In its lines, crevices, scars, pockets, and spots, by body knows things I do not. In the beginning was my body, within a stranger’s body, when she carried me. She gave birth to me, surrendered my body to another–to the … Continue reading
As a grant writer, I ask for photos, quotes, stories, and statistics. As a former non-profit program person, I talked about goals, making a difference, supporters and strategy. As a parent and a person, raising kids from a low-income bracket, … Continue reading
As a little detour away from typical subject matter, I wanted to share about some local places I frequent. It’s a random assortment but for the USC/West Adams/Koreatown/Downtown community, especially if you’re planning a party or new in town and … Continue reading
There are certain spheres in which I am very reluctant to give advice. Saintly, I know. Most of them are related to pouring more, specific responsibility on women and mothers: not interested. Post a click-baity article on the evils of yoga pants or screen time, or tell me all the wrong things about all the food non-wealthy or non-white kids eat, and I’m pushing mute. There’re just too many cooks in the kitchen, all with the same [lack of] experience levels, not all with the same contexts and privileges, and the moms I know don’t need another apocalyptic guideline.
At high risk of overlapping with that incredibly common genre, I’m writing today about something I’ve never said a thing about: a video game. I don’t hardly know anything about this subject (impressive start, I know) except that I am the absolute worst in actually playing them. My coordination on the button thingies rivals my dance moves for Most Compelling Reason I may be a different species than most people. But nevertheless, this is my blog.
A friend asked me to help research and bring awareness to a game that’s pretty popular right now because she is a teacher and a leader and communal to her core; I’ll try because I love her so. The game, many of you know, is called Fortnite, specifically the Battle Royale mode (rated 13+), which is free. 40 million people play some version of it. Championed by conscientious adults for its lack of blood, the cartoony-violence, and humor, there is the social intensity of online strangers, one life, and urgent perils at every turn. It is inspired by The Hunger Games type plot, and teams (of real players) are encouraged in the race to kill in order to be the last survivor. While the game does not require in-app purchases to progress (a merit-badge in marketed-to-kids free games), there are cosmetic improvements frequently pushed, to update one’s appearance in the alternate, deteriorating world.
Some things I read made this game sound pretty harmless–the building and strategy aspects, being a teammate, and the unrealistic violence. Some things I read made this game sound very dangerous because of its addictive, real-time quality mixed with the survivor intensity. It’s hard for kids to unplug or stop playing, and in essence, commit suicide and hurt their team. Reading or listening to other people’s in-game advice or reactions can make for a very charged, profane, uncontrollable and polarizing environment—kind of like real life middle school. This was a helpful article I found about Fortnite-related kid rage and some practical advice.
In one friend’s experience, her child started showing more severe mood swings, a fear of being alone, anxiety, and few words to explain said feelings. Some of the behaviors that she later found in the game and related YouTube videos were things he, in his upset, threatened to do to himself. Obviously, no video game is experienced in a test tube environment, and no child is only affected by one video game. But this one seemed to have an especially piercing effect that was noticeable and destructive to this underaged, sensitive player right away. I too have a kid who is markedly sensitive in some regards and has to work extra hard in social arenas; in both cases, we moms would like them to learn how to manage their sensitivity without forfeiting or devaluing it. Adding another layer of social weight to their shoulders in this form of game is the equivalent of asking me to go on So You Think You Can Dance; it’s just not the right time.
I came across this quote from one of my favorite writers: “It is a quotidian master that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation…We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are…We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places” (Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries, 11).
I like this framework for being parents, mentors and teachers: Lookers for Blessings. It is such a poignant quote for we who wear the biggest hats of the Daily, in our own search for fulfillment, but in tonight’s case, what a help in creating a palatable, big-enough rubric for our influence on children, for the rules we’re willing to set and the environment we strive to create. Is it a blessing? Will it help them find more for themselves?
