Summer 2019 We Sucked You Dry

The boys and I came in from summer with five trout in a bag, an empty can of Orange Crush, and $1.97 rhinestone sunglasses. I turned the car off and looked back at them. They each had their lovies – Boy Woww’s well-worn lamb and K-Pants’ reinforced blanket. They’d used them for car naps. “Guys, it’s been an epic summer.”

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In the last five days of summer before school started, I was in the Wallowas in Eastern Oregon, Tacoma, Washington, Hood River, Mt. Hood, and Rhododendron.

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I try to remind myself that I enjoy fall and look forward to winter. The mountains should get snow. The Coast should be moody and dramatic.

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I’ve been thinking of stand up paddle boarding as my training for skiing. I am reasonable at green runs and afraid of blues. (For non-skiers, that’s like showing off your karate white belt.) But I dream of becoming a ski patroller someday. And a ninja warrior. If I think about these things enough, I can distract myself from summer’s end.

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On the drive home from Sandy, Oregon, where we’d gone to Rainbow Trout Farm, I said, “I’m sad not to be thinking about what adventure is coming up next week.” “Me, too,” K-Pants said.

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My grandpa taught me how to fish at Rainbow Trout Farm when I was about K-Pants’ age. The Pants has been learning how to fish this summer.

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We’ve been up and down the Columbia and to Wallowa Lake. Apparently trout and salmon are most plentiful from mid-April through June. If you can confirm this, I would appreciate it.

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We are discovering that fishing is simultaneously communal and solitary.

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We asked outfitters and fishers in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon for tips and received generous advice on lures, bait, fishing holes, and knot-tying.

We also followed Weird Al deep into Eastern Washington for the boys’ first concert.

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K-Pants turned ten this summer.

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Boy Woww turned eight.

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The Fairy Pig turned four.

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She’ll become a card-carrying member of the adventure squad when she’s six, I think. But I’m scared.

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As you can imagine, not only do the wheels come off the bus when this creature is around, there’s quite a bit of evidence that she unscrewed the lug nuts and rolled the wheels off a cliff.

But she’ll have to come along soon, because as of this summer the boys and I have a four-person tent.

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We camped at Tucker Park in Hood River; Bridgeport, Maryhill, and Horsethief Lake State Parks in Washington; Wallowa Lake State Park in Oregon; and as a whole family at Lost Creek in the Mt. Hood Wilderness. I list all of these off because if you know me you know I am not a camper.

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It turns out that camping at parks means having close neighbors with paper thin walls. So no one can pretend to be a perfect parent. I find that very liberating. “Look, we’re all strung out!”

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Monday when we got home, we grilled trout thanks to a recipe on the side of the Reynolds Wrap foil. It tasted like summer.

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GUEST POST: Alive and Awake in Grief

My friend Innocentia – you many know her by Apiye or any number of other gorgeous names she’s known by – has a beautiful son Abdi. He died of brain cancer. His milestones track about even with K-Pants – they were roughly the same age.

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Facebook’s hegemony over our time + emotions is frustrating at best. (And I do social media for a living.) But like an Oregon spring day, there are surprising pockets of sunshine.

And those pockets are beautiful not because they are bright or uncomplicated, but because they stand in contrast to the rain and they pull dampness off the ground into a fine, magical mist. Friends who share their honest personal journeys online are that sunshine for me.

Grief is not something that ends. It’s wild how it flows and changes. It can – strangely – be quite beautiful in its devastation. Innocentia gave me permission to share this Facebook post here, so it can be ours to have together.

***

June 2009, Bedford, Virginia

Just as she has done for several years, my mom arrived in the U.S. for an extended visit from Ethiopia. We had just moved into our brand new home on the corner of Silk Road and Daybreak Drive. The construction and cleaning was over, and the smell of fresh paint, grout, and wood stain lingered in the air.

Mom and I were hanging out in the kitchen. The bright sunlight bounced off of the freshly painted red walls. Abdi was 16 months old now, and playing next door with his other doting grandmother. As I started unpacking some dishes, mom blurted out, “When are you going to get started on Baby #2?”

My mother has never been shy and has always gotten straight to the point; her unwavering directness has resulted in many a faux pas.

