Warrior On, Peacemakers

To my fellow peacemakers. To the weary and burdened among us. To those of you listening and learning. To those who lament.

We have heard stories of injustice, racial profiling, and racism for years. None of it is new. Thanks to camera phones and social media, we can now bear witness to these stories like never before. It is difficult to take in so much pain and ugliness, but for those who have been screaming into the abyss of doubt, dismissal, and apathy for years, there is a sense of relief.

Week after week, as new accounts emerge, our long history of dismissal and doubt gets chipped away.

We have to be careful though. If we only watch injustice unfold on the stage of social media, we will be left feeling more separate, divided, and confused than ever. Don’t let this be your only lens. If you feel like things are worsening, they’re not. The division and pain have always been there. 

We have a deep wound in this nation. A wound we have only attempted to bandage.

In order to move toward healing in this nation, white people, in particular, need to listen and observe. Sit with people. Make space for their stories and perspectives. Sit in discomfort. Allow their thoughts and views to be challenged by people who have different life experiences.

We can talk about hard things. We need to. It’s taken hundreds of years to get to this point, and it’s not going to heal overnight. But each person can make a difference. One person at a time, one interaction at a time, one movement toward greater understanding and unity at a time.

Warrior on fellow peacemakers.

When Social Media Engagements Encourage and Connect You

I’ve never done this before, but I wanted to share an excerpt from an online conversation I just had. I’ve had some great discussions on the topic of race and racism on a friends page, and this exchange was the inspiration for my first podcast episode.

After a seemingly fruitless attempt to engage dialogue with a man who had criticised this video about the historical root of the term Caucasian, I was wisely advised by a fellow Facebook commenter not to waste time on people who want to remain ignorant. After telling him about my commitment to speak into these things, I was asked to share the story about the deconstruction process that led me into anti-racism activism.  The following was my response (as read on my new podcast Ooh, She’s Speaking)

 

“On one hand, I would say my deconstruction has taken decades, but the bulk of it has really taken place over the last few years.

I’ve claimed myself as an “anti-racist” for decades, and I truly believed I was. But now that I have gone through the bulk of this deconstruction, I can look back and say that I was very mistaken. My intentions were decent, but I had zero understanding of how much I had been shaped by external narratives. I had no real knowledge of history in this nation. I grew up raised and heavily relating to my Native American ancestry, so I had a solid amount of dislike for our founding as well as a severe distrust of our government, but even that wasn’t enough.

I held firmly to the ethic of the individual and subscribed to the idea that being “colorblind” was an enlightened perspective. I became a Christian in my early 20s and felt a strong call to racial reconciliation within the church, but I had absolutely no idea how to approach it. I didn’t understand race, the creation of the concept, the deep roots of white supremacy and how it absolutely saturated medicine, academia, our justice system, and the way we live and relate to one another to this day.

I truly believed that we lived so segregated out of preference. I thought that we could just get along if our minds were open enough. I saw people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as opportunists, Malcolm X as a hateful man and I blamed them for the division. I looked up to the whitewashed view of a peaceful, docile MLK Jr. I never once questioned how or why I came to those conclusions, and if I’m honest, I probably just assumed it was by my own brilliant, enlightened thinking. But I understand now.

My most significant turning point came when I started learning about the difference between American Christianity and the Bible. As my entire concept of “church” shifted, as I came to the realization that we are so bound to tradition simply because it’s the tradition, other things started to fall away as well. Cultural norms, race… all of it. It was perfect timing really. My white family had moved and was living in a predominantly black neighborhood, I was questioning everything about what formed my perspectives and why I held the beliefs I did, I was being moved into more in-depth work on racism, and my eyes were open to injustice all around.

The icing on the cake was when I was finally given permission to get off my butt and start speaking out. Until then, I didn’t really know where I fit. I actually needed my friends of color to tell me that they were tired of taking on the fight, tired of talking to people and hearing the same old crap and that they wanted white people to start doing the heavy lifting.

Since then, I’ve been hosting dinner party/discussions, speaking openly about racism, and most importantly-reading, listening and learning from people of color.

Here’s the thing that blows my mind. It took me moving my white family into a predominantly black neighborhood, spending years listening and observing, developing deep friendships with people of color (I can’t tell you how many white people ask how to even meet people and do that), going to events and classes, and being part of a racial reconciliation group- to even begin to see what my friends of color have known all their lives!

It’s breathtaking, and I know it will be my work for the rest of my days on this earth. But I know that reconciliation is the heart of god, and I have experienced a depth of love and grace and beauty, heaven on earth, as I have pursued this work, bridged gaps, and worked toward unity. ”

 

Clearly, I am long-winded, but I was so excited that someone was curious enough to ask me to share my story, excited that they felt I would be open to doing so, and honored to share it.

 

Why Our Quest for Colorblindness Misses the Point

When I see you, I see your skin color. I am not colorblind, nor do I want to be.

What a foolish thing it would be to live in this world, to be surrounded by such magnificence and beauty, and close my eyes to it, or pretend not see it.

