Black History Month Makes Me Mad

Those words popped out of my mouth last night when I brought up the fact that February is Black History month. The reasons it makes me mad may surprise you though.

I’m not mad that we have this month (or Asian-American Heritage month, or Women’s History month, or any other for that matter). I’m mad that we need them. I’ve heard it said – well, why don’t we have a white history month?? The answer is simple- every day of the year and every highlight in our students’ curriculum is white history.

If our history books included the story of Sally Hemings right alongside the wonders of Thomas Jefferson’s Bill or Rights or if the realities of African American life in 1930s America were held side by side to Jesse Owen’s feats at the 1936 Olympics or if our students explored the records of current-day legislators on their votes for or against the Civil Rights Act of 1965 – then maybe we wouldn’t need a Black History Month.

But, here’s how it really is:

  • In my daughter’s 8th grade ADVANCED ACADEMIC English class (all caps to draw your attention to the fact that these young people have been deemed to have above and beyond critical thinking skills), the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” was read without a single mention or in-class discussion of the “N” word that is used multiple times in the book. My daughter came away from the reading with very little understanding of the significance of the word and how people used it and use it now. She also just came away from the experience just “happy things aren’t like that anymore”. They were reading this book in the context of multiple black teenagers being shot by police officers – an excellent time, in my opinion to have class discussions on justice and injustice in the American legal system historically, and how literature can help us to navigate sticky, tough topics.
  • Another daughter did a project on James Armistead, a slave who ended up spying for the Americans and was granted his freedom after the war. I now can’t remember the words she used to describe his situation, but it was obvious that the curriculum put more emphasis on praising the white people in power for releasing him from his slavery as if that was the ultimate good they could have done, instead of pointing out the realities of his situation and millions of other slaves at that time. When I went in to speak to the teacher about it, my concerns were only allayed because of the extra work she was doing to add layers to the curriculum – reminding the students about the realities of what it meant to be a slave, that when the Revolutionary War was fought, the same people shouting for liberty and fighting against taxation without representation were very often the same people holding other human beings as slaves. But she was doing this on her own and it wasn’t included in the curriculum.
  • In my educational history, I can remember learning about maybe 5 important African-American figures in our history. Here they are (isn’t it ridiculous??):
    • Harriet Tubman
    • George Washington Carver
    • Frederick Douglass
    • Jesse Owens
    • Martin Luther King, Jr.

Those are just some tiny examples of why we still need a Black History Month. I can’t help but think if we – and by we, I mean parents, educators, legislators, political leaders, religious leaders, all of us – had done a better job at telling the truth about our history, we wouldn’t be having the conversation in Virginia that we’re having today. Our governor participated in a racist activity in med school in the mid 1980s. I can’t help but wonder if the history of blackface had ever come up in an English class or history class or even a drama class, if that event would have happened. It very well could have happened anyway, but in that context, all excuses of ignorance fall away.

I believe that in 2019 all excuses of ignorance should be done away with in any case. We have to do the work now and take advantage of the myriad of resources that are available. There are just no more excuses left for not knowing that blackface is an affront, that a noose is a violent symbol of racist hate, that the “N” word has a complicated legacy and should never be thrown around -especially not by a white person, that fried chicken, watermelon, and monkeys all have racially-charged meanings, and more.

So, that’s why I’m mad about Black History Month. I’m mad that we need it and I’m mad that some still want to ignore it. Staying mad doesn’t really help anyone though, so I’m trying to follow some people who are leading the way in educating, informing, and building bridges. Some suggestions below:

Books to read (a short list because I need to move on…)

Just Mercy

The Warmth of Other Suns

God’s Very Good Idea

Hidden Figures

The New Jim Crow

People to Follow (again a short list – the laundry calls):

Latasha Morrison

Prop

Lisa Sharon Harper

Equal Justice Initiative

Browncity

Happy Black History Month!!!

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An Engagement Story

20 years ago this morning I woke up as an engaged person. The whole story is pretty fun, but here are some little snapshots of the things I remember about that day and the events leading up to it.

  • Calling my mom first thing in the morning (I was proposed to in the wee hours of a Sunday morning and I knew she wouldn’t be awake for the immediate telling- plus I knew I had to call her before church started so I had a tiny window!) When I gushed the exciting news, she breathed a sigh of relief. I was, naturally, a little confused by that response! But she had had a terrible nightmare involving me the night before and was just happy I was fine!
  • Telling my girl friends down the hall and getting a “well, it’s about time!” response. Which cracked me up because we were both all of 19 years old when we got engaged. We were babies! But everyone who knew us well pretty much had this same response.
  • Wondering why a friend of mine walked into the room and started staring at me in the dark during a movie night with friends. (It wasn’t my friend; it was Tom, who had driven 2 hours down 95 in a torrential downpour to surprise me).
  • The knowing why he was there and yet the wondering of WHY ARE YOU HERE? when we were at different colleges and weren’t planning on visiting each other that particular weekend.

And then there are the things that I found about later –

  • that he made a special trip home to talk to my parents about proposing to me
  • that once he had their blessing, he and his friend went out the next day to buy a ring
  • that once he had that ring in his pocket, there was no way he could wait 3 weeks until our next pre-arranged visit…
  • …and so he borrowed his parent’s car and drove to Richmond in the torrential downpour having to pull over a couple of times until he could see the road again, after communicating with my friends to figure out where I would be and how to connect with us all and surprise me!!

We didn’t have a special photo session or engagement party or fanfare and cameras. What we did have were friends and family that believed in us and celebrated us well. We were engaged for a long 18 months – the majority of it long-distance. I believe we figured out that out of that 18 months, we were together in the same town for about 3 months of it. And that’s adding up the stolen weekend days that we cobbled together. During the engagement, we both had separate study abroad experiences and Tom had his ROTC Advanced Camp, which we had to blindly schedule the wedding around – what an adventure! He got home 7 days before the wedding. Ugh.

Tomorrow, we’re taking advantage of the kids’ day off of school to take them to the place he proposed, walk around together and just enjoy this life we’ve made over the years. Saying yes 20 years ago is still the best decision I ever made!

Getting Political With It

I posted on my Facebook page last night that I was going to start “getting political” on my feed. I posted that because I’m going to start sharing some articles and my thoughts on some things going on and inevitably people may bemoan that I’m “getting political”. I’m using the quotes on purpose because this phrase is used most often when someone posts something that someone else disagrees with. Usually the people are friends or relatives and what I notice is that these people have other things in common and would just rather not contend with the idea that they don’t actually 100% agree on every issue. So, instead of listening and learning about a different viewpoint, they complain that the poster has “gotten political”. Now, often it’s done in a passive-aggressive way on their own page talking about how people are messing up Facebook by getting political. I think Facebook is getting messed up by bots and trolls and people not using common sense before entering into discussions, but I digress.

Anyway, before plunging into the fray of controversial topics, I thought it would be useful to lay out some of my foundational beliefs and experiences. These are the things about me that are true and that have formed where I am today. Perhaps this will only be useful to me, but hopefully it will give you a glimpse of where I’m coming from when you see my posts pop up in your news feed (if you don’t hide me first).

I am a super-christian-y Christian. I played baby Jesus as a baby. My dad was my pastor for most of my life, and now my mom is. I grew up steeped in church culture – we were at church any time the doors were open (and usually before they were open to anyone else). I grew up in the parsonage (a home owned by the church that the pastor and his family gets to live in). It was NEXT DOOR to the church my dad pastored. I can sing every Veggie Tales song, and STILL get Psalty-the-singing-song-book songs in my head. I grew up on DC Talk and Michael W. Smith. Amy Grant got a little edgy for us.  Basically, what I’m saying is that I fully identify as a Christian, even though not everyone uses the word the same way.

I’ve voted Republican in almost every election since I could vote. I remember telling someone a long time ago that I was morally conservative but fiscally liberal – believing that taking care of the poor and underprivileged was a duty that the church wasn’t willing or able to take on and therefore, the government needed to step in. It was always a conflict heading to the polls, but usually the moral argument and my cultural upbringing that skewed Republican won me over. I remember the righteous indignation of Bill Clinton rising to the top. We were aghast at the immorality that seemed rampant in his lifestyle. He seemed to me a fool – one that won people over quickly with charm and a chuckle that made me suspicious.  I value integrity and I sensed none there. I loved George W. Bush and was excited to vote for him the first time. It was during his tenure that I started to see more and more gray in what I had initially conceived as a black and white world. By the end of his term, I was already feeling politically lost, and was ambivalent about Obama winning, except to be happy for my friends of color because they seemed SUPER happy.

I’ve experienced firsthand the hassles and indignities of wading through the quagmire of government assistance. When we were seeking every resource available to children in our care through the foster system, I came face to face with the realities of Medicaid, WIC, and other county and state programs that were initiated with the stated purpose of assisting the underprivileged but with the actual experience being humiliating, confusing and still favored towards those with the privilege of excess time and resources.

Several years ago, a friend of mine, who now is quite well known, wrote a blog post entitled, “A Mountain I’m Willing to Die On.” You can google it if you like – I’m sure it’s still out there. It’s a moving piece about her journey of belief and love. The thing that struck me about it though was that her mountain wasn’t my mountain. Hers wasn’t one I was willing to die on and if it wasn’t that one, then what was it?? Where is my line in the sand? What mountain would be worth dying for? To be honest, there isn’t one out there in the current debates that I’d die on. We’ve got lots of issues and there are multiple ways of handling them. I can definitely get passionate about many issues and have strong feelings about certain policies, but even so – issues and policies aren’t where you’ll see me throwing down.

I love Jesus. I love the people he made (that’s all of them, by the way).  I believe in the inherent value of every person.

That about sums it up. Onward.

Owning it – an update

First – I can’t believe it’s June and this is my first post of 2018! It has been a full year so far!

Back in January over on Facebook, I posted some intentions for the year along with a phrase/word for the year. My word was “ownership”. Here’s what I said in January:   I want to “own” my life instead of letting things happen by default, or sliding into commitments. I’m taking back the reins!

So how’s it going? Well, I do feel that I’ve been stepping with intention through some open doors and intentionally closing some others that don’t seem right for this season. But one of the things I’m noticing as I’ve decided to live more intentionally this year is that some of the pieces of my life are more separated and compartmentalized than I think is good. So a new component of my ownership journey is going to be trying to bring more of my whole self everywhere I go.

I think some of the separation is pretty normal and is just a part of life. My circles of influence don’t always intersect so it doesn’t always feel natural to talk about school stuff with work people or church stuff with the softball team (or for that matter to bring up my high schooler’s schedule with the preschool moms – that’s one way to bring a conversation to a stunned silence). We all live full lives and it’s not always obvious what everyone does when they’re not with you in that one particular sphere. It is one of the reasons I love social media. It gives us windows into the spaces in our friends and acquaintances’ lives that we otherwise wouldn’t see. Now, obviously those windows are carefully curated and don’t offer a full picture, and it can sometimes be disorienting. I can remember lots of times when I posted something on Facebook on Instagram and then someone in real life talks to me about it and I’m surprised that they know I did XYZ because that activity rarely comes up in our normal interactions.

But outside of these natural separations, I often feel a sense of being vulnerable when I let them overlap some. It feels easy to talk about owning my own business and talk to people about the services I offer when I’m in a networking meeting or surrounded by other entrepreneurs. And it feels natural to be singing and playing my guitar at church as the Worship Leader.  But if one of those clients or potential clients walked in the door of my church while I’m on the platform? Or if someone at church asks me the “what do you do?’ question?  I feel suddenly out of place, nervous, out of place, and unsure.

I’m noticing these uncomfortable places and trying to work out how to own my whole self through the discomfort. Owning and bringing all these parts of my life into alignment feels like a worthwhile project. I hope to share more about it here on the blog.

Crushing on my daughter for #WCW

Sometimes those Facebook memories just really get me. This week it’s been taking me back to some dramatic and hilarious and sweet times with my second baby – Lydia. It’s her turn for a #WCW post.

Lydia’s got what you call “personality” in spades. She’s always had it – mischievous eyes with long eyelashes to die for, a smirk always moments from appearing on her face. She has always been her own person with her own style pretty much from the get-go. For a period of maybe 3 years, she only wore dresses. She also ran the fastest and climbed the furthest in the tree in our front yard. She entered her school’s talent show and did stand up comedy. As a first grader. And then again at a new school as a second grader. She’s still got the jokes.

She is one of the most athletic kids I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Getting to help out with her team is truly a highlight in my life. Watching her play is really, really fun. I think she could probably play just about anything she decided to, but for now has landed on softball and this softball-playing mom is just thrilled about it!

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Tiny catcher!!!

She’s also incredibly musically talented – her ear is amazing! My husband the other day remarked to her that she was like having Pandora on- she just went from song to song, humming and singing along. She knew every word! I remember when she was little, she’d come home from church or preschool and sing verbatim any little song they had learned. It takes her no time at all to pick things up.

Her independent and confident nature has of course provided us with many, many learning moments as parents. Here’s a tip for any of you with “strong-willed” preschoolers who only throw fits for you but are little angels with their teachers. Leave the room. Grab a camera. Come back to tantrum child. Take video. Calmly explain that the video will be shown to said teacher in the morning. Magically watch as tantrum dissipates into shocked outrage. But along with the more challenging times have come a wealth of experiences I never would have had without her.

One example is her Halloween costumes. She has pushed me outside my box almost every year on this one! I think under the age of 4 she was good with whatever generic princess dress I had on hand, but since then she has had a mind of her own! Here are a couple of the costumes she’s designed/asked for:

Halloween 2014
Smarty Pants, Candy Corn, Tinkerbell
Halloween 2011
Clown, Mandie (from a book series), and Rapunzel

She wanted to be candy corn a few years ago. I think we pulled it off. Another year she was a marshmallow and that one didn’t turn out as well. We’ve also done Piggy from Elephant and Piggy, Batgirl, an Enderman, and a unicorn (for which she wore a unicorn onesie).  She’s the first to want to try something new – surfing, zip-lining, climbing – you name it – she wants to try it.

She is so fun. We have a rule in our house that when there’s tickling or rough-housing (or really anything honestly), you can say “Please stop” and everyone stops. There are no exceptions to this rule. Well her older sister lasts about 1 second and her younger sister lasts about a minute, but not Lydia. It’s her goal generally to tire out everyone else and to outlast everyone in the fight. She doesn’t say “please stop” – you have to just quit while you’re ahead. Tom, of course, loves this challenge and they bait one another throughout the whole thing.

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Bike ride “date” exploring the creek beds. This is such a Lydia thing to want to do with her date time.

She brings so much laughter to our home, but also serious insight. One day I’ll never forget – I was asking her about her day and then started chatting about dreams and such. We talked about what things she might want to do when she grew up. I remember her not being really sure and I encouraged her to keep dreaming and to dream big and never stop pursuing her dreams. She kinda nodded and then said to me – “What about you? What dream are you going after?” Oof!

It’s crazy because at that time I was really wrestling with where my life was. I didn’t feel like I was living the dream, but I also didn’t know what the dream was.  I believed vaguely that it was important for children to see their parents pursue dreams and to live an abundant life. But until her question, I didn’t see how deeply true this was. Why should she bother to dream if she saw that once you get to a certain spot, you just quit dreaming?  Quit pursuing the deep down thing that moves you?

I can really point to it as a turning point in my life as a mother – before I had believed that it was better to just be ok with how life was. After that conversation, I pushed more into what felt like dangerous territory of asking questions of myself like, well what do you want to do when you “grow up?” Is this the life you want? If not, what is the life you want? If so, are you living it as fully as possible?

She does this kind of thing all the time. We’ll be having some sort of family discussion that’s important but it’s staying pretty shallow until all of a sudden Lydia pipes up with something deep. We all just go, wow – yeah – that was good – hmm. Either that or she makes a joke none of us saw coming and we all laugh for a long time.

This is her last year before becoming a teenager. It’s crazy how fast it’s going. I want to slow it all down and enjoy every moment of being her mom. She is a treasure and God’s gift to me. Love my sweet Lydia!!!

Carolyn – I crush at you!

Carolyn is now married to a wonderful man, but back in college she attracted some real characters. One of them was from a former Soviet republic and was studying at our university. He hung around the periphery of our friend group, flirting (or trying to) with most of us at one time or another. His English was probably fine in an academic sense – he could read and understand everything just fine. But, as is the case for any learner of another language, the customs of casual spoken language were much harder for him to grasp. This led to some hilarious moments, one of which was when he declared his feelings about her by shouting- “I am crushing at you!” Needless to say, this has become a favorite phrase in our friend group. Today for my #WCW I am totally crushing at you Carolyn!!!!

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I went to Wisconsin to visit when our babies were little. While it’s tragic that neither one of us took a picture of our own selves while we were together – having this one is sure special!

Carolyn is one of my hoohah friends who miraculously has become an even closer friend in the years since college. She and Norah were in the room next door to me my freshman year in college. Their shenanigans were infectious and their laughter contagious. The two of them helped educate sheltered me on the joys of 80’s music, scandalizing me with their encyclopedic knowledge of Madonna, Meatloaf, Bonnie Tyler, Heart, etc. lyrics. (The fact that I can even name those artists is truly only due to their tutelage.)

We connected further over worship music, history/political science/econ classes, and deep conversations about relationships and theology. Carolyn made it ok to be smart, to do well in school and to enjoy the process of study.  I’ve not met many people who get as excited about whatever it is she’s learning than Carolyn. She still exudes that enthusiasm today – constantly reading and learning new things and always open to fleshing out whatever new content has come across her path with deep, honest conversation.

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Seriously this was the only picture I could find of just the two of us. We’ll need to do better!

We’ve had so many good talks over the years. Most recently we’ve begun talking more over text – most often just shooting out over the cellular waves a cry for help or solidarity in the face of ridiculous kid behavior. But just as frequently we’ve been a lifeline for each other, letting ourselves say the scariest things, the darkest things, the things we’re not sure it’s ok to say out loud. I never would have believed that this kind of conversation could happen over text, but I can’t overstate how life giving and how grounding it has been to know that she’s there on the other side of the phone and even if she can’t respond right away, she will eventually. She’ll hear me, offer sympathy or a kick in the pants, whichever is most needed at the time.

Carolyn has shared much of her story on her own blog, Through the Ardennes, and I won’t go into too many of the details here. I feel privileged to have gotten a behind the scenes look at many of the things she’s written about though – infertility, adoption, trans-racial adoption, special needs, parenting, marriage, and more. She artfully and humorously explores these topics, allowing others a peak inside her journey and pushing us to think outside our expectations.

While she’s always been passionate about racial reconciliation and justice, her heart is becoming ever more attuned to the ways our American culture has set up systems that disadvantage her two black sons. She is one of the first white women I know who challenged me to think differently about what I saw as ‘normal’. She inspires me to speak truth to power and to not comfortably maintain the status quo of white supremacy that too often is masked by ‘normal’.

