Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Mount of Freedom by Anonymous

Today's guest blogger is one of the most extraordinary students I have ever had.  She has been writing a short story every single week of this year.  That is 46 stories to date!!!  I love this piece. I love the tone and emotion.  I love the authenticity and freedom she conveys. I am so excited to share it with you:

I was 1000 meters off the ground feeling like I could touch the sky. I could feel the crisp fall air and soft winds brush across my hot face. The blue skies above me and a gray rock underneath. I saw miles and miles of green with birds flying sky high towards the horizon. I took a breathe of the fresh air and felt freedom... Like a bird in the sky. No limits what so ever!

It wasn't the first time I climbed up Mount Monadnock. I actually went for my 10th birthday with my family. It was a surprise gift, adventure from my aunt and all I could remember was feeling free. I was going through a somewhat tough week. I just wanted to run away... and that's exactly what I did. I told my aunt who was in town, I wanted to take a hike up Mount Monadnock again. 

Without any questions or second thoughts, we were off on the road. We got a hotel room and stayed there for the night. By the time we got there, it would have been to late to be hiking. Early the next morning, my aunt and I got up. We gathered our stuff and got ready for the hike, I was so eager to get back up to the top of the mountain. I just wanted to relax while I had my time up there. No one was really on the trail to the top of the mountain that morning so it was very quiet. Quiet enough for me to take in the nature surrounding me as well as to think on my way up. I plugged in my headphones to my iPod and I was off. There wasn't much talking between my aunt and me until the middle of the hike... My iPod died so I had to talk to my aunt. We talked about college and the future which got me upset because even when I was trying to escape the world/reality, annoying life conversations came up.
I was getting hot from climbing but the occasional winds made the climb worth it. The winds gave me another reason to get to the top. A couple hours later, we got there. I couldn't believe my eyes! I saw everything! At that moment, I was looking down at the world! I saw the trees from the top and no longer from the bottom! I was as high as the birds! I felt some weight lift off of me while I was at the top. No one was telling me what to do or what to think! I was finally happy! It was very breezy and every breeze made me feel more and more relaxed. Everything felt possible to me then. I took a seat at the edge of the rock and thought. Not about anything in particular, I just thought. I thought about the feeling of being so high up where I felt like the queen of the world. Everything was in my power and I could do whatever makes me happy! Feeling free from the world was amazing. No one was judging me on my messy hair and red face. No one was telling me to be a bigger person or to go away! For that hour I was at the top, I ran away. If I could, I would stay up there, on top, in a world of my own by myself smiling. There is nothing in this world that compares to being free!

Monday, November 25, 2013


I think we can all come together around this one likes failure.
Not even contrarians or masochists can make a compelling case that the sensation of inadequacy is enjoyable.  I felt this very sensation on Saturday when I woke up early to check the National Board Teaching Certification results.  All last school year I worked on my portfolio, all spring I studied for the test.  I took it in June and the results were supposed to be posted this week.  They were. I failed.  

It felt like a baseball bat swung at my stomach.  I wanted a chance to defend myself, to prove my competency as a teacher, but I suppose that is what the assessment is for in the first place and my defense was found wanting.  

Still, I am a never say die sort of person so I keep thinking that if the panel of assessors knew my circumstances they would have been a little more impressed.  Aren’t there points that could be awarded for compiling this 400 page portfolio during a scary and difficult pregnancy?  I went to my final portfolio review while in labor.  Can we get some sort of curve considering I took the standardized test a mere 2 months after my baby girl was born.  How about some credit for hard work?  I put in innumerable hours working on this; hours  stolen from sleeping or showering or even at times, eating.  
So come on NBCT, cut me a break.  

But for as much as I want to fight it, none of those things prove that I’m a good teacher.
And this failure has brought me face to face with the reality that I do not inherently deserve success or reward.  

Hard work and pain don’t always equal gain.  

This hurts because it shakes the very core of my protestant work ethic.  
What should I have done differently?   If I can’t pull it together and pass a stupid test what can I do?  Who can I trust to come through in tough times if not myself?  

To retake the assessment is a mere $1,057 but a thousand dollars is a small price to pay to remind me that who I am is not dependent upon what I do.  And those 20 overall points I need to become a Nationally Certified Teacher will not ensure inner bliss and fulfillment.  

So here is how I see it:
(Well, actually this is how a super good friend of mind told me to look at it, and it has made all the difference.)  

