Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Books

First, I do not summarize what the book is about. You can click on the links of each book to see that. I just tell you a short reason why I liked it (and possibly some quotes).

Second, if you are going to buy the book, you can always buy used and new books from Better World Books. They donate a book for every book you purchase.

Third, Enjoy! And share your favorites!!

Fiction

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
I love this book. It is so charming and funny and feel-good. Ranks as one of my favorites. The characters are perfect, especially Ove.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Wow. A beautiful, tragic story. I learned so much because of this novel. I researched many events while reading the unfolding of the characters' lives. Great writing and story development. This is a book I wish I owned because of the many lines that stuck out to me.

"Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind"

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Very relevant and insightful on many levels. Would recommend for all, especially those trying to understand what some of the black community have been expressing for years and a glimpse of the motivation behind Black Lives Matter.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The main character charmed his way into me falling in love with him. I love the wit, the history, the characters, the culture. Great storytelling.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This book is excellent in so many ways. The writing, the storyline, the characters, the relevance, the history. Just great.

Non-Fiction

The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adoptive Child by Nancy Verrier
As mentioned in this post: A must read for all in the adoptive triad and the friends and family of all.

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
This book brings together not only the history of the United States, but so many other myths or parts of our country that we either do not see or simply ignore. I had many preconceived and impeded beliefs about Native Indians. I was astonished how I was misled into holding certain "facts" of our history.

While reading this book I felt like Neo taking the red pill. I knew bits and pieces of our history. I had ideas of other parts of our history and current events, but this just opens the entire Matrix up. This is an important book to read. To understand.

"How then can US society come to terms with its past? How can it acknowledge responsibility? The late Native historian Jack Forbes always stressed that while living persons are not responsible for what their ancestors did, they are responsible for the society they live in, which is a product of that past."

Choose the red pill.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
An almost unbelievable story about one woman who has pretty much expanded science and saved us all. So many things that can be discussed with this book.

When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones
Jones pulled me in from the first line. Intriguing. Inspiring. Amazing. I learned so much. What an incredible story and movement and people.

"The movement saved by life and gave it purpose and connected me to other people who also sought love and purpose in their lives.

The movement gave me hope and it is that hope which sustains me now - hope that we might yet save our planet and learn to share it in peace; hope for justice and equality; hope for the children that will follow us; hope that someday soon, we may rise. "

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi
An intriguing book. I really appreciate the thoroughness of the Hungarian history and identity and how it relates or doesn't relate to her father . Well written and a pretty amazing story.

March Books One, Two, & Three by John Lewis
Easy read that helps understand the Civil Rights Movement with the graphic style. I read for a Book Club I am in, but also read them with my two oldest boys.

Runnerups:

Fiction

Sula by Toni Morrison
One should read Toni Morrison to understand a lot of things about life and writing.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Crazy story, but very insightful.

Murder on the Orient Express by Christie Agatha
Who can go wrong with an Agatha mystery??

Nonfiction

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
A great read, especially for those wanting to understand and empathize with those on the right. Chapter 9 on this very insightful (I believe that none of the quotes below are from Chapter 9). 

"The right seeks release from liberal notions of what they should feel - happy for the gay newlywed, sad at the plight of the Syrian refugee, unresentful about paying taxes. The left sees prejudice."

"His (Trump) supporters have been in mourning for a lost way of life. Many have become discouraged, others depressed. They yearn to feel pride but instead have felt shame. Their land no longer feels their own. Joined together with others like themselves, they now feel hopeful, joyous, elated..."

"...left and right need one another, just as the blue coastal and inland cities need red state energy and rich community. The rural Midwest and South need the cosmopolitan outreach to a diverse wider world."

The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar (Pulitzer Prize Winner)
Amazing story. Great writing.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
Crazy, infuriating, heartbreaking, and inspiring. It's so frustrating and sad to see what corporations and people will do for money. They endured and changed the world for the better. It is unbelievable that this is what needs to happen to bring change and protection. We all know this still happens today.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Adoption Day Thoughts

So, the only true perspective you will receive is from me, but...I will share what I have heard and learned from listening to adoptees and birth/first parents.

Adoption Day is a day of beginnings and endings. This day makes it official by the courts that now the child is legally under the care of the adoptive parents. Some parents are overjoyed on this day, because the child is finally theirs. I know there are parents that have struggled with infertility and grief and frustration that many of us will never completely understand and have not experienced. Finally having a child that they can raise and love brings so much happiness and fulfillment to them. It can also be a happy time because there is, at last, some decision about this child. Too many foster children stay in the system way too long being pulled every which way (but that's a whole different discussion). Adoption gives permanency to the child.

Adoption Day is also a time of endings. The birth/biological parents no longer have rights to the child they brought into this world. They cannot legally choose their pediatrician, school, daily clothes, what they eat, who their friends are, what they believe, how they act. A legal document has been signed stating that they either are not fit to care for their child or that they have abandoned that child. A child will only remain connected with their parents if their adoptive parents can and choose to participate in a relationship with the birth/biological parents. Sometimes this is healthy and safe, and sometimes it is not. Sometimes there is not information about the birth parents and so a relationship probably will not happen. If this is the case, all the child's history is most likely lost.

Adoption, like I have blogged about before, can be heavily Adoptive Parent focused. You may see these happy pictures posted about this wonderful day. Some Adoptive Parents celebrate this day every year. I think the intentions are meant well. And there probably is lots of joy on the parent side of things, but for some adoptees it can be a complicated event with mixed emotions. They lost their parents on this day. Did their parents give them up or were they forced to give them up? Any answer to either of those questions are difficult to answer and difficult to hear and be happy about. These thoughts can surround adoptees when thinking about their adoption day. So, some families will continue to celebrate the child's birthday and mention the birth families, but not celebrate the actual day of adoption. It is noted and can be talked about, but it is just one point in the adoption journey.

With our adoption day, I want to be sensitive to our baby girl. We have had her since she was nine days old, so not much is going to change. She will have our last name. She will go on our insurance. We will be able to make decisions about her care without the supervision and approval of the foster system. But it feels like she has been with us forever, and we'll still have to deal with her tantrums and poopy diapers. We do hope to connect with her first family after the adoption, if they still can/want to know her. If not, we will keep their information, and hope that it will work out in the future.

I didn't know about the term Gotcha Day until I joined a few Transracial Adoptive Groups through Facebook that focus on the voices of adoptees and first families. I see it now more often. There are many terms like this that are problematic for adoptees and first families. Some relate to the adoption day, so I thought I would share these. These terms are like sayings you don't use when someone is grieving. For example, "It's part of God's plan", etc.

This is not about how we feel about these words, but how others could. Remember what Richard Rohr says. Say "yes" first!:

Airplane Day, Welcome Day, Gotcha Day
Called to Adopt
Tummy Mummy, Belly Mom, Birth Mom
The acronym BM for birth mom (that is also one for bowel movement)
Expectant Mother
Angry Adoptee
Forever Family
Coming "Home"
Abandoned
Blessed/Lucky
Homemade
Born in My Heart
Our Birth Mom
Failed Adoption
Adult Adoptee
Real Mom, Real Dad
Orphan
Love is Enough
Paper Pregnant
Our Prayers were Answered

I've included a few links at the bottom of this post explaining some of these. Ta-Nehisi Coates has a great (and funny) way of explaining about words and context. You can also sit with the terminology while trying to look through an adoptee's or first parents' eyes. How could each word or phrase make them feel? Like a wise friend, who is an adoptee, said, "Adoption will feel like you can do nothing right...say nothing right." I think we'll all feel this way sometimes. It's just about understanding and listening and seeing the full picture of adoption.

I hope our daughter will know that we want the best for her, and that this journey of adoption is about her. If she wants to celebrate her adoption day when she's older, we will. I know most of us are doing our best with what we have and know. Like the Dalai Lama says, "Everyone wants happiness. Happiness is a right." I think one of the times we find true happiness is when we listen and truly understand another person. When we can be a part of that person finding their own happiness.



Further Reading:

What's Wrong with Gotcha Day?

The Insensitivity of Adoption Day

10 Things Not to Say About an Adopted Child

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Complexity of Foster Care

Most people have a vague understanding on how the foster care system works. Some have friends that foster and know of the difficult children, the crazy parents, and the even sadder stories surrounding the families. And others foster.

There will always be a need to fostering, but there are definitely areas that need to be improved. Just like adoption has become sort of a money-making industry at times, so has foster care - sort of. Now, a typical foster parent gets "paid" a few hundred dollars a month per foster child. Which if we thought about it in childcare terms, around 50 cents an hour. This "stipend" is usually used for necessities for the child that Medicaid and the small clothing allowance for the child do not cover...which can be A LOT. So, the money-making isn't in fostering itself. And while the funds for foster care workers and other necessities continues to get cut, there is just a lopsided way of using the money. Because it has been done a certain way for so long, it is hard to get out of that cycle.

Being the way I see money to be distributed in our society, I believe more money should go to at-risk families and children that we typically see in the foster care system; however, I think it should be dispersed differently. As I wrote in my post about Adoption, there is trauma that happens with children when they are adopted that we cannot ignore. The same is obviously true and widely believed by all with foster care. Sometimes children come into care because of trauma. But for some situations (which I know the system usually tries to not take children out unless they're truly in danger) why don't we keep the children in the home and fund money to the family, so that they can improve the situation?

Now, I know some of you think I'm crazy. Won't they abuse the money? Maybe. But let me tell you a true story about a mother whose child was taken away by the foster care system. So, this mother struggled with substance abuse. Yes, she's choosing to use drugs, but why? Now, we don't know her upbringing or childhood history, but we could guess at a few things. This mom was raised in the city, where her education was probably subpar. She grew up in a neighborhood that was not always safe or thriving. A neighborhood where drugs were probably offered and prevalent. We could guess at some point, she suffered from trauma related to her friends, family, and probably herself. And let's not forget the fact that this mother probably experienced discrimination and racism based on the color of her skin. Makes you wonder how we would cope with all of those things, right?

So, this woman grows up and ends up struggling with drug addiction. She becomes a mother, cannot break the habit, and then is separated from her child. More trauma, not only for her child (see this both through a mother's eyes and a child's eyes), but for herself. So, the child and the mother enter the surveillance of the foster care system. More than likely she is served by mostly white people and mostly judged by all. The system. Her family. Us. Well, she fails by our standards, and loses her child. What would this do to a mother? How would she cope? When I realized a week ago that I lost Ronan it was for about 3 minutes. Three minutes of absolute agony. It was some of the worst 3 minutes of my life. To imagine that he would be taken away from me for his entire childhood with a little hope that I will at least get to see in photos my baby grow up and become a man by another family. Are there even words to describe the devastation? As a mother, I'm not so sure.

Obviously, we want safety for these children. It is always about the children. And in some situations being removed from the home and the situation is by far the more safer and healthier option. Most times the system offers counseling and drug rehab and other resources so that the family can get back together. But there is still so much trauma having to go through all this. Kids always want their parents. So back to my example. When you are a family in the system, you must have a safe environment for the child to come back to, job/money to support the child, and be healthy yourself to take care of the child. Which, I think, we would all agree this seems reasonable.

So, this mother got a job, which was during business hours. She would cancel visitation some times because she had to work. She had to work, so that she could afford a place to live for her baby to come back to. But this meant she had to forego seeing her child sometimes. Does the court look favorably on that? No. What if she had no place to live or any means to support the child? Does the court look favorably on that? No. What does she do? She makes the best decision she can, but it's never the right decision in the eyes of the court. Then what does she do? She gets stressed. And what does she do when she gets stressed? She uses. So, is the system really for her? Is the system really trying to support her? Does the system really want reconciliation?

All of us that are parents know that parenting ain't no joke. We wonder sometimes why in the world did we ever think we could handle being a parent to a human being. So, we know it's hard work. We know that you have to prove yourself worthy of caring for a child sometimes. So, yes, she needs to work to get her child back from foster care, but doesn't it seem like an impossible task? I've been told by someone who works in housing (with the government in a way) that there is some funds for people like the mom I describe. For parents that need some housing first, so that they can get a job, get counseling, have visitations, and ultimately get their child back. Is this funding used? Nope.

Not only do parents have an almost impossible task to perform to get their children back, but often times the children are placed with strangers. Strangers that look nothing like the children they are caring for. Something I have wondered (and many of you may have too) is why there are not more black families that are foster parents. There are some, but there are a lot more white folks fostering.

Recently I learned a few things about this. One is that the black community will do a lot of informal adopting or parenting of each other. Some kids will never enter the system because of this informal way of taking care of each other. When children do enter the system, this works well with the foster system, because extended family can be a "kinship" placement instead of the children going to an unknown (to the family) foster family. Other times it doesn't work at all because certain black families do not want to be under the government's eye. If you think about the relationship and history with the black community at large and the police force and other governmental entities, this makes sense. Who would want another potential oppressive power over them? Of course this is not true for all families, but we have to listen to those that express this as a real reason for being apprehensive of fostering. And as statistics show and some believe, black people will be more likely to have a record - a felony relating nothing to the care of children and from years ago - because of the system we have set in place as a society.

So, how do we change this? Well, first with knowledge. And then with action. Policies need to change and best practices do too. When we have the opportunity to vote, we can think about how the money we put in the system can affect real change in their lives. When policies are potentially changing for the foster system (or other systems at play), or when you feel motivated to start a policy change yourself, think about how can we keep kids with their families? When you're thinking or you hear someone bashing the family of a foster child, you can remember and share empathy. And we can also think of all the systems at play that make certain families more likely to enter the foster system than others. Maybe if some of these systems changed, less children would come into the foster system?

One thing I think I will do differently as a foster parent when we foster again in the years to come is really campaign for the parents. I have loved their children and provided the parents with pictures. I have tried to say positive and empathetic things about the parents to others and to those working the case; but, I have been more of a bystander when it comes to the reconciliation. Some of this is immaturity and some ignorance, but I think I can be more actively involved with being encouraging to parents, with pushing workers to partner more with the parents and extended families. We have been licensed as foster parents for over 6 years, and I still get confused. I don't understand procedures sometimes or why this or that has been decided. So, imagine the parents moving along this uphill battle and trying to comprehend the system too. It's a bit unreal. But I know how to play the game a little. I've been equipped on how some of these systems will probably run from other experiences in my life.

Until we foster again, I hope to seek out change in the systems that make certain families more at-risk, and for the foster system itself. I'm a little clueless about how to go about this, but I have friends that probably know and I'm a mean googler. And maybe just being more intentional with families that are going through a hard time or with our neighbors? Connection goes a long way. These families are like us. They can also be more complex, could have had a more complicated childhood and experienced trauma more than we did. But maybe not.

If anything we have learned this year, it should be empathy and listening. We have seen the opposite of empathy in ourselves and in others countless times over the past 12 months. It's time for change.

Like Ghandi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Further (and better) reading on this:

Fixing Foster Care - 5 Strategies for Change

The Annie E. Casey Foundation

Meeting the Challenges of Contemparary Foster Care (click to download the PDF full version)

The Future of Children

Cornerstones of Care Family Support (Kansas City Organization)

One Roof

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Who is the Focus of Adoption?

As always, I am still learning, and I'm not going to say everything perfect below, but I do hope I am being true to adoptees and all in the adoption triad.

As a future adoptive mother I have been seeking to understand adoption better. I probably should have started this journey a long time ago, but I wasn't positive our story would have adoption in it. Thanks to some groups I am a part of, some of my long-held beliefs about adoption have been challenged. At some point in the recent past I joined a few transracial (i.e., white family adopts black child) adoption groups that focus on the perspective of adoptees. Listening to adoptees and some birth/first/biological mothers, I have learned that adoption is usually adoptive-parent focused. We are the saviors. We are the ones that are doing such a great service. The children are "so blessed" to have families like us. They should be very "thankful and grateful" that we adopted them. When you stop and think what type of pressure this puts on an adoptive child, it's pretty eye-opening. It can push adoptees to try to be perfect, never hurt their adoptive parents' feelings, and to keep some of the other emotions of adoption (grief, anger, confusion, etc) buried deep down inside.

A couple months ago I attended a training/panel discussion about transracial adoption. The panel included two adoptees, an adoptive-white father of an international adoptee (I can't remember what country!), a birth/first/biological mother, and an adoptive-white mother of (I think) two biracial adoptees from the foster system. Before the meeting the organization gave some suggested readings. One was  In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption by Rhonda M. Roorda. Reading this book I discovered more how inappropriate some black people see white people adopting black children. They honestly have some really good points. Adoption is complicated and then you add in culture and racial differences...yep. Not all the people interviewed in the book were against transraical adoptions, but I think all agreed a lot more than just love is needed to make the adoption healthy and more honest. Even if the person in your life is not participating in a transracial adoption (or one that does not include black children), there are many things to be learned.

