Gripping Faith: Sometimes it takes a Rabbi and some esplaining…

The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, pg. 83


The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, pg. 93

Gripping at Faith

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What is this unbelief anyway and why does it have a strangle hold on my life?

Why is it so hard to believe what I believe?

In the past few years I’ve been grappling with these questions and maybe you have too. Maybe you’ve been hurt by your family, friends, a spouse, or even a pastor, or you’ve lost a little one or an older one, and you’re finding it hard to receive God’s love in the midst of so much pain. And maybe your greatest temptation is to stop believing that God is good and that He’s for you. You don’t see or feel the evidence in your life right now. Others don’t value you, or don’t take time for you, or remember you, so you think God doesn’t either.

I’ve been here and I want to shed some layers before you now and talk about my own trials and temptations with unbelief and how keeping it hidden only makes the pain worse, paralyzing us from the freedom we desire.

But first, what even is faith?

Webster’s defines faith as a strong belief or feeling in something or someone, i.e. God or religion. By this definition, our faith might change based on what we feel or when circumstances have us in the pluff muds of putrid smells.

The book of Hebrews in the New Testament has a different definition:

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1

My Bible’s study notes (NLT) expand this definition. “The beginning point of faith is believing in God’s character: He is who he says. The end point is believing in God’s promises: He will do what he says.”

This expansion is key in understanding biblical faith, which begins and ends with a God who never changes. This is good news. God’s plan doesn’t change because of our whimsical feelings based on circumstance, our various opinions or questions over doctrine, what someone does to us, thinks about us, or vice-versa, what we do or think about others. God cannot be manipulated.

Yet I’ve been guilty of thinking an individual or the group’s collective thought and how they treat me is how God must think of me. I’ve isolated and hidden my face, ashamed, though I’d done nothing wrong. At times my faith has been lacking, left me wanting, self-effacing, but not in the good way.

This season has taught me that faith in God alone is the greatest act of selflessness and self-love. This kind of faith doesn’t approach “woe is me” or “look at me – hello Gaston (Beauty & the Beast).” It doesn’t approach me at all, and it results in total freedom, being conscious in an unconscious world. The result is fearlessness or at least courage. But it’s only by getting to the end of ourselves, when there is no other way, that we find this way.

“I do believe; help me in my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

By the time the dad in this story says this, he’s already brought his deaf and mute son before the disciples and asked them to heal his child. The disciples couldn’t do it. They’d done it before but they couldn’t do it now. Why?

Maybe because their faith was shaken by the religious leaders taunting them, probably some guys quoting Isaiah and saying things like, See you have no power, you false prophets and the man you follow is a lunatic and then a lot of woes and thees and thous and heretic this and blasphemer that.

But what does Jesus do when he comes upon his disciples arguing with these teachers of religious law? He rebukes the disciples, not the religious leaders, saying,

19You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.

I mean harsh on first read, right. But there’s a boy in the background who needs healing. If we look deeper into this passage we see a broken Jesus, a man pained by a people who waver in their faith based on what others think of them, or who’s around them, or what they think of themselves at the moment. The disciples are distracted from doing the greater things. Can you relate?

Jesus wanted his followers to have the kind of faith to move mountains, heal people from sicknesses, go into bully-laden lands where injustice was the norm and women were property and preach the good news, turning people back to God, and away from corruption and destruction. He wanted life to be restored, eternally.

Get Me Some of That Faith

When those closest to Jesus didn’t believe him, betrayed him, sold him out for money and slept while there was work to be done, he didn’t allow his feelings or his weariness to effect his ministry. Instead, he moved forward, and in this case, asked the dad some questions about his boy’s condition – like a doctor might.

Jesus:           21How long has this been happening?”

Dad:             22Since he was a little boy. The (evil) spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.

Jesus:            23What do you mean, ‘if I can?’ Anything is possible for the person who believes.

There he goes again, saying audacious things no commoner can relate to in their own flesh. Jesus is telling this dad if he believes, his son will be healed. Like magic.

So the father responds, I do believe but I need your help.

Have you ever been desperate? I have. Many times. And sometimes it begins with a giant dose of faith, like this dad must have had to bring his son to Jesus in the first place.

The Hamster Wheel of Faith and Doubt

It began with a dream. Eight years ago, while pregnant and working in a newsroom, I came up with this idea for a local online village for moms. My background was in website production and writing so I thought I could pull off a small e-zine. My passion for this project was real and I believed because of what I’d been through growing up without a mother in the home, I was uniquely prepared to foster a platform to encourage young mothers. I bathed this decision in prayer, talked with many wise people, and then sat on it. I waited and doted on my newborn daughter, quite content to watch her tiniest movements all day long.

Six months after my first child was born, not even desiring the business, things started falling into place. Short conversations led to commitments from writers, the door opened for financing, there were advertisers who wanted to sponsor us, and the website was being built – a place where local moms could come together, gain encouragement, get inspiration, and find a calendar of activities for their kids.

It was a Step of Faith

The project was bigger than me and involved so many smart people: moms with professional backgrounds in fitness, medicine, journalism and skincare, along with a top-notch mom/dad web-duo living in Costa Rica. We launched in May of 2010 and thrived in the first year with monthly content updates, a newsletter, and television and social media campaigns.

By the second year it was clear that the website didn’t have a viable future without other ways to generate revenue. Now I had a baby and a toddler on either hip, a husband who started traveling more for work, and it was getting harder to find daytime hours to meet with potential partners. Advertising dollars began to dwindle and I needed more time to work during normal business hours.

