Saturday, November 12, 2016

When all but hope feels lost

Dear Daughters (Millenniels, mothers, wives, women, Americans, men, LBTGQ friends, people of color, those who celebrate all faiths, immigrants),

I am so grateful for your beautiful young lives; you have brought me great joy. I only regret the country and mess I will leave for you.

I am typically a hopeful person, who was buoyed the last eight years with the first black president, a man of integrity, action, kindness and “the audacity to hope.”

Perhaps it was this spirit of hope that propelled me in 2012 to launch a non-profit arts ministry aimed at my neighbors, 4-6th graders living in subsidized housing. At first, I wrestled with God: Why me? I’ve never done anything like this. I am small, struggling with fibromyalgia and raising a family. What I really need is a job.

The leading had been building for several years prior. I even tested it with my faith community of Quakers. The ministry wasn’t clear yet. When my body was pounding with this calling, I had no choice. I ached for my neighbors, who had much less than I, but most especially not white skin or invisible access to education, careers and acceptance. I wanted to give these kids possibilities for their lives. To present opportunities and a safe place for them to grow, find their voices and express themselves. And you, dear daughters and beloved husband, have been there very step of the way.

An amazing neighborhood and two churches have been there to help. We did this together. During this time, I recognized that I was not defined by my disease and flourished like these kids. Together, we grew.

For the first time, three years ago, our family actually benefitted from a specific government program, the Affordable Health Care Act. The spiraling cost of our insurance, which increased 12-18 percent annually since 1991, was finally affordable and not our single, largest expense. Granted, we carried a $12,000 deductible, but it wasn’t crippling us. As artists and self-employed, very small business owners, this was huge. Since a car accident in 1998, I have not had the luxury of working full time and gaining health insurance partly at an employer’s expense. I have worked very hard to manage my pain, mostly outside of what insurance covers and at an additional expense. I have not considered disability nor eligible for unemployment. I want to and can work if I have the flexibility. Heck, I started a non-profit and learned the skill of successful grant writing, and a whole bunch more.

I am blessed to be working more in my field as a contractor, still without guarantees or benefits. The flexibility leaves me time for my non-profit and my health. Every year since the economic crash in 2008, which devastated your dad’s business, we have gained a little more. I wonder how a family of four with educated parents lived on $45,000 with $10,000 in insurance premiums just to have, not use, it. I watched our deductible balloon from $500 to $1,500, $2,500 and now $13,000.

And I was hopeful. I saw all the good in the world, including in my own community. I rolled up my sleeves and pitched in. So have you. You both have big hearts and passion for others.

As a family, this summer we traveled to the best wedding we have ever all attended. It was an LBGTQ event that welcomed all PERIOD. Swimming amid the diversity was astounding. It was like a lovely princess bride and her handsome groom feasting at the same table with every type of creature: some with pink hair, others with blue stripes, some with beautiful gowns and deep voices and average families like us. We all felt it was the ultimate blessing to be included. Come to think of it, the three weddings I have been to the past year were all LBGTQ. Until recently, one of my very dear spiritual friends felt she’d never be able to marry her love. Her ceremony was moving. Reminds me of the summer, now nine years ago, when I traipsed you off with me to the Quaker Gathering on a Pennsylvania college campus. One of you came straight from church camp and the sin box, which scared the shit out of me. The gathering corrected that. I was helping a friend facilitate a workshop on “night of the dark soul,” so was placed in a dorm room across from her. It was the LBGTQ dorm and, perhaps, your first exposure to those of a different sexual orientation. You both accepted it and the hospitality in stride. You, youngest, only remarked: “How cool, they have two moms.”

I watch with pride as you, oldest, immerse yourself in college, ready to dive in after working hard two years doing both high school and college. You are finding your creative and career groove along with your art friends for life. It was hard to leave you four hours away, but eased with your success. 

Youngest, I am grateful to still have you in the house, the only one we’ve ever lived in and paid off. Your enthusiasm and deep concern for those who struggle in the world touches me. Now, we’re working on where you attend college. We have your dream to launch.

For the first time in years – and I have worked through much anxiety about living with pain and finding a new normal -- I am fearful for our dreams. Tuesday, along with the stock market, they came crashing down (yes, they did rebound, but I haven't).

We have not walked the traditional path. We are artists and writers, called to ease the pain in the world and try to make our way peacefully, with kindness and love. We have lived without the promise of an employer, benefits and retirement. Yet, we have managed to live frugally, pay off our house and cars, owe no one anything and get one to college with well-earned and appreciated scholarships. No government grants or loans. Your father and I never had those, either. I am no longer certain we can do the same for you, youngest.

