Monday, August 28, 2017

Grace, Race, & Love.

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There are a lot of people we are supposed to be loving. 

And if I'm honest, sometimes it is overwhelming. 

We are supposed to love our neighbor, our enemy. We are supposed to love our kids. And our jobs. We are to love widows and orphans and the least of these. We are expected to 
love our spouses, our God, our houses, our food. 

We love chocolate and the Bachelor and Kylie lip gloss and an Uber driver who makes us smile. We love our new suitcase and our electric toothbrush and our coffee thermos. We love Starbucks and Amazon Prime and Joanna Gaines and our favorite jeans. 

And sometimes, we love well. But sometimes, we slap "love" on the wrong things. 

For as much as I want to love well and love wholly, I know I don't have the capacity to love it all. Perhaps it's because our language doesn't give us the privilege of having more than one word for love. Greek gives us four. Though it's obvious that I love my toothbrush and my husband quite differently, the outward perception is one I can't control when I attach love to both of them. 

Because though we are quite good at spouting off all the things and places and people and souls that we love, we often fall short in being as vocal about the things we do not. Primarily, maybe, because we've been taught that the opposite of love is hate. And when people take a platform of opposites—whether good or bad, morally or personally, it welcomes retribution and retaliation from both the boy next door and the hands at the helm of the Internet. 
I can try my best to give loving soul food to the things, the places, the people, the platforms that I care about. I can try to advocate and appreciate and support and sustain all the causes that ring true and sit well in my soul. 

But I'm isolated. And privileged. And if I'm honest with the critics, I'm also naive. 

My priority platforms might not look the same as yours. Sometimes the things that sit the most comfortably are not the ones we should be sitting on.

I lived in rural West Virginia for almost four years during medical school. My cadaver lab study group contained white, black, brown, and yellow skin. One of us was restricted from rotating in certain towns because of safety issues. I should have to tell you which one of us it was, but given the recent headlines I don't think you have to gamble on your guess. 

And now, seven years outside of my time in training, I live in a small dusty town in the Pacific Northwest. We have no black friends--not because we don't want them, but because an overwhelming majority of our community is white. Our blonde haired, blue eyed son will enter kindergarten this year with most of his class looking just like him. My 3-year-old daughter picks the dolls and princesses and Barbies that look most like what she sees in the mirror. Maybe it's because she prefers pink sparkle dresses to yellow or because, even as children, we naturally reject that which is foreign. 

Or maybe it is both. 

As the headlines rolled in this month, I was left feeling both dejected and discouraged. Yes, we are better than that. Yes, we--as a nation, a people, a humble collection of ever sinful-souls can LOVE better than that. And yes, I thought we had moved past this too. 
But we haven't. And history tells us that until we approach LOVING differently, we probably never will. 

A surprisingly wide body of research tells us that unless we teach and talk and intertwine race with intention for children, our future will continue to look the same. We, as a people, will continue to love what is most like us. We will skirt around important issues because they sit uncomfortably. And we will look in a mirror as a not-guilty party thinking naively that we are not part of the problem because we are inactive in seeking solution. And until we realize the cadence of our conversations is rooted in contempt, our hearts won’t recognize the need for change. Because that better than mentality is the very thing that ruins relationships, drives couples to divorce, and singes seams of friendship.

We will continue to buy blonde haired baby dolls over those with black curls because it is comfortable. We will cook the cuisine we grew up with because it is familiar. We will watch the movies that make us laugh instead of ones that push us to the edges of our seats and the valley’s of our Hearts because we don’t like feeling uneasy. We will judge the elderly at the crosswalk, the Food Stamp user at the grocery checkout, the teenage pregnancy at the food bank, the troubled kid in Juvi again—because although we might spout mercy or donate money or be humbled to give a sweet morsel of grace, we cannot love them well until we accept that we are ill-informed of their struggle.

I don’t have time to fold our laundry most weeks. The baseboards are dusty, walls are smudged with fingerprints, and a stack of books sits unread on my nightstand. Most nights after the kids are finally asleep, my love-tank has been drained of every sunshiny drop. I cannot find the time in my week to sync my phone, muchless become a Big Sister to a Little in need or push the waves of racial change in my corner of community. On a good day, I close my eyes feeling like I loved my own kids through their tantrums and fits and ingratitude well. And on a bad one, I find myself ignoring the responsibility I have to love people well—whether or not liking them makes me uncomfortable. I do not have access to a diverse audience. I am not exposed to the Big City lights or days in the Inner City life. My children have never voluntarily skipped a meal. I have not needed Food Stamps or spent time in detention. The only time I’ve been called to court was to testify on behalf of a patient. We do not own a black baby doll. And aside from doctoring and motherhood, I don’t have a platform I feel lead to preach from. I am privileged. And I recognize that I cannot know the struggle of those that are hurting or hating or hunted not because I don’t possess the capacity to love them well, but possibly because I don’t know the way to love them right.

