A Few Post-Election Thoughts (Gag)

I know everyone is sick of these posts, but I have to say my piece, and be done with it.

I’m going to go ahead and talk about my feelings after the election, so if you’re at the point where anything containing the words “election” and “feelings” make you gag, go ahead and stop reading now. But to make it more bearable for the three of you who choose to continue, I’ll go ahead and type “gag” every time I type “feelings.”

I’m going to talk about why I felt the way I did, and why I think it’s important. Then I’m going to talk about what I think we ought to do now, assuming we want to ameliorate some of the division happening in our country and our church. I am directing this toward evangelical Christians..

I am, obviously, disappointed about the results of the election. I am disappointed in my country’s choices, but I have felt that way since the primaries.

After Trump actually won though, something changed. It actually really surprised me. I realized at about 2:30AM on November 9th, how personal and overwhelming my feelings (gag) were of being betrayed by my own demographic – evangelical Christians, who exit polls showed voted for Trump in record numbers.

I’m not angry at any individual for the way they voted, because this was a tough choice and there are myriad, complex reasons why people made the choices they did. And because I’ve had some time to process my feelings (gag). And because my evangelical pastor directly addressed the fear that people like me are experiencing in a loving and affirming way, and because I believe that most of the Christians I know prayerfully, painfully, and carefully considered their decisions, and reached a variety of conclusions.

What I am talking about here, is the broader demographic of evangelical Christians throwing their enthusiastic support behind a candidate whose character is so clearly antithetical to basic Christian values.

I thought that at least a wide margin of Christians would vote against Trump, and I was painfully disappointed when the opposite happened. I didn’t expect tons of them to vote for Hillary Clinton, but I did expect many of them to vote for a person of character even if that person couldn’t win. I even had a very far fetched fantasy of so many people voting third party that neither candidate could get the necessary 270 electoral votes. Because you know, America, if we all voted for people we actually wanted that could really happen.

Anyway, as the wife of a Mexican immigrant, and as a woman, it sort of just felt like my own tribe simply must not care all that much about me or the people that I love. They care that my children will be born and not aborted, which I do appreciate, but after that, apparently they can be mocked, belittled, groped, sexually assaulted, threatened, stripped of birthright citizenship, and deported. And hey, if they were on the other side of the world they could be bombed, and that would be just fine too.

I realize this sounds extreme to some of you, but I’m simply stating my initial feelings (gag) here, and I know many others who feel the very same way. It’s not about a republican winning. It’s about a person winning who has attacked certain groups of people in a very personal and demeaning way.

Don’t get me wrong: I am pro-life. I think that abortion is a huge moral blind spot in our society. But you know what other issues the Bible addresses at least as clearly if not more so? Welcoming the foreigner in your midst; Defending the weak and vulnerable who are walking among us; God desiring mercy over sacrifice; The fruits of the spirit including kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control; The importance of leaders living upright and godly lives; The equality of all people, made in God’s image; A man’s words reflecting his heart; The necessity for every one of us to ask forgiveness for our sins.

So whatever justifications we have (and there are many, ranging from the legitimate to the bizarre), I’d say it is fairly clear that Trump, who has consistently demonized the foreigner, mocked the vulnerable, displayed a lack of the fruits of the spirit, used words that embolden and condone violence against minorities and women, and never asked for forgiveness, is not the type of candidate we would expect “Bible-believing” Christians to support. So I was particularly struck with a feeling (gag) of dismay when I saw that a whopping 81% of evangelical Christians who voted, voted for him.

Based on my own post-election sentiment, I think that our support of a clearly un-Christian candidate has probably alienated many individuals in communities that have been belittled, objectified, or directly threatened: People of color; Muslims; Women who have been sexually assaulted; Immigrants; Refugees; LGBT folks, People with disabilities, and others. If I, a committed Christian and white person, woke up the day after the election having the initial feeling (gag) that I wanted to convert to a more loving denomination (and I did have that feeling [gag], for a little while), I’m sure anyone in these communities who wasn’t already a Christian did not exactly have the burning desire to go join an evangelical church. In that way, we have damaged our witness by supporting an ungodly man. Regardless of how noble our intentions may have been, this is a real consequence that I believe we ought to consider.

