Raising My Voice at Christmas

I am at work, on the phone with my husband, and I am trying not to raise my voice.

“Can you at least try? You’re not even trying.”

I am in my office, with papers piled around my desk, none of which I will touch until I put down my cell phone, let my adrenaline settle, turn my mind to more mundane tasks, less threatening things.

I’m talking to the person I love best in the world, and our words are like sharp stones grating on each other.

It is almost Christmas. He tries not to raise his voice.

CAM00821

“I’ll do what you want. Just please let’s not fight now.”

We retreat to our quiet hearts.

A call on my office phone brings me back. I take a deep breath. I put on my professional face. I answer. The man on the other end wants to “discuss work over lunch.”

I have fallen for this before. He discussed nothing but how rich he is, nothing but his thoughts on the inherent sexuality in male-female relationships, subtly tiptoeing around what he really wanted, feeling out whether I might have some inappropriate interest.

“I am a very interesting man,” he had said.

And you don’t always drink beer. But when you do…

dos equis

I will be smarter this time. I am careful not to raise my voice.

“What specifically would you like to discuss?”

The man on the phone drones on, buzzing like my anger.

Seething, simmering, slowly watering itself down until it melts into a sloppy puddle of calm.

It is exhausting trying not to raise your voice. But it is Christmas.

I go home early and put the kids down for their naps. Rafi keeps getting out of bed, interrupting my quiet. I feel as though he is pushing my buttons on purpose. I try not to raise my voice.

“You will stay in bed now.” He feels the rough edge of my words and sulks back to his room.

I start scrolling through my Facebook feed and see yet another ignorant post.

There seem to be more and more. Something stereotyping people of color as violent criminals. Something stereotyping police officers as over-aggressive bigots. The ones that oversimplify complex issues so that it’s easy to cast blame. The ones that suggest that black people or gay people or Muslim people or undocumented people are not really people made in God’s image with individual hearts, but categories to be looked down upon. The ones that say that liberals are ruining America or that conservatives hate progress.

They make me feel defensive, and I want to respond, I want to RAISE MY VOICE, but it’s Christmas.

We are celebrating the birth of the only person who had the right to throw the first stone, but chose not to.

When I think I am righteous, it is exhausting trying not to throw stones. But knowing I have been shown such grace, they all but fall from my hands.

“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

This is why he came. To help us drop the stones. To preserve justice and mercy.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,”

To teach us to love people, all kinds of people. The God of the universe, humble, arriving as a helpless baby to serve and to ask us to do the same. Gently telling us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and visit the prisoner. Redeeming people – tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, little children.

“and you will find rest for your souls.”

There is no rest in throwing stones.

There is rest in receiving grace.

So this coming year, let’s try to respond to one another gracefully instead of raising our voices in anger. Instead, let’s raise our voices in praise for the hope that we have. Let’s resolve to speak the truth, but with kindness and humility.

I Peter 3:15 “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

And let’s bear Christmas in mind all year as we interact with our families, our Facebook frenemies and even the dos equis men in our lives.

Stay thirsty my friends.

(For the word of God.)

(Obviously.)

 

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A Few Words for Grandpop

One year ago today, my Grandpop went home to God.

Grandpop

My mom asked me if I would like to say something at his funeral, but I couldn’t think of what I would say. Now that I’ve had some time, I have just a few words – a couple of things I wish I’d said.

Grandpop was always focused on others and put them ahead of himself. When we spent time together, which was often, he was always focused on me, on telling me how proud of me he was and on asking me questions about my life. I don’t think I ever put enough effort into learning about him.

That’s not to say I didn’t know anything about his earlier life – he had lots of stories and I remember many of them well. Stories about surviving the depression. Stories about being in the Navy during the Second World War – being on a ship during storms, about rescuing and caring for a little Japanese girl they found in the water. Stories about meeting and marrying my grandmother and raising my mom and my uncle. Stories about reading to the kids at the library, and taking kids in the neighborhood to church. You see, he was a living example of what it really means to be an American Christian.