Creation- God made me.  He made me with a passion to teach and to read and to write.  He made me a little bit like him with the ability to love and to feel. 

Fall- But, I mess up.  All. The. Time.  I fail tests, I lose important paperwork, I get frustrated and give up. I hurt people that I should be helping.

* Here is where I am right now!~

Redemption- I can’t make it right.  I can’t explain my way out, I can’t just pay the $1,000 and feel better.  Someone has to come to the rescue...some people wait for their inner selves, some for knights in shining, I’m a big screw up so I am waiting for God himself to come make it right.  (And he has, believe it or not.)

Restoration- Failure makes me eager for the day when all wrongs are made right.  All tears are wiped away.  It’s probably not today, or tomorrow...but I believe in heaven, so even if it takes my whole life, I know at the end of the road there is a there is Someone, the only person I can wholly and completely trust who will look at me and say, “Well done my good and faithful servant, enter into my rest.”  

So, yeah... I’ll take an eternity of joy over an NBTC stamp of approval any day.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Why I Am Drifting Away From Christians and Closer to Christ by Andrew Patterson (Part 3 of 3)

A few years back I decided I wasn’t going to believe in Jesus because it's what my family does. I wasn’t going to believe because that’s what my school told me to do or because that’s what I’m supposed to do. I have to believe for my own reasons. I read as many books and articles as I could about why he did or didn’t exist. I stopped praying for a while to see if my life started to suck. I read the entire Bible with the most cynical attitude possible. I threw in my general gut feeling about everything. I don’t know if this was a reasonable, thoughtful, and responsible way to investigate my faith, but I that’s what I came up with. 

There was more hard evidence that he did live than that he didn’t. My life didn’t really change without prayer, but prayer made me feel a whole lot better. The Bible didn’t make much sense to me, but the parts that were most consistent were the words in red ink. And maybe I’ve drank too much Jesus juice throughout my life, but believing in Him feels right.

So I look out now, out at fellow Christians. And boy, do we suck. Myself included. But of course we do. We’re not Jesus. He’s the savior, the ideal. He’s the top of the mountaintop, the highest height. Because He is so different from us, even those who profess to love him, he must be set apart for a reason. He’s must be “The One” because He’s completely unmatched. He is rightfully exalted because I know for a fact we damn sure don’t deserve to be.

Why don’t we stick closer to him? He was humble, accepting, and overtly loving. How come we struggle so immensely with those things? Jesus did plenty of uncomfortable things, why don’t we? What if we didn’t overcomplicate the religion and interject so much? Why do we act like we can’t find Him when he’s right there? I know we cant be Him, or even live relatively close to how He did. But I think we, as a religion, would suck a whole lot less if we didn’t stray so far away from Him. 

The Church is supposed to be the embodiment of Him. It supposed to be a strict reflection of His essence and His way of life. By in large, I just don’t see it. The Church is too far away from Jesus for it to make sense to me. Sadly, I’ll probably keep losing faith in what Christianity is. But hopefully, that continues to give me more faith in Christ. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why I Am Drifting Away From Christians and Closer to Christ by Andrew Patterson (Part 2 of 3)

Religion has the most influential force on humans throughout history for one reason; the comfort it provides to people. Go to any Christian church in Suburbia, USA and check out the pictures of Jesus. They’re praying to a white guy! I’m not hearing that looking for Jesus bull. People want what’s easy and cool for them. The Bible is stretched, shaped, and configured to offer the user whatever it comfortable for them.

You know what’s uncomfortable for many people? Self-reflection. Moreover, recognizing the flaws in one’s character, one’s history, or one’s behavior. The ego of Christianity is humongous. There is plenty of evidence of that, but one of the most unnerving trends I notice is the fact that Christianity never seems to admit its mistakes. 

I don’t know much about The Crusades, but from what I can gather, they weren’t very Christ-like. What I am familiar with is the history of slavery.  Throughout the entire stretch of my religious driven education (4 years in high school and 5 years at two different catholic colleges) I cannot recall a single instance of being formally educated about the real truths of slavery. 

The mature me now understands much more.  This is America, and they don’t really want to teach the suburban white kids about how this country was stolen, and then built by treating an entire race of people as property for 400+ years. I get it. But looking back, I am ashamed at the schools that I love, especially my high school, for not keeping it a little more real.