Colorblindness is a concept born of discomfort and shame. It is an invention meant to deal with racism without genuinely facing it. It allows the person on its path to feel ethical, even open-minded; but in reality- stops them from seeing and experiencing others more fully.

Perhaps our quest for utopian colorblindness is an attempt to hide from our own demons and shame. Being “colorblind,” after all, affords us a certain distance. Without realizing it, we avoid personal stories, shut out larger contemplations, don’t ask questions, and remain comfortably unmoved in our responsibility to one another.

If we reject the call to colorblindness, however, we will have to confront our assumptions and prejudices, and ultimately decide what role we play in bridging divides.

Only then, will we be able to take a real step toward humanity.

Why All Moms Need A Twin Pass

“I’m the mother of twin toddlers” is a phrase I often use when writing. It’s a true statement, but it’s also the ultimate parenting get-out-of-jail-free card. I have watched, in real time, faces of disapproval and judgment turn to empathy and understanding upon learning I have twins.

Had a cesarean? Twins. Haven’t figured out the how to get more than two hours of sleep in a row, let alone settle on a philosophy about it? Twins. No end of diapers in sight and your kids are pushing 4? You guessed it! Twins. Whether the topic is childbirth, breastfeeding, discipline, or potty training; I get an understanding nod where others might get a sideways glance.

I know it’s hard to believe, but people do tend to give me a pass on things when they see that I have more than one child at the same developmental stage.

Carting my kids through an airport, store or gym – I hear things like… click here to read more at Pregnant Chicken

The New Year Newsletter I Didn’t Have the Guts to Send

I just found this little gem from last month. We’ll call it the cathartic holiday newsletter since I didn’t actually send it to people. 

“I just choked back the annual New Year newsletter. And let me tell you, it was the perfect mix of happy crappy nonsense with a side of truth-telling. I wanted to go with the whole “honest Christmas card” thing but got cold feet and decided on the safe and “normal” card instead.

People think we’re weird enough.

If I’d had the actual guts to write an honest Christmas card, this is what I would have written:

Greetings and salutations dear friends and family! I could not manage a family Christmas photo shoot this year, because the truth is, I’ve eaten my feelings for the whole of 2017 and the only pants that fit are gray and slightly stained, not very festive looking, and would not coordinate with any other family members.

It’s true, I could go out and buy new clothes for everyone, and yes I have seen the helpful Pinterest tips on how to maximize outfit matchiness, but the idea of trying to color coordinate makes me want to drink before noon. And who am I kidding anyway? My children live in sweats and dressing them up for a photo that I will send to a bunch of people I don’t ever hear from just to make them think I have my life together doesn’t feel very authentic.

And 2017 was the year of authenticity for me. Damn you, Bréne Brown!

2017 was also a crap heap of emotions. We lost loved ones, had other’s diagnosed with life-threatening diseases,  were plagued with endless hospital visits, and Trump became the actual president of the United States.

But I digress.

My husband has a job, so that’s good news.

The kids are great. They love to fight and argue and have some really creative name-calling skills.

As for me, I put much of my life and career on hold so I could homeschool the kids. The mix of ADHD, having your mother as a teacher and your brother as your classmate makes many days barely bearable.

It wasn’t a great year, and despite my efforts, the holidays didn’t feel very cheery for us. The movie Elf still made me crazy and no amount of mocha spiced cheery chino, holiday music or perfectly coiffed holiday photos posted to social media soothed this Grinch.

But I’d be exaggerating if I said all was lost in 2017. We did have some fun, and we definitely learned some valuable life lessons. Dealing with chronic illness taught us a lot about how strong we are as a family, and who we can rely on when things get difficult.

Well, here’s to the New Year! May it be brighter and better and less of a dumpster heap.”

Thoughts On Grief

Some grief is so deep, so scary, and so dark that we dare not go near it.

Living through and learning to breathe on the other side of intense mourning, requires that you cling to each shallow breath as it gives way to deeper and deeper breaths.

Eventually, it becomes less painful to breathe.

Eventually walking outside to a world and its people in total oblivion to your pain becomes less horrible and alien feeling.

Eventually.

But for those who are in it, time moves slowly, reality feels distorted, and your ability to relate to the world around you is challenging.

It’s been 15 years since my brother died. Grief ached through my body in ways that made it difficult to move, think, or breathe.

Getting to the other side of intense mourning is hard work, and it was some of the most challenging work I’ve ever done.

How My Son Helped Me to Laugh Again After My Brother’s Death

It’s been 16 years since my brother died. It’s hard to believe that 16 years have passed and that I’ve almost spent more life without him than with him. I wrote this story a few years ago, and The Mighty picked it up and published it last year. Here is an excerpt:

Sometimes, on a very rare occasion, my husband refers to me as a chucklehead. I’m always a little surprised when he does. 

There was a time in my life when I was funny and lighthearted and perhaps even a chucklehead. But that was the Jen of years ago; the Jen back before my brother died.

I don’t want to admit that the sadness and heartache and grief have won, but if I’m honest, I realize in these moments that it has.

On December 11, 1981, my brother, Garrett, was born into the world, and for 20 years he filled it with laughter. To read on, join me here at The Mighty