June 26, 2019

Overcoming the Mountain

I'm overcome.

With anger.
With sadness.
With despair.
With rage.

I cling to my own child while reading horror stories about other children.
Children who weren't fortunate enough to be born in this country.
To be born white.
To be born middle class.
To be born privileged.

I cry.
Sometimes I cry at my desk at work.
Sometimes I cry in the shower.
I often cry in the car.

Then I'm overcome with guilt for my tears.
Who the hell am I to cry? I'm lucky. I'm untouched by these perils. My daughter is safe.
But the tears flow like clear, hot lava and my soul burns.
I've donated.
I've prayed.
I've journaled.
I've volunteered.
I've shared resources online.
I've called my elected representatives.
But I keep coming back to the same question, "What have I really done?" or rather, "What can I even really do?"

What can you do when you see a picture of a father and his young child face down, drowned in a river as they searched for a better life? A life I freely lead through no right other than circumstance and chance. First, I stopped to notice...

I noticed that the child was tucked under his shirt and that made me think about his actions before wading into the waters. How he probably comforted her, told her that by sharing daddy's shirt she would stay close to him... near his heart. I thought about how scared he must have been but how tucking his daughter into his own shirt must have given him some assurance that they'd be together. That they'd be okay.

I noticed how, even in death, the child clung to her father -- a little elbow crooked around his neck. That little arm signified a deep trust. Trust that daddy was doing everything he could. That daddy would keep her safe. My own daughter has clung to me in a similar way, but never through a coursing river as we journeyed towards safety, towards peace, towards a chance of life.

I couldn't stop thinking about their last moments. What he said. What the child did. What I was doing in my own life as they journeyed through literal hell on earth. I bet I was peacefully sleeping, my own child safe in the room down the hall where I can watch the rise and fall of her chest on a monitor.

Next, I wanted to do something, but what?

Cry?
Scream?
Curse the very earth I walk upon and all the horrors it spews upon humanity?

I've done those things. Hell, I'm doing them as I type this. But what do they accomplish? How do they stop the horror? They don't undue the torment on those young souls. They don't bring back the dead. They don't rain down justice on the perpetrators.

I say again -- I am overcome.

I ran from faith for a long time. I never truly stopped having it, but I quit embracing it. Embracing it felt like an acceptance of all the nasty things that have sadly become associated with faith. With hatred. With judgment. With pride. With arrogance. I couldn't bring myself to embrace those values so I convinced myself that I didn't need faith in my life on a daily basis.

But as I watch the horrors unfold around me I feel moved to reevaluate my position. As I stared at that picture of that sweet drown baby girl and her father, I remember...

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

I may be overcome but if there is a shred of justice in this world, they will be blessed.
I don't know how. I don't know when. But they must be
I don't think I could stand to breathe another breath if I didn't have faith that somehow their torment on this earth would not stand unanswered and unaccounted for or if I believed that after the misery and toil of this world, nothing better awaited them. No, surely they are blessed. They are blessed beyond measure. Blessed more than any of us will ever be and I praise that and embrace it as fact based not on evidence, but on faith alone. I cling to that because I too am drowning, not in water but in sorrow and rage. I cling to this newfound faith. I need it as much as I need oxygen.

This new faith has brought new authors into my life and I recently I finished a book entitled "Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women" by Sarah Bessey. The book isn't new but my discovery of it is. As I read, I got a sense that many other women, be they of faith or not, probably feel as overcome as I do now. You may feel overcome. In the book, she puts a spin on a favorite verse from my childhood. The verse is Mark 11:23 and it says: "Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them."

As a child, when I was nervous about a test or some other trivial thing, I'd turn to this verse and remind God of it. "I do not doubt!" I'd say. "I do not doubt that I will ace the ACT and get into a good college and get a good scholarship so I'm willing it into being through prayer per Mark 11:23 Lord. Let it be so. Cast this mountain into the sea!"  I have nothing but deep sighs and eye-rolls for past me and my prayers that were narcissistic in nature, not to mention probably a borderline attempt to blackmail God with the Holy Book. 

According to Sarah Bessy though, "[S]ometimes our most holy mountain-moving faith looks more like spending our whole lives making that mountain move, rock by rock, pebble by pebble, unsexy day after daily day, casting the mountain to the sea stone by stone rather than watching a mountain suddenly rise up and cast itself."

I see what the mountain is now. It isn't tests or high school crushes, it's hell on earth. It's children being separated from their families and left without basic provisions and care. It's families stuck in war zones at the mercy of people in power who think of nothing else. It's mothers who watch their children die of disease or hunger when resources existed to help -- but they just couldn't get past enemy lines. It's unarmed black men being gunned down in their own cars in front of babies. It's addicts who can't afford health care and high maternal mortality rates for people of color. And yes, it is a child clinging to her father, even in death, in a river on the border of the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world, one which also happens to so boldly proclaim: "In God We Trust."

That's a mountain. It's vast. It seems impossible to move. It's hard to overcome.

But we have to and if that means taking it pebble by pebble, well give me damn shovel! I'll rejoice in it.  I'll kiss the blisters on my hand as they form!