He spoke in a sentimental yet strong way about the value of a loving family, of children and of education. I can remember the sound of his voice singing hymns. He adored watching me play volleyball or hearing me play piano, no matter how badly, and used to record my brother and me singing on cassette tapes. I listened to these tapes after my brother passed away.

Now I have a DVD of Grandpop and the rest of the family set to the tune of “It Is Well with My Soul,” his favorite hymn.  Around the time of his death, I played that hymn over and over on his old piano which is at my house, until I know my family was sick of it, but they didn’t complain. And my son loves to watch the DVD. It is so sweet to be able to see and hear our loved ones after they pass on, even if we know we have to let them go.el lago

It is such a strange thing to let go. I couldn’t think of what to say when I saw him for the last time either. How do you say goodbye?

My grandpop was quite sick for a while, and it was hard to watch him suffer. The day he died there was a snow storm and I was there at his house with my one month old baby, and my boy and my husband. My parents and Uncle and the hospice nurse were there too. She told me I should say goodbye and they left me alone with Grandpop.

And do you know, I couldn’t think of a thing to say. You see I’m much better at writing than actually speaking, especially when I’m emotional, and especially when the other person can’t speak back.

So I just held his hand and told him that it was snowing and started singing Silent Night, because that was one of the songs I can remember singing with him. He was quiet and still, but they said he could hear us. I started crying when I got to the “sleep in heavenly peace” part. I didn’t want him to go, but I wanted him to be in heavenly peace. And I knew he already knew all the important things – that I loved him, that I would miss him, that he was the best Grandpop a person could have.

But I still wish I could have managed to put those things into words. I would have said, Grandpop, I know you don’t feel good and I’m so sorry you’re in pain. I know not too long from now you’ll be in a place where there’s no more pain, and you will fellowship with the One who will somehow make it all worthwhile, and it will be beyond beautiful. You taught me that and it is well with my soul. I love you.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelations 21:4

An Apology to my Husband’s Beard

This is my husband’s beard:

beard rafa

I had a hard time learning to appreciate this beard, and there are a number of reasons for that.

First of all, my husband is a handsome guy. He has perfect little white teeth and dimples and he’s really quite stunning with a five o’clock shadow, or a chin strap. But yowombat-wallpaper_w520u can’t see any of that when he has what appears to be a wombat on his face.

Secondly, he gets little pieces of food, sauce, lint, etc. stuck in it and then if we’re kissing later I sometimes get a flashback of that.

It sort of reminds me of a caveman, or a Biblical character such as Noah, or perhaps a Viking that pillages the occasional village. This isn’t really so bad since those guys are all dead and that look could be considered vintage.

NOAH

 

But then sometimes, he looks a lot more like a Amish man from Lancaster than a Presbyterian from Mexico, and that is just confusing. Like what is that Amish man doing wearing a tee-shirt instead of suspenders? And using an iPod?? And those boots look awfully fancy! Oh wait, that’s a sombrero, not a straw hat. Silly me.

straw hat sombrero

Also, sometimes when it’s really cold, he wears thermal underwear to bed, and you can imagine my consternation when I wake up next to Pa Ingalls.  Or when he wears his red plaid flannel jacket to work, and I come out of the bathroom and WHOA there’s a lumber jack in my house.

So, you see, this beard has caused me some issues. But recently, I’ve been making a serious effort to love the beard.

It all started one night when we were lying in bed and one of us found a little teddy bear that one of the kids had left under the covers. He patted it gently, then laid it sweetly against his neck and wrapped the beard hair around it like he was swaddling a baby, all while humming a lullaby. And that’s when I knew that while this beard may look dirty, itchy, and a little bit like it should belong to a terrorist, it is, at its core, a bringer of comfort and love.

My man is happy under that beard.

Sure, he might be compensating for his hair, which is getting just a little bit thinner.  So while his head gets shinier and colder, his face is getting furrier and cozier.  But who doesn’t want a nice, cozy face in the winter time?

