Friday, August 22, 2014

Blessed are the Peacemakers...thoughts on Michael Brown

I watch the news clips. I read the tweets. I sift through blog after blog. Some reactions make me want to clap along and shout Amen and others rise up an anger in me that I've never met before. Still others have me jaw dropped open and the stain of tears down my face. Several times I've commented on some FB post or gone to respond to a tweet and decided to erase it because I don't want to be part of the fuel to this already out of control fire. Part of me knows that social issues of this magnitude will not be solved on social media. Part of me knows that people hear what they want to hear and believe what they wish to believe....no matter what truth is presented. Part of me says speak up or you're part of the problem. Speak up for those that have not had a voice for too long. Speak up for my children, your children and our children's children.  

In the case of Michael Brown, it is true not all facts have been presented. It is true not all police officers are unfair in the treatment of African Americans.It is true that looting and aggression towards police officers is a harmful and disgraceful response. It is also true that he was unarmed. It is also true that this happens too often. I do not know Officer Darren Wilson and I will not pretend to know the situation he found himself in or the reasons he did what he did but this child was unarmed. I think being a police officer and the split second choices that they have to make would be a stress few could handle. It is beyond difficult. I think that is one of the reasons why it is imperative for us as a nation to take a step back and examine some deep seated stereotypes that we may hold on to. 

Black men are often seen in our media, entertainment, print, and even our history as imposing, scary, mean, rough, criminal. They are depicted as strong and intimidating, aggressive and arrogant, out of control and lawless. I can count on one hand images of black men in those mediums that are wise and educated, soft spoken and calm. I don't see the black men that I know represented that are managers and doctors, hard working and ethical, responsible, moral and humble men. We argue how all of those mediums have given women an unattainable allusion of beauty. We point to how all of those avenues can make children hyper or violent or how they impact our society in various ways but we don't believe all of those channels shape our view of the unknown black man? We think that if Robin William's suicide is talked about in media and print that others will follow suit or it would motivate them to seek help.We think seeing celebrities and their perfect bodies, pinterest and blogs of perfect moms affect our view of ourselves but we don't think that these things will change the way we view another? We can raise tens of millions of dollars by circulating videos of dumping ice water on our heads but we do not think that the video of an unarmed black teen laying in the street dead will elicit a response. All of these things, affect us. They impact us. They motivate us and they form and develop our beliefs. We don't want to admit it but it is why a 30 second ad in last year's Super Bowl went for 4 million dollars.

Can you, just for a minute, believe that just maybe the officer in this instance, and too many other officers at other times, have felt scared, threatened and reacted too quickly because of deep seated images that are just hard to shake? For many it is easier to imagine he felt threatened because of what he's seen in his career or the danger he is in daily. I've heard you in defense of Officer Wilson.  Can you, just for a minute, believe that maybe Michael Brown was scared too? For some of us that is easier to imagine. Can you imagine that maybe Michael Brown had seen his friends before him get roughed up by the police in a routine traffic stop. Maybe he heard the stories of John Crawford who just a few weeks before was shot dead in a Walmart holding a toy gun that he was purchasing there. Maybe he heard of Eric Garner who was taken down with an illegal choke hold and killed at the hands of police because he was selling cigarettes. Just maybe he knew of Trayvon Martin,  Amadou Diallo, Ernesto Duenez, Jonathan Ferrell and dozens of others. Maybe he knew that in his town last year,  even though blacks make up a little less than two-thirds of the driving-age population in Ferguson,  they accounted for 86 percent of all stops. They searched 12.1 percent of black drivers they stopped, compared to 6.9 percent for whites even though contraband was found 22 percent of the time when the driver was black and 34 percent when the driver was white.  And just maybe he was scared if he did a dumb thing that he wouldn't get a second chance because where he comes from people go to jail not rehab. Maybe he has lived a life where if you look like he looks you get punished more harshly for the same offense, even in school. Maybe Michael Brown was scared because he didn't have a gun and Officer Wilson did. 

