The Root of the Problem

Ok y’all, I think I have it figured out. I have been (as a lot of us have been) watching all kinds of things unfold in the past year/five years/37 years and as you may know, I have never particularly considered myself either a Conservative or a Liberal or a Moderate, so I tend to try to read and watch and listen to all the sides.1 I have now identified one key skill that, if practiced by any and all of us, will make literally everything better.

Here it is, are you ready?

Call the good good, and call the bad bad. 

Wherever you find it. 

So many people these days go around using words like “divisive” and “polarizing.” I think we can all agree that it seems like more people are further onto their side, whatever side it is, than they used to be, even just a few years ago. What tends to worry me in media and social media and conversations, is when I see this tendency (from both/all sides) to defend My Side in all things, and find fault with Your Side, in all things. The truth is, there’s still plenty to disagree with about what Good is and what Bad is — but I find that a massive massive chunk of the arguments we’re all having aren’t even about that. A bunch of the time, we don’t even disagree on that. We just want the emphasis shifted to where Their Side messed up, but not talk about where My Side did.

When this happens, some of the tools that end up being employed:

Dehumanization.2 When you make the Other Side a monolith of Rednecks or Libruls or Trumpists or Communists or Anarchists or Illegals or Evangelicals or Millennials or whatever, you are very concisely saying that They are a completely different species, and whatever they’re about, I’m not interested. 

Instead, try “What values do they hold that drive their perspective on this?” “What do they fear?” “What may they have lost?” And above all, find the answers to those questions by reading and listening to those people themselves, not consistently hearing someone else’s version of their beliefs. Look for HUMAN motives, because…. they’re all humans. They’re not animals, they’re not villains. They’re not doing whatever they’re doing because they hate you. They’re not doing it because they want to swim in gold like Scrooge McDuck or trample on the corpses of your children. Now… there are a very few people who I believe have become incredibly self-preserving and have managed to squash their own capacity for empathy almost to nothing. But a) those are not most people, and b) you don’t know why. You are not their judge. You don’t know the whole story. And even if you did know the whole story, justice is not yours. Look for human motives. Look for humanity.

Redirection. We all do it. “BUT WHAT ABOUT—” “BUT THEY—” “BUT NOBODY—” “BUT EVERYBODY—” This is a handy tool to avoid any accountability and/or self-reflection. It is a very quick way to make sure that I am not required to thoughtfully search my own heart or My People’s platform and see if there is something that is not how it should be. Don’t look for something THEY did that was WORSE. 

Instead, if there is a weakness or a wrong stance in your beliefs, if you are faced with an inconsistency, if the people you support behave badly, resist the urge to point to something worse in someone else. Embrace the self-reflection. Take your spanking if you deserve it. Apologize if it’s called for. Make repairs if you spewed words that turned out to be the wrong words. Don’t wallow in shame, but learn from it. You do not have to turn in your card and switch sides. What I am asking is that you behave with intellectual and moral integrity, consistency, and honesty. Which will 100% require finding fault in Your side, and merit in Theirs. Instead of “But that ONE time MY people did that and YOU guys pitched a fit and now YOU’RE doing it—“ Try this: “If that behavior is wrong, it was wrong when my side did it, and it’s wrong when your side does it. Maybe the truth is that we actually agree that it’s a wrong behavior, and that’s something that unites us. I’m sorry for my part.”

Spin. I have heard everyone doing this. And it can be a fine line, between looking for those human motives, and spinning something bad as though it’s good. Saying that you can empathize with a person’s anger/desperation/fear/motive/whatever is not the same thing as condoning violence, dishonesty, or cruelty. 

Instead, as I said, call the good good, call the bad bad. “I can understand that they are feeling incredibly attacked in the current cultural climate. But what they did was wrong and absolutely calls for accountability.” “I can understand that they feel incredibly hopeless and desperate and feel that no other course of action is possible right now to get where they feel we need to go. But those actions were wrong and are not constructive tools.” Nobody deserves to be shot or kicked out or shamed for the rest of their lives. But maybe they do deserve the accountability that comes from making a wrong choice, and that can be a learning opportunity. You will find that you will lose much less credibility, than when you are doing backbends defending things that are indefensible.

——————-

Two things suffer when we defend our tribe in all things, instead of practicing objectivity: 

Firstly, we lose the ability to constructively critique those we love. We start to swallow everything our favorite politician or news source says, without the need for that difficult, complicated thing called discernment. We become zealots. We become attracted to more and more volatile, extreme ideas that bolster our side. We also make it well-known that we ourselves will not be critiqued (“DON’T SHAME ME!”) and so we cease to grow. (FYI shame and critique/accountability are NOT the same thing. It is not admirable to shut out any and all forms of accountability or critique in your life and call it “shame-resistance” or “being true to myself.” We are all wrong, somewhere. We all need the ability to have our wrong-ness revealed to us, and to learn from it.) In a phrase: “My side can do no wrong.”

Second, we lose the ability to love those we critique. They. Them. That side. Back to dehumanization – if we have convinced ourselves that they’re inherently less-than or evil, we will believe that every word out of their mouth and every policy out of their pen is bad before we’ve even judged it on its own merit. And that the people, themselves, are bad. Aka, “Their side can do no right.”

I believe my faith is crucial to this, because it acknowledges that 1) there is a Good, there is a Right, there is a Just, and 2) I’m not it. And neither are you. And frankly, I’m not any closer than you. My faith says that there is a standard of truth and equity and universal compassion, it’s not all up to any ole body’s opinion; and that I will consistently fall short of it and so will my favorite teachers, politicians, pundits, leaders, and friends. 

No person is without some good and right motives, as we’re all made in the image of God. And no person is without places where we catastrophically miss the mark, as we’re all not God. 

Please do this exercise with me, on any/all areas you want (religion, a certain policy, political affiliation, ethnicity, nationality, favorite basketball team, whatever):

I consider myself a ____________________. 

Sometimes, my group has a tendency to __________________ in a way that I do not believe to be healthy. 

Sometimes, the people we are in opposition with have a good point when they ___________________. 

All of us are doing the best we can, with where we came from, and what we know.