You see, I've suddenly realized that "overcome" has another meaning... a powerful one. One that means I do not have to succumb to but rather, one that hints at a power I possess. One we all do. Bessy refers in her book to our "preaching-with-our-feet-and-voices-and-hands-money-lives." We have those and we can chose to wield them! Instead of feeling overcome by the mountain, we can decide that by deed, word, action, and faith we will instead, overcome it.

It won't happen all at once.
There will be more horrific stories and photos that will send us reeling and looking for answers. And it will be okay to seek them. We can cry. We can mourn. We can even ask ourselves why are we here -- blessed, happy secure -- while others are not. It's okay. But we cannot get so bogged down in despair that we forget that we've been enabled with a power to overcome. Our safety and security in this world comes with a solemn duty to those trapped by the mountains:

A duty to pick up a shovel and get to work.
We've got mountains to overcome.
Here are some resources you can use to help move this mountain. Please grab a shovel -- we've got work to do:
DONATE to one of these organizations:
PLEDGE
  • Use your frequent flyer miles to help get more attorneys to the border to provide pro bono immigration services to those being detained.
  • Sign online petitions to show elected officials that you are not okay with this humanitarian crisis occurring anywhere, much less on our own soil. Don't miss this one from the ACLU that will be sent to the Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • Use a spare room or property to host a refugee in crisis.
INFORM YOURSELF and OTHERS
  • It's not okay to bury your head in the sand and it is your duty to confront those you love who choose to do so. Read, listen or watch the news. I suggest NPR, PBS Newshour, and the BBC for solid reporting. 
  • Learn the facts about family separation so that you can wield truth to those who are misinformed.
SPEAK OUT
  • Contact your elected officials today, tomorrow, and every single day about this crisis. Urge them to support the following legislation at the national level:
  • Find events near you so that you can speak out and show up in person.
  • Write an op-ed to your local paper detailing why you support ending this humanitarian crisis.
HOLD ELECTED OFFICIALS ACCOUNTABLE
  • You may not be able to hit the voting box for at least another 7-months or so, but make a plan now to only support political candidates who have concrete plans to end family separations and espouse productive and humanitarian methods of ending the immigration crisis in our country and reuniting families and children. 

May 09, 2019

A Beautifully Terrible Motherhood Truth

Last night I had a moment. It was a moment that I think most moms (and dads) of growing kids could probably relate to. I had come home from work and Holland was excited to see me. She wanted to tell me about her day and to ask me about mine. I sat at the kitchen table, watching her effortlessly glide across the floor towards me, dancing and twirling as she came, and it hit me...

She isn't a baby anymore. 

In that moment I was filled with both immense pride for the human being she is growing into but also, deep sadness that as the years slip by, I lose tiny pieces of her "babyness" that shall never return.

I paused and told her just how grown she looked and she just smiled widely. She, of course, only understands that growing into a BIG girl is a good thing. And it is...
This morning, as I drove into the office, a deep truth of motherhood that I'd never before understood hit me.

One day, if Holland chooses a life that includes children, she will understand those bittersweet moments I've experienced because she too will have them. More than that, she will understand the depth of a mother's love. She will understand the feeling of desperately wanting a child to sleep so you can just have a moment of silence and peace, only then to feel an intense (and irrational) desire to wake up that same child so you can hug them and be assured of their presence after running across a picture of them or, sometimes as it happens in the world we live in, reading or thinking about a sad story like a recent school shooting. She too will feel this intense, this amazing, this difficult, this relentless love for her child or children. But... she will never feel that for me.

Oh, she will love me. (At least, I hope she will). A child's love for a parent is a special bond in and of itself of course. It can also be deep and difficult and I personally believe it expands to new horizons once that child becomes a parent itself. It becomes more understanding of their parent -- of their hard choices and their sacrifices. But... it isn't the same. It is quite different than the love that a parent feels for their own child.

So becoming a mom is this amazingly terrible double-edged sword. Because, by doing so, in a sense -- you sign up for a love that will never quite be requited. You make this silent pact within yourself to give a piece of your soul up -- knowing deep down that the soul you are giving it to will never be able to give you the same piece of their own soul. That piece is, of course, reserved for their own future children. As it should be...

When this realization struck me, I quite literally lost my breath for a second thinking about the beautifully terrible nature of this cycle. It has such loss and sadness, but also, this prevailing hope that coaxes us into continuing it. It is as if the generations of humanity are built upon this deep and willing sacrifice that parents make that requires them to pour out a certain type of love that will never be returned to them.

When I arrived at my office, I found myself having to wipe away a few silent tears.
Silent tears marking the realization I had just made.
Tears for the sadness of knowing that my daughter won't love me, ever, in the same way I love her.
Tears for the intense joy of knowing that one day, my daughter will feel this love for her own kids.

Tears for the love my own mother poured into me that I'll never be able to give back to her in the way she deserves.

Tears for all the parents who have or who are participating in this beautifully terrible cycle of love and self-sacrifice that is the backbone of all humanity.

As I gathered my things and found my composure, I prayed a silent but thankful prayer.
Thankful for the love I received. For the love I give. And for the legacy of love that we all pass along through our beautiful children.
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