the Spirit

Last night, I made blueberry pancakes for supper. Our daughter, age 3, loves them, and we all sat down and ate together – well, the baby had his own food – but you get the idea. A family sitting together having dinner.

After we ate, we were cleaning up, and our daughter went to get her swimsuit on so she could play with “the spriink-u-lar” (translation: “sprinkler”).

I turned on the world news to see an update on the latest from the humanitarian crisis unfolding at our southern border. I wasn’t prepared. They played the recording of a girl crying for her aunt, other children heard weeping and calling for their parents in the background. I looked to see our daughter had come into the room.

“That little girl and that little boy, they are crying. Why are they crying?” she looked at me, head turned with a concerned look on her face.

I swallowed hard. “Because the government separated them from their moms and dads. They want their moms and dads, but they are being kept apart. It’s really sad honey, and it’s wrong.”

She went on to finish getting ready to go outside. I stayed and saw the news correspondent ask a white middle aged man if he was affected by the sights and sounds of children crying for their parents. He said he wasn’t, and proceeded to talk about money.

I had to walk away. As I walked back to the kitchen to do the dishes, something happened.

Like a wild animal that has been let out of a cage, with a quiet and powerful fury, words came flying out of my mouth under my breath. I got to the kitchen and looked at my wife and our 10 month old son. I told her what the man said and said the same words of fury again, this time at normal volume. Then,

I broke as I said, “why?”

Tears shot out of my eyes. My arms tensed up and I cried in a way I never have before. Not just any cry.

I rage cried.

It wasn’t sadness, frustration, or hopelessness, or fear.

It was rage. Strong, breathtaking, rage.

I wondered aloud, “What the hell is wrong with people?” and “what are we going to do?” I took deep breaths and tried to focus on washing dishes and just doing something with my hands.”

A few minutes later, D took our daughter out and got the sprinkler going. She had to come in for a minute, so I stepped outside to the back porch and watched our daughter. She put her hands in the sprinkler and squealed, then jumped through, squealing and running away, smiling. I laughed and felt my chest ease slightly. D was coming back, laughing with me, then I watched a moment more before going back inside to finish up and get our son.

We all went outside, and we sat and watched our rambunctious three year old play with delight and abandon. I held our son and watched the water, taking in the sight of the golden summer evening sky, the feel of the cool in the shade, and the sounds of tree frogs and the chorus of night-time insects beginning to announce that evening was near.

We went back inside, and we got the kids ready for bed. As I lay next to my daughter to read a bedtime story and then as she fell asleep, I felt the pain again, thinking of those separated families, praying silently for them.

Later, I sat with my wife, and we talked more about how we were feeling. I again told her how hard this was and how much rage I was feeling. We watched comedies and tried our best to relax before going to bed.

In the watches of the night, I woke up, my mind turning again to the sounds of those babies. And the sight and sound of that man, hateful/unmoved/empty of compassion and decency.

I looked into the darkness and thought, “What is wrong with people? How can you be like that? Why are so many people ok with this and trying to justify it?”

Then, I thought: “The Spirit is gone.” Which certainly seems true. The fruit of the Spirit is love – joy, peace, kindness, patience, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.

Then I wondered. “Where is God? What if God is dead?

Then, a song I learned when I was a small child came to mind and seemed to well up within me even though it had long been forgotten.

“God’s not dead. No, God’s alive. God’s not dead. No, God’s alive.”

Then, as I remembered more of the song, I realized some important truths.

“I can feel God in my hands”  – when I use them to serve the most vulnerable and the hurting.

“I can feel God in my feet” – when I pray with my feet by marching for justice and equity and let my feet carry me to the places I am needed.

“I can feel God in the Church”- when the Church boldly fights for love.

“I can feel God in the air” – when I make environmentally sound decisions and also when I stop and mindfully observe the gift that is nature,

“I can feel God everywhere. I can feel God all over me.” – when I practice love – joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, the Spirit is with me, all over me, and working through me.