1Except for the past several years, during which time I pretty much have something sticky on a counter or someone yelling in my face at all waking moments so I’m not entirely as well-read as I’d like to be.

2Re: dehumanization. I just listened to a podcast episode on Unlocking Us from Brene Brown on this (1/13/21 ep) that was excellent, and put to words so many things I’ve been thinking recently aka since probably college. She really breaks down the psychology/etc behind the idea of dehumanization and the catastrophic effects it has when it is permitted to grow as rampant as it has in this country particularly in the past 5 years. There are and have always been politicians and policies I’ve supported and critiqued on both sides of the aisle but this single phenomenon has encapsulated and overshadowed the biggest of my concerns since 2016. You may not agree with Brene’s view on the political issues she talks about, but I urge you to push through and listen to what she says about this danger. I have often thought: the worst human atrocities (genocide, human trafficking, mass incarceration, slavery, concentration camps, whatever) across history and the globe have been enacted under the name of fascism, communism, anarchy, monarchy, colonialism, tribalism, religion, anti-religion — the ideologies are all over the map but the common thread in every single one is a campaign and culture of dehumanization. We have to resist it at every single turn, mercilessly. We have to refuse to engage in it in any capacity. We have to recognize it in our leaders and media outlets and call out for accountability and try to change the general discourse, on both/all sides of the aisle. We have to not quit being bothered by it. Never accept it. Here’s me, calling it bad. It’s bad. It’s always bad. 

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What to Do with this *%*#^@ Year

66-ish days left of 2020, guys. We’ve all seen the memes, the memes, oh the memes about this dumpster fire of a year. And here comes the holiday season. Does anybody else feel that thing of like, thank goodness because here comes the lovely part, and also we’re almost to the end… but also drastically lowered expectations… but also dread of what if 2020 manages to screw up the holidays too?

What do we do with this year? How do we wrap it up? How do we process it? How do we comprehend it? Friends, I have a plan.

Please do follow me as I attempt to ungracefully shoehorn this idea into a vague and arbitrary structure of the last 2 months of the calendar.

We’ve all had massive disappointments this year, unbearable frustration, loss of normalcy, loss of certainty, loss of control. Loss of connection, loss of routine. For some of us we’ve had more isolation than we ever wanted, and for some of us we’ve been craving solitude when all of our sanctuary spaces and times were overtaken by displaced family members.

Next Saturday is Halloween. Day of the Dead. Sunday is All Saints Day.

I say we bury some things.

We’ve had a lot die this year. I keep having this weird experience of reading books or watching movies and seeing things that we’re not likely to see again any time soon: big groups of smashed-together people, little intimacies between strangers that sometimes seemed cute and now make me cringe because our personal space bubbles grew much bigger and more rigid basically overnight back in March… handshakes, cheek-kisses, big concerts, etc. A world that wasn’t hyper-aware of germs and interpersonal distance seems dead. I don’t know, with vaccines and whatever, maybe it’ll be back. But for me, for my mind, I need to consider it dead. 

School, in the same form it was before, is dead. Activities. They have passed away. Deceased. I’m not sure preschool will ever again look like it did pre-2020. Like I say, maybe it will, but for now, hanging onto it isn’t helping me. So I need to bury it.

Shoot, guys. There have been a lot of things in the past month or so that I’ve tried to mentally bury and mourn. Pre-social media elections, where people could talk to each other about things, for crying out loud. Discourse pre-24/hr news cycles, when you could at least have some semblance of an assumption of common ground & similar information, when you talked to other people about current events. The idea of national heroes or shared experiences that unite us and aren’t instantly divisive. I don’t know if I believe that’s even possible any more.

Honestly, I have found myself angry that my kids have to grow up in a world and a time where the sick, dark web is a half-second away from their fingertips on any one of the gazillion devices in our home or anyone else’s. I’ve been angry that they can’t have my childhood, with less screen temptations and more outdoors. I find myself wishing I could just raise them somewhere else. Or maybe somewhen else. I’ve been angry that they don’t have my childhood with cousins and grandparents 3 minutes away every day of every week of every year. I’ve been angry that it seems like middle-of-the-road, diverse, balanced schools that aren’t either overprivileged or underprivileged don’t seem to exist any more. 

There’s any number of things that I sometimes selfishly wish we could just un-know. We grew up with more weight than our parents, I think, and our kids will grow up with even more than us, of the knowledge of everything that’s wrong with the world… every genocide and tsunami and famine on the globe, not to mention the consequences of our own actions and purchases and choices. The feeling of having to choose between burnout and overload, or willful ignorance and cognitive dissonance. 

Is it just me? 

I could go on and on. I wish this didn’t happen, I wish that did. I wish this never existed, I wish that still did. I’m not saying we have to just shut these things down in our hearts and minds, or ignore them completely. But I think we need to shift from dragging them around with us Weekend At Bernie’s style and trying to white-knuckle them back to life. Frustrated expectations make us angry, anger makes us look for someone to blame.

Identify what has died, that is no more, that we’re mad about. Bury it. Mourn it. Mourning something doesn’t have to be quick or simple or dismissive. Feel your sadness for the end of it. But I find that it’s a different posture than being angry about it, or trying to drag the zombie of what was, then, into now.

So that’s Halloween. Day of the Dead. RIP. 

And then?

Thanksgiving. Maybe after we pallbear (can that be a verb?), and bury, fire off the guns and play the taps, and begin to mourn what was, we can spend some time being thankful for what is

I’m not trying to glibly make lemonade out of lemons, but I bet you can think of some good things this year. Either things that have come out of the whole crazy situation (I’ll start: my toddler has probably had the most consistent nap schedule a 3rd child has ever had in history for one thing; I think my kids are closer than they would’ve been without the halt of the past 7 months; we’ve screamed at each other a few times but we’ve also done some creative fun things together that we wouldn’t otherwise have done), or having nothing to do with this year in particular (my home. My family. My health. My stocked pantry. Good music. Good food. Cooler weather. New mercies every morning. Derry Girls. Etc.)

Let’s spend time here, too, in November. Goodbye to what was, Thank you God for what is.

And then, Advent.

What’s to come?

New life comes from dead things – trees from the dirt from the carcasses of their grandfathers. 

Birth comes from pains.

