Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dear Anonymous Facebooker, (Epistolary Wednesday, August 27) #tbw

On Wednesdays, I write letters. (And this one's a throwback to my original post in 2012.)

Dear Anonymous Facebooker,

I saw your post today. The one about believing in Jesus Christ and challenging other believers to put the same post on their wall. You said Jesus said he would deny us in front of God, if we deny him in front of our “peers.” It’s a simple test, you said. If you are not afraid, then re-post.
You probably don’t know this—probably you had no desire to have this effect on me--but your post makes me want to do the opposite. Because it inspires guilt and fear in me, a lover of Jesus who gets by in the world because of and out of the conversations I have with him daily: the questions and answers and simple moments of divine presence felt. Yet, Jesus never told me—he didn’t, I promise—to copy and paste your status update on my Facebook page. And I wonder at the audacity of a mere human trying to boil down a relationship with divinity (and everyone’s afterlife statuses-to-be) to whether one hits cntrol-c followed by cntrl-v on a keyboard. It seems so black and white. So cut and dried. So harsh, really. Do this, or else. Or else—what? Damnation? Eternal Punishment? Separation from God for eternity?

I don't believe in this kind of God. The kind that is upstairs devising tests by which he can damn us all quickly. Hey—using Facebook for the job is so efficient. All he has to do is count.

Do you remember that Peter denied Christ three times--and yet. Peter was also martyred for his love for Christ, crucified upside down. Because of love. For Christ.
Anonymous Facebooker, I want to introduce you to Wiggle Room. If you peer into the economy of Christ’s kingdom, I believe you’ll find an X factor,  so that a man like Peter, who denied him three times, and then testified for Christ, died for the sake of that testimony, is welcomed by Christ—not denied by him. The X factor: can we call it Grace? Grace that doesn’t damn us to hell the second, the moment, we speak or don’t speak, act or don’t act, repost your silly status on our FB page or not.  Because there are a hundred times a week I speak or don’t, act or don’t, and yet I know this Grace that looks at the whole picture of my heart, Grace that gives me an opportunity to be in process, to make mistakes and recover, to arrive at my own understanding and final revelation of divinity or not divinity in my life.

Maybe I don't sound very gracious toward you. I'm sorry. I need to take deep breaths and back away slowly when I see status updates like these. I have to write an entry like this over the span of a week because I'm working on telling the truth as I see it with love.

And here's my bottom line: God’s not riding Zuckerberg’s coattails..  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Must-Reads and Watches (August 25, 2014)

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian
Back-to-school week is kicking my butt--in a good way. Hope all you parents out there can say the same! Here's what I noticed this week on this here Internet Web Thingy:

Also from Kate Conner: why exaggerating the story about ISIS's persecution of religious minorities in Irag is not helpful: The Truth Does Not Need Your Help.

Also, Ginny at Random Acts of Momness interviewed my friend and fellow Ovenbird author, Tarn Wilson--all about her new book and how we gain perspective as we write about our families. Tarn's book is ah-mazing, moving, and profound! I highly recommend you head over to Amazon and buy a copy

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dear African Employee at the Big Box Store (Epistolary Wednesday, August 20)

Africa, 1925 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 Gabriel, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
Dear African Employee at the Big Box Store,

Before you take offense: I do in fact know you are not from just “Africa.” I know what country and what country borders your country. I’m being vague to protect you, knowing your job could be in jeopardy. After all, how many Ghanaian* men work at the local Sam’s Club*? They’d catch you in a heartbeat and question the appropriateness of your educated tirade about the Klu Klux Klan and “Republicans” turning away Guatemalan refugee children at our borders while shoppers came by for free samples.

I’ve seen you before, handing out salsa and chips, but last week was the first time I thought to turn and talk to you. You said, “Nice to see you” as if you remembered me and my brood of hungry children who've wandered these aisles many times before. So I stopped and asked where you were from. You’ve been here nineteen years, you said; you came for school (majored in communications), but there were no jobs to be found when you were done. You’d wanted to be a teacher. I wondered if your accent made job-finding difficult here, but I did not wonder this aloud. Now here you are, working at a big box store, with a communications degree; you want to go back to your home country soon, to find work more suited to your mind.

