Tag Archives: Difference

Strangers

I’ve always had a strict rule of only friending people on Facebook that I know well. Over the years I allowed exactly two exceptions to that rule:  the new husband of a long-time friend, and a fellow author recommended by a trusted friend. My rule has served me well for years…until now.

Since the election, I’ve been feeling my way on how to respond. I have hope that this greatest country the world has ever known…Reagan’s shining city on a hill…will find areas of common ground and overcome its great divide to move forward on important issues. But I’m also left with very specific concerns. I’m concerned that health care will suddenly be made inaccessible to my teenage daughter, who so desperately needs it, but who is uninsurable given her health history. I’m concerned that long-term, otherwise law-abiding immigrants will be deported, breaking up millions of families against the will of 90% of Americans. I’m concerned that trade protectionism will hurt the U.S. economy and our standing in the world. And I’m concerned that the progress we’ve made toward acceptance of all races and religions and lifestyles will be reversed.

And so I’ve begun connecting with groups who are taking these issues on, banding together to ensure that our government doesn’t believe it has a mandate in these areas. And in so doing, I suddenly have Facebook friends who are strangers. I may never meet them, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t already know them, at least a little.  There’s the mother of 3 small children from Massachusetts who believes fervently in social justice. There’s the Stanford professor who’s fighting to ensure that the science to which she’s dedicated her life continues to have a voice in our government.  And there’s the wife of Obama’s head of the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services, working to protect health care for the most vulnerable Americans. We’ve never met. We have no mutual friends. We have no shared experience. But we share a vision for our country and our families. Because of that, they are not strangers.

“Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.”  –Mahatma Gandhi


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.


Globetrotting


This week I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for awhile. She’s originally from Romania, but has been living in Brazil the last couple of years. We met at orientation on day one of our new jobs; Romania is my favorite travel spot of all time, giving us an early connection that stuck. Her globetrotting life stories are so much more interesting than my Kansas girl background.

I’m beyond grateful to have had the privilege of getting to know many amazing people from all over the world. I can’t fully articulate how, but I know that they’ve changed my perspective, and positively so. I’ve had so many learnings, large and small, that stand out over the years. There’s the young Filipino woman who emigrated to New York at age 13. She told me that she still dreams in Tagalog, though she’d been in America longer than her country of birth. There’s the tall, blonde German friend who married a woman from Singapore and had two beautiful boys who looked stuck between two continents. I remember my shock at a woman from Malaysia sharing that she was reluctant to speak up in English, afraid of saying something wrong. It hadn’t occurred to her until I told her that us single-language, ethnocentric Americans were instead in awe of her ability to speak English, given how radically different it is from her native Chinese. I heard the story of how many cattle and goats were required for the dowry of a Kenyan friend’s wife, as we sat around their family dinner table outside of London. I learned how a dear friend from Brazil became the man of the house at age six, when his father was killed in a freak accident after a tree fell on his car on his way to the bank to purchase their first family home. My friend is the most courageous, fearless person I’ve ever met.

Then there’s the friend who had the privilege of traveling the world for 30 years. Though he retired to Florida from very unexotic Minnesota, his gift for story-telling about his quixotic global adventures had me in tears more than once. I still think he needs to write a book about them.

I’m scheduling coffee to catch up with my Romanian friend, now that she’s back in the States; I’m eager to hear the stories of her adventures in Brazil. And this Kansas girl’s life will be just a little richer for hearing them.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”  –Mark Twain


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


Inclusion


One of the faith questions I’ve struggled with the most is the belief of so many that there is only one true religion. I was born into a Christian family in a Christian country, and so that is my faith. I believe in it strongly, particularly in its messages of love, inclusion, and redemption which resonate with me. But in spite of my own deep belief, I struggle with the notion of Christianity as the only path to God. I have friends of many faiths from all over the world and have adopted two girls from Buddhist China. When Megan was critically ill, prayers for her were sent up to heaven by Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus. I simply cannot accept that the God of Love that I believe in so strongly would doom my friends and billions more to separation from Him, simply because they were born in a non-Christian country…a choice that was His, and not theirs.

However, John 14:6 seems to definitively state that Jesus is the only path to God, that “No one comes to the Father except through me.” That seems pretty clear. Yet I recently read a perspective pointing out that this passage says only that Jesus is the gatekeeper to God. What the passage does not say is what filter Jesus will use to decide who will pass through to God. It’s a critical point. Neither that passage, nor the rest of the chapter, says that Jesus will only pass Christians through. Jesus as gatekeeper to God is probably a strange notion to non-Christians, but to me it reassuringly aligns to a possibility that we’re all worshipping one God after all.

