I give this comment five stars.

I didn’t know what I was doing when I started this blog about a year and a half ago. I just knew that I missed writing, and wanted a space to stretch those muscles. Since then, I’ve been overwhelmed with incredible feedback from people in all corners of my life. While it’s been terrifying to put my bare soul on display and I’m often shaky when I press the “publish” button, it’s also been therapeutic to get thoughts out of my head and into the world. Some posts get more responses than others, but the responses are generally kind. It’s been so gratifying every time that somebody tells me they connected with something I wrote, and sometimes it even seems to strengthen my connections with the people in my world. I truly appreciate everyone’s comments. They always mean a lot, and give me the strength to keep going.

There was one comment, though, that has truly stood out from all the rest. This comment was so good that I never even hit the “approve” button, so it’s never before been seen on this blog. Today, I’m choosing to finally share it. This comment was left on this 4th of July post. Here it is….

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You might have to read it two or three times to take it all in. Go ahead, take your time… A true work of art, no?

First of all, can we talk about the pseudonym this commenter used? T-rump. T-rump! Why haven’t we been using that nickname all along?? While many have had a Voldemort-like reaction to the president, not wanting to even say his name because it feels like a profanity and/or summoning of evil, we’ve stumbled through different alternatives. Some prefer to call him 45, some go with Donald, others prefer something with the word Cheetos in it. (I mostly try to avoid the latter. I hate the man for many reasons, but there’s no need to drag his appearance into it.) But clearly, we should have been using T-rump all along! It’s perfect for so many reasons…. “Rump” is just a funny word, no matter how you use it. And doesn’t T-rump kind of sound like a t-rex? Just like the man’s crazy gestures look sort of like a t-rex flailing his little arms? Also, it’s so simple. Literally all we have to do is drop a hyphen into the man’s name, and he’s T-rump. The perfect nickname.

Thank you, T-rump the commenter, for giving us that nicknamey gift.

Next, props for making the jab undeniably personal. T-rump obviously knows that I use a wheelchair, which I talk about a lot in my blog, but not in that particular entry. Whoever T-rump is, it’s not somebody who just randomly came across my blog, left a quick trollish comment, and moved on. This was somebody who has at least spent a little time with my blog, and/or knows me in real life. I feel honored, T-rump, that you would take the time to write this thoughtful comment with such a personal flair, and also leave me with the nagging question about whether you’re a person that I actually know. So much accomplished with so few words.

Seriously, so few words. 17 words, to be exact, and only 80 characters. This comment could easily fit into a Tweet, which of course is OG Trump’s favorite form of communication. Props for brevity. It usually takes me 1,000 words before I even know what I’m trying to say. But T-rump got straight to the point, no superfluous words needed.

Also, so bold! It takes a special kind of confidence to declare yourself a voice for the American people. And then to use that voice to wish death on an individual for offering a thoughtful critique of the country’s culture. Escalating straight from blog post to death wish! Go big or go home, right?

And this wasn’t your typical, flippant “go kill yourself” style of death wish. This one invoked such vivid imagery. I can almost hear the splash of the water.

T-rump obviously isn’t a nice person, but he’s also not pretending to be. Is he a monster? A literary genius? It’s hard to say.

Till The Conflict Is O’er

There are two kinds of hymns that I sometimes struggle with singing. First, there’s the sunshine hymns. I don’t know, they’re just too perky for me. I can be happy, but I’m never that cheery.

Second, I struggle with the warlike hymns. Onward, Christian Soldiers? Hope of Israel? We Are All Enlisted? Let Us All Press On? Who’s On The Lord’s Side? I could keep going. Sure, they’re usually fun, rousing melodies, perfect for a little shot of energy that’s pretty badly needed most Sundays….

It’s just that, I have a hard time identifying with all the battle talk in church. I mean, I get it, we’re supposed to be God’s army, waging war against evil. But does that have to involve swords and shields and images of violence? Do we have to keep talking about enemies and foes to be vanquished? Jesus wasn’t afraid to get angry now and then, but he never dressed up in riot gear or shouted battle cries with a weapon in the air to get people excited and on his side. It just isn’t natural for me to look around and see other people as my enemy. I’m used to seeing people who need loving. Some are easier for me to love than others, but that’s the goal. Where are these enemies I’m supposed to be fighting?