I realize that a lot of Christians stayed home because they didn’t feel they could, in good conscience, vote for either candidate. I realize that a lot of Christians voted for Trump because they felt the alternative was more frightening. I realize a lot of folks who identify as evangelical Christians, probably aren’t practicing Christians who put a lot of thought into the religious aspects of their vote. Finally, I realize that Trump is not a caricature, but a person (and a showman for that matter), so no one really knows what is going on underneath those downy, champagne locks. But regardless, we are perceived as having put a hateful man in office, so the onus is on us to show the love of Christ to our neighbors (particularly our neighbors who are disturbed about the election) in clear, tangible ways.

I also know that America is frustrated. I know that rural and small town Americans, particularly in communities where poverty abounds because all the jobs have been replaced by technology or gone overseas, feel hopeless and forgotten by the media and the government, because they are. Otherwise, we would have had a clue about what was going to happen with the election. We know that things are bad in the inner-cities, and sometimes we talk about it in all the wrong way, but at least we talk about it. For these forgotten people, Trump is a big orange middle finger raised to the establishment, and maybe they deserve it.

And there are other, varied reasons that people voted for Trump, that have nothing to do with racism or sexism or any other isms. Some people wanted supreme court judges who care about the constitution. Some people feel that their religious liberty is being threatened. Some people are desperate for change. Some people see abortion as genocide. Some people may not have liked the candidate, but they liked the republican platform. A lot of people felt a combination of these things and/or just had really major concerns about Clinton.

For those of us who feel horribly offended by all things Trump, we can’t just paint all these people as “deplorables.” For one thing, we know where that got Hillary. The left’s tendency to disregard anyone who disagrees with them as ignorant and ethnocentric is a big part of how we got here.  For a second thing, it simply isn’t true. And thirdly, it’s hypocritical. We can’t ask people to listen to our point of view while blithely dismissing theirs.

We keep saying that God is in control, and that is true. But we also know that sometimes God allows suffering. And I think some of our most vulnerable people could be in for some suffering as a result of this election. And fear is a natural reaction. So if you encounter people who are in pain or fearful, and you want to show them love, please listen before you tell them to relax because God’s got it covered. Resist the impulse that we all have, to believe that your experience is the only one that matters, or the most important one, and try to empathize. We need to stop dismissing one another.

Let me say that again: We need to stop dismissing one another.

Oh, you voted for Trump? You must be a racist misogynist. Oh, you’re upset about the election result? You must be a snowflake crybaby.

We have lost the art of respectful dialogue, and nuanced thinking. I don’t know if it’s our collectively shrinking attention span, or just too much looking at tweets and memes and too little conversation. But we seem to be lacking in the ability to respectfully disagree and truly consider opposing viewpoints. Maybe it’s just easier to be dismissive.

So here is what I think we ought to do now. If someone feels forgotten by the government, and worried about losing the moral foundation of our nation, we should listen to them. If someone is afraid because of the blatant racism that has been exposed and emboldened by this particular election, we should listen to them. Maybe we haven’t walked in their shoes, and maybe we won’t change our opinion about the issue, but we can still seek to respect and understand one another. (As a quick aside, I’m not saying we indulge nastiness, name-calling, etc. That stuff is not worth a response.)

We should let people know that we care about them in ways that are personal, and seek out friendships (not just facebook friendships) with people who are different from us. That is how we take some of the rancor out of this event. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s hard work, and no president is going to do it for us. So let’s get started.

 

 

Life Lessons 1-10

I was at a doctor’s appointment the other day, and I filled out all the forms, writing my age as “31.” Then a few hours later, I said, “Wait a minute,” remembered the year of my birth, did some counting on my fingers, and realized I’m 32. I’ve reached the age where I can no longer remember how old I am.

Since I plan on living till I’m 96, I’m really only a third of the way through life, but I have learned a few lessons along the way, so I’ve decided to write one of those “I’m old, so I can give advice about life” lists. Here it is, in no particular order:

1.) Stop trying to gain self-worth from other people’s opinions of you. Promiscuity, perfectionism, and people-pleasing are just different paths that begin at a very desperate place of insecurity and unworthiness, and lead to a place of a whole lot more insecurity and unworthiness. It becomes easier to get off of those paths when you realize that you are already more loved than you can imagine.

2.) Commit yourself to God. You’re never going to solve all the mysteries of the universe, or maintain a constant feeling of joy and peace. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore and accept the tenants of your faith. There is nothing irrational or inauthentic about committing to something bigger than yourself simply because you can’t always feel it, or understand all aspects of it. If you could, it wouldn’t be bigger than you.

