What if everything you’ve ever been told is wrong?

The churning I am experiencing means that everything I have to say will not fit neatly into a single blog entry. But let me start by saying this:

It’s not about what you think it’s about. Or rather, it’s not that simple. If nothing else, remember that. There is so much going on beneath the surface.

I have so much to say and it pains me so much to say it and it is going to take me a while. But let’s start with this phrase: “Implicit Bias”.

Got a minute? Take one of these tests. Or a few of them. Then ask yourself how you came to believe the things that you believe. The things that you don’t even *know* you believe.

This mess we’re in came from somewhere. We want to believe that we woke up one day with our enlightened, post-racial selves and that we are not carrying the baggage of our nation’s history. And why can’t people just get over it?
A poem by June Jordan, called “Jim Crow: The Sequel” is haunting me these days. It was written roughly in the Clinton era, and I think I came across it in an issue of Essence magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

But for two hundred years this crazy
land the law and the bullets behind the law
continued to affirm the gospel of
God-given White supremacy.
For two hundred years the law and the
bullets behind the law, and the money and
the politics behind the bullets behind the
law affirmed the gospel of
God-given White supremacy/
God-given male-White supremacy.

And neither the Emancipation Proclamation
nor the Civil War nor one constitutional
amendment after another nor one Civil Rights
legislation after another could bring about a
yielding of the followers of that gospel
to the beauty of our human face.

I know that the phrase “white supremacy” will upset some people, but please know that I am not talking about someone with a Klan hood in their closet. In fact, I am not talking about individuals at all. And I think that before I can go further, I will need to define a few things, will need to explain why I label myself a “recovering racist”. As disorganized as my rants may be, I would be so grateful if some of you would be willing to see through that and to join me as I continue to wrestle with these issues.

Choices to be made . . .

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.
Sydney J. Harris

In the iconic television game show The Price is Right Let’s Make a Deal, one of the popular games requires the contestant to select from among three doors. If I am remembering this correctly, the prize behind Door #1 is revealed, and the contestant then needs to decide whether they are going to keep that prize, or risk asking to see what is behind Door #2 or Door #3. What’s behind those other doors could be much better than what is in front of the contestant, or it could be much worse.

I have been thinking about doors quite a bit lately as I have been reevaluating my life, because I have seen what’s behind Door #2 and Door #3 (or at least, I have seen a glimpse of each of them), and yet I stand here, hesitating, almost paralyzed by the crushing weight of inertia.

I am not happy with my life as it is. I am sure that this is no surprise to anybody who knows me. And for years, I have vacillated, unsure which direction to take. I am annoyingly fickle; it seems like I follow a given passion for a while before discarding it for the next whim or fad that comes along. A few things have remained constant, however, at least on the macro level. I have not outgrown my love for children, or my passion for fighting racism. The desire to have someone to mother is another longing that I have not been able to shake.

Over the last few years, desperate for something to change, I have felt a pull to two different doors, each related to these underlying passions. I have taken halting steps towards each of those doors; however, I have yet to make a choice, and I am hyper-aware of the fact that time is passing me by, and that every day of non-decision is a day that brings me closer to being stuck with the crappy-living-room-furniture set that is my current “Door #1”.

Behind Door #2 is the “mommy” prize. I have glimpsed into this door, even going so far as to take a few initial foster care licensing classes. My experiences with Elijah have convinced me that I would be able to do the hard work of fostering without any promise of permanency, and I am awestruck at the thought of what a gift and a privilege it would be to be in a hurting child’s life for a season. Am I certain that I could do it? Not at all. But I know that the need is huge, and I do not want to avoid doing something merely because it is difficult.

Door #3 holds the “teacher” prize. Having pursued (repeatedly, and unsuccessfully) a particular alternative teacher certification program has been a roller coaster. Certainty that it was going to happen, followed by crushing disappointment. Trying again . . . and again. Still not succeeding, and yet, unable to shake the almost visceral sense that this is what I am meant to do. That feeling ebbs and flows . . . working a temp job grading standardized tests recently, I felt the pull again, “seeing” these students and their need through their essay answers. Who is going to speak for those who have no one to advocate for them? Again, the need is huge, so why not me?