Oh, wait! I found them. It took a few decades, but I found them. For the last two years, evil has just been presenting itself so clearly. Suddenly, I do feel enlisted. I do feel like I need a metaphorical sword and shield to keep myself and others safe. I do feel compelled to fight against evil. I find myself in all these uncomfortable situations, and the little voice in my head whispers, “Well, which side are you on anyway? Are you willing to stand up for what’s right, or not?”

So here we are! Finally! All those years of polishing that “whole armor of God,” training to build up my strength of character, my heart’s endurance, my moral fiber. All that time fine-tuning my spiritual eyes and ears, so that I’d be able to recognize God’s voice as well as the enemy if and when he/she/they/it decided to show up… At last, it’s show time! Gird up our loins, and fresh courage take! Let’s do this!

But… wait a minute…. where did everyone go?? Why isn’t every halfway decent person I know all-in on Americans vs. The Nazis/KKK/White Supremacists/Nationalists? All the bad guys came crawling out of their holes at once to say “neener neener, come and get me,” and this is the time to drop our swords and weigh the pros and cons of the many sides?? How did we fall so deeply asleep at the wheel, that we have to even think about which side we’re on?

Of course there are plenty of people responding exactly the way you’re supposed to when Satan’s squad comes to trash the neighborhood. And I’ve never been more pleased by the LDS Church’s response to anything–they explicitly condemned both the white supremacy agenda and pursuit of “white culture,” with sassy quotation marks and everything! Get ’em, Church! Wield that righteous sword!

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But I have to wonder about everyone hanging out on the sidelines, telling us to calm down, take a step back, and stop making such a big deal about white supremacy. Telling us that most people are good. Telling us that slavery was a long time ago. Worst of all, the people who still think this is nothing more than politics and are posting stupid memes about liberal snowflakes. THIS IS SO MUCH BIGGER THAN POLITICS. You can be a good conservative, and be part of the resistance against racists and fascists. In fact, to be a good conservative, I feel like you’d kind of have to….

I realize that almost nobody I know is actively pro-Nazi. However, people seem to think that Charlottesville just kind of happened in a vacuum, and that it in no way reflects our society or presidential administration. (Oops! Someone let the Nazis out of their cages! We’ll just ship them back home in a time machine and get back to living our lives as good people.) Others have adopted this helpless “haters gonna hate” mentality, and don’t see any point in discussing the matter further. (Let’s just hold the door for each other and buy a Starbucks for the car behind us at the drive-through and wait for love to conquer all. Kumbaya….) The most self-centered people of all went straight to the defensive approach the day after Charlottesville, the same way they did in the weeks following the election. (Hey, just because I’ve aligned myself on the same team as the racists, and I never use my voice to condemn the racists or hold “my president” accountable for his words and actions, doesn’t mean I’m a racist! Don’t call me that! It hurts my feelings!) (Pro-tip: If you don’t like people calling you racist, redirect some of your energy into fighting racism. The White House isn’t going to listen to me, a card carrying Democrat, but your conservative voice carries weight! Use it!)

Charlottesville didn’t happen by random chance. The rise in hate crimes, hate speech, and hate groups isn’t happening by random chance. Trump’s election didn’t happen by random chance. It’s all a result of the larger US culture, which is moving in a direction that radicalizes and emboldens white supremacists. Our culture is making white supremacists feel safer than they’ve felt in generations. We can point at different individuals as scapegoats, but it’s a much larger cultural illness that we’re suffering from.

(I didn’t always believe that, by the way. I would listen to people of color talking about how racism is just as alive in America as it’s ever been, and I was trying to understand, but I still thought they were exaggerating just a little bit, minimizing all the progress we’ve made…. I was wrong…. And for the record, I realized I was wrong before Charlottesville happened.)

How do you fix a culture? It’s certainly bigger than any of us. But it’s comprised of all of us. Culture is determined by the words we all say, and the words we leave unsaid. Culture is determined by the values we all choose to act on. Culture is determined by the way we all spend our time, money, and energy. Culture is determined by the circles we all choose to associate and align ourselves with. We create our culture. We decide what we want our culture to be. We’re not helpless here. We’re responsible.

