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

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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