While she is currently buried deep in the land of toddler and preschool, her schedule dependent upon the whims of the tiny tyrants in her home, she continues to push herself outside of her comfort zone. She has found new ways of supporting her family’s income, has become a student of her children and their diverse needs, has found new hobbies in gardening and making art, stays involved and active in her neighborhood and church, and is a constant source of encouragement and strength to her friends.

You are an amazing friend. Writing this makes me want to hop in the car and brave 95 South to see you. But, since it’s rush hour, I’ll probably just send a text. XOXOXO

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If you want to read more of my #WCW posts, hit the tag WCW to the right, or click on this link. Enjoy!

Sister Friend, a Thanksgiving #WCW

Little sisters. The source of much fictional angst – Jo and Amy in Little Women, Beezus and Ramona in all of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, and other pairs in countless movies and tv shows. I’m thankful that my relationship with my sister isn’t nearly as dramatic as the above examples.

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big sister little sister easter big shoulders era

Actually, with an 8-year age gap, I barely registered her as a person before she was in high school. Hmm, so maybe SHE felt that it was a bit angst-y….. 🙂 Now, however, I count her as one of my favorite people in the whole world.

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the time I got to go visit my sister in college for my birthday

She’s hosting us for Thanksgiving this year and we’ll get to celebrate her birthday while we’re here, so it feels very appropriate to choose her for my #WCW series this week.

Catherine was 9 when I moved away to college and 12 when I got married. We were in such different phases of life that we didn’t really have a relationship while we were growing up.  The year my husband was deployed to Kuwait and my dad got diagnosed with cancer was in many ways the most intense and stressful of my life. But in one major way, it was one of the best and most significant of my adult life. It was in this year that I rediscovered my sister.

When I brought my 14-month-old daughter back home from Germany to live for a few months, I got to know my sister all over again, not as a kid who was grossed out by public displays of affection or who wanted to tag along to everything, but as a person coming in to her own.

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spring softball sister trip

I got to go with her to a travel softball tournament, help her study for exams, watch silly tv shows, and watch her dote on her niece. She helped bring me out of my funks when I was missing my husband and she played with my daughter when I just couldn’t muster any more toddler enthusiasm. Those months are the shiniest of silver linings I’ve experienced.

As time has passed, we’ve stayed close again. Lately, I’ve felt that the big sister/little sister dynamics have totally flipped with me calling her in distress and her calming me down, talking me down from the ledge, and offering heartfelt words and wise perspective. She still loves being an aunt to my kids, staying involved in their lives, asking great questions to pull them out of their shells, and just generally giving them space to be who they are.

Most recently, she’s introduced me to the Enneagram and that’s opened up a whole new season of soul searching for me and a deeper understanding of our family dynamics. (I’m a 1. She’s a 9. If you don’t know what that means, check this out for a very broad overview). It’s a little hard to say I’m grateful for her introducing me to this since my “type” feels like the worst thing ever. But basically every type thinks that about themselves, so yay? I will say it’s given me great language to describe characteristics of myself and my family that has been helpful – but be warned if you go on the Enneagram journey – it’s not comfy.

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Sisters who Karaoke together stay together.

It’s hard to pinpoint with a person you’ve known their whole life the ONE thing you love or are grateful for about them. But I think the thing I’m currently most grateful for is her ability to let people be who they are and to really celebrate it. She doesn’t expect people to like the same things she does or want to do the same things she does. She actually enjoys watching her family do the things they like to do and feels neither the compulsion to join or the compulsion to convince us to take different path. When you’re with her, there’s no need to pretend or to hide some part of yourself that may be too much or not enough in other environments. You just get to be you. It’s a gift that I treasure.

The great thing about sisters is that they really are forever. I love how our relationship has morphed as we’ve both gotten older. I can only imagine that it will keep getting better. Love you sister.  I’m so thankful for you! Happy Thanksgiving!