3.) Cut back on the drinking. We all struggle with moderation at times. Unfortunately, if you drink heavily enough, often enough, your regular self will start looking more and more like your drunk self, until eventually you become a stranger. When we are drunk, we numb our real feelings. We trade authentic connection and our powers of reasoning for sloppy, artificial sentiments and unnecessary confusion. We trade our treasures for trash.

4.) Don’t do drugs. See above.

5.) Feel your feelings. We don’t like to feel things like disappointment, guilt or anger, but feelings tell us important things. Guilt tells us when we need to change certain behaviors. Anger or fear tells us when we need to protect ourselves from further hurt or turn down our stress levels. Sadness tells us we have lost something we loved, and we need some time to grieve. I’ve done crazy things to ignore reality, and not feel my feelings. It has never led anywhere good, so I’m learning to walk through those valleys, knowing that eventually those things that feel unbearable now, will become bearable, and then become merely uncomfortable, and eventually they will become wisdom.

6.) Understand that love is not a feeling. Falling in love is easy. All it takes is some romantic music, a sexy outfit, and plenty of alcohol – just watch The Bachelor sometime. But actually loving someone is hard. It’s hard when there are little ones running around, and jobs, and so much to do, and it’s hard when someone acts unlovaScreenshot_2016-04-07-13-29-13ble, as we all do from time to time. And it doesn’t always feel worth it, either, despite all our platitudes. But then again, actual love isn’t a feeling, is it? It is actions and service and sacrifices and forgiveness and choices. And sometimes it is in those painstaking, daily decisions to act in love (even when you don’t feel like it) that feelings of love are rekindled.

7.) Practice forgiveness. It’s easier to forgive than to hold on to bitterness, which is incredibly painful. Not forgiving is a way of holding on, of keeping the hurt close, and forgiving is letting go, so that it no longer occupies your mind and your heart. It doesn’t mean that you have to forget, or that your relationship with the person who hurt you has to stay the same. It does mean you have to understand that you are also forgiven.

8.) Savor the moment. Even though we hear it all the time, it’s hard to accept that we can’t change the past, and that the future holds no guarantees. But once we accept that, it’s easier to enjoy the moment. And that sunset won’t last forever. You won’t always be able to enjoy a cup of tea with your grandparents. And some day that child will not want to sleep with his arms in a vice grip around your neck and his face smashed against your ear, so you might as well enjoy it now.

9.) Understand that everything is not going to be OK. People get sick, and they don’t get better. People do their very best and still don’t obtain the desires of their heart. People hurt each other in profound ways. People give up. Sometimes life is far more painful than we expected, and at some point, we will all face deep disappointment.

10.) But then again, everything is going to be OK. We see such a tiny fraction of space, and hear just a millisecond of the story. Human beings are tremendously resilient, especially when they harbor a belief that there is always a reason for hope, and I don’t think that is a coincidence. While I will never fully understand the complex interaction between free-will and divine providence, I believe that God can take our biggest hurt, our greatest failures and even our most asinine decisions and still make something beautiful. And if we look for it, sometimes we are fortunate enough to see it.

 

Clinging to a Mustard Seed

The night is hurtling towards the early morning hours but I lie awake with my mind spinning. A sleepless night with no distractions is my enemy. I push away memories like ping pong balls in my head, only to have them return, jolting, distorted, as soon as my body begins to relax.

And so I seek desperately for a solution to an unsolvable problem. My heart aches and my mind turns round and round for a resolution, an answer, relief, but there is none. Time (and work) heals all wounds, but I am impatient. I am tired of feeling.

My husband touches my elbow. I am pulled back, as if from outer space, to the present moment. To a half-asleep caress. To a bed, with soft pillows and warm blankets. We have so much. Our home is quiet and at peace in this moment. For now, the past is blown away in the sound of a stormy wind. I am sheltered in a warm home.

As the wind picks up, a whimper from the little one’s room turns to a wail. After a moment, I go to her. She settles immediately, like she just missed me. We rock a little while in our hand-me-down rocking chair. The stuffed and faded arms are scratchy, and it squeaks softly with each rock.

Soon her weight is limp in my arms, her fat, velvety cheek squished against my chest. I rock slower, then I stop rocking.

Be still and know that I am God.

