When Idols Fall

  

I was going to comment on a friend’s post regarding the Al Franken allegations, but it got so long I decided to make my own post. And then that post got too long, so I turned it into a blog . I’m writing this on my phone (and it has been a frustrating experience) so please forgive any errors.

It’s a tough time to try to navigate the many accusations of sexual impropriety coming out.  All the pressure not to be biased towards and against people for reasons other than the exact claims against them almost feels like everyone has to be painted with a broad brush, all are presumed innocent or all are presumed guilty. There’s no room for nuance. There are so many things coming to light it’s nearly impossible to look at each case and make a determination about credibility. My gut tells me that victims feel emboldened to come forward by the courage of others  and I do believe that for the most part this avalanche isn’t simply people taking advantage of the climate by smearing good men because it bolsters an agenda. I believe the victims. I can see it in their faces, and I can relate.

While the idea of reputations falsely dredged through the mud sickens me, and I know that there are nefarious reasons people can (and have) made false claims of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault, I’m unwilling to reject out of hand the painful words of victims brave enough to step forward merely on the slightest of chances they aren’t being truthful.

It’s interesting to me to see people defend those alleged to have done some pretty awful stuff by asserting that sexual abuse just isn’t common enough for this many accusations, and that there can’t be this many perpetrators- it must be a witch hunt, a political hack job, a shakedown… and yet that in turn means they are willing to believe  there are that many more malicious people capable of and willing to lie about someone for political reasons, for attention, and for money. I don’t buy that argument, although I know many will.

It’s tough to see idols fall. But that’s the nature of idolatry. Putting any human on a pedestal is a recipe for disappointment. They WILL let you down. Even the Tom Hanks of the world have done things that would tarnish our views of them. It’s the nature of celebrity, the nature of politics, the nature of the power and money game, it’s the nature of humanity. And while those who give in to their basest desire to feed their egos and satiate their lust at the expense of others are completely responsible for their own sins, we all must look at our role in putting them up there, giving them a sense of invulnerability, excusing bad behavior if it suits our purpose, and yet also expecting them to always act above their own humanity.

People have used positions of power to take advantage of others since time began. It is at the core of our brokenness. The famous quote of absolute power corrupting absolutely is probably one of the truest things ever uttered.

So why are we surprised and heartbroken when one of “our” guys turns out to have fallen into this trap? It’s so much easier to enjoy the fall of someone who exemplifies things we already don’t agree with or are disgusted by (which in itself is an indictment of our culpability). I think when it’s someone we like or respect, it’s the perceived betrayal of our loyalty (that they likely never really earned) but even more so it feels like a betrayal of our own instincts and judgement. If we can’t believe our own selves about who is trustworthy, how can we trust anyone? It causes us to second-guess our beliefs about everyone.

I would argue that it probably should.

That’s not to say that we should become jaded and cynical, or that we should expect the worst from people. But perhaps we start to recognize that someone’s talents, their bank account, their attractiveness, their political success, or their charisma is just one part of them, not the entirety. You can have any and all of those things without good character. You can also have good character and make mistakes or use poor judgement. There’s not a person walking this planet that would want to put their entire life up to microscopic scrutiny, nor is there an adult currently walking this planet who is without flaws or past choices they wouldn’t want as the top nightly news story.

Most of us are horrified at what has been brought into the light recently. I think the Bill Cosby revelations were the canary in the coal mine for a whole lot of ugly in the underbelly of this world. An old perverted racist from Alabama that I think would be a force for harm if elected to the office he’s attempting to gain? It’s easy to accept his failings and want to cheer his political demise. We enjoy watching him get devoured. A beloved TV dad, the star of a show I watch every week, a politician I support- those are the tough ones. And they reveal so much about my heart.

There is a redemptive path in all of this, for everyone involved.

We must acknowledge the sickness and depravity of our culture. We fetishize celebrity, make excuses for bad behavior if it suits us, expect our icons to be above reproach while enabling their sense of invulnerability, we pick and choose which victims to believe and which to demonize based on how much we idolize the accused, we pay money to watch movies and play games that objectify women and normalize violence, and we hawkishly watch, cheering the downfall of the once-powerful like Romans at the Coliseum watching a lion tear a man limb from limb.

We need to celebrate character, extol vulnerability and empathy and compassion. We need to recognize how our idolatry is destroying people and infecting our society. We need to raise our standards while simultaneously allowing for people to be human. We need to stop rewarding the  audacity of narcissists with awe and praise because of the damage such people tend to leave in their wake.

We must examine our hearts and own our hypocrisy. We need to be generous with forgiveness while not forsaking wisdom and boundaries. We should be focused on reconciliation for those who choose to enter that process, allowing trust to be earned. We need to acknowledge the pain of victims and the brokenness of those we esteem,  allowing space for healing for both. We must stop defending actions unworthy of defense, stop making false moral equivalencies, stop the whataboutisms, stop keeping tally sheets, stop protecting the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable. We must require more of our leaders than a show of strength and unrestrained, unaccountable authoritarianism.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has anxiety about the next “hero” to fall. I believe character is revealed not just when people make mistakes, but how they handle their mistakes when they make them… and they WILL make them. Some actions have more devastating consequences than others. Repeated behaviors indicative of a pattern require more work, but I contend that no one (other than a diagnosed psychopath)  is irredeemable. That doesn’t mean that everything they lose as a result of their actions should be restored to them, but if they are willing to walk the tough redemptive path, we will all be the better for it if they succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Not All About You

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday night, Tina Fey performed a satirical piece in response to the horrors of Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. I personally thought the skit was hilarious, and smart, and insightful.

Not everyone did.

And I’m not just talking about the Nazi sympathizers, the KKK and the white nationalists who didn’t like it. I read a few scathing reviews written by black people who felt it was yet another example of white liberal women who just don’t get it.

When I read the first article, I was taken aback. As someone who makes a concerted effort to be aware of situations in which tone-deaf white activists miss the mark, I found myself unsure of what to think. So I went to the comments, which I try to avoid because they often leave me feeling worse about the state of things than I did to begin with.

The comments were mixed. They were mixed racially, and they were mixed in terms of their opinions on the skit, and the critique of it. There was no dividing line that I could see. There were white people who liked the skit, and white people who said it was an invitation to just stay home and eat your coconut snowflake feelings embedded in white frosting atop a sheet cake purchased from a black or Jewish-owned bakery. There were also black people who felt as though Tina is just an out of touch, rich white liberal woman who will never, CAN never get it.

On the other hand, there were black and white commenters who continually pointed out that this was satire, that there were many layers to it, that there were ironies, and metaphors, and a big giant mirror for white activists to look into.

My mom and I attended an NAACP rally this morning. Last night she texted her concern about being a white ally, and wondered if white women showing up to an NAACP event was feeding into the “white savior” complex, whether it was helpful to show support in this way, or if it was offensive to be there. She had read several comments on a poem written by a white woman that had left her confused about what is really helpful and supportive to people of color, and what is not.

And it’s a valid question all self-described allies should be asking ourselves.

It turned out that the rally was composed of probably 75% or more white people. There were hippies who have lived through the civil rights era of the 60’s and are genuinely dismayed and baffled that we are here again (still) in 2017. ( I say still, because anyone who has been paying attention knows racism, overt or systemic, never went away. However, I think as a society we were doing our best to operate differently, to make it uncomfortable to be overtly racist. That started changing in November 2008 and we see today the comfort level with being openly racist has men marching with torches and no hoods down the middle of the street. They feel emboldened to say awful hateful things. ) There were people of all ages, though, and some of the most impactful statements were made by two teenage boys.

