So What Now?

I won’t lie and say this will be my one and only post about the election. If you’re my friend on Facebook then you probably just laughed at that first sentence. If you’re my friend in real life then you definitely fell off your seat in hysterics. I’m not interested in debating politics, the electoral college, candidates, or platforms. I’m not interested in who you voted for and I’m not going to announce who I voted for. That part is over. What I’m talking about, what is causing my heart to ache, what is flying around my head faster than my hands can type is the aftermath. What happens now.

Tuesday night a large portion of our country sat in disbelief, shock. Wednesday night a large portion of our country fumed in anger. And now on Thursday, I see an enormous portion of our country even more divided than they were on Monday. Relationships that made it all the way through the particularly vicious election cycle are crumbling. Respectable people resorting to name-calling. Hurting people being dismissed, innocent people being accused and attacked. The numbers don’t lie: our country is deeply divided. The arguments, words, fights, even violence that have erupted in the wake of our election are a more painful illustration of it.

But what few are realizing in their zeal to defend their vote is that either way we would be having these arguments. No matter which candidate won, our country was not going to be healed by the declaration of one person’s name.

Racism has been alive in our country for centuries. Sexism has been a problem always. In my white suburban bubble I was able to believe that racism really wasn’t around anymore, but after 8 years with a black president, countless terrorist attacks, and to be honest, a lifetime of living in a border state, I’ve had to admit something ugly: racism is very much alive. As a woman, well, I’ll tell you that I never doubted gender inequality and misogyny.

Racism and sexism do not happen overnight. Ableism does not happen overnight. Phobias and hatred are not formed overnight. And they are not cured overnight. No matter whose name was announced as our next president, these things were not going to disappear. One leader does not make those kinds of changes. WE DO.

We the people, we speak up. We the people, we defend. We the people, we make change. If we are willing to defend our vote then we must be willing to defend each other. We have to use the same determination we had walking into the polling booth to walk up to a bully and say “no more”. We have to have the same fire within us in person as we do on social media. It’s a huge responsibility, change. These cancers did not pop up because of a candidate and a president will not be the one on the ground to treat them. It’s up to us, regardless of who we voted for, of who we have in charge, the responsibility has not changed: we have to make this country better. Our job would be no different today with a different president. Our job today is the same as it was Monday, as it was in 2012, 2008, 1980, and before. A different president-elect would not lessen our burden to effect change around us.

So I beg of you, friends, accept your responsibility. My conservative friends, people are genuinely afraid, genuinely hurting, and just because you don’t understand or agree with it doesn’t make it any less real. My liberal friends, all hope is not lost and the country is not as hateful as you fear – someone’s vote is not all there is to them and is rarely about what you may think. My white friends, we have the opportunity every day to listen, extend a bridge, and stand up for those who don’t look like us. My friends of color, I can never pretend to imagine how you’re feeling, but I can tell you that you have allies and support, more than you may feel you have right now.

This is not intended to bash or endorse either candidate. This is my first election cycle I’ve experienced without having loyalty a political party, and it’s been awkward to say the least. I’ve mourned, grieved for our country, for months, as someone in between all the screams and ideas and anger and pain I have no answer but love. With feet in all political camps I can tell you that there is no one answer, there is no one candidate who would leave everyone pleased, there is no one person who will unite us. Fiscal policy, foreign policy, education policy, healthcare policy, guns, abortion, marijuana, religion, race, gender, rights…. we will never all agree on all of these issues, but we are all capable of love. We can listen with love rather than listen with comebacks. We can attempt empathy. We can quiet ourselves long enough to hear the other. We can not allow ourselves to stereotype or generalize or name-call. We can approach one another with love and correct to teach, not to win. We can make change happen.

Our job remains the same, regardless of the winner, regardless of our skin color, regardless of our religion, socioeconomic status, gender, or political beliefs. Our job is to rid our country of hatred. It has always been our job, and hopefully someday we’ll work ourselves out of it. Hopefully we’ll be so good at our jobs that our kids won’t have to inherit them. Let’s stop putting our blame and our hopes into a candidate and accept our own responsibility to make this a better place. Sexism was not going to disappear if a woman were chosen as our president. Racism did not disappear when a black man was chosen as our president. Ableism is only JUST becoming recognized. There’s a quote that is sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “The US Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.”  We the people have a lot of work to do, and the sooner we stop fighting with each other, the sooner we can get started.

 

 

Part One: I Am the Mom of “That Kid”

I see them.

The looks you toss my way. How your eyes narrow and your eyebrows shoot up. I’ve felt the room quiet and tense when I walk in with my son. I’ve noticed how the class pictures, special projects, birthday parties and candid shots you share don’t include him. I feel your judgements, your distaste, your impatience, your discomfort, your dislike. Sometimes, if I’m really unlucky that day, I catch your words, hear your thoughts, get wind of your opinions.

And so does my son.

My child, who doesn’t act like yours, he hears you. He feels your stares, feels the isolation of being left out of the pictures, the projects, the parties. He sits alone and is not oblivious to it. Because my kid, “that kid”, he’s still a kid.

He has a birthday. He has a favorite stuffed animal. He laughs at tv shows, has bad dreams, scrapes his knees, and doesn’t always want to eat his vegetables. He plays, he reads, he draws. He has Legos, he uses his sleeve like a napkin, he has dreams for when he’s a grown up and fears for right now as a kid.

Because he’s still just a kid.

That child, the person you resent, dislike, the boy you make assumptions about, the one you give up on before trying, he’s a kid. The boy who needs help, he’s a kid. The child who has trouble making or keeping friends, he’s a kid. The boy who so obviously doesn’t mesh with whatever environment you’re judging him in, he’s just a kid. Yet somehow it’s been decided that he’s “that kid”, the one who gets in trouble, the one who causes trouble, the one who just can’t seem to act like the other kids around him. You’ve allowed his obvious struggle to be the one trait that defines him. Kids do well when they can, and for whatever reason – or for many reasons – he can’t do well, not at what you’re asking of him. So really, when you roll your eyes, when you shun him away from your kid, when you refer to him as “that kid”, what you really mean is he’s not your kid. And you’re right, he’s not.

He doesn’t act like your kid. He doesn’t have the benefit of your doubt like your kid. He doesn’t get included like your kid. He doesn’t get your advocacy like your kid. And the best part of all of it is that he isn’t your kid. He’s mine. He’s unique to us, our family, our dynamic. His struggles aren’t your job, but neither is his assessment. He is mine, my snuggly boy, my loving boy, my creative and hilarious little guy who has so much more to offer than just his classroom behavior. There isn’t a child in any classroom shared with yours who doesn’t have at least one parent aware of their child’s behavior. Your opinion isn’t needed in the raising of any of them.

Yet still you stand, a little straighter when you see him, in judgement. Casting your thoughts down upon a child. Narrowing your eyes to create a tunnel vision that only allows you to see what he struggles most with, allows you to place sanctimonious blinders on and miss the great things about him in your peripheral. You feel indignation towards him, as though “that kid” is a wrong that needs to be righted. The superiority  you feel in having identified “that kid” fills you with comfort and relief that it isn’t your kid. So you avoid him, judge him, make assumptions about myself and our home. You expect the worst and are irritated when you’re proven right. Because my boy can’t act like your kid. He isn’t like the other kids. He does struggle, daily… with issues you haven’t even bothered to consider. Maybe the kid who won’t talk to you has a speech delay. Maybe the girl who flinches away from you has a sensory processing disorder. Maybe the boy who ignites in anger has a legitimate emotional disorder. Maybe the girl who won’t stop talking at inappropriate times is just looking for someone to listen because no one at home does. Maybe the bully is being abused. Maybe the kid who brought the wrong snack didn’t have anyone at home to help him. Maybe the grumpy guy in the corner didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe the clingy kid on every field trip isn’t handling her parents’ divorce. Maybe the boy who asks for everyone else’s leftovers is eating the only meal he’ll get that day. Maybe the sweet little boy who sits away from everyone has a mind that far exceeds his abilities to control. Maybe their behavior is telling us something, not backing up your opinion. Maybe “that kid” is “that hurting kid”, “that hungry kid”, “that lonely kid”, “that kid in therapy who is really trying”.

