Category Archives: Change

Not OK

Something’s changing in our country, and I’m dismayed. Over the last year or so, we’re losing the expectation that we will demonstrate basic respect for each other in public discourse. No group is completely clean on this, and there’s a reason that politics has long been called “dirty”. But we’re seeing a steep slide that needs arrested. A friend once told me that “words matter”…he was right.

If you don’t believe words matter, ask a child who’s just been bullied. If you don’t think words matter, ask someone who’s fighting depression. If you’re unsure if words matter, study Nazi history and see how a nation was manipulated to ignore (and even commit) atrocities against their fellow citizens.

America has always been a beacon of hope and optimism for the world, Reagan’s “shining city on a hill”. But we are rapidly turning into a mean and nasty place, where insults take the place of meaningful debate on how to make our great country even better, for all of its people. We, the people, must halt this decline. We must demand better from our public figures. We can do better…we deserve better…we are better than this.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  –Martin Luther King, Jr.


Fear


A leader whom I admire said this week that we need to drive out fear, versus using it as a tool for power. We were lamenting that this has been an election of fear. I told him part of my truth, but not all of it.

I told him that my brother-in-law is terrified that his Mexican wife of 20 years, the mother of their two daughters, will be deported. I told him that my gay friends are afraid their marriages will be dissolved. I told him that a sweet, young Vietnamese friend was disturbed by a horrible racist incident on her campus in Minnesota. I shared how troubled I was at the stories of harassment of blacks and Muslim women wearing hijabs, and of Hispanic children bullied at their schools with taunts of being deported and building the wall. And this is the experience of a privileged white woman since the election. But I didn’t tell him the rest.

I didn’t tell him that I’ve lost sleep over these last couple of weeks for fear of slowly losing our civil rights and democracy to an autocrat who trades in fear. I didn’t tell him how I’ve struggled to understand how so many could overlook such overt sexism, racism, and bullying for a single issue or for politics. I couldn’t admit that I’ve been unable to watch the news or open a newspaper since the election, as it’s too depressing to think about a racist overseeing the country’s law enforcement, or an isolationist as national security adviser, or a white supremacist whispering in the ear of the man in the most powerful job in the world. I’m having trouble coping with news stories about ripping families apart through the immediate deportation of 2-3 million citizens, or how there’s “historical precedence” for a Muslim registry or even internment camps. My world changed overnight, and I’ve struggled to cope with it all. My struggle is embarrassing and shocking at the same time:  after all, I’m a 50-year old strong and successful woman. How can this have impacted me so?

But I’m my mother’s daughter, and I knew that I would eventually pick myself up. The shock and fear are starting to wear off, being replaced by determination. I’ve started taking action, and that is lessening my fear. I will fight to keep the gains women have made over these last 50 years, for myself yes, but especially for my teenage daughters. I will be vocal in support of the right to basic dignity and protection that my LGBT family and friends deserve. And, as scared as I am of the thought, if necessary I would face water cannons and prison to ensure that the freedoms of religion and speech remain bedrocks of American democracy.

My favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:38-39, and it reminds me that neither principalities nor powers can separate us from the love of God. And in Philippians 1:30, Paul invites us to join him in the battle. In my immediate reaction, I nearly forgot Who always has been and will be in complete control. But He has always needed arms and legs. I offer mine. I am not afraid.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.


Fog


I find the older I get, the better I seem to see. I’m not talking about my eyesight…I finally had to get bifocals last year. What I’m talking about is real vision:  how I see the world, and what I believe that I understand about it.

I don’t remotely have it all figured out; I still feel like I’m picking my way through life in a dense fog. But each year the fog lifts a little, and I feel like I see a little more clearly. And those things that I can now see better may seem obvious to many, but they’ve been hard-won lessons for me:

• Nothing is more important than my relationship with others, except my relationship with God.

• Most people are good.

• Dogs are love.

• Exercise and brush your teeth religiously.

• Material things mean nothing except for the memories that some of them help us hold onto.

• Grow a garden.

• Eat at home.

• Prayers are answered.

• Miracles happen.

• I’m worthy of love.

What do you now see more clearly?

“Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God.”  –Abraham Joshua Heschel


Trophies


They played The Old Rugged Cross at my grandfather’s funeral; my mother had remembered him asking for it some years before. I’d always liked the song, one of the routine invitationals from the Baptist church of my youth. For the rest of my life, I will think of him wistfully when I hear it. Before we drove out to the country cemetery following the funeral, the Mennonite minister gathered our small family in a circle and prayed. He repeated the song’s refrain, drawing from it that we were the final trophies that grandpa had laid down. I’ll never forget the lightning bolt power of that simple analogy.

I’ve begun slowly laying down my own trophies. In a few years, we’ll be empty nesters…I intend to be ready. I’ve already weeded down the holiday decorations to only what we use every year. Twenty years of Disney VHS tapes have gone to Goodwill. I recently went through the only trunk of the four in our house which wasn’t empty. Jammed with papers and keepsakes, the minimum age of every item in there was 30, with an average closer to 50. I got rid of two large trash bags of cards and newspaper articles and momentos, but it still seemed full when I was done. I can’t yet bring myself to part with the doll my late aunt brought me from her trip to Russia, or the glass bells my late mother-in-law gave me when we were first married. I found the shoe box, which must be older than I am, containing the old plastic toys I played with at my great-grandfather’s house as a small girl. It is my only memory of him; he died when I was four. I got rid of the broken cow and small doll that were in the box, but I kept the handful of cowboys and Indians…they went back in their ancient shoe box in the trunk. When our son was here last month, we went through the last few boxes of his old things. That was hard:  it’s one thing when it’s a distant family member that you barely remember vs. your baby. It killed me to get rid of the memories he didn’t care to keep, but I knew it’s pointless to try to hold onto the past. I did quietly tuck away in my closet a few of the castoffs–a plastic bag of GI Joe accessories; a Hot Wheels carrying case, full; and a tiny pair of cowboy boots. Those memories now smile down at me from a shelf when I get dressed in the morning. Still, I know that one day I will part with them, too…I’ve only postponed the inevitable.

As I slowly draw closer to the end of my life, I will eventually part with my grandmother’s china, which a couple of times a year I go through the effort of washing by hand both before and after using to enjoy yet one more family dinner on. I’ll eventually give away the glass rocks in my yard which grandma got on a trip to Pilcher, Oklahoma with her retired sisters. Those eight siblings stayed close their entire lives, and the rocks make me smile not just because they’re pretty, but because they remind me of them laughing together at all of those family reunions. I will eventually, one by one, part with the treasures in every room of my house which are meaningful to me. As I do, it will be ok, because it will mean that I’m about to be reunited with those who gave them their meaning.

“Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.”  –Bob Dylan


Register


Many Americans range from dismayed to disgusted to depressed by this year’s presidential election…I’m one of them. It’s easy to be discouraged and want to abstain from the process altogether from fatigue or in protest. But the circus this has become makes it critical to fight the urge to stay home with a glass (or bottle) of wine and feel sorry for us all.

Half the country is angry at the status quo and wants change. The other half is angry that a candidate who routinely makes racist and sexist comments is this close to leading our nation. We’re more polarized than ever. But I’ve always ascribed to the notion that if you don’t vote, you don’t have much right to criticize after the fact. Exactly because we’re so polarized, it’s even more important this year to vote. No matter what happens on November 8th, half of us will still be angry. But November 9th will come, and then the 10th, and we will have to move forward.

America has always been a country of vigorous debate, as designed by our constitutional division of powers and right of free speech. We debate, we argue, we even get angry, but when the chips are down or there’s a threat to our nation, for brief moments of time, we come together as one America. That’s my hope for November 9th and beyond…that when this whole, ugly election is behind us, that we’ll remember that we are all still Americans.