As they opened up the mic and allowed community members to speak, I was inspired. And I am very grateful that all of  these people who spoke are on the side of love and justice. But as the unscheduled speeches went on, and white woman after white woman got up to talk about all the ways they were “woke” and all the things they have done to help black people, I began to groan inwardly. My friend Tabitha groaned outwardly. My mother leaned over and said, “Wow. It’s really not all about you, lady.”

And we knew the message being sent to POC in that audience.

We are really in love with our own self-righteousness. We are enamored with our do-gooding. We seek accolades for what we do for others because it makes us feel like we are making a difference. And most of it comes from a desire to see justice in this nation, equality, racial unity, etc. But it also comes from a place of self-aggrandizement.

The truth is, even those of us who try to be conscious of our privilege, who recognize the inequality, the lack of justice and the hate that is rising in this country, we fall into the “white savior complex” trap so easily. We want to believe that we are so evolved, that we are above having biases, and because of that we can be so very blind or tone deaf and never know it.

When I read criticism of white allies by black people, particularly white females, it usually feels really icky. Defensiveness rises up inside me, and I want to yell, “Not me! I’m not like them!” And that’s when I know without a shadow of a doubt it’s time for me to shut up and listen.

I can never know what it’s like to be a person of color in this country. I catch glimpses, here and there, and when I’m stunned, that is my cue to how out of touch I am. White people are freaking out right now about Charlottesville. We freaked out about Trayvon, and Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland. We are still having tremors of shock and horror over Philando Castile.

Guess who’s not freaking out?

Black people.

Know why?

Because they live this shit every damn day. They are not shocked. They are not stunned. They are angry and they are grieved, but they are not surprised.

So when a white person gets all aflutter, and wants pats on the back for being a decent human being, and being on the right side of humanity, they probably aren’t going to get it if they go looking for it from the black community.

As a matter of fact, they are going to get their feelings hurt.

I know this, because I’ve been there. I know this because I have watched it play out in conversations all over Facebook. And I see the indignant response of, “Well! If I’m not appreciated here, I’m just going to take my Black Lives Matter signs and go home!”

Being an ally means setting aside your need for affirmation, and showing up without expectation.

Being an ally means you listen more than you talk (unless you’re talking to other white people, and in that case, by all means, shout it from the rooftops that black lives should matter as much as any others in this country, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, that fascism and racism have no place here and will not go unanswered.)

Being an ally means you do a whole lot of self-checking as you go, you recognize your privilege, where it could bring harm to others, and where it can be used for good,  to access audiences that people of color don’t have the same access to.

We’ve all known those people who “show up to help” and their help ends up being more of a burden than anything else. The person who shows up when you’re sick or sad, and you end up having to comfort them because they are incapable of not making it about them.

“Well, I came to see how you were dealing with cancer, but if you can’t  be cheerful and grateful for my efforts, I’ll take my tuna noodle casserole to someone who will be!”

Don’t be that person. I beg you.

Being an ally means, it’s not about you. Period. If it WERE about you, there would be organizations and rallies to support you and your struggles.

It’s not about me. It’s not about my feelings. Do I get something out of it? Of course I do. Does it suck when someone rejects my way of “helping” ? Absolutely. But if I bring vinegar to a thirsty person, and then get pissy because they don’t want to drink it, who is really the one with the issue?

White allies, (I believe there’s a really scathing song about white allies. The O’Jays?) but I digress…white allies, we have the ability to be a blessing or a curse to those we are purporting to be acting on behalf of. We have to grow some thicker skin. We have to have uncomfortable conversations, where we face the daily reality of what this country is offering our black and brown brothers and sisters. Where they get to be angry and feel whatever they feel, because the racial system we have operated in since the very first slave ship landed on our shores is WRONG. Morally, spiritually, ethically wrong. And every day they are told to get over it and move on because we are so fragile we can’t stand the discomfort of viewing their raw pain and rage– the same pain and rage we would be experiencing if roles were reversed. Heck, white people whimper every time it’s not about us and what benefits us. We can’t kum-bah-ya our way out of this. We have to own our part, and work every day to overcome the blind spots of our privilege.

 

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and your feelings hurt. I have the sense we are in for quite a battle, but I do believe love will always conquer hate, and good will inevitably triumph over evil, even if lately it feels like evil is winning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down The Ancestry Rabbit Hole– More Drama Than A Soap Opera

This is a photo of my great grandmother, Mildred. I knew her name was Mildred, but to me, she was always Grandma Lulu. It’s confusing sometimes, keeping all the grandparents straight when you’re a little kid. My older sister Shannon came up with a solution: nicknames based on vacation spots.

Thus, in our family we had Grandma (my mom’s mom), Grandma Mexico (aka Margot, Shannon’s dad’s mom), and Grandma Lulu, short for Honolulu. Grandma Lulu not only traveled often to Honolulu, she was born there.

Now, Grandma Lulu was a fascinating character, on which I would elaborate here, if it weren’t for the fact I have decided her life will be the basis for my next novel.

What I can tell you is that while researching Grandma Lulu, I discovered she had a previously unknown 3rd husband. I remember at the time I looked into it initially, it was confusing, because all the evidence pointed to the fact that her 3rd husband had lied about his last name on their marriage license. Grandma Lulu, on the other hand, lied about her place of birth (she said she was born in Oakland, California, not Hawaii), said that it was her 2nd marriage, not her 3rd,  and shaved 5 years off her age. The age thing isn’t all that surprising, considering she was marrying a man 11 years her junior.

A couple weeks ago I began receiving messages from a man who is a relative of Mildred’s 4th husband, Jay. Mildred stayed married to Jay until his death, and, as far as I know, never married again, living her remaining fifteen years of life single, but dating. A lot. Her married boyfriend, who showed up at her funeral, handcrafted the wooden spice rack that hangs in my mother’s kitchen to this very day.

Grandma Lulu died when I was 10,  so I knew her, but I didn’t know much of her story. She was quiet, and tiny, and she always had froot loops when we came to visit. That was a treat for us, because my mother was a health nut and we always had Wheaties and Cheerios. I knew she liked birds, and she wore Hawaiian mumus, even while living in California. She gave me my first Barbie doll, a ballerina.

As a kid, I wasn’t privy to any of the details of her life, her choices, or her complicated relationship with my grandfather, whom she left behind at 18 months old. I have approached researching her life with curiosity, but enough emotional distance from the pain her choices caused my grandfather to recognize that she had a lot of pain of her own. Her pain likely lead to many of her actions, her multiple marriages, her wanderlust.

Anyway, the man researching Mildred’s life because of his connection to Jay, had lots of questions for me. He was confused by the last name I had attributed to Mildred’s third husband William, which was different from the information on the marriage license. I explained what my research had found, and it spurred us both on to try and figure out why William had not only changed his name from Woodcock to Hubbard, but listed his father’s name differently as well.

And that is how I found myself deeeeep down the rabbit hole of ancestry research.

The name change occurred after William’s father had passed away. He not only used his new name Hubbard when marrying Mildred, he used it on his marriage license to his second wife, Frances.