And I was feeling exhausted, like a single mom without childcare, and a total failure at life. But I couldn’t give up (though I wanted to) since I had debt to pay off, a team of awesome moms I enjoyed working with and a growing readership (not to mention this website was an answer to my prayers to work from home). So I went into research mode and collected new ways of marketing. I learned about blog hopping and publishing books as a way to create buzz for the website. I wrote for larger e-zines, made connections for guest posts and wrote a non-fiction proposal for a new mom survival guide. My proposal was turned down. I didn’t have a platform.

Gripping at the Odds

On the side I was writing fiction. It had been something I had long wanted to try and an idea came to me after watching a PBS special on jazz music.

After the kids were asleep and on the weekends, I would write, finishing the first draft in about six months. For three years I would work on this book concept, getting revise and resubmits from agents, only to ultimately get REJECTION. Not marketable.

More self-doubt. More receiving and accepting messages that my work was subpar and that I wasn’t capable of reaching my goals. And my babies were growing and we had an accident that involved the emergency room and life and death. In the midst of this near tragedy I cried out for God to heal my son. My boy lived. But still there was guilt. I felt responsible for his accident. Like I failed him as a mom. On top of this my support system turned out to not have a solid foundation. I accepted the blame for my wrongs and others’ wrongs and felt alone and in despair. I cried for a solid week at noon during naptime and then got help in the form of a professional counselor.

Admitting Defeat

In 2014, after discussing with my team the state of our little engine that couldn’t, I let the new mom website go dormant. Another year later, the site came down. I managed to pay off the loan and close the bank account several months ago.

Through it all the self-doubt was intense but the God doubt was paralyzing. Was I doing something wrong? Did I hear correctly to step out in faith? Try something new? Get out of my comfort zone? Seriously though, do I even have talents or a vocational purpose or should I try harder to champion this domestic life stuff and devote myself to maintaining a dust free household? And on the subject of friends and family, and like PEOPLE, are my expectations too high, or do they just really suck sometimes?

Most of us have been here or we will be here. After knocking my head against this wall of doubt (again) I’ve learned that there’s fruit in unbelief if we allow there to be.

There is no faith without doubt. It’s been hella hard to go through this season in my life, but I’m stronger now. I got to my end several times over and saw God was just beginning and now I think the greater the doubt the greater the opportunity for belief.

“I tell you the truth {anyone} who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask anything in my name, and I will do it so that the Son can bring glory to the father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” John 14:12-14

Let those words sit with you. Say them slowly and out loud. I’m not going to try and interpret them. You know part of my story now, that I’ve had great defeat in my life, personal failures, desperate times, things I’ve prayed for that didn’t work out and some victories. Without stepping out in faith I wouldn’t be writing now.

So there are no easy answers and if anyone tells you there are, they’re lying. I’m not here to lie to you, or to make your pain seem pointless or like it has to have a point, but to share my life. So if you’re in despair, doubting yourself or God, join me here by candlelight. I have some stories for you, tales of old that will encourage your faith and lift you up. We can persevere together and find hope in unexpected places.

And most importantly, I do want to hear your stories: the funny ones, the sad ones, the desperate ones. My faith is increased when I hear from you.

Brooklyn State Of Mind…

a_tree_grows_in_brooklynTimes is tough! Everything is in question. Worlds are on the brink of war or at war, or contemplating war, fallen to war and rising up for war. Our own country and its government can be characterized by a series of special symbols, various arrows, some pointing up, and more going in every other direction; the final symbol, an emboldened question mark.

Weather patterns are freakish and burns are paralyzing large sections of earth and homes. People live in those homes; some have died in those homes, while others are being forced from their homes.

Yet it’s Christmas and Hanukkah. It’s a season of lights and joy, of giving and receiving. Memories are made from moments of candles lit, shared stories of old, presents in the presence of people we love, or will love.

There’s never been a time when there wasn’t pain in the water or pain in the sky. And there’s never been a time when there wasn’t good happening all around us. There’s nothing new under the sun, said the writer of Ecclesiastes, and old Solomon was right.

So beyond the question mark is a series of ellipses…To Be Continued. This is the way Katie Nolan, the protagonist in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, carried on. This book, printed in 1943, and written by Betty Smith, is a story about an impoverished Irish Catholic family at the turn of the 20th century. A day in the life of the Nolan family was successful if they could get their one carrot and a stale piece of bread for dinner. A special meal would include their daily ration with a dime’s worth of cow tongue. Smith starts her book with this preamble:

“There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly…survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.”

Smith then builds her story around an overcomer, the mother in the story, Katie Nolan, who’s unschooled, but can read. She sets a standard of learning in her home—one page of the bible and one page from Shakespeare each night. Rain or shine, sickness or health, drunk husband or sober, Katie reads to her children until they can read to themselves.

As the story progresses, circumstances progressively seem to be out of Katie’s control: her husband stops bringing home a paycheck, she’s uprooted from multiple houses and jobs, her young daughter’s life is threatened, and all the while her country is on the brink of war.

Many of us would shudder at such circumstances, bemoan ourselves in self-pity and circle around in fear and confusion, but Katie is steadfast and constant in her routine. She rejects charity, and together with her children, is victorious in her pursuit of a better life.

Can we all just take a minute to admire this fictitious character? Because she was written to inspire and to inform, to get our courage up to face this day. But in the end she’s fictitious, and we’re not…yet there are so many Katie Nolans in this world, people holding on by their faith alone.

