The Filter is Full

Recently a friend and I were discussing the current state of our country. I told him that in response to everything that was going on I had started writing. I admitted that some it was very sarcastic if not even blasphemous. “Do you consider yourself a sarcastic person?” He asked. “Mostly just in my head.” I replied. “I have a good filter…but the filter is full!” Indeed it is. My filter has filled up to the point where all of the sarcastic comments and judgments I had held in were now spilling out. I was making snarky comments on facebook posts, to people I didn’t even know! My comments weren’t helpful, kind, or even necessary, but I had gotten to the point where everything I had been holding in- all my fears, frustrations, and judgments- had just started pouring out of me.

When we are babies we don’t have filters. Babies say exactly what they want, when they want to say it. Of course we can’t always understand what they are saying but in general they make their needs and expectations known. As we get older we start to learn about cultural norms, appropriate behavior, and expectations. We learn what will be met with approval and what won’t. As a result we construct our own filters. We condition ourselves to say and do what we believe will yield the results we want. Sometimes though our filters become warped. We learn to stay silent on things that should be said and give voice to the things that shouldn’t.

A couple of years ago I attended a workshop where I was instructed to write down my dreams. I only had one dream that week. In that dream I was trying to talk about something friend of mine had done to me. In my dream my friend put her hands over my mouth and wouldn’t let me talk. She had effectively silenced me. I realized that week that I had allowed my fear of confrontation to steal my voice. I have a decent filter. It keeps me from making hurtful comments. It keeps me from saying things that could damage relationships. It’s a decent filter but it doesn’t always allow me to tell someone that they are hurting me or when I think they’re hurting themselves.

Would it be better to just ditch the filter? Would we be better off without one? After all we just elected a man as president who seems to say whatever comes into his mind. Talk about a success story for verbal diarrhea. If the president can speak his mind, why can’t I? Before we let go of all conventions though let’s think about what the purpose of filter actually is.

A good filter purifies. It separates out the good from the bad. The chaff from the wheat. It keeps the coffee grounds out of the coffee pot. It leaves purified water, free from chemicals and bacteria, safe to drink. On a personal level this means that if we have a constructed a  good filter it will help to ensure that our words and actions are pure and holy. But even a good filter can fill up fast. Just because you didn’t call your friend a jerk doesn’t mean you didn’t think it. Filters do need to be cleaned out. Using the same coffee filter two days in a row is gross. A clogged up furnace filter is dangerous.

Our nation’s filter is full. It’s so full that we elected Donald Trump as president. He is not what is clogging our filter but he represents everything that has been seeping out and that the filter can no longer contain. He’s given voice to the racism, misogyny, economic disparity, and the fear of others that plagues our country. The good and wonderful things that our country has to offer; freedom, opportunities, diversity, innovation have become tainted. Is it time for new filter? A better one? No. A new filter would only mask the problem. We need to go to the source.

We have been trying to run our country on remnants and parts that are hundreds of years old. Some of them are broken or down-right toxic. It doesn’t matter how good the filter is. Toxic fumes are getting through. It’s time for a complete overhaul. It’s time take a really good look at which parts we are still holding onto and whether or not they should actually play a role in the future of our country.

Why are we still building pipelines when there are safer, more sustainable energy sources? Why don’t we believe that everyone has a right to medical care? Why does our country have the highest incarceration rate in the world? How is it possible that a police officer can get away with shooting a man in the back? Why are we willing to punish women for having abortions but not men who sexually assault women? Why are we scared of muslims when we are more likely to be killed by right-wing extremists? Why don’t we value this planet enough to take care of it?

These are tough questions, and they are only the beginning, but it’s time we started demanding answers. The time to be silent is over.

 

 

 

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I’m Having a Mid-Life Parenting Crisis and I’m Loving it

We are more than halfway there. More than 11 years in and less than 11 years to go before we are done with this parenting thing. Not really done of course. I’m told that this is kind of a lifetime gig but in less than 11 years, God willing, all of our children will be high school graduates and hopefully making some progress towards independence. It seems like these days kids are living with their parents longer but at least in theory we will no longer be the responsible parties?

It’s kind of a weird but great place to be. No more diapers or spit up. No more massive tantrums in public places, only in the privacy of our own home thank you very much. They are all mobile and can transport themselves from point A to point B, without back breaking labor on my part. They are all at the age where they are old enough to do things independently-ice skating, skiing, swimming, art projects, etc.-but young enough that they mostly still want to do those things with their family. And I get to participate too! I’m not sure why we tried to do any of those activities when they were younger. Who was actually enjoying it? Not I!