Not in the flimsy prize toy kind of way, or the competitive, affluence snobby way or the Netflix binge type of gift we’ve all given ourselves…but the blessing that turns out to bloom salvific, meaningful, healing. What in their daily could be the core of their salvation? For my young friend, the recreation and entertainment of this particular video game offers distraction, but none of the above bouquet. In the ways we try to unpack the feelings, give vocabulary to the nuances, and give guidance to the social maneuvers our young ones are sorting out each day at school…in all those ways, with added stakes and voices, he engaged in another world no one could even begin to ask about or retrace because it doesn’t exist. And yet it did. And does for about 40 million other people.
I’m not attempting to make anyone’s mind up about this year’s game or video games in general. But I find myself, in all of this wading, wanting to recommission moms and dads and aunties and teachers and mentors to be in charge; I want to affirm their role of setting boundaries and seeking blessings. Adults are affirmed to set up blessing-dispensing systems and say, “People have different rules and these are our rules” which can be code for “This is how I am establishing daily salvation and meaning in your world.” The children cannot become well adults without their adults first insisting that they are the kids.
The daily is so slippery and relentless. Like a bedtime routine with a toddler, one step can suddenly become 12 and after saying the right thing, feeding the right thing, setting up the right thing, and reading the right thing, the kid still has a 13th idea. And then they get big enough to climb out of the crib. Moving targets abound and there is grace upon grace for us caretakers. Otherwise we would just all quit and shrivel in a snivel and no one would have kids and in the first place, God would probably have not set it up like this.
It doesn’t all have to be catechism; it can’t. It can be bubbles and paint and brownies and solitaire and guitar. One person suggested a family Fortnite night. It’s your world to make, and it’s doused in grace. A hundred little things fill the space of the daily. All we can do is start just where we are. Pluck something that hasn’t fit the bill, and pick a replacement for the young soul. They are beginning their meaning-making, in need of salvation, and we are an adult, tasked as a look out for their blessing. It’s our watch.
Preemptive parenting is my strategy. I have a running schedule and clock in my mind at almost all times because either it’s how God made me, or I’m a catastrophizer. I dislike being late, being complained to, and being under pressure so much, I will put the 6-year-old down for a nap, I will start Operation Shoes and Socks 15 minutes before we actually need to leave, and I will pack back-up Goldfish, gum, diapers and wipes in the car because so often in Los Angeles, we are without access to food, other people and stores.
Preemptive work in relationships requires a lot more vigilance and gumption. While a Christian woman might be affirmed for being prepared with a kids travel game or for bringing snacks, she is not usually applauded for boundaries, saying no, or sharing her expectations for an event in advance. Those are typically assigned negative hues of guardedness, selfishness, being a control-freak, anal retentive or other suspect characterizations (I have heard…). We are trained to defer, accommodate, submit, overlook, and serve. While at times these actions can be great strengths and hold within themselves a powerful freedom and love when chosen, they can also enable the entitlement of other people to the diminishment of our own personhood. We are not destined to become smaller; it is not our job to disappear.
Going into the weekend, my spouse and I often have expectations for the precious 48 hours. They are generally competing. Going into the holidays, we may all be facing the same dilemma, only with the added help of multiple-day road trips, long-distance family suddenly sleeping in the next room, candied children, and, if we’re lucky, bacterial infections. Nothing says joy and peace like spilled juice in the car, sliding around snowy passes next to semis, mysterious and constant appearances of glitter and snot, and off-colored jokes from the uncles, ammiright?
I’m just here to say, if you can pack a diaper bag in your sleep, or have thus far managed to feed, clothe, and bandaid actual living people, including your self, you are allowed to say “no,” or “I want,” or “we will.” Merry Christmas. The safety and intimacy of our relationships relies upon our exercising agency and boundaries. Particularly for those of us who struggle with anxiety, depression or addiction.