But unlike Katie Nolan, we struggle from page-to-page in the face of uncertainty. We may feel like we’re blowing about frivolously in the wind with no landing in sight. Even if we were to land, we don’t trust the conditions of the soil, and we think the right conditions are necessary for us to grow and be fruitful. The right political power in office, the right amount of money in our pocket, the right school for our children, the right husband or wife to complete us, but in the end the only right we need, is within ourselves.

We have the right to carry on and the right to grow right where we are, roots so deep, no one can pluck us out, so strong we can crack the concrete and erect straight outta the substance meant to eclipse our sun. We growin’ up, people, cause we may not have a mother like Katie Nolan, or a father to speak of, perhaps we’re cleaning tenement houses like she was and barely making it month-to-month, but Christmas reminds us that something’s coming, just like it came 2,000 years ago.

Like a flash of lighting, the heaven’s open, doves descend, the music of angels begins. There is story of a tree that grows in Brooklyn, seemingly from nothingness; magically appearing one day to display its umbrella of glory over all who look and see, the invisible world spoken into existence.

The Tricks Behind the Treat

Real life is sitting on the couch after the soccer season is over, Trick-or-Treating is done, and the baby shower guests are gone. Stripped of our outside clothes, makeup and jewelry, all washed over by good smelling soap, cuddled into the cushions of the sofa, watching Wallace and Grommit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, let me explain.

It’s been a busy few weeks in my house. I’m married to a fellow creative who thinks of Halloween as an opportunity to outdo his previous year’s costume. He was like this before I met him and when we said our vows, I knew I was committing to two unspoken things: the Redskins and family themed costumes.

This year our family dressed as the cast of Wreck-it Ralph, decorating the bed of our truck like a candy forest, and decking out our kiddie 4-wheeler with a hot pink shell made from cardboard. To go along with the race car, our daughter transformed into Vanellope von Schweetz, our son, Fix-it Felix, my husband (of course) Ralph, and me, Sergeant Calhoun.

trunk_or_treat2016

While he was executing our Trunk-or-Treat takeover, I was heavy into baby shower planning, and scrutinizing every detail. It was my third shower, yet I wasn’t sure what to put on the menu. My mindset for parties has grown lax. I prefer to buy some food, put it out, play some games, eat melt-in-your-mouth cake and delight in the mother’s face as she, with great exasperation and a little sweat, smiles and thanks each person for every bottle, onesie, and tube of butt paste.

But the two women co-hosting with me could easily be event planners and they had more in mind. Pressure came over me with each new idea. How could I pull this or that off? On a budget? Without a mini muffin tray to make the quiches. Yes, I have a delicious recipe for quiches, but making them for 20 people is different than making them for four. Not to mention that making them for my family, who are mostly pleased with my food, is loads different from making food for strangers who may judge me.

At the height of my planning anxiety, I tried comparing notes on the creative process with my equally creative husband, who said, “I don’t think about it, I just do it.”

iron_on_onesiesUgh. “Really, that’s it, that’s your creative process.” I laid down the scissors I was using to cut out iron-on patches for onesies and thought I wanted to be a man for a day. “I’m never talking to you about creativity again,” I said.

And he explained that he does NOT think about any detail before he does it, but he thinks he falls short of what he wants to achieve each year, and with each new year, he improves on his ideas.

Add to this that other people’s thoughts or opinions do NOT ever cross my husband’s mind – imagine that kind of freedom. For instance, at Trunk-or-Treat, he strapped a NERF gun to my leg – part of Calhoun’s costume – and I was like heck to the no. I care what other mother’s think of me, in general, and some of them seemed reticent about our trunk theme to begin with. But it was a little kid who asked me if the gun was real that made me cringe and cast my fake weapon in the truck.

My husband didn’t think about the headlines, what people would say behind our backs, or how it might terrify the little ones. He created costumes to the likeness of the movie characters and he did a really good job, creating four costumes and a set design for $100.

But he’s not a woman. And women can be harsh critics of other women and I’ve already mentioned on here that I’m super critical of myself, doubting every decision, my capability, and my core. So working with two other women on the baby shower, who are highly capable and talented at the craft of event planning, was a little scary, not gonna lie.

I’m a writer and for the most part I work alone. I prefer this solitude. Including others in my creative process can be stressful, since I percolate on ideas for a long time, not having answers until I put pen to page. Once I write out my ideas, they continue to morph in revisions, meaning I don’t have to commit to a character, a plot, or even an outline.

But planning an event with other people is different. It’s a collaborative process, and with this, decisions have to be made early about a theme and colors, and they have to stick and I don’t like stickiness. But stickiness, or cohesion, is what makes any creative project come together – from a baby shower to a book, to a themed trunk.

If I’m honest, many of the best ideas came from my fellow planners, like chicken and waffles on sticks with maple syrup mixed with hot pepper. This is what one of my co-hosts made and displayed so beautifully.

chicken_waffles

Photo and Chicken and Waffles On a Stick by Candace Crompton

My other co-host changed the design of the table and refused to use the plastic tray my cut up veggies came in; instead, she found a glass sectional tray in my pantry and re-plattered the carrots and broccoli. This could’ve miffed me, but what she did, as you’ll see below, was picture worthy.

babyshower_decor

Photo by Candance Crompton, Display by Beth Simms

By the time guests arrived, our dining room looked professionally decorated, the food pretty and scrumptious, and the hosts, able to focus on the people.