I have begun to identify steps that would bring me closer to being able to walk through one or the other of these doors, but I have a long way to go. I am paralyzed by indecision, however, and my greatest fear is that I will continue NOT to act, that I will indeed waste my life. Tomorrow isn’t promised, and my body reminds me daily that I am getting older. If I don’t do something now, I am certain that I will wake up one day an old lady, sitting on that outdated piece of furniture that will daily serve as a reminder of the way that I chose the default option, the “safe” choice that is no choice at all.

I believe I was created to live a life that matters. That I am not moving in that direction is a travesty of the worst sort. I need to fling open one of these doors; there is work to be done. I say that I want to live the way my heroes did, but those words ring hollow in the shadow of my inaction. I need to work around the pile of excuses that have held me back for so long. I need to move forward, because life will not wait for me. And the one thing I am certain of is that what is beyond those other doors will enrich my life in ways that I cannot yet fathom.

I just pray that I don’t miss it.

Christmas “letter” 2009

[more hyperlinks to be added soon–stay tuned!]

So I started to write a Christmas letter . . . only it ended up being four pages long . . . so because I am guessing that most people don’t care that much about the intimate details of my life in the last twelve months (and yet, I still feel a strange compulsion to share those details!), I figured I would put the longer version up here and try to do a “Twitterized” summary for the hard copy.

Of course, it’s December 22nd and I’ve not even STARTED writing my Christmas cards, but that’s another story.

Here is my 2009–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

As I think back on this year, a fragment of a song keeps coming back to me “Time it was, and what a time it was” . . . I don’t even know if that’s taken out of context, but it just seems to fit . . . what a time it has been . . . what a year I have had! And yet, on Thanksgiving, I sat in church and realized that I am filled with gratitude, despite what this year has brought, and not the least because I still have so many reasons to count myself blessed. And if nothing else, I have had many, many experiences this year that fit nicely into the category of, “someday we’ll look back on this and laugh!” So here, for your reading pleasure, is my year in a nutshell. I am also scattering pictures of some of my favorite kids throughout . . . as one of my greatest joys this year has been being an “auntie” to so many lovable kids. Enjoy!

January . . . oh, I can barely remember January. After my beloved godbaby, Elijah, was in the hospital the week before Christmas with “failure to thrive” (oh, how we hate that term! look at the picture at the end of this post and ask yourself if that looks like a baby who has failed to thrive?!), severe reflux, and what was eventually diagnosed as “laryngomalacia” (his larynx was just too soft, and causes him to be rather rattle-y.), January consisted of waiting for his surgery to be scheduled. And probably a lot of spitting up . . . it’s hard to remember now, but those first four or five months of his life were a constant puke-fest.

Elijah, at about 3 months, looking like an angel in his hospital attire.

February – On the 11th, Elijah had a surgery called a Nissen Fundoplication, in which the top part of his stomach was wrapped around his esophagus to relieve his reflux, and had a feeding tube inserted. I honestly do not know how a parent can handle their kid being sick . . . it was heartbreaking to me to see him in pain, and I’m “only” the Auntie. I spent one or two nights in the hospital with Elijah and his momma . . . the first night, his other auntie Sara and I took turns standing over his crib, stroking his hair to try to help him feel better, while his mom got some much-needed sleep (like all of us, I think Mona was a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing).

Mona and Elijah trying to get some sleep in the hospital

I could go on and on about Elijah, but I don’t want to bore you to death . . . if you want to read the whole saga, you can see it at his Care Pages site. You will need to register for the site if you haven’t used it before.

March was quite a complicated month. An impromptu high school reunion was planned on Facebook, and I decided to attend it, since this would mean that I could also visit my father. On Saturday night, I spent time with old friends; on Sunday afternoon, I spent several hours with my father, not knowing that this was the last time I was going to see him. On March 31st, after almost a year of battling his cancer, my father passed away at the age of 69. For the second time that month, I found myself traveling home to New York.