It’s not about controlling others or being rigidly closed off. It’s about self-awareness and working from the best part of your self and not the worst, or fastest, or most sensitive. Preemptively making a plan to cut off chaos at the pass.
This may look like extending a request along with an invitation: would you be willing to not discuss ______, or isolate anyone in conversation regarding that topic? (And if this does happen, my family and I will be taking a walk.) It may mean saying ahead of time that you will be leaving by 9, when things really get boozy. It may look like staying at a hotel instead of your childhood bedroom, with the nephews and the giftwrap. It may mean scheduling alone time, and letting your host know you won’t be around Friday afternoon. It may mean using paper plates no matter what your mom thinks.
What are your expectations for the rest of this year, which, for the most part, has been really challenging? What concerns do you have going into group gatherings and which of them are valid, addressable, and likely shared (ie: managing uncle bob’s anger, not addressable; making a plan for when it is triggered, absolutely)? What would it mean to experience the holidays with freedom and presence rather than anxiety and reactions? (“While we love traditions, we won’t be squeezing in the movie this year between presents and dinner; we’ll see you when you get back!”) What preparation and communication would help these times be building rather than destructive? Who are the safe people who can help you stick with the plan?
I encourage you in your preemptive policies. I cheer you on as you exercise agency, take your heart and brain seriously, and invite others to do the same. It will be a gift to the people ready for better relationships; it will be a model for our sons and daughters.
When I think about it, my relationships and the way I enter 2018 are at least as important as how many snacks I’ve packed. It’s time to get planning.
Women are unbecoming.
They are unbecoming the silenced one, the interrupt-able, the indirect object, the first apologizer, and the compromised.
This is not a scary thing if we believe that success and shalom for women are not inherently threatening to the success and shalom for men. And other women. And everyone. What if we did not assess humans competitively?
I am only 33 but I am unbecoming. I’m unbecoming my childhood shame and guilt that made me nearly perfect, as I examine and re-examine the unkind behaviors of my child. I’m telling her she’ll be okay as we take the time to look at his heart, behind the cutting words and punishable arrows. Behind the performance and the pains.
I am unbecoming the self-righteous sensitivity that, like a clam shell, seemed to protect me, but then, turned out to isolate me instead. No pearl was forming, only imagined; all orthodoxy, no generosity. Like Beth Moore recently said, liking fewer people and calling it sanctification. No clarity maintained, eyes closed. In my fear of worldliness, I blocked human goodness; in my disdain for darkness, I blocked the light. I am unbecoming the closing.
I am unbecoming the reluctancy to say I was wronged, or hurt, or impacted. I am unbecoming a stoicism that the clam took well to and the patriarchy approved. I am undoing the dishonesty that other people’s comfort demanded; I am recovering from my own learned deafness to my needs, hurt, and worth. I am unlearning the lie that looking at something gives it infallible power.
I’m only 33 so I have only started to see the things God’s inviting me to unbecome. The undoing is not as a sweater unraveled, a heap of chaos and wonky, but as a first shoot from a bulb, headed up, having a taste for light. A mystery, a toil, to be sure, but a gift in this gift of time. Unbecoming into who I am better being.
Also there is becoming. Women are also becoming. Definers. Decision-makers. Comfortable. Singular. Pervasive. Connected.
It can be hard to not trap the becoming, the new, in the unbecoming, or the old. It is hard to keep the two separate and moving, like siblings. For me, this includes the wildernesses of domesticity and being a woman in 2017 specifically. The ways to help, the gaps in our society, the cultural shifts, the breaking down of Christianity in our context, the new science, the recent poll. The conversations and opportunities that meet me each day, new pages, fresh print–not to be jammed in an old drawer and defined by an old construct.
It requires courage to not automatically reach for the old drawer, the last language. The becoming lessons are new to stay new–to start brand new hope, conviction, and relationship. Framing them in the past makes the lessons fade and compromises the work of unbecoming. We are brave when we look with curiosity. The situations my children face, that children before have never faced. Failures and successes that need to stand on their own two feet. The becoming is daunting in its own way because we don’t have the syllabus and the deadlines are moving; constantly, we are asked by this life to show movement, memory, and change–in this becoming, we are never finished.