I fell back asleep, thinking on these things. When I woke up this morning, I saw the news and watched video of a beautiful unarmed young 17 year old black boy be shot in the back, killed by a police officer who had been on the job for 3 hours.

The rage welled up in me again. My three year old daughter walked in, and seeing his mother crying asked me- “why is she crying?”

“Honey, she’s crying because ( I felt my throat swelling) because… Because her son was shot. He died. She’s sad. It’s very very sad, and it’s not right.” I knew that at three years old, she can’t understand too much – she doesn’t even fully “get” death yet. But I realized I will have to talk with her more and more as she ages, and talk with our son as he gets older, so they can know and understand.

I said aloud something I knew needed to be said. “We have to do more. If there is anything I am feeling right now, it’s that we have to do more.”

Later this morning, I was getting ready and alone to my thoughts again. I thought about all that is going on and all that has happened in the past few years that have moved me. And I came to some conclusions.

I repent.

I repent for my armchair activism, feeling that I’m doing more than I actually am. I recommit to working on the ground and actually doing more while still writing/calling/posting to help educate/inspire/motivate change.

I repent.

I repent for my own ignorance, sometimes willful, sometimes not – and I recommit to educating myself on the truth and how to help.

I repent.

I repent for recognizing my privilege as a white woman while holding so tightly to my disadvantage as an LGBTQ+ person, that I have failed to use my privilege as an ally for folks of color. I recommit to dismantling systems of oppression for all. 

I am a work in progress. And I am waking up.

I find that I am overcome with so many emotions these days, and I feel weary at times, like the fire of rage and compassion will burn me out – and I cannot let that happen. So here is what I am learning.

I let the rage wash over me, and it put me in touch with fighting for justice.

Also, I let the love I have for my partner and kids wash over me – and I took note of the little things, and I felt stronger for it.

I am reconnecting with my spirituality, I am writing, and I am painting again. All healing activities for me.

I’ve disconnected in some of the places and relationships where I need to disconnect.

And last, but not least, I am being mindful. I am noticing when I need to walk away for a moment, when I need to fight and when I don’t. I know when I can’t change a mind, and I need to be more aware of and accepting of hat and move on. I am mindful of the taste of coffee, the scent of rain, and the sounds of thunder rumbling in the distance. I am observant of the colors in the sunrise and the way the light plays across the landscape.

We have to keep fighting. We can’t burn out.

Good boundaries. Focusing on the people we love and what we love about them. Using mindfulness and gratitude. Empowering ourselves with love and light.

Will you join me?

Love wins.

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Second Class Citizen

“You are not a second class citizen.”

As I read the words from Kim, my professor turned mentor and friend, hot tears filled my eyes.

I was in graduate school, and I had sent Kim an e-mail telling her about an incident that had just happened to me.

It was a nice day, and I was walking down Parker Street, one of the main roads on campus, and I was enjoying a nice breeze and sunshine as I walked across the crosswalk to the Counseling Center where I was completing my internship for my counseling program. A car was going by, so I paused in the middle, next to some flowers in the median. A back window rolled down, and out of it, a young man yelled a word at me. Just one word.

“DYKE.”

Then, the car sped off.

Shaken, I hurried back to the counseling center, shut my office door and cried. I e-mailed Mike, who was my pastor, the lead administrator over the chapel I led worship for, and who had been a go-to in my role in student leadership. He told me not to report it, because nothing would happen. It was just one of many non-empathic responses.

Kim knew I was gay. She had walked through the valley of self-loathing with me when I first came out to her. She urged me to view myself with value. So, it was only natural that she was one of my people I could trust and talk to about this terrifying moment.