One would think I would have gotten used to her verbal barrages by now, but the question caught me off guard. There was so much going on. Chris and I had been married for 4 years and we had both switched jobs and moved not once, but twice. We had just built a home. I knew I wanted to have more children, but it wasn’t a priority.

“I don’t know,” I mumbled a little absentmindedly. “Maybe after we settle in?” Geez. Can we finish unpacking before wrestling to produce number 2? I smiled inside, thinking about Mom’s amusing code word for love-making: wrestling.

Mom wasn’t finished doling out her unsolicited counsel, so she continued chattering away in Amharic. I had to remind myself that she loves me beyond measure and means well, but sometimes I wished she would just give it a rest.

“Well, don’t wait too long. Actually, just hurry up and do it. What are you waiting for, anyway? The house is done. You are going to want them to play together. And besides, having one child is like walking around with one eye. If that eye goes out, you’re blind. You don’t want to be blind, do you? ”

Of course not. Her question hung in the air like an odious perfume.

******

I didn’t think much about that conversation until Abdi got ill. When I remembered it, it haunted me. Was I about to go blind? What is it like to be blind?

I didn’t have to search too long for an answer. I remember walking around the house with my hands extended in front of me, like an awkward mole. I was 8 or 9 years old. Eyes closed, or eyes open and blindfolded, I would constantly bump into things, banging and scratching my shins on unyielding furniture. I loved the challenge. I later discovered that many children seem to have a morbid preoccupation with blindness, and walk around pretending to be blind at one point or another during their childhoods.

Mom was obviously onto something, and I hated that her words often seem to have a premonitory quality. After Abdi’s passing, I was certainly blind with grief. I felt so lost. Abdi was not only my only child, but he was my buddy. A constant adorable and adoring companion. A symbol of achievement: my creation and pride and joy. Who and what was ‘I’ without him? Who am ‘I’, and who was ‘he?’ Those questions had me spinning my wheels for quite some time. I was drowning in questions, and bewildered that Abdi was no more. I rejected most of the life jackets that were cast in my direction with steely resolve.

Four months ago, I reluctantly climbed into a life boat and began to have a series of astounding breakthroughs, not just around grief, but in every area of my life. With the help of brilliant, thoughtful and encouraging coaches, family and friends, combined with a resounding determination not to simply be a victim of circumstance, I learned how to breathe again. To live in a world of possibilities. To discover deeper and more authentic love and forgiveness. And most importantly, to let go. To let go of expectations, rage, frustration, anxiety, despair, and stories I had made up about what life is supposed to be.

The irony is that, two years later after I laid my beloved son to rest, I can see more clearly than I did when he was alive. I now realize that Abdi’s passing was a gift and quite possibly the greatest gift he could have given me, the greatest give I will ever receive. I am now ALIVE, AWAKE, and PRESENT in ways that were simply not possible before his passing. I can’t help but marvel at the sublimeness of all this.

In the space of nothing that was ultimately created in Abdi’s passing, I have arrived at peace, a peace which surpasses all understanding. I am humbled with overflowing gratitude for EVERYTHING.

 

Church Talk

“As Christian ministers we both follow a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew named Jesus who called together ALL of the folks who had been rejected by society because ultimately he declared that nations would be judged by how we treat the poor, the prisoner, and yes the undocumented immigrant.”-Rev. Dr. William Barber

Watch the full speech: http://liztheoharis.org/ted-talk-a-call-for-moral-revival/

God is love–deep and abiding, platonic and sensual, challenging and overflowing.

Jesus did not care if you did things “right.” If you waited until marriage to have sex, if you were divorced, if you stayed home with your kids.

And yet today’s church is often in love with an idea of holiness that is tied to doing things right—getting closer to Jesus and farther from sin by following rules and playing roles.

None of this is true. It’s church talk.

Church talk can be helpful. It can give people a way to live that helps them get closer to God. But we have to remember it’s just talk. There are so many ways to be holy. And they revolve around walking with God and loving your neighbor (and especially the poor).

It’s our job to get rid of the church talk that makes us think it’s okay to hate queer folk, to blame the poor for things that have gone wrong, and to make a mother working minimum wage drive hundreds of miles and arrange a patchwork of babysitting to get to a reproductive clinic that offers abortions—only to be harassed in the name of Jesus at the door. Nothing in that is holy.