Would the mom-to-be have felt as good with some store bought food? Maybe. It’s the thought that counts and the thought can be the detail of knowing the mom’s taste in food, or decor, or cake, or simply the gesture of offering up your home.

I don’t think you have to go out of your way or blow your bank account to make someone feel celebrated. My grandmother had very little in terms of money and her home was very small, but she had a knack for making me feel special. She would curl ribbons for my Easter baskets and wear bunny ears to make us delight in the holiday. One time she made a cube steak taste like a New York Strip for my birthday. She didn’t have much, but she gave everything. And that’s what you felt. You felt like she gave you everything she had.

My fellow planners gave it all they had too and they had a lot to give. From ideas to time; platters and drink containers to food and clean up; there was nothing they weren’t willing to give or do to make the mom times three feel special.

The effort is what matters.

Likewise, over the past few weeks, our family has given everything we have…on the soccer field, at school, at work, at Trunk-or-Treat, and yes at the baby shower, and after it was all over, we sat on the couch and enjoyed an animated flick on television.

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Our dog, Poohbear, by Candace Crompton

It’s a full, simple life behind these doors. We accept wet, uncombed hair, raw scrubbed faces, and nighttime ragged, soft pajamas. We accept what is good and what could’ve been better and we accept that it’s not the showers we plan, or trunks we treat, or movies we watch or don’t that make us, but the family sandwich on the sofa after a hard day’s work. That’s where real lasting memories are made and that’s where we get filled back up, to be us.

Dear Writer, Don’t Give Up

The hardest thing about writing is opening up a blank page and seeing all white and no black. And the best thing about writing, as Dorothy Parker said, is having written.

When you’re a newbie writer, you may not relate to Parker’s quote. You might be like I was and think writing is THE only task in life where you disappear for hours and come back with work completed, almost in a daze. Perhaps most jobs you’ve done take a conscious and concerted effort and writing seems unconscious and effortless.

Here’s the downside, this may be true because in the words of Anne Lamott, all you’ve got is a “shitty first draft.” And “shitty first drafts” are like an uncut gem. Underneath all the crap is priceless beauty. But to get to the shiny bauble everyone wants to look at, a lot of crap has to be cut, and it can be a daunting task without good people surrounding us.

This is what a writing mentor reminded me of this week. She said to fill your life with people who build you up. This doesn’t mean that these same people don’t offer truth-as-they-know-it feedback, but it means the feedback will be to reconstruct, not destruct your world or your work.

And you only need a few, but once you have them, make sure to give them water and food. Together you can create life; without them you may wither away and concede to defeat.

Which I have done a time or two…

I’m about to confess an embarrassing truth about myself, something I would never want anyone to know about me, but I think is encouraging for young writers trying to find their way. I quit my first salaried job post college graduation without having another one lined up. After convincing myself that I wanted to be a reporter and that I needed time to either intern or travel for interviews, I gave my notice to my remarkably kind and understanding supervisor.

It took me a year to land what I thought of then as my dream job, a web producer position with reporting potential at a local television news station. I would soon realize two things: It wasn’t my dream and my former boss, not supervisor, told my new boss I was hardheaded, which deeply disturbed my 20-something self, and set me up for a hard season at the new job. I was the breadwinner at the time and there was no quitting, and without one or two co-workers coming along side of me, I wouldn’t have had opportunities for some much needed victories.

That environment and those people prepared me for this…

Fast forward to now and I’m working at home each day, either writing first drafts, revising, or editing other people’s work. No matter the task, I’m doing it alone, and at times, especially when faced with rejection, I can start to feel isolated and discouraged. If not for a few writing friends and mentors, I’d have given up a long time ago.

One such friend reached out to me this week and said it was time for a coffee date. She reminded me that it’s even more important for those of us working from home to make time for “work” relationships. People we can talk shop with, exchange ideas, and troubleshoot challenges we’re facing.

If I’ve learned nothing in the past seven years of writing while staying home with my children, it’s that I need a small network of trusted co-workers/friends who get it. And let me say this, not everyone gets it. Just like a doctor and a landscaper might not understand each others’ day-to-day, those who don’t write can’t be expected to understand what we go through, and that’s okay because your people are out there.

How to find them…

So you might be wondering how a hardheaded, yet strong-hearted woman like me found a few great writer friends? And the answer is, I didn’t seek them out. In fact, each of them came into my life during times when I was authoring and perfecting my messiest debacles. Maybe they saw themselves in my bad bits, I don’t know, but the three women I’m thinking of came along side of me during times of major setbacks, when my reputation was on the line, not during successes.

I can honestly say that most people I’ve met during more successful times left when the failure set in. There are no hard feelings since what I see now is that you don’t need a lot of people around you, you need a few good people, who believe in you as a person. They don’t even have to love your work, just you.

Years ago I wouldn’t have shared these personal stories. I would have thought sharing weakness was inviting judgment, but you know what I’ve learned? I’m my worst critic and judge.

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird writes that seeking perfection in our writing kills our creativity. I would add that seeking perfection also ruins relationships.

Sharing my terrible first drafts and sharing my personal defeats goes against my tendencies toward perfection in others and myself. And without sharing, I wouldn’t have more polished stories or growing relationships. And I wouldn’t be as comfortable with being uncomfortable as I am today – if that makes any sense?

So for the 20-something writers or the 40-something writers who are at wits end and feel like they’re getting nowhere, don’t give up and don’t be scared. Be yourself, share your work, and don’t be ashamed when you mess up. Admit it, learn from it, and move onto the next draft.