Sure, each of us in nothing more than a tiny droplet in the bucket. But water is nothing more than a collection of droplets. And water has ripples. Every one of our little cultural water droplets has the power to help shape our culture, to revive it, to make America a more humane and welcoming place.

Because guess what…. Ignoring the cultural ill of racism has never made it better. The theory of colorblindness already failed. We have to actually address the problem.

What does that even mean? How do we start?

  • Start small, and start quietly. Before you’re ready to use your voice and create change, you need to educate yourself. There’s a lot of learning and un-learning and re-learning to do. A deeply held conviction that “racism is bad and we’re all equal” isn’t good enough. You need an in-depth understanding of implicit bias and systematic/structural racism, as well as white privilege before you can proceed. This will take time. Start now. This is a period for way more listening, reading, and taking information in, than for bringing your own voice to the conversation. Get out of your own way, and just immerse yourself in learning, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. Be a sponge.
  • As you learn to better recognize microaggressions and offensive speech, be an interrupter. (Don’t listen to those who will laugh at you for being “politically correct.” A thinking and feeling person knows that words are powerful, and should be carefully chosen to show respect for others.) Don’t brush things off with “They didn’t mean it like that…” Interrupt the moment. I find that playing dumb and asking the other person to explain themself can be effective.
  • Don’t make it about you. It’s never about you.
  • Remember that your impact is more important than your intent.
  • It’s not about you.
  • Impact over intent. (I can’t repeat those things enough.)
  • Be more concerned about injustice than discomfort. It’s ok to be uncomfortable, and it’s ok to make other people uncomfortable. Growth happens outside our comfort zones.
  • Keep talking about it. And talking about it. All that stuff you’re learning from bullet point number one? Make everyone around you crazy with how much you talk about it. Don’t be afraid. Persist. Yes, even with the people you consider family and friends. Those are your people. That’s where you can have the most impact.
  • Use your social media. And don’t just use it to spread your own voice. Follow activists of color, and share their words. I know, I know, you only signed up for all these social media accounts because you want to see photos of your nieces and nephews and stalk your ex-boyfriend and share recipes. But social media is where culture is most quickly shaped these days. Use those powerful tools.
  • Give what money and resources you can to causes that fight racial injustice. Give to individuals who need it. White people have an astronomically disproportionate share of the wealth in the United States, and it’s not because we’ve worked harder. (Go back to bullet point one. Keep learning.) Give some of that back.
  • Figure out how to be a genuine friend, ally, and support to the people of color in your circles. I’m afraid to even write this here, because I don’t want to encourage token friendships, or burdening PoC with naive efforts to become culturally aware… But figure it out. Figure out how to be a truly “safe” friend.

There are better lists out there about how to fight prejudice and racism and Nazis. I don’t even feel like my list is that great… But I don’t want to spend any more time fixing it. I just want it out there. Because the truth is, I can’t give you a to-do list of how to fight this battle. I can ask you to educate yourself (and then educate yourself some more), and I can encourage you to courageously get involved. You need to figure out what your talents, resources, and circles of influence are. Because that’s where your work is.

Most of us won’t get a shout-out in the history books for our work. And most of us won’t see much in the way of direct results. Don’t expect a cookie for your efforts. Just keep at it. Our culture can’t move in a positive direction any other way.

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Pretty minimal pomp and circumstance…

Sunday was a long-awaited day. I finally finished my Master’s program! Hit the “submit” button on my final paper, which was much easier than finding a printer that actually had ink and a stapler that actually had staples so that I could madly dash to campus (in the snow, uphill both ways) and turn in a paper, as was the typical process in undergrad. I marked the occasion with a facebook post, which got way more responses than I expected! It was a purely online program, so I don’t know my classmates, and I won’t be donning a cap or gown for a ceremony. But a couple super thoughtful friends have gifted me with unicorn socks and cake, which seems better anyway.