This is where the story takes an even more interesting turn. William married Frances in 1939. On their marriage license, Frances lists her age as 18, and that this is her first marriage. Initially I was perturbed by the fact that William was 32 at the time of their marriage, but the deeper I dug, the more I realized Frances was no naïve teenager.

In the 1940 census, less than a year after her marriage to William, Frances is back living with her parents. Along with her, is a one year old son, who has a completely different last name, Doiron.  Also living at home is her sister, a 19 year old divorcee with a 4 year old son.

That led me to a marriage record for Frances to a man named Melvin Doiron in October of 1938. At the age of seventeen, she married Melvin, and five months later gave birth to Ronald. Four months after Ronald was born, she married William. One must assume that in the nine months between the two marriages, there was a divorce or annulment. (I would hope)

You might ascribe this behavior to youth, however, Frances went on to marry FOUR MORE MEN. That brings us to a total of six husbands. There’s a possible indication of a seventh, but I haven’t been able to definitively prove that.

By 1941, at the age of 19, Frances was on her third husband. Of course, on her marriage license to husband number three, she said it was only her second marriage. Of all her husbands, Frances managed to marry a McQueen, a McKim and a McKibben. I wonder if there’s a strange psychological reason one might be attracted to a certain part of the alphabet.

I find myself pondering what was going through the mind of Frances, why she couldn’t keep a relationship. I can’t imagine she enjoyed all the ups and downs, although I suppose it’s possible. Part of me wants to believe so many marriages indicate a woman who is a hopeless romantic, even if she didn’t have the skills to pick a  man.

In 1970, Frances and her 5th husband, Gail, divorced after 8 years of marriage. Seven months later, she married her sixth husband, Charles. That marriage lasted from November through to May of the following year. Less than a year after her divorce, she remarried Gail. Somehow, that gave me hope that Frances found happiness. Unfortunately, they divorced again three and a half years later.

More than what was going through Frances’ mind, I think about her son, Ronald. From everything I can see, he was an only child, the product of a short-lived first marriage between his teenage mother and his 23 year old father, who himself ran off at 15 to join the military. Ronald was on his second stepfather before his third birthday. His mother would go on to bring four additional stepfathers into his life. That’s not a lot of stability, although her third husband was around through his teen years.

As for Frances, I’m not sure she got her happily ever after. When she died in 1989, at the age of only 68, She had outlived all of her ex-husbands. I have been unable to find an obituary for her, nor have I been able to locate her grave. Perhaps her son wasn’t sure what last  name to put on her grave marker, so he just had her cremated. If they charge by the letter it might be pretty expensive to create one that says: Here lies Frances Lenora Godfrey Doiron Hubbard (which really should be Woodcock) Fulmer Mcqueen McKim Mckibben McKim (didn’t work the 2nd time either).

For me, these people aren’t just names and dates on a chart. I mentally connect with them, imagine their lives, the era and geographical areas they lived, and I find myself rooting for them to have happy endings. I mourn their losses and cheer their success. The lure of the story takes me places I never imagine when I start looking.

You know you’re down the rabbit hole when you’re looking at the immigration papers of the second wife of your great grandmother’s ex-husband’s second wife’s fifth ex-husband, which is where I currently find myself.

If you would like me to go down YOUR family’s rabbit hole, please contact me at Shoreshfamilyreseach@gmail.com, visit my facebook page Shoresh Family Research, or my website Shoresh Family Research. 

 

 

Independence Day Confessions

 

 

This photo courtesy Pugsonparade

As I prepared to write this blog, I went looking for funny Fourth of July photos and memes. Instead, what I found were a lot of mean-spirited things, things that reinforced my dismay at the state of our country, and stuff that in today’s political climate just made me sad. It’s hard to be mad at patriotic pugs, so I went with this one.

This year, I must admit, I’m struggling to get excited for the Fourth. I guess that’s my main confession. Checking out at the grocery store, going in for a facial appointment, talking to friends, everyone asks, “Any plans for the holiday?” It takes me a moment to even remember what holiday they are talking about.

In years past, it was a big one for me. Since I was a little girl my family has celebrated, and I have fond memories of each. When I was younger, we would go to my grandparents’ or my great aunt and uncles house (across the street from each other) down in Laguna Niguel. We would spend the day at the beach, followed by barbeque and a very deliberate and organized firework display. Uncle Bud would light one safe and sane tower or cone, we would clap and cheer, and when it was done, he would move on to the next. The kids got the snakes and the sparklers, and my grandfather would randomly drop firecrackers to scare whomever was standing there, minding their own business.

After moving to Washington, we sometimes spent the holiday camping in Coeur D’Alene. Once again, my grandfather, who rarely talked and walked at the pace of a mummy, would casually let go of  a lit firecracker and keep walking. It was a little passive-aggressive, and he thought it was hilarious.

For the past twenty years off and on (mostly on), my parents hosted at their house. Sometimes we would have 15 people, sometimes 50. Many were people we would only see on that one day a year. My father used a propane torch to set off mortars from the launch tubes he nailed into the guard rail that lines the hill alongside their house.  Every year we knew it was going to be THE year someone lost a digit or set the house across the street on fire. It was always an extravaganza of food, fun and fireworks.

Last year was the first year we didn’t do the party, and I was okay with that, but a little melancholy. This year, I’m not even feeling sentimental about it. It’s as if this past political year has sucked the patriotism right out of me. Frankly, I was more excited about Canada’s sesquicentennial on July 1st.  (I think that technically makes confession number two.)

As I have been thinking about why I’m not excited, I’ve been  processing my patriotic feelings in general. Some are positive, some are not. And because I’m battling a nasty cold, my brain is too fuzzy to put these into any order of importance. Here, in a stream of consciousness, are my confessions:

  1. I hate apple pie. Okay, maybe hate is too strong of a word. It’s probably at the very bottom of my pie choices. I might eat it if it were given to me without alternative, but I really don’t enjoy it. I like apple crisp (as long as it’s granny smith apples) and I really like the apple berry crumb pie from the Snohomish Pie Company. I’d prefer “American as peach pie” or maybe “American as Rocky Road ice cream.”
  2. I cry every time I hear Neil Diamond’s “America.” I can’t help it. It makes me think of what real patriotism is about, not the kind where we only celebrate those who were born here, but those who were escaping dire circumstances in their homeland and saw this place as a beacon of hope and freedom. On the flip side, if I never heard “Proud to be American” or “Born in the USA” for the rest of my life, I’d be perfectly okay with that.
  3. I no longer idolize our founding fathers. I’m not even sure I like them. The amount of historical research I have done has led me to a place where I can appreciate the things they did with good intent, while not ignoring their serious character flaws. I think we do our kids a huge disservice by putting these men on pedestals, because I can say from my own personal experience, it sucks to see your heroes fall. Why do we teach only the cute little poems and legendary stories, while completely ignoring reality? While being men of great vision, they were not moral paragons. They definitely weren’t all (or even mostly) Christian, despite what my local town newspaper published this week. They were deists who had an agenda, and it wasn’t a utopia of freedom for all men, it was an opportunistic one that would benefit THEM. They wrote that ALL men were endowed with certain inalienable rights, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, ENDOWED BY THEIR CREATOR, while simultaneously holding fellow human beings in bondage of chattal slavery.  Those are not traits I find admirable. And guess what? I can love my country and recognize their contributions while being honest about their flaws.
  4. I love Citizenship ceremonies. I love seeing people from all over the world, from every ethnicity, nation and religion, who know more about our democracy and our constitution than the majority of natural born citizens, pledging to contribute to the beautiful patchwork that makes up the people of this country. I remember going in to my dry cleaners and every time, the woman who worked the counter would put down her citizenship study guide to help me. It made me feel proud to belong to a place where she felt welcome, and that she wanted to be a part of it. At the same time, I recognize that our immigration system is messed up, that it’s too hard for immigrants to come legally, and too easy for some to come illegally. Because I was born here, I consider myself lucky, not entitled, and I don’t begrudge anyone born into a place where there is poverty, famine, war or authoritarian regimes wanting to come here to escape that. I don’t fear people who are not like me, I desire to learn from them.
  5. I am not a fan of the melting pot analogy. I am a fan of cultural diversity. I love to visit the International district in Seattle, Chinatown in San Francisco, Little Saigon in Westminster, Olvera Street in Los Angeles, Little Havana in Miami, Little Italy in New York, the French Quarter in New Orleans. I have no desire to see the colors of the rainbow melted into one giant brown homogenous goop. I want to know about where people come from, I have no desire to strip them of their traditions to ‘Muricanize them. Our country is great because of its people, and the people of this country come from all over the world.
  6. Hatred, fear, exclusivity, elitism, nationalism and racism are not American values, and they sap my patriotism. What invigorates my patriotism is unity, celebration, hospitality to those in need, men and women who risk it all to serve our nation in the armed forces, Veterans, the families of service members who have made so many sacrifices in support of their soldier, their sailor, their marine, their… what do you call Air force people? Ah, Airmen.  And the Coast Guard. However, our treatment of veterans is definitely not a source of national pride for me.
  7. I am related to Francis Scott Key, author of the poem that became the National Anthem. He’s my 3rd cousin, 6x removed. I was excited to discover that fact, less excited to read the 3rd verse that no one really thought about or knew existed prior to the protests of Colin Kaepernick, the now much-maligned and former quarterback in the NFL. On a side note, protests are as American as… peach pie.
  8. For those who have known me a while, it may not be a surprise that I have a strong affection for the First Nations people of America. As a young child, I wanted to belong to a tribe. I didn’t know enough to know that there are more than 500 registered tribes, all with varying languages, culture, traditions, history. I think we are really missing out by painting them all with one broad cultural brush.
  9. My great grandfather was a World War I veteran, National Commander of the American Legion, LA county Assessor,  candidate for governor of the state of California. and a strong advocate for veteran’s affairs. His father was an immigrant from Ireland who settled in the central valley of California, having left his home during the Great Famine. I can admire my great grandfather while also acknowledging that he had a huge blind spot regarding immigrants. You see, despite the fact that his father came to this country seeking a better life, he believed that immigrants, particularly those of Mexican descent, were taking jobs that rightfully belonged to veterans. Rather than solely addressing the failings of the US government to serve the needs of returning veterans and their families or the widows and orphans created by our involvement in global conflicts, he found a convenient  scapegoat. If he were alive today, I would argue to him that we can welcome immigrants and serve our veterans. These two issues are not mutually exclusive.
  10. We’ve spent hundreds of dollars, possibly thousands, on fireworks over the years, on something that literally goes up in a puff of smoke (with report). My husband used to joke “some have a 401k, we have fireworks.” This year, as with last year, we have spent zero dollars. I can tell you it feels really good.
  11. I used to think the American experience was the same for everyone. I didn’t know that there were different levels of “freedom,” depending on your ethnicity and/or your income. I believed opportunities were the same for everyone, and that the American Dream was a reality for anyone who wanted it. I still  believe it’s true, but I’ve talked to too many people for whom race and poverty have impeded that dream, obstacles had to be overcome that I never had to face, and discouraging discrimination that I never experienced. I don’t take my freedom for granted, not only because I know that it’s a rare and valuable thing, but also because I know many people who have been deprived of it in many ways. I acknowledge my privilege and fight alongside those who haven’t been born with it.
  12. Wonder Woman may be my favorite American this year, and she’s Amazonian. Or Greek. It’s kind of confusing.

I know this is rambling. Like I said, I’m in a weird place, I’ve got the remnants of a nasty cold, and it’s just been a strange year.

So, happy birthday America. Hope you get some therapy and next year I’ll feel more like celebrating. I’m headed to Canada in a couple weeks, and that Justin Trudeau and socialized medicine is pretty appealing. I just think you should know, I’ve got options if you can’t pull it together.

All By Myself

 

Last weekend as we drove through the small Bavarian-themed  mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington, I was reminded of an incident that took place more than twenty years ago. I was in town for the weekend to celebrate my sister-in-law’s upcoming wedding. All of the bridesmaids had rented a large room in a seedy motel, and we went out for dinner, drinks, and eventually, karaoke.

When six females in their early 20’s go out on the town in a tiny place like Leavenworth, it’s hard to miss. We got a ton of attention, mostly in the form of free alcohol. By the time we got to the karaoke bar, we were all a little (or a lot) tipsy. (Don’t worry, we were on foot, not in a car.)

I have limited recollection of the evening, but I do remember participating in a rousing rendition of “Summer Loving.” Then , unexpectedly, one of the girls wasn’t feeling well, and all of them followed her to the bathroom. I didn’t react quite as quickly, so I was sitting alone at the table when I was handed a microphone, and the song one of the girl’s had previously selected began playing.

The song was, “All By Myself,” by Eric Carmen (later Celine Dion).

And I sat there, by myself, forlornly singing about being all by myself.

It’s kind of how I have been feeling a lot lately.

I’m a Christian. And I’m a political moderate.  I used to be further to the right, but my deepening faith and understanding of Biblical principals have pushed me left to the center. On some issues I’m over the line on the left, on some, I’m over the line on the right.

It used to be that I felt like I had a lot of company in the middle; that when push came to shove, most people didn’t hold extreme positions. The parties they voted for would produce a platform, but only the hardcore dems and republicans actually subscribed to the entire checklist of ideologies.

It was easier, then, to have spirited, but civil debate about issues.

It’s not that way anymore. The extremists on both sides have managed to pull in a lot more people, all the while pushing others to the opposite side. Those who once considered themselves moderate liberals and conservatives, now feel the need to take a stand on one side or the other.

In the past few years I’ve watched people I had previously considered to be moderates move further and further towards the ends of the spectrum. They’ve stopped listening to the other side and listen only to viewpoints that feed their extremism. They have used the behaviors and words of the other side to justify the unjustifiable.

Just this week I have been sickened to see loving, caring people make excuses for horrific behavior in the name of politics, in the name of balance. There’s been a raging competition to prove whose party is guilty of the most abhorrent actions and words.

The actions of the opposition have been used to justify things that I simply cannot believe. Since when did we start operating tit-for-tat  on a societal level?  We seem to have thrown out the basic rules of public decorum.

Do not confuse moderation with not having strong passionate views on things. My views are just as deeply engrained in me as those who are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

I passionately believe that humanity requires us to take care of each other. Even if it’s not a religious value for you, I’m certain that, presented with circumstances requiring action to save the life of another person, most would do what they could. However, your ideology doesn’t always represent that.

That’s the problem with ideology: it doesn’t take into account what real human beings do and feel in any given situation.  Most pro-choice people say they would never personally get an abortion, and definitely wouldn’t be comfortable performing one. Most people who angrily rejected Obamacare wouldn’t shrug their shoulders at a dying child who can’t afford medical care and were thrown off their insurance and say, “That sucks for you, but in this country we believe in self-sufficiency.”