It’s all we can do!

 

 

Different Worlds: the art of coming together

With small children at home, I get to watch the news maybe once a week, and last week it was on a Thursday. I turned on the PBS Newshour and there was a special segment devoted to the Syrian War. One of the stories was about a mother in labor.

She was caught in cross-fire and hit with shrapnel. Doctors rushed to deliver the boy, thinking the mother’s injury to the stomach would threaten the child’s life. The newborn came out a pale shade of gray and wasn’t breathing.

A nurse hung the baby upside down and whacked him over and over like a butcher might tenderize a piece of meat. It seemed harsh to an ignorant onlooker. But by God, I prayed this whack-a-baby technique would work, and this child would come alive.

Chest compressions. Skin pinching. Hand-strung feet. Whack.

The upside down boy’s chest moved up and down, the pinkish color returning to his skin, and then miraculously, he cried.

A full cry meant this little one would live. He wailed.

OmranThere were other pictures out of Syria including one of a young boy, Omran, close to my son’s age. He was covered in soot and blood. His stare was blank. A living child looked lifeless, torn between the life he was supposed to be living with his family in safety, and the realities of war. He sat alone in a bucket seat.

Can the soul of a person be gutted, stripped from a body, and replaced with a robotic spirit? It’s called survival.

It’s in shambles, our world. This boy knows it better than any of us and yet I bet if you gave him a field of green grass and a soccer ball, he’d chase after it. He might even laugh.

That’s what kids do. It’s their purpose.

Far too often I’ve heard from well-meaning people that kids are resilient. It’s an excuse for lots of things. Sometimes it’s an excuse for complacency.

People say they don’t know what they can do to help these children in Syria much less the kid in their backyard. Sometimes they know, and I know, but we don’t do. Actions take sacrifice. Time. Money. Nerves.

And for the situation in Syria, it’s harder. We don’t have proximity. We see these videos and these pictures and we think of our own children, but really, what can we do?

I read an article by a pastor that said Jesus is the answer, that His WAY is the way out of this mess, and listed telling others about King Jesus as the number one solution for solving our world’s problems. As the predominant world religion, if getting others to convert to Christianity were the answer, we’d have fewer problems.

After concluding this I returned to my thinking obsession about what it means to bear each other’s burdens and to love our neighbors. Are Syrians our neighbors? Are Muslims our neighbors?

A young Muslim woman who recently published a book got me thinking. During another blood stained day, she tweeted something to this effect – maybe nothing will get better until Jesus’ second coming.

I don’t know her personally, but I thought about her statement, about how she’d read the teachings of Jesus, and that she might even believe in the WAY of Jesus, though she’s a Muslim.

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” -Ghandi

I returned to the book of Mark chapter nine.

            “Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

            “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” —Mark 9:38-41, NIV

If a Muslim woman and a Hindu man can believe in Christ and act upon his teachings, why is it so hard for us?

Is it that by having labeled ourselves Christians, we’ve settled our fate and no longer need to rely on our Christ to carry out His WAY? If it is Jesus we aspire to be like, are there not compelling actions to take for the sake of our neighbors’ lives?

Faith is an action. It’s a movement and it’s ongoing. It takes determination because it’s hard.

For our egos.
For our calendars.
For our pocketbook.
For our security.

But what’s hard is not impossible. There are actions we can take. That we must take.

  • Prayer (singular and communal)
  • Giving (time, money, resources)
  • Advocating (raising awareness with friends and family, on capitol hill, and on social media)

The man called Jesus didn’t come for himself, he came for others. These others didn’t look like him, they didn’t have the same beliefs, and they were called heathens in their culture. Could it be that if we’re not for others (especially those who are different from us) then we’re not for Him?

Throwing Some Shade: the art of coming together

The temperature was in the 90s when I showed up at Mount Pleasant’s Memorial Waterfront Park. I don’t frequent this area; truth is, I don’t frequent much outside of our little farm.

This is on purpose. Driving when your eyesight is on the decline, in traffic that you’re not used to, with two children in tow, creates a state of the internal shakes – for me.

But this day my girl had a checkup at the pediatrician and there was no way out of the hustle of the road. So we left early, almost two hours early, and needed to play some minutes away. Otherwise there would be whining, and the only thing worse than fear, is loathing one’s life decisions.

So I sought out some recreation.

Now if you’ve heard the news, I live in the most beautiful city in the world, and this bit of reportage is true. Memorial Waterfront Park is situated on the cross point of two rivers – the Wando and Cooper. From the fishing pier, there are panoramic views: to the east, the Atlantic Ocean, the south, Downtown Charleston, and to the west, Daniel Island.

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Ravenel Bridge, Charleston, SC

But the hidden treasure of this park is located under the northern arch of the Ravenel Bridge. It’s a double-sized portion of fun. The light blue and white steel structure hosts tube slides, moving bridges, slide-down poles, and a ropes course.

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Memorial Waterfront Park, Mount Pleasant, SC

The kids disappeared as we stepped through the gate.

There were several benches and tables in the shade and all were taken by approximately one adult. The two benches in the sun were open, but locals know if you want to make it through the day and avoid heat stroke, you stay away from these hot spots.

So as I gazed out and considered my options, I bolstered up my confidence, and put myself out there like I sometimes do. I asked a woman with a cute barrette in her hair if she’d be willing to share her shade.

Like an angel, she said yes.