Because they know they’re different, these kids. They know they’re left out, avoided, whispered about and looked down upon. And for every empty seat next to them, it reinforces their immature belief that something is wrong with them. Kids have a very narrow understanding of the world, of themselves. Much of what they think about themselves they’ve built buy comparison to others, so when others – especially adults – shun them, roll their eyes at them, or even speak harsh words, they don’t have the capacity to consider whether it’s true or not. They see they don’t act like others, they see the activities going on without them, and by comparison now believe that something is wrong with them – not the society that would avoid or blame a struggling child for being different.

“That kid” stays “that kid” because you keep treating him like “that kid”.

Imagine if we stopped resenting “that kid” and started remembering they’re JUST a kid.  Imagine if we stopped searching for ways to be RIGHT about them and started looking for ways to be KIND to them. They’re different from your kid, and that’s okay. They’re not fitting into the mold, and that’s okay. They’re most certainly lonely, and that’s not okay. Kids are not the people to shun or judge, and what does it say about us as adults if we’re holding so tightly on to wanting to?

Again, kids do well when they can. So let’s stop putting up social roadblocks that make it even harder for them to do well. I’m not expecting invitations for play dates, but a smile instead of a scowl wouldn’t kill ya. My struggling apple won’t spoil your whole bunch.

Common Criticisms of the Church: What Many Say (and What Few Know)

I have started and stopped writing this post several times. I had to make sure each time that I was writing it out of a desire to educate and not to be passive aggressive. I am human, after all. But know that this post is not directed towards anyone specific, only intended to address some common criticisms – and memes – that I’ve seen.

In 5th grade I began attending a church for the first time with any regularity. I quickly formed a deep bond with the pastor’s daughter and we remained best friends for years. There were months at a time where I actually even lived with them, my best friend’s family, the pastor of our church. When I met the (super hot) man who would become my husband, I was 16 and he had recently become the children’s pastor at our church. We married when I was 19 and he was on staff full-time at a very large church. Now, almost 12 years of marriage later, we are still in full-time ministry. It’s all we’ve known as a couple, it’s all our kids have known as a family. My experience with ministry spans decades and denominations, positions and places. I’ve both witnessed it and lived it for the majority of my life. I also live in this modern society. I see the posts, the memes, the comments, the assumptions. I hear the complaints and the criticisms. I listen, I do. I don’t dismiss them as the ramblings of godless pagans (sarcasm font). As someone who passionately loves Jesus, it does me no good to write off an entire generation of people simply for having different beliefs than I do. But also as someone who loves Jesus, it does me no good if I don’t try to present the truth about what seems to bring up such strong negative feelings in so many people – the church. I don’t want to argue. I don’t want to taunt. And I certainly don’t want to use this platform as a chance to passive aggressively discuss how hard ministry is – I’ll openly tell anyone that, haha! I just want to take this opportunity to do my part to dispel some rumors and myths about churches and pastors, to the best of my ability. I obviously don’t speak for all churches or pastors, and there will of course be some who don’t adhere to the same beliefs or practices. There will also always be some bad apples in a bunch, regardless of profession or location. So I ask that you read this with an open mind and an open heart, willing to hear some truth about an institution you may have been hurt by or misinformed about. My intent is never to attack anyone, only to help.

Common Criticism: “Pastors don’t pay taxes.”

We totally do. I’ve seen the meme making the rounds for years now, images of Joel Osteen’s or T.D. Jakes’ or Ed Young’s enormous homes, pointing out the assumed hypocrisy of their wealth and not paying any portions of it to the government like everyone else has to. And while I understand how many, many people would be turned off by those pictures, I guarantee you they paid taxes on whatever they earned to buy those homes. Pastors are considered self-employed for tax purposes and have to put aside their own taxes throughout the year, they aren’t automatically removed from paychecks. We’ve written our share of checks to Uncle Sam in April, believe me, pastors pay taxes. CHURCHES do not. Churches are nonprofit organizations – they literally do not turn a profit. Every cent that is given to a church is processed right back out of it, like the ACLU, Doctors Without Borders, NPR, American Red Cross, ASPCA, St. Jude’s, Make A Wish, Ted Talks, Ronald McDonald House, Planned Parenthood, PBS, the Mayo Foundation, AARP, American Heart Association, the Humane Society, Susan G. Komen, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Habitat for Humanity, American Cancer Society, Amnesty International, and countless others. These foundations and organizations work on behalf of others using donations to operate, the same as a church. Employees of these organizations all receive a salary, but their salaries are set and are not impacted by the amount of donations received… unless the donations stop coming in. Just like a church. Simply to add more clarity and definitely not to defend, Joel Osteen does not receive a salary from the church he pastors. He, like T.D. Jakes and Ed Young, writes books. Books that sell millions of copies and generate a lot of taxable income. To summarize, pastors pay taxes, all nonprofit organizations do not.

Common Criticism: “Pastors are preying on people, always asking for money.”

They do ask for money, in the form of tithes and offerings. As a nonprofit, a church cannot operate unless money is donated. Electric bills that ensure lights and air conditioning, phone service that allows people to call the church office, employees to answer the phones, clean the church, mow the grass, and, you know, minister. In addition to just the common operating expenses, churches GIVE. They pay bills for those who come to them in need, they support missionaries around the world, buy school supplies for single moms, foot the bill for enormous outreaches, food ministries, homeless ministries… the amount of people a church can bless is only limited by the funds they receive. Aside from the Biblical call to tithe, if a church member wants to experience church, they must acknowledge that it costs to run that church. If they want to see that church do more, someone has to give more. In our denomination – and I know not all operate this way – churches are autonomous. Our church does not receive funds from a central office or district manager. What our church brings in is what our church operates on. Many,  many churches are not supported by higher-up offices and do not have free reign or blank checks when it comes to spending, so if a church is going to pay a bill, it has to have the money in its own account.

Common Criticism: “Churches don’t do enough. They should spend all their money on the poor instead of giant buildings.”

It’s a proven fact – the bigger the church, the bigger the reach. A church that seats 5,000 can do more than a church that seats 30. Neither is better than the other, neither is more holy. But when a church is more visible, it reaches more people. When a church has more tithing members, it has more funds to give, to send, to share. When a church can hold more, there are more opportunities for people to find someone to connect with. When a church has a large operating budget, it can afford programs and ministries during the week. You don’t have to like them, you don’t have to attend them, but mega churches are not inherently, automatically evil. A room full of thousands of worshipers is a mighty thing for a community, not a symbol of greed. It’s crass, but the bigger the church, the more money it brings in, the more it can do. Jesus preached to thousands and it didn’t make him a sellout any more than preaching to one woman in the dirt made him ineffective. Christian crowds come in all sizes and shapes and numbers, and their reach is greatly increased when those sizes grow. The less a church receives in tithes and offerings, the less it is able to do. Electricity is not free. Food to hand out to the homeless is not free. Childcare for single mothers is not free. This is one of the most frequent criticisms I see of the church, a list of things people think the church should do, and every single time it is in the same breath as a complaint about pastors asking for money. EVERY. TIME. Divorce ministries cost money. Bibles cost money. After school programs cost money. Blankets, hot chocolate, gift baskets, anything kind you could think to hand out to someone – they all cost money. Counselors on staff cost money. Events cost money. Easter eggs full of candy cost money. Even filling up a baptismal costs money. Churches have to have money to be able to provide the things and services so many think they should, the things and services the Bible says they should.

Common Criticism: “Pastor didn’t come to my _(insert private event here)_.”

This is one of the biggest reasons people leave a church – offense at the pastor. I even know a few friends who are vocal atheists who have said the turning point in their faith was something a pastor did. It’s a big deal when people are hurt by their shepherd, and I’m in no way excusing or condoning the actions of some very flawed people. But I will address this frequent complaint, if you’ll allow me.

I’m just going to say it – attending graduation/anniversary/birthday/lawn clipping parties is not biblical. The Bible has some very clear guidelines for those in ministry, and modern society has added on a very long list of expectations. It is impossible, truly impossible, to meet them all, to attend everything, to keep everyone happy. In addition to the wants of the congregation come the needs of a family. The Bible makes multiple mentions of pastors caring for their families, this isn’t selfishness. I can tell tales of 7am Saturday phone calls demanding my husband attend someone’s game, of graduation seasons when I don’t see my husband for weeks. There is always, always something to do, which means that pastors can’t always, always attend. They are very busy people attending to the long list of responsibilities and expectations laid before them, and sometimes items just have to drop off the list. Not because they don’t care, not because you’re not special, but because they just can’t do it. So I ask you, when you’re offended or upset that a pastor hasn’t done something or made an appearance somewhere, ask yourself if your offense is biblical or personal. It’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but it’s a lot easier than holding onto bitterness and offense.

 

Common Criticism: “Pastors don’t do enough. They just read the Bible and play golf.”

……………………

I had to take a break to compose myself, I was just laughing way too hard to type! Okay, I’m back.

One of the main questions my husband gets from young people is, “What do you DO, like, for a job?” They all assume that he works somewhere in an office, 9-5, and is able to toss together a service in his spare time. In truth, I don’t know of a single day he’s worked 9-5. Pastors are really freaking busy. When I lived with my best friend so many years ago, I was so surprised at the number of messages on the answering machine any time we got back from an errand. People calling at all hours for prayer, for help with a bill, hoping for a visit in the hospital, wanting to tattle on and complain about another church member. Two of my husband’s favorite hobbies are golf and fishing, neither of which he’s been able to do in a few years. Budgeting, board meetings, counseling, hospital visits, staff meetings, sermon prep, video prep, service outlines, more hospital visits, meetings with church members, taking phone calls, meeting people at whatever utility office they have an unpaid bill at, mission trips, outreaches, camps, event planning, volunteer recruitment, volunteer follow up, begging volunteers not to quit, visitor follow up, praying, not to mention the pastors who are responsible for cleaning the church, mowing the lawn, and doing the work in the community no one sees – there is not enough time in a week to be a pastor. If ever you’ve driven past the church and not seen my husband’s car, it’s not because he wasn’t working, it’s because he was out taking the church somewhere it was needed. We get phone calls, texts, and emails on “days off”, on our trip to Disney World several years back, and even during family members’ funerals. The work of pastoring is never complete and rarely seen. Recently my family left a church event we were enjoying because a man no one had ever met came through the doors in need of money for a prescription. We all loaded up and followed him to the pharmacy and paid for his medications… only to drive past his car in the parking lot of a restaurant a few minutes later. Pastors are always doing. During the first few months of school my husband is so busy that our kids can go days without seeing him – despite the church only being 10 minutes away from our house. The number one fight among all of the married couples I know who are in ministry, by far, is fighting over how much the pastor is gone. Pastoring. It’s a never-ending job, shepherding the flock, and the sheep rarely realize that the pastor is not with them simply because he’s with someone else. Definitely not because he’s on the golf course.

 

Common Criticism: “Pastors only hang out with an elite group. If you’re not one of the chosen few, your pastor doesn’t care about you.”

This has a smidgen of truth to it. Not that anyone is elite, not that pastors don’t care, but that pastors are a little hesitant. First, there’s the time issue – pastors have very little, if any, free time. Nights out with friends don’t happen. Going to the movies doesn’t happen. Guys’ camping trips don’t happen. There really isn’t much time to hang out with ANYONE, so they often fall back to the friends who have proven to be understanding of their schedules over time. There is also a fear of being a status symbol. A lot of people want proximity to a pastor, not a relationship with them. The same for their spouses and children. The number of people who have declared devotion to helping my husband, who have proclaimed a dedication to praying for him and being his “armor bearer”, outnumbers the actual number of people in our lives… by probably 20 to 1. It’s just a fact that not everyone stays in a church, and it’s a fact that people hold pastors to an often-impossible standard. Add in the fact that people are imperfect, and you have a lot of hurt pastors who are lonely and afraid to let new people into their private lives. The statistics on pastors struggling with depression and loneliness are staggering. The numbers on pastoral burnout are worse – the overwhelming majority of people who enter into full time ministry will walk away from it, for good. Pastors have their own struggles and are often unable to share them with friends for any number of reasons – fear of judgement, fear of their confidence being betrayed, fear of being used to boost someone’s social standing. No one in church is elite. There’s not a list of the members who give the most money, and tithing doesn’t buy an audience with anyone. It IS hard for pastors to find friends among the congregation, but usually because they’ve been hurt before, not because you’re not rich/cool/young/old/involved enough.

Common Criticism: “My pastor didn’t….”

I once met a woman who left her church because her pastor didn’t approach her son with whom she was feuding. The pastor had no idea the argument was ongoing, the son didn’t attend the church so the pastor didn’t know him, and the woman never asked him to intervene. While pastors do hear from God, they can’t read YOUR mind. If you need something from a pastor, let them know before you criticize them for not providing it. Pastors have jobs, families, commitments, all the things anyone else is juggling, IN ADDITION to being needed everywhere all the time. If your hope and expectations are always in your pastor, you will always leave disappointed. The goal of a pastor is to introduce you to Jesus, not himself. Jesus is way more available whenever you need Him, too.

Common Criticism: “Pastors make so much money.”

……………………………………..

Okay, okay, stop! I can’t catch my breath with these jokes you’re making! Whew, that was a knee-slapper if I’ve ever heard one!

Yes, some pastors make a crapload of money. Yes, some pastors live well. But most live very, very modestly. An enormous number of pastors are even bi-vocational – they work a paying job in addition to the low-paying or volunteer position of pastor. Most denominations do  not offer parsonages – I’ve only ever met one pastor who lived in one. Our housing is not free, our bills are not free. There have been many times where we’ve had to collect groceries from the church’s food ministry or food bank. We rarely get Christmas bonuses. My kids qualify for free lunch at school. All of our bills are due the same time as anyone else’s, we definitely pay taxes, we experience the same raise in the cost of living, yet many pastoral salaries have actually DECREASED over the years. Because of the nature of his work and the hours involved in always being on call, my husband cannot get a second job, and he does not earn overtime pay. I read a hilarious satirical article I’ll link here, and it will tell you everything you need to know about the attitude often held towards pastors and money. Without going into too much more detail, we really, truly, do not get paid a lot. Our salary is set by the board and does not fluctuate with attendance – though a downward trend in giving and membership will absolutely lead to a pay cut, simply because the money isn’t there to pay the staff. No one goes into ministry for the money.

Common Criticism: “Churches are all full of hypocrites.”

Yeah, actually. We’re all imperfect, flawed, sinning people. We’re all doing our best. We’re all at some point in our spiritual journey – none of us are done. We’re all going to do the wrong thing sometimes, we’re all going to offend someone, we’re all going to stumble, fall, mess up, and look like the worst Christians alive. There is no such thing as a perfect Christian. So if you enter a church, be prepared to meet some seriously imperfect people. Me, especially.

