Springtime in January

I’m in the midst of some purging at my house. (No, I haven’t read or watched Marie Kondo, but the fervor she has created inspired me.) I was in the basement going through old stuff and came across a blank journal I purchased while pregnant with my now 10-year-old son. (Oh how optimistic was I?) My first grade daughter is into journaling right now, so she was happy to inherit it. I’ve had short periods where I consistently journaled, including as a teen/young adult writing about the pain of yet another Kansas City Chiefs playoff loss. (Still guarding my heart but GO CHIEFS!) Generally, though, I’ve not made time for that kind of reflection as an adult. It’s been two years since my last post, so I don’t think this can truly qualify as a blog. However, this morning, the house was quiet, I had my coffee, and presto–here we are.

Reading through my words in January 2017, focused mostly on the results of the 2016 presidential election and what it meant for our country, I feel the anger in the words as they come off the page. I also see in them the catalyst for a transformation. I noted in January 2017 that our family was considering significant changes as a result of the election. What actually happened was a turn I would never have imagined as a younger me. In October 2017, after 13 years of stellar work with the same Kansas City company, Doug got an incredible opportunity to put his leadership and vision to the test with a new company, