I’m FOREVER with you: another letter to my kids

I’m FOREVER with you: another letter to my kids

dayna_005Dear Ana, Aaron and Nathaniel:

Oh, my.  We are REALLY sad.  We thought that we would be celebrating the election of the first female president.  Instead, we are wondering what life will be like with President Trump.  Even after a couple days, we are all still a bit numb and shell-shocked.  I don’t think I’ve done much to quell your fears; so, I return to the place where I make sense of and peace with the tangle of thoughts and emotions in my head.  I write.  I write, because today YOU need me.  I write, because tomorrow we ALL must remember the lessons of this election.

IT HURTS

I still choke up, reflecting on that moment when you woke up on Wednesday morning, asked me who won, and learned the news that similarly shocked so many across the country.  You all wanted to know if we were moving to Singapore.  I wanted to say, yes.  We all search for a response that tells the world, ‘this is not okay with me’.  But, instead, with my heart still beating out of my chest and stomach still in knots, I told you we would stay….that we must cling to all that is good, and strive to make our nation even better.  Ana, your fear and tears will haunt me for a long time, in the best possible way.  It was you that motivated me to ‘go public’ with my beliefs, even though they went against the grain of what many in our Christian circles espouse.  And, it is you and your brothers that will fuel me to keep searching for God’s place in this messy life; out of these broken pieces, we will build something.  This is not the end.

MAKE A PLAN 

bidenI showed you guys that funny Joe Biden video clip, where he encourages voters to make a plan to get to the polls.  Well, sadly, our plans didn’t work out…..THIS TIME.  But, there will be another time.  Quick lesson in American government: mid-term elections occur every two years and the next presidential election will be in four.  Let’s make a plan.  

More than half of your generation (well, those that are old enough to vote but still young!), voted for Hillary Clinton.  Many of your values, from the way we take care of our planet to compassion for others regardless of their race, gender or religion, will likely be more commonplace in the years to come.  We had thought that year was this year.  But, we were wrong.  Clearly, there is work still to be done.

They say necessity is the mother of invention.  Well, we need to come up with new plans and new people.  Our nation is hurting.  You can be part of the healing.  As your mother, I am telling you it is more true today than ever before, that God invented (created) you for such a time as this.

WHEN THEY GO LOW, YOU GO HIGH 

103816023-gettyimages-580960452-600x400Ana, you and I watched Michelle Obama give a speech during the Democratic Convention, where she said a line that became a bit of a mantra during the rest of the Clinton campaign: when they go low, you go high.  Well, it’s a good line!  And, we’re gonna keep using it.  And, more than just saying it, we need to do it.  Part of going high means that we need to listen.  It is clear from the election results and exit polling that we are a divided nation…urban vs rural, rich vs poor, young vs old, men vs women, etc.

One of the groups that voted overwhelmingly for Trump was evangelicals.  So, guess what?  We have to be a bridge.  We fall into a category of folks who are strong believers in the Bible AND progressive politics.  Please know that we are not alone, but we ARE in the minority.

Let’s change that….by listening to others and by our fruits.  In Sunday School, you’ve learned about the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  The Bible says, they’ll know us by our fruits – this is what it means to be a Christian.  PERIOD.  More than our church attendance or political affiliation, these are the qualities that define us.  The world is watching, so let’s cultivate those fruits.  To be more specific, we are not moving to Singapore.  We are not giving up.  We are not going to be silent.  We re-double our commitment to the greatest commandment, loving others.

BE LIKE WILLIE

This morning, I put on my black dress and pearls, stuffed a huge wad of Kleenex into my purse and went to the funeral of Willie J Mackey.  I didn’t know Willie well, but when I heard of his passing, I knew I had to go to his service, especially since it was occurring on the very day I was already scheduled to serve lunch at OSC….it’s like God put it on my calendar.  Today, I heard Willie’s story, and it changed me.

Long ago, after 15 years as an account, Willie lost his job.  As the months without a paycheck passed, he used up all of this savings.  When he couldn’t afford to keep his home, he moved into his car.  Eventually, he was forced to sell his car, which left

willie
Willie at the Santa Clara Medical Respite Program

him with nowhere to go but the streets.  The hardship of those years, took a major toll on his health.  Thankfully, he found Hotel de Zink, which provides emergency meals and housing to the homeless, with the hosting rotating through churches throughout the bay area.  Willie also connected with much needed health care resources, which helped him diagnose and treating his diabetes.  So many years without care resulted in what would be the first of many partial foot amputations.  Once Willie found long-term housing through the Opportunity Services Center plus much-needed health assistance, he was able to start an entirely new chapter.

The first time I remember seeing Willie, was at church, where he served for six years as an usher.  To be honest, till today, I just knew him as the guy who was lucky enough to find help from our church, which allowed him to turn his life around. This morning, God hit your mama over the head with a 2×4.  Unsuccessfully, I tried to hide my tears; at one point, someone actually handed me a stack of paper towels.  Kids, I was so ashamed of my false assumptions and pride.  Sitting there, I was saw that Willie had given all of us, far more than what we ever gave him….that he was the one with a life worth emulating, not vice versa.