During my last semester of my internship, I brought up this instance again during a Counseling Center staff meeting. Through my tears, I was expressing my anger and sadness about how a psychologist that believes in changing a person’s sexuality was brought to speak on campus, in chapel – the one I led worship at. I didn’t tell them how many of my own therapy sessions I spent preparing for it or how my set list that day focused on God’s unconditional love because it was my one way to be vocal. But, I did tell them how hurt I was. How much I longed for social justice to be an issue, because LGBTQ people were experiencing a lot of pain, by the world, and by members of our campus community, and I told them what happened. Members of the staff cried with me, reassured me with a hand on my shoulder, and embraced me as one of their own.

I haven’t thought about this whole instance or the feelings I had around it in a while. But last night, I didn’t sleep much, and at 2 AM, it played over and over.

It’s no coincidence.

I’ve spent more nights crying in the middle of the night than not lately.

Because I feel like a second class citizen.

We live near the border of another state, my home state. We are expecting again, and planned to use the same hospital and midwife as before. I’m halfway through this pregnancy. But now we have to embark on finding a new midwife and new hospital – all because of a new law that, after talking with our lawyer, has the potential to cause us a litigation nightmare just to secure our names on our child’s birth certificate.

“So, just have the baby in your own state.”

“Just use the local hospital.”

“It’s not that big of a deal.”

Maybe it sounds over the top to say I’ve cried about this so much. Maybe it sounds like pregnancy hormones. That’s the excuse I used when I could barely speak through my crying when I called my midwife’s office last week.

But it’s so much more than that.

It’s the fact that me, my wife, and our children aren’t treated like other families. It’s the fact that even though we thankfully have marriage equality, we are still not seen as equals. It’s the fact that so many people want to make sure they assert to us and others like us, that we are, indeed, second class citizens.

UpWorthy posted a nifty video about religious freedom bills. It makes some really solid points from a philosophy professor. But, after I watched it yesterday, I thought of our own experiences.

Like when we went to a local jeweler for our wedding rings, and they “mistakenly” never ordered them. Or how after we did order from another online company, a different jeweler botched our rings  when they engraved them, and the woman who was working the store when we came to pick them up told us “it’s not a big deal.”

I also thought about how we have had to call places ahead of time – “We are gay. Is that going to be an issue?”

Can you imagine?

Calling the place you want to stay for your honeymoon just to make sure that you won’t get kicked out when you get there? Or calling a pediatrician’s office to see if they will still see your child? Or telling your financial advisor – so you can make sure that you are treated fairly? Or making sure the hospital you go to is progressive so that no one will try to keep your spouse from you?

I’ve thought about the many times I was treated differently after people found out – like the entire group that refused to go to my baby shower, the faculty member that stumbled all over himself and has since ignored me after I said the words “my wife,” and the many former friends and family I have lost or had significant wounds from.

No wonder I have suffered from depression and anxiety for much of my life. No wonder the slumps and feelings of panic still return from time to time.

In the quiet of the middle of the night, I felt hot tears hit my face. A tiny hand kept reaching over to touch my hair and to put her arm around me. She had woken up very upset, and now was trying to go back to sleep in the security only her moms can give. I thought about how much she deserves to have her emotional needs tuned into. How much she deserves to be loved fully. How much she deserves to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect. Which was quite the feat when you have toddler feet jabbing into your back and pregnant belly.

Surely, God looks on us and thinks the same.

Grief is such a difficult and long process. And it’s just one part of our process for justice – which is also long and difficult. I’m still figuring out the pieces and where I am.

I’m still figuring out where my citizenship belongs. But my hunch is, it’s inside of love. And real love has no second class citizens.

– C.

Summitt

When I was in middle school, I saw approximately 2-3 hours of play time as a point guard for my church’s team. I drug my little round short self up and down the court every week for practice, and I was always lagging behind the others when we would run.

When I was around the age of 12, I played with an official NCAA Women’s ball for the first time. I couldn’t believe how great it felt in my hands compared to the ones we had at home, a full size, and a junior ball. A friend of the family who was a coach gave me the new ball. This family friend also had an adjustable hoop – the first time I ever saw one, and I thought it was the best God send ever to my less than 5 foot self.