And yet… the middle is becoming a very lonely place.

Last week, I got called a cynic by a conservative (who doesn’t personally know me) because I made a critical observation of the president. Me, a cynic. The person who always believes things will work out in the end, who wants the bad news first so I can move on to the good news, who has been called naïve on multiple occasions for taking people at their word and assuming the best about them.

It’s nearly impossible to make a values-based claim without it being criticized as a political statement. For example, I have great concerns about the health and well-being of our planet. Does that make me a liberal? Because the way I see it, God mandated Adam and Eve and their descendants to care for this earth. That isn’t a political agenda, it’s a moral imperative.

I think violence or threat of violence, or portrayal of violence against another human being, whether or not you disagree with them or are angry with their actions, is unacceptable. Period. For me, this is as black and white an area as you can get. It’s not okay for either side of an ideological disagreement to incite or perpetrate violence against the opposition. THIS SHOULD NOT EVEN BE UP FOR DEBATE OR DISCUSSION.

Every day the extremists get angrier and louder. Every day they demand that those who have approached these conversations with caution to “stop the fence sitting.” I am told “there is no room for compromise. Compromise means validation of their actions or views.” I am told that not going all in on one side makes me complicit with the other.

And I reject that. I reject that I don’t get to decide, issue by issue, person by person, how I feel about something and what I want to do about it.

I reject the idea that because much of the Christian church has been co-opted by the political agenda of Ayn Rand and her subscribers, I must be ashamed of my faith and stand silent as every believer is painted with the same broad brush.

I reject the idea that because I have great compassion for immigrants, refugees, and those who are persecuted for their race, ethnicity or religion, I am a snowflake who doesn’t love my country.

I reject the idea that finding common ground makes me a co-conspirator responsible for the bad actions of the party of those I have chosen not to condemn because of who they voted for.

I reject the idea that common decency, courtesy, concern for our fellow man and the planet on which we reside are political fodder, and that one side owns the rights to call themselves good while the other is evil.

I will name the evil when I see it, but I will strive for grace and mercy in my interactions because that’s what has been modeled to me by my God.

The evil I see today is hatred. I see name-calling. I see avocation of violence. I see condescension and disrespect.

You can stand up for your values without denigrating those who disagree. You can stand up for your values while continually dialoging with those from a counter-perspective. You can stand up for your values, name bad behavior, use your voice to create movement and change without sinking to the levels I have seen recently.

We are all hypocrites. We just are. We justify our own side’s bad behavior while condemning the other for the exact same offenses. And instead of owning that, we dig in our heels and double down. And then we wonder why we feel so icky all the time. Why we feel so agitated, easily offended, angry, sad. Misunderstood.

Come back to the middle. The water is fine (lukewarm, actually.) Help me be a better person by challenging me with questions that make me think, not insults that make me want to push you away (or over a cliff.) Help me see the heart behind your statements, and let me help you see the heart behind mine. I really believe it’s not too late.

(Would a cynic say that? No, so take that, Patrick!) Yeah, I know, I have a long way to go on the grace and mercy stuff.

 

What Have You Learned- 2017 Edition

I’m just gonna start off by saying that if you notice any typos in this post, it’s because I don’t have my glasses and every word is blurry. If that’s not an old lady thing to say, I don’t know what is… which is a great segue into today’s post. Today is my 45th birthday and the 4th anniversary of my blog. (cue the streamers and party horns.)

I haven’t been writing too often on here, but I promise there’s a very good reason for that. I am 3/4 finished writing my very first (complete) novel.  When I’m not doing that, I’m working on my ancestry research biz. { Shameless plug: http://familyresearch.strikingly.com }

But, since it’s my birthday, and the anniversary of the creation of this blog, I thought I would pop in and say what’s up. What’s up?!

Today I showed up to Bible study and discovered that my sweet friend Lisa had brought me a cake. Not just any cake, mind you, but a German chocolate cake.

See, when I was a little girl, my mom would make me one of two birthday desserts– Angel food cake with strawberries or a German Chocolate cake. Maybe it’s because I associate German chocolate with my birthday, maybe it’s just delicious. But for whatever reason, German chocolate cake remains my favorite kind of cake to this day.

Unfortunately, no one in my household likes cake except me, and most of them don’t like nuts. So, I never get German chocolate cake.

I mentioned this a few weeks? months? ago to Lisa, who made a note of that, and surprised me with my very own German chocolate birthday cake.

And I wanted to cry from sheer joy.

But not only because I get to eat my favorite cake. It’s because I have a friend like Lisa who remembered what I said, who knows me so well, who cared enough to think of me.

And today on Facebook, and via text, I was flooded with wishes and thoughts of love from friends and family that made me realize that I am truly blessed to have many people in my life who KNOW me, and care about me.

Back in 2005, BF (before Facebook), I turned 33. I was pregnant with Parker, and had been living in Southern Cal for only a few months. I had begun to develop a network of friends, but I was truly starting from scratch. The day of my birthday, a group of ladies invited me out to go shopping and to lunch. In the back of my mind I wondered how they knew it was my birthday, and surmised maybe my husband had told one of them.  I wondered if they DID know, and as the day went on, one thing became clear:

They didn’t.

That whole day was fun, a great way to spend my birthday with people I enjoyed,  and I’ll bet they would have made a fuss if they had known. It wasn’t that I was upset with them in any way. They just didn’t know. And I was too mortified to tell them.

Partly due to pregnancy hormones, but mostly due to the emotions of that day, I found myself really weepy all afternoon. I felt very lonely. I felt unknown.

I had the opportunity to be known, and I had chosen not to take it. I didn’t want to seem desperate for attention. I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad. And I was ashamed that I didn’t have any friends there who knew me well enough to know it was my birthday.

That evening, my husband made a nice dinner and afterwards I opened presents. My mom had sent me a gift, and when I opened it, I really began sobbing. My poor husband was baffled, and probably a little terrified by my response.

She had sent me the latest book in a series by a mystery author we both liked to read, and it was autographed.

It was the exact thing I needed in that moment… a reminder that I was known and cared for.

I can’t help but think one of the great tragedies of life is to go through our days feeling unknown. Many times, we are the ones responsible for that. As someone who struggles with intimacy and fears vulnerability, I can tell you, that’s a very lonely place to be.

I just don’t think we were created to go through this life alone. We were made with an innate desire to be seen, heard and KNOWN. Yet, often, fear, trust issues, life  circumstances, they hold us back. We convince ourselves that invisibility hurts less than rejection. That compartmentalizing our emotions is safer for our hearts than feeling pain. That being unknown is less scary than vulnerability.

I can testify to the reality, which is that pain is a part of the human experience, that, while unpleasant, is necessary to BE fully human, to fully experience joy and love and connection.

Some people may reject the real me, the bold me, the Katiest of Katies. I’ve let fear of the rejection of the real me hold me back too much in my relationships. I’ve let the fear of being “too much” prevent connection. Sometimes I’ve tested the waters and my fears have been confirmed. (Kind of like when I challenged my fear of heights and ended up sitting on a donut with a tailbone injury for 3 weeks). And that sucks to have your fears confirmed. But I’ve also had experiences, mostly in the past year, in which I have let the raw me, the vulnerable me, be laid bare before people who had already proven themselves trustworthy, and instead of rejection, I found love and acceptance. I found grace. I found encouragement. I found empathy. And I found connection.