Despite the fact that we’ve entered into that time of life where my sole purpose seems to be shuttle service I do get to go places by MYSELF occasionally. Gone are the days when I would rather chew off my arm and feed it to my lovely children than muster up the strength and energy for a trip to the grocery store. Quick errands are no problem. They can handle themselves for at least 15 minutes. If anything they’re better behaved when I’m gone because they know there isn’t anyone there to referee for them.

Prone to insomnia, seven plus years of erratic night time schedules were not my friend. Once the kids were sleep trained I had to sleep train myself. Thank you Deepak Chopra. Other than the occasional vomiting episode nighttime troubles are usually my own.

Speaking of vomiting we almost never have to clean it up. There was one spectacular middle of the night episode last year but otherwise, nothing. They are old enough now that they know when it’s coming. Also, we pay them a dollar every time they make it in the toilet. Money well spent.

Playdates are actually are more fun than work now. Before when other children would come over to play the amount of labor and supervision required increased exponentially. If one child was able to get into a moderate amount of trouble the amount created by two was off the charts. These days though we invite another child over to play and all of a sudden my children have disappeared, off to entertain themselves with no help from me. Coffee anyone?

The best part is now that my children have developed their own interests and hobbies, that don’t involve using their mother as a jungle gym, I’ve been able to develop a few of my own:

I joined a band- Ok it’s a community concert band filled with more than a few lapsed musicians like myself dusting off their instrument cases after many years in storage. But still, I’m playing music again!

I started running- I never did get the hang of the jogging stroller and once the kids were walking themselves they insisted on being let out. The preschool teacher in me couldn’t bear to hinder their independence and self exploration so I let them. What should have been a 20 minute brisk walk/run instead turned into an interminable stroll. Sometimes I would get some weight training. When they insisted on riding a bike or scooter I was then allowed to carry both the bike and the child back home after they abandoned it halfway in. These days though if I want to get some actual exercise I just leave them at home. Turns out though I don’t actually like to run.

I bought a paddle board- If you haven’t tried this yet I highly recommend it. It might sound like you need some balancing skills but if carrying a screaming toddler in one arm and a 50 pound infant in carrier in the other without falling doesn’t prepare you for this I don’t know what will. I’ve only fallen in once but it’s not my fault the eighty pound dog couldn’t figure out how to get on.

I started volunteering at my child’s school: Now that my children are older I can enjoy other people’s children again. It used to be that I was too distracted trying to keep my children from wreaking havoc and destruction that I couldn’t really enjoy other children. Babies were cute and tempting but my toddler was about to poke them in the eye so we watched from a distance. Now that my kids are older and it’s no longer a matter of survival I can breathe again. Turns out I have mad skills! Combining my previous teaching experience with 12 years of actual parenting I can actually understand these kids.

I started writing: I’ve always wanted to write. Stories and anecdotes would swirl around in my head for days before disappearing into the nether. But who could actually write down a coherent thought before being interrupted by a blood curdling scream?  Once I began to write the words rushed out with a wild abandon. I wasn’t sure if I should be proud or appalled of what I had been holding in. Was this fit for human consumption? Ultimately it didn’t matter because:

I decided to stop caring: As a new mom I had very clear expectations for myself and others. I wasn’t going to make any mistakes and my children were going to be perfect angels. I would meet my child’s every need and would love every minute of it. I would be the perfect mother, perfect wife, perfect friend, perfect everything. Talk about a humbling experience. I am by no means a perfect mother, wife, friend, or anything really but I am learning to be real. I’m learning to let go of my unrealistic expectations of myself and others. I’m learning to let go of relationships that are damaging and don’t allow me to be the person I’m supposed to be. I’m learning to find my voice. If I haven’t earned the right to make mistakes and have my own thoughts, feelings, and opinions by now will I ever? Whose permission was I waiting for anyways? Moreover I am recognizing that I am who God created me to be and he has a special purpose for me even if I don’t recognize it myself.

Every once in awhile some well intentioned friend or family member will ask me what my plans are now that the kids are getting older. Will I go back to work? Will I continue to stay at home to cook and clean? The house could certainly use it. Should I go back to school? What will I do with my time? I can only imagine I must look like a deer in the headlights. Do I have to decide right now? Can’t I just spend some more time finding myself?