I believe it was from this book that I heard about The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier. I would say both are a must read for adoptive parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, and everyone else trying to understand the inter-workings and many emotions and trauma of adoption. Here is an amazing quote from The Primal Wound:

"If we are going to put children first, we are going to have to face with courage and determination the truths about how our decisions impact these children. We are going to have to challenge our previously held ideas and deal with reality. No matter how difficult and painful it may be, acknowledging our vulnerabilities, limitations, and obstinacy in dealing with adoption is crucial to having more honest relationships with our children. Our children deserve it. We deserve it. Let us begin!

I've always wished that Moses had remained on Mt. Sinai a little longer and that God had given him an eleventh commandment. Honor thy children. Oh, what a different world it might be..."

The Primal Wound speaks a lot about how adoptive children suffer from the separation from their mother, even if it was at birth. I think most of us know and believe that infants know their mothers from the very moment they pop out of the womb. They know her smell, her voice, her touch. So, if newborns are this in tune with their mothers, it is not a far cry to assume that they know that they have been taken away from the mother that carried and grew them for so long in her belly (the book also provides research showing this). It goes into detail of how this trauma effects different aspects of the child's life and how we can see it played out. After reading this book, I could see different actions and responses baby girl has with me. Even at 15 months, I think she knows I am not her original mother. She knows I care for her, that I love her, that she is safe with me. I am her person; but, she also knows I am not the one that gave her life. That gave her the color of her eyes, her personality. She knows she is separated from that person.

So, back to the panel discussion. Just like anything in our lives, our long-held opinions about certain people or groups change when you know actual people or hear stories from them who are a part of these groups, experiences, etc. Hearing the stories of grief, devastation, and exhaustion from adoptees (who had loving adoptive families) really alters our reality. It can be heartbreaking. We usually hear adoptive stories of rainbows and unicorns with amazing adoptive parents, but there is so many layers to adoption. Listening to a mom on this panel who gave birth to her child and was pretty much shamed into giving her child up for adoption made me almost defensive and wanted to doubt her story. Stop and think about what you usually think about "birth" moms? Maybe they are too poor? Maybe they should learn to keep their legs closed? Maybe they need to get "fixed"? This woman was in college at the time. This woman is a very successful woman with multiple degrees who has started an organization that helps women and children in a population that is very much ignored. She defies all the stereotypes.

You can probably guess to all the thoughts and emotions and questions swirling in my head after this discussion. A lot of what I saw about the foster system and about adoptive systems were changing because of this training and the groups I was a part of. Hearing the voices of the adoptive triad that are most often ignored - the adoptee and the first moms - humbles and moves me. So, I asked myself, "were we doing right by baby girl?" I still wrestle with this question. We began fostering to become a resource for parents so that they may get the help they need to have a better, healthier family and life; but, knowing what I know now, it is much more complicated, and things need to change in the direction of truly helping families stay together and for the children. Seriously, for the children.

Not only have I been learning about the complicated emotions and systems in adoption, but also the terminology. There are many words that hurt adoptees on a very deep level. There are also words that are pretty offensive to birth/first/biological moms. Many times when we say birth mom, it gives the impression that that is all the mother did. She gave birth. She didn't carry the baby for almost 10 months. And once some of these mothers begin to have a relationship with their children, they are very much more than birthing humans. Or even while the mother and child were separated, the mother may have tried everything she could to be a mother until they were reunited.

There will always be children that need homes, but I do believe that our resources need to shift to try to keep families together more than they do now. That we need to be a lot more careful about adopting domestically and overseas. Sponsoring families in another country has become an option. Think what a poor family in another country could do with $25,000 instead of giving up the children they cannot feed (this really happens). I am not trying to make anyone feel bad, I am saying these things because it is what I am hearing from adoptees. I do believe we would all agree they are the ones all of this is happening for. If we do agree on that, then we should listen to them. Be open to what they have to say and affirm their emotions and experiences. It's messy and complicated, but so is life. When we allow the messy and hard parts in our lives, we are able to experience life at a deeper, more fulfilling level for ourselves and for others.