So what’s next? What will be built on the ashes of 2020? Take the stretch with me – Advent is about expecting Jesus, and this is not instead of that, and it’s not in addition to that, this IS that. 

Every year he came. We celebrate the baby and the manger and all of that good good stuff. Don’t skip it, and what it meant, and what it means.

Every year he is coming in the present. Even in 2020. Where is his work being done now? Where is his body (hint: US) coming to life, walking around on dusty feet, breaking bread, feeding mouths and healing bodies, actively affirming the dignity and value of every life, defending his Father’s house with zeal, with both peace and a sword, seeing the invisible people and touching the untouchable people? What’s your place in that?

Every year he’s not yet come. What are his promises? Chains will be broken. Dry bones will come to life. Oppressors will be brought down from their thrones. Children will be placed in families. Tears will be dried. Songs will fill our mouths. Creation will be what it was always supposed to be, healthy and whole.

The Kingdom has come. The Kingdom is coming. The Kingdom has not come yet. December is for holding onto Emmanuel, then, now, and forever.

2020 is what it was always going to be. 2020 is not some sentient force that wants to mess with us and ruin our lives. It’s not a big accident. It’s not the container that the universe put all its garbage in – the garbage didn’t start in March and the garbage won’t end 1/1/21. The beauty and goodness didn’t take a year off, either. You do not have to find purpose in your pain, or your loneliness, or your overwhelm, or your despair. But this year is building something. 

Mourn what’s lost. Give thanks. And look for what’s next.

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Zones

Ok. It’s a lot that we’re dealing with right now.

Beirut * Covid * Economic Collapse * Locusts * Racism * Riots * Election * Syrian Refugees * Border Families * Human Trafficking * Abortion * Climate Change * Education & Opportunity Disparity * Natural Disasters * Mass Incarceration * Foster Care/Adoption * Violence Against Women * Homelessness * Mental Health * Substance Addiction * Everyday Poverty

I have a suggestion for people struggling to interact with the world these days.

Check yourself: Where do you land?

Red Zone / Green Zone / Blue Zone

RED (Over-responding):

  • [BLAMING]
    • “Why do they keep —–“
    • “This is all because of —-“
    • Conspiracy theories that give you someone to be good and mad at
  • [MAD AT OTHERS FOR UNDER-RESPONDING]
    • “I can’t BELIEVE people aren’t talking about –“
    • “They call themselves Christians and they’re not –“
    • Yelling at/arguing with friends and family
    • Getting into Worthy Cause Olympics thinking (“my cause is better than yours”)
  • [OVERLOADING YOURSELF]
    • “I can’t sleep”
    • “I’m not doing enough”
    • “Just one more article”
    • (Constant doomscrolling)
  • [GUILTING YOURSELF FOR REST OR JOY]
    • “I can’t spend money on _____/go out and enjoy ______ while all of this is going on”
    • “I should be educating myself/volunteering/advocating, not doing something fun”

BLUE (Under-responding)

  • “Ugh I just can’t” – shutting out news altogether
  • PATTERN of Netflix/food/alcohol/exercise bingeing (numbing)
  • “They’re overreacting” – discounting others’ accounts of their own experiences
  • Conspiracy theories that tell you it’s all made up
  • Snarky memes – Listen, I love them too but sometimes we hide behind “2020 is a dumpster fire” kinds of cynicism to keep from engaging honestly and constructively

GREEN (Healthy responding)

  • Pick a lane (or MAYBE two)
    • Know what you’re able to work on, let yourself off the hook for the rest. We are aware of the negative ramifications of everything we do in the whole entire world & can be overloaded about it.
    • We can’t do it all. Know what you’ve chosen to work on, let the rest go.
  • Make a plan to
    • LEARN, ACT, & CONNECT with those directly affected by the issue you’re fighting, & CONNECT with others who care about the same cause
    • Take a practical step, then another, one step at a time, but keep stepping
  • Wave & cheer on people in other lanes, no comparing, no competing, no guilting
  • Clock out – rest, celebrate
  • Cultivate joy – human connection, art, nature, music, comedy, good food

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Dog Eat Dog

I don’t pretend to know what it’s like raising a teen and I try to avoid acting like I know things I don’t (and having to eat my words later) but I do think about this kind of thing a lot.

I saw this post recently and if you can get past the kinda click-baity “KILLING” and “PERFECT” and “BLAME” stuff, it… is a thing.

And even now, with my 6.5-yr-old, I find myself wondering sometimes if I’m hindering something in his future by not having him in a bunch of competitive sports and stuff. But right now, he doesn’t want to, and there are very, very good things happening in the quiet and sometimes mayhem of our own messy home, that seem *right.*

I guess I just tell myself, and maybe I’ll keep telling myself in future years, that:

– the most important things are his character, his health (mental and otherwise), and his ability to be a decent human being to other human beings;

– he is exceptional ([{*super secret pro tip: they all are, every single one*}]) and capable of exactly what God put him on this earth to do, and lack of elementary-school-aged mega-competition is not going to ruin his chances to be who he was made to be;

– it requires faith to choose reason, connection, balance, and giving him some autonomy (which will grow over the years), and to believe that that will be enough when he is older.

Choices we make now and in the next few years might keep him from the US Olympic team or from being the next Steve Jobs or whatever (although I doubt the latter – those people always come out of nowhere), but there’s a whole lot of full life to be lived outside of the tippity top 0.0001% of whatever field you’re shooting for.

And if these colleges and businesses are wanting more and more and more for less (higher and higher and higher-qualified entry-level employees, aka people getting paid much much less for the same level of expertise/training/experience that used to be provided at least somewhat by the colleges and companies themselves), I guess we’ll try to find a way to make do another way. Naive, maybe. But that’s how I see it.

 

I’m not trying to trash talk competitive sports. Do them if your kid loves them. Do them if it makes sense. Teach your kids to work hard and to honor commitments, by all means. But DON’T do them when you have to drag your kid kicking and screaming every time. Don’t do them if it’s because you’re worried about their college admission and they’re 4. Don’t do them if it’s because you feel like you should or because everyone else is.

I heard some great advice recently (on kind of another topic) that was essentially: Do the thing or don’t do the thing. Just make sure your decision isn’t based on fear. 