These experiences have enabled me to take greater risks of vulnerability, and the rewards are even more than I could have imagined.

My birthday/ anniversary wish for each of you is that you would allow yourself to be known, to be vulnerable. That you would seek deeper connection with those you love and who love you.

I took another risk recently too– I cut my long hair off. Well, I didn’t cut my hair, my friend Marques cut my hair. He’s been cutting my hair for like 5 or 6 years now, and I trust him. I sat down in his chair and he looked me in the eye and said, “It’s gonna be okay.” And it was. It is.

So here’s to another year of learning, loving and taking risks. Thanks for being a part of this journey with me called life. I’m grateful for each and every one of you.

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Happy International Women’s Day!

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Once upon a time, I was fearful of feminism. I saw women marching for equal rights and believed they were a threat to the traditionalism to which  I subscribed. I saw anger. I saw bra-burning. I saw man-hating.  I saw white women looking out for themselves at the expense of women of color. And I saw pro-choice activism .

Meanwhile, internally I felt frustrated, unheard, condescended to, disregarded. I was trapped in between a place of what I perceived to be two separate sets of values: Conservative traditional life vs . Feminism.
I wanted to be bold, to speak out, to stand up for myself, but I didn’t want to be associated with “them” because I believed “they” rejected the life I chose: one of faith, marriage and motherhood.
I got called a feminist in high school and I bristled at the term.

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This cartoon was written about me. It should give a pretty clear indication of how  I was perceived.  I was no wilting violet . I was outspoken and in my gut I knew something wasn’t right about the way the world worked. However, I believed and still believe that motherhood is a high and sacred calling. I just didn’t know how to reconcile these two parts of me .
I confess, I haven’t always been a great ally of women. I’ve preferred friendships with men (way less complicated), rejected candidates who supported “women’s rights” as being unsupportive of MY choices as a woman, all the while longing for validation of my brain, my capabilities, my offerings, my potential.

A couple months ago I had lunch with my lovely friend Holly  and we discussed this topic. She told me that when she had gone back to school a few years ago, she got recruited by the feminist club (group?) she had told them, “but I’m not a feminist.”

What she found was a group of women supporting other women from all facets of life, with varying belief systems, running the gamut from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Holly looked at me and said, “I didn’t like it either, but the truth is, you’re a feminist.”

I nearly choked on my drink.

It’s funny, God has been doing some pretty unexpected things in my life over the past few years. He’s brought some amazing women into my life. He’s healed old wounds from difficult friendships and interactions with other women. He’s brought an amazing therapist my way who celebrates and encourages both sides of me: the woman who advocates for herself and others and the woman of faith and tradition. She’s teaching me how those parts of me can thrive together, one doesn’t have to be sacrificed for the sake of the other.

This is freeing me up to be supportive of other women in a new way.  Each one of us has unique gifts, talents, abilities, values and dreams. That’s what brings color and vibrancy  to this world.

I’m proud to be a woman. It took me nearly 45 years to get to the point of being able to say that. I’m proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with my mother, my sisters, my daughters, my friends. I love and admire their strength, their softness, their wisdom, their nurture, their intelligence, their humor, and their advocacy for others.

I’m grateful to the women who have forged the path for me, whether or not  I agree with all of their ideologies or methods.

So here’s to strong women:

May we know them

May we be them

May we raise them

 

 

 

Tales From A Hipster Wedding

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Last night Jeff and I attended the wedding of our friends Lisa and Doug’s son Alex, who is also a good friend of our eldest daughter Sydney. Alex and Mary, his new wife, are in their early 20’s. Their large circle of friends encompasses a specific demographic which was on stellar display at this event.

A little background info: We have a locally- owned coffee shop in our town that is a mecca for Sydney and her hipster church friends. Many of them either work there, socialize there, study their Bible there, and/or all of the above.

Lisa and I meet up there every couple months for coffee and their specialty oatmeal, named after Molly the manager. We have found that on an average day we have a 75% chance of spotting one of our children, and 100% chance of spotting at least 5 people from our church family (attendees of one or more of three local congregations affiliated by denomination.)

We have also discovered that we can conjure one of the assistant pastors simply by saying his name three times, like Beetlejuice.

This coffee shop has gelato, organic baked goods, and delicious coffee beverages, using beans roasted by their very own roaster. Sydney, during her training, learned the art of the milk pour to create designs in each beverage. It’s a required skill. There’s rarely a time or day when it’s not overflowing with clientele. I prefer the overstuffed leather chairs, but there are many instances we are simply lucky to find a spot.

They have a stage where sometimes there are live musical performances. At other times there are chairs on the stage, and I also like to sit there because it makes me feel like Lisa and I are on a talk show.

This place is like Central Perk from “Friends,” only instead of six vapid gen-x’ers, there are 2 dozen millennials plus Lisa and I.

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When we arrived at the wedding, a barn in the middle of an agricultural valley that has been beautifully repurposed as a wedding venue, I recognized many people from our church and from the coffee shop. We immediately began taking mental inventory of the high hipster ambience.

The beard count alone was off the charts. I lived through the late seventies and early eighties and I don’t think I cumulatively witnessed as many beards in that era as I did last night.

Beards also are a common topic of conversation. There is mutual beard admiration, discussion of beard-al qualities, jokes about the drawbacks of the beard (crumb catcher was at the top of that list), and general beard-related topics.

I would say this is the first wedding I have attended where people were wearing beanies with semi-formal attire. One might think a beanie at a wedding might stand out or seem inappropriate, but I must say– they have figured out how to pull it off. These are no poser hipsters. These are all-in hipsters and the beanie is just an appendage now.

Another trend we noticed was the jewel tone suits and sport coats. The stand-out in that category was a magenta suit, complete with magenta skinny tie and matching round magenta John Lennon glasses. The others were wearing horn-rimmed glasses, often tucked into the beanie and accompanied by various sized ear gauges.

Semi-formal in hipster terms apparently means cable knit sweaters WITH leather patches, as opposed to the more casual fisherman sweater without the leather patches.  Also, the man-buns are slightly tidier than normal.

One kid was doing what my husband referred to as “Full Bieber,” however I felt it was more of an homage to one of those One Direction guys. You tell me–floppy fluffy hair with skinny jeans and bright white tennis shoes ( I think the youngsters call them “kicks.” ). Bieber or Harry Styles?

At our reception table we were seated with a friend, Missy,  who was in town from Texas,  her adorable ginger-haired 5 year old son, along with two other younger couples. Both of the couples featured bearded men and wives who were natural and lovely. That’s I think one of my favorite hipster trends- women who embrace their natural beauty. They all look like they’ve just been outside taking a brisk hike.

I asked the couple next to me how they knew the bride and groom. The man said that he had worked with the bride at the aforementioned coffee shop. “Oh,” I responded. “Then do you know Sydney?”

They and the other couple responded that they did.

“She’s our daughter,” I said proudly, invoking my hipster-adjacent credentials.

They all commented about how that made sense, considering she looked like me. I blushed and sputtered my weak protests, but was flattered by the compliment.

Missy stopped in the middle of her conversation with the couple on the opposite side of the table to get my attention.

“I mentioned that Ross Perot was the developer for our neighborhood. They don’t know who Ross Perot is and I’m feeling really old,” She said.