Common Criticism: “My pastor’s wife….”

I’ll stop you right there. Homegirl is holding down the fort. She cannot be Your Pastor 2.0. Pastors have families, illnesses, bills, homes, tragedies, struggles, yards, laundry… they’re normal people. Just as the pastor can’t always be at everything, neither can his wife. Just as he will disappoint you sometimes, so will his wife. Just as he can’t always hang out with you, neither can his wife. They’re a team, no doubt. What he does couldn’t be accomplished without the help and support she offers at home. So again, examine your offense before you declare yourself to be wronged and ask if you had the same schedule and circumstances as she did, would you have been able to do what you expected of her?

 

Common Criticism: “This blog is too long!”

I agree. I’ve gone on way longer than I intended to (you thought pastors were the only ones to never stop talking?!), so I’ll leave you with this: Pastors are people. They struggle. Churches are trying. They’re made up of imperfect people. They do not erect walls with the intention to deceive or exclude anyone. Money is personal for a lot of people so I understand the reservations that come with writing checks. But please, what ever your criticism, what ever your questions, just ask. Pastors don’t go into ministry for the money, they go into it because they love and care about people. They want to help you. But because they are people, they can only give you what they have, in the form of time, money, or abilities. Please, ask. And if you’re a member of a church somewhere, remember that Pastor Appreciation Month is all of October. Wink wink. Your pastors could really use the boost… and a volunteer. 😉

 

 

 

Sometimes It Just Storms

Years ago, my husband started a new job. It was in a new city with much better schools and a too-long commute that cost us almost as much in gas as we were paying for our mortgage, so we made the obvious decision to move. We listed our home and prayed for the best.  Then the real estate bubble burst.

We landscaped our home. We painted our home. People came, walked through, and left. We updated fixtures. We steam cleaned the carpets. Still no one wanted our home. We welcomed our second child and brought him home to a bare nursery, convinced we’d be moving soon. We lowered the price. We switched realtors. We tried Craigslist. We lived among boxes with no decorations on the walls for almost two years, always at the ready to be gone, move on. But no matter what we did, no one wanted our home. What we’d bought it for and what it was now worth with 7 foreclosures on the same street were just too far apart. No one was qualifying for home loans – fewer were even looking to buy. We waited, prayed. We had one car so I would be home all day with two boys, a baby and a toddler, with no transportation. My husband would leave in the morning while it was still dark and not get home until it was almost bedtime for the kids. We spent so much in gas that we had to get groceries from the food pantry. Once, my oldest son pulled a classic toddler move and busted his eyebrow open, obviously needing stitches, but I was alone, my husband was at an event over an hour away and didn’t have his cell phone on him. There were times the four of us slept in his office to avoid having to make the drive back home before another service or event. It was bad. We wanted so badly to be out of there, to get on with our life, to be rid of something that was once such a source of pride for us, but no one was buying.

Then one day someone was listening to me vent about not having sold the house and she asked me something that’s always stuck with me: “Do you think God hasn’t allowed the house to sell because you’re not supposed to be in that new city?”

Years before that, far back in my college days, a psychology professor of mine told the story of the time he was pastoring a church and several people brought a member to him, someone in need of immediate prayer. They believed this person who was foaming at the mouth and convulsing to be possessed. My professor immediately recognized that they were having a seizure.

Even longer ago, Jesus slept on a boat. A huge storm came up, waves crashed, and the elements threatened to capsize the boat. Terrified, the disciples with Jesus woke Him, who promptly spoke to the storm and calmed it.

What have I learned from these accounts? Sometimes it just storms.

Sometimes God works in mysterious ways, sometimes His will is obvious, sometimes God closes a door and opens a window. And sometimes it just storms.

How often we experience turbulence and immediately turn to the heavens and cry out, “Why?!”

The disciples on the boat with Jesus, rocking with the waves, feeling the spray in their face, seeing the clouds and clashing all around them, cried out, asking Jesus if He even cared if they drowned. They saw trouble and assumed it represented an emotion or intention on the part of God. Even though they were with Him, literally right next to Him, able to see Him and know He was real and with them, their first thought was that He was against them, or at least indifferent. How often we count ourselves in God’s company and begin assigning His will to storms, all the while forgetting his ability to calm it. Sometimes it just storms. Not because God is trying to drown you, not because God is trying to stop you, not because you haven’t prayed enough, but because it just does.

What would happen if, instead of crying out, “God, why is it storming?!” we steely spoke, “God, calm the storm.”? If we saw trouble ahead, found ourselves in the midst of hardships, and rather than seeing ourselves as victims of a God who has forgotten us, we remembered what He can do for us?

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and they came to the Red Sea, they were forced to stop. Did Moses cry out, “God must have led us here to be slaughtered!”? Did he look at the water and say, “Welp, I guess all those plagues were off the mark – we probably should have stayed behind in slavery.”? NO! God did not put the Red Sea in front of them to stop them, He put it there to EMPOWER them. Because when Moses came to that water, the seeming dead end, he did not stop and whimper that it must be God’s way of stopping them, he lifted his hand and with the power of God saw those waters part. Suddenly what was once an obstacle was a pathway. What could have been interpreted as the end became an unmistakable beginning. Sometimes it just storms, sometimes there’s just stuff in the way, but every time God is able to overcome it.

Yes, sometimes bad things do happen because of the hand of God. Job is an example who easily comes to mind. The Great Flood was never just a storm. But look also at Joseph – sold into slavery, falsely imprisoned, the guy had every reason to think God’s will for his life wouldn’t come to pass. “It’s kinda dark in this pit my brothers tossed me into, I guess those dreams probably meant something else.” NOPE. Jacob, a man who literally wrestled with God, could have tapped out, could have justifiably thought God just didn’t like him, but would not let go until he got the blessing he KNEW God alone could give him. He walked away with a limp, but sometimes limps happen. A limp doesn’t mean God didn’t bless you – heck, in Jacob’s case it was proof that He had.

Because as much as someone can walk away from Jesus healed and whole, they can walk away from God limping and still have been blessed. Because as much as God can bring a flood to destroy, He can calm a storm to save. Because sometimes He wants to do something, sometimes He wants to show us or stop us or teach us or lead us. But sometimes it also just storms, and He has no motives. Jesus didn’t cause the storm on that day He was in the boat. God wasn’t smiting anyone. It was just a storm. And misinterpreting it did nothing to God’s abilities to calm it.

God has a voice. He speaks to us. It is not up to us to interpret what we see around us when we have every right to just ask Him ourselves… if only we’ll listen. If only we’ll stop looking for signs and just listen for guidance. If only we’ll stop assuming that everything happens for a reason. If only we’ll remember that the God who creates storms is also able to calm them. If only we will listen in patience instead of blaming in fear. If only we will pray with mercy rather than judge another’s storm. God is powerful, He’s mighty, He’s able and always, and yes, He can create a storm, be it in the form of weather or circumstance, rain or consequences. What He isn’t is mute. He does not only speak to us through trials and high winds. Do not be so quick to assign God’s will to an event that we give the storm more power than His voice. Listen to Him, not the rattling windows. Blame the wind, not the Father, when it storms. Stare up into the heavens, beyond the wall of clouds, and rather than wait to ride out the storm you think you’ve earned, call out to the One above it who can calm it should He desire. Or just let the rains wash over you, because sometimes it just storms.

So no, I do not think that God crashed the entire US real estate market to keep us from selling that house. He’s able, sure, but I don’t think He did. God’s pretty cool about making His will known, about speaking to His children. And I refuse to listen to the storm around me tell me what God wants to do when I could just ask Him myself. Because as you know, sometimes it just storms.