Posted in Posts by Abbey

Human Souls

Can you hear me for a second? Can you listen like a person, who’s listening to another person, and not like an ideological spare change sorter, with your ears set to latch onto this buzzword or that loaded phrase… so you can figure out if I fall into one of the many Imbecile Hate-Driven Ignoramus slots, the ones you have a ready-made dismissive argument for, or into the One Single Acceptable Right One? 

I took a class in college on Nazi Germany. Now I know everybody overuses the Nazi Germany parallels but it’s one of those things like quoting Shakespeare – maybe it’s overdone but it’s also so often the best piece of wisdom out there for a particular situation.

We learned some dates and some names of towns and battles and party officers but my professor mostly wanted – desperately wanted – us to leave the class with an understanding actually of how “normal” German human beings, of normal varying levels of complexity or intellect or morality, could become the people some of them became, and do the things some of them did.

This is important, please hear me. Dr. Krammer taught us that the worst thing we can do is to dehumanize people. We went through, step by step, chronologically and using real propaganda and writings of the time, the way that the Jews were gradually and methodically dehumanized by the regime.

But an equally important part was the danger of dehumanizing the Nazis. He contended that the most dangerous thing we can do is to treat and view any Other People as villains, animals, or idiots. When we, even we Americans, made films with moronic goose-stepping slapstick punchlines or mustache-twisting demons in swastikas, we told ourselves that that, the hate and the horror, happened because of something inherent in THOSE people. It couldn’t happen here. Not to us. 

The true thing, the hard thing and the complex thing, the thing that can lead to honesty and empathy and actual resolution of conflict, is to look for myself in Those People. Look for them in me. 

For the love of God, I’m not comparing people to Nazis.

Or… maybe I’m comparing everyone to Nazis. Maybe I’m calling people people. 

Maybe, in a sense, the best way to look at anything in the world, is to assume that I’m the worst sinner there is. As far as it’s any of my business, really, I am. Paul called himself chief among sinners. I swear there’s a Mother Teresa quote where she says she’s the worst, too, although now I can’t find it.

I’m not talking about self-flagellating. I’m talking about empathy, humility, reason, and the only approach that might ever get us anywhere productive. I’m absolutely not sitting here telling you to look for your grossest parts and then obsess over them and hate yourself. 

What I’m saying is — who are the Other People for you? Liberals? Trump-ites? People of color? Immigrants? Millennials? Fox News anchors? Academic underperformers? Vegans? BLM protestors? 

Whoever it is, and I want you to really have a group in your head right now — stop and ask yourself: What are they afraid of? What am I afraid of? Is my self-defense response… actually setting off their alarms? And vice versa? What do they love? What do I love? Whatever they are doing that pisses me off — what circumstances might drive me to act in that way? Am I expecting someone to “get over it,” without entirely taking the time to understand what the “it” is, and if it’s at all reasonable to ask that of them? 

Whatever they’re about that makes me angry — how do I know about that motive? Have I heard it from their own mouths? Or from the mouths of other people who already hate or fear them? I think a lot of the time maybe we hate people for believing stuff that they might not actually believe at all. 

What if we FIRST assume that people are souls, maybe even souls made in the image of God, who don’t just go around acting in willful ignorance or malicious hate?* To be honest, I think some do, they do exactly that. But maybe humility says that God knows the willful ignorance or the malicious hate — he knows how to tell those apart from a deeply hurt person hurting others, or from a victim of a lifetime of taught prejudice or violence, or from a soul who’s felt like a cornered alley cat their entire lives and has rarely come down from Fight or Flight… He knows. I don’t. 

What if we take this modern beast known as the Internet, the personal echo chamber of confirmation bias we keep hearing about… what if we turn that on its head? 

You know, all of this information at our fingertips could ALSO be used to look right into Those People’s heads. Read their stories, hear their arguments. Close your eyes and pray for grace for the anger you might find towards your group, because we have to start somewhere, and that somewhere can’t be on the super defensive. But hear it from them, from their own mouths and keyboards and art. Their fears, their motives, their hopes, their history. 

What might happen then? And then, maybe once you can trust yourself to not be a weird tourist or to pull out your own soapbox, what if you engaged with one of Them, in real life? Ask some questions, make a friend, share a meal, face to face? 

It’s a jungle out there, guys. It’s mayhem. Civilized discourse is bleeding in a ditch right now. But we can help! We can.

Just look for the human souls. 

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*Can I be so bold as to suggest, while I’m at it, that you examine your various news media outlets or bloggers or voices that fill your head? Who’s their Them? How do they talk about people? It might seem impossible to find news outlets that speak respectfully of everyone, these days, but it’s not. Super, duper, duper hard, but not impossible. 

Posted in Posts by Abbey

What I Plan to Do this 4th of July

Here’s what I’m going to do this 4th of July for my own self and with my whip-smart, very aware, impressionably-aged child:

I think I might sit down as a family and start with a little study on the Kingdom of God. More on the ways it’s described in the prophets, maybe, than the parts that talk about how it spreads or grows, because that’s great but not what we’re doing right now. The lion-and-lamb-snuggling type stuff. The orphans-will-be-put-in-families type stuff. The beating-swords-into-plowshares type stuff. The shalom stuff.

Then maybe we’ll talk about the ways that America is like that, and we will celebrate those ways. We will be thankful for living in a country that DOES have some of those qualities, which are admirable not because America is the greatest, but because the Kingdom of God does exist, imperfectly, incompletely, but certainly, here and now. We haven’t skipped a meal involuntarily, I’m pretty sure, in our entire lives. I am confident that my lot as a woman is so-ho-ho much better and less terrifying and more dripping with opportunity than if I had been born in a lot of other parts of the world. We had a super amazing trip to Disney this year with my family that was pure delight and enjoyment and wonder and we are so fortunate. We have opportunities. We have institutions that facilitate our safety. We have access to 800 different versions of education. In a lot of ways, our laws and systems are built to protect and uplift every individual. And in a lot of cases they do, compared to a lot of other places in the world where it’s not even a stated goal, much less a fully realized one.