How long did it take me to finish? Depends how you count it…. I started the program approximately a million years ago. I took several classes, but it was right around the time the Recession was setting in and hitting the school districts hard. We lost all kinds of staffing, which meant I lost teammates, and there was a much heavier weight on my teacher shoulders. I finally admitted that I couldn’t handle it all at once, and set the program aside. Of course that meant losing momentum, and it took a long time to pick it back up again…. I finally picked it up last summer. Some of my credits were still valid, but others had expired, which meant retaking classes. I knew this was going to be a tough year, and of course it ended up being so much tougher than I ever could have predicted. But I managed to keep my head down, keep pushing forward, and finally finished the program a year later.

I appreciate the kind words from everybody telling me that I should be proud of this accomplishment! And I am.

At the same time, I’ve been feeling the weight of everything I haven’t managed to accomplish this year in all the other areas of my life. Whether it was work, church, choir, family, friends… I’ve been giving the best that I can, but it often hasn’t been very much. I feel like I’ve been that flakey person that makes all sorts of well-intentioned promises, and then fails to follow through. I’ve missed all kinds of birthdays and events that I should have acknowledged. I’ve said “no” when I wanted to say “yes.”

If I spent any time at all with you this year, please know that means you’re very important to me. It probably wasn’t as much time as I would have liked. But I definitely didn’t have time in my day or space in my head for anything I don’t highly value.

really appreciate how kind and forgiving people have been of my shortcomings this year! When I feel like I’m coming up short every time I turn around, it means the world to be met with grace. So many thank yous to everyone who’s just loved me anyways!

I’ve been telling myself all kinds of nice stories about what a better person I’d be once the master’s program was done taking up space in my life. All the things I’d do and be with the copious free time that was going to fall into my lap…. Basically, I’ve been setting myself up for failure. I’m a teacher! I never had time or energy before starting this program, so I don’t know why I think I’ll have it after. I really won’t. I’ll hopefully be better, but I’m never going to be my idealized best.

I don’t know that I actually learned much from my classes. Sorry, it’s the truth; they were mostly all about jumping through a gazillion hoops. But I did learn a lot this year…. I learned about who I am, and about what’s most important to me. I learned about what I can let go. I learned about what I can never let go. I learned about my limitations. I learned about my strengths. I learned about my community. I learned about love. I learned about pain, and anger, and fear, and hate. And I learned about love.

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Since I don’t have any graduation photos to share from this degree, I’ll stick this one in from undergrad. (It would be wrong to publish this post without a cap and gown photo, right?) I love this photo, and I love the people in it (and the few who missed the photo)! We were the “culturally responsive” teaching cohort, and we all qualified for the grant by being multicultural, multilingual, disabled, or some combination of the three. It was a pretty unique and incredible experience to be part of such a lovely pocket of diversity at mostly homogenous BYU. I learned from my classes, but I learned more from my classmates. We shared a crazy amount of laughs, love, and tears! The education profession would benefit from more programs like this, intentionally recruiting and training a more diverse pool of teachers. (Also: yes, we saw the directions stating that flower leis weren’t allowed. Jaymi decided that rule didn’t apply to us. Jaymi’s awesome.:))

Puzzle Pieces

When I turned 18 and immediately moved out of state, nobody warned me that it would be the last time I’d see my heart all in one piece. My lil’ heart had been through its share of struggle already for sure, but it had always been grounded in one place.

I don’t have nomadic instincts. I would love to travel and see more of the world, but I like coming home to the same place. I was a lucky baby, brought home to a storybook-level of charming log cabin. My parents didn’t leave that house until the year I graduated college, and I think it’s safe to say I’ll never forgive them for letting it go. I’ve only made two major moves in my own life–to Utah for college, and to Oregon for life after college.

I don’t know how people stand moving all the time, when I feel like I leave so much of myself behind every time. Little pieces of my heart belong to different people and places, and once I’ve given those pieces away, I can’t have them back.

I love living in Portland. It’s the most perfect place for me. I love Portland people, values, and attitudes. I love the food. I love the public transportation system. I love that despite Portland being much more White than any city has business being, I live in diverse Beaverton. I always tell people that whether you want city, country, mountains, or ocean, it’s all right here, easily accessible.

Except…. It all takes a little bit of work to get to. When I open my front door, all I see is indistinct suburbia. The mountains in the distance are gorgeous! But in Utah, they were right there, taking my breath away every time I stepped outside. BYU kids would take morning hikes up to the Y before class.