She smells like milk and cookies, and feels as warm as toast. I breath in the moment. Then I lay her down in her crib and go back to bed. And there they are, still – all my worries. There on the bed, waiting for me, in a heap. Kids, marriage, job, money, home, parents, health, the state of the world, the state of myself.

Is everything going to be OK?

Some questions have no answers. The wind rattles the windows. I can see the tree branches shaking against the hazy moon. The ground will be littered with them in the morning, if they’re not strong enough.

Be still, be still, be still…5bdb5539-b0c8-4bd3-9971-67820b30e383

All things work together for good.

In this moment, the words are lost in translation. They do not make the journey from my head to my heart. But they are true, nonetheless. So I wait. I endure.

I focus on five things I can see, four things I can feel, three things I can hear, two things I can smell, one thing I can taste. I ground myself in the night. I count my breaths. I say another prayer. The same prayers, again and again. Then I listen. I remind myself that the silence does not mean that I am alone. The wind dies down. And before the sun rises, I sleep.

Want to see other stories of faith in the dark or add your own?  Click on the link.

Night-Driving-Synchroblog (1)

 

Self Care and the Christian Life

I grew up attending a conservative Christian school. Our skirts needed to be no more than 4 inches above the knee, and we had devotions every day and chapel once a week. I learned many of the foundational truths of my life in that school. But I may have misinterpreted some of the Biblical principals that were presented to me as a child, because my thinking remained too simple.

For example, I distinctly remember a picture that hung in the hallway. It looked something like this:

20151121_211806

This represented a concept that somehow crept in and took hold of me – the idea that I ought to always put my own needs last, and that if I could consistently put myself last, or think of myself as less valuable than others, I could earn joy. This is misguided on several levels, and it sets an impossible standard and also an unhealthy one. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. The idea that we are to love ourselves is assumed.

As an adult who works in mental health education, I have frequently spoken about the importance of self-care. But deep down, I didn’t really believe it. I thought it was selfish. Or that it was hippy-dippy psycho-babble.

I must have read my son the Jesus Storybook Bible five times before I noticed the simple phrase “they were lovely because God loved them.” This is in the beginning of the book, referring to when God pronounces his creation “Good.” And as it turns out, we too, are lovely because God loves us. I am immeasurably valuable because I am a beloved child of God. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am a temple.

My worth does not depend on how attractive I am, how much money I make, how well my children behave, how people treat me, how clean my house is, how busy I am, or even how much I give of myself. I am complete in Christ. I do not need recognition or applause to be important. I do not need a conflict-free life to be at peace, or a sorrow-free life to have joy. My identity rests in God and therein lies my fulfillment. And if I am this beloved, complete being in God, shouldn’t I care for myself?

This is not to say we should always put ourselves first. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be humble or acknowledge that we are flawed, and work to improve ourselves. But gaining humility doesn’t mean losing love and respect for oneself, and acknowledging sin doesn’t mean living in constant guilt and self-loathing – in fact it allows us to live in joy knowing that we are valuable enough that God suffered to offer us grace for sin. If we are that valuable to God, shouldn’t we treat ourselves as such?

So I’m here to tell you that I’m going to eat, sleep and exercise. I’m going to rest sometimes. I’m going to maintain healthy boundaries, even when that means saying no, or saying goodbye. I’m going to choose an apple instead of bacon… maybe. On a good day. And I’m going to love you, and love myself too, because we are both flawed, but we are both God’s beloved creation. And even if you think that the idea of self-care is hippy dippy psycho babble, I’m here to tell that it’s also sound Biblical truth.

 

Some Photos

Since my brother died in 2011, I have taken my kids to see his stone each spring, and posted pictures.

 

20150417_162027

It is a peaceful and lovely place for them to run around. I hope to foster an environment where we feel comfortable talking about life, death and life after death; and about health, mental health and mental illness.

20150417_162440

It is a time for reflection, and a time to remember Jesse’s life. I like to imagine that he is looking down on us, imagine the jokes he would make and the way he would play with the kids.

20150417_160114           20150417_162001

 

Of course, I don’t know if he really sees us. I believe he is with God, and I don’t know why he would choose to turn away from paradise for a moment to look down at this broken place. But in my heart, I hope he does, because he would just love them.

 

20150417_161941         20150417_162211

 

Even though I know he is in a better place, I wish he had gotten to experience the joy that the kids bring to our family. My children have brought me more joy than I could have imagined, and taught me a great deal about being a child of God.