Existential crisis aside, for now I am going to enjoy this mid-life parenting experience. This time will be over before we know it. I won’t bother with the sports car just yet. The mini-van is great for transporting my family… and my paddle board.

 

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We Need Another Cat

“The cat loves you more than I do?” My daughter and I were in the car on the way home from school and in the middle of a heated conversation about how I, her mother, chose to spend my time when she wasn’t there. She was lamenting about how unfair it was that I had gone on a field trip with her older brother without her! Nevermind the fact that she couldn’t have gone if she wanted to since she had her own school to go to. How dare we have any type of fun without her. She proceeded to inform me that the cat did in fact love her more than I do because the cat spends more time with her than I do. This was proven by the fact that the cat sleeps with her every night which is equal to hours of quality time.

“So, you think the cat loves you more than I do?” Exasperated sigh followed by a biting response. “More than a parent who does not want to spend time with her child.” Ouch. I better watch out for this girl. At seven years old she already knows how to turn words into knives and she isn’t afraid to use them. But I wasn’t too perturbed by her accusation. For every field trip or activity I’ve attended with one of her brothers I’ve done something with her as well. I reminded her of Girl Scouts, dance, and the other activities we’ve participated in over the last few weeks. “But that wasn’t just you and me!” Neither was her brother’s field trip but that was beside the point. Once again though I wasn’t biting because we are in the month of February and this is where all of my free time goes to die.

February for our family combines the usual amount of craziness that we normally experience plus birthdays, school programs, days off from school, and then of course the highly anticipated Girl Scout cookie sale. If ever there was a time suck this is it. Quality time with family? Please! I’m spending my weekends running cookie booths and walking around neighborhoods. It’s not quite the horror that is Boy Scout popcorn sales (don’t get me started on that) but it can be all consuming. And if all of that wasn’t enough, for some horrible reason right smack dab in the middle of the month we load all of the kids up with enough sweets it should put them into a conversation heart sugar coma but instead turns them into raging sugar-aholics with sticky fingers and red tongues. All in the name of love of course.

So, no. I’m not going to feel guilty about not spending enough time with my children during the month of February. I’m hanging on by a thread here. I did suggest to my daughter that if she would like to spend some more “quality time” together-just her and me- we could cut out some of those other activities that just aren’t meeting her qualifications. “We don’t have to do girl scouts next year you know. Think about how much time that would save.” Her response? “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” “Wait, what? You were just furious at me and now you are done talking? I think we should finish this conversation. I don’t think you were really being fair to me.” “Mom! It’s fine. I get it. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” Right…

I suppose that was the closest I was going to get to her ceding my point but that’s fine because it looks like I’m off the hook…for now. In the meantime though she’s got the cat and if the cat can achieve during the night what I am failing to do during the day perhaps it’s time we adopted another.

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Black History Month and Atoning For Our Sins

Last month we went to see the movie Hidden Figures and my kids loved it. I know they were mostly intrigued by the science but what a great way to expose them to the reality of our history- both the good and the bad. When I saw the original book Hidden Figures at the store I knew we had to have it. What better time to read it than during black history month? When we read about segregation and how it was put into practice my children were of course shocked and appalled. My ten-year-old asked if he could go back in time and make them change those laws. Probably not, I replied, but the very least we can do is learn from our history.

Raising two boys I am trying to figure out how to teach them to be responsible, sensitive, and aware of the world around them. Is part of their duty, as privileged white men, to take responsibility for the past? Does my daughter, as a privileged white woman, share in that responsibility as well? It’s hard to place that burden on them. These are my children. They no more chose to be born white than I did. It seems unfair to be asked to accept responsibility for the sins of our forefathers. But, I was reminded of this verse from the Bible: ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. Numbers 14:18. To the third or fourth generation?! Once again this seems so unfair. Why should our children be cursed for their parents’ sins? But in all practicality it’s true. Our children do suffer for our mistakes.

Recently a family member was sharing some of our mutual family history. I learned about how abusive my great-great-grandfather was to his wife and children. My great-grandfather continued this cycle of abuse on his wife and his son, my grandfather. It was such a sad story but I also felt hopeful.  The male relatives of my generation, to the best of my knowledge, are good loving husbands and fathers. I felt like maybe we had reached the end of this particular curse. The fruits being passed down were no longer rotten, filled with hatred, anger, and contempt. They were fruits of love, joy, peace and acceptance.