And then we’ll talk about the ways that America doesn’t look like the Kingdom of God. We’ll mourn the ways we fall short. We’ll mourn the ways that even though we say we value every human life, in practice it doesn’t turn out that way a lot of the time. We’ll share some truths about America and we’ll mourn those, not because America is terrible, but because the Kingdom of God isn’t fully here yet.

I think next we’ll look at some of the people, churches, orgs, and movements that are pouring blood, sweat, and tears into closing that gap as much as they are able – between the now and the not yet. We’ll “look for the helpers,” as I believe good ole Fred Rogers said. We’ll talk about what we can do with what’s in our hands, to make it better, because of the privilege and opportunity that we have as a result of being born into this time and place, and most importantly, by the grace of God.

There’s a dialogue out there that says that you can’t be both grateful and concerned, you can’t be both proud of your heritage and penitent. What’s the saying about how it’s a sign of intelligence to be able to hold two conflicting ideas at once? Anybody trying to tell you that one of these things necessarily means the exclusion of the other is selling the truth short, neglecting healthy self-examination, and squashing constructive conversation.

We’ll wrap up with some humble gratitude again, because for whatever reason, the worst of these things hardly touches us personally. We’ll include a sincere prayer that God would continue to “break our hearts for what breaks” his, to not allow that gratitude to turn to complacency, but also to not allow the magnitude of the need to overwhelm and discourage us.

And then we’ll probably eat some hot dogs and watch some stuff blow up.

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Plans

IMG_0908

He asked what he should draw so I said draw what you think Baby Girl will look like so he drew this which is, and I quote, “Me holding her and crying because she’s so cuuuuute.”

 

Let’s talk. Eleven weeks from now, give or take, and God willing, we will welcome our fourth/second/eighth little one into the Family Daniels. I have not written in quite some time but I wondered if it might be helpful to shed a little light on this situation, due to comments, questions, and (I would assume) assumptions surrounding this whole thing, since I know all y’all do is sit around musing about our lives all day long.

Do we plan on fostering again? The fact is, we are still currently licensed and decided to maintain our license from last December when Boochie left until closer to when the baby comes, to offer our home for respite for other foster parents in our agency. Only one respite situation has worked out so far, but that’s about all we can do at this point. They don’t want to place [a] new child[ren] with us right before a fairly major life change, it’s not really the best idea for anybody involved, or so goes conventional wisdom.

As far as afterwards? Definitely not for some time, and after that we will have to…revisit. I want more kiddos, I think. Dane is possibly less sure or possibly fairly sure but in a different direction, and we have decided that it’s pointless to discuss right now, since any number of things could change between now and then. So, tabled.

Did we plan this? No, not really. We have kept that “door open” so to speak for about 7 years now. I don’t want to get into too much detail, but with a few various factors, a pregnancy was never remotely ruled out but it’s also not THAT super crazy that it didn’t happen for so long. We always made sure we were healthy and fine, and then we didn’t (usually) stress it too much*.

This is very important to me that people understand, even though I don’t know if it’s that important to other people: We have always been excited about children. Period. Biologically related to us, foster, or adopted. We have certainly had a preference for at least a couple of them to be ultimately permanent, rather than only eternally fostering, but our desire and our love is for children, of any origin. We had the chance at any number of times along the way to pursue any number of methods of assisting the process of conception of biological children, and continually chose not to. This is not a value judgment in any form, these are the decisions that we made, for our family.

This is my first pregnancy, and there are a lot of ways that that is very exciting, for sure. It’s fun to celebrate permanency, for us. That might not be a thing that people always consider when they’re getting ready for a new baby, but to us THAT is reason for celebration – a Daniels that will stay, God willing. Permanent teeth and prom and grandkids and such. It was different but also not different when we celebrated adoption – the permanency.

I don’t know, guys. You have to understand. “Always seek to neither offend nor to take offense” — who said that? [If I can’t google it in about 10 seconds, too bad. Sorry.] Here’s the deal. People talk, people ask, people celebrate with us and I love that, all of the time. People assume things about our story and our life because of their experiences and it makes sense and I get it and it’s very, very rare that anything offends me or makes me upset.

But at the same time, my son is listening. The son that I have and that I know and that I share the vast majority of my life with and that I made a covenant to three years ago, and THAT is the most important thing to me. A distant second is the belief that I hold very, very dear that there is no hierarchy of worth in humans of any kind, and not in children. I will preach this to you and argue it with you till the day I die, but I don’t actually care about changing your mind nearly as much as I care about what my son hears. Because I want him to hear truth.

I hear stories often about people who adopt because they “can’t” have biological children and I totally get it, but I want the world and WAY most importantly my son to know that actually, he’s not my Plan B. [Actually, I am his. The best life for him and for any child is to not have a broken home and a broken relationship with their biological parents, and through absolutely no imaginable fault of his own he ended up there, and we are absolutely his Plan B. God redeems; I don’t want to be negative or fatalistic; he can and will have life to the full just like everyone and anyone else… but it’s so important to me that people know this. We chose this, he did not. We are lucky, we are blessed.] If we had conceived early on, we very likely still would have adopted.

I’m not saying they’re the same, or interchangeable. There are very hard things about fostering and adoption. I have certainly shared a few of them here. Not making any kind of comparison, but simply an observation from my perspective: there are also hard things about *this* current method, says the girl who has been puking sick for about 5 months off and on (mostly on), and hasn’t even gotten to the massive-hobbling-back-breaking stage, or the summer-in-Houston stage, or the LABOR, hello. In foster care and adoption, the process can suck, and the trauma can suck, and the effects of the trauma can suck; certainly the most for the actual sufferer of the trauma. But all I know is the children I have had, somehow it’s just not the same thing. Let’s not confuse the process, or the trauma, with the KIDS. The kids are worth it: every second, every penny, every appointment, just like any other kid would be including your own.

To me, including our Original Little Man, our first forever son, and our little Boochie that we kept and loved and attached to for nearly a year, this squirmy little nugget in my belly is my fourth child. If you have sensed hesitancy with me in conversation, it is possibly because I am quite prickly and careful about language. First pregnancy, yes. Not my first baby, NOT my first or even my second child.