Shalom, if we can dare speak of shalom within the world of only one person, is the overlap. When the lanes of the unbecoming and becoming merge. When the past isn’t too heavy but its substance is polished, and when the new isn’t hype or cheap but tailored…I suspect those moments when our gut, and mind, and lungs, and prayer, and worth are full, those are the times of most truth.
I pray for this work of unbecoming and becoming, a dotted line between the two in their youth. Traveling companions, but different journeys, each needing to stay in their lane for the most part. I pray for divine differentiation for healthy attachment; that the becoming would not have the lid of unbecoming, and that unbecoming would not go unnoticed in the fervor of becoming, and that both would help us be true, and full, and sources of shalom. I pray we would have people in our lives helping with each, pulling us to do whichever one comes least naturally, applauding the overlap, cheering for shalom.
May you find the dotted line to occupy both spaces.
Undo, and new, ever human, going deep.
Unlearn, and discover, safer still, you and me.
I have a half-written grant proposal collecting dust in my computer. It talks about the dream of sitting under someone much farther along, who is not emotionally invested in your identity and protection in the way that your mother, or even grandmother, is, and should be. But she is someone who still knows, and who, because of her completed steps, can guide or understand or cushion your own. The brewing idea is one of intergenerational community of sisterhood, that debunks the mommyblogs and echo chambers we fall into, because like tends to like, and our technological toys silo us as much as they can connect. She is the see-er. The voice missing in our confounding mental loads as women doing it all, fighting competition, pushing justice, weighing obligations and avoiding high fructose corn syrup.
I have this idea of learning from older women, not in spurts but in rhythm, and making it more possible for others, because of the incredible women who are already a part of my life. But in practice, I’ve struggled to do this.
Because the ladies in the shallow end at swimming lessons have also recently given birth. The women in my grad classes were career-minded, seeking first mortgages, internships, and noble peace prizes. The ladies on my feed are in the trenches, reaching out in the nano seconds of alone time our thirties give us for a like, a laugh, a lunch break. And it’s hard to stop and visit with my senior neighbor when the whining pulls. It’s hard to interview and take long walks and listen to senior women when I am chasing, scrambling, and budgeting every minute and dollar.
There is another voice I have missed, in addition to the one far in front of me. It is my own. To a lesser degree, to a smaller detriment, but still. Interruption is my norm. Bending and adjusting is the plan. I forget things when I only have to think about myself at this point; I am more awkward and uncertain the fewer moods rely on my preparation. I have sought the help of professionals and brutal/beautiful friends to help remember me before us.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but women throughout history have traded their very lives for the idea that there is nothing more important than nurturing others. In some ways, I believe that. In other ways, I know that idea, unexamined, threatens my sanity and health. –Courtney Martin
I promote solitude in theory, primarily as a mode through which we hear God’s heart, not just our own. Not to brag but I have exercised it in 90-120 minute parcels irregularly over the past 11 years of adulthood/marriage/motherhood. The last time I had solitude that was not measured in minutes, but days, in which I was not completely anxious, was probably when I was 20. I am soon turning 33. I tried taking an overnight solitude retreat a few years ago. An alarm kept going off and there were no curtains in the sweet cottage nestled in the woods. I was officially citified by that point and completely distracted and edgy. Barely slept. When I was 20, I had 48 hour of solitude on a rock face, with a clif bar, a journal and bible, a sleeping bag, a headlamp, a water pump and bottle, and some sunscreen. It was one of the best things of college.