You’re delighted to hear that I have visited a country neighboring your homeland, and that leads us to talk of Africa's colonialism, imperialistic powers pitting one indigenous people group against another—neighbor against neighbor—all over: Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania. The Portuguese, in 500 years, produced only one doctor in Mozambique, you tell me, evidence of the failings of imperialism.  And then you say that what the U.S. did in the 50s, 60s, and 70s to countries around the world is now having a horrific impact on those countries' own economies, nations dependent upon exported product to the U.S. Bananas, cocoa, chocolate, quinoa—all crops exported at a high cost to the natives. But Nicaragua, you say, Nicaragua is doing just fine because they turned America down.

I don’t know if you’ve gotten all your facts right, but I do know that you’ve paid more attention than I have, watching Al Jazeera, tuning into unsanitized news sources I wouldn't even know how to find. What I do know is that I find myself suddenly weepy in the aisle next to the olive oil and the tunafish as we trade stories about the French in Rwanda pitting Hutu and Tutsi against one another, neighbor turning on neighbor. 

Walmart Broadens Product Assortment and Reintroduces Items with "It's Back!" Tags from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Walmart, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
Your growing up years were so different than mine. Your vision of the world. You say you can tell when an American has been outside the United States because their vision isn't so small, so constricted, and you praise mine for its scope. But, I feel tired with talk these days because all of this "awareness" and all of this "dialogue" doesn't change the fact that extremist groups are hunting and terrorizing, that white policemen shoot black boys on their way to Grandma's house, that those born into impoverished and illiterate families often stay there. War happens. Refugees are denied access to help because systemic, bone-deep racism, hatreds, fears, and greed govern the social and economic dynamics of entire countries that have the power to bind up their wounds. And all of it takes place at the same time I'm shopping in an air-conditioned food co-op or a giant chain store filled with crates of wrapped and brightly packaged servings of guacamole and clementines and string cheese. It goes on while I'm picking up my veggies from the local farmer's drop site, while I'm doing my couch-to-5K program on the treadmill and watching reruns of The Office. It's not fair. It's never fair. And all I feel is survivor-guilt, colonialist-guilt, middle-class, white guilt. 

Maybe talk feels cheap because the problems I once fantasized it could solve are problems with solutions still out of reach. Maybe, man, we need to lower our standards for "talk." Maybe it's enough that we can both stand here in the thick of Corporate America and acknowledge the ironies and the sufferings--you with the communications degree and the hairnet handing out cups of popcorn for Big Business as you save to return to your homeland and me, a white girl from Iowa whose fortune found her education and employment and a husband with a good job and a family that lives on a cul de sac surrounded by above-ground swimming pools and brightly colored play structures. If talk is good for this articulation of cognitive dissonance, maybe we're at the top of our game.

*These identifying details have been changed.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday Must-Reads (August 18)

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian
Oh my, oh my, oh my! School starts tomorrow! Routine begins tomorrow! My babies continue their journeys of Getting Smarter and Making Their Ways in The World tomorrow--seventh grade, fourth grade, and pre-K. And that's the local 411, but in national news, it's been a terrible week. Really, so bad, I don't even want to get on Facebook or listen to the radio. And, of course, all the bloggers I read are also writing about the news, which they should--someone should, and we should be Paying Attention. It's just that, sometimes, our hearts break when we pay attention, but that's a Good Thing-- even when it hurts.

Here's what I found note-worthy this week.

On Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown:
Racial bias, police brutality and the dangerous act of being black from Rage Against the Minivan.

In defense of black rage: Michael Brown, police and the American dream from

When Parenting Feels Like a Fool’s Errand: On the Death of Michael Brown from Stacia L. Brown.

On Race, the Benefit of Doubt, and Complicity from Rachel Held Evans.

In response to Robin Williams' suicide:
"In which depression is not your fault" from Sarah Bessey.

On consumerism vs. contentment:
"Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt" by Glennon Melton over at Momastery.

When you do everything right and still don't succeed:
"What I Want You To Know About Trying to Lose Weight."

On a lighter note:
13 Tips For Getting More Reading Done.  Especially #1, #2, and #6. I have quitter's guilt like no other and I need to get free. Support group anyone?

Anyone need to get their kids to pack their own lunches? I think we're heading there this year.

Blessings on your reading and processing this week, friends.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dear Summering Girls, (Epistolary Wednesday, August 13)

Dear Summering Girls,

Recently, my blog feed exploded with posts from various mom-bloggers about "How To Stay Sane During the Summer When Your Kids Are Home" and "How to Set Up a Routine When You’re a Work-At-Home-Mom." I know these songs by heart, I've sung them so much.