Well-meaning and utterly beloved friends have talked with me about how they prayed for this for years, for us. For which I am grateful. How can you not be grateful for people praying for you and wishing you well? But again, in my mind, I prayed for children. They did not have to come from my womb. I HAD and HAVE children. It’s my hope that friends and family who prayed for us consider that they were praying for ALL of my babies.

This might seem semantical, but it doesn’t to me, because of those humans who were and are in my family, who did and do call me “Mommy.” They’re not semantics to me. They’re not distant memories, or code names on blog posts, or emoji-covered faces on social media.

Those of you darling women and families who struggle[d] mightily with infertility, I feel you. It hit me hard a lot of the time too — the hope and the cost of hope, and the disappointment, the chaotic soup of emotions, the uncertainty. Our story might be a little different because for us it was just always both/either, with adoption or biological. But I get you and if our story’s not you, YOU BE YOU.

I hope this doesn’t sound defensive or insufficiently celebratory, it’s just important to me to get it out there.

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*It’s also entirely possible that you have said something to me about “Oh yeah, as soon as you stop worrying about it, you totally get pregnant! My coworker’s cousin’s daughter did just that exact same thing!” and I talked your ear off for about 85 hours about how “Yeeeeeeeeeeeahhhhhhhh I don’t really believe in that,” partly because we kinda kept an eye on things for a year or two but then really just moved forward with fostering/adoption for about five years before this came out of the blue, so I’m not sure that describes our situation, since about five years doesn’t seem like “as soon as.”
And also very, very stressed out people get pregnant all the time and very, very un-stressed-out people don’t get pregnant all the time; AND ALSO, even if there is some truth in it, I do happen to know that if you are a person who is very much desirous of getting pregnant, this advice (regardless of its basis in truth) is the opposite of helpful, since I think we can all agree that telling people to stop stressing about stuff because the stress is making it worse IS ACTUALLY quite stressful in and of itself, not to mention guilt-inducing, and a dozen other things. So let’s just let that little nugget of “wisdom” go by the wayside, huh?
Posted in Uncategorized

The System

Listen. I’m not going to set up camp here. Build a house. Plant a garden. But today I am just gonna sit for a minute, in the uck. In the grumps.

I’m feeling it, a little bit. We’re almost to the year-and-a-half mark from when we thought we’d be taking in new littles. We’re hopefully? Possibly? Conceivably? close to licensing again. I’ve always been somewhat hesitant to talk in any concrete timelines, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t still calculating likelihoods and minimums and maximums and “general ideas.” I’m kind of… over that now. I hope that’s not glum and Eeyore. I just find that it’s kind of wasted energy.

So we wait.

We had a thing come up, a possible placement, over Christmas break that was kind of exciting, although it was either a good chance or a super slim unlikely chance, which are indistinguishable in this business. Still, one of those things that you can’t not pursue.

You know, that’s really what this is. You throw every line in the water, you take every possible road, because so many of them will dead end that you can’t let any go by unacknowledged. You submit for every placement and you make yourself available for every possibility, hoping that out of dozens or hundreds one will stick.

Our first placement was also our first call. Our son was our second placement. I remember sitting at my desk at work during the several weeks that we were open for placements, before he came. (I only worked two days a week, but somehow EVERY CPS call came on a Thursday, a work day.) Every time I got a call I’d grab any scratch paper that was handy and scribble a few things down, as fast as I could. “Male, 2 years old, biracial, some occupational therapy in previous foster home but basic level of care, 3 half-siblings that live in Oklahoma with a family member” or “Male, somewhere around 6 months old, at the hospital, bio mom is unconscious so that’s all we know.” “Male, 4 days old, premature, and they want to know if there’s any possibility y’all have any Native American heritage?”*

It was a weird thing because I’d want to hang onto each paper and try and grab onto the phone call, holding it loosely but taking a little mental snapshot, thinking any of these COULD be a future Daniels, although they probably wouldn’t, but I’d want a sense of the first time I heard details about our permanent child.

Most of those we never even heard back from to say “no,” they just sort of faded. Although we could wait weeks and still not know if we had been eliminated or if they’d gone to another home.

And so we’d wait.

It’s all about leaving these trailing strands of hope floating out there, not hanging on too tightly to them, but not quite letting go either.

It hasn’t been that hard for me, honestly. It’s the name of the game. People talk about how they would love to help the kids, but the system is so broken. Well, there are a lot of heads on this particular monster, the one that’s keeping these kids busted and broken and isolated. Part of it is the abuse, the neglect, the substance addiction, whatever patterns the bio family may be in. Part of it is systemic problems of poverty, racial injustice, discrimination. Part of it is the stigmas they may or may not face for the rest of their lives. Part of it is the biological and neurological disadvantages they start with, that could manifest (or not) in any one of infinite ways. But part of it IS The System.

There are allies within The System, and a lot of people doing the very best they can to accomplish an impossible task. Overworked, overloaded employees who may be driven by compassion, or maybe they started out that way, and to varying degrees have sort of buckled under it. Some of them are gritty, tough warriors daily facing situations you and I can’t even dream of, and to us they seem callous or uncaring, but their prickly armor is the only thing that keeps them in the game, and we need it.

But also, I never have and never could count on The System to work perfectly (or even well) to help me do my part of the work of the gospel in introducing little souls to redemption, acceptance, and unconditional love.

That possibility? That I mentioned earlier? Well, the system failed him yesterday. It failed pretty spectacularly, and other players within The System are fighting that, and a reasonably, relatively un-crappy outcome is still possible, I suppose. I can’t say I’m surprised, and I hope that doesn’t sound like apathy or defeat.

So we wait.

But the thing is, my hope isn’t in The System, or this job would be unsustainable. I wish it could be, sometimes, in weaker moments, because The System has…… a system. Full of holes and squeaky joints, rusting and overloaded though it may be, it has a certain logic, sometimes, and you can point to reasons something did or didn’t work — there are people to blame.

In some ways it’s harder to put hope in the sovereignty of God, because there’s no system. Within that, there is just trust, and obedience, and patience. It’s not comprehensible, sometimes, but on the other hand, it literally never fails.

So I’m not sure, ‘how long’ this, or ‘how likely’ that. I don’t know. I’ll stop trying to guess or play probabilities.

Today I’ll wait.