It’s also our job to get louder about the things we know to be holy—our radical compassion, the deep love of God’s creation, and our fullest empathy towards all of our neighbors. I have been silent and complicit a lot. You may have been, too.

It’s okay, because nothing is stopping us from stretching our plasticine brains and working out our muscles of introspection and getting the blood pumping to our vocal chords and to our hands that can type beautiful words.

***

Rev. Dr. William Barber is co-leader of the The Poor People’s Campaign for Moral Revival, a nonpartisan moral fusion movement reviving MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign, that he heads along with the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. If you haven’t joined, now is the time. https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/ 

My Birthday Social Media Toolkit

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It’s almost my birthday, which has me thinking about what my husband will write on my Facebook wall. As we know, this is a thang. It’s like, “Hey babe, I’m here whispering mildly intimate bday affirmations to you and 600 of our acquaintances. That’s right: I’m that kind of boo.”

Social media PDA is not my husband’s jam, so I’ve prepared options he can copy and paste:

[A]

Ev, it turns out you don’t really care for the baby phase, but you stayed. I’m grateful. Raising three kids is a lot. Happy birthday.

[B]

Ev, remember when you forgot our anniversary, and you ripped off the front of the anniversary card your mom got us and turned it into an ‘anniversary postcard’? You never give up. I love you, babe.

[D]

Ev, burps and farts don’t bother you—yours, mine, or the kids’. Thanks for all you do. You complete us to the moon and back with fierce, fierce flaming love.

[E]

You are better than all the other Facebook wives.

Since the chance of his copying and pasting one of these is zero (especially since I’m always on social media and I never write on his wall on his birthday—turnabout::fair play), feel free to… you know… just grab one of these and copy and paste it right at me.

I’m already working on my FB post for him to make up for my past negligence:

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Post-script:

I know, [C] was missing. It was too serious and it didn’t fit.

Ev, you can’t save someone from mental illness. It was hard to watch you go through postpartum depression. You felt hopeless sometimes. But overall you were dogged. I hope you feel like I helped.

My Friend Is Dying

My friend is dying of brain cancer. She’s three years younger than me. Some days I think maybe I’ve caught it. I went to the doctor this week with some weird back pain. A persistent tender spot right next to my spine, possibly on it. “Can we make sure I don’t have spinal cancer?”

Outcome: unlikely.

We’re in a culture that’s not awesome at death. We distance ourselves from it, like it’s contagious. Or put it in boxes in our brain that never see the light.

I’m sitting here listening to the crows. They’re loud. I’m told they recognize us. Their lifespans are short I imagine.

A small finch-ish bird died suddenly against our front window in the fall. We all held it and examined it and dug into our Audubon bird guide to see which kind of song bird it was.

At the beginning of Lent I thought I might give up TV, or add in an exercise routine.

But this Lent is about death. Possibly the most on-the-nose Christian statement ever written.

And through it, people keep bludgeoning others with faith—telling queer people they’ll have to answer to the Creator. Mysteriously fighting for the unborn by pitting them against their number one enemy: mothers.

The volume on paint-by-numbers Christianity is so loud you need ibuprofen to help with the headache.

It’s very quiet in my friend’s room at hospice. Just the machine clicks of the pain medicine cassette. She speaks in a whisper-way that her family understands, but is hard for me who is not there as often. I like to massage her feet with lavender lotion. It makes me feel like I’m giving her something. I always ask, “Is it okay?” On Monday she whispered, “It’s always okay to massage my feet.”

The pull of my friend is her love toward everyone and everything. It was contagious from the beginning. She is Catholic. Her love is that rare kind that truly loves her neighbor, the kind without us and them boundaries. She is the radical, sacrificial love of Christ.

Holy Week approaches.

Thursday is Maundy Thursday—foot-washing day. It has always been my favorite.

Oregon’s No Funds for Abortion Ballot Measure 106 Is Neither Moral nor Christian

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Oregon has a ballot measure that offers us the option to disallow public funds that go into state health plans from being used for abortion. The Yes on 106 site says:

Oregon ballot measure 106 is a statewide citizen initiative to stop our tax dollars from funding elective and late-term abortions.

Measure 106 doesn’t stop anyone from choosing an abortion, but it will give Oregon taxpayers freedom from having to pay for other people’s personal choices.

There are a lot of things to unpack here.

One is that abortion is an immoral choice that upstanding people shouldn’t have to pay for. We allow this to stand in Christianland because we don’t talk deeply about abortion and what it actually means for women. The less you can talk openly, the less chance to listen about all the moral abortion choices.

Since I started writing and talking about reproductive rights, I’ve gotten to hear a lot of stories. People of faith, I challenge you to start saying to more people that you believe in reproductive justice. If we don’t get to share our stories, people get to keep thinking God is with them and not with us. That’s not how God works. God is with all of us.

Here’s a story.

On a big anti-abortion protest day I was escorting a woman and her husband and toddler daughter to the front door of a clinic. She was getting an abortion. We had to walk by a Catholic priest with a microphone and some of his gathered. This kind of thing is awful for women, and yet we let it happen every week. We Christians gather to humiliate people in their most vulnerable moments. “They don’t even know me,” the woman said. “I’m married. I have a child.”

Her husband was taking their young daughter to a park while she was receiving care. I don’t know why they didn’t have childcare that day for their daughter so he could be with her. It could have been that our cultural dialogue on abortion is so terrible that you can’t tell anyone that you’re going in to have an abortion and need someone to watch your daughter. We talk about abortion in such hyperbolic and absolute terms that it’s even hard to talk with your closest friends. This is the toxic isolation that our abortion climate wreaks.

I’ve also heard stories of women who felt like an abortion saved their life from an abusive partner. Measure 106 won’t stop them, we hear.

“Measure 106 doesn’t stop anyone from choosing an abortion.”

“That’s right,” I can tell myself. Because I have money to pay. I know that another pregnancy would make me suicidal and be destructive to my family. When you have struggled with mental health you know that it’s critical to avoid things that take you to the darkest places. I’m allowed to make this moral decision because I can pay.

But for our poorest women in Oregon who work hard at jobs that don’t provide healthcare, Measure 106 does stop them. They work hourly jobs that don’t have paid sick leave or maternity leave. Low-wage jobs that mean it’s already impossible to afford the childcare they need for their first.

We can’t stand on these imagined morals when Jesus spends so much of his time talking about the poor. So much more than any other thing he talks about. He sits with the marginalized, the outcasts, the prostitutes. The people who have to make the toughest decisions. He might have something to say about Oregon taxpayers being released “from having to pay for other people’s personal choices.” But he might not have time to say it because he’d probably be sitting with the wife whose husband couldn’t be there with her and holding her hand.

Plenty of non-Christians and non-believers are pro-choice.

This blog post is for those of us who have holes in our hearts filled by God. Who are pro-choice and need to talk about it more. This toxic dialogue on abortion has to change, and we have a role to play in it.

Here’s a quote from Rev. Dr. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign:

“The faith [right now] is not in Christ and in justice and treating people right, but this kind of Christian Nationalism that says that if you hate gay people and if you hate abortion and if you want prayer in school and you believe in guns and you believe in state’s rights—that’s all God cared about. And that God doesn’t really care about health care, even though Jesus everywhere he went set up free health clinics…”

And a final thought. One of the key points in the Yes on 106 campaign says this:

“Today, anyone covered by OHP [Oregon Health Plan] can have an unlimited number of free abortions, for any reason and at any stage of pregnancy — even late-term abortions when the baby is perfectly healthy.”

I cannot be clearer in stating, this is not what’s happening. Elective late-term abortions and unlimited free abortions are happening in the same way that trans people are assaulting children in bathrooms. Women who need late-term abortions because they will die or their child will die have to pay tens of thousands of dollars and fly to one of the few states where she can receive a medically necessary late-term abortion behind bullet-proof glass.

Women want to make moral choices for themselves and their families. It’s time to radically reinvent the dialogue.

Want to learn more about Measure 106, I recommend the “No Cuts to Care” website.

Are you free for a couple of hours to help canvass or phone bank in support of the No on 106 campaign? Sign up for a slot in Eugene, Portland, or Ashland by clicking here.

My White Friends, Let’s Do A Quick Check On If We’re Racist

This is like a Cosmo quiz, but for racism! And it has one question:

Have you ever told anyone that you’re not racist?

Like maybe you said, “I’m not racist.” Or maybe you whispered it to yourself. Or maybe you said to a confidant, “Thank God I’m not racist!” Or maybe when you’re hearing about the racist things happening in politics you think Those people are awful.