Over the next hour, I’d learn several important things about my new friend. Her boys had come from a writing camp, they lived two hours away, and this mother drove daily to take them to this camp. This bit of information made me think we could be friends, and I told her if I knew her better, I’d offer her our house to ease the discomfort of her daily drive. She said the miles were`no matter to her.

She makes the best of things, this would sink in the next time we met.

There’s magic in the water here. Tides rise 6-8 feet daily. Meaning one hour my house is on the marsh, and another, on the water. It means even more for our beaches. Each day as the tide trickles out, pools of water form between sand banks created by wind swirls.

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Tidal Pools, Isle of Palms Beach

Tidal pools of cool water turn warm in the radiance of our generous sun, and you know the commercials where a woman is lying in the shallows of the Caribbean with a glamorous beach hat, well that was me and my new friend when we met at Isle of Palms beach (only we didn’t have the big hats and our bodies look real).

It was a dream.

While our four children chased crabs, we submerged our bodies in the hot tub like pools, the warmth healing our child-bearing and rearing backs, the strain and the pull of our Dimples of Venus padded by the soft sand. We talked of our children and husbands and careers. She’s a nurse and a university professor. But mostly what we did was listen to the whisper of the wind. It was a strong breeze off the coast.

Our day in paradise was full on with a spa treatment by our children massaging our shoulders and legs with mud. We walked away exfoliated, hungry, and no one wanted it to end, so I invited them to dinner at our favorite pizza joint.

My house was on the way, so we stopped to shower and change. My friend’s boys, who help their grandpa with his chickens and garden, wanted to see our coop and crops, so we took a tour of our growing farm.

As I told my friend the story of my producing, but not flourishing garden, she told me of her father’s robust yield. I asked her how her father knew so much, how they had such a great harvest. She said, “isn’t it obvious, my family has been farming one thing or another for centuries.”

My new friends are the descendants of slaves and sharecroppers.

I didn’t want to assume, I told her, explaining that I’d known several people who were first or second generation immigrants from the Caribbean or from African nations, and this wasn’t their story. She understood.

As we ate together that night, my new friend joked with the waiter, sipped a glass of wine, and talked with me about politics and education. I discovered her freedom. Her mind is not on obstacles, but on opportunities. And she’s not afraid to speak of her history, her challenges, and the hardships her family has faced. I reckon her personality type is two letters off from mine – ENTJ. I’m an INFJ.

A round of hugs ended our first get together and plans for our next visit started within the week. We’re going to them this time. The boys want to teach us how to catch crabs and eat them, which means stepping in stinky pluff mud (gross), and I’m hoping to see the grandparents’ garden and learn a few things.

It’s all about learning.

My new friend has already taught me to throw people some shade. Shade can be literal or it can be any characteristic you have that someone else doesn’t have, like agency. My friend is good with people. She owns her space. While we were together, and without knowing it, she was teaching me and lending me her strengths.

I think my shade is empathy. I feel others pain. I feel her pain. I worry about her boys, these fine young men, of great intelligence, stature, and personality, and how they will be treated when they come of age and are on their own road hustles. If they take an illegal u-turn (by accident, of course) as I’ve done so many times, will they be pulled, searched, or humiliated. Will they be suspect because of their skin color?

It’s a very real thing, the struggle my friends have, and I intend to be there for them. To cast some shade when the sun bears down too harshly. It’s the least I can do to say thank you.

What’s your shade? How can you cover others?

To Kid Parents: May All Your Dreams Come True

Kid_Parents

It’s the brother taking care of his siblings while their single mother works. It’s the girl without a mother who’s mothering her brother, while no one mothers her.

These miniature adults are often raised in single parent homes, though not always. They’re the kids in school that are spaced out because they haven’t had enough food or sleep. They’re smart but get bad grades, responsible but forget their homework, and though they have good hearts, are often judged as troublemakers.

They’re worried.

These kids aren’t like the others. They relate more to adults than other kids, often. They rise or fall based on their decisions.

If they turn in an assignment, it’s their work that gets them a B-. No one’s checking or proofing their notebooks. There are no story tale readings before bed; often there are few books, if any, in their homes.

And school and getting an education is the least of their concerns. Their shelter could be taken away any day. When they get home, there will not be enough food for dinner, and these pint size parents know their siblings will be hungry. They carry the weight of this burden and at the same time feel their stomach eating itself inside out.

Anxiety comes standard with instability.

When basic needs aren’t met consistently, the human body goes into overdrive. If you don’t believe me, read this.

Every body and everybody is vulnerable, meaning we’re all needy for the basics in life: food, shelter, clothing, love. It’s a shame I have to add this last one, but I’ve come to believe it’s the most important of all the categories, and the most overlooked.

So many children feel unwanted, like they’re a waste of time, a mouth to feed, a whine to put up with, when all they really want is time. They want to throw a ball, take a walk, go on a family trip, and this isn’t a reality for them.

Recently I went into speech mode with a teenager, saying if she wanted the better things in life, she’d have to learn to do the right thing even when others are doing the wrong thing. In this instance, my words were related to her teasing another little kid, but this girl’s had a lot of wrong going on all around her.

Peace_Begins_With_A_SmileNow this girl is also whip smart, but doesn’t believe it. People follow her, but she doesn’t get that. She dreams of living in a brick home in one of those manicured neighborhoods, and she said, “That’s not true, Miss Katie, rich people are snobby, they don’t do right (speaking of the people she aspires to be like someday).”