If it was just me and you at home for the summer, it would be delightful. Pure magic. But it’s not. I’ve got this thing called "Work" and these things called "Expectations" (that you’ll know not to interrupt me at certain times; that you’ll really clean your room when you say you will) that mingle with us like houseguests that just won't leave, spoiling all our fun. And these last few weeks of summer, Work and Expectations have been at each other's throats. Some mornings it's just chaos and anarchy and I have to tell Work to hush up because Expectations are just being ignored like a cast-off friend.  I mean, how can you get worse at following your Morning Routine (i.e. brush teeth, dress, empty dishwasher, eat, do math facts, read for 20) now that you’ve had the whole summer to practice? And those pink shoes on the bathroom floor--the ones that have been sitting there for over a week, the ones I’ve asked you three times to pick up--are still sitting there.

The "after" picture.
Here's a typical conversation about Expectations:

Did you clean your room?


Let me check it.  [Gasp] Your laundry EXPLODED in here! What happened? How could you say you cleaned your room when it looks like this?

But I did! I did clean it!

But don’t you see the dirty underwear on the floor? What about the Kleenexes wadded up next to the garbage can? I want you to Clean This Room.

I have this na├»ve belief that come August 19, the first day of school, you will magically and suddenly become innately disciplined human beings once again; you will pull Expectations out from under that heap of clothing and wet towels on your bedroom floor, dust her off, and allow her to accompany you through your day: you will get up on time;you will eat more than a smattering of Cheerios for breakfast; you will put on fresh clothes and change your underwear and empty the dishwasher all without me mentioning these things to you. A mom can hope, can’t she?

Until then, I don’t even work in the home office most of the time because if I were to do that, you'd be leaving wrappers and tissues all over the living room and I wouldn't be able to catch you in the act. Best to have you deal with it immediately, before the candy wrappers and tissues become the next pink-shoes-on-the-bathroom floor and a month goes by before I see the carpet again. I wish I was that mom who didn’t lose brain cells at the sight of garbage on the floor, wish I could just sit right among the muck and play tickle fights and video games in the evenings when I'm done working, but you didn't win that lotto, girls. You are not those children and I am not that mom and someday, when you live in your own house and you’re all grown up, if you want to never flush the toilet and let it back up and let fruit flies reproduce over your left-out glass of orange juice, if you want to sit in a dark room all day and play video games, never seeing the sun, so be it. I will love you then as I do now. But I won’t live with you.

This is just to say that I really love you and I'm really looking forward to school next week, despite the fact that junior high and fourth grade are on the horizon, whole new worlds of Work and Expectations that I don't have to manage on your behalf. Instead, I will just be Mom with Milk and Cookies at the end of the day. I'll be a Good Listener and Your Biggest Fan and I will leave lunch clean up to the lunch ladies.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Monday Must-Reads (August 11, 2014)

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian

It's been too long! And I missed a week of Must-Reads because I was either traipsing all over the country or recovering from the traipsing. All that means is that there're more links than usual today.

I really appreciated this post by Sarah Markley on road-tripping with her kids without her husband because that is exactly what I just got done doing this week. Strange, yes, but empowering all the same.

Reality-check post for the week: How to Get Rich by Blogging.

Most grateful for this one: "Monsanto Ordered to Pay $93 Million For Poisoning Town." Thank God, thank God, thank God. This company needs to be held accountable on so many levels and stop getting free passes at every intersection for the impact they are having on communities and economies. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it's something.

I sent "The Parenting Books Were Wrong" to a new mom of a newborn this week:
"Jesus has said, 'Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself.' And, yes, I find that each day does have its own trouble. But far worse than the particular trouble of each day is our despair when we believe that all we can hope for are storms."

Helpful during my work-at-home/parenting-kids-at-home summer was this from the Nesting Place: "Because Choosing Your Battles Saves Your Sanity: How Having One Decent Space Makes All the Difference."

And here's some heavier stuff. Have you heard of ISIS? An Islamic extremist group that is systematically taking over towns in Northern Iraq and targeting religious minorities? There are reports of beheaded children and mothers and forced "conversions" and other terribleness. Right now there are thousands taking refuge in mountainous areas without access to food or water. Meanwhile, the U.S. is dropping a few bombs on ISIS and airdropping water to the refugees. Google for more info. If you are the praying type, pray.