Then we’re racist, you and me.

It’s that simple. But we could think about it a little more.

  • Do we ever do a casual count of the number of non-white friends we have? Do we get really excited when we make a new non-white friend?
  • Are pretty much all the people we’re closest to in our life white?
  • Do we ever feel a little like one or two of our non-white friends have distinguished themselves from the rest of their group? Especially latinx or black friends?
  • Do we feel a little uncomfortable when people talk about racism because they might be implicating us when in fact we’re not racist?
  • With all this awful polarization happening in our country, have we been putting racists on the other side of divide, away from us?
  • Are we getting mad at me because I’m a snowflake liberal who hates the Constitution? (It’s probably time to move along to another blog.)

Even though we have a useful yet incomplete checklist above (“What are your thoughts on welfare, Pandora’s Box?”), racism isn’t that simple to admit—not because we’re not racist—but because self-reflection often pits us against our worst enemies: shame and embarrassment. We do all kinds of things to avoid shame and embarrassment because they’re the worst.

Here’s a story. When I was 10 I remember being in my kitchen by myself, having a snack, mulling over life. “I’m glad I’m not black,” I thought. “That would be hard. I like my life.”

That wasn’t a pivotal moment. It was just a moment. My 10-year-old self making sense of the world.

Here’s another story. After college I was interviewing for a Rhodes Scholarship. I received this question: “You went to a woman’s college. What do you think about all-black colleges?” I said that I didn’t believe in them followed by something like it’s better to face the world and figure out how to be successful in it.

It was a weird answer even as I was saying it.

In my early 20s, I wouldn’t have described any of the people I knew as racist. I had learned about slavery (abhorrent!) and looked up to the work of the Civil Rights Movement. But I had not thought about Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I’d gone through my life barely realizing their existence, let alone thinking about their power or purpose.

I did not get that scholarship.

My plan with the Rhodes Scholarship was to study human rights law. I would have been excellent at it.

Like Judge Kavanaugh who didn’t have any connections at Yale Law School and worked his butt off to get there (don’t worry, we’ll deal with “Are we sexist?” in the next post), I had done the same. I got a full scholarship to an excellent college based on my writing skills and academics. Similarly I was accepted to Teach for America, which is just as competitive as most Ivy League schools. Then I beat out a blind pianist to win my state’s endorsement for the Rhodes Scholarship and interview for the final cut.

None of those things made me not racist. And I was right to have not been given the scholarship.

The woman who asked me this question was the only black person on the scholarship panel. Years later I wrote her a letter to apologize. The letter wasn’t so she would feel better about me. I had already made my impression. The letter was for me so that I could continue to be active in the process of figuring out my racism—which is a do-goody way of saying that the guilt was killing me.

I had never examined the ways my life might have been shaped by my whiteness. I had chalked all my successes to my own hard work and my excellent upbringing. And as I ignored race and lifted up my personal achievements, the underlying racism of our society seeped in. Sure, I had black and brown friends. But as we know, this doesn’t make you not racist. It just gives you a shield to hide behind.

In this process it wasn’t until the day after the election in 2016 that I really started listening (spoiler: the bulk of our anti-racism work is listening). The more you listen the clearer it becomes that our future depends on dismantling racism and that starts internally. It’s a hard process, I get that, because shame and embarrassment are so powerful.

So let’s take a break and look at these fun maps.

How the Electoral Map would look if only ________ voted.

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Map by Ste Kinney-Fields from Brilliant Maps.

Now let’s read this fun article:

“’People’ Aren’t Divided on Kavanaugh’s Confirmation, White People Are.”*

*Bonus activity for my R-MWC sisters: What university is the sweatshirt from on the guy on the right-hand side of the photo?

Admitting that we’re racist and saying it out loud does not make us terrible people. Ignoring our racism does. Not doing the work of dismantling it does. Dr. King had something to say about this:

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” From Letter from a Birmingham Jail

“Aaaaaahhhhhh!!! It’s so overwhelming! Where do we start? How do we reengage? Where do I share cool stuff?” The comments. Especially on Facebook. They tend to be the most responsive.

Also read this stuff and tell us about the things you’re reading:

Me & White Supremacy series by Layla F. Saad on Instagram

Five Ways to Check Your White Privilege