I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to see his handsome features every now and then, or that I’m never jolted by nightmare images of bugs crawling out of the fur, but if he’s happy, I should be happy too, right? I mean, there are plenty of issues for us to work through without worrying about each other’s facial hair. Well, I mean, hopefully he doesn’t worry about mine.  But he does put up with me only showering a few times a week, so how can I complain?

Sometimes people ask me if I like the beard and if I say no, they give me the “you need to get that guy under control” look. But I’ve come to realize that really, I don’t.  Maybe if I were his mommy or his supervisor I would have to approve of his choices of wardrobe and grooming, but dang it, he’s a beard boobsgrown man (as clearly demonstrated by his ability to grow a GIANT beard.)

The media image of the bumbling husband who can’t be trusted to tie his own shoes without the help of his superhero wife is played out. Wives, we should expect more from our men, and going along with that, we should let go of all of that responsibility and control.

Yup, another nugget of classic marital advice from yours truly.

I may not understand the allure of carrying around several extra pounds of hair on your face, but I can appreciate the manliness. Similarly, I may not like the way my husband picks up our kids by the backs of their shirts and carries them around like puppies, but when I get home from work, the kids are happy and healthy and the house is not in shambles, and then, he goes to work for 8 hours. So really, I should be thanking my lucky stars that this man (and his beard) is mine.

lumberjack
Hands off, ladies. This lumberjack is taken.

So I’ve started to feel like I should say a few words to the beard.

Beard, you may not be well groomed, but you always smell like soap, and I thank you for that. I thank you for keeping my husband’s face warm in the winter time, especially as his head gets colder. I’m sorry that I wanted to destroy you for so long. May you grow and prosper. May you always be full. May you continue to teach me life lessons about letting go of the things that don’t matter and trusting my husband’s judgement. And may you never be chopped to pieces in the dark of the night by a maniacal wife.

But if you are, may you rest in peace.

 

 

I Married an Undocumented Immigrant: Executive Action

Last night, the president announced that he was taking executive action to shield some 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation for the next 3 years. He did not offer a path to citizenship for any segment of the population, but predictably, cries of amnesty rang out across the internet. But a midst the cries of “Unconstitutional!” and “Sue!” and “This will further divide the political parties!” and even, “He didn’t do enough!” we must remember the cries of the young man able to see his parents for the first time in decades; the cries of the mother who can take a breath of relief that for a while, at least, she can move freely without the fear of separation from her baby; and yes, the cries of the father who still does not qualify because while his children grew up here, they were not born here. And if you are brave enough, imagine your own cries if you were desperate to give your children a better life, but it could happen only at the risk that you might be taken away from them. The cries are real, because this action affects real, living breathing people living real lives. I’m posting this again to remind us of that reality.

weddingfotojpg-3323135_p9

I Married an Undocumented Immigrant

By ecoggs  |  Posted July 9, 2014  |  United States

CNN PRODUCER NOTE     ecoggs was inspired to share her story with CNN after reading another iReporter’s personal essay about being undocumented.

When she was nine months pregnant, her husband was arrested and jailed in August 2011 for not paying a ticket for driving without a license, she said. As she panicked and drove to bail him out, she realized this is probably something a lot of mixed-status immigrant families go through.

“What happened to us has given me a small taste of the fear that undocumented families live with every day.”

Read My Story

15 Tips for the Holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! But that can come with holiday stress, so make sure you check out the following gifs, I mean tips, to make your holidays happy:

 

1.) Spend lots of quality time with your loved ones. It’s supposed to look like this:

snuggy

 

2.) But it won’t. Despite what Hallmark tells you, nobody’s holidays are perfect, so make sure you set healthy boundaries regarding spending time with loved ones.

hurt feelings

 

3.) Start thinking about your holiday shopping early, by making a list of all the people you plan to buy gifts for, and how much you’d like to spend.

make it rain

 

4.) Then, make yourself a gift budget based on money you can actually afford to spend.

pick it up

 