But we never got one of those. Instead, I had the hoop outside our house, situated between the master bedroom and the gravel lot. Lot is actually a misnomer. It was more like just enough gravel space to park approximately 1.5 cars. When I faced the basket, a steep bank with clay and pines rose to my right, briars and woods and snaky overgrowth stood behind me, and to my left was a long, long, gravel driveway that descended at a grade notorious for causing falls and slip ups and my first fender bender when I accidentally went too far back, slipped up, and then came up the drive again like a bat out of hell into the back of my dad’s car. Sorry, dad.

As an adolescent, through middle and high school, I recall lots of hours “shooting hoops” and playing horse. I also recall running down that hill a lot to try to stop the ball from rolling all the way down the driveway, across the street, and into the field/fence that sat across from us.

Perhaps it was all that ball chasing that motivated me, but I actually got pretty good at shots. I would go down to the gym at church and play horse and could make 3 pointers, foul shots, and do pretty well over all with getting that ball into that net. I wasn’t a bad dribbler, either.

I sucked at running. Layups were a joke. And I learned very quickly on that middle school team, that I was not an aggressive or defensive player.

Still, I loved basketball.

More specifically, I loved Lady Vol basketball, and their coach, Pat Summitt was an icon to me.

I spent hours upon hours pretending I was on the team, trying to make a shot for Pat. Pretending I was on the court with Chamique Holdsclaw, “Ace” Clement, Tamika Catchings, and Michelle Snow. We were facing, UConn, of course.

I spent hours cheering them on through win after win on my TV screen. They were so unstoppable. Until that National Championship loss, and the streak was over. And I was beyond disappointed. I was bewildered. How was this possible?

I never got to see “my team” in person, but somehow I felt connected with them. The dream team all graduated. Some went on to play for the WNBA.

My life changed. My parents divorced. I moved a couple hours away from home. I got into the music industry, and my focus shifted. I still managed to catch a game here and there, but never at that same intensity.

Life gets even busier, somehow, after college graduation, and I hardly ever caught a game. But then I heard something sad and shocking on the news – Pat had Alzheimer’s.

How was that possible? Surely not.

My biggest regret has been that I never went to a game. Never sat there in that arena and cheered my dream team or my dream coach on.

I can’t explain why I have cried more over Pat Summit’s death than I have over any other celebrity. Yet, somehow, hot tears still fall from my eyes as I write this.

I think, as I have reflected the past two days – that Pat was a constant for me.

Pat pushed hard, played hard, and inspired hard.

Pat inspired my non-athletic self to get out and move and do the best I could.

More than that, I wonder – no, I know –

that dream team and Pat Summit allowed me a space to be me. When I thought about being a Lady Vol in my fantasy world, I was just me – all of me. The writer, the singer, the lover of basketball and women, and the dreamer, and the goofball. And it was ok.

I was ok.

When I watched those girls take charge of the court, empowered and taught by Pat Summitt, I felt like they were unstoppable, and I felt like I could be unstoppable, too.

I felt empowered to be a woman. I felt like women could really make a difference, and if there’s anything Pat taught us and did, it was to teach us that gender roles and stereotypes and limitations are hog wash.

I like to imagine that as Pat’s spirit was lifted, she could see the impact she has made on people she hasn’t even met along with those who knew her best and were touched by her.

I know that if that is true, that she saw a candle over my head, especially the 12-19 year old me, that felt a little more empowered, a little more free, and a little more inspired to be a woman, and to get that ball through that net.

Now, at almost 35, I’m sitting here moved, inspired, empowered – and I think it’s time I go over next door sometime soon and get that ball in that net again. It’s been too long.

Pat, you can’t read this, but hey –

thank you. Thank you for being an inspiration. Thank you for the motivation. Thank you for being you and being the only you that ever was.

You never coached me in basketball, but you sure as heck coached me in life though those lessons you talked about, wrote about, and displayed on and off the court.

We’ll miss you. I’m so thankful you shined your light.

Forever grateful. With love always,

C.Pat-Summitt-Icon