Imagine if you will, a child on the edge of a still pond. He picks up a large rock and throws it as hard as he can towards the middle of the pool. There is of course a large splash and the water is no longer still and peaceful. The surface tension has been broken. Less noticeable is the ripple effect spreading out in a circular motion from the epicenter of the crash. Each wave is smaller and less pronounced. Eventually the pond becomes still and peaceful again. My family is hopefully feeling the last ripple effects of a very severe disturbance. The effect is still noticeable but not catastrophic. We have healed. The pond is becoming still and peaceful again.

Imagine again the same pond and the same child. This time however he doesn’t have just one rock. He has a dozen. He hurls one as hard as he can into the middle of the pond with the same effect as before. Before the water can calm he hurls another and then another.

It is tempting to claim that the past is the past and that we’ve moved on. Why should we feel any personal responsibility? We weren’t throwing the rocks. However, the reality is we are all feeling the ripple effects even if we weren’t the doing the throwing. And for some people the stones keep coming. There hasn’t been time to heal. Healing is important but before healing can occur the abuse has to stop.

My family couldn’t have healed if each generation hadn’t made a choice to learn from their past. They couldn’t change what had been done by their fathers but they were able to change their own actions towards their sons and daughters.

And that’s what makes all the difference. Noticing the ripple effect. Noticing the rocks that are still being thrown. You might not be throwing them yourself but are you a bystander watching someone else throw them? Recognize that you and your family may have healed from the great boulders that were slavery, segregation or any other grave injustice. You might not even have been in the pond at the time! Recognize that other people and communities are still feeling the shockwaves.

What rocks will our children and grandchildren have to atone for? Continued racial injustice? Economic disparity? The destruction of the planet they will inherit?

It certainly seems unfair that our children will pay for our mistakes for years after we are gone but the Bible contains some hope on that matter. He promises to show love to a thousand generations to those that love him and keep his commandments. Exodus 20:6 Blessings for a 1000 generations! How amazing is that?!

So that’s our choice. We can keep throwing rocks and continue the curse or put the rocks down and accept the blessing.

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Because the End of the World Cannot Get Here Fast Enough

About a month before the election I overheard a couple of my friends talking. Friend A was asking Friend B about some future plans. Friend B responded, “….unless of course I get my head chopped off hahaha”. Friend A chuckles along and they move to other topics. If you are like me though you might be wondering, what in the name of all that is holy was going on there? Who jokes about something like that? Especially considering what is actually happening in parts of the world. Well, the answer is they weren’t joking. Not really. My conservative friend’s reference to the end times, from Revelation, wasn’t so much a joke but an indication of his belief it would be happening…and soon! The real joke was the idea he would actually be around for any head chopping. As a true believer, he’s getting raptured the heck out of here before it gets really ugly and screw the rest of us! We should have seen it coming. They are the Noah of our times. If we wanted to keep our heads we should have gotten on the boat when we had the chance!

Many conservative evangelicals, like my friend, are also Trump supporters. Pre-election this was astounding to me – in a hypothetical it will never happen kind of way – that any self professed Christian could believe Trump was what God wanted for this country. Post-election, it’s gotten me thinking. Are they trying to bring about the end times? Is God not moving quite fast enough for them and they’ve decided to help him along a bit? How disappointing that Obama didn’t turn out to be the anti-Christ they so desperately wanted him to be! He was the obvious choice too! Did you hear that he’s actually secret Muslim? Every word that came from his lips was clearly a lie, whether you could prove it or not. But no…turns out he wasn’t quite the epitome of all evil he was promised to be. Although he’s not dead yet so maybe he will reveal his horns to us yet. Fingers crossed. But in the meantime why not elect a man even more fit for the job? After all, Obama’s brown sure came close but perhaps Trump’s orange really is a shade closer to the Lucifer red they were hoping for? And the lies! You really can’t trust a word this man says! So why not Trump? If the world is going to end anyways perhaps the “Christian” thing to do is make sure it happens in our lifetime.

I consider myself a Christian and so much of my life is spent trying to figure out what the “Christian” thing to do actually is. But I understand, to many, my “liberal” beliefs may actually cast doubt on that assumption. I’m told that you can’t believe in evolution and still believe God created the world. If you allow for the possibility God is actually okay with gay marriage you are denying the Bible. Abortion is murder and anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong. The list goes on and on. I’m not going to pretend to know exactly where God stands on any one issue but when I’m in doubt I like to imagine what he might say at the end of my life. Please excuse the sarcasm. That alone might be sending me straight to hell.