April—en route to my father’s funeral, I got a call from my brother Kevin and learned that my beloved godfather, Steve, had passed away, one day after my father had. Uncle Steve’s death, unlike my father’s, was sudden and unexpected. However, the timing felt strangely providential, as my brothers and I were able to be with our mother’s side of the family after some difficult interactions at my father’s funeral with my stepmother’s family. April was a bit surreal, to say the least.

In May, two of my oldest and dearest friends, Max and Rosemary, traveled some 800 miles to help me with my own personal “Clean Sweep”/decluttering project. This was probably one of the most difficult things I had ever gone through, but somehow I survived this long-overdue event, and to this day I am trying to live a life with much less clutter and “stuff”. After the hard work was done, we had a blast visiting local “attractions” (think Tulip Time) and going to Chicago overnight. Despite the difficult beginning, that weekend stands out as one of the highlights of my year!

June was a difficult month emotionally. Although I didn’t expect anything from my father, and knew he would leave everything to his second wife (to whom he was married for 21 years), I was not prepared for the ugliness that ensued.

In June, my other godbaby, Donovan, turned one year old.
Handsome little guy, isn’t he?

June also brought the unexpected death of Nathan, a young man from my church, who was a week or so shy of turning 20 years old. His mom has been a good friend and ministry partner of mine, and the entire family was/is well-loved in our community, so it was a huge blow to so many of us. I still remember him at random times and tell myself, “I can’t believe he’s gone” . . . I am grateful, knowing that we will see him again, but it’s still not easy, and I know that his family is still walking around with this heavy burden, especially at the holidays. If you’re the praying type, please pray for his parents, Cheri and Greg, and their four surviving sons.

July came around, and somewhere along the way I made the decision to go ahead with ankle surgery on my left ankle. After having had a fusion done on my right ankle 19 years ago, with great results, it was almost a no-brainer. Almost six months later, I am still confident that the results will be worth it, but I admit that I am getting tired of the slow process.

In mid-July, I met my two brothers at Cedar Point, a huge, amazing amusement park in Ohio. We had a blast, but I also got confirmation that it was the right time for this surgery, as I could barely walk the next day. On July 29th, I had the (outpatient) surgery—formally known as a “subtalor fusion”.

my lovely foot. Yes, I got screwed—twice!

August consisted of me sitting around my house and watching a LOT of TV. My dear friends Jacylyn and Tracy would occasionally come and fetch me for a brief outing, but being non-weight-bearing on my left leg took a lot out of me. Towards the end of the month, I returned to work, just in time to touch base with my boss before she left on maternity leave.

my first outing after the surgery was to Alyssa (left) and Alanis’s
third birthday party. I love these little princesses!

September . . . ummm . . . nothing really significant, I suppose. My boss had a baby boy, and I continued to work and to deal with being one-legged, so to speak. Ummm . . . I had a Tupperware party . . . Elijah had his first birthday . . . that’s about it.

In October, I had three appointments with the foot doctor. First appointment: “Okay, start trying to put weight on the foot.” Second appointment: “Okay, I know it’s not comfortable, but you definitely want to start putting weight on the foot.” Third appointment: “Wow, your foot is swollen. Have you been putting a lot of weight on it?” Um, YES–you told me to!

The verdict: the screws in my heel were causing my pain and swelling, but because the fusion wasn’t quite complete yet, they couldn’t be removed. I was given the “lovely” gift of having another month of not putting weight on the foot. Go, go Speed Racer!

“Speed Racer”, as I dubbed him—my knee walker that has been my
constant companion since the end of July.
This is actually Speed Racer III—they’re not very sturdy at all.
Or maybe I’m not supposed to let my friends’ kids play on it?!

October also brought a health scare with my brother Michael . . . he had pneumonia and spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, some of that time in the ICU on a ventilator. He is doing better now, and has even stopped smoking, so that’s a good thing. Again, I found myself grateful, as many around me in the ICU were facing a more dismal situation.