To the Parents Who Hurt on the First Day of School

It’s back to school season, ya’ll. Summer is fading and sales are aplenty. Excitement and dread fill the air in equal parts, apples are decorative, and grown people are found rocking in the school supply aisle, eyes glazed over and muttering something about folders with brads.

This week my social media feeds have been flooded with first day of school photos, adorable, smiling faces ready to learn, teenagers eager to get away from the camera, parents excited for a little more quiet. It’s a time of anticipation and preparation, of labeling and laminating. Back to school is upon us, and all the parents shouted amen – even though they’re all broke by now from all the back to school buying needs.

But I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to the parents who made it through the first day, who survived it rather than celebrated it.

To the parents of children not with them on this earth, the parents who didn’t get to write their child’s name on a backpack because at some point they had to engrave their name on a tombstone.

To the parents of children who have not yet come, those waiting and crying and desperately wanting their own littles to buy obscene amounts of glue sticks for.

To the parents who don’t get to walk their child to class because their child is wheeled in by an aide.

To the parents whose school year started weeks ago with ARD meetings and IEPs and 504’s.

To the parents introducing their child to yet another new school.

To the parents who are limping across the month of August because the clothes, shoes, gear, supplies, extra supplies, surprise supplies, and lunch staples have drained you of more than you could give.

To the parent who is doing it alone.

To the parents who watch their child walk into a classroom full of saved seats – but not a one was reserved for them.

To the parents who watch their child walk into a classroom full of parents who judge you – and your child.

To the parents who didn’t get to watch at all, because work or health or some other circumstance meant you couldn’t be there.

To the parents who are scared, worried, wondering if their child is able or their teacher is prepared.

To the parents of the bullied – and the parents of the bully.

To the parents of the medically fragile and the emotionally unstable, the academically challenged and the intellectually unchallenged.

To the parents who spend more time advocating than anticipating.

To the parents of the foster kids.

To the parents of the kids repeating a grade.

To the parents of the quirky kids, the overlooked kids, the oblivious kids, the hyper-aware kids. The sensory kids, the allergy kids, the differently-abled kids.

To all the parents who made it through – you did it. You’re not alone, though you’re often overlooked. The work and love you put into getting your child through the doors of that school may not look like everyone else’s, it may not have started when everyone else’s did, and it may not even be complete, but you did it. To all the parents who are a little sad, it’s okay. To all the parents who played off their tears and didn’t vocalize their fears, it’s okay. To the parents who approach the year with trepidation and built-in exhaustion, you’re not a downer, you’re not a curmudgeon, you’re not a pessimist and you’re not a bad parent. It’s just a hard day, and that’s okay. So shout out to you for making it through. Shout out to you for bearing what your child needs and what the world has handed you. Shout out to you for being stronger than most know, even when the tears creep down. Shout out to you for doing what any kid needs regardless of abilities, health, socioeconomic status or social standing – you got stuff done. Shout out to you, parents, for being everything your child needs of you, even when you feel like you’ve failed, and especially when the world just doesn’t get it. Shout out to you for making it to another year, for trying again, for not giving up. Shout out to you… and your amazing kid.

 

 

The Bad Weather Friend

We all know about fair weather friends. We’ve had them, been them. We all have the the friend who is only a friend when times are good, fun, easy, carefree. Then life happens, the going gets tough and the fair weather friends throw up their deuces and are nowhere to be seen.

That’s not what I am.

I’m a bad weather friend. The friend you call when life gives you lemons. The friend you message when you’re broken-hearted, hurting, in need of some kind. I’m not the only friend like this, I don’t begin to be so prideful as to assume that, and I’m not always as available as I’d like to be during the storm. But us, the bad weather friends, we’re the ones in the background, the ones deep in the message inbox because your life has been going well and you haven’t needed us.

I used to resent it, being a safe place. “Don’t tell Betty Sue,” you’d plead to me, “She has no idea I’m going through this.” A week later I’d see you on social media out to dinner with Betty Sue, at the movies with Betty Sue, with nary an invite for me, the person you trusted in your state of vulnerability. “Please help me,” your message would start, “I don’t know what to do.” The next week I’d see the read receipt on my lengthy and well-thought-out response, the words I prayed over and poured into, and see that you’d read them days before without thanks. “I desperately need your prayers,” you cry, “my life is in shambles and I’m terrified of what is to come.” I hold you, cry with you, pray with you, and plead on your behalf at the feet of God, to hear through the grapevine later that everything worked out fine. This hurt me. I felt used, discarded, like a friend of convenience. I was who you turned to in times of need but not times of leisure, someone you knew would be a friend to you but not someone you were interested in being a friend with. I got bitter. I got discouraged. I got jealous.

Then I had to wonder – why would God honor my jealousy? Isn’t there totally something in the Bible about not being jealous? Whatever my experiences and emotions, jealousy is never holy or righteous on my part. Whatever Betty Sue has with you that I don’t, it’s not okay to be jealous of. Because you know what? Betty Sue obviously doesn’t have something that I do. Betty Sue may be fun and may get all the girls nights out, but she doesn’t get you at your worst, she isn’t who you turn to when you need someone you know will be there. Also, Betty Sue is a lot more available to go to the movies than I am – I don’t have childcare or spare cash lying around, so I’m glad you have Betty Sue. I couldn’t maintain the friendship that you and Betty Sue have even if I wanted to, so I’m happy to be your person, happy to keep your secrets and know sides of you that few others do. As for the unreturned messages, well, I’m glad you got them. Those words were for you and I hope they helped. I didn’t offer my help in exchange for thanks, and I’m sure that in the moment you read them you were experiencing the chaos you first messaged me about. Your life was obviously upside down in one way or another, so I couldn’t have expected you to behave as normal. You messaged me in desperation and probably read my replies in the same manner… or you just really hated what I had to say, haha! And when I prayed for you I didn’t do so to gain an invitation into your life. Yes, I would really like to hear the good news, or any news, to follow up and know how you are, because I’m genuinely concerned. But I also understand that I’ve just seen you at your worst – I know your deep, dark shames, I’ve seen you heave and snot and wail. I know about your husband’s infidelities and your boss’ activities, your addictions, your failings, your criminal record. I know things that you wish others didn’t, so it has to be hard to feel comfortable around me sometimes, when things are good and you don’t want to look in the eye of someone who knew you when they weren’t.

On any given morning, I wake to about 10 messages in my inbox, not including invitations to check out whatever direct sales company my friend has joined. It varies from car seat and cloth diaper advice to marital problems, mental health issues, secret cancer scares, legal problems, and more. I receive texts from many others. On any given day, I will most likely not be able to meet these friends for lunch, go out to eat, see a movie, or come hold them in their living rooms. But what I can do, what I can offer them, is being their bad weather friend. I don’t always know what to say and I don’t always have an answer, but they do always have a friend. They always have someone they know they can reach out to, and how humbled I am that they know it’s me. I could feel petty and jealous that they didn’t invite me to dinner, or I can feel honored that they did invite me into their struggles. I can marvel that sometimes after years have gone by without a word, someone will think of me when they need something, when they need encouragement or advice, and know that I’m the person they want. Because my friendship isn’t for sale – you don’t have to buy it with nights out or mani/pedi days or even “likes” on a Facebook post. I’ll keep doing my life and you’ll keep doing yours, and I’ll be happy to help each time you need me to. Besides, it’s just not possible to be best friends with every single person we know.