Tomorrow I embark on both a time of sitting for extended times with a woman much farther along than me, and being alone with my self and God, for not a matter of hours, but days. And I have no idea what to expect. It is a completely different situation than the past, oh, all my years, and I’m so grateful and humbled in advance, but also have trepidation. What does a day look like without a deadline and nap schedule and bell system? What DO I want to eat for breakfast, that meal that always eludes me? What will God show me as I sit, awkwardly quiet and un-needed? How will my life of planning, devoting, working, fighting for causes, and connecting with friends leave me to be, or inform who I am, away?
This summer has left some scars and presented good gifts. The school year is in full swing now. I remember that feeling of September, up in Oregon when we’d start school after Labor Day. Excitement. Unknowns. Courage and nerves, holding hands. Tiredness from that summer still on our shoes. This kind of feels like all of that. September is about diving in, and stepping out, and back to school. This year, me too.
I went to high school in East Africa. Nairobi in fact. Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes it’s like a dream. Because, in many ways, it was.
While in said high school, I had the opportunity to fly back to the US and attend a youth leadership conference in Washington, D.C. It was one of those programs made to look very prestigious, bringing young leaders from near and far. Eager to build college admittance resumes, we were attending our first overpriced conference, strategically and suggestively set in the nation’s capital. We dressed up in professional garb as though we were not sixteen years old, wore lanyards, and stayed in a college dorm. Not a parent in sight. I was very fortunate to go, with people sponsoring my trip and registration. The theme for the week? Medical Ethics.
Never once did I consider a medical profession, mind you. But nonetheless, that was the option that fit best with ticket fares and summer travels and so why not. There I was surrounded by high school students who had set their pubescent sights on med school, or at least their parents had. I was headed towards an English Department somewhere, glad to have finished my high school (and lifetime) science credits with Environmental Studies.
The Thai food in D.C. was incredible. But one other thing was especially impacting (…other than the Korean guys who were interested in me, yes me, the nerdy girl in the permanent friend zone back at home in Kenya…). We all watched a movie one night, as a part of this Medical Ethics Conference: Wit, starring Emma Thompson. I was moved deeply by the film, but very soon after couldn’t quite describe why. It was obscure and no one had seen it apparently, except that select group of lanyard-clad young leaders, that I knew of. Its title stayed with me all these years and I finally watched it again yesterday, a mere 15 years later.
Wit still touched my soul, the first taste nostalgia, the rest merited profundity about the human condition, life and death. I had forgotten the strong elements of poetry, language and academia which would have been intriguing that week, way back when. I had forgotten the nurse, who always cared and rubbed lotion on the hands of the lonely patient. I had forgotten the pretentious rigor of the researchers and attending doctor. I had forgotten the main character’s journey towards both death and kindness, by way of suffering.
Wit likely watered my love for writing and studying poetry and Donne. It probably loosened some fears of the hospital, 7 years before I would work in one for a summer, and it probably planted a seed about bedside manner that made rubbing lotion on a dying woman’s back when she asked not that strange, but rather, a privilege. It tickled my appetite for academics, words, and the deep respect for women who become experts. It still speaks today to the value and pain of suffering and the great equalizing force of health and illness and endings.
Endings, health, ethics, and maintaining people’s humanity are themes that weigh on my mind these days. Also, always the thoughts and feelings about identity, my work, my worth, my gender…how I am changing and how I am not. These mazes are human and however difficult they are, whatever conflicts they may rise, and cloudiness they waft…they show life. The awareness of my own fragility, mortality even, however upsetting, is also an indicator light that my heart is beating and compassion is still kicking.
And maybe 15 years later, something will make sense. Or maybe along the way there will be a connection that leads you to give thanks, or a theme you recognize as directive, definitive, and distinctively tender. A theme God’s been showing you, patiently, relentlessly. We are alive, and yes, we are struggling, but the long game is still afoot. Our kindness, our attention to people’s humanity, our memory—these are of utmost importance now and our hurt may be the best indicator that these things are indeed on the rise. I must remind myself: the illness isn’t the story. It is the filter. Refining. Focusing.