It wasn’t just brute force or threat of violence that allowed one group of men to control another for almost 5 centuries. They used the Bible to justify and assist in it. I wont go into detail here, but simple research with show what I’m talking about. Why didn’t my education include not just those, but any of the historic examples of the Bible was misused in an admittedly wrong fashion? Wouldn’t that be a more complete assessment of the religion they push? Can’t the church use the mistakes of the past as a way to teach humility?

The lack of humility Christianity has is one thing. The overtly hate-based factions of the religion today are much worse. And the Christians that shy away from denouncing those factions are doing the most damage.

America really isn’t as great as we’d like to believe. If you ever watch the first episode of “The Newsroom”, the main character, Will McAvoy does a great job in summarizing why fall short of the America we fetishize. However, one thing America does lead the world in is Christians, or as he put it, “people who believe in Angels.”

Most of my time is spent working from home, and therefore, my TV is rarely off. I spend most of my daytime viewing hours between ESPN, food network, business news, and political shows. Any reasonable person hip to current political affairs cant dent fact that conservative Christians strongly influence our political system. It is also undeniable that a growing, hate-based force is making its way into mainstream politics. 

We’re not dumb, we see it. It’s the people that bring confederate flags to the dwelling of the first black President. It’s the people that call said black President, the anti-Christ. It’s the people that call Mexicans drug mules. They condemn the poor. They don’t want equal treatment of women and the LGBT community. Those people that charge all Muslims as terrorist. The majority of those people would classify themselves as conservative, Bible thumping Christian folk. We know that.

Those people are fear driven. They justify that fear with trumped up beliefs, mislead overreactions, and misguided perceptions. Those people are an issue, but it’s the smarter people that do much more harm. 

Believe what you want about other races, the poor, gay people or whatever social issues that mean something to you. But as CHRISTians, our moral foundation very isn’t difficult to build on. It’s summarized in all the bright red ink. Love God and love everyone else. Simple. That’s it. 

It’s the people that understand the message of love, but don’t portray it, that are the problem. I’ve seen publicly and privately on numerous occasions a believer in Islam denounce the Jihadist extreme. Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and others battled the hateful elements of the Nation of Islam movement. One reason I have the utmost respect for John McCain is because he openly separated himself from the racist elements on the Republican Party. 

What I don’t see enough of is smart Christian leaders speaking out against the hateful elements of the Religion. I see a lot of silent Samaritans. Tons of really great people that are too apathetic to the misuse of the religious text. Intelligent and possibly influential people too content with living in their Sunday bubbles where its nice and cozy.

To me, it’s obvious why there is a decline of the number of genuine Christians in this country. The entity of Christianity lacks humility and has a growing hate-filled fringe. I don’t witness enough outward expression of love from the believers. I can’t tell you when I saw a Christian leader have the balls to stand up to hate in the name of the faith. 

In my eyes, Christians do a really bad job at living like Christ. And to me, that means he is truly special. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why I Am Drifting Away From Christians and Closer to Christ by Andrew Patterson (Part 1 of 3)

Here is the first part of an incredible post written by my beloved brother.  I am so grateful for him and his talent for writing.  I have always and will always admire his authenticity and way with words. I hope this challenges you as much as it challenged me.  

I haven’t been to church in quiet a while. I consider myself a Christian and I recognize that as such, I’m supposed to enjoy the teachings and fellowship of others in the community. I just don’t really want to anymore. Church is decreasingly appealing. 

And yet, in the time I’ve been away from church and Christians writ large, I’ve never felt closer to Jesus. 

I struggled to find a succinct way to explain this phenomena and the only way I can do so is; Christians really suck at being anything like Jesus, and Jesus is really, truly spectacular because of that.

 I feel like I should make a few disclaimers before I continue with my premise:

1.) This is not a sweeping generalization of ALL Christians. As a black guy, trust me, I understand that sweeping stereotypes are whack. I get the complexity and diversity of this religion and all others. 

2.) Most of my expressed reasoning will be focused on race and politics because that’s where I’m most knowledgeable. A heady person should be able extrapolate these ideas to include other social issues. 

3.) I can be characterized as many things. A biblical scholar is not one of them. 

4.) When I say “Christianity” I’m referring to the believers and administers of the religion. Not its ideals. 

5.) Some of this may seem scolding or unfair, but I am making these criticisms because I believe we’re supposed to hold ourselves to a higher than socially acceptable standard. 