I looked at them. “Ross Perot was the original crazy billionaire who got into politics. He ran for president as an independent against George Bush Senior and Bill Clinton. In 1992.” I paused. “Were you even alive in 1992?”

The wife looked at me as if she was hesitant to answer. “Oh, well, I was born in 1994, so…”

I sighed. “Right. Well, he was an economic conservative who siphoned votes from Bush, ultimately getting Bill Clinton elected.”

The husband nodded, with a serious expression. “Interesting. I’ll have to look that up.”

There’s nothing that makes you feel quite so old as realizing events you experienced as an adult are considered “history” to a married couple expecting their first child.

As for the wedding itself, the bride had chosen what Jeff kept referring to as “Garden of Eden-themed” floral décor. The bride and the bridesmaids wore garlands in their hair of leaves and vines with roses, creating a natural, romantic look. There wasn’t a ton of any decorations except for lighting and greenery, elegant simplicity creating a serene, understated scene.

It was such a sharp contrast to my own wedding, which was filled with taffeta, Battenberg lace, tulle and extravagant flower arrangements. My wedding hair was a traditional up-do, my bouquet similar to the hundreds I had cut out of bridal magazines and pasted into my wedding planner, my music traditional.

So much of my wedding was done in such a way that I thought weddings were supposed to be. We ticked off boxes and went through the motions of a traditional ceremony as if creating a performance for our guests instead of allowing for a moment that was personal and intimate.

I really think these hipsters are onto something. They don’t like a bunch of fuss, they don’t do things because someone said that’s how it’s supposed to be,  and they seem to have figured out how to prioritize what’s important to them, casting the superfluous aside.

They want their food clean from toxins, their flannel made with the softest organic cotton, their music to have meaning, and their Instagram to be filled with all manner of adventures.

I can’t resent them for that- I say more power to ’em. Really, who can blame them? I want those things as well. I hope they do turn this planet into the hipster utopia they envision. We would all be better for it.

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We Can’t Always Choose The Music Life Plays For Us, But We Can Choose How We Dance To It

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Once Upon a time (365 days ago to be precise) we all stood together on the precipice of a new year. We sipped champagne and shared midnight kisses,  cheered and threw confetti, talked excitedly about future plans and resolutions.

I’m not sure 2016 turned out the way any of us anticipated, and it’s likely to go down as a year many would like to forget. 2016 is the Voldemort of years- the one of which we shall never speak again. When someone attempts to  begin a sentence, “Do you remember back in 2016 when-” we will all shush their mouths as quickly and gently as possible.

I’m turning 45 in 2017. I’ve seen some years. I have never seen a year like this one. Between democalypse 2016 (we miss you, Jon Stewart), increases in race-related conflict, police brutality and police under attack, increases in hate crimes, reduction of interpersonal civility, global unrest, terrorism, and humanitarian crises, this year was already a stinker. Add in a larger than normal amount of iconic celebrity deaths and it was a cesspool of ugly.

But it wasn’t just that stuff that made this year so hard. I lost 2 people significant to me and to people I care about to cancer this year. I attended the funeral of my friend Jason on a Saturday and 6 days later I was comforting my sister and her children over the unexpected passing of her long time significant other John, my nephew Luke’s father.

All year the people I love struggled through loss and grief of various types, fought to keep their heads above water, as one said to me, “I’m operating in 15 minute increments, putting one foot in front of the other.”

This year was just plain hard. Was it harder than other years? Can we statistically prove that? Who knows, but that doesn’t really matter. With a few exceptions, most of my friends and family are ready to be done with 2016.

However, it’s not in me to leave it there. The Pollyanna in me wants to know that there was beauty in the pain, lessons learned, strength gained.

So, in order to not let this shitastrophic year get the best of me, here, in no particular order, are the joyful moments that in some way managed to redeem the rest:

 

In January I went on a three week Facebook fast, which I will be repeating this year . I started a Bible study on gratitude and spent every day looking for beauty around me. I focused on my family, my writing, my spiritual development. I had lunch dates and coffee dates and was present in my life. I connected with those I love.

In March I was able to celebrate my sister Shannon’s 50th birthday with her by going to visit our sister Colleen In Southern Cal. We sat on the beach in Laguna and talked and laughed. We surprised my niece as she performed for the last time at her high school cheerleading expo. We went out to Palm Springs and sat by the pool and connected.

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In an effort to simplify, I let go of some of my “have-to’s” and focused instead on my “want-to’s.” Turned out I didn’t have to do most of my have-to’s, they were simply burdens I needlessly placed on myself. Holidays had less pressure, and I was able to just be with my people, and we connected.

We spent our spring break at beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene. We rode four wheelers and got dirty and explored and we connected.

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Parker rode on a camel at the fair, Zoe played a dwarf in her school production of “Shrek,” and an unusually warm spring meant lots of days enjoying Lake Washington and the stunning place we live.

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Sydney and I sung together for the mother’s day tea, Parker bet on the ponies at Emerald Downs, We celebrated Papa Ted’s 90th birthday,  and my birthday surprise was a giant poster Parker unfurled at the school concert.

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Jeff and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary in St Pete Beach, Florida and missed the hurricane by 12 hours.

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Nathan graduated from high school and became a freshman at Washington State University.

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Zoe, Parker and I went to Harrison Hot Springs, Canada to go in search of Bigfoot

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(We didn’t find him)

We saw Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie in concert, Zoe got to go to Disneyland, Nathan took a graduation road trip with his friends and we spent much of the summer on the sidelines of a soccer field.

In the fall Jeff and I got to celebrate our friend and neighbor Brian’s 50th birthday in Las Vegas and then just a few days later I was making the rounds in Socal, seeing my sister and her family, old friends, newer friends and spending time with my extended family at our reunion.

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In all of these moments the priority was connection.

Zoe added volleyball to her schedule which, as an indoor sport, is a nice change. Nathan leaving for college was hard, but watching him thrive on his own is amazing.

Birthday week was a 6 day extravaganza of celebrating Zoe’s 13th, Parker’s 11th and Sydney’s 22nd.

We spent Thanksgiving with Shannon and her family in Spokane, celebrated the holidays with friends and family at various events, culminating in Christmukkah at our house.

And now, as I sit here typing this, my kids are gathered ’round the table. It’s snowing outside. And we are connecting.

So as it turns out, the reason 2016 can’t beat us is because we are stronger together than anything it tried to send our way. In the midst of pain was blessing. In the midst of struggle was joy and growth.

I’m not sorry to see this year come to an end, there’s no doubt. However, the reason I’m most looking forward to 2017 is not because 2016 didn’t have its moments. It’s because this year Sydney will embark on a new career path. It’s because Parker will finish elementary school and enter middle school. It’s because Nathan is making plans for moving into an apartment with his friends for his sophomore year of college, one step closer to the rest of his life. It’s because Zoe will have my calendar filled with activities as she lives each moment to its fullest.

Jeff and I will be celebrating 20 years of marriage this year. This is our 24th New Year’s Eve together, and we have all sorts of plans for the future.

Even if none of those plans come to fruition, there’s one thing that will matter in 2017… how we connect. If I have a resolution, it’s to be better at connecting, to be in the moment, to find the beauty in simplicity of sitting face to face with someone in our shared humanity.

So here’s to fresh starts… and real connection. Like the quote above says, we can’t always choose the music life plays for us, but we can choose how we dance to it. May 2017 be a year of dancing.