If my uninformed contempt can kill my marriage, imagine what its effects are when multiplicity is applied. And if my admitted naivety takes me to the first step of realization, imagine the power wielded in simply looking in the mirror of our souls. By responding with blanket statements about all lives having value, we are speaking truth but foolishly ignoring the motive behind the rally-cry.

Our son starts Kindergarten soon. His school supplies are stocked, backpack is ready, and heart is inevitably going to change, molded by a moral-filled battle of nature versus nuture.  I will set aside my laundry, my task list, my baseboards and bend low to listen to his little struggles not only for comfort, but so that he knows my presence when the big ones come. I will reach down deep in my empty love-tank to reach and teach and treasure when he needs just a bit more direction or discipline. The dinner table will hopefully not only be filled with conversations of good deeds and reflections on positive learning, but directed dialogue on differences. If I—if we—can find the boldness to approach our culture and differences with the tenderness our children deserve we might look in the mirror to find that we all deserve the same. And that person staring back at us might just be the one who is finally able to get love right.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dear Sister: On Dreaming

My sister got married last year. This past weekend marked her one year anniversary. My other sister got engaged a couple of months ago. And so, in my decade-of-marriage wisdom, I've penned these posts gradually through the past year, hoping that they might speak to their futures. 

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Dear Sister, 

Right now, your dreams are big. They cover the world. They string together your enlightened days. They fuel your conversations. About the present. About the future. About the fulfilled & broken past. You whisper them under lovely breaths at night, squeeze them between kitchen kisses, & spend road trips reciting the future. 

One day, they will grow smaller. Not a lot. Not all at once. But they will. Your life together will change your own dreams, make them ONE dream. And suddenly the multitude of big separate dreams will become one big dream of two married souls. You'll share toothpaste and Thai food, parking ticket fees and airplane ticket miles; you'll dream about welcome door mats & open doors around the world. 

Their shrinking doesn't shrink their importance. 

I realized this year that part of me has stopped dreaming. It isn’t that the seedlings of my dreams died—rather, they morphed. My wide dream of traveling the world has been roped in by a family budget, a work calendar, & small children. My deep dream of becoming a vocalist was quickly dubbed by the fact that our four-year-old has better tone than I do. My tall dream of being outdoorsy & spending the summer weekends hiking & mountain biking & rafting & fishing has been forlorn by chubby kid thighs & knee injuries & accessibility. No doubt my dreams are still present—i still smell the gelato & taste the fresh coconut & feel the salt on my once-was skin; but the daily aspirations that we laid under pillows late at night & left on lips between the sheets have faded. 

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If you are roped into the bell curve of statistics, one day you will lie on a bed of faded dreams & share quick kisses of parting on your way to the carpool line. One day you will wake up & wonder who stole your body & with it, all the aspirations of things you were going to be & do & experience. 

But you’ll find yourself. and you’ll find your dreams. you won’t even have to go searching for them. They’ll be comfortably tucked away, asking to come out like sunshine in your pocket when life allows. 

I can tell you that some dreams will die. Like, for example, if you wanted to be Jasmine at Disneyland. Hashtag: black hair doesn’t go with your skin tone. But I can also tell you that your marriage, your union, your support of one another will sometimes be that small spark that reignites the flame for things bigger than yourselves. 

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And if we are honest with ourselves, that is what dreams are anyways: the thought that we are part of something bigger, grander, & bolder than our current state of being. 

Grasp that. Hold that. And don’t let it go. Pass that between the sheets, under door mats, & through postage stamps. Don’t leave yourself out of the dreams you hold close. Find new ways to dream about old things. Maneuver through joy in the necessary restrictions of life & budgets & kid schedules. 
And if I could tell you nothing else about the Sparks of dreams that are & were & will be, it is this: dream together. Dream big & small & in all sizes. Dream far & close & wrap your arms around each other when dreams break & fall & shatter. Because they will. Find new dreams in the fragments of the old, new promise in the breaking of the former. Keep the small ones alongside the big ones. Don't match them by perceived magnitute but by received joy from the dreaming. 

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Roadblocks will come. Cherished dreams will shatter. Life, at times, will seem an insurmountable passage by which you must access those cherished sparks of hopeful scheming. But you will have each other. And if you keep at it, you will have your dreams. Waiting patiently like sunshine in your pocket; waiting to come out & shine light on the life you've made together. 