Could you just for a moment understand that your experience in this life is not everyone's experience in this life.  Could you just for a moment step outside of yourself. Can you question if the men above may still be alive had the image of the menacing black man not been embedded into the psyche of their killer. Even if we give both gentleman involved in these encounters the benefit of the doubt...even if we think they were both scared...In America, even if you are a suspect in a crime, you are taken in to custody and read your rights. You are questioned and have access to an attorney. You are not shot in the street. Even if you are a 6 foot 4 inch black man. Even if you are scared and reacting in a split second but you harm another person, you are held accountable.  Even if you didn't set out to kill them or harm them, because as I teach my children, actions have consequences. Proportionate consequences. Jay walking shouldn't result in death and killing an unarmed young man shouldn't result in paid leave. 

Officer Wilson, I do not know you, but you were wrong. You may not have had any ill intentions that day. You may be being judged in the shadows of prejudiced and malicious images of police in movies or past offenses in history. I do not know. You may be hurting and remorseful.  I'm trying not to assume otherwise. Many of us have questions that may never be answered but I know enough to believe you were wrong. All I can do is pray that in your heart of hearts you know this too. It is my prayer that you can say being a police officer is one of the hardest jobs in the world and I made a mistake that took a young man's life and for that I am truly sorry. Maybe you can admit that race played a role. Not because you're racist and evil but because we all hold biases.... preconceptions of what someone is or isn't. If we cannot admit this I have little hope. It is human nature to have them. It isn't wrong to have them. It is wrong not to address them and move past them. It is wrong to keep repeating the same injustices because we are too prideful to admit our limitations and weaknesses. It is neglectful when we do it at the expense of other's lives. 

It is time for each of us to examine ourselves and the assumptions we have and reflect how they affected the way we treat others. How can we make changes in our own lives to refute them and learn a new way? How can we be a catalyst for change? How can we denounce unjustified actions without vilifying those responsible? How can we stop hurtling accusations and spend our time, energy and resources healing a nation that hurts? How can we reach out to neighbors that are unlike us to make the unknown less scary, less intimidating, less other? 

At the news of Michael Brown, it was my first instinct to lash out in anger. Blame, curse, name call. It was followed with an overwhelming sense of sadness...a deep grief...and the weight of the responsibility for preparing my children for this broken world. I couldn't write. It was too angry, too sad, too divisive. I've wrestled with my emotions and prayed for the people of Ferguson and  I just kept hearing Matthew 5:9  "blessed are the peacemakers." I had to let the magnitude of this resonate in my soul. I asked Jesus to help me see it from both sides with His eyes. I asked Jesus to help me be a peacemaker. I hope you can too.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Some days are tougher than others.

Some days are tougher than others.  It holds true for all of us.  In the adoptive mom, mothering 5 children world, it sometimes feels more like some weeks/months/years are tougher than others.  This past year nearly did me in.  I started a part time job in the school so I would be on the kids same schedule.  It was the first time all 5 of our children were participating in something at one time.  We found out my son had a rare heart arrythmia and required surgery.  We found out our daughter has a connective tissue disease that appears to be genetic so there may be others that follow.  So to say we were at the doctor often is an understatement.  We met our family deductible in March.  We found out another son has some educational special needs and had the opportunity to handle all of the frustrations and behaviors that come from that with him.  I had to advocate for him at school to get him the resources he needs, fight with insurance to cover needed therapies, not to mention the extra time required for anything school work related.  The husband was working hard for all of us but that unfortunately included almost every weekend and the challenge of staying connected as spouses in the midst of our crazy.  We were walking closely down the road with a dear friend of finding herself without the burden of abuse of her pasts.  Another child was struggling with her asthma almost daily as I tried to hold down my new job.  Our basement that had never gotten wet flooded twice.  It was a lot. Too much. I don't say any of this in a poor me way....just to set the scenery...  We all know how well I respond to feeling overwhelmed;)  Some years are tougher than others. It was a tough one.