6.) I understand that this is strange and even hypocritical logic. In my weird mind, it makes sense, so I’m going to do my best to make it coherent to less-weird people.

Back to why I don’t go to church. 

As far as I can remember, I always enjoyed the fellowship aspect of church and cared much less about the messaging. I’m and horrible when I comes to being talked at. As a kid, the first two professions I wanted to pursue were football and becoming a lawyer. I like discussion and debate. When someone’s “preaching”, whether it was church or a lecture, I struggle to focus. I’ve always found myself silently arguing with the speaker, asking questions, or going off on thought tangents. As I’ve gotten older, I notice that while listening to a sermon, my mental journeys often ended up taking me to a similar destination; asking, “What the hell does this have to do with Jesus?”

The fundamental issue that I have with Christianity is it too often strays from its foundation. We aint Moses-ers. We aint Paul-inites. We’re CHRISTians. I think its fair assume that most intelligent Christians would at least concede that the problems of the church at large, and of its members individually, can be traced back to a separation with Jesus. 

Straying away from Jesus a HUGE problem and leads to an avalanche of issues.

It’s human nature to seek comfort and that’s what we do with religion. The large amounts of human interjection into all religions make them very pliable. Smart people can make the Bible (or Qur'an) say whatever it is they’d like it to say. This may be offensive to some, but when I hear things like “Seeking Jesus” or “Finding Jesus”, I think it’s a load of crap. Jesus aint hard to find. His words are in bright red ink! He’s right there! I’ve never felt like “looking for Jesus."

Monday, November 18, 2013

James River Crab Cakes (Part V of V)

There may be a few people out there who are wondering what ever happened to Big Al. It's been weeks since I posted the last installment and now... well, here it is...the humble ending to the story.

