how we are to follow that model.  Jesus also said that we should do our good works in secret–our praying and our fasting… and I can only imagine that it is acceptable for that to extend to our giving as well.

Santa is also a part of our cultural traditions, and as we very clearly tie the meaning of Christmas–the miracle of God entering His Creation, and how that changed everything, absolutely and forevermore–the stories and legends and myths that go along with it are no more dangerous than letting my kids read about Greek myths or Roman gods, which we do with regularity.  Christmas is about Jesus, and we can use Santa Clause to honor Jesus and celebrate His birth into the world He created.

Just a Typical Night

The kids were doing this:

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I was listening to Pandora’s Chicago themed station (the band, not the city), and when ‘You’re the Inspiration’ came on, I started serenading Conrad.  We got silly and started belting out Eagles and Meat Loaf songs.

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You’d think that when we got to the part about watching our hearts, still beating, rising out of our bodies and flying away, our kids would react.

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Nope.