Today I’ll trust, although just for today it might be a little grudging. I know all of the arguments, I know some people have it worse, and I know I have so many blessings, and I know it’s what we signed up for, and I know there’s a plan and a purpose, I know I know I know, but today I’m going to let myself feel disappointed, and not explain or rationalize it away.

It’s hard not to see the people left and right that the Great Stork decides to favor whether they even want it or not. It’s hard not to look back on how long it seems like we’ve waited, and the seemingly arbitrary things that have held us up. It’s especially hard not to look at the “need” and the “crisis” and to look at my empty beds and think about babies that don’t have one. And it’s frustrating. It just is.

When I think about the tightrope, the one between “ignorance” and “the paralysis of despair”; the tightrope between ignoring or shutting out, entertaining/distracting/avoiding — and becoming bitter, hopeless, angry… I always end up thinking of Jesus himself. Here’s what he’d do, I think:

He’d hope AND he’d mourn. He wouldn’t quit and he wouldn’t try to bash through, caring less and less about each kid because of the possible pain. He’d keep caring, and he’d allow himself and other people to hurt for things, and he’d push on, because that’s the real bravery. That’s the real strength. And he’d rely on his father for that strength, for the real and only object of hope, because otherwise it’s absolutely, utterly, literally unsustainable. But with that source of strength, it’s a sure victory.

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*FUN FACT: We have only ever gotten ONE single call for a female child, the one that I wrote about here. I have no idea why this is.

Posted in Fostering

The Pause

Two and a half weeks ago I broke one of my own rules and posted a sort of cryptic post on FB… I’m not proud but hey. It’s the world we live in.

We hit a snag. A hiccup, let’s say. Our home study was a few weeks behind us, the last step on the whole shebang, and I was expecting a call any day telling us to come pick up our license. Well, we got a call. That they were denying us a license at all. “We’re sure you’d be great foster parents, you’re just not a match for Arrow.”

Now. Since then, we have worked out a number of things with our agency and they have changed their stance to where they are holding our file and want to revisit it with us after a time. An undefined period of time. So it’s not a closed door, just a “pause.” Hopefully.

It’s just never what you expect, is it?

To be honest, we kind of know what happened, but we also kind of don’t. There are things that we could improve, as a married couple. This is not a surprise to us. It’s impossible to say if these things are “worth” holding up, or possibly outright refusing, our licensing. Who’s to say? Well, actually, we know who’s to say — a collection of people who have seen a few things about us on paper. I don’t know, I always thought we looked pretty good on paper.

We are pretty sure we know why this happened, though. And to me, if there’s a Why, there’s not much that’s impossible to handle. As long as I know why. There are parts of me that want to whine about Why do we have to fix this one common thing before we’re allowed to parent, when hundreds of millions of people become parents every day without any of this scrutiny or perfectionism but the truth is, in most (the best) moments I believe that God wants us to fix this, and he knows why we need to. He wants us to be best and to be like him. Not to worry about who else gets away with what, or who else can work on stuff without having their life held up – if we need this, then we need it. If we need it now, and in this way, that’s frustrating and a bit hurtful and frankly rather embarrassing, then I guess we need it.

I don’t like it, because dozens of y’all invested in major ways to make this happen. You watched my kid and gave him baths and fed us dinner so we could go to classes. You outfitted our nursery and wrote recommendation letters. You prayed and prayed and prayed. You listened to me go on about THE PROCESS for hours upon hours. You checked in, you asked, you cared.

I watched moms with little-littles and considered who I’d be better friends with when I added the same aged kids to our family, who we’d go on play dates with or invite over while our dude is at school. I scoped out the best baby play places and sorted about a dozen bins of 0-24-mo clothes. I stocked diapers and assembled cribs and even made my sad attempt at decorating. I researched pediatricians and MOPS groups. I peeked out the corner of my eye, not daring to actually SHOP, for baby/toddler Halloween costumes that could be made or bought in a pinch. I spent about a thousand hours talking to our little man about it and trying to prepare him as much as humanly possible.

I invested, and that hurts, and you invested, and that really hurts. We want you all in on it because that’s how we’re used to living our lives, but now I feel like I have to go and disappoint everyone.

I felt like that moreso the first few days before we talked things over with the agency and they decided to continue to consider us. I hope it’s not one of those things, like where you go on some kind of blind date and the guy’s like “You’re not really my type” and then you stick it out and kind of manage to convince them that you’re alright after all, but then you’re like “well maybe I don’t want a second date, because awkward, and also you kind of hurt my feelings, and also what were you so judgy about in the first place.”

I don’t want to be petty but I also don’t want the whole thing soured a bit with people who are in charge of placing kids in our home. They have been very gracious though and for reasons that are complicated* may have been doing the best they knew how. They have apologized where they were wrong and have extended grace and a continuation of dialogue. They have also been kind where we were wrong and reasonably understanding. Maybe we’ll come out of this with an even greater mutual respect than we would have otherwise. Who knows.

So it could be a couple months. Or it could be a lot more months than that.

I know of so many families who adopted (or attempted to adopt) internationally who met stuff like this all the time. Unexpected delays of weeks, months, years. I kind of thought we might be going the route that avoided that, to some extent. Maybe a delay on your FOREVER kid but a fairly straightforward road into the parenting scene. All anyone can talk about is the NEEEEEED. Oh, the neeeeeed. Kids spending the night in CPS offices and police stations. Group homes bursting at the seams. And here we are. An empty room, two empty beds.

It’s not my favorite. Most of the past couple of weeks I have felt hopeful and peaceful and sound about it, that I’m sure it’s for the best, in some way I can’t quite see. I still am sure it’s for the best. And as I likewise noted on facebook, there have been such moments of provision – a visit from GOOD good friends, a call from this or that person, a note from my grandmother, a visit home for mom’s birthday – that came at just the perfect times to keep us moving forward.

So that’s our situation. I asked you all not to ask and you were marvelous. I sincerely, genuinely hate doing that. But I could not have that conversation a hundred dozen times. It made me heart-full and heart-sick at the same time that it WOULD be dozens of times, that so many people care and ask and follow up. I love that normally. It’s the only way we can do this, normally. But you have all been wonderful in being there when I needed you and then allowing me to rudely shove you away for a minute. You were there and you were sweet but you respected what I asked. You are the best.