That night my mama sent me to the community garden for squash, ‘cause we were having grandmama over for dinner.  The community garden was only about a mile away.  Going to the garden was like having store credit.  We had lots of credit at the garden since we had planted four rows of it.  My mama had us all out here this past spring planting peas, cucumbers, carrots and new strawberry plants.  The only thing that had kept me diggin’ was the thought of some of  mama’s strawberry shortcake, with cool lush strawberries dyeing the clean flour of the cake topped with cream she whipped herself after we got it from Farmer Murray.  The squash was on the far side of the garden by the fence of Whistling Fields.  I had set to hackin’ at the thick vine of the squash when I heard big Al’s voice over the fence.  I squatted low to the ground, to avoid him seeing me.  I crawled to the fence and peered through the chain link into Big Al’s trailer.  Dingy cotton curtains blocked Al’s face from my sight and I could tell he was doing his best not to get in the way. He had smashed himself into the makeshift kitchen booth which doubled as a bed.   His mama was at the sink, in front of a plastic Betty Boop clock which rolled her bobble eyes with each tick.  Al’s mama was washing the cheap plastic dishes and hollering at Al about something.   She had a little voice , to match her petit frame but it was rough and strained.  I leaned forward into the fence to get some of the conversation. 
“Al, you just put that out of your mind, there is no way you can go to Hamp’en Sydney, and I don’t want you associating with that black boy, Joey Williams either.”  
“Why Mom?”
“Allen, you know well enough why.  He may be nice and kind and whatever, but its just no good to mix like that.  It leads to nothing but trouble.” 
I heard Al sigh.  His mom stopped washing for a moment and heaved her should with immense strain and then turned to Al and kissed his fat cheek,  “Now you get out there and pick me some more zucchini, maybe I can fix some bread.” 
Al shuffled to the door and I could hear the aluminum floor bend slightly beneath his weight.  I grabbed my squash and took off ‘fore he could catch a glimpse of me outside his window.   I ran hard and I came into the driveway pantin’ something awful.  Right then, I began thinking ‘bout why I’d taken such a dislike to Big Al.  I wondered at how little he had in that trailer, no refrigerator or TV, just him and his mama and barely enough room to walk between the two.  And what about his daddy?  There was a mystery I had only begun to tackle when my mama called me in, hollarin’ for the squash.  I ran up the porch stairs, ready for a nicely fixed squash and maybe some dumplings.
I didn’t see Big Al for a couple days after that.  But the conversation I’d heard through the fence got to gnawing at the back of my mind.  I was kind of miserable every time I rode my bike past Whistling Fields on the way to Winn Dixie.  Until, one Saturday  when my mama was gonna make crab cakes, so I went out crabbing early.  We got two poles in our shed and I figured the time would go faster if maybe Big Al come with me and helped me out.  I stopped at Whistling Fields and knocked on the thin door.  Big Al opened it, looking a little more rumpled than usual, his oversized t-shirt creased from sleep and his brown hair knotted like a squirrel’s nest.  I was standin’ there with two poles and fancied myself an African Huck Finn.  
“Well, ya wanna go crabbin’?”  I asked.  Al nodded and let the door swing shut as he creaked around for a while and emerged looking essentially the same but a little wetter.  We started down the path to the rhythm of our bare feet against the dirt path.
Even the white folk’s country club can’t compete with the cove where Jimmy D. used to live.  It the best crabbin’ spot on the whole James River if you ask me or my daddy.  Jimmy D was my great uncle and he taught my daddy everything we know ‘bout crabbin’.  He’d been killed back before I was born.  Mama said his house burnt down, I could see some of the charcoal posts still sticking up from the ground like blackened toothpicks.   His old boat, Scraps, was tied up to a platform made out of more gaps than wood.  The wood that stayed put was smooth and worn from the water’s wear and tear.  I sat down with my legs in the water, which was salty on account of how close we were to the Atlantic.  We were right outside the channel where they run old boats aground.  There was a whole city of ships out there.  I used to imagine it was a kingdom of steel ruled by ghost generals and dead pirates.  Under the dock were crab holes.  The small air bubbles gave me hope for a good catch.  I licked my fingers after hooking a good n’ greased chicken wing to my pole.  The water was shallow and I watched my bait through the greenish tint of the James.  Big Al did the same.  I wondered if the crabs were looking up at the chicken wing from their tunnel above their warm houses.  The fishing boats dragged their nets through the water, thick with fish.  
It was too late by the time I recognized the sailboat zipping towards us.  It was Trent Williams and he was already pulled up close enough to holler his share of insults.  My hand tightened around my pocket knife, we’d fought before.  
“Oh, well, here are two of the saddest creatures on the James River.  I don’t know which one to pity more, the skinny black one or the fat white one.”  He laughed. 
“What do you got against us?” I hollered back. “What did we ever do to you?”
“What did you do to me?” Trent sneered.  “How do you think your daddy got his name?  Your daddy shamed my daddy in front of the whole town. But my daddy gave him the beating of his life for it.”
“Rooster?” I questioned.
“Rooster.” Trent replied.  “After Jimmy D died, your daddy got the notion that it was started by the Klu Klux Klan.  Nobody would believe that over in the west end, least of all Sheriff McKey.  So your daddy swore that he’d hunt down the grand master himself.  The next day he showed up at my house carrying on like a madman, screaming and crying.  He killed our prized Rooster and was nailing it to the barn door out of spite.  My daddy took him and whipped him so bad your mama had to come carry him away.  From then on everybody called him Rooster cause of what he done.  He ain’t nothing but grown up slave boy.”
I think he might’ve gone on with his hollarin’ but his mean tongue got bit by his teeth as a chicken wing knocked him in the side of the head.  I looked at Big Al, whose hands where still drippin’ from the chicken fat.  His round face was swelling with anger as picked up another wing and again clocked Trent right across his face.  I could tell it was gonna bruise and Trent was doing all he could to keep from crying.  “Why don’t you go back home to your daddy?” Al suggested.  “You can come back if you think of something good to say ‘cause all I hear is a load of horse crap coming out of your mouth.”  And with that Trent Williams pulled his sail hard to catch the small wind on the river and he was soon out of sight.  
Al slapped his hands against his shorts and I lamely muttered, “Thanks.”  He nodded, and I smiled remembering the chicken stain on Trent’s cheek.  I started to laugh at the image of chicken fat splat against his jaw and then falling to smear the crisp white of his polo shirt.  Al began to laugh too.  His high chuckle released all the anger which had been pressurized in his large face.  We imitated Trent’s shocked expression until we were bent over with laughter and all the tension was split.
Al’s face sobered, “I’m sorry about your dad.”  
I shrugged.  I looked down into the water, deep down as I could where the water muddied from the wake of the boat.
“My dad’s dead,” Al continued.  “He got killed in LA last year.   It was after the riots ya know.   My mom says he was in the black neighborhood and it was late.  They killed him Joey, He didn’t hate nobody, but they killed him just the same.  So, I’m not supposed to be friends with you.  My mom’s scared.  But I think that is the same on both sides. What’s the difference between Trent and the blacks who killed my dad? ”
My mind reverberated with shock.  I looked at Al as if I’d just met him.  He really wasn’t so fat, I guess.  There was a sort of greatness in his size.  “Yeah,” I agreed.  “I don’t see the difference,” and I really didn’t.  With that, I grinned and turned back to the water, once again smooth.
“Hey ya got something!”  Al exclaimed.  
I looked down to find a huge crab grasping the flesh of the wing with both muscular claws.  “Oh we got ‘em!” I yelled.  “We got ‘em Al, open the net.”  I lifted my pole, bent toward the crab which dangled over the open net bag.  I set him down and then yanked the chicken from him.  It swung high into the clear sky and I laughed with joy as it fell in to the river.  Al squealed with delight.  We must have been a sight us two boys, rejoicing like that over a crab.  It was like we’d finally struck it rich in our own gold rush.  
We caught 6 more crabs that day and headed back to the house, swinging them over our shoulders, whistling off-key with each other but pleased as pie.  We got to Al’s trailer first, and he hesitated to turn off the path.  “Al, ya coming to dinner?  You gotta eat your catch.  Invite your mama too.”  He looked at me like I was good ole Santa Claus with my bag full of crabs.  He clomped up the step stool in front of the trailer, with a grin as fat as his own big self.  