So, let's listen, let's read, let's watch. Besides reading the books I mentioned above, you could watch This is Us or watch this small trailer of Calcutta is My Mother (coming out 2018), follow Dear Adoption on Facebook, listen to Adoptees On podcast. There is a lot to be learned. This is what empathy and understanding looks like.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Being who I am, I have been checking books out from the library that are about adoption. Needless to say, most of them are not very good. Below I have the names of the ones we have read and what they are about, if I liked them or not, and if they seemed true to the honest narrative of adoptees. Many of adoption books focus on how happy and lucky the child is or use many phrases that are offensive to adoptees, like "God put us together" "God planned this" "Birth mom lovingly gave the child up for adoption". I read yesterday that people who look up adoption books on Amazon, read the one-star reviews to see if adoptees felt affirmed by what the book was trying to convey.

The picture books about adoption I liked the most were:

A Thirst for Home by Christine Leronimo - a really honest story about a girl adopted from Ethiopia. It connects the two worlds together pretty well. The only thing I'm not sure about is the "why" she was adopted. It could be the tricky part of adoption from different countries. Was her mom still alive & could be supported to keep her daughter? Or did her mother die?

Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis - good for one where parents go to the hospital to pick up the baby (an adoptee likes this one because it opened up conversation with her adoptive family about her adoption).

A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza - decent - shows emotions of adoption - and how adoptive families look different.

Motherbridge of Love by Xinran - decent - brings both worlds together for the adoptee - more for international adoptions.

Orange Peel's Pocket by Rose A. Lewis - about a Chinese adoptee whose adoptive mother (a background character) leads her around to all the people they know and have a relationship in her community to discover more about her culture. A good conversation starter and example for adoptive parents.

Goyangi Means Cat by Christine McDonnell - decent - about a Korean adoptee and the communication barrier between her and her parents and how they continue to grow together as a family.

Ten Days and Nine Nights by Yumi Heo - decent - really speaks about an older adopted sister awaiting the adoption of her new-to-be Korean sibling. It's simple and doesn't cover much about all the other aspects of adoption, but gives the experience for an older sibling.

Other ones that I didn't like very much:

Sweet Baby Moon by Karen Henry Clark - creative story - international adoption and not sure about the storyline - baby is in a basket in the river for a long time & the parents find her? It was also long.

Over the Moon by Karen Katz - weird story and long.

Wonderful You, An Adoption Story by Lauren McLaughin & Meilo So - this one was strange too and long.

Forever Fingerprints: An Amazing Discovery for Adopted Children by Sherrie Eldridge - I gave up on it because it was wordy and uninteresting.

On a side note, when I buy books I always look at Better World Books first to see if they have a used copy of the book(s) I'm looking for. They also donate a book when you buy a book & standard shipping is usually free. I hope some of this helps with books to read and I would love to hear about books that you may have found that were helpful with adoption.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Blame Game

Something has to to give, but right now it seems to be unsuspecting people's lives. Where do we go from tragedy after tragedy? Mass shooting after natural disasters to more mass shootings? Everyone has an opinion on how to solve it. Some say it's not the guns, it's the people. Others say it is the lack of gun laws we have, how easy we can access them. And the fight continues after more lives lost and more people unfriending each other on Facebook.

I think that ultimately the problem lies with all of us. We have created this nation and society we live it (yes, some are more responsible than others). We have made or allowed laws to continue to shape our government - state and federal. We have allowed hate to continue to be a predominant emotion that rules how we interact act with each other and the actions that unfold daily in small and in deadly ways. We want to cast the blame on a political view or lack of law, but we don't want to blame ourselves. We don't want to see how we played in the hand that has been dealt. We don't want to blame our consumerism, our individuality, our judgment of others, our crude words, our lack of respect for the human being standing in front of us.

Life is easier if we don't befriend someone in a different economic status or someone of a different color. Life is easier if we don't listen to people who are suffering, who are angry, or feel discriminated against. Life is easier if we ignore those with voices in their heads, those with too big of feelings, those being led to believe things that are not reality. It's easier if we use our money for the things we want. If we use our privilege to stay in our bubble, make the friends that look and act most like us, and keep our property, our money, our successes, our connections, our knowledge for ourselves. For those that deserve those things.

