Wednesday, November 15, 2017

that damn stroke



A nurse stood at the foot of Dad's bed and held up a pen in one hand, a banana in the other.

"Mike, point to the pen."

His left hand carelessly pointed to the banana.

The nurse set down the banana and held up a water bottle instead.

"Mike, point to the water bottle."

He pointed to the pen.

I thought he was kidding. I thought he was annoyed at the nurse for insulting his intelligence. This was a man who lived for Trivial Pursuit and participated in Jeopardy every afternoon at 3:30 - a grammar nerd, literary guru, and Cubs' stats fanatic. He was being asked questions suited for a nine-month old, and I thought he was playing her. The nurse repeated this exam several times throughout the morning, each time with similar results.

I couldn't stand it anymore.

"Dad. Stop it. Be serious. Point to the pen."

He looked back at me confused. The nurse wrote something on her clipboard and left.

*****

We had been waiting all day for information, an answer, a suggestion, a next step. A new doctor came into the room and stood at the foot of Dad's bed as we circled around. But there was no information, no answers. Instead, the doctor kept a safe distance from optimism, swimming around in a vague territory of "more tests," and "just have to wait and see." If we were looking for hope that Dad might speak again or walk out of this hospital, we wouldn't find it from this doctor. 

Exhausted and defeated, it was clear we all needed a break. 

My brother and I, along with our spouses, ended up at Starbucks. I was thirty-six weeks pregnant and ordered an iced passion tea lemonade; it didn't seem appropriate.

Thirty hours ago Mom had found Dad on their bedroom floor, crippled and silenced by a massive stroke. Right now he was sleeping in a hospital room. He couldn't move the right side of his body and made weird noises when he tried to talk. His face was droopy, and he needed someone to wipe drool off his chin. While he laid in bed scared, confused, and unable to distinguish a pen from a banana, I was sitting outside a coffee shop on an 80 degree day drinking a fuchsia colored iced tea. Something didn't feel right, but it was also a relief to be out of that hospital, away from doctors who had no answers and offered little hope. There was freedom from the stale conversation that hangs in hospital rooms because no one knows what to say but silence seems worse. The familiarity of a coffee shop brought relief. I don't know how to navigate hospitals, awkwardly lingering around my dad as he lay motionless in bed, but I do know coffee shops. I know how to order a drink and idle by the counter. I know how to set up camp around a table, sip, talk, people watch, repeat. It was comforting to know what I was doing for an hour. 

We sat around the table, and I told them I didn't feel bad for my brother or for my myself. We had Dad, at his best, when we needed him most. He was there - baseball games, dance recitals, Six Flags, AWANA Dad's Night. He'd taught us to drive and took us to Cubs games. He'd moved us into college and walked me down the aisle. I didn't even feel that bad for my mom. I probably should have, but she was Mom; Mom can always handle it. 

Instead, I told them, my heart was aching for this baby in me who would only know a grandpa who sits in a wheelchair as a quiet spectator rather than one who gives piggyback rides and reads stories in a Donald Duck voice. 

My heart also ached for my brother's three-year-old twin boys. They were too young and wouldn't remember that just nine days ago their Grandpa was splashing them in a hotel pool and building a sand castle on the shore of Lake Michigan. 

That's when my brother cried. 

My brother is a man of action; he always has a plan, a next step. There was something about seeing him, elbow on the table, leaning into his hand to wipe away tears that told me this was bad. This was our great divide - the event that just split our lives into a before and after. 

I stopped talking and drank my tea. 

*****

It was just after 4:00 in the afternoon on Monday, three days after Dad's stoke. I was sitting on the small plastic couch near the window when Dad waved his left hand, motioning me to come closer. He pointed to the clock and then back at me; his face was concerned and looked to me for an answer. I knew that look, and I knew what he was thinking. 

"You're wondering why I'm still here," I said. 

He nodded.

"You want to know when I am leaving."

More nodding. 

"You know it's 4:00, and you know we have a five hour drive back to Ohio. You are worried about us driving home in the dark." I said it as more of a question, not really sure if he understood details like time. 

But he nodded again and even smiled. He motioned at the clock and then at the door.

"We'll leave soon, okay?" I sounded like a teenager, irritated at my overly protective father. But I wasn't really annoyed; I was relieved and knew he also wanted to ask if I'd rotated my tires recently. 

He reached over and put his left hand on my giant belly. My throat tightened up, and I felt tears burning the back of my eyes. But I didn't want to cry, again. I didn't want to tell him my heart was crumbling with fear and that he had to get better so he could play with his grandbaby. 

"You think I should leave now so I don't have the baby right here?"

He laughed and looked at my mom as if to say, "Would you help me out here and get her to leave already?"  

That was the first time I saw a hint of Dad. Visitors with good intentions told us he was still in there; he was the same old Mike. But I wasn't so sure until he pointed to that clock.

*****

The months after dad's stroke were confusing. I had lost the dad I'd known for 29 years and weeks later gave birth to my first child. I didn't know how to let the joy of motherhood exist alongside the sadness of dad's stroke, and even now, five years later, I cannot separate the grief and joy. I loved those early weeks of motherhood, but it felt selfish to be so happy when I knew my mom was miles away drowning in decisions and sorrow while my dad was barely moving or speaking. 
 
I was grieving the loss of my dad. I still am. But that seems strange - grieving the loss of a dad who is alive. 

He has come a long way from the man I saw in the hospital bed five years ago. I am thankful for that. But in my desire to be thankful, I haven't given my sadness the room it deserves. I haven't said aloud how much I hate that damn stroke. I haven't thought much about how I'm sad, and how I miss my dad, and how unfair it is that my children were robbed of their grandpa. 

If I give my sadness an inch, I am convinced it will take the mile. And then another mile after that, probably picking up anger and fear and bitterness along the way. Before long, I might be too far gone. 

But today I will say it. 

I hate that damn stroke. 

I hate that it took the life we expected for my mom and dad. I hate that it took the grandpa who wants to wrestle and swim and play hide-and-seek. I hate that my brother's twin boys had three years with that grandpa, but my children never met him. And I hate that I'm starting to forget. 

I have to try, really try, when I want to remember him. I have to sit in a quiet room and close my eyes if I want to hear his voice and remember the distinctive Italian gestures he'd use when telling a story. Sometimes I try to remember him sitting in the driver's seat of the car or mowing the lawn, but I can't, not anymore. It's strange how you can see something or hear something for decades, but then forget so quickly. 

I do not take Dad's recovery lightly. He took on years of therapy like a champ, relearning to speak and walk and manage with just his left hand. We are still adjusting to a new normal, but Dad is alive, and he knows his grandchildren. They build puzzles, play CandyLand, and sit on his lap to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. They have an inside joke about quesadillas, and Dad can bust out a pretty mean tickle monster with his left hand. They adore him, and I am thankful. 

But I still hate that damn stroke.

Monday, October 30, 2017

because one day you won't, part 2

This past summer, I went all sappy mom and wrote this.

I'm doing it again.

These past two months have taken me down. Our hearts are celebrating the news of baby #3, but my body is rebelling against all parts of life that don't involve lying on a couch eating Rice Krispies. I'm irritable and ill and have had to force myself to notice quirky, childlike moments invading our home. It seems like these moments are hiding, lost in the blur of me running to throw up, again, but they are there. And I know they won't be for long.

Because one day she won't come to my gynecologist appointment with a baby doll hidden under her shirt.



Because one day she won't wear a Snow White dress and have a picnic in her room. 



And because one day she won't ask to go to the Verizon store with me rather than staying home to play with friends. 

 *****


Because one day he won't line up tiny twigs when his dad asks him to gather firewood.
 


Because one day he won't mow the lawn in his diaper, rain boots, and winter hat.  



And because one day he won't call rabbits "bunny hops."



So today I will notice those moments.

#becauseonedayyouwont


 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

my messy beginning: week 4


This is the final essay for the blog series I've participated in alongside three other wonderful writers. It has been my honor to explore this messy topic with Mika, Amy, and Precious. They are all such beautiful, creative, intelligent women. This final post was written by me. 

*****
I prefer when my writing culminates into a complete thought, when stories and anecdotes sit with me long enough to reach a finish line. I tend not to hit that Publish button until I've drawn a conclusion, tidied things up, and feel a sense of a closure.

Today is different.

There is no sense of closure because I'm just beginning this journey. I have so many conclusions spinning in my head I hardly know what to do next. I'm in the midst of so much learning and thinking and questioning; it is terrifying and thrilling. There are days I'd like to rewind the clock to before I wrestled with privilege and injustice. I’d like to unread and unlearn information that has left me wondering how me - this affluent, white, stay-at-home mom in the suburbs of Cincinnati - can possibly be part of reconciliation. Other days I want to shake myself because I spent so many years missing it, looking right past it.

In the spring of 2016, I began reading the book Seven. Oh, to this day, there are times I wish I could unread it. God knocked the wind out of me within the pages of that book, awakening me to the intensity and responsibility of the privilege I was born into.

Up until that day, I had thought very little of privilege and what it looked like in my life. I suppose when privilege is your norm, it is easy to miss.

But soon I saw it everywhere.

I saw privilege when I opened my fridge, stared at shelves full of food, and ordered pizza because I didn’t feel like eating anything we had.

I saw privilege when I put my contacts in each morning because I’ve had resources to correct my failing eyes for nearly 30 years.

I saw privilege when I handed in my letter of resignation, voluntarily leaving my job to stay home with my children.

I saw privilege when I was pulled over for a missing headlight and never considered a police officer might treat me unfairly. 

I saw privilege when I freely disagreed with colleagues and never thought twice that my race would be the backdrop for how others interpreted my words.

I saw privilege when our president was elected because as much as I hate how he speaks of the oppressed, I knew my day to day life would not be much different.

God put a fire in my gut the week I read that book, a restless stirring I haven’t been able to shake. I can’t stop reading and talking and asking questions. I can’t unlearn that I am in the top 1% of wealthiest people in the world, practically drowning in resources. I can’t pretend educational opportunities are the same for all children. I can’t ignore the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are desperately trying to come to America, and yet live such isolated lives once they are here. I can’t unsee the hate-filled eyes in those videos of Charlottesville.

This is my messy beginning, my shuffling along, fighting my way through the weeds, with my hands outstretched, asking God, "What now? What can you do with the hesitant offering of a woman prone to wander, resist, and cling to privilege? Can you dig it out by its ugly roots? Can you keep forgiving me? Can you make reconciliation my heart’s cry rather than an item on my to-do list?”

*****

During the past year, I have looped through a cycle of emotions regarding the abundant advantages in my life.

I am ignorant.
I am overwhelmed.
I am disgusted.
I am paralyzed.
I am afraid.
I am humbled, forgiven, and obedient.
Repeat.

Those first five stages are fruitless at best; sinful if I’m honest, and I need to deal with them as such. I need to call out the sin in my life.

I am ignorant. That is sin. Ignorance is choosing foolishness. It is looking away from truth and ignoring the mind God gave me for learning and questioning and engaging. Ignorance is choosing oblivion to global and national crises, excusing myself because it's too sad, it's too hard.

I am overwhelmed. That is sin. I am looking to my own ability to solve injustice rather than following the lead of Him who came to change the world through servanthood. I am sinking into defeat, rather than clinging to a God of victory. Nothing is impossible for Him, and to be overwhelmed is to disregard the power of the Holy Spirit who is alive and active in me. 

I am disgusted. That is sin. The Lord needed to bring me to a place of disgust, a harsh realization of my abundant privilege. But to stay in that place of guilt, apologizing for all I have, is to forget the One who gave it to me. He did not accidentally place me in this life, at this time in history, and He is not interested in my apologies for living in America, for being white, for being educated, or for succeeding in a career.

I am paralyzed. That is sin. The reality of injustice is so thick and so heavy, I get lost in it. And then I do nothing. I stay in my neighborhood and in my home, with my conveniences and luxuries. I hang out with people who look like me and think like me. We talk about how thankful we are Jesus came to do all that messy work, but disengage ourselves from real action. Pretty soon, doing nothing in my norm.

I am afraid. This is sin. Fear will lie to me every time, coaxing me to believe injustice is too much for my God. Fear tells me I will fail if I seek reconciliation. Fear tells me I will say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing. Fear tells me I will put myself in danger and be in over my head. Fear tells me I will upset people and annoy my friends. But God did not give me a spirit of fear, and to believe otherwise is sin.

I am humbled, forgiven, and obedient. Confronting my own selfishness is miserable, but once each of those daggers have been humbly laid down, I can claim Christ’s forgiveness and move on to obedience.

The Bible tells me to feel the pain of others. Be wrecked by injustice. Be burdened. The Bible tells me to pray, and not just on the days after horrific events like Charlottesville, but to get on my knees every day, crying out for the broken and forgotten, repenting from my sins and the sins of this nation. The Bible says to be faithful in prayer, be persistent, keep bugging God to shake my soul and not look away from oppressive systems that have handed me a life of advantage.

This doesn’t have to be an either/or approach. I can carry on with my daily life and remember the marginalized around me. I can write on my blog about eating dessert in the bathroom, and I can write about racial reconciliation. I can take my children to our community pool where they see dozens of children who look just like them, and I can take them to a church where they are the racial minority. My husband and I can celebrate special occasions at overpriced restaurants, and we can volunteer with the Cincinnati Refugee Resettle Program. I can go to the gym to teach Zumba classes, and I can learn to correctly pronounce the names of the minority women in my class, not just the white students. I can talk with my girlfriends about curtains and crockpot dinners and playdates, and we can talk about teaching our children to stand up for others. I can read Real Simple magazine, and I can read about how to love my friends of color well. I can pray with my children for God to heal their owies, and I can pray with my children for God to awaken their eyes and hearts to those who need love.

This isn’t a checklist. It isn’t more to add to my plate. It isn’t one or the other. It is awareness. It is courage. It is a transformation of my heart to move past the years I spent desiring peace and wishing well to those on the sidelines.

Jesus spent His life on the bottom rung of the ladder. He surrounded himself with the powerless, the outcasts, the bottom dwellers, the marginalized. By his own choosing, He never made it up past that bottom rung. But I was born on the top rung; I was born into a life so far from Jesus. White. American. Middle class. Educated. Excess everything. It is a life so many long for, but it is a life that has proven to be my greatest hindrance in knowing the true Jesus. It is so far from the Savior who said He was “close to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18) and that “the highborn are but a lie” (Psalm 62:9). There is such a distance from me and the man who constantly cared for the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the needy. It is so much harder to “seek justice and encouraged the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17) from up on this top rung.

It’s ironic how you can read something a dozen times and always hope someone else is taking it
to heart. How did I miss it?

In every corner of the Bible, God is screaming, begging, pleading, urging me to love mercy and justice, to care for the last and least. If I’m going to believe the Bible is the Word of God, then it seems God is obsessed with social justice, and He asking me to stay engaged and join Him.

This is my messy beginning.

*****

A note from Mika, Amy, Precious, and Joy:

It has been a joy to share our hearts with you over the past month. The four of us have each been challenged, convicted, and inspired. We have each prayed earnestly for our readers, and for ourselves asking God to shake some souls and spur on conversations that would bring Him glory. We would love to end this series by praying for our nation, together pleading with God to heal and restore.

Oh Jesus,

We come before You with our mess. We acknowledge our sin and repent from it. We need You to do your thing. We need your power to bring change because we know we are powerless without You. I pray, God, that You would heal our nation and bring us to racial reconciliation. I pray that our hearts and minds would be changed and that change would lead to action. May our hearts break for the damage white supremacy has caused in our nation - that we would see it for the sin it is, and commit to not being complicit in it. I pray we would move outside our comfort zones, invite people into our homes that don’t look like us, and build relationships in an effort to reconcile.

I pray America would become comfortable with being uncomfortable and no longer shy away from our horrid past. I pray we would know that racial reconciliation is not simply a good option; it’s important to You. May our hearts remain pliable for You to mold and change; performing open heart surgery if necessary to make us into a people that not only embodies the ethos of reconciliation, but the life style. May our days be less comfortable and more courageous. May our love for You, Jesus, cause us to actively love our neighbors well.

I pray we would lay down our privilege to serve and to see. I pray we would open our hands and our eyes. We are in need of Your grace and Your grit to do and hear hard things. Lead us, Jesus. Please do exceedingly above what we ask.

Amen.


Chains fall
Fear bow
Here, now
Jesus, you change everything
Lives healed
Hope found
Here, now
Jesus, you change everything

Lyrics from Holy Ground

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

miseducation of privilege: week 3

The next post in our series comes from my friend, Precious Jones. There is so much honesty and so much wisdom in this essay. She challenged me to consider my passivity of privilege and moving toward of lifestyle of reconciliation rather that a quick fix. I continue to pray for each reader of this series. May God engage you heart and mind in a new way.



As a Black Christian woman I have more anxiety on the Sunday or Monday following tragic events such as the #Charlottesville attack because the work of racial reconciliation is exhausting.  The Sunday following Charlottesville (which happened to be less than 24 hours later), I remember being hopeful as I entered church that I would regain some of my sanity.  At least a little bit.  Thinking to myself,  this Sunday at least one non-person of color would come up to me and legitimize the concern I privately expressed to many.  I recounted the personal conversations held following the election of our President regarding his rhetoric and lack of empathy for non-whites.  At the time, I shared that I thought his views would give credence to those who held extremist and racist views to become hyper-visible and less concerned with "hiding" their views or their faces.  We witnessed that in #Charlottesville.

This was not a moment of wanting to be right.  This was a moment of wanting to be validated.  I wanted to feel sane, if only for a moment.  The context here is that I have spent countless hours listening, sharing, and praying with congregants and colleagues as we earnestly look to live reconciled.   Yet, I exited my phenotypically diverse church that day without a single conversation or acknowledgement from a white person.  I exited with increased ache in my heart.  I exited wondering how many more Sundays will I sit in this pew and wrestle with the passivity of privilege and the tone policing of my voice. I then hoped for a face to face conversation, text, phone call on Tuesday, Wednesday, or any day.  It did not occur.  Exhaustion enters stage right.

After reflecting on Amy's blog, How Do I Handle My Privilege, and her compelling question at the end which asked, "What privilege do you have, and how can you use it to serve the underprivileged?"  I stumbled upon a revelation.  

In the United States of America, privilege has been a silent teacher for hundreds of years.  Privilege, white privilege, for those who possess it, has taught that good things will come to them simply because of who they are - even if that good thing is racial reconciliation.  

Many would argue that hatred is a learned behavior.  I'd contend that just as hatred is taught, so is the passivity of privilege.  It is mostly taught without using words.  Privilege by its very nature is passive.  It demands absolutely nothing of its possessor. It teaches its possessor to protect it at all cost.  Privilege indirectly teaches that if one desires racial reconciliation, then it will be achieved by simply waiting for the "perfect, comfortable, opportunity" to have a difficult conversation, ask an awkward question, or get to know a person outside of your ethnicity.  Privilege has written thousands of history books and passed hundreds of laws. And with events like #Charlottesville, it waits patiently to reconcile.  We've been miseducated, and the western church has been an active pupil. 

Miseducation definition: a wrong or deficient education

Racial reconciliation is costly.  It takes work.  

Many desire racial reconciliation through a five-step process or a "quick read." I've had countless people ask me to give them a resource to navigate this difficult and messy space. For instance, there’s a local church in our city that offers a fantastic six week workshop on race which creates a safe space for people in the community to listen to one another, grow in empathy, and dialogue.  However, I’ve encountered many who’ve been content with attending this six week session and reference this as their “work” in racial reconciliation. I commend people for attending; however, when this session ends, the work of racial reconciliation doesn’t. If the only desire is a resource, racial reconciliation may not be realized.  It happens over time through empathy, honesty, contrition, and proximity.  Get close. Get uncomfortable. Get honest. 

If the American church desires to really model racial reconciliation, the Church must re-educate itself. Learn from Black folks.  Listen to Black folks.  Lament with Black folks.  Let Black folks lead.

I don't want a racial reconciliation that demands more of one follower of Christ than the other.  I pray that my encounter on the Sundays following tragic events are less anxious and more intentional.  As Amy stated in the previous blog, may we be known by what we lay down, rather than by any privilege we hold high.  

As a follower of Christ, I remain hopeful that racial reconciliation will occur in earnest as I continue to engage in uncomfortable conversations, love others where they are, and speak truth to power. I'm encouraged that others are doing the same.  I have not thrown in the towel on racial reconciliation. Each day I hold tightly to the hope I have in Christ, anchored by the reality of my desperate need for Jesus as I do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.
 
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:13 
Maybe the first act of laying down one's life is to lay down the passivity of privilege.

As we lay down our respective privilege, I pray that we build authentic relationships across multiple ethnic groups, help restore broken communities, and recognize systems that perpetuate marginalization for disadvantaged groups. May we use our power, resources, and influence to tear these oppressive systems down; decision by decision.  Racial Reconciliation, like sanctification (process of becoming more like Christ), is worked out daily.  It is not a one time act.  It is a lifestyle. 

The church has been "waiting" for racial reconciliation for too long.  Let's intentionally give differently, life differently, and love differently.  Not just in words, but in lifestyle.

May privilege be ousted as primary instructor in the work of racial reconciliation and be replaced by empathy that leads to action.

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?"
   Micah 6:8 ESV

*****

Precious Jones is the proud daughter of parents who've known struggle. The familial impact of poverty and struggle shape her writing. She works in youth & education advocacy for those marginalized. She's a former Electrical engineer who delights in creating through writing. She is a proud southerner turned foodie who loves people more than she loves good food and a good read. She resides in Cincinnati, OH and candidly shares her predilections [bias, leaning, weakness, & predisposition] on her blog, Precious Predilections.