Not an hour later, Al and his mama was at our door holding some onions and cabbage for the coleslaw.  That night, we sat down to one of the finest meals of crab cakes this side of the James River has ever seen. The smell of dill and pepper filled the house. The cakes were so light I bet Al that I could eat 10.  He laughed in that high pitched delight and reached for the cool pitcher of sweet tea which stood on our finest blue tablecloth. I smiled back at him, digging into my dumplings which were still hot enough to steam as I split them. 

His mama was smiling too.  She had on a floral sun dress, and was closing her eyes with apparent pleasure.  Her red lipstick brightened her face and reminded me of the strawberries which would follow the meal.  My dad, Rooster, set down his fork and wiped his hands happily.  “Oh what a day!” he announced.  “If this ain’t a proper welcome to the neighborhood I don’t know what is!”  I looked at my daddy at the head of the table and noticed again the small scars on the back of his arms, peering out from his t-shirt sleeves.  I glanced up to catch his smiling eyes and saw that they were deep and strong like the James River itself.  “It don’t get much better than this,”  I whispered to Al and he nodded his big head.  That night was the brightest of the whole summer, playing pick-up in the moonlight, eating strawberries and cream.  I looked out over the river and thought, “The James it ain’t too rich a place to live but it ain’t too poor.  It’s got all sorts of secrets in that water, floating by, slow but powerful.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Better Late Than Never by Marion Dietrich

I love this post by my amazing mother...hope it inspires you as much as it did me. 

It had been almost four years since Anne came screeching into the world.  Joe and I had pretty much adjusted to the fact that there would be only two delights to fill our life.  Miscarriages and lateness of years had stamped me unfertile.  Unashamed thankfulness bathed us for the two perfect daughters who already graced our home and we were moving on to another chapter, another scenario, another stage of life.  And then it happened.  Katie and Anne were over the moon and voted for a puppy or an older brother!   But God had something else in mind.  A little sister would be coming in fall and we were all amazed at the miracle of changed plans and interrupted cycles. 
Miraculous from the start, she came 3 weeks early and was still over 9 pounds.  The other two had been quickly delivered, but this one…she had a mind of her own even in the womb.  After the arrival, I was hurtled into severe postpartum, which lasted not for days, nor months, but years.  My recollection of my newborn are sparse and blurred.  Thankfully, there were other mothers who could swaddle her, bathe her, feed her.  And Joe became Mr. Mom.  My only goal was solitary and distinct…to survive another day.  One clarion memory trumpets from the fog of that past.  It entails me fretting that I would never live to care for her past the age of 2. 
Tomorrow is her birthday.  And twenty-two will be her age. Tears rim my eyes at the grace of living to see her grow and flourish.  The nightmare of the past never completely forgotten, but eclipsed by the brilliance of the difference her life has made.  I am young because she is young.  I am gloriously happy because she glories in who God has created her to be.  I am fiercely protective because now I am able to be, and her road has not been smooth, her path has not been clear, her way has not been easy.  But she has overcome because He, knowing that the world would bring her tribulation, has overcome.  Kind, compassionate, hilarious, sensitive, amazingly thoughtful, a servant, an athlete, a sculptor, a sister, an aunt, a friend, but most of all my cherished daughter she dances through this life sprinkling wonder on all she touches.  