So we thank you, friends, we bad weather ones who are waiting in the wings. We thank you for trusting us, for turning to us. We thank you for your confidence you share with us and the confidence you place in us. Most likely you come to us because you know we will be there, because something in us wants to be there. We want to help, you’re not a bother. We’d like an update when you can manage and we’d like to share in some of your good times as well, but if we don’t get it we’re still happy for you. Sometimes, just sometimes, we may ask of you what you’ve needed of us – please don’t run. Sometimes we need a safe place, too. Sometimes we need a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes protecting everyone’s secrets gets heavy and we just need someone to sit with. Sometimes we really, really want to go out to dinner, too. So I ask, friends, on behalf of all the bad weather friends, don’t forget about us until you need us. Let us be all-weather friends. We may not be Betty Sue, but we’re here for you, we care about you, and we’re cheering you on from wherever you’ll let us.

Happily Ever After and Gestalt Theory


“Jennifer. There’s an egg in that picture.”

I know, I know. Bear with me. It’ll be explained soon, I promise.

 

I have been married for 11 1/2 years. I am in no way an expert, I don’t have it all figured out, but I am happy and I love my husband more today than I did 11 1/2 years ago when we began our journey into happily ever after. Cinderella dancing with her prince was our cake topper, we handed out glass slippers filled with candy, and played “So This is Love” at the wedding – when I say we were beginning our happily every after, I mean it. I grew up, like many of you, on Disney movies, love stories, princesses being swept off their feet by the handsome princes, romance, beauty, and musicals that always ended with the perfect couple living happily ever after. Also like many of you, I grew into an adult who had to face the harsh reality that there’s a lot of stuff not shown in those favorite classics. Whose castle did Aurora and Philip move into? What about their controlling parents? Did Cinderella have extreme PMS? Did Aladdin ever deal with insecurity over Jasmine bringing home more money than him? Did Snow White have some pretty gnarly morning breath after she woke up? Did any of them gain weight? Struggle with infertility? Have to squash an uprising in the kingdom? Were they separated by war? Really, what ACTUALLY happened after “happily ever after” scrolled across the screen?

A lot of you are married. You’ve begun your own happily ever after. You’ve faced the reality that you couldn’t anticipate – the arguments, the bills, the little nuances and quirks that grow ten times in size when you live with someone. You’ve had in-laws get into your business. Some of you have had strangers get into your bed. You’ve found yourself in the trenches and have begun to think of marriage as a warzone more than a fairy tale. Marriage is work, that’s for sure. It’s not a secret that a relationship requires communication, compromise, and naps. The further you get from the day you began living happily ever after, the less you think “happily ever after” is even real.

Here’s where the egg comes in.

One of the summations of Gestalt Theory of psychology is by Kurt Kaffka, who said, “The whole is other than the sum of the parts.” Often it is quoted as “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Either way, here’s what it means – the pieces of something are not what it is. If you take an egg and crack it open, you have a yolk, an egg white, and an egg shell, all sitting before you. Totaled up, the sum of the parts are an egg. Yet the pieces of an egg are not the same as holding an intact egg in your hand. The egg you hold in your hand and the egg pieces that lay before you are, actually, two different things. It seems sketchy until you need an egg to bake with, then you realize the difference. While what makes up the egg before you is all present, it is not the same – nor does it have the same worth – as the egg as a whole. The whole (the intact egg) is other (different) than the sum of its parts (the broken egg, shell, yolk, and egg white). Here’s how it applies here:

Marriage is the whole. Happily ever after is the whole. Unemployment, cancer, foreclosure, infidelity, bankruptcy, deployment, infertility, boredom, selfishness, kids with special needs, surgery, depression, hormones, toilet seats, dirty dishes, addiction, fatigue…. those are parts. Whatever you have faced together in your marriage, those are the parts of it. They are not the whole. Marriage that faces the strain of miscarriage is not exempt from happily ever after. Marriage that bends under the weight of financial ruin is not prohibited from happily ever after. Marriage is much, much more than the sum of the parts. Marriage has mountains to climb, but it also has beautiful views from the top. Marriage has hand holding on the couch, Netflix binges, laughing over dinner, inside jokes, snuggles, cuddles, tickles. It has memories of who you were when you met and memories you’ve made together since. Marriage is a promise, not a circumstance. Marriage, as a whole, is greater than the argument you’re having now. Happily ever after is the whole, it’s the combination of the laughs and memories and kisses and fights and resentments and bills and exhaustion, and knowing that beyond this moment, beyond this hard, hard time you’re facing, you still love your spouse. Yes, they’re a butthead in the moment. Yes, living in a small apartment while pinning ideas for a large home is hard in the moment. Yes, not seeing your plans come to pass is crushing in the moment. But beyond this moment, you love your spouse. Beyond the pain, on the other side of it, you love them and they love you. That’s the whole. That’s the happily ever after. It’s not letting a day, a month, a season define your marriage because it’s only a day, only a month, only a season.

Not once was I shown debt-free ever after. I’ve never heard of a princess who lived healthy ever after, employed ever after, fertile ever after. What we wanted was happily ever after, and at the end of the day, when observing the whole, that’s exactly what I have.

I know, I know. There are some who will look at me and say, “Oh, Jen, you young whippersnapper, 11 1/2 years is nothing.” Some will say, “Wow, Jen must be pretty old to have already been married for 11 1/2 years.” Guess what? It doesn’t matter. I don’t live “comparatively ever after”. I’m not concerned about living “happier than…” ever after. It’s my husband and I, just us, and our happily ever after isn’t determined by the happiness going on around us. We’re not happier because we’re not facing what someone else is, and we’re not unhappy because someone else is having an easier time. Our marriage, between us, is about happily ever after, every day. We’re not in a contest, we’re in a covenant. And we are proud of our 11 1/2 years, we’re excited by them. We can smile and laugh and celebrate not because we haven’t faced some hard times. We’re not rich. We’re not famous. I don’t weigh what I did on our wedding day. We’ve walked through some dark valleys and some hot fires, and I’m not so naïve as to think they’re all behind us. But I know I’m not alone. I know that whatever has happened and whatever awaits is not the whole of my marriage. I know that a chapter isn’t the whole story and the pieces are not the same as the whole. And I know that deep in the mud, covered in tears, with hurt feelings and disappointments and insecurities abounding, I will still be in love with him, he will still be in love with me, and the whole of us is greater than that momentary piece.

So I encourage you, friends, take a step back and observe the whole. Don’t hold on to pieces and call them the sum of your marriage. Don’t think that because you’re unhappy right now you won’t ever be happy again. Don’t get caught up in the idea that it being difficult means it’s not right. Don’t misunderstand and believe that happily ever after means happily every day after. It means ever after, in a continuing line, you can observe the journey and see, as a whole, that it is a happy one. Your very own, very real happily ever after.

What It’s (Really) Like to Have a Gifted Kid

What It's (Really) Like to Have a Gifted Kid

 

I know, I know. You probably rolled your eyes at the title. I did, too, if we’re being honest. The term “gifted” is what does it. It has an elitist air to it, seems snooty, sounds like I’m bragging. But the truth is, most parents of children who have been identified as gifted, those having an IQ score above 130 or two standard deviations above the norm, they aren’t bragging, they’re BEGGING. Begging for help, for understanding, for answers, for a system that will recognize and meet their child’s needs. You see, giftedness does not look at all like you think it does. Some of you know my tale of tears, the years of counseling, testing, praying, dieting, oiling, reading, and sobbing, all to be told that what was “wrong” with my child was giftedness. The years spent searching for a diagnosis, knowing something was different about my boy, knowing he was miserable and hurting, wanting desperately to help and find an answer, but always falling just short of sensory processing disorder, of bipolar disorder, of oppositional defiant disorder, of autism spectrum disorders, of ADHD. Really, THOSE are the labels that came to mind before I had to be told that my child was gifted, and that the behaviors he was exhibiting were NORMAL. Those extremes are what I thought about my child, never a high IQ. I knew he was bright, don’t get me wrong, but bright and the actual classification of “gifted” are two very different things, and what I knew of giftedness was chess champions, piano prodigies, and tiny little adults. My emotional, sensitive, intense child who never slept and always worried couldn’t possibly be a – gasp – genius.