Our individualism has become a disease. We are proud of it, and it can be healthy, but it has made us believe that we are not responsible for the society we have found ourselves in. It is not our fault that our neighbor is isolated and has not found the help he needs. I mean, he probably doesn't even deserve it. Now, I am not blaming the victims of Sutherland Springs. They are exactly that. Victims. So, if we are going to cast blame, we need to blame ourselves first.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, we have supported systems that lead to tragedies such as these. These are emotional, mental, physical, political, social, judicial, health systems. Yes, there will always be evil, and some people beyond reach, but those people are few, very few. We have given up on those that commit crimes; we shun those that beat their significant others; we push away those that have imaginary worlds; we don't want to deal with PTSD, grief, rape, guns, mental illnesses, abusive religions. 

The majority of the time abusers were abused, but we don't want to talk about that. We want to blame. And then we want to play nice. We don't want to admit that we might have a problem. I see this in individuals, in families, in religions, in cities. In this nation.

If you are thinking of specific people and specific groups that should be blaming themselves, hear this, you are missing the point. If you cannot see your own blame in a society that has been divided since its "founding", then you a long way from being a helpful member of our society that can help heal the cancer that has taken hold.

We, as communities, as a nation, have shown moments of courageous, forgiving, loving actions. We are in this together. We have to see ourselves as a connection of people, not as individuals. If we continue to hold on to the safety of throwing the blame at others, we will never see the truth or make any changes. This is not about you. This is not about me. This is about us.

So, where do we go from here? What actions do we take? How do we mend our lives with others? Something has to change. Actually, a lot of things have to change. Just how are you going to be part of that change?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Finding Fullness

Two different people challenged my individualism in the past couple of months, and honestly it almost hurts my brain to see myself outside my individual self and as a larger group. I am going to try to explain what I'm processing.

A professor, Michael A. Mata, said finding fullness in life comes from understanding others (paraphrasing here). Hearing other stories. Seeing ourselves as a part of the bigger story, community. So, this reaches beyond race and gender and class and religion. This is how we find a wholeness about ourselves because we become part of the greater community, the world. What happens to one, happens to us all. We pause, we reflect, we listen. We seek to understand rather than convert. In the process of waiting and listening and being with others, we find a larger perspective of life of resting, of depending, of shaping.

Another person stated that white people do not see themselves as a larger group. (I tried to find the article again, so this is going to be a little misquoted or added to...or misunderstood...ha!) So, when someone says something about white people not understanding what it feels to be discriminated against or to be oppressed or every day we (people of color) face racism. We (white people) take it personally. Or when a person of color says, "that's racist", "that's insensitive" and or just saying "white people". We think they are talking about us (in an accusatory way). As in me.

Then we may go tell the person of color (stating the above or telling a story) about how "not" racist we are. We prove ourselves. Or we become all defensive. This is where we don't see ourselves as a group. We think anytime someone says something negative about a white person, they are actually referring to us individually as a person. But when we can see ourselves as a larger group, we can see that even though we may not be responsible for the actions of white people before us, we are responsible for the society we live in. Our society is a product of the past and we do have a responsibility to work with it now and make it better. And we must acknowledge that we are part of the broader white people group that has and continues to cause hardship on people of color. We are part of that. We may not directly do something or consciously, but we are part of that group.

This all seems to be a building block on "Saying Yes" for me. Life is not just about me and how I want and see things, but also on how others do and their life experiences. It can be difficult for those of us that like set ways and beliefs, because we have to allow ourselves to compromise (in a healthy way) and make space for the hardships and beauty and sorrows of others. It can be uncomfortable and refreshing at the same time. Some cultures are raised in this community mindset and so it is part of their identity; however, if you are white and were raised in the United States, it's most likely that it's almost mind-breaking to include ourselves into a wider group.

Seeing myself as a white person that is part of a larger group shapes me to see how we are responsible for each other and honestly the mess we find ourselves in today. This does not have to be irritating or discouraging, it can be empowering. That we can be changed as a group to make a better society not only for us as white people, but for all people. Some people see finding this fullness as an individual feat, but we cannot accomplish truer fullness without others shaping and guiding and opening new paths for us.