Love you. 


Saturday, January 21, 2017


You counted your birthday chain today: 37 days until you turn five. Half a decade. Five trips around the sun. One thousand eight hundred and twenty-five sunrises (I swear you have been awake for at least half of them). Countless minutes to grow and learn; countless opportunities to make it right, make it better, make it count.

You are still learning. And my biggest hope for you is that you become a student of your life.
Yesterday, while you recited the Pledge of Allegiance and built your fifth Lego dragon of the week, our Country got a new President. His name is Donald. And while you pranced around munching on white cheddar cheese and salami, he raised his right hand and vowed to protect and supervise the place we call home for the next four years. I would have turned on the television to show you, but we made the choice long ago to forego channels and commercials for the sake of our sanity and our budget. I think you would have like the music, though.

You must realize that this new President-thing is going to happen a lot in your life. And while you don’t care today, someday you might. Someday I hope you do. Someday I hope you care enough to sign your name on a ballot and commit to using your Citizenship for bettering.

Today, while you built a Lego Igloo and turned your nose up at the yogurt fruit dip I made, women joined hands and walked on city streets and country roads to tell the World that they believe in something. And while you sat in time-out for body-slamming your sister and giggled with glee at the puppies up for adoption at the Pet Store, Americans spent their morning in the rain and snow and cold holding high signs and babies and hearts, reminding the World that they have a voice to be heard.

You must realize that passionate people have a place just as much as passive people do. But the former group will initiate change, expand perspectives, and fight for justice in ways that are more bold and more foreign and sometimes more uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean they are wrong. I hope someday you feel passionate. I hope someday you feel strongly enough, convicted enough, to see through the signs and marching. I hope your vision is clear enough to see the message.

You see, leadership does not mean the best kid on the playground wins. It does not equal the captain of the football team or the kid that is always mimicked in high school. Leadership is a privilege that must be earned. And while many people are questioning the mind and message and motivation of our new President, in our household we will still recognize him as the Leader of our Country.

But I want to set the record straight about a few things.

Our political opinion doesn’t matter. It certainly doesn’t matter to you at age almost-five. And the truth is that where we stand on the donkey-elephant spectrum today probably won’t matter in a decade. We change as the World changes. As a human race, we are supposed to evolve. We are supposed to advance. We are supposed to look back with applause and appall. And we are supposed to stand on the corner of commendation, moving forward in our human journey with greater perspective.

Do not take this to mean that opinions don’t matter. Or that they don’t have a place to be voiced or displayed or dispersed. More than the way in which they are shared is the heart behind their creation. As the World Turns, sweet boy, life will continue to move. People will move forward. Technology will advance. The impossible will become reality. Dreams will materialize. And just as much as these great and beautiful and bold things will happen, the opposite will also be true. Communities will look backward. They will forget to hold close the lessons and lesions and losses of road-pavers and justice-makers. Hearts will harden. Tragedy will transpire in unthinkable and indescribable ways. Dreams will dissipate.

You are not your opinion. You are not the opinion of someone else. You are not the subject of accuracy in the tabloids or on the lips of your peers at school. You belong to something better. And our biggest prayer for you is that your soul finds home in Someone Greater.

Opinions matter, kid. But hearts matter more. I don’t know our new President. I don’t know what he eats for breakfast. Or what laundry detergent he uses. I do know he poops, though—which might make your almost-five-year-old mind fall into a fit of giggles. He is human. A sinful, selfish, soul-bearing mortal who happens to be in a position of leadership. He is like us.

Each morning, as God pulls up the sun, equal grace is poured on us all. On me. On you. On him. Although our opinions may be polarized, our voices may take up residence in different octaves; although our wrinkles may show years of wearing different emotions, GRACE has to win.

The difference, my boy, between you and the world is receptivity.

I know the day is coming when you decide that you don’t like me. The day is coming where you will roll your eyes at the way I fold underwear or organize groceries. The day is coming where you will dislike more than just yogurt fruit dip. You will grow. You will continue to journey around the sun with billions of other gleeful souls. You will continue to form wrinkles that paint stories of your emotions, continue to form opinions that shape your convictions, and continue to stand for things you love—be it Lego dragons or equality. We hope that regardless of the marching or mayhem or misfortune, you continue. We hope you continue on in grace, realizing that you do not have to be shaped by your leaders but can become one yourself. We hope you continue on in love, recognizing how worth it the heartbreak of commitment can be. We hope you continue on—to make it better, to make it right, to make it count.

Our trips around the sun are numbered, but your dreams don’t have to be. 

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