Except that he kind of is.

It’s been a year and a half since we “found out” about him, and every day I learn more about what it means for him to exist in a world that is built for people different from himself. Many days I find myself advocating, emailing, sticking up for him. I’ve been asked more than once what’s “wrong” with him. I’ve asked that myself on many occasions. Some days I have people roll their eyes. Lots of days people feel the need to question or disprove his label. One day I even had someone walk away while I was mid-sentence. There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding gifted kids – their parents are pushing them, their parents are bragging, everything is easy for them, they’re perfect kids, they can handle it. One of the most hurtful ones I’ve encountered is the apparent belief that there is some finite amount of intelligence in the world, some IQ pool that kids draw from, and my child having withdrawn more than the others somehow left less for their son or daughter. Those are the people who see him as a threat, who resent him for skipping a grade, who feel slighted that he earned a place on a math team that their child did not. Those are the adults who approach him with the sole intention of proving him wrong, tripping him up, who have made up their minds to blame him for something he cannot help and something he didn’t do. Who make no attempt to understand what it’s really like for him, how scary and overwhelming it is to have a brain that doesn’t turn off, to be able to take everything in but have no idea what to do with it.

People who think giftedness looks like this:

But have no idea it also comes with this:

 

People who assume the school sends us this:

But don’t realize they also send us here:

That’s what it’s really like, giftedness. To exist in a world that doesn’t understand you, that even resents you. To watch athletes be praised for their form of giftedness but to have yours dismissed. A world where a gold medal is earned but a grade skip is bragging. Sure, it can be high grades, athletic achievements, musical gifts and artistic abilities. But it’s also asynchronous development, where “cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences that are qualitatively different from the norm”, to have the brain of an adult, the body of a child, and the emotional stability of a toddler. It’s overexcitabilities, where the brain’s intensity creates disorder-like reactions to stimuli, creates more intense emotions than the norm, more intense physical needs than the norm, more intense everything than the norm. Giftedness is everything inside you going at 1,000,000% and not knowing how to cope, because no one else around you is having the same problem, no one else is bothered, bored. It’s having trouble finding friends because you read so many levels above your classmates but socially are so many levels beneath them, not being able to have peers because they don’t want to talk about politics in the second grade and don’t understand why you hide in your locker when things get to be too much.

It’s sometimes making great grades, but it’s also sometimes struggling with being twice-exceptional – having both a gifted IQ and a learning or emotional disorder. Yeah, that’s a real thing. It turns out there’s a lot about gifted kids that most people don’t know. I share these things not to brag, not to garner sympathy, but to educate, to help. Ever since I first shared our journey to discovering our son’s giftedness, I have received almost a message a week from a friend, or from the friend of a friend, seeking answers, wondering if their child might also be gifted, looking for support once they discover that they are. So I’ll keep sharing, keep talking about it, for the parents who feel overwhelmed and alone, for the parents desperately looking for an answer to their child’s behavior that doesn’t seem “fixable”. I’ll endure the eyerolls and the sighs, the people who think I’m bragging, and I’ll continue to share about how we endure tears on a daily basis, emotions and thoughts that are too big for a little guy to handle, how we are caught in a never-ending race to meet his intellectual needs. I’ll tell about the testing, the never-ending testing, the 504 meetings and the IEP requests, the phone calls from school, the guilt and doubt I face when it comes to school at all. I’ll share about the anxiety, the overwhelming fear I have when he’s walking the halls of school or running on a soccer field, not knowing what will trigger HIS anxiety, what will reduce him to a crying toddler or ignite him to become a raging monster. I’ll tell you about how he doesn’t have birthday parties because they’re too much for him to handle, and he doesn’t really have friends to invite to them, anyway. I’ll write about how embarrassing it is to walk into a school office, knowing how a lot of the adults in there feel about your child, how humbling and remorseful it is to message another parent about what my own has done. I’ll tell of the expensive specialized psychologist we can’t afford and the hour it takes to get to her. I’ll share about how futile it feels to try and find a place for your square peg child in a world of round holes.

I’ll also tell you about how hilarious he is, how he makes jokes far beyond his 7 years and has mastered sarcasm on an expert level. I’ll tell you about how intensely sweet he is, how he snuggles me still and says he never wants to grow up and leave me, how his love literally makes me ache. I’ll write about how thoughtful he is, how he makes crafts and cards for people he loves, includes money, Starburst, or anything else he thinks the person may enjoy. I’ll definitely tell about how creative he is, how his brain works in a way that never ceases to amaze me, how he’s able to see things from a new perspective, from a place you didn’t even know existed, how he’s able to create entire worlds and mythologies with just 10 minutes and his toes. I’ll roll my eyes as I tell you about his love for Star Wars, how he has learned every single fact you never even knew was out there.  I’ll shout from the rooftops about the advocates he has on the inside, the teachers who have helped him AND me, who get him, love him, encourage him, support him, and want the best for him. I’ll marvel publicly at how naturally he picks up math concepts, how he reads novels in a day, his herding-like abilities on the soccer field, how he can identify insects and read Roman numerals and tell you about cultural customs all the world over. I’ll share wistfully about his infectious smile, his giant blue eyes that sparkle with mischief, and his sweet little feet that still have some of the toddler chubbiness left on them. I’ll declare firmly and confidently that I know he has a purpose in this world, and I believe it to be huge.

I love my boy. My gifted boy. My intense, emotional, overwhelmed, creative, hilarious, loving boy. He is not what people think he is. Giftedness is not what people think it is. It is a wonderful, exhausting, never-dull and never-easy experience. And for the last time, it’s not bragging.

The (New) Stages of Grief – and How We’re Doing it Wrong

The (new) Stages of Grief - and How We're Doing it Wrong

Our world is grieving right now. World events, news, relationships, health, wealth, dreams… there’s a lot happening every day to process and mourn. And faster than we can heal, there’s another breaking news story, another blow, and we’re left reeling and feeling all over again. Grief is not new to this divided world – it’s been felt and studied and survived since the beginning of mankind. In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the world to what are now widely accepted as the 5 stages of grief, basically the 5 steps to how one copes with extreme sadness and loss.

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These stages aren’t always experienced in this order, and sometimes a person may skip a stage entirely, but in general this is the best way to understand the way that grief moves through us and how we, in turn, respond to it. This does not minimize the experience, rather it is comforting to know that, if nothing else, there is acceptance at the end: You will make it through.

However, at some point in our culture, we’ve begun to rework these stages, tossing out some, renaming others, and really just making a mess of Elizabeth KR’s work. A very powerful, very moving, and very, very destructive step was added and it began to eat away at the other steps, as well as us. It has taken over and assumed the role of trailblazer when we’re faced with grief, leading the way and dictating our actions and reactions from the moment we first hurt. The stages have been whittled down to only the one remaining, distorted stage that doesn’t allow for acceptance on the other side.

Blame.

It’s not a new concept. It’s not always an undeserved one. But it has become the sole obsession of our world when faced with tragedy. Politicians, religion, parents, culture, schools…. Read any single news story shared on social media – seriously, any – and then check the comments. You will find blame. Finger pointing. Assumptions, judgements, name-calling, armchair quarterbacks, “experts”. People who claim they would never have allowed such a thing to happen to them, people who claim such a thing would never have happened if someone else had been in charge. People who blame mothers for accidents and parents for crime.

