Friday, September 4, 2020

It's an adventure

 When we were in Puerto Rico in 2019 for mission work, we drove around with some of our free time to explore the area.  After the hurricane much of the infrastructure was damaged.  We didn’t always know what wasn’t there to begin with and what wasn’t there because of the storm, but there were regularly street signs missing. Google maps’ Spanish was pretty poor, which generally meant I had to translate what it said into actual Spanish and then translate that into directions for the driver.  It also didn’t help that the satellite connection for said maps was spotty, so we took a few detours.  Sonya was one of the women on the trip and she and her husband, Fred, have traveled a good bit.  She said that when they went somewhere new, they didn’t say they were lost, Fred just said, “We’re seeing something we haven’t seen before.” It was a lovely phrase that our team adopted easily.  We weren’t lost, we were just seeing something we hadn’t seen before. And it was true, and it made it all a bit of adventure—seeing things and doing things we’d never done before. 


Mission trips often push you outside of your comfort zone. For many eating new foods, or being in a country where you can’t speak the language can be challenging.  It’s hard to lose the confidence of self-sufficiency and instead rely on others in such significant ways. But it also forces you to experience things in new ways and grow in who you are.  It requires humility, patience, and courage.  


Yesterday, when I visited with Cally and Cathy, we talked about the challenges of the pandemic.  I said, “It’s an adventure.”  They laughed a little and I shared Sonya’s motto.   We’re doing things and seeing things we’ve never done before.  It’s challenging and forces us out of our comfort zone.  And, if we can keep our focus—it’s an adventure that will allow us to grow.  We’re trying new things, doing old things in ways we’ve never tried before.  We are exploring. We might feel a little lost, or it might take longer to get to our destination.  We could get upset and frustrated about it. Or, we might relocate ourselves within our current circumstances, get the supplies we need, and move ahead into the great unknown—after all, we’ve never been here before.  


That’s not me trying to wash over the very real challenges of our current situation.  I’m exhausted like most everyone.  And, I know that perspective matters. How we look at something will affect how we’re able to deal with it.  If I only choose to grieve what isn’t, I’ll miss the opportunity of this season.  It will be challenging. It will be exhausting. It will take longer to get where I want to go.  AND…I’m hoping to lean into this adventure and see and do things I’ve never done before.  

*Originally published for Moscow First UMC

Monday, August 31, 2020

White Normativity

Last week, I listened to a podcast that I found helpful. It was on "the Bible for Normal People" and featured Drew Hart. He's a theologian. And a black man. And he was talking about how he views race relations in the US.  He said a lot of things that were helpful, especially if you're just entering these types of conversations as a white person.  But there was one thing that I thought could really help change the nature of these conversations.  

When he was answering a question about "white supremacy" he said we need a different way of saying it...for the sake of the conversation.  He said something along the lines of racial hierarchy where white is at the top--not that that's what he was asking for, that's what he was describing.  I heard, in one form or fashion "white normativity". I don't know that that was his exact phrase, but it's the way it stuck with me.  That white supremacy is really a conversation about white normativity...things that are associated with white people becoming the "norm" by which other things are measured.  

He didn't name these, but they're examples that came immediately to mind:

Things like bandaids being "skin colored"--but only if you're fair skinned, or white.  I didn't have any reason to take note of this until I was in college.  Or maybe, better stated, no one drew my attention to this marker of white normativity until college. If this is new to you, this article might be helpful. 

Or the "flesh" crayon color being reflective of white flesh, not African American, Native American, Desi, Latino, or Asian flesh. 

Or the "norm" of identifying the race of someone in your story, but only if they aren't white. Like, "there was a black man who crossed the street...", or "this asian lady..." but white people don't say, "when the white lady said". We only identify the "other" because whiteness is's the norm.  

There is lots of white normativity. It's a huge hurdle in our country. We don't talk about it easily or readily. And, if it's coined by it's real term: white supremacy, many of us fall deaf. After all, white supremacy has become the way we talk about the Neo-nazi, skin-head, racist radical movement that flagrantly touts the supremacy of the "white race" (that's a whole other post!) and advocate for the elimination of others.  Those of us who are not in that group certainly do not want to be lumped in along side them.  Which means we then (generally) refuse to even enter conversations where someone might say we hold "white supremacist ideals".  

But...maybe?  If we talked about white normativity--where we find it, how to identify it, why it's problematic, and how to dismantle it, maybe we could make some progress?  Maybe?  

Starting place

 There’s been a lot of conversation lately around race consciousness and racial injustice.  I sometimes have lots I want to say and sometimes don’t know what to say. And sometimes I’m not sure it’s my place to say it.  


In the swirl of conversations I’ve had various moments, epiphanies, and lessons come to mind.  I’m not an expert to be teaching others, but I have learned some things. And clearly, some people haven’t learned those same things. And we have trouble listening and seeing and finding solutions to deep seated issues in our communities and our country. 


Partly for my own sake of working through my memories and what I think I learned, and hopefully in a way that might help someone else engage in the conversation, I’m planning to blog about those things.  


I haven’t blogged consistently in years. I haven’t had enough to say to make it worthwhile or to need the outlet. But now it seems right…as a place to lay my thoughts and maybe offer something helpful to another.  


I’ve heard a couple of podcasts from Brene Brown in the pandemic, and one thing she says that I really like is “I’m trying to get it right, not to be right.”  I want that to be my mantra for now—to try and get it right, not to be right. This isn’t about absolutism. This is about process and learning. 


So if you have a question, ask. If you think I got it wrong, let me know.  But please do it with the same intent…not to prove you're right, but to help one another get it right.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Muscle memory

 Grief is a funny thing.  For me, it has this sneaky subtle presence.  I don’t just fall apart in tears.  Instead, most often I fall asleep. I just get so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. And, I don’t normally associate my fatigue with grief. I just assume I’m tired because of life.  Lately, I assume I’m tired because of pandemic life. And, let’s be real, part of pandemic life is grief over all the things that can’t be right now.  


This last week I’ve been tired. Like ready for a nap at 9am kind of tired.  Granted, I get up at 5, but still naps at 9am aren’t normal for me.  I wasn’t sure what was up but try to eat right, take my vitamins, keep exercising and listen to my body.  


And then yesterday I got a text “thinking about you today. I love you.” And it took me a minute. She’s a friend, so it wasn’t that weird…but why that day in particular? Oh, August 24th….the day my mom died.  And then it hit me…my fatigue was likely my grief speaking.  


An hour or two later my sister messaged me, she wasn’t going to do anything for the day and she was preparing to tell her family they were on their own for lunch.  So I asked, “does it have anything to do with mom?” Oh…I hadn’t thought about that…maybe? 


Four years out and my mom’s death isn’t ask breath taking as it used to be.  But it’s still hard and even if my mind is too distracted to remember, my body isn’t. My body remembers, which is so weird that somehow rooted in my muscle memory is the pain of that loss.  


My sister asked what I was going to do about it. I said I felt I should lean into it, but had other things to do, so maybe I’d just get things done and then come back to it.  Which is pretty much what I did…or tried to do…because that dang blanket of fatigue is so heavy and at times during the day I just couldn’t. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t get up and go for a walk. I couldn’t do more. 


But resting and sleeping don’t actually fix the fatigue of grief. I actually have to do something to actively grieve, and the thing that has helped me the most is to write. I write about my mom. I write about what I miss. I write about the weight of it all, and somehow the words that I write, or type, pull some of the weight from my body to the page.  


We have a portal in the living room and when I walk into the room it activates and shows the pictures I’ve posted on Facebook—currently lots of pictures from our recent trip. Our trip home. Our trip to see family.  And pictures with some of those we love and were able to see.  But no pictures of my mom. Of course not. That’s obvious after 4 years.  But pictures were her thing. She loved taking pictures and back in the age of film we would sit or stand in place FOREVER until everyone cooperated and smiled like they were supposed to.  And she would insist on family pictures on major holidays. And she would insist on grandkid pictures with the grandparents.  And for years it was annoying and frustrating, especially when certain family members were less than cooperative.  Ahem.  You know who you are and I am not naming names. 


And my heart aches because I wish my mom were here. I wish my kids knew her—like really got to know her and enjoy her. She would have doted on them because that’s who she was. And she would have been able to help us when we fall short as parents and don’t know what to do. And she could have helped us come up with a plan for this hybrid school year that feels so likely to go south and be all online. But she’s not here. 


And yet she does help. Who she was and how she raised us and the things she taught us…those are in my muscle memory too.  I think part of the reason I can forget the date of her death is because she was an amazing mom and we had a solid relationship.  Sure, we had our issues, but they weren’t profound or harmful.  So I can hold the goodness of who she was without open wounds, or tender scars, or words left unsaid.  I knew she was dying and I got to say goodbye. And she taught me in such a way that I was able to help Ruth say goodbye over the phone too. My mom wasn’t conscious, so that wasn’t the point. The point was helping Ruth learn how to let someone go and release them into the arms of God.  She was only 5, so she doesn’t remember it well, but it was there…a healthy muscle memory that will hopefully help the next time we have to say goodbye.  


I never know quite where these stream of consciousness writings will take me. I try to just follow it and let the words come, and then stop when they don’t.  So here we are, stopping without conclusion.