Monthly Archives: June 2013

I should have been a black girl . . .

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I once had a boss tell me “We love you and we’re so glad you’re on our team.  But our ideal candidate was someone with your skills and abilities, who was also a black woman with XYZ in their background.”  Instead they got me — a girl so white my friends in high school teased that I was Casper the Friendly Ghost on a trip to Florida.  They chose me, and they were happy to have me, but the point is they were intentionally looking for diversity.

There are a lot of people that don’t like the idea of affirmative action.  To them it feels like discrimination, an unfair advantage, or bias.  In their eyes affirmative action is a rejection of the skills, gifts, and abilities of people in the majority group.  I respect these people.  I understand where they’re coming from.  But I don’t agree.

Diversity doesn’t happen by chance.

Want proof?  Go visit any large city and take a drive through the different neighborhoods and boroughs.  Go visit some schools in the inner city and then drive out to the suburbs.  Pay attention to who’s sitting at which lunch tables.  Try out a few different hair salons.  Or better yet . . . go visit any church on an average Sunday morning.

We live in a very segregated world.  A world that seems to only be capable of defining ourselves by defining who is other.  I know I am A: not B, C, D or E.  Don’t believe me?  I challenge you to go  have an honest conversation with someone who is trying to live as an “AND” in an “either/or” world.  A biracial teen.  An adult who grew up in one country and now lives in another.  An LGBT Christian.  A Liberal Christian.  The list could go on and on.  There is a tension that exists in their life.  We are a world that likes to categorize and define and put things in boxes.  And we like to keep those boxes separate.  We do it without thinking.  We divide people by race, gender, ethnicity, economic status, age, education level, religious background, political affiliation, and more.  Some areas are more natural to us than others, but we still do it.  This is what comes naturally to us.  (This, in my opinion, is one of the consequences of the fall.)

So wherever we find diversity we should celebrate it.  And we should realize it didn’t come about by chance, but by choice.  Someone — some leader or group of people — decided that diversity was valuable enough to work for it.  To take risks and make changes.  To set goals and take steps to make them a reality.  And some days they don’t make progress, but they don’t give up.  (Some days you hire the pasty white girl, but you keep looking for that amazing black woman also.)

I have spent most of my adult life working in churches.  One of the things we talk about is that when people come into a church for the first time they will look around and ask “Is there anyone here who is like me?”  This doesn’t just apply to race and gender, but  to whatever it is that we have defined ourselves as.  And one of the first places we will look to answer that question is the platform–who’s on stage or listed on the website.  We’re looking for an answer because we don’t want to be an other.  We are all born with an innate desire to belong.  If we want to be a church where everyone feels comfortable, then we must be a place where everyone can answer that question with a confident “Yes!  I’m not alone!”

This week the denomination that I am ordained in is making some very important decisions regarding the future leadership of the church.  These decisions are always tough because there are so many amazingly qualified potential leaders.  It is my prayer that as decisions are made, those voting will remember the value and beauty of diversity.   Diversity of thoughts and perspectives, ethnicities and genders, ages and backgrounds, talents and skills.

And as I pray this, I also pray . . . not my will but yours be done.

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Goodbyes are not always forever.

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Last week I wrote about saying goodbye to the child I had tutored this year.  I wondered if I would ever get the chance to see her again.  Today I did!

I tutor at an inner city school through a program organized by a literacy coach who attends my church.  When we created the tutoring program we introduced the 4th graders at the school to an incentive program.  At the end of the school year every child who had raised their Lexile score by 100 points would be invited to a party where they would be entered in a drawing.  Ten lucky kids would receive new pairs of sneakers.  When this program was started and the incentive plan mapped out, I wasn’t yet on staff at my church, so I didn’t really know anything about it.  Last week I got the opportunity to jump in and help make it happen.

So today I had an ice cream party with 35 kids who had raised their Lexile scores by 100 points or more.  And my amazing girl was one of them!  If a child raised their score 200 points or more they got two entries in the drawing.  And she was one of those kids!  I’m so proud of her!  And so happy that I got to see her again.  I then headed over to our local Sports Authority to purchase the sneakers the kids chose, where a team of four staff bent over backwards to make sure every kid got an awesome pair of shoes.  It’s great to know that ten lucky kids will be smiling brighter tomorrow!  I’m so happy that I’m a part of a church that makes awesome things like this happen and believes in the value of supporting our city schools!

It’s also nice to know that goodbyes are not always forever.  I’m sure that’s a hope I’ll hold onto as a foster parent.

Waiting for my unknown child

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Yesterday as I was cleaningI walked into my future foster kiddos room.  Right now it’s about half-Amanda, half-kid.  After I send my amazing friend Shanna on an Ikea-run it will be all-kid.  In the meantime it’s filled with bits and pieces for my kiddos:  stuffed animals, packages of pajamas organized by size, scarves and hats, toothbrushes and soap, Hello Kitty and Spiderman band-aids, coloring books and bubbles.  These are the trappings of childhood.  And in the meantime I’m waiting . . . no, not just waiting, preparing.

I ran my hand along the top of the now-assembled crib and I said a prayer for the kids who will one day be mine, even if for only a few weeks or months.  I pray that God will help my home to be the safe and loving place they need, and that in me they will find someone they can trust.  That even when they rail against me, they can do so being secure in my love.  I imagined all the adventures we will have together–whether going to the park, traveling on vacation, or making it through a family visit.  And I pray that through those adventures somehow I can help them see their own beauty and talent and intelligence and value.

And I realized . . .

I won’t just be creating a loving and safe place for them.  They will be creating a better version of me.  I know that I will learn so much from my unknown children.  I will become a better person because of the lessons I learn as a foster parent.  Lessons like patience and humility and selflessness.   I’m not sure how to prepare for those lessons, but I’m ready to be schooled.

A poem for my father

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It’s been a while since I posted any poetry on here, and today seems a good day to change that.  This is a poem for my father, whom I will always carry in my heart, no matter how many years go by or miles I travel.  Daddy, I love you.

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Father,
hidden in the nighttime shadows of this present world
are you watching me?
can you hear the tremor in my voice? 

Do you remember that cold winter morning
you called a taxi to take me the mile to school?
while others sent children trudging through mountains of snow in search of that brick schoolhouse
you ordered up a taxi—delivered on a silver platter
an absurd luxury in our tiny town of 9,000.
And I knew your love.

I miss that confidence—
love as tangible as bricks and mortar
or your hand in mine
sweeping me into your arms as you
killed the mouse
calmed the fears
sang me asleep every night with your magic charm
            “Good night,
            sleep tight,
            don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
As if I could fear bed bugs with a champion sleeping down the hall. 

Do you remember that cursed night you first knew?
I hope not.
I hope it is wiped forever clean from your memory.
That night our world changed,
I’ve never known such fear. 

There are so many things I want to tell you . . .
how thankful I am for the years we had together
how sorry I am for all the ways I failed you 

If I could go back to that night
I swear I’d do it differently
our last chance to be together
I chose myself over you
I swear, if I could do it again . . . 

But there are no do-overs when it comes to death.

Do you watch us from the shadows?
This lost family you left behind
or is it too painful? 

Can you hear me cry out for you when I think no one is listening?
longing for a shiny, yellow taxi to come deliver me to you
Father.

Shame, Guilt, and How I Escaped

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Today I’ve read not one, but two, of my friends blogs that wrestled with the weighty issues of shame and guilt.

Karissa, who I mentioned a couple of days ago, wrote about how growing up her faith often came with an ugly price tag called guilt.  She ended up leaving the church she grew up in search of a faith that freed her from that guilt.

And Jermaine wrote about how shame gets passed around like candy sometimes, claiming that we’re speaking the truth in love, when really all we’re doing is passing out shame and judgement.

Life in the church can be harsh sometimes.  We’re not perfect people, and sometimes in our quest to better ourselves we end up filling others with shame, guilt, and a whole bunch of other crap that “ain’t nobody got time for.”  It’s not healthy.  I don’t think we even intend to do it sometimes.  But it happens.

I grew up in the same church background as my friend Karissa.  Like her, I went to a small, conservative Nazarene church.  We went to the same college, where we were best friends and roommates.  And many of her experiences resonate with me.  I can remember growing up and praying every five minutes or so for my salvation.  I was sure I’d done something terribly evil in the past five minutes and needed redemption.  (This coming from the girl who never smoked, drank, or tried drugs, and considered it complete failure if I got less than an A in class.)  As a kid I was always striving for perfection.  Honestly, that part of me hasn’t changed much.  But I know that a large part of that is my firstborn perfectionist tendencies, not my faith.

I do want to be the best I can at whatever I’m doing.  I want to be living a life that demonstrates love, grace, and compassion.  I want to have an intimate relationship with God.  But if those thinks were once driven by a sense of guilt, it’s been a long time since that held true.  Somewhere along the way I dropped that shame and guilt like a dirty rag, and I moved on.

How did that happen?  I’m not sure I could pinpoint some moment in time or new understanding that changed my world.  I think it just gradually grew up into my faith, as I planted deep roots and learned the meaning of a tree’s flexibility.

There is a part of that growth that was planted by my mother.  There were a lot of times my mom tried to push her ideas on me.  Like when she told me I had no other choice than to attend college at her alma mater.  And being the stubborn, strong-willed child that I was/am, I then proceeded to do the exact opposite of what she told me to do.  But then there were these gems of moments when she challenged me to think for myself.  And those moments were probably her best parenting choices ever.

I was 12 when I first had the opportunity to audition for show choir (that’s a glee club for all you non-midwesterners).  I wanted desperately to be a part of it.  But I was a member of a Nazarene church and it was against the rules.  I asked my mom what to do.  And instead of telling me, she taught me to think for myself.  She told me to go read the Bible.  To pray.  To ask God, and then listen.  And I did.  And guess what?  What I heard from God was not what I heard from my church’s rule book.  Mind blowing experience for a 12 year old.  But it was probably one of the most important faith lessons of my childhood.

In the end I auditioned and so began a long relationship with all things music, theatre, and dance related.  And it didn’t break my faith in the church or the people who came up with those rules.  I simply accepted that we could disagree sometimes and it would be ok.  And I discovered a relationship that was about more than a rule book.  More than getting things right and being perfect.  I discovered a God who was so much more than a church who sometimes weighs us down with guilt and shame–but a God who still loved that church and worked through her.

And that’s exactly the kind of God I needed.  A God who is so far above me and my failings–but still loves me and works through me.

So here’s to all my friends out there who are struggling with guilt and shame that’s been piled on you by some well-meaning Christian.  May you find release from those chains.  Freedom from a pain that doesn’t come from God.  And the mystery of a love that surrounds you even in your darkest place.

Blog Challenge

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So I found this blog challenge on 18 Years Young’s blog yesterday.

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It seemed like a lot of fun, but I’d like to alter it a bit.  Some of the challenges are more in list format and I’d like to do one that is focused more on prose.  So, here’s the question:  What would you like to see added to this list?  What topics would be fun to read about?  And best of all, who wants to do this with me?  I’m thinking July would be a great month!

The “C” Word

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It’s time to talk about it.  Commitment.  When it comes to writing, I have some serious commitment issues.

I was speaking with someone the other day about starting a writer’s group.  Mostly because I need some accountability.  My amazing friend Karissa just finished the first draft of her book.  She got up at 4:30am every day to write.  4 freakin 30.  The only time I see that time of day is when I haven’t gone to bed yet.  She also has a full-time job and a family.   But she made time, she set goals, and she is getting stuff done.  She is superwoman.

This is Karissa and I, with our awesome friend Susan, back-in-the-day.  So far back my hair’s not even red.  Karissa is the one with the shortest hair.  She looks even more beautiful today, despite the fact that she’s had two kids.  Did I mention that she’s superwoman?

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Then there’s Tripp.  Tripp is a college professor-speaker-actor-animal wrangler-musician-skateboarder-pacifist.  Oh yeah.  And an author.  He’s written/contributed to 13 books.  THIRTEEN.  How does he do that?  I don’t know, but that guy cranks out books like it’s nobody’s business.  He is both ten degrees of brilliant and the coolest guy ever.  If you met him in real life you might be deceived by his slacker-like t-shirt collection.  But don’t be fooled.  Anyone who has written 13 books before they’ve turned 40 doesn’t have a slacker bone in their body.

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Here are Tripp and I with the cast of “The King Stag” back in college.  He’s the one with the weird horn on his head.  I’m the one wearing the neon yellow dress made out of a curtain.  (I was totally allergic.  That’s a whole other story for Murphy to tell.)  Too bad I can’t seem to find the photo of me carrying him up the stairs.  That one is awesome.

Anyway . . . back to the point.  I need some accountability.  And although I have amazing writer-friends, they all live far away.  Hence the idea for a writers group.  Anyone in the Central New York area interested?