Blame abounds where pain confounds and comfort – what of comfort? There can be no peace where blame exists. Blame is the exact opposite of acceptance – it is projecting responsibility onto someone else, literally putting your ability to heal into the hands of another person. Blame is justified bitterness. Blame being the opposite of acceptance means that acceptance cannot be achieved, one cannot heal, get over, get through, get better, so long as they blame someone else for their pain.

“But this isn’t my fault!” No one said it was, friend. Sometimes tragedy is just tragedy. Sometimes bad things happen. And never in the stages of grief is “blame” listed as healthy or necessary to the process. Sometimes there’s no one to blame, only feelings to feel, and those feelings are really hard to deal with when you feel alone in them. You can feel powerless, weak, exposed. Blame creates a false sense of justification, of power, as though blaming someone else enables you to rise above the waves of grief with the dignity of someone who should not have to experience them. Blame is a bandage, a temporary fix, an attempt to curb the very real pain without aiding in any actual healing. Blame fuels the fire, makes it easier to feel indignant than hurt. Blame is a poison disguised as a defense mechanism that will, eventually, fill the void with bitterness – something much harder to rid yourself of than grief.

Blaming your husband for your lack of finances, for the long hours he works. Blaming your kids for your lack of free time or loss of happiness. Blaming your friend for the breakdown in your relationship. Blaming your pastor for your offense. Heck, blaming your pastor for religion. Blaming your boss for your career path. Blaming world leaders for tragic events. Blaming parents for their children. Blaming your ex for… well, everything. Blaming an entire group for the actions of one. Blaming society for the actions of one. Blaming God for the actions of one.

As I type, my 3 wild kids are just feet from me, doing one of their favorite things: all out wrestling. Seriously, tripping, grabbing, pushing, rolling, all over the floor, it’s wild and chaotic and they LOVE it. They’re all giggling and smiling and having a blast… until someone knocks a little too hard or a fall is a little worse than expected. It happens, every time, and every time the crying kid is pointing at someone, blaming them, and the guilty kid stands over them, defending themselves. Through the tears, the scratches, sometimes even the blood, they are more concerned with whose fault it is than helping the hurt kid feel better. And always, before I hear opening statements from both parties, I have to remind (force) the accused to get down on the level of their hurt sibling, apologize for them being hurt, and see if they can help. Sometimes it’s an accident. Sometimes it’s on purpose. But no matter what, someone has been hurt and the important thing is to help them. Someone is hurting and needs to heal, and assigning blame has yet to be proven to help.

Sometimes there is someone to blame. Sometimes there is a systemic breakdown and a societal failure. Sometimes imperfect people act imperfectly and really are buttheads. But they still can’t heal you. And blaming them implies that they have control over your emotions, blaming them puts the responsibility for your wellness in their hands. There will be a time for assigning blame where blame is due, but I urge you not to give into the temptation to allow blame to become your first reaction, the only step in your grieving process. Do not allow blame to create a false sense of righteousness in you. Do not believe that your opinion of another is their reality. Heal, friend. Feel. Pain and tragedy are so, well, painful and tragic, that it’s easy to want to avoid them. None of us are immune. That doesn’t mean we’re deserving. That doesn’t mean the person to blame gets away with anything. It means you’re human, and you’re getting through it.

I’m no fitness expert (pause for laughter), but I do know that muscle is built by creating small tears that then heal to be stronger. You go to the gym, do werk, and are sore. You’ve created tiny tears in the muscle that now need the opportunity to heal in order to grow. Feel the burn, some might say. No pain, no gain. Well, at the risk of sounding super cheesy, the heart is a muscle. You have to be able to heal to get better. Blame is nothing you want any part of when it comes to healing. Blame is acid on the wounds, a distraction, and a missed opportunity to care for your self.

So please, the next time something comes across your path that is heartbreaking, pause. Feel the sadness. Allow the grief. Watch Inside Out to see how necessary sadness is to the healing process. Cry. Mourn. Be vulnerable. Don’t judge. Don’t react. Let yourself feel so that you can sooner heal. And get a hug if you can.

 

A Love Letter to People of Color (To Be Read By All My White Friends)

My Dear Friends,

First, let me say that I know I don’t speak for everyone, and I know I’m not an expert on race relations. I get it. I have (mostly) blonde hair, live in the ‘burbs, watch Friends and drive a minivan. I’m super white. I won’t do the thing where I give you my background and tell you about the places I’ve been and the life I’ve lived to try and qualify my statements, to make it seem like I know what you’re going through. Because the truth is, I don’t. I won’t tell you about all the friends I’ve had in an attempt to present myself as an ally. Because the truth is, having friends is not the same as standing beside you and it does not cancel out centuries of hatred. I won’t burst through your mourning with defense or rhetoric, with anything that begins with “not all white people…”. Because the truth is, you hurt, and those words do not heal.

I fear, my beautiful friends, that I’ve been grossly misunderstanding racism up until now. I’m afraid that I allowed my understanding of it to become my definition of it, when in reality they’ve been two very different things. I assumed that because there are no signs separating your family from mine while we eat that racism was a thing of the past. I thought that because I struggled with paying the bills that white privilege was not real. And I reasoned that, while ignorance still runs rampant, my generation had been taught to be color blind… which I again associated with the end of racism.

I’ve discovered, however, that in our earnest to remain color blind, we’ve dismissed the idea of color bias. I’ve discovered, through my introduction and attempts at understanding cultural appropriation, that color blindness was never the goal. Color blindness strips you of your glorious heritage, your sacred rituals and histories. Color blindness makes the assumption that you and I are alike, when we very much are not. Color blindness has led me to believe the lie that because we are equal in personhood, we are also equal in experience. Color blindness caused many to blame the victim before they ever listened to the outcry. Color blindness spurred on #AllLivesMatter. Color blindness, in an attempt to mix this melting pot we call America, instead brought it to a boiling point where everything is in such a rolling turmoil that we’re clashing, banging, picking, blaming. Color blindness told me I was an ally, while all along I was just the stubborn friend who meant well but didn’t know what the heck she was actually talking about.

I reach out to you now, my friends of color who are hurting, who are scared. I was wrong. I was ignorant. So often we associate the word “ignorance” with “stupidity” so we are reluctant to identify with it, when really it means I just didn’t know. I was ignorant. In my passion to declare you the same as me, I was dismissing your loud cries to the contrary. I was ignorant. In my attempts to make sense of your experience, I listened to my own reasoning instead of your words. I was ignorant. In my own firm belief that I was not racist, I ignored the fact that a lot of people are. And a lot of people are ignorant to what racism is. I thought my declarations of equality were comforting to you, but in my ignorance did not see how they drowned you out. I hate it when I’m sharing a story or struggle with someone, desperate for someone to hear, only to have them respond with their own. That’s what we’ve been doing all this time, isn’t it? When we bring up stories of white people in seemingly similar situations, when we spout off our own experiences. We’ve been using our words in an ignorant attempt to relate or explain, when all along you’ve just wanted to be heard.

So here we are, friends, at the crux. Where do we go from here? I imagine you’re tired. Tired of explaining to white people how things are different, tired of answering ignorant questions, tired of seeing your race represented on the news more than primetime shows, tired of being told things about yourself by people who just don’t know. So I will urge my white friends to listen more than they speak, to hear your answers without forming a response. I cannot promise to not ask patience of you as I work around my lifelong ignorance. I cannot promise to always get it right. I cannot promise that things will get better starting now. But I can promise that I will try. I can promise that I hear you now, and I will listen. I can hope that each day will get a little better, that maybe as the roar becomes deafening some will be unable to hear their own ideas over your words. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I don’t know what will be said next week. But I know I will listen. I will hear you. I will not attempt to make sense of it, because my own experiences can never equate to yours, and because so much of it is just senseless.

 

Image from here.  I have no idea what they say or support, I just needed to use the image!