The courtyard at the Opportunity Services Center where I sat, was packed with people from across the Bay Area.  Some were community leaders.  Some were priests and pastors.  Some were homeless.  All loved Willie.  Speaker after speaker got up to tell their story; it was astonishing, how many considered Willie their right-hand man; he was indispensable to countless organizations.  As it turns out, Willie had been active in the community for years before he lost his job, volunteering with organizations that provided African American youth with STEM programs/scholarships.  Willie had a big heart before hardship came his way.  His personal experience with homelessness merely reoriented his focus and intensified his passion, with most of his involvement in later years focusing on poverty, homelessness and health related organizations.

stepup_logo_horizontalCheck out Willie’s LinkedIn Page.  There, you see the very long list of organizations where Willie served as Board Member, Commissioner, Volunteer and Member/Participant.  It was clear, in listening to people talk about his technical expertise, his compassion for others and unwavering willingness to help – Willie could have easily returned to a paying job, once his life stabilized.  But, he leaned into the very place he’d once shunned.  Shame had once upon a time prevented him from asking for help from those he’d previously worked and volunteered with.  But, eventually, he found purpose and peace in going all over the bay, to advocate for the very community he’d once been so afraid to be associated with.

There is a verse in the Bible that says the first shall be last.  I realized how profoundly true this is, when you look at a life like Willie.  Listening to people speak, I saw the beauty in being last (by our modern, American standards).  I want to be like Willie.  I want you to be like Willie.  Better to surrender your life to service, than to chase promotions or titles.  In your world, as kids, this means that kindness must come before good grades or the extra curricular activities we hope will one day help you get into college.  You must ruthlessly carve out space in your life for the broken.  It may not be easy, but it essential.

It is easy to judge or make assumptions when you don’t take the time to ask someone their story.  Hearing more of Willie’s story broke me in the best possible way today.  For pincamwalker01example, I learned the reason why he often wore an orthopedic boot.  As your mom, I’m embarrassed to admit this, given how much I preach about compassion or not judging others.  But, I confess that when I’d see the boot (month after month, year after year), I’d think, “why doesn’t he get that checked?  Is there some part of his health or recovery he’s not managing well?  Why does someone wear a boot for years?”.

Now I know.  He wore that boot because of his ongoing battle with diabetes, which required multiple partial foot amputations….first the toes, then a bit more….and a bit more.  Some of the ushers he served with, told stories today of how diligent he was in his work as an usher, often staying late to help with one more thing, or straighten one more area.  One lady told of how she could see the pain on his face, but somehow he still had a smile; he refused to stop.  At church or Hotel de Zink or the many other organizations in which he served.   He never gave up.  And, I never knew…

I think that is part of the lesson here.  Everyone has a story.  When folks talked about Willie and the influence he had on organizations that served the homeless, one of the repeated themes was his insistence that clients be part of the conversation.  Even serving, should not be something we do FOR people….it is something we do WITH people.  Ask questions.  Hear the story.  Listen to learn, not to respond.  Remember always that we are all broken, and you never really know who is helping who.

When people talked about Willie, the adjective they used over and over again was GENTLE.  His gentleness did not impede his impact; it facilitated it.  To be sure, there are moments you have to stick up for yourself or others.  But, whatever the circumstances, be kind.  I saw a phrase online today: Make American Kind Again.  Yep.  Let’s.

Kids, the closest you’ll ever get to a cold night without a roof over your head is a campinghomeless-3-750xx7360-4152-0-589 trip.  If Willie can pull himself up, so can you. And, let’s honor Willie and the many others who practice their faith by becoming ‘hands and feet’ by loving others.  If you want to find Jesus, you will find Him when you serve a meal, or help a child or wash feet or stand up for the oppressed or give shelter to folks like Willie.    

Love is not a box you tick.  It is an intentional choice to show up and give with all you’ve got, to the ones who need it most…maybe, sometimes, even the ones you feel deserve it least.  THIS, is what we must do over and over and over and over again.  That is our plan.  

CAVES   

Our pastor, John Ortberg, writes of caves in his book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Gotta Get Out of the Boat.  In it, he recounts the story of how David, when fleeing Saul, took refuge in a cave.  The cave was both a physical and symbolic place of hiding.  He’d been stripped rpi-nqtpd-nottingham-caves-jan-enof all the power, security, wealth and fame and now here he was, fearful for his life.  But, God met David in that cave.  The Bible says, David strengthened himself in the Lord His God.  When we are in the cave, and we fear this is it, it is easy to get discouraged.  But, the phrase that gets repeated more than any other in the Bible is, FEAR NOT.  When Jesus came, the angels called Him, Emmanuel, God with us.  He is the God who meets us in the cave, and strengthens us when we are afraid.  And, when that baby grew up, they nailed Him to a cross and then put Him in a cave.  This was defeat.  This was the end.  Except, it wasn’t.  Because, God does His best work in caves.

Nobody likes the cave.  The cave is dark and scary.  But, that’s where we are right now.  And, we have a choice.  We can surrender to our fears and throw in the towel.  Or, we can look for God in this, remembering that sometimes the moments that seem the worst are actually when God is preparing us for His best work yet.  We can look to the testimony of great men like Willie, as examples for how we will live out our faith going forward.  As Charley Scandlyn said in his remarks during today’s service, Willie helped us to see others the way God sees them.  And, that should be how we move forward….loving others.  Nothing has changed since my last letter: we STILL believe in a God that loves us and everyone else with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

I started this blog because I was trying to figure out how to truly act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  And, a few days ago, my words became a letter to you.  My grief has left me hallowed; but, perhaps now there is space for God to come in even more powerfully than before.  It is true, that no matter who is elected, God is still on the throne.  What is also true, is that we are still on earth.  And, so long as there is breath in our lungs, we will work to bring heaven to earth.  We will open our hearts to hurting and broken, we will defend those without an advocate and we will give to those in need.  In the same way that democracy is not a spectator sport, so faith is requires our daily surrender the commandment to love God and love others.  That’s our plan.

Still love you to the moon and back,

Mom

 

 

I’m STILL With Her: a letter to my tween daughter

I’m STILL With Her: a letter to my tween daughter

dayna_044Dear Ana,

In a few days, our nation will hold a historic election.  Either, we will elect the first woman ever to hold the highest position in the land.  Or, we will elect someone who comes to the stage via an unconventional path, offering with it, a promise to bring change.  No matter who is elected, we can be sure that change is coming.  Here’s what I want you to know and remember about this, the eve of the 2016 Presidential Election.

I’M WITH HER

First and foremost, I voted for Hillary Clinton.  Even with all the ups and downs, at the endflat800x800075t-u1 of the day, I am 110% certain she is better prepared and more qualified than her opponent – just look at the incredibly long list of business leaders, academics, religious leaders and even members of both parties who have endorsed her.  Her platform aligns with my beliefs regarding important issues, like making investments in education so that we can compete with countries like Singapore (where your dad is from!), helping the poor and middle class, reforming our criminal justice system and fighting gun violence, tackling immigration and terrorism in thoughtful and measured ways that do not see those of a different faith or race (like you!) as our enemies, taking care of our planet, etc.  She isn’t perfect, but she has the right then-us-democratic-presidential-candidates-barack-obama-and-hillary-clinton-pose-for-photographers-prior-to-the-cnnlos-angeles-times-democratic-presidential-debate-in-hollywood-california-january-31-2experience and temperament for the job.  In addition, she is the first woman to represent a major party in a Presidential election.  When you’re older, I hope this is commonplace.  But, for now, this is historic!  In your lifetime, you’ve gotten to see an African American and now a woman at the top of the ticket; I am so glad you will grow up, witnessing women and minorities break ceilings in all kinds of industries and roles.

When I voted, I thought of you and the world you would grow-up in…..as much as I john-f-kennedy-inauguration-1961-1considered my own preferences or interests.  You deserve as much, and I hope that when you grow up, you will have a similar mind towards democracy, embracing both the rights as well as the responsibilities of citizenship.  As John F Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  Thousands have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom; we must not discard the sacred honor, that is the right to vote and participate in a democratic process.  In seven years, when you are old enough to vote, do your homework.  Listen to and read sources from varied perspectives.  Then, go vote.  Never again could a man like Trump think of holding such a high office if someone like you shows up to the polls….a young, female, mixed-race voter.  Your voice matters.  Young people, matter.  Minorities, matter.  Women, matter.

ONE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS

Second, while my blood pressure, along with the hysteria of this moment in history will eventually die down, it will take a long time to fully recover from this election cycle.  Pundits, researchers and writers will spend years dissecting this moment in history – mark my words, there will be an entire chapter on this election in your high school American History text book!  In this instance, 5c801018f3dacaa014c2652d4e0598eethe hyperbole is actually closer to truth than not – there has never been an American election in our nation’s history, quite like this one.  This is why I have been so public in my own thoughts, because it matters that much.

Many of your peers are getting ready for a theater production of Anne Frank, playing this weekend at your middle school.  I have thought of that era often during this election, reflecting upon the lessons learned and how they might apply to today.  It is easy to criticize bygone eras through the 20/20 lenses of history.  But, we are dangerously close to electing a man who talks like many strongmen before him.  We cannot turn a blind eye, as our democracy is more fragile than we think.  The best way to keep it strong is to stay informed, speak up and get involved.  Perhaps, I should have done all three a lot sooner.

BE STILL AND KNOW……

Third, though I suspect emotions will run high for a while, your Dad and I were reminded at church last Sunday, that God is still in control and He’s not worried.  I remember when you were a tiny baby.  There were nights when you’d cry for no reason.  I’d check your diaper.  I’d make sure you were fed.  Yet, you continued to fret.  So, I’d just

img_0109
After much rocking and swaying…

rock and rock and rock.  Sometimes, I’d walk and sway…and, sway….and, sway….  One night, around 3 am, while doing lots of rocking and swaying, I felt God telling me that in the same way I wished so desperately that you, my baby, could know that everything was going to be okay and there was no reason to cry….similarly, He wished I knew just how much He loved us, cared for us and held us in the palm of His Hands.  We are God’s children.  No matter how big or how small this is in the course of American history, it cannot alter God’s plans.  We should be interested to the point that it gets us informed and involved.  But, we should always keep these events in perspective – God’s got this!  Therefore, I do not worry about the Kingdom above; I do, however, wonder about the church below.

YOUR FAITH CHOICES

I worry that your generation is being offered a choice between a version of belief that raises its fists in condemnation and judgement verses a faith that is wishy washy at best.  You don’t become a better Christian by getting good at pointing out the flaws and sins of others.  (Newsflash, we’ve all sinned….including me, your amazing mother…shocking, I know.)  Adults like to use funny sayings, like “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”  In this case, young people can get disillusioned by churches or Christians that seem hypocritical and irrelevant.  I get it.  But, don’t throw away your faith because of others.  You focus on what you believe.  In my case, I’ve learned that you can be madly in love with Jesus and have a progressive view of the world; it does not have to be an ‘either or’ decision.  My advice, in discerning the essence of faith: start with God’s Word.  It is precisely because of the Bible, that I am teaching you to prioritize love, justice and mercy above all else.  Read it!  Study it!  Learn the scriptures, looking for how they all point in the direction of the great commandment Jesus Christ gives us in the New Testament.  In Matthew, when Jesus was asked pointblank what mattered most, he said:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.   

img_9250Our family follows this commandment as best we can, not because it is our ‘nice to have’ insurance policy for entrance into heaven.  Rather, we surrender all because the story we read from Genesis to Revelation is of a God that loves us with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love (to use the words from your Jesus Storybook Bible).

Take the path of love, justice and mercy, and as you do, stick close to Jesus.  In your faith journey, religion and the church may disappoint, but Jesus never will, as no human has advocated for or personified to a greater extent, these ideals.  There does not exist, any greater sacrifice for these virtues, than the Son of God’s death on the cross.  No matter who wins on November 8th, God’s already won the greatest contest.

DIVERSITY AND GRACE IN FAITH

So, a moment ago I encouraged you to find a faith built of love, grace and mercy.  And, while we believe strongly in that, we need to watch that our own assurance doesn’t breed arrogance.  The church can often reflect the brokenness that is in all of us.

menlo-park-presbyterian-church

At the church we take you each Sunday, we try to be open and honest about that, in saying that nobody is perfect and everybody is welcome.  Liberal ideals of inclusion and diversity must apply universally, and be true within our own faith.  We must be civil and gracious towards those who practice our faith differently, while at the same time committing ourselves to a better way.

 

A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM…

You can be that better way…in the church and beyond.  In fact, I want you kids to learn that the best way to practice your faith is OUT there.  I believe your generation will be advocates for helping the poor or bringing justice to the persecuted.  We get to be the hands and feet.  We get to be Jesus by loving others.  And, you are never too young or the wrong gender or race or whatever the label or reason…..there is nothing you cannot do, if you do life with Jesus.  For such a time as this, we were placed upon this earth, to do His will….to bring heaven to earth, in our homes, classrooms and workplace.  You can make a difference, from volleyball games to math class, summer camps to play dates.   Now, and in the years to come, know this: you matter, you have a voice and God’s given you gifts so that you might make an impact in this world.  

FAITH AND DOUBT

Some might question the wisdom in sharing my own doubts with you, but I believe there’s value in authenticity, especially in matters as significant as my walk with God and relationship with the church.  I would not want to pass you a faith built upon Christian cliches and etsy wall-hangings (displaying our favorite220px-madeleine_lengle Bible verses, of course).  Like much else in life, faith is a journey and it can be a rocky path, at times. Madeleine L’Engle, an American writer, who authored stories like A Wrinkle In Time, wrote:

Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.

So, while it can be heartbreaking and even maddening, stay on the path.  Ask good questions.  Let your doubts lead you to deeper understanding.  You probably learned about Susan B. Anthony in school; she was a pioneer in the women’s suffrage movement.  She once said, “I distrust those people who knew so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”  To go back to Madeleine’s idea….it is the idea of God (namely, their idea), more so than God Himself, that entraps so many.  Be more afraid of ignorance than doubt.

YOU ARE A WARRIOR

Whether it’s the latest trend in fashion or faith….don’t feel like you always have to follow the masses.  BE YOU.  Be the person that God made you to be.  Stake out your own faith.  And, don’t be afraid to go against the flow.  The characters in the Bible look so familiar and tame to us, we often forget how radical they were at the time.  Did you know that the name God gives to women, ezer kenegdo, in the very beginning of the Bible, means Warrior?  You, my sweet girl, are a Warrior.  

cxll4jrk_400x400GO CUBBIES!!!!!!

So, last night, we saw a different kind of warrior.  You, your brothers, father and I all watched the Chicago Cubs battle their way to victory, in a seven game, extra-innings nail-biter of a World Series finale – ending their 108 year losing streak.

FLY THE W!!!!

Next Tuesday, is going to be another nail-biter, as we watch the election returns come in, on what promises to be another historic night!  It seems that good things come from Chicago, these days.  Eight years ago, we had Barack Obama, who was from the South Side of Chicago, and became the first African American elected President.  Today, we have Hillary Clinton.  I don’t know if you knew this, but Hillary Clinton grew up in Park Ridge, which is just outside Chicago.  As you are well aware, I, your own mother, am from Chicago….so, just sayin’….  But, seriously, I do hope and pray we can fly the W once more – only this time, for her.  If ct-hillary-clinton-high-school-park-ridge-20161017Trump wins, it will disappointing, but we cannot despair.  I am reminded of a famous line from Anne Frank’s diary, one which we all must remember during tumultuous times:

I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.  How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

For now….I’m STILL with her.  I’m holding to my faith in God and hope in the democratic process.  Know always, that from the breakfast I cook for you each morning, to the vote I cast in the afternoon, to the prayers I say before bed….in everything, I will do all I can to provide the best possible future for you, believing always that God holds the two of us in His Hands.

Love you to the moon and back,

Mom

 

How NOT to raise a ‘Little Donald’

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon - Season 3Last night was something, huh?!?!  Trivia question for the history buffs out there:  who said, “our long national nightmare is over”?  Anyone, anyone ?  Bueller?

Okay.  It was Gerald Ford, during his inauguration speech after Richard Nixon’s impeachment.  Ford went on to say,  “Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.”

Even in periods of national turmoil or disappointment, in moments of upheaval and uncertainty, we survived thanks to our constitution and the rule of law.  During the third debate, you had to scratch your head when Trump said he’d leave us in suspense, when asked whether or not he would concede if he lost.  He doubled down at rallies today, saying his concession was contingent upon him winning.  Honest to God, this post is not about the 3rd debate; it is about how we hqdefaultraise the next generation to not be a bunch of spoiled brats who have little regard for people or the policies that govern our companies or countries….it is about how we can actually come back to love, justice and mercy.  Lord knows, the world does not need any more ‘Little Donald’s.’

NO GIFTS

About six years ago, we received our very first ‘NO GIFTS’ invitation for a birthday party.  I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s really impressive.’  I fell in love with the concept of making a birthday about something other than the gifts….that is, until I walked into the door.  OMG.  You’d think you had entered FAO Schwartz in NYC.  Not only did everyone bring a gift, but the bags and boxes all seemed to be on Hallmark steroids.  I felt like such a complete moron, walking in with nothing.  Nana.  Zilch.  Empty-handed.  So, believe me when I say that it has not been a cake-walk (pardon the pun) in adopting a ‘no gifts’ approach to birthdays for our family.

MY BABY TURNS 6 TOMORROW

14117776_10154452592693794_6351464695881975103_nMy little guy celebrates his birthday tomorrow.  I swear that he’s been asking how many days till his birthday, for the last 6-9 months.  He is the 3rd child, and he just can’t grow up fast enough (in his mind).  So, this cutie patootie WILL get gifts.  Dear Lord, I think he look for a new family if we took away the promise of those very specific Lego Bionicle sets on his wish list.  But, the clock is ticking.

BIG GIRL EXPERIENCE

eviteWhen our eldest turned 10, we decided it was time to adopt a ‘no gifts’ for birthdays approach.  We explained that when you cross the ‘double digit’ threshold, you are entering a new phase of maturity.  And, part of growing up, is to look beyond yourself in the way you see the world…to see not just what the world can give you, but what you can give back (I know, very JFK).  We didn’t want to just say the words – we wanted her to experience the joy and see the virtue of giving over receiving.

When we sent-out the Evite to her friends, we explained the reasons why we were making this a ‘no gifts’ party.  In addition, we provided links to charities that our daughter really liked, because of their work with education and helping girls.  What a pleasant surprise when friends actually respected our request and donated to the organizations we had suggested.  This was not like the party from preschool!

Full disclosure.  We did the same thing when she turned 11 and we did get some gifts.  But, with two years under our belt, we are now committed to a personal party policy (for age 10+) that says our kids will make birthdays a time to celebrate friendship.  Period.  And, to the extent that folks want to give, we will channel that generosity towards causes our kids are passionate about.

MAKE IT AGE APPROPRIATE

Looking back to the preschool party (where I walked away with a bit of PTSD), I think it’s hard to enhance-7explain to preschoolers why there are no presents.  Maybe it was a tad early to try ‘no gifts’…..maybe that’s why parents went ahead and brought something….or, maybe they didn’t want to end up like me, empty-handed.  Whatever the case, I think it’s possible that trying this when kids are too young could back-fire.  Ten seemed like the right age for our daughter….old enough to understand, but still young enough to make an impression.  Our middle child will celebrate his 9th birthday in 2 months.  (Note to self: better start talking about the policy so he’s not shocked in a year!!!)  So, we shall see how this plays out, in terms of gender and maturity.  Our plan is to stick with the ‘no presents after 10’ approach.  But, I think you have to be smart and reasonable about these things.  Every kid is different.

MAKE IT REASONABLE

61zofkudr1l-_sx495_bo1204203200_
#classic

I keep saying ‘no gifts’.  Let me be more specific….no gifts from friends attending a birthday party.  Mom, dad, grandma, close friends, aunts…..plenty of folks STILL give gifts to our kids on their special day.  And, let’s not forget the broader context here: this whole birthday party thing can get a bit crazy.  You can spend a ton of money, on the celebration and then on gifts.  And, truthfully – most of our kids don’t need anything!  Right?!?!?  Tell me I’m not the only one who loves half the gifts, but then wonders what the heck we’ll do with the other half??? This is truly a #FirstWorldProblem.  Why not turn it into an opportunity for something better?  Especially, for my boys, who have fall birthdays, they indulge in two months of non-stop birthdays, holidays and gifts galore.  Want to raise a child that doesn’t feel entitled?  I do.  And, I won’t know for sure till they’re grown, if I’ve succeeded.  But, reorienting birthdays around relationships and shared experiences seemed like a good place to start.

CHARITIES THAT ROCK

So, there are tons of great charities.  A few of them have gotten pretty savvy in this area of facilitating donations in lieu of gifts.  Their websites are set-up so that you can make a donation in honor of someone, and then print a special card, to take to the party.  Here are some of our favorites:

Water.org

  • Kids understand that water is essential to life.  2016-09-28-about-us
  • Water.org not only helps to provide clean water to those in need, but they have a ton of educational materials on their website, including videos that help explain the problem and the solutions.  This really helps kids to understand the issues better.
  • Link: https://my.charitywater.org/birthdays/

Heifer

  • My kids like this organization because you give an animal to someone for whom logoheiferducks or rabbits could be a life-giving and income-generating resource for their family.  We have some interesting conversations, talking about life in other places or how you can build a family business around raising chickens or goats.  At the same time, it is a perfect opportunity to teach them about poverty and hunger around the globe.
  • Link: http://www.heifer.org/gift-catalog/occasion/birthday.html

Second Harvest

  • Most kids are shocked to learn that kids in their own communities are hungry. child-hunger-300x300-exp0519 Second Harvest is an amazing organization that provides food to families in need.
  • I have recently learned that Loaves and Fishes, who provides the meals we serve at the shelter in Palo Alto, gets roughly 80% of their ingredients from Second Harvest.  So, not only is Second Harvest working direction with individuals, but they’re supplying shelters serving meals.
  • Link: http://www.shfb.org/birthdays

 

MAKE IT PERSONAL

Agros

  • A good friend of mine, Birgit, has been involved with Agros for years.  She introduced me to this organization, which works to break the cycle of poverty in South America by helping restore hope and prosperity through agricultural villages.  These villages labenedicion_fbsized1incorporate everything from infrastructure to pathways to land-ownership and more.
  • When picking a charity organization, it is MORE meaningful when you share a compelling story that’s linked to a person or family your kids know well.  Kids naturally want to help their friend.  So, when you say, ‘hey, we get to give to this organization Birgit works with to help people in Nicaragua!’ – it feels much more local, even as it teaches them to think more global.
  • Link: https://www.agros.org/do/oneseed

My New Red Shoes

  • Another one of my favorite people on the planet, Heather, founded an organization my-new-red-shoes-0016called, My New Red Shoes.  They help kids in need, especially the homeless, to start off the school year with the basics – like a solid pair of shoes that fit.  Since their founding, 10 years ago, they’ve helped roughly 45,000 kids.
  • This is about as local as it gets.  Not only do we know Heather and her team, but we know they are giving to children in need RIGHT HERE in the Bay Area area.
  • When you’re talking to kids about giving or charity, sometimes you can point to a 3rd world country across the globe.  But, it also helps to talk about the world they know, and to pull back the curtain on suffering and brokenness that is just down the street.
  • MNRS makes gift giving easy.  You can either donate on their website, or if your child likes the idea of actually picking out a pair of shoes, you can look them up on amazon.  Just search for the My New Red Shoes wish list.
  • Link: www.mynewredshoes.org.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU…….JOY FOR YOU

I am on this journey….not just for myself, but for the sake of my kids.  It’s been proven time and time again, that kids learn best through experience.  If we want them to truly understand joy and compassion…if I want them to practice love, mercy and justice, it makes sense to leverage life-milestones, like birthdays!

When we place that birthday cake in front of our kids, tradition mandates that we sing ‘happy birthday’.  But, the song our lives should sing is one that is more about joy than happiness.  Not trying to splice hairs here, but there is a distinction that matters.  David Rast and Henri Nouwen explain the difference in their book on gratitude.

Ordinary happiness depends on happenstance.  Joy is that extraordinary happiness that is independent of what happens to us.  Good luck can make us happy, but it cannot give us lasting joy. The root of joy is gratefulness. We tend to misunderstand the link between joy and gratefulness. We notice that joyful people are grateful and suppose that they are grateful for their joy. But the reverse is true: their joy springs from gratefulness. If one has all the good luck in the world, but takes it for granted, it will not give one joy. Yet even bad luck will give joy to those who manage to be grateful for it.  We hold the key to lasting happiness in our own hands. For it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

As unnatural as Donald Trump sometimes seems, his tendency towards looking out for #1 is not that unusual.  Young or old, the decision to look for joy outside of ourselves is not intuitive, even if morally right and psychologically true.  But, I think we’d all agree that THIS particular national nightmare is not one we want to relive.  I don’t presume to know yet the recipe for cultivating love, mercy and justice in my kids.  But, I sure as hell am going to try.  And, birthdays are a logical ingredient, with which to start.  You gotta start somewhere!  Why not here?

 

BATS.

fullsizerenderbatman

Huge black bats swoop

Round your head,

Filing you with an awful dread. 

 

My 5 year was all ready to recite this poem in his kindergarten class today.  The sheet came home a week or so ago.  I quickly got the parent invitation details onto my calendar.    Yesterday, I even found multiple bat-related accessories at Target for my son to wear, as the kids were invited to dress-up.  #winning

This morning, we parked and started towards school.  As we walked, Nathaniel started crying.  He saw some of his classmates ahead of us.  None of them were dressed up, as if it were October 31st.  My boy looked like he was ready to go trick-or-treating.

“I’m embarrassed!”

With tears streaming down his face, he insisted we go home.  I barked back.  “No, we have a poetry morning and we have to go.  We are going to be late!”  For about five minutes, my five-year old and I went back and forth in what was a delightful public display of my fantastic mothering; his tear-count and my blood pressure increasing by the minute. Because, God Damn it!  I had set-us up for a successful morning.  All he needed to do was listen.  We finally found a compromise: he’d take off his costume in the car and save it in his backpack, just in case (I was still convinced that he’d see today was poetry morning, as soon as we got to school).  As we got to the classroom, I was surprised to see that none of the other moms seemed to be staying or planning on a poetry morning.  Uh-oh.

f463462eb980c03a2a66565f0327c158You know that moment when you realize that you’re wrong?  It sucks….especially, when you felt so secure in the ‘rightness’ of your position just 30 seconds prior.  Looking back, there were signs.  He’d repeatedly asked me if I was SURE today was the day.  In the middle of all the roadside tears, he’d even said, ‘Mom, just ask Siri!’.  Dear Lord…my child, in that moment, had more confidence in Siri knowing what was right, than in my own calendar confidence.  But, let’s face it – Halloween is still a couple of weeks out.  At the very least, I should have considered that October 27th makes a whole lot more sense than October 13th.  Or, maybe I could have looked at the sheet sitting RIGHT THERE on the counter.

Tuesday, I had lunch with a friend who attended the Belong Tour with me.  She reminded me of something that is such an obvious but elusive truth: Jesus did not heal or save everyone.  Think about that!  Even the Savior of the world gave us a picture of discipleship that doesn’t attempt to do it all….even when you are God in the flesh, with all knowledge and power.  My friend and I promised to check-back in the coming months.dscf0260  For two ‘I want to save the world’ types, we both need people who spur us to figure out what we’re called to, but also help us say ‘no’ to what we’re not.  I’m just starting Shauna Niequist’s book, Present Over Perfect.  At the start, she writes, “For me, this has taken the shape of a nearly four-year journey from exhaustion, multitasking, frantic and frayed living into peace, connection, and rest.”  A few paragraphs later, she shares the wise words from a friend who said, “no one ever changes until the pain level gets high enough.” I’m trying to change before the pain level gets untenable.  I want to be a disciple but I also don’t want to be divorced.  And, the reality is that women who try to shore-up the gaps in our societies, often do so at the expense of the people they hold most dear.

The quandary is very real.  There are homeless living among us.  There are foster kids who just want to be loved.  There are refugees who need an advocate.  There’s a city digesting the scathing report from the Justice Department, documenting abuse of power and bias. There’s a nation that’s waking up to the truth of its very big struggle with sexual assault.  Our world is broken and hurting.  Many friends inspire me with their big hearts and sharp minds, which together make for a powerful combination in combating some of these ills.  They make their faith tangible and real, taking up the crosses of those who need a helping hand or advocate.

Like huge black bats, the competing forces of helping at school or volunteering at the dallas-willardhomeless shelter or serving at church, swoop around us.  In addition, there are our friends and families.  And, these people closest to us do not deserve the scraps that remain after we’ve doled out pieces of ourselves to a dozen other causes.  John Ortberg writes of this great exchange between himself and his mentor, Dallas Willard.  He asks him how to be spiritually healthy.  Dallas replies,  “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

hand-painted-porcelain-coffee-mug-m-o-m-burton-burton-master-of-multitasking-ad289d44af9af021fcc93eaa1afa1931Show me a mom who isn’t hurrying MOST of the time, juggling about 101 different things.  They are a rare breed, which says something.  And, I admit that the tension between when I should drink that extra cup of coffee and attempt to do more good versus when I should just stop, pour myself a glass of wine, sit with my family and be still – that tension is real and palpable every single day.  When I get to heaven, I want to stand, in all my brokenness, knowing I left nothing on the table – that I’d showed up in the places God had put before me.  But, I know that God’s plan is not for me to show up at Heaven’s Gates, hallowed out and weary.  Jesus says, my yoke is easy and my burden light; we don’t have to hustle for His love.  Why, then do we carry so much? Why do we try to be masters of multitasking?  Why do we always try to be Martha?

Shauna challenged us at the Belong Tour to do the next right thing.  I don’t think that we can solve the problems facing our nation if only a few are trying to solve the challenges of the many…if only the well-resourced, kindhearted and civic-minded are charged with caring for the millions in need.  Not only is it impractical, it is inefficient and ineffective.  We can only move forward if we’re all taking a step in the right direction, looking for the best synergies between private and public collaborations.  Along the way, there will be superstars who inspire and motivate the masses.  But, at the end of the day, we are in this together.

Most Americans were probably ready to be done with the election, like 6 months ago.  As much as we’d love to just lock up these issues in a box and throw away the key – I hope blogrunningstartthat we continue leaning into these challenging conversations, because there is so much we can do, starting with finding the ways we can support women and families.  For example, Melinda Gates published compelling data on the time inequity between men and women.  When we fund our schools, we not only get a higher quality education but we free up stay-at-home moms to tackle other projects (rather than filling the holes where staff funding falls short).  When we pay for universal preschool education, we alleviate a very real childcare challenge.  Especially, in lower-income families, the ability of moms to seek employment without costly daycare, is a huge benefit.  Anne-Marie Slaughter writes of the American workplace, saying “For many Americans, life has become all competition all the time.” Isn’t that the truth!?!?  We are running a race that we can’t win and never ends.  When American workplaces and businesses acknowledge that the current pace is unsustainable (and even detrimental long-term), we will begin returning humanity to the people (men and women!) upon which our economies depend.  We are not machines or robots.  No matter where you are on the Totem pole, you matter.  And, we need to live and legislate as if that were true.  We collectively benefit when families up and down the economic scale can live sane, sustainable lives.

Drive down El Camino Real; you can feel the urgency that we all dash around bell_on_el_camino_real_santa_clarawith.  I am reminded of the way folks I encountered in Ireland seemed to march to the beat of a slower drum.  They could hustle when circumstances necessitated it, but they were not in a perpetual mode of running like a hamster on a wheel that only had one speed: fast.

One of my favorite examples of this mindset was on the Irish streets.  The roads were narrow, sometimes only one lane.  When two cars would meet, we’d begin a dance.  Maybe one car would back up.  Both would inch over to the edges of their lane.  What seemed impossible was always possible.  We always worked it out.  And, when we did, there was a split second of shared rejoicing.  Together, we’d wave to one another, always with a smile and sometimes with a thumbs up.  Please, please.  Can we try to pivot download-1as a nation to a posture that’s less about pointing a finger and blaming others, looking out for only ourselves and more of just trying to see how we can all do the next right thing?  Instead of refusing to budge, could we slowdown and see how we can work together?  I know, I know. Some readers are skeptically waiting for me to suggest we start singing Kumbaya.  This fuzzy stuff sounds naive and impractical.  But, IT IS VERY REAL AND VERY PRACTICAL when you are the family that can’t find affordable housing or your school is under funded.  Aside from the one percent, we have pushed our societies to the brink.

This afternoon, I was back at the OSC Life Moves shelter, serving lunch.  There are always a few people who are so exuberant in their gratitude or delight with a warm meal.  There was this one lady, who after getting a couple refills, said with a very satisfied look on her face, “It feels so good to be full.”  These folks wear on the outside, a hunger and brokenness that we all carry on the inside.  Jesus taught us that we will always come out ahead, if our posture is one of love and generosity.  God doesn’t ask us to fix every problem, but He does ask us to see others the way He sees them, and to just do the ‘next right thing’.