God: “Welcome to Heaven! Let’s see what you’ve done with your life! Oooh you voted for the orange guy! Trump and the Republican Party absolutely represent me and all that I stand for! Good going electing them into office! Did you know I’m also a Patriots fan? Some have called Trump the second coming of Jesus. Now I think that’s taking it a little far but you can definitely see me reflected in him right? No? Not quite? That’s ok. I can work with him. After all I brought Nebuchadnezzar around. I did have to take away his sanity and make him think he was a cow before he recognized the error of his ways, but I’m pretty sure Trump is almost halfway there. I’m not sure what the twitter equivalent of a bovine meltdown is but I’m God, I will think of something. And if Donald Trump can’t make it work? That’s ok. You have the entire GOP to fall back on. I’m all about the politics and I always take sides. Did you know that I personally wrote their platform myself?

 

Thanks for standing up for the law enforcement officers that gunned down innocent black people. After all, in the scriptures, I definitely made it clear I was all about the law and order! Good job! The Pharisees were also all about the law and we were absolute best buds when I was walking the earth.

I’m so glad you made sure that women who chose to have abortions knew that they were criminals and murderers and had committed an unforgivable offense. It was very important to me that every child be born into this world no matter the circumstances. Women don’t need to be scared or thoughtful about the decision to have babies because I know that no matter what happened you would make sure that they had all the resources they needed. Oh you didn’t? That’s ok. That baby should have been born into a better family if they wanted a better life. Better yet that woman shouldn’t have had sex in the first place! But a baby is a great natural consequence and I’m sure other women will learn from their mistake.

It was especially important gay people knew their behavior was absolutely immoral and disgusting. Love and family? Please! I was really glad they knew they weren’t welcome in your church as is and shouldn’t be welcome in any church for that matter! Anyone who said otherwise wasn’t adhering to the scriptures in which I clearly stated that I hated gay people. Good job!

Refugees? Immigrants? Keep them out of your country for sure. I don’t care if they are children whose homes have been destroyed and they are fleeing for their lives. There is a slight chance one of them could actually be a terrorist and put your life in danger. After all it is quite clear in the scriptures that no matter what happens protect yourself first. Following me absolutely guarantees you a safe and prosperous life. Not feeling so prosperous? Well it’s probably the immigrants’ fault. I told you to keep them out of your country. You should follow my example. Remember that time when my life was threatened when I was just a small child? We stayed in Bethlehem and stood our ground to that nasty Herod. Oh wait…we fled to Egypt…I guess that made us refugees. I’m sure if I had stayed behind and been martyred with all those other babies my ministry would have had the same impact though. I’m also pretty sure we did it all by the books though so totally not the same situation. I wouldn’t worry about those “illegals and refugee terrorists” anyways though you’ve got that big, beautiful wall coming. What a great way to spend the resources I have given you! Tell me again is the wall supposed to keep “them” out or you in? It’s not clear at this point.

And finally thank you for destroying my creation. I absolutely understand destroying all of those animals natural habitats. They absolutely were getting in the way of your building plans. Expedite it! Pipelines are really important to me and are absolutely necessary to my plans. Smog? Love it! Lead in the drinking water? Absolutely! Hole in the ozone layer? Climate change? Too abstract! Ignore it! Who needs clean air to breathe and clean water to drink? Not me! After all I’m God. Oh, you do? Well that’s ok. Once the planet is completely destroyed I can always make a new one. That is one promise I intend to keep. Thank you for destroying it faster though! I really couldn’t have done it without you. It kind of stinks for everybody who has to live with it in the meantime but whatever I didn’t like them anyways.”

Can’t picture it? Yeah, me either. I can’t speak for God other than to refer back to the Bible. And yes you probably could find scriptures to backup any number of horrific things you want to accomplish but I don’t think you can actually expect any praise for it at the end of your life. Sorry, but I think Jesus made his priorities pretty clear when he ministered to the sick, the friendless, and the needy and commanded us to love thy neighbors as ourselves.

The Bible also makes it clear that God works in his own time and place. There is nothing we can do to speed him up or slow him down. The choice is to let him work through us or go around. You might ask him though, why in the meantime could he allow so much suffering? I can imagine his answer will be: “How could you?”

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