 

 20150417_155955

So I wanted to share their photos on my little blog, and say once again that we love and miss Jesse, today on the anniversary of his death, and always.  And to remember, simply, that life can be tragically painful, but can also be profoundly joyful. There is hope for each one of us.

20150417_155513

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13

How To Organize Your Life in 3.5 Years

In 2011, I started going through a book called One Year to an Organized Life. I got through it earlier this year (yes, I realize it’s 2015), and here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1.) If y20150506_205843ou want to have an organized life in one year, do not have kids that year. Kids are cute little balls of chaos that bounce into every nook and cranny of your life.

2.) Spend time planning. Even if you feel like you don’t have time – make time. I’m super nerdy, so I enjoy planning. But even if I didn’t enjoy it, I would do it anyway. If I didn’t, my life would feel even more chaotic than it does now, and that’s hard to imagine. I know you may think that it’s a little sad that I spend my Friday nights planning, but my husband is at work, so what could be better than hanging out with a glass of wine and multiple calendars? I plan everything from my wardrobe, to my schedule for cleaning the house, to my weekly menu.

Danny Trejo
Me, when I didn’t do my weekly meal planning

3.) The food planning is the most time-consuming but also the most important. When I plan a good weekly menu, I spend less money, eat better, enjoy eating more and don’t do silly things like skip a meal because I don’t feel like going out and don’t have food in the house (and then get really grouchy and mean, and turn into Danny Trejo until I have a snickers bar.) Planning creates a force of it’s own. Even if I don’t feel like preparing a meal that day, if I bought the ingredients and typed it on my calendar, I will likely do it and feel good about that decision afterwards.

4.) Put things in containers, especially if you have kids. You can throw things in without much effort, and they can too, and afterwards you feel orderly. Have one for books, one for blocks, one for blankets, etc. Your kids will figure out where everything goes by the time they’re two. Your spouse, on the other hand, may never figure it out. That’s OK though. They will know that stuff goes in containers, not on the floor. And this may keep you from dragging your body out of bed one morning, tripping on a LEGO, and fracturing some minuscule but essential bone in your foot and not being able to walk for six weeks.

5.) Have a file system. I know you don’t feel like it, because it takes a lot of effort at the beginni ng. But if you don’t have a system for organizing papers, the paper pile may turn into a monster that will peel off your skin and slurp up the puddle that remains. Fear the paper monster. Create the file system.

20150506_16322420150506_16303220150506_163549

6.) Maintain. So you organized your kitchen, and cleaned out everything from the fridge and counters to the insides of your cupboards. Then, roughly two weeks later, it looks like the paper monster sucked up all the food and dishes in the room and spewed them out all over the floor, sink and counters. I’m still working on this one. But when I do get something done, I try to put it on the schedule to do again in a reasonable amount of time, to avoid this problem. It’s usually much easier to maintain order than to completely do-over.

7.) Just make a decision. I don’t know how you become more decisive, but I do know that a more decisive life is a more organized life. That party invitation when you already have 3 other things going on? Just say no. That project you wanted to work on for the last 3 months? Break it down into small steps, put each step on your calendar, or decide it’s not worth doing and get it off your to-do list. That ugly chair your Aunt Mildred dropped off on your doorste20150506_211423p? Give it to Goodwill. Which brings me to my next point…

8.) Get rid of stuff. I like to keep a lot of things. But if it’s more than a few large plastic tubs in the basement, I get rid of it. I have had lots of clutter in my life, mainly because I didn’t feel like making decisions about what to do with it. Now it is either in said plastic tubs, at Goodwill, or re-purposed and useful.

9.) Simplify your schedule and your goals. I struggle with having too many goals at the same time, and packing too many things into a day. If you want to actually keep up, prioritize what you need to do and let the rest go. The book suggests doing things like putting your clothes in color coded order in your closet and buying all matching hangers. This is supposed to help keep your mind zen. For me, this feels like an unnecessary complication. I’d rather just shut my closet door, and keep things simple (a.k.a. off the floor of my bedroom).

10.) Accept imperfection. The reality is sometimes plans fail, life gets messy, we get sick and/or tired, and sometimes we get behind for no very clear reason at all.  It’s important to give yourself grace and learn to live with a little bit of chaos. Not everything is in our control, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can enjoy doing what we want with the things we can control.

20150506_211334
I’m clearly awesome at accepting imperfection