I think we are losing the world I introduced you do: one of color, diversity, creativity, civility, acceptance, kindness and love. One where you could dare to do anything with no regard for your gender.

With the election of President Barak Obama, I thought racism died. Unfortunately, it was hiding just under the surface as my black friend, Curly, said so many years ago after the 2001 Cincinnati civil unrest. Youngest, when you were an infant, I answered the call to host a conversation on race to help our city heal. I learned so much in my three years with the group that was more diverse than my town. They still meet and those lessons stick with me:
– You can only change one heart at a time;
– Diverse friendships reward both sides;
– White privilege is real;
– Most of us white don’t even know we have it;
– When we can look into the mirror and acknowledge our privilege, our compassion grows; 
– I will stand up for those treated as other.

With a new president elected on a platform of hate, revenge and white supremacy supported by the KKK, I do wonder where God is in all of this. The only positive I can muster is that we, as Americans, are being forced to look in that mirror and face our darkness. It is not an easy task or for the feint of heart. I have been forced to look at myself many times. Each time, I shed a layer separating me from God.

I am grappling to find the hope. At God’s leading and on her time, I planned to start a new spiritual-nurture group the eve after the election. When I realized, I chastised myself … until we knew the results and I understood my faith community would be hurting and in need of silence and companionship. After Sunday’s worship, one of our elder’s heeded us to go out into the world and be the best Quakers we know to be, shining our light, the path to God’s love, in the darkness.

Being together with God is the best balm. There in the corporate silence, I remember the hope. And my call to work with my middle-school neighbors this Saturday propels me to action and the respite of joy.

This is my story, my heart, my fear, my grief and, my hope. God never gives up on us, ever. She always turns our messes into something we could never imagine. I am trusting her with all my heart. Daughters, I encourage you to do the same.

Love, Mom

Friday, July 15, 2016

Humble encounters: what privilege do I really own?

No justice.
No peace.
No racist police.

That chant, spoken en masse at a Chicago Black Lives Matter protest and march, keeps reverberating in my head and heart. It stirred me as lines and lines of blacks, whites, young, old, middle-aged, parents pushing strollers, workers carrying briefcases and placards paraded past me on a Loop street corner, bookended by police on bicycles. The whites who’d duct-taped their mouths were powerful metaphors. Walking with my teenagers to meet my husband for an early dinner, I’d encountered the group. I desperately wanted to throw in with them, even for the half block to the restaurant. I didn’t.

After dinner, we strayed to Millennium Park, where the march coincidentally led. My youngest and I worked our way closer and joined hands with the protesters. We widened our circle and embrace to include newcomers. This wasn’t about race, it was about justice. As a white person with privilege I have not earned, I wanted to BE with my suffering brothers and sisters, to share their pain and plight. To listen and understand with my heart. God had called me to this place.

I had just spent the weekend at the most inclusive, beautiful wedding with a rainbow of guests, learning that, if transitioning from female to male, your maternal grandfather is you best reference for “how furry” you’re likely to become. And that a committed couple – no matter their sexual identity or preference – can love more profoundly than you’ve ever witnessed at a wedding. I was inspired at the open atmosphere and the courage of people being who they truly are. God smiled that day.

Approached on the subway by a gentleman trying to get his life on track after prison, I handed him $10. “Mom,” one daughter said, “didn’t you mean to give him a one?” I hadn’t. He asked for a quarter and God said to give him more.

The morning we were leaving, we met Dash, a four-year-old probably on the Autism spectrum, at breakfast. He’d wandered outside while his father paid. I had waved to him in the window. He asked if we were strangers. After exchanging names, said we weren’t and invited us to his house. He wanted to know if he could have a turn sitting under the umbrella-ed table. I moved over and his father joined me. While my husband and Dash’s father engaged in shop talk, I searched my wallet for change, tossing coins on the ground to confine Dash’s treasure quest to where his father could see him. Later, my husband said the father expressed gratitude that his son was manageable. They were having breakfast before Dash’s therapeutic school began. God was teaching the value of looking deeper at people and circumstance.

We were accompanied by several sight-impaired young adults and their aids on our last ride into the city. Later, my oldest spied them at the French Market having coffee. They were out for an adventure many of us take for granted. God was tossing me a pun: look at the world with your heart, not your eyes.

The entire trip was riddled with humble encounters signaling that, indeed, the last are first. What privilege do I really own? God’ grace and guidance.

• How have I been humbled?
• When has God spoken to me through an encounter with another?
• When have I followed God’s nudge?
• When haven’t I?
• Where do I experience God’s richness in my life?

the ribbon
in my heart

reaching out
as if God's

tapping those
the world views
as less

telling me
they are

so much