5.) If you think you can’t stick to your budget because of gift expectations, consider giving thoughtful, hand-made gifts. Your loved ones will so appreciate the meaning and time you spent coming up with them.

cooper coupons
COOPER COUPONS

 

6.) Since you don’t actually have much money or time, consider buying things online that merely look expensive.

nobody talks about it

 

7.) Maintain an attitude of thankfulness and optimism.

i just like to smile

 

8.) But still expect a few bumps in the road.

nutcracker

 

9.) Savor the excitement that your kids have about Christmas morning.

santa's coming

 

10.) But to avoid trust issues down the road, consider letting your kids know that Santa isn’t real.

throne_of_lies_elf

 

11.) To combat the holiday blues, be sure to take care of yourself through diet and exercise.

diet and exercise

 

12.) Don’t skip out on your self-help/support groups just because of holiday business. Maintaining your support system during stressful or emotional times is one of the keys to good mental health.

calming circle

 

13.) ‘Tis the season to get a DUI. So make sure you drink responsibly. Keep hydrated, and decide how many you will have in advance. Most importantly, make sure you eat first. Fruitcake before eggnog, people, FRUITCAKE BEFORE EGGNOG.

penny eggnog

 

14.) And if you’re someone like me, try to remember that wine dissolves your filter, and you may want to avoid drinking altogether due to the risk of oversharing.

TMI

 

15.) Finally, be sure to follow food safety procedures during all festivities, and while eating leftovers. You don’t want to experience fever-induced delirium brought on by salmonella.

kramer turkey

7 More Parenting Fails Accomplishments

If you didn’t see my last embarrassing post, I’ve started cataloging some of my parenting missteps. And since parenting is hard and I’m an optimist, I like to frame them as accomplishments.

Rafi sin pants
This is how we problem solve when Rafi wants his picture taken, but doesn’t want to wear pants or underwear

1.) When I came home from work the other day, Rafi greeted me with the news, “I pooped!” I responded with enthusiastic affirmation, of course. Then he said, “You poop, and Daddy poops and Lili poops!” After further affirmation, he went on to tell me, “And Grandmom poops and Poppop poops and Great-Grandmom poops and Great-Grandpop poops and Uncle John poops too!” So, Great-Grandpop has been gone for almost a year and therefore most likely does not poop. But aside from that, I’m raising a boy who knows his facts, and that’s an accomplishment.

2.)  I spontaneously broke out into singing an extremely spirited rendition of “Mmmbop” by Hanson in the car (I’m not ashamed that I still love that song) on the off chance that it would make my daughter stop crying. Mmhmm, it worked.

MMmbop

3.) Then I tried the same thing with someone else’s baby at a wedding, and it worked again.

how people look
How people look at you when you sing their baby Mmmbop
its working
And then realize it’s working

 

4.)  I heard about a study that says that talking to yourself in the third person can be helpful for motivation. But Emily doesn’t like referring to herself as Emily, because we all know that’s weird. So I started referring to myself as “Girlfriend” when I’m trying to wake up in the morning. Because that’s not weird at all.

This is how it goes:  Denial: “It’s OK, Girlfriend, if you keep your eyes closed he’ll stop poking your face and telling you he wants breakfast.”  Anger: “Girlfriend, get yourself outta this bed right now. What kind of mother let’s her kid ask for breakfast for 20 minutes? The kind that stays up way too late blogging. Moron.”  Bargaining: “Girlfriend, I know you’re tired, but if you just roll outta this bed, I’ll make you a nice cup of really strong coffee.”  Sadness: “Girlfriend, I know you want to enjoy every minute you can with your kids, except for this minute because it’s 4:30AM. It’s OK to cry.” Acceptance: “OK, Girlfriend.  Stop whining. Here we go.”

You may have noticed that me and Girlfriend, we walked through the five stages of grief during that conversation with one another.  That is because every morning, we grieve being able to sleep as much as we want to, because we’re sure it will never happen again for the rest of our lives. But we eventually get up, and that’s an accomplishment.