The coast is gorgeous, and I love spending a day on the ocean’s edge. But in Seattle/Everett/Mukilteo, the Puget Sound was right there. You don’t have to dedicate a day; you can pop over to breathe that saltwater air on your lunch break. (Even teachers get three or four days a year with a proper lunch hour.)

I need especially the ocean, but all of these places to feel complete.

More importantly, my heart is divvied out between people all over the place. I’ve never been good at making friends. I don’t know how to meet people. I don’t know how to transition from small talk, which I hate, to real conversation, which I thrive on. I don’t know how one becomes a member of a Scooby gang, a Central Perk crew, or a hashtaggable squad.

But the friends I have are golden, precious treasures. I’ve managed to collect some of the best that humanity has to offer…. Except they have the nerve to not geographically cluster around me! Spread out all over the place, no matter where I am, I’m desperately missing most of my people and the pieces of my heart they carry.

I didn’t appreciate my Washington people when I had them. For various reasons, I spent too much time feeling lonely even when I was surrounded by incredible people. Thank goodness those doors didn’t slam shut behind me when I went away to college. Social media became a thing just in time for me to stay connected with communities I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, and in some cases become better friends than we were before. There are the few Washington friends that I still manage to spend time with at least once a year, and every time, I leave wishing that it could be weekly… or daily! Remember being kids, and it was the norm to see your friends daily?

My church community in my home ward was also unbeatable. It was a whackadoo group, but it was my whackadoo group. I’ve never met a group of people that took better care of each other. I naively assumed I would have that anywhere I went in life, since people love to say “the church is the same wherever you go.” But that ward was unique. I’ve been in other good wards, but I’ll always miss that one.

College life and its transitory nature were hard on me and my need for roots, routine, and predictability. It seemed like whenever I finally started warming up to people, the semester would end, everyone would shuffle, and I’d never see those people again. But I managed to find people who walked away with pieces of my heart. Leaving those communities was especially tough, because I knew there would be no going back. BYU students come from everywhere. We’d be spreading back out to the various corners of the world that we’d come from, or heading onward to new ones, and nothing would ever pull us all back to the same place at the same time again.

Then I moved to Oregon, ready to put down my roots in this corner of the lovely Northway forest. And I have. But it seems like the trees around me keep uprooting! As a 20-something, I naturally pursued friendships with other young singles, but young singles don’t seem to stay in one place very long. I made some great friends, but hunts for marriage and careers kept people moving. The unstable economy definitely hasn’t helped. Everybody is priced out of where they live.

I work in a middle school, and where I grew up, teachers stayed in the same positions FOREVER. My high school teachers are either retired, or still in the same classrooms. (Literally, the same rooms. Yearly room upheavals aren’t a universal truth!) According to Facebook, my middle school teachers still hang out with each other. But my own school district seems to be locked into this never-ending cycle of hire, fire, and reshuffle. I’ve always been so charmed and inspired by the teachers who taught together at Whitford for over 30 years. My generation won’t get that. There’s one person left who was hired at the same time I was, and while I love the idea of working together forever, I don’t actually expect it to last another 20 years. Instead, I keep watching people leave, whether it’s a full exit, or just to another corner of Portlandia.

Let’s not forget the giant chunks of my heart that live in the hands of my niece and nephew. Silly children, with the audacity to live with their parents in Omaha! So far away. Visits and Skype are good, but will never be good enough.

And then there are the hundreds of kids who’ve spent time in my classroom, becoming “my kids” for up to three years, and then they just leave. Again, the nerve and audacity! I don’t think they realize that they take a piece of my heart with them when they go off on their paths of growing up. But they do, and I feel their pains and joys no matter hold old they get.

It would be terrible to live a life where there weren’t loved ones to miss. Or if there were a limit on how many pieces I could divide my heart into.

But when I imagine what Heaven must be like, I imagine all those jigsaw pieces coming back together. All the people and places that I love, easy to reach out and touch any time that I want. My heart finally feeling whole and complete. Always room to grow, but never lacking. That’s the Heaven that I’m hoping for.