Because I've been such an avid observer of all things Mark Driscoll, it's been interesting to see the Christian community's response to a growing understanding of some of his poor behavior from 14 years ago. I met Mark right about that time, toured his then-little church building in Seattle, spoke with his worship leaders. The man was "edgy," he was someone who had the vibe of us Gen-Xers, a prophetic voice, and I claimed him as a leader of my generation for a couple years, until I was stung and stung again by the continually vicious comments against different demographics in the body of Christ. Some feel his most recent apology is not enough to heal the wounds said to have been caused by his leadership. Others are asking what "grace" means for Driscoll in this context. The church network he founded (Acts 29) has recently decided to remove him and his church as members of the network. Honestly, I'm thankful that he is being called out by a wider array of the Christian community and not just those of us on the fringes who have been disturbed by his leadership tactics and his message for so long. The last thing I want is to see this man destroyed, but I would like to see him restored and to see relationships with the wounded restored as well. What would create restitution for those who've been harmed and for those who are hurt by now reading these latest comments, albeit 14 years old?

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Dear Tiny Road Trippers (Epistolary Wednesday)

On Wednesdays, I write letters.

Dear Tiny Road Trippers,

Preschool closed down last week. It’s you and me and some vacation days and I want to take you away—from all the rat race of hide-and-go-seek in the evening backyards and Laundry Day and Morning Chores. Let’s go up to western Minnesota, you and me.  I think the drive is only 7 hours, but it’s really 8. With all our stopping and getting mixed up, the entire trip is 9. And for the first three hours, when one of you has to pee so desperately, twice, I think about turning around, think I don’t really have to do this. We could spend a happy few days at home, emptying the dishwasher and doing laundry and summer math facts and driving to the lake. But when we’re home, it’s so hard to break each of us from what pulls us most powerfully. My email account. Your smart phones. Your singular love for the 3-year-old neighbor boy.

Auntie Nay and Tiny piggy-backing
So here we are in a small town of 1,900, and when we drove in I felt myself relax. Felt we could just hunker down with the Boy's* family, now our adopted family, and walk the barely trafficked streets, run on the empty high school track, wave at neighbors, play at the playground, swim, beach. Of course, two of you can’t get through the day without a Minecraft marathon (curses on Minecraft!), but that’s okay; it gives me time with Tiny who, after a good nap, has turned so charming and sweet again and in love with her cousins and their dogs and her auntie.
Tiny, Cash, and Ruby

Life seems so simple here, if expensive. Auntie Nay says the groceries cost way more than what they cost us back home. There’s a Walmart and a Hy-Vee about an hour away, and that’s it. People here are farmers or teachers or doctors and some of them are out of work, and it’s calm and quiet except for when the St. John church bells ring at 5 p.m. for Saturday evening mass.

And now, I’m sitting on the bed at dusk next to Tiny as she whispers the words to "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and fingers the movements in the warm, sticky air above her head until she pauses and leans over, still whispering, “Mom, my arm is tired. My arm is tired.”

“Okay. Well. Let it sleep.” I whisper back, and she receives this without comment and moves her fingers to tickling her belly. 
Dinner by sunlight.

In some ways, all our arms have gotten tired from holding up the routine. So then, we should let them sleep these few days before we face school registration and work and the Daily Grind.

Also, I just love you more and better when we pause all that other stuff so we can just be. Let’s always remember to do that. You’re getting so old and, I fear, drawing away each in your own little ways. This is normal, but sometimes we get so far apart that when I look at you this week I see both desire and uncertainty in one of your little faces; you’re wanting to get close like you were when you held my hand voluntarily everywhere we walked, but you don’t know how to get there without doing that.

After our visit, we stop in Minneapolis to see more cousins and that giant mall "of America." While driving through one of the many tiny country towns, I exclaim, “Look, here’s a town that’s ten seconds long! If you blink, you might miss it.” And you older ones unwrap the earbuds from around your ears and stare. “Whooa.

Oldest, Middle, and cousins
There was a time when I had so much time that I walked hours daily to fill it. Around and across neighborhoods in all seasons of the year, I noticed things like rusty cars, children whining on the sidewalk, a dog sniffing near a ravine in the park. With all my modern-day efficiency strategies, all the smarts of smartphones, I’ve thought I’ve done myself a favor by filling up the time. I've been Getting More Stuff Done, so much that I’ve forgotten to be and notice as much as I've wanted to. And I haven’t helped you practice those things as much either.

“Mama,” Tiny says from her carseat as we exit the town. “I blinked but I didn’t miss it!”

I think, then, that there is still hope for us, despite all the blinking we do--for connecting, for paying attention, for being. And we can start now with this road and with this trip--with the shanty towns, the speckled cows, the chilled blue water of the community pool, and the street lined with toads that jump frantically out of our path. Let's do our best not to miss too much.