November found me scrambling at work, and very much feeling my supervisor’s absence. Preparing for a huge missions conference called Urbana, I found myself missing my boss and her attention to detail. I spent the month being non-weight-bearing on the ankle again, but the “good” news was that I got an extension on my handicapped parking permit . . . and suddenly, everybody wanted me as a Christmas shopping partner! Who knew?!

December is here . . . and once again, I am frantically trying to get a Christmas letter out . . . have started walking on the foot again, but it’s definitely painful. (and great fun in snow and ice! I was blessed in that we didn’t have really cold/snowy weather until this month.) The two screws that are in my heel will come out in early January, and I’m hoping for some semblance of normalcy beyond that . . . both in walking, and in life in general.

I hope that all of you are feeling the hope of this season, in spite of whatever adventures you yourself may have had this year . . . and I wish you all the best in the year ahead!

Elijah today. Is he happy about Christmas, or what?!

September 11th–remembering the survivors

(I am participating in Project 2996. Follow the link to find other stories, or to help out with a tribute.)

It is right that we remember those who lost their lives on this day. Their death has had a huge impact on so many of us. But when I heard about this project, I felt strongly compelled to write about the “other” victims–better labelled as “survivors” . . . because they outnumber those we’ve lost, and yet we seem to sometimes forget about the ones that still live in the shadow of that day.

A friend of mine has posted several reflections on his experiences on and after that day. You can find his story here. I should warn you that it is NOT light reading, but maybe after reading it, you will better understand my frustration with those who seek to appropriate this day, with patriotic song-fests instead of solemn vigils, and with no-clue tourists who see “Ground Zero” as just another site on their list of  “things to do in NYC”.

(I know, I know . . . not every person who didn’t live in close proximity to NYC,  DC, or PA on that day deserves the “no-clue tourists” label–but there are some that do, and it is in large part for those people that I am writing this post.)

My friend Ken’s story is just one of thousands upon thousands. I have other friends whose lives were profoundly shaken by what they witnessed on that day,  and know others still who waited in vain for someone (or several someones, or MANY someones) they loved to come home.

If *I* (and I consider myself “lucky” to have experienced relatively few losses on that day) wince at commercials for a movie that “opens September 11th!”, and shy away from hosting a Tupperware party on this date because somehow that level of enthusiasm seemed horribly disrespectful to me (let alone the people in 2005 who chose that as their WEDDING date), then what do these reminders, myriad and subtle, do to someone who lost loved ones on this day eight years ago?

What does it feel like to those who walked down 84 or 52 or 12 or 112 flights of stairs and whose lives were spared, to those who made their way home through clouds of smoke and stench, or who watched, helpless and numb, from across the river as the towers fell?

Or what does it feel like to be the main character in one of those wonderful-yet-horrible stories of  “fate/luck” survival . . . like the friend-of-a-friend who overslept and was late to his job (at Cantor Fitzgerald) because he had attended a Michael Jackson concert the night before?

Or what is this day like for those who are watching their family members and fellow employees who are succumbing to  illnesses that are clearly related to their rescue work at the site? How do they feel about people coming and gawking at the empty hole where their own lives started to end?

Yes, I am willing to acknowledge that we were all changed on that day, but for some, this day is only sad in the way a celebrity’s death is sad . . . when you hear it on the news, you feel that sadness for a moment, but then you move on. For others, though, it is embedded deep within them, as if the smells and sights and sounds of that day have been embedded into their psyche.

It is these survivors that I want to pay tribute to today.

Yes, life goes on, and I don’t mean to suggest that we should curl up in a ball and stop living . . . those who have survived that day certainly haven’t done that, though they would have every reason to.

I just ask that we remember those whose hearts are raw today in a way that those of us who haven’t lived it can’t understand, and that those of us who are hundreds or thousands of miles away from the eye of this storm stop to remember and to reflect upon the damage that this storm left in its wake.

To do so is to honor the memory of those who live on, as well as those who were lost on this day.