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*Ok, no they’re not: There’s one random individual who we’ve never met before or since sent to our door with a questionnaire and zero context and a job description of “Figure out what might be wrong with these people” who is tasked with presenting the entirety of our human lives to the people in charge of deciding future temporary and permanent members of our family. It’s like a game of telephone. This unmarried 22-yr-old judges our marriage and parenting style and mental health in a matter of minutes, sends her interpretation to a room full of other people who have met us two times for two minutes, who then interpret her interpretation… I suppose it should be a miracle that we haven’t run into this before. Everyone from private agencies, CASA, contract home study workers, CPS, ad litems, everyone has liked us just a whole awful lot. Maybe we got too cocky. People are doing the best they can with what they have. But it’s a sad substitute for actual relationships with people who know people.

Posted in Uncategorized

Of Peaches and Voldemort

I wrote this several months ago and forgot about it until I just found it. This was preceded by a litany of things I was irritated by, or genuinely pained by, at the time. I’ll spare you. Apparently the way that I take a whole bunch of whingeing and sort it and study it and reshape it and make sense of it, is to open up my laptop. (Important Editor’s Note: Haven’t seen an inside roach in months but Houston, your bug game is particularly fierce.)

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The truth is that everyone has stuff that they don’t like.

I’m reading James and the Giant Peach. Stories start out with boys whose parents die and who live with horrible aunts who beat them and stick them in rooms with spiders and no beds, and who get nothing good to eat and who have no friends in the world; they start that way because it’s the fairy tale version of the ick that everyone feels, and everyone does feel it. Some people have it worse than roaches and no friends within 300 miles and there are people who want children and have none, or who can’t adopt any, and we have one, and decent prospects for more. And we are 32, we are not like 60 or something that would be much more difficult. People have it worse than this. Materially we have 100% of absolutely everything we could possibly desire. That’s not even a Thing. And some people have it better. None of which means anything at all whatsoever.

I’d love to make something meaningful of all of it because that’s how art happens and that’s why people read these books.
I was thinking about why I like fiction and retreat into it so much. And part of it is that it takes that ick that’s sometimes indescribably complex (O Discordia), and it makes it into spiders and aunts and dead parents. These things are actually fairly straightforward. And then it takes evils and it makes them into monsters or Voldemorts or golden rings – fear or hatred or love of power, it makes them into a thing — a beatable thing. And then the person beats it. Duh.

But I was going to say, when I was spending 2 hours in the car with a toddler on a brutally hot July day on a tollway (TOLLWAY!) in outer Houston to get my fire extinguisher inspected, that I just bought and had inspected 6 months ago in another city and with another agency, so that I could then pay to get a permit so that I could schedule my home fire inspection… I was thinking about how the difference is that in those books and movies that I love, the difference is that they beat the thing, they win, they vaporize Voldemort or they take back the government or they bring down the Capitol or they drop the ring in the fire, and we simply never will. Never.

The montages are also different. I tried to think of this eternity-long drive to nowhere for a completely redundant and absurd reason as part of the montage. It’s not as sexy as a montage filled with sit-ups and sweat and muscles and running up steps, or as entertaining as a montage of wizard duels and DADA lessons in the Hog’s Head & the Room of Requirement, or it has less intense grimace-y Working-It-Out faces and more bored staring into the speedometer listening to pop music. Explaining things like Why It’s Raining, or alternately (for true variety): Why It’s Not Raining, 98,000x to my child.

But this is my montage. This is the part that’s the drudgery, that’s kind of boring but has to go into the narrative to show the cost, to make the victory worth it. Ok, sure, we will have a small victory. We’ll have a kid here, we’ll have smiles after weeks of no smiles, we might have hugs or trust. We might even have a day in front of a judge. Maybe we’ll play a part in building a human being’s character. A victory for him/her, a victory for us.

We won’t beat the evil though. The addictions, the abuses, the aggressions & hatreds & at the end of the day – the human beings stripped of their human-ness – that make this whole thing necessary. And after the day with the judge, we’ll have him/herself-doubt and myself-doubt, we’ll have behaviors we don’t know the root of, we’ll have questions that hurt my heart to answer, we’ll have displacement and anger and feelings of betrayal that we are responsible for and ones that we aren’t, ones we can do something about and ones we can’t. We’ll have victories but we will not win. This movie doesn’t end. And that’s okay.

Or… will we? Win, I mean?

I talked in a Sunday School class a while ago about Easter. It was before Easter, which is I guess usually the only time most people talk about Easter. It’s hard I think for some people to think of new things to say about Easter, but I have no problem with it these days.

Maybe that is the victory. There are people who think Easter is Cadbury eggs and new sundresses, and then there are people who know Easter is victory. It could not possibly be more important. It is what every story ever told is trying to imitate, trying to reach. That death has died, that justice has come, that redemption is ours.

Part of why I want to do this is because you can’t not. If we’re never going to win, at least we can say we’re never going to let THEM win either. You have to push back because the so-called evil isn’t going to quit.

But then also, a lot of the time, when it lets itself in, I know that I do it because of the fact that we’ve already won. A long, long time ago, and also right now, and also way off in the future. I don’t know exactly what it means to share that victory with my kid. I don’t always understand it myself – why we won and we’re going to win but we still have to fight and cry and screw up and learn and take beatings and (metaphorically) bloody our (metaphorical) knuckles (metaphorically) dishing some out too.

I am so scared that he won’t believe it, won’t accept it, and will let the crap win in his life just because he doesn’t understand that it already lost. It may have become the number one fear in my life, actually, these days – that my kid would not understand that his baggage has already been beaten. That the rest of the world wouldn’t understand, too… I’m sure this is true of every kid, but I know the legacy of the baggage in his bio-family tree, and I know how hard it is for someone to grow up in this world and figure out how to define themselves. I also know that that very fear IS the crap talking, and I can’t be afraid. We don’t have a spirit of fear but of love, and power, and a sound mind.

Maybe we’ll never win. We won’t see the end, see the credits roll. Tolkien’s “long defeat.”

Or maybe we already did.

Posted in Fostering