In an adoption book called Primal Wound Nancy Newton Verrier says, "I believe that life is a paradox and that in order to avoid becoming frustrated and disillusioned, we have to accept this paradox (and perhaps even rejoice in it). We have to accept that life is not made up of absolutes: black or white, dark or light, fair or unfair, but that in all aspects of life one will find elements of both black and white and myriad shades of gray in between."

Accepting the paradox of being individually, yet collectively, responsible for actions and systemic structures while at the same time discovering that I am part of a bigger group is quite amazing. This paradox creates a more whole world that connects in ways I never saw. It's freeing, difficult, and many other things. Even after processing this in written form, I'm still not quite sure this is clear or if I truly understand it all; but, I'm grateful for challenging voices that shape my worldview into one that connects and refines my little part of this Earth.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Say Yes

I have talked about my friar crush, Richard Rohr, often on Facebook. He is one of those people that you just hope to be when you reach an age over sixty or even now. He is patient and wise. He can take criticism with a laugh and understanding (...or at least that's how I see him). A little over a year ago he had a daily mediation about beginning with saying "yes" when you are trying to understand something.

Here is the beginning of that reflection:

The great wisdom teachers and mystics say in various ways that you cannot truly see or understand anything if you begin with a no. You have to start with a yes of basic acceptance, which means you do not too quickly label, analyze, or categorize things in or out, good or bad. This is Contemplation 101. You have to be taught how to leave the field open. The ego or false self strengthens itself by constriction, by being against, or by re-action; it feels loss or fear when it opens up to subtlety and Mystery. Living out of the True Self involves positive choice, inner spaciousness, and conscious understanding rather than resistance, knee-jerk reactions, or defensiveness. It is not easy to live this way. It often takes a lifetime of prayer and honest self-observation to stop judging and starting with no.

First, I thought, hmm...and then I thought, "ok...yes." I began to say yes when someone criticized me or something I believed in. Yes. Even in a passive aggressive way. Yes. When someone from my evangelical past made my temper rise and my eyes roll. Yes. The response after another black child or man was shot by the police. Yes. When Blue Lives Matter became a response to Black Lives Matter. Yes. When black people said that they need safe spaces (for them where white people do not take over). Yes. When people voted for Trump (stay with me Trump supporters and haters). Yes. Well, maybe not initially, but yes.

Now, the reason to say yes is to become open. When I say yes, I listen. Often times I feel my pride swelling in me (not in the "I'm so proud of you" way) causing my brain to shut off. When I feel that, I know it is really important for me to say yes a few times. I say yes until I can hear, really hear, what the other person or group is saying. There are times I have to come back to what someone said, because yes isn't working. Recently someone advised me on Facebook to look at something that I feel like they have no idea about, but they wanted to give me advice. I rolled my eyes (I literally just rolled my eyes again thinking about this person giving me advice. Ha!). But I also had the thought, why do I have a guard against this person telling me that? If someone else told me the same thing, I would be ok with it. Obviously, there is some work to be done there, and thankfully because of Friar Crush, I will process it. Eventually.

Another time I remember where I said immediately "no" was when I started the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I think I read about five pages and all those defensive thoughts and guards popped up. I knew I had to return the book and try another time. After I read a couple other books that clued me in to some of where he was going, I was able to come back and see what he was saying. I learned a lot. I am glad I was able to hear him, to understand better.

Like Richard Rohr says it is not easy. It can take a lifetime, but I think most of us would want to live a true life. One where we discover ourselves in a greater, purer way than one where we are denying ourselves to ourselves. To where we not only understand ourselves better, but understand others in a better light. This is where change and growth and greatness happens. I have found freedom from not defending beliefs and ideals so tightly. I have found space by being able to recognize that I need to take time to reflect on why my ego is fighting. It is exhausting always defending, always pointing fingers, always thinking that others need to change.

So, I say yes. Yes to listening. Yes to sitting with the awkwardness. Yes to understanding. Afterward, I may not always agree with what the other person or group is saying or believing, but I gave them a chance. And honestly, it has broadened my perspective on people and the world by truly being open. I have a lot of work internally to still do; but, even though it is more work, I have more freedom and restfulness in my soul.

Here's to saying yes and feeling uncomfortable.