Touche, tiny adult. I was stuck, didn’t have an answer. Some rich people are snobs. I gained my composure and returned with a sentiment that I would like to believe; that those who do right even when others do wrong will succeed in this life, if not monetarily, then they will in relationships.

If we give love, even when others hate, we are bound to get love, but it’s not always a 1+1=2 equation, which is why I don’t believe in karma.

Finding the Nurturing We Need To Grow

This same young adult wanted to know what my childhood was like and she asked “What were you like as a teen?” She wants to know how I made it out, how I have this family, and this home. How I have this love. We have some things in common, she and I, and she wants to know my path. I hesitated to answer.

Like her and the generations of women before her, I know what it’s like to feel insecure, to not know where my next meal or dollar’s coming from, to have to turn in rolls of change to make rent. I experienced it as a young adult on my own and when I was a young child (though I don’t remember ever thinking we were poor).

It can be painful to go backward, but if going back in time helps someone move forward, it’s worth it to share our stories.

My own experience with what would be considered poverty was short lived. It was one Kmart Christmas, three apartments and two rooms in people’s homes, a string of babysitters, and only later in life did I see the insecurity of our family’s circumstances.

There was one day when our fridge was empty but for a few condiments and something rotten, while inside the freezer was one package of Popsicles. At the age of five, this was a win, dessert for dinner, but for my mother this was a fail. I didn’t know enough to understand an empty fridge and pantry meant no breakfast in the morning, or that we were days away from breaking our lease and moving in with even more vulnerable relatives.

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My plant blossoms the morning after the most ferocious thunderstorm.

The Very Worst Thing Can Be the Best Thing

My most influential memory, the one I carried with me for the better part of my life, is of me hiding behind my mother’s leg when people were around, and then having no leg to hide behind. With a few exceptions in my early years, I think I was a very shy child.

And I felt thrust upon my dad, like a curve ball he wasn’t ready for yet. After custody changed, and more than once, I packed an insufficient suitcase and said I was leaving dad to go back to mom. She lived two thousand miles away.

In the early days of missing her, I kicked doors, cried for long spans of time, and acted out in disrespect. I’m sure my dad felt like that curve ball hit him in the face more than a few times because of me. I was right there with him.

After watching the movie An American Tale: Fievel Goes West, I remember looking at the stars and wishing my mom was looking at the same ones and singing, “Somewhere out there underneath those same bright stars…” I mean like night after night after night.

Fast forward to now and getting out from behind my mother’s leg was the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s how I made my first friend (who I talked to on the phone two days ago) and it’s how I developed enough swagger to be on a dance troupe, play on the softball team, and be a cheerleader for the basketball team.

Sometimes It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

My seventh grade year, we moved from that state, from our school, from our friends, and into a new environment, yet again. It was middle school for me- the above average awkward years. From 1992 to 1999, it was a slow and steady drop in self-esteem. There are all kinds of insecurities and not all of them are related to the basics of food, shelter, and clothing.

My brother became sick. We were in a new place, new school, new friends, and a member of my family was missing. He would be hospitalized for one year. My focus wasn’t on school. It was on him. It would remain this way until 2003.

But what I learned through this time was that I could do nothing for him by worrying. I stayed in school, got a job, continued this recipe of hard work and education, and eventually was in a place to help others. It was drudgery sometimes, but I stuck with it.

And if I could tell Kid Parents anything, it would be this: You are loved, not only by your parents and siblings, but also by many others who see your pain and know your struggle. So much is out of your control now, and you look to others to make things right for you. I know because I did this. I put so many people on pedestals and wanted to be just like them when I grew up. The problem is all the people we look up to are just like us, and if we place them too high, they will one day fall on our heads.

One day you will be in the place you desire, and when you get there, remember all of the children are our children, especially the vulnerable, lift them up when you see them.

If you were a Kid Parent, and would like to add your story in the comments, I know that would encourage me and others. If you’re a Kid Parent now, my ears are open.

Rainbows Unite + Update on my Latest Project

How to make a rainbow

How to make a rainbow

When you send your work out into the world, you never know what you’ll get back. The writer is given certain stories that come from places seen and unseen, pulled from a myriad of characters they’ve either known or wanted to know in their life, and a plot develops – not sure how.

My latest manuscript is filled with #diverse characters – shades of color, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ages. The setting is in the coastal south on a made up island called Prosperity, along the highway from the east to the west coast, and in a desert town in Southern California called Mirage.

It’s about a group of six women who become friends, and through betrayal, are forced to come face-to-face with their lies. In the first 25 pages of the book, the reader is introduced to these women: a rich white girl, a mixed race beauty queen/lawyer from a well to do family (though not accepted into the country club), an Asian tech heiress, a black girl from the projects, and the wisdom in the group – a submissive wife and political conservative, and the most liberal woman on the island.

It all sounds a bit stereotypical, right? And if we’re honest with ourselves, this may be how we look at people: what we see is what they are. We never get to know people well enough for our first impressions to be debunked. But as the page turns, we get to know these women’s stories and find out that our first impressions are flawed.

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This has been my experience.

If you look at me from the outside you see a white girl with an advanced degree. I live in a beautiful home, have two children, and drive a white SUV. Married for going on 14 years, I’m aware that my life looks like a privileged stereotype, and I’d say that it is…

Except for the fact that I’m the first person on my mom’s side of the family to get a college degree. She was the first to get out of poverty by working two or three jobs. I didn’t grow up with her in my life from day-to-day, had to accept seeing her every few years in the summer. She made her decisions so that I could have the best life possible and get a good education.