Happy Birthday, Janie.  Oh the plans He has for you now…how humbled I am to be here to witness them.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pine Tree Liberation Movement*

I imagine myself as the one on the left...
more serious and a little frumpier.

As a child, I liked to organize protests.  I am sure my parents wondered if I would ever grow out of it.  After all, I came by it honestly.  My Uncle Jeff missed our last family reunion because he was doing time for lying down in front of a bulldozer that was clearing the land for the Walt Disney Symphony Hall in LA.  He was 65 years old.
Perhaps it was natural, that in grade school I would start strikes against certain teachers.  I would campaign for “students’ rights.”  I even held elections and was voted president of the playground.  As a straight-laced honors student perhaps this was my genre of rebellion.  To me, protesting was an intoxicating brew of persuasion, organization and disruption.  
My best friend Lauren was a more decorous activist.  She always called her parents before we watched a movie, even if it was PG.  She lived about 10 blocks from my house, on Hyde Road.  We practically shared homes.  I could walk into their warm red colonial house day or night and be welcomed by the smell of fresh baking, and Virginia hospitality.  Her mom was a modern Southern belle.  She was beautiful, just like Lauren.  They always smelled like expensive perfume and wore outfits that matched spectacularly.  What was spectacular was not only that their shirts matched their pants, or that their shoes and earrings matched their clothes, or even that mother and daughter matched each other.  What always impressed me was the way they matched their house.  I envied their ability to coordinate their lives so seamlessly.  
We had become friends in sixth grade when we heard the story of Gladys Alward, a missionary who had saved the lives of a hundred Chinese children.  We had watched the movie, “Inn of the Sixth Happiness” starring Ingrid Bergman over 10 times.  We knew it by heart and our dream was to go to China.  We had a saving account with $100 toward the cause. 
Lauren and I would stay up all night doing Jane Fonda workouts and reading silly poetry.  She had an uncanny sense of comedic timing and a real gift for imitation. Just a look from her, behind a teacher’s back could send me into hysterics that got me removed from the classroom. 
In the winter, we would walk across the street to go sledding in the field by her house.  One windy afternoon, I noticed pink tape choking the circumference of the pine trees.  “Hey, what’s this?” I called to her.
“Oh they’re thinning the forest.” She replied. “It's gonna be awful ugly- Look at all the climbing trees they’re cutting down.” Righteous indignation began to rise in my chest.
“The ones marked in pink?”  I asked.
“I think so.” She nodded.
“No!” I shouted. “We can’t let this happen.  We are going to pull down all the tape so that they won’t know which ones to cut. OK? We can stop this.”  My inspirational tirade at its end, I jerked loose a pink noose and threw it down.  We went on a rampage that Friday afternoon.  We must have freed 20-50 trees. The brisk air and the danger of getting caught heightened the sense of exhilaration.  I smelled the needle’s refreshing perfume and felt the dark sap sticking to the palms of my hands.  The trees nodded in the wind, bowing with unspoken thanks.  I looked over the forest in triumph.  Lauren and I took the evidence inside to throw away and settled down to a sweet cup of hot cocoa.  Lauren’s mom smiled at us as she poured.  I noticed that her apron matched the teapot.    
The next week I came by Lauren’s after school for our weekly sledding adventure.  I had almost forgotten about our Pine Tree Liberation Movement, I was preoccupied with my latest appeal for a less oppressive dress code.   We crossed over Hyde road into the woods.  I had just remembered to ask, “How about those trees?”  But the words were whisked away by the chill in the air.  
They had all been cut down.  
The company destroyed them even without the pink tags.  I sank down into the wet snow.  It seeped through my canvas shoes and my jeans.  I was crushed.  I cried for those trees.  I cried for my impotence against this destruction.  I cried for the futility of wanting something good and being denied without reason.  The remnant of pine trees rained down dying needles into my tangled hair.  I knew I was no longer queen of this realm.  
I wondered if this was the end of my innocence.  How could I live hopefully in a world that slaughtered a source of clean air?  I flailed my arms in despair, creating an unintentional snow angel.  I looked over at Lauren for picket line solidarity.  She was grinning, which I found completely inappropriate.  I scowled at her to communicate my sentiments and she rolled her eyes, pulling herself up to her full height.  With facetious passion she began to exhort an imaginary audience.  She broke into her best Southern Baptist drawl which was breathy yet bellowing- full of dramatic pause; 
“We got something to tell ya’ll today-ah.  We gotta message y’all can’t just ignore-ah.  We are here because we want y’all to get up out dem seats-ah…Get up dem seats-ah and take a stand with us today-ah.  There are people starving in China…there are children dying in Africa…and there are trees being murdered in West Hartford-ah.” 
At this she burst into hysterics.  I launched a snowball at her face but couldn’t help but giggle at my own gravity.  “Don’t worry” she consoled and then with ironic wisdom she added,  “There will always be something to protest.”  