5.) This is sometimes what I eat for my bedtime snack. ⇒snack
Yes, those are Jalapeños with cream cheese and bacon. And no, that is not formula or breast milk.  I’m gross, but I’m not that gross. And feeding myself a delicious snack coupled with a bottle container of  leftover nutritious milk is an accomplishment.

gonna climb
Who, me? Nuthin.

6.) I sometimes allow my children to jump on our bed, and I try to always be on the side closest to Lili, to make sure that if she goes over, I can throw myself onto the hardwood floor to create a human cushion (in the unlikely scenario that I’m not fast or coordinated enough to catch her).  The lasso from our wedding hangs on the wall above our bed, and what with its cloth flowers and shiny gold thread, any baby would do their best to eat it. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the bed was not quite up against the wall – in fact there was about six inches of space between bed and wall.  You know where I’m going with this.

climbed

One minute she’s on her tip toes reaching for the lasso, and the next minute she’s completely disappeared into the baby canyon. But (thank you, Jesus), she went down feet first and was just kind of wedged there, looking like, “Umm, how did I get down here, and what’s with the panic face?” Obviously, the first thing I said after ascertaining that she was alive and well was, “Rafi, don’t tell Daddy.” Approximately one second later we hear the door open and what does Rafi do? He races down the hall shouting, “Lili fell off the bed with a bash and a crash and a bang of her head!!!” Where’s the accomplishment in that? I am raising a very honest child.  Then again, Mexican people have a saying that goes something like: “Only drunks and children tell the truth,” so it could have something to do with that (the child part, we don’t feed our kids liquor), but in any case, he’s an excellent story teller. Also, my girl is fearless.

7.) Today Rafi said something that really melted my heart: “Daddy, I like you, but I like Mommy better.”

 

giphy

Now that’s an accomplishment.

The Right-To-Die Effect

Brittany Maynard

I didn’t want to write about Brittany Maynard, because it’s hard to disagree with someone who is dying of cancer and not look (and feel) like a big jerk. But here I sit, trying to write about something else, and I just keep coming back to her story.

You’ve probably heard of Brittany. She is the young lady who has a severe brain tumor, was given a prognosis of six months to live, and chose to move to Oregon where she could legally decide to take her own life via prescribed medication, rather than waiting for the cancer to kill her. The day she originally chose when she would most likely end her life is this Saturday, but her latest video suggested that she may wait longer.

My heart aches for Brittany, and I have wept for her.  Granted, I have also wept at country music videos, so the weeping may not be saying a lot, but my point is that I understand and feel that it is an incredibly tragic situation. Although I disagree with her stance on policy regarding assisted suicide, I have absolutely no desire or right to condemn her personal decision, as I have not walked in her shoes or been inside her mind or her heart. Plus I’m not the Judge.

Plus there’s always that teeny weeny little bittiest possibility that I might be wrong.

 

surprised face

 

Yup. But as someone who has worked for the last five years in suicide prevention, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very concerned about the messages on this topic that we, as a culture, are circulating. Messages like:

Some lives are more valuable than others.

I often facilitate a training called Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, during which we ask participants to examine their own values and attitudes relating to suicide. We ask them to mark on a chart where their feelings lie on a spectrum from Agree to Disagree for a number of statements. One of the statements is “People have a right to suicide.”

When discussing this particular item, someone always brings up the case of a person who is terminally ill and suffering, and says that unlike the general population, such a person has a right to end his or her life.  And the trainer Emily acknowledges the statement by nodding her head and saying, “Other thoughts?” while turning to the rest of the group with her objective robot face.

But the inner Emily really wants to say, “But isn’t everyone who is thinking about suicide experiencing great pain and suffering? Isn’t everyone who is considering ending their life moving towards their inevitable demise anyway, as we all are? Isn’t saying that people who are dying faster or sooner have more of a right to kill themselves, sort of implying that their lives are not as much worth living as those who are young and healthy, in other words that they are not as valuable?” I am convinced that this message is both very prevalent and very concerning. Here’s another:

Ending your life early only affects you.