Cheers!

(I picked this photo to end my last post of 2016 because somehow an Alan Alda quote with a typo superimposed over a dolphin seemed to fit exactly right. )

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Faith In Action: Democracy, Hypocrisy and the Pomegranate

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When I started this blog three and a half years ago, I intended it to be a light-hearted outlet for my writing. I believe my second post was about bananas. Some of my readers started following me because I was attempting a modicum of humor on a regular basis. I’ve probably lost a few followers recently because of a change in the tone and seriousness of my writing, but that’s okay with me. I’d rather lose readers than stifle my needed expression.

 

About two years ago, I entered into therapy. I highly recommend it, by the way. So much so, my 13 year old has gotten into trouble with her friends by suggesting they see a counselor. I had to explain to her that simply because I extol its benefits without shame or embarrassment, that doesn’t mean everyone appreciates that type of advice.

Counseling has changed me, and I’d like to think for the better. It’s allowed me to see myself more clearly, it’s freed me from bondage that has impeded both my personal growth and my spiritual growth, and it’s helped me clarify what really is important to me.

As a result, you’re much less likely to find silly blog posts here. (Also, since I’m in the process of writing a book, you’re much less likely to find ANY blog posts here. ) That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of humor, it just means that I’m finding if I’m going to exert the energy to write something, I want it to be meaningful; Worthy of both my time and yours.

So, now that those disclaimers are out of the way, I’m sure you’re waiting with baited breath (ha!) to hear what has roused me enough to break from writing my novel and post my first blog in months.

It’s fruit. Pomegranate, specifically.

 

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Did you know that pomegranates are filled with vitamins, antioxidents, and anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and pro-heart health properties?

If you’ve ever eaten a pomegranate, you know that the seeds can be difficult to reach. They’re a combination of both sweet and tart. They can get messy. Really messy, but so worth it.

Jewish tradition holds that there are 613 seeds in a pomegranate, and it is often consumed on Rosh Hashana to symbolize the desire for fruitfulness in the upcoming new year.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he describes the Fruit of the Spirit. These are all the qualities that should be born out in a person’s life as a result of the Spirit living within us, and as a visible manifestation of our faith.

fruits-of-the-spirit-love

These are all great qualities. I like to think I possess them. However, the past several days (probably even the past several months) have challenged me on whether or not this is true.

On Tuesday our nation elected a new president. While the majority of people voted for the candidate who lost, our system is set up not for a majority rule, but with a less-direct version of democracy, the electoral college. Apparently our founding fathers feared a “tyranny of the majority.” As to why each state but two has a “winner take all” electoral allotment system, I don’t have an answer to that.

Regardless, the outcome has been decided, and truth be told, I’m having a really hard time understanding it. When you don’t understand something, it’s much harder to accept it.

I’ve struggled to understand how people could hear the hateful words that I heard, and still want that person to represent them, represent us. I have struggled to understand how people who are proclaimed followers of Jesus, the most inclusive, loving, generous, immaterialistic, peaceful man to walk to planet, heard the things I heard and chose to look the other way, or worse- excused it and picked that candidate. I’ve struggled to understand how the American church has become so co-opted by a singular political party and hateful rhetoric of the “opposing candidate” that as a whole, was completely unwilling to extend grace to one side, but was able to extend so much unmerited grace to the other. Or, barring either candidate being consistent with Biblical values, conscientiously abstained , voted third party, or as I did, picked a write-in candidate.

And I have asked questions. Lots of them. I’ve attempted to understand. I’ve seen lots of Facebook posts decrying the accusations lodged against them of being racist, unintelligent, hateful, and a whole number of things. It saddens me that they have been attacked. They have cited a myriad of reasons why they voted the way that they did, and most of them have to do with party platforms rather than the person they actually elected.

For me, though,  this wasn’t a choice of politics, it was a referendum on civility. I believe everyone lost on Tuesday, whether they realize it or not.

HOWEVER… and here’s where I start to get to the point of this whole convoluted thing.

In a conversation about the election with a friend of mine whose life is devoted to ministry, previously as a pastor, currently as a global missions director for a charity that does a whole lot of good in the name of Jesus, he accused me of assuming that I have taken THE moral high ground.

He’s absolutely correct. I have assumed that.

But his statement has stuck with me. It’s gnawed at me. It’s caused me to look at my own life and my own “belief” system.

If I say I believe something, but have no actions to back it up, it’s not a belief. It’s an opinion. And boy do I have LOTS of opinions. I’m a writer, it’s how I express my thoughts. If I were to compare the amount of words I have expended vs. the amount of effort proving those words with actions, there would be a giant discrepancy.

When I was younger, I was always a little nervous about the verse in James that says faith without action is dead. Because I was brought up with the doctrine of grace, “works” was almost a dirty word.

The reality is that it left me without a clear understanding of either.

Jesus told us that faith was a visible thing, not just things you think or feel. The only way your inner beliefs can be seen is through action. Loving people is a verb. Mercy isn’t feeling pity, it’s compassion. Compassion is a verb, exhibited through extending help and forgiveness .  Sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, reading the Bible or spouting off on Facebook about morality isn’t faith. We don’t ask, “What would Jesus think?” We don’t ask, “What would Jesus feel?” We ask “What would Jesus DO?”

I can have all sorts of thoughts and feelings about the poor, maybe even write a post, or share an article about the tragedy and injustice of it, meanwhile my mother in law is quietly serving at the soup kitchen every week– who then is the one who truly BELIEVES helping the poor is the right thing to do?

This morning I studied this concept of living my beliefs through my actions, and it was a heartbreaking indictment.

The following, in no particular order, are the verses that convicted my heart today:

Matthew 12:36 “And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgement day for every idle word you speak.”

Idle: without purpose or effect, pointless.

John 21:16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said. “You know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

Revelation 2:19 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. ”

Philemon 1:6 And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.

James 2:14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?

James 2:22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.

1 Peter 2:15 For this is God’s will, that you silence the ignorance of foolish men by doing good.

Matthew 25:34- 45 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me a drink, I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ Then they will reply , ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “

And finally, back to the pomegranate.

Matthew 12:33 A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.

Or non-existent.

Have you ever planted a tree or vine that didn’t bear much fruit, if at all? Last summer I planted a raspberry bush. Number of raspberries it bore year one? Zero. Year two? Three. So instead of providing me with the joy and sustenance of its berries, all I’ve got is an overgrown bush covered in thorns.

Sometimes in my way of living and interacting with others,  I’m that raspberry bush. I give a couple measly berries and an armful of scratches for your trouble.

I want to be a pomegranate tree, and not because those suckers could bean someone on the side with the force of a baseball to get their attention, although at times it’s tempting.

If my life is bearing pomegranates, that fruit is not only providing goodness, it’s also filled with a multitude of seeds that can turn into more trees.

It doesn’t matter who is in the White House, as long as I’m producing fruit, sharing it with others, seeding new trees.

I need to put my preaching into action, starting with the very people in whose choices I’m disappointed. Love, compassion, mercy, grace… if I am only willing to bestow these things to those who agree with me, I am a fruitless pomegranate tree. If I rail against injustice, poverty, bigotry, but it’s limited to a blog post and a Facebook rant, I am a fruitless pomegranate tree.

If I want to see pomegranate arils permeating this country, my friendships, my government, my family, I’ve gotta first fertilize my own tree.

 

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