My father raised me, something only one other girl in my school experienced. She was Hawaiian and Filipino and she became my best friend. She was smart and cool and pretty and formed a dance troupe. I was one of two white girls in it (though the other girls claimed I looked Mexican with my wall of bangs, thick eyeliner, and Raiders jacket). I have a video. It’s embarrassing. And awkward. They’re awesome. Me? Out of sync. My norm.

The friends I met at my primary school fill a big place in my heart to this day. We shared a love for music, four square, tether ball, softball, basketball, and art. We also competed for boys, which was less about kissing, and more about being cool.

Throughout our lives we’ve stayed in touch by phone and by email. There have been straight up tragedies in this group and countless blessings: babies, marriages, vacations, job promotions, etc… We share our memories on Facebook and in the mail. Though our former houses have been shot to smithereens in counter terrorism training operations, we will always stand as the George Brat Pack!

The Beauty of Belonging

What some people may not understand is that in the 80s growing up in a single parent home was not the norm. We were the outcast kids. Parents often wouldn’t allow their children to hang out with us, or if they were allowed, the preference was for us to come to them. The problem? Our dads or moms were working and we didn’t have transportation.

So the latchkey kids united and spent all of their time together – making up dance routines, playing sports, and perfecting our makeup. No kidding, we grew up fast. And there was some early mischief, but mostly it was good clean fun.

I now live in the coastal south, where churches and schools are predominantly white or black. Groups of friends look alike and I’ve heard outright racist comments from people I thought were friends.

It hurts me and I get defensive and I don’t belong.

And I think THE SPOONSTERS, my latest manuscript, has helped me process through the race, class, and political divides I see all around me. This story is an outpouring of my soul, a heart cry for openness and love, and the end to superficial divisions.

Social Media

I had a conversation on Twitter recently about whether or not a white person could be marginalized. This person said that because white people are the majority race, they cannot be sidelined, and I think the danger in this way of thinking is assuming that all white people are alike. That they belong together in a group: white people over here.

That’s not my story and that’s not where I belong. I’m full of layers and varied; random as one co-worker tagged me, and I belong to whom I say I belong, and I say I belong to a rainbow. White is just what you see when you look at me. It’s not who I am.

People are not their skin color. We’re as multifaceted as the greatest story ever told, with layers of influence (gender, color, familial makeup, socioeconomic status, religious and political affiliation), but these influences only have the power we give them. We are who we say we are, and if we let anyone else tell us differently, we run the risk of being marginalized, of sitting on the sidelines and thinking our story doesn’t matter – that we have nothing to add to the conversation because we’re this or that, as if any state of being is static.

Rapping it up in a Symphony

 

This past Thursday I attended my first symphony. Free tickets to the National Young Artist Competition were being offered through the school where my children attend, and with a love for music and for all things free, I jumped at the opportunity. We arrived to the Gailliard auditorium in downtown Charleston and I felt out of place. The seats were filled with white people, skewing older, with no children (tickets were free for children, so I expected lots of kids) and people were staring at us. That’s how I saw it anyway. I felt like I didn’t belong, but I gave myself a pep talk through the voice of one of my favorite characters, Gibby, and settled into my seat.

At intermission, my little people were complaining of hunger and acting malnourished, and the two ladies behind us were making remarks about how bad they felt for my children. Never mind they ate a full spaghetti dinner, and had a snack of fruit and cookies before we left. So I ushered my kids up the aisle in search of a snack booth and ran into another mom from our school.

One of the first things out of her mouth was “I feel so out of place, like a country bumpkin,” and I loved her for this! It was her first time at the symphony as well and she felt like she didn’t dress right and maybe shouldn’t have come.

This mom attended for her daughter, who plays the Ukelele and the piano, and wanted her to see teenagers playing with the orchestra. She looked beautiful in a white linen shirt and khakis, but more importantly, she and her daughter appreciated the music. Who cares if they’re from the country, got their tickets free, and had never been to a symphony before?

After getting snacks, I returned to my seat, and didn’t have one more inferior feeling, not even when the two old grannies behind me looked at my sleeping son and said, “Poor little fella.” They gave me a disapproving look and I wanted to say, who’s poor? My son’s not even 5 and he’s attended his first symphony and he LOVED it. But I didn’t. I carried my son from the Gailliard auditorium to our car in the adjacent parking garage and reminded myself that class is how you treat people. We had every right to be there, simply because we appreciated the music.

Rainbow Experiment:

  • Place food coloring and water in individual cups.
  • Drape a line of connected paper towels over the cup, pushing the middle of the paper towel so that it touches the color mixture.
  • Watch the paper towels absorb the colors and blend together to make a rainbow.

Triage In Region Three

There are things in me.
Things I can’t write – not yet.
Too painful.

Writing these things is good.
Good like tweezing a bullet out.
Good and feels good are not the same.

Pain is living death.
Opening wound can take life.
My own.

“Leave bullets where they be,” I say.

Skin grows up over them.
Scars.
Too many.

complicit. Me.

Pragmatic.

Cover up.

Protecting you.
Protecting me.
But you’re not protecting me.

Poison leaks.

“Extract it, damn it, now.” I yell at me.

Tweezin’ it out.
Still. So still.
Breathing in. Breathing out.

Forgotten breath.
In and out.
Free.

triage. Triage.
Clot in region three.
It’s toxic, the metal object within me.