Our best hope for that is ensuring that every single one of us who is eligible to vote…does. We need to know on the morning after that every voice was heard. We need to know that the result–whether we’re happy about it or not–is a defiant declaration that our democracy still works, if far from perfectly. Please register to vote and play your part in pushing our democracy forward. The deadline for voter registration in Arkansas is October 10; in Kansas and Minnesota, it’s the 18th. Info and deadlines for other states are available on rockthevote.com. Most states let you register and even vote by mail, so there’s little excuse. Then please don’t stop there–the country will need us all to come together and to agitate and to hold our elected officials accountable afterward. After all, that’s who we are:  we’re Americans.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”  –John F. Kennedy


The Farm


A train whistle is a time machine for me.  My father’s parents lived on a farm when I was young, before retiring to a small mountain community in the Colorado Rockies when I was ten.  We drove the hour to the farm once a month to spend the weekend.  A city girl, I loved that farm, with endless adventures to be had.

The old, two-story farmhouse was quaint, with quirky corners and two porches to explore.  We pretended the tiny, empty milk house was a playhouse, when we could overcome our fear of spiders.  I picked at the old oak upright piano, unaware that 25 years later my grandparents would haul it 500 miles to my house in grandpa’s horse trailer.  Grandpa always kept at least two horses at a time over the years:  Penny and Lady and the two white horses, Dixie and her daughter Cookie (my favorite).  I loved riding the horses, though I paid for it with my allergies.  But the piece de resistance was the barn.  Big and red and full of hay for the horses, it was a dream-come-true playground for a city kid, with its nooks and crannies and hay loft to jump out of.  The pony sleigh, the pond, the creepy dirt cellar, and the occasional goats and geese meant that it was impossible to be bored at the farm.

Back to the train whistle.  Just across the dirt road leading to the farm driveway was a railroad crossing.  The train came by at least twice a day, but I was too young to bother learning a train schedule.  Our cousins taught us to be naughty and place a nickel on the train track.  Later, after the train had come by, we’d try to find our flattened nickel.  Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t.  But at night, tucked into one of the two upstairs bedrooms with our cousins, we heard the train whistle in the distance as we fell asleep.  It was a foreign, yet comforting sound.  I’d lay awake wondering if I’d be able to find my nickel in the morning.  To this day, the sound of a train whistle takes me back to the dark quiet in a modest Kansas farmhouse.

I drove by the farm a few years ago after grandma’s funeral.  She was laid to rest with grandpa a few miles away, in a country cemetery where you can watch the wheat grow, and the only sound is the wind.  Both the farmhouse and the barn were smaller than I remembered them from 40 years ago, and the current owners had painted that poor barn the same white as the farmhouse.  But the rest was just as I remembered it.  I was tempted to get out at the train tracks and look for nickels, but we were tired from the long day.  Instead, I contented myself with driving slowly by the old place one last time.  And in the distance, I heard the faint whistle of a train.

“What is a farm but a mute gospel?”  Ralph Waldo Emerson


Breathtaking


It felt like all of the oxygen had been sucked out of the interior of my car when I got into it one day after work this week.  I actually struggled for breath for a couple of minutes until the A/C kicked in (I realized later that I could have simply rolled down the windows for a few minutes).  The effect reminded me of a similar but opposite experience when we lived in Minnesota.  The long walk in January to the parking garage at work was also a suck-the-breath-out-of-you experience.  By the end of the seven winters we lived there, I could instantly tell you the temperature within five degrees, depending on whether it hurt to breathe or the moisture in my nose instantly froze.  It’s a skill I never want to need again.  

Ironically, I hated the first day of summer in Minnesota, as that’s when the days started getting shorter…it was a tangible reminder of what was to come.  I no longer hate the first day of summer or any other day.  We’re back to four seasons from barely more than two, and I don’t mind any of them.  They each have their merits:  spring’s reawakening of life; summer’s outdoor memories and garden goodies; fall’s melancholy beauty; even winter’s chill is necessary to set a proper holiday mood.  I have the strange feeling that God has given us the rhythm of the seasons for more than just their natural outcome of the Earth’s orbit and tilt.  Something about a cycle of growth and rest seems to have a lesson in it.  Heaven knows the parallel to our own life cycle is uncanny.  But I enjoy the change and blessings the seasons bring, even without their deeper meaning.  Even when the heat takes my breath away–it’s a reassuring reminder that things always plow on.

“When the seasons shift, even the subtle beginning, the scent of a promised change, I feel something stir inside of me.  Hopefulness?  Gratitude?  Openness?  Whatever it is, it’s welcome.”  –Kristin Armstrong