Continue, sister and brother: forward.
Our backyard is not something I’m proud of. The carefully laid sod we bought and planted our first year here died long ago under the drought and our incompetency–the neglect of both the sky and human attention. The still-loved trampoline has a bad case of sagging-net and has bright yellow duck tape on pieces, betraying its years in the sun. Our mandarin orange tree is so confused, with 3 stages of oranges on it and a slew of ants. The tortoise has some pigeon poo on her shell.
It is a great space but what was once nicely cleaned up and orderly and growing is pretty dusty and rustic and lackluster.
I know the feeling.
14 months since leaving vocational ministry. 17 months since losing a baby and, eventually, a battle. 14 seizures in our youngest son since she was taken. Over 3 1/2 years since we started becoming foster-to-adopt parents. 4 inches of paperwork from our time with her and fighting on her behalf. 2 inches of paperwork from medical bills. A lot of goodbyes. A lot of misunderstandings.
Nearly all the things have been unconventional and unplanned. By God’s grace and love, good friends, the propeller of children to care for every.moment.of.the.day, and the tyranny of time, we have bid some farewells, and had times of healing and moving forward.
6 months pregnant. 4 months seizure-free. 2 months into a new career for Ryan; 3 middle school grades representing a bounty of love, promise, investment, heartache, and heart. 10 months into a new job for me; 4 grants awarded. 1 new Christ-centered, socially-active, egalitarian, small-budget, multi-ethnic church body. 2 beautiful sons growing in character and becoming friends, teammates and co-rascals. There is still so much goodness in our little space.
Still, it has not left us unscathed. All of “It” so near and yet so far back. There are days when we have been ungrateful–where we have not felt like we had enough, could keep going, had things to give, and had received our fair share. Yes, there have been days we have felt downright bratty and mad–“Why won’t anything work out?” “Would it be too much to ask for a break?” And these attitudes, and the survival mode of many months, have left us dry. Left us acknowledging our need for a rekindled devotion to God and service–in our heart of hearts.
Because while the pace keeps going, the extroverts keep showing up, the kids keep growing– things can become hollow, less grounded, more default, more rote, quite smoothly.
“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” Rev. 3:1b-3b
The hollowing is not all wrapped up in grief and injustice. It is not all excused by stress and weariness. It is not all because of inadequacies in our personalities or maturity or marriage or parenting or planning (though all those things possibly exist). Things have really sucked at times despite the best of these things and while God has been near, and we have been helped and supported by Him, our devotion has suffered. Our discipline has lagged. There is discouragement in our prayers. Our faith is still recalibrating. What is left may be true and good; it is solid to grow from, attach to, and offer back. But there is wreckage. The many hard realities of life the last couple of years have not always driven us to Him, but within, or our coping devices, or our hard work, chatter and human autopilots.
“I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” 1 Cor. 7:35
As the former missionaries, the church goers, the natural leaders, the open house, the whatevers and whoevers we’re tempted to allow others to think of us as, we are fallen, and though stronger in small ways, weaker in many others. We do not know how to wait patiently on the Lord for adoption and how to conduct ourselves in this system and this brokenness. We do not know how long to wait for MediCal back payments on bills after months of fighting and resubmitting. We do not know how cautious to be about epilepsy and we’re not good at being gracious with our local pharmacy. We do not know what it’s going to be like to have a newborn again, in the middle of the school year, with a teacher/administrator and 1st grader in the mix this time.
We do know we need to spend more time in ancient Truth and stillness. In rereading scripture, in rekindling devotion, and investing in the deeper conversations and friendships. We do know that we are not alone, and all is not lost–far from it. We are part of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken–i.e. purposes and a love that both demand and return much despite any of the “It” we face. We know that good is lasting, that love is final, and there is grace enough for us and our mess.
The rains are coming; the land is waiting in all its non-glory. The grass might grow back…and perhaps we with it.