This is a radically individualistic point of view, but then, America is a radically individualistic country. Sure, it’s your life, but none of us live in a vacuum. Every action that we make influences others around us, at the very minimum by sending an implicit message. What message are we sending about the value of life for the aged and/or sick when we give them special permission to die?

There is value in comfort, but no value in suffering.

Suffering can bring us closer to God and to one another. It can give us a stronger understanding and voice to help others. It can refine our character. It can cause us to seek, and to find meaning in life. But sometimes we can’t see the value. When we are in pain, our bodies are crumbling and our life is running out, I’m sure it can seem pretty meaningless. But just because it looks meaningless to us, does that mean that it must, indeed, be meaningless? We see our small part of the world, but we are not omniscient. And as we lean more and more towards the idea that suffering is meaningless and without value, suicide becomes a more and more logical option, even for the physically healthy. Why bother with it?

It is brave to die on your own terms, but undignified to spend the end of your life living.

I understand that having a forecast of just six months to live can surely cause a person to want to gain some bit of control over their situation. But can we not make a difference in the world in just six months? Can we not do something meaningful, touch someone’s life, give our loved ones the sweetness of our presence, in one day? Can we not glorify God in even one moment? Isn’t it brave and dignified to try?

Protecting liberty is more important than protecting life.

I don’t actually believe that sanctioning the right-to-die protects liberty (See Reason #23). But I do value protecting life more than protecting liberty in most cases. I do so for several reasons. One is that if someone is dead, they aren’t free to make any choices, and if we are giving liberty to one set of humans at the expense of another set of humans, we are not supporting liberty or life, and we are definitely not supporting justice. I also value human life because I’m religious.

 

 

surprised face

I know – you’ve likely picked that up by now. But what I mean is that I do actually think that life is ordained by God, and as such is precious, and worth protecting, even if that means not sanctioning by law something that over 100 Americans do every day anyway, without the direct assistance of a physician. So that brings me to the next message that I hear frequently:

Religious perspectives have no place in policy decisions.

Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that our system is meant to have a clear wall of separation between church and state. So let’s say that arguments need to be secular in order to be valid for policy making.

Let’s look at one example of an argument that is widely considered secular, which is that if we allow assisted death in our profit-driven healthcare system, then people, particularly the elderly or those with disabilities, will be targeted for assisted suicide, which is much cheaper than treatment. Here’s an example of such an argument. But how do we determine that it would be wrong to pressure vulnerable people to choose assisted suicide over treatment? We determine it would be wrong because we value the lives and choices of people above the cost of healthcare. It is a moral decision based on a belief system that values life, even though the argument itself doesn’t refer directly to a deity, church or text.

Similarly, the very name of the agency advocating for assisted death (Compassion & Choices), evokes moral values that are also, believe it or not, Christian. They may also be part of other ethical codes of course, but my point is that they are based on our philosophical beliefs, not scientific study, not theory about what makes society function. Values. Right and wrong.

We can take out direct references to religion from our arguments, but that doesn’t change the foundation of the arguments, which are firmly rooted in our belief systems. So as hard as we try to relegate religion to the private sphere, we cannot remove our values from our policy arguments, and to say that an argument isn’t valid because it is based in a particular worldview is to say that no argument is valid.

And at this point I’m probably in way over my head, so let’s move on to the final message that concerns me:

Being unwavering in regards to religious values means that we are not compassionate.

Most of us hate to see people in pain, and so I completely understand why a lot of people support the right-to-die. And while suffering has meaning, we should still strive to alleviate it. That is often part of the meaning – we find in our suffering the kindness of strangers, the tenderness of loved ones, the goodness that exists when we are in our darkest moments. We try to meet each other’s needs, and show one another the love of God that way. And when suffering cannot be alleviated, we weep with those who weep.

But I don’t think that being compassionate means we have to sanction suicide. I think that it means loving people enough to consider their lives precious regardless of illness, age, life expectancy, class, creed or culture.