I’ll never understand why human nature inherently creates ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Why must we be right and everyone else wrong? Science has proven that there are no genetic differences between races. I also see no evidence that a different God created my Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist friends…it seems to me that we all come from the same place. The Bible consistently depicts a God of Love; I believe simply that He loves all of His wonderful people from a wide variety of faith backgrounds. Including me, a Christian from America.

“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.”  –Khalil Gibran


Don’t Dissect Roadkill


School starts tomorrow. As always, the girls are ready, having long ago given in to end-of-summer boredom. I’m reminded this time of year of one of the best commercials ever:  a joyful parent skipping down the aisles of an office supply store to the tune of the Christmas song It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, with their sullen child in tow. It’s also got me reflecting on the teachers who left a mark on my life that still echoes today.

My 10th grade biology teacher, Mr. Pitts, didn’t look much older than we were when he began teaching at my small, rural Kansas high school. He was meant to be a teacher…passionate about both science and kids. Somehow, on what had to be a limited budget, he managed to secure frogs, earthworms, pigs, a cat, and even Moray eels for us to dissect. As we prepared for one of them, he told us a story about bringing a dead possum he’d found on the road to dissect at his last school. I’ll spare you the graphic details of what he found when he opened the critter up, but suffice it to say that I learned a memorable lesson that day. Yes, I learned not to dissect roadkill, but the real lesson that day was what it looks like when you love your job. More importantly, Mr. Pitts was the first person in my life to suggest that science and faith don’t have to be in conflict. If made today, his candid response in a public school classroom to a student’s challenge to evolution might get him fired, but I’m grateful for the permission and peace that he first gave me to believe in both. From my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Brothers, I got my first taste of adulthood, as I learned how difficult it would be to live on $200 a week as a meter maid, the job I drew out of a hat for a budgeting exercise. I learned how to turn writing into a process from my freshman English teacher Mrs. Starnes, a skill I could not then imagine would so impact my life for so long after graduation. And I learned how special a teacher can make an awkward pre-teen feel from the Hardesty’s. I’m still in awe of how they could be so gruff and yet be so beloved by so many of their students. Though they never had children of their own, they touched the lives of thousands of children in 40 years of teaching, many of them deeply.

Teachers have a unique ability to impact the lives of others; that’s why the good ones choose to do it. But we don’t have to teach to make a difference. A hospital visit, a well-timed card to a friend going through a difficult time, even a cheery ‘hello’ and a smiling ‘thank you’ to the store checkout clerk have the power to change someone’s day. In honor of all the great teachers out there, this week I’m going to especially focus on paying forward the impact mine had on me. Watch out for kids on the street, and may all the students and teachers have a blessed school year.

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  –Henry Adams


Who I Was Meant To Be

“Who I was meant to be” popped up in two separate songs recently on my favorite contemporary Christian station. The phrase grabbed hold of me and has yet to let go. It represents hope:  hope that I’m not forever destined to remain the wounded, stunted human being that I began as.

If I’m honest, I didn’t start out trying to become a better person. While I don’t feel like I was ever really bad, I cringe when remembering some of the things I’ve done, some of them not that long ago. I’m not totally sure how my journey of improvement started. A brush with mortality in my late 30’s was a catalyst, though that wasn’t all of it. Much of it, I think, was just getting experience under my belt:  I eventually realized, through thousands of interactions with hundreds of people over a couple of decades, that people are a desert, and in the desert you don’t need much water to make an impact. It’s not only more rewarding to make people feel good, it’s addictive. It became circular:  the better I behaved, the better I wanted to behave. It wasn’t intentional, but I was changing from the inside out. I now wish I could go back and do so many things over again, but that’s never an option, is it? All we can ever do is learn and go forward from here.

I suppose that’s one of the most comforting aspects of Christianity…that no matter my unique flaws, no matter my regrets, no matter how shriveled my heart started out…as long as I allow the water of love to help me bloom, I am welcomed as a beloved child returning home. I am grateful for that mercy, for I have needed every minute of my life until now to earn my meager, hard-won progress. I am still very far from who I was meant to be, but I am closer today than I was before. And I won’t give up. I like who I was meant to be, much better than who I was.

“He said ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.'”  –The Velveteen Rabbit