* based on true events...some artistic license may have been taken because, #1 it was a long time ago and #2 because I experience and remember things in the most dramatic light possible. Hope you all don't run away now that you know what a nutcase I am:) But I'm guessing most of you knew that already anyway.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

1,000 Good Mornings by Keith Krass

Despite appearances, it's not a Gummybear 
I'm pretty sure I'll never forgot Tuesday, May 7. Sarah and I were going to see the band Needtobreathe with her brother Daniel. The plan was for me and Daniel to come from Gordon (where I work and he is a student) to our apartment, pick up Sarah and head down to the House of Blues. Sarah called me around 3PM asking if I could come home first, then go back to Gordon to pick up Daniel.

This made no sense to me.

But I acquiesced, thinking Sarah just wanted some "alone time" before heading into Boston. When when I got home she said, "You know those pants I just bought? I don't think they are going to fit anymore." I responded with a thoroughly confused, "Ummmmmm, Ooooookkkkkkkkk. I don't think you need to, but do you want to return them." Sarah, thinking she was being quite obvious, looked at me with a tint of frustration and said, this time a bit less subliminally, "I bought a pregnancy test."

At this point, two things were going through my mind: This is either really good news or really bad news. Truthfully, I had no idea how to respond (I was a bit slow to pick up on what was going on). I think I mustered a weak, "And?"


My emotions at this moment were probably best summed up this way:

I felt like I did at this moment:

Read the rest at  1, 

Monday, November 4, 2013


“Well, I’ve never actually met a refugee,” the lawyer confessed.  “I mean almost everyone who is processed in another country goes through a nonprofit organization.  So I am more familiar with immigrants who have asylum status.”  
     “Hmm, I think my friend is a genuine refugee.” I mused.  It was a strange thought.  This friend, she came here five years ago from Iraq because her daughter was born with an enormous brain tumor.  She had no hope of surviving until the Ray Tye Foundation fully funded her trip over here and all her medical treatment.  My church and a nearby mosque agreed to work together to get her housing and transportation.  One day, I volunteered to drive her and her daughter to the hospital.
As I drove around trying to orchestrate a meeting place using nonverbal communication I was a mess of nerves.  I had heard that the tumor had completely disfigured the little girl.  The doctors had to remove large portions of her facial bones.  I could never have imagined that despite these disfigurements the little girl would be so lovely.  Her inner beauty totally transformed her painfully wounded exterior.  Her smile from behind a mask of gauze and bandaging was absolutely illuminating.  She had the sweetest laugh. 
          Days before her death I sat at her bedside and grieved for her mother and everyone who had loved this little one so dearly.  The next week I couldn’t bring myself to attend the service.  So, I lost touch with my friend.  
This weekend I found her again.  She was figuring out green card stuff at a mutual friend’s house.  I stopped by on a whim. 
Everything had changed and nothing had changed.  Her English was markedly better.  Her smile was as bright as ever.  Her daughter was gone; I now had a boy and a girl of my own.  
I wanted to talk about her little girl.  I wanted to remember all the things about her that made her so special.  I wanted to say that my admiration for her only grew now that I was a mom.  But language has a way of failing to transfer the full weight of the heart.  I offered to help with her green card.  I offered to call some lawyers, to find someone who could help a refugee.  Then I remembered, we are all sojourners until we find our home in God.