As we emerge from the fog, I reflect back on the choices I made.  Some choices are prettier than others.  I would spend days totally trusting God's plan for my life.  I would be prayed up and faithful and accepting what was to come.  I would belt out my worship songs in the morning and raise my hands to God.  I would smile through the day and dinner would be on the table and appointments remembered and everyone tucked in neatly at night.  Other days, not so much.  I would literally lay in bed feeling so overwhelmed and the rolodex of issues we were facing would circle through my mind like the ferris wheel at the county fair...heart test, will my son survive this, surgery or no surgery, genetic testing, marfans or not marfans, will it be life altering or just a nuisance, how much will this and that cost, where will the money come from, will i ever see my husband again or will his job just open up its jaws and swallow him whole, how do i get the resources my child needs, how do i best mother him, make sure no one gets lost in the shuffle, shower and brush your teeth, whats for dinner, who is taking so and so to practice and who is picking them up and will i keep my job since i've missed so many days....worry...worry...worry...what if...research online...more research...there were entire days i didn't ask God one single thing about it because I just couldn't bare what He might say and other days that my world was spinning so fast that there was no way to slow it down enough to hear Him.  We ate ramens too many times and my house often looked liked maybe it's inhabitants just moved at a moments notice and left everything everywhere. 

I'm not proud to say it because I have never been much to compare myself to others but I would sit and wonder how one family could carry so much and other mom's were on their 3rd vacation of the year and it appeared the most stressful decision they'd made lately was the color 'problem-free purple' or 'spoiled sienna' at the nail salon.  In case you couldn't hear from my tone, it created some bitterness and bitterness ain't pretty.  On anyone. Even if you just got your hair did.  

It really was a perfect storm.  Busy.  Worried.  Disconnected.  Burdened.  

I started to worry about what the issues my son has would mean for him in school, what would his grades be, how would he be judged, what he would not be able to do...but then I remembered who he is....his gifts and talents and the things he can do better than anyone else and it helped me to direct his energy there.  He is amazeballs.  I would get daily phone calls from his teacher praising him for what he did right in the day and brainstorming new ways to reach him.  She is amazeballs.  

I can't tell you how many people prayed for our son's heart.  God even placed his teacher in his life, that of course, used to be an RN on the cardiac unit.   So far it's been corrective.  My husband and  I held on to the promise that this too shall pass and worked through the impossible to find time for each other and our marriage.  The money never works out on paper.  Never.  But we made it.  Things don't always work out perfectly packaged with a bow on top.  But life is messy and it's okay.  Real faith comes in the holding on through the stink.  It doesn't promise stink won't come.  In each moment of our difficulties there were blessings to focus on...there was good in each day. 

This is what I know.  Even on the days I was weighted down and cataloging everything going wrong in our lives, God was with me.  I'm sure he wanted to flick me on my forehead but he never left me. On the days I was able to give my burdens to Him, my family and I operated better.  We just did.  Because unlike many that think we are not given more than we can handle, I often am.  I believe we are.   Life is too much sometimes.  We weren't designed to handle it alone though.  God walks with us. Welcomes it, in fact. We are designed to do life with Him.  And others.  In community with others.   I know that when I'm able to focus my ferris wheel thinking on the blessings from God and the steps we've made I am a much better person.  I don't want to show my children that nothing hard ever happens in life.  I want to show them that when the hard comes you hunker down, hold on to God and each other, find a way to find the blessings no matter how small and maybe even laugh a little.  

The other thing I know is that when I focus on my own issues, my world gets small and when I am able to turn my focus outward, it always gets better.  There is always someone else that needs prayer.  There is always someone else that needs your advocacy, voice, encouragment.  When we focus on others, our problems don't go away but they sure do feel not as big.  

In my reflecting upon one of the most difficult seasons of our life, I was able to see that  I have a son that hugs me tight that didn't know how to hug when he walked through my door. I can feel the love pour out of him.  I have a son that works hard and jumped 6 reading levels in a semester.  I have a son that in a different set of circumstances would have been written off long ago but instead is surrounded by the resources and encouragement he needs.   I have a son who's heart could be corrected.  I have a son that prays for kid's hearts that cannot be.  I have a marriage that is ALL in and works hard to be the security and foundation our family needs.  The blessings abound.  As the kids would say, #blessed.  

Life sure can throw things at us....big scary ugly things.  Don't let them steal your focus. God is continually blessing us.   They are there.  Celebrate your victories, no matter how small.  Focus on the good your spouse does....the characteristics in your child that build them up...the positives about your job...and even in the stink....the big scary ugly stink....even in the years/months/weeks and days that are tougher, find the blessings.  It's the way a tough day turns in to a less tough one.