My thoughts are a bit all over the map today.  But, I don’t want the drumbeat of my calls to do more for the world to project a false impression that I’ve cracked the code on juggling it all.  More often than I’d like to admit, I drop the ball, I get dates mixed up, I’m short with my kids, I’m too tired to give my best to my husband.  There are days when I wonder why I try.  But, then I remember that lady who was so happy to be full, or the guy from a few weeks back who was so delighted by blueberry muffins.  Saying ‘no’ to some things in our own lives can’t equate to a macro rejection of everyone who needs help.  No where does the Bible demonize compassion and provision that comes from sources other than charities.  Maybe, we Christians were wrong to think that small government was always better.  Maybe that notion has more to do with ideology than theology.  Maybe Jesus can show up in places other than church and work through people who aren’t card-carrying Christians.

Reflecting on this morning, my heart still aches over the just tears of my boy.  He was right.  I was wrong.  I can’t wait to see him, so that I can look him in the eyes, and tell him I’m sorry.  Patsy Clairmont challenged us to lean toward mercy.  She said, what you give comes back to visit with you!  We all need grace and mercy.  Jesus says in Ephesians that it is not by our good works or our great faith or any other force…but, it is BY GRACE, that we are saved.  This is a universal truth.  It is the truth that saves our hearts.  It is the truth that lifts the dread and banishes the bats.  It is the truth that sets us free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brave Girl

Brave_silver
The Giving Keys

My first-born is headed off to middle school.  Yesterday, it got real, when she picked up her 6th grade class schedule and school gear.  Last night, we gathered one last time with mothers and daughters who have walked through a Jen Hatmaker study with us, called Brave Girl.  I’d like to think that it’s been formative for the girls, reinforcing what matters as they head into this new frontier.  At the end of our evening, we gave them ‘BRAVE’necklaces from The Giving Keys.  The control-freak in me has done everything I can to prepare her well.

Today, I looked up the definition of brave: ready to face danger and/or pain.

IMG_9073

What the hell was I thinking?  I’m not sure I want her to be brave!  I think what I really want is for her to be SAFE.  Sure, courage and bravery sound lovely – but, am I really ready for this?  You can read all the books, do all the studies and try your best to control outcomes.  But, eventually, we all face the reality that we can’t.

This morning, I sat with a bunch of moms, who together make up the leadership team for Mothers Together at Menlo Church.  We talked about the year ahead, and also reflected on past teaching moments that have stuck with us through the years.  Hands-down, we agreed that the women who said, ‘here’s what I’ve told nobody till now’ or ‘here’s a part of my story that often sends me to the bathroom in tears’ ..when someone is willing to be vulnerable and show you their true-self, the lessons and comfort that come from that are second-to-none.  We remember the ones who were brave.

We all want to be brave.  Yet, none of us want to face danger or pain.  That’s the quandary.  Whether you’re headed into your teenage years or you already carry an AARP card – none of us seek suffering.  There’s that great passage in Romans that says, “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  This truth runs through many faiths.  Still, as much as we understand this process in our minds, our hearts hate the shitty reality of pain.  We will do just about anything to avoid it, even as we glorify the byproducts of the process.  Speaking to this process in his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks says, “Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different.” Wow.  Along the same lines, I read a blog post by Sarah Bessey this morning, where she writes: “I always thought I would be one sort of person, but now I’m someone else.”  We want to be brave, but we don’t want the suffering….we don’t want to change.  If we applaud a growth mindset for our head, shouldn’t the same be true of our hearts?

One of the gals who spoke this morning said, “sometimes, I think my job is to lower the broken-n-cracked-ice-heartsbar.”  We all laughed.  Why?  Because, a) we walk around thinking that if the world knew all of the skeletons in our closets, we would be instantly declared Limbo Champions (cuz, we’re all constantly lowering the bar).  And, b) we laugh out of the sheer relief that we’re not the only ones with broken pieces.  Wouldn’t it be grand, if we could all lower the bar…in real life?  Amazingly, in lowering the bar, we might actually grow taller and stronger.

The advice that Jen Hatmaker gave the girls is pretty good advice for women of all ages:

  • Be kind.
  • Be you.
  • Love Jesus.

FullSizeRender1For young and old, this is it!  So, can we make a pact?  No charades, please.  If we’re gonna encourage our kids in this and do our best to model this, it would help if we stayed true to ourselves and our stories.  I love what Brene Brown says about our stories.  She writes:

Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.

I am always grateful to the women who, in private or public, are willing to share their brokenness.  But, as Brene cautions, we have to use some discretion in picking the people and places where we choose pull back the curtains on some portion of our story.  That said, discretion is different from fabrication.  Maybe we don’t have to tell our deepest darkest secrets to the world, but is it too much to ask we stop pretending like we always have our shit together?  I say this, partly as a plea and partly as a confession.

il_340x270.496791283_ipt0We all want the bravery placard.  Yet, we all pray we can bypass the process.  You can’t.  Life just doesn’t work that way.  What you CAN do, is find people.  The good ones actually draw near when life sucks.  They’ll be honest about their pain, and will keep your own story safe.  The real KEY, I will tell my daughter as she heads off to middle school….is that it’s scary and hard, but it is good to strive for bravery, even though there are not shortcuts….even though there will be moments she may cry (when means I will probably cry too)…still, it is good to pursue perseverance and character.  Eventually, you will get to hope….especially, if you have people who will walk with you along the way.  #timetolaunchmybaby  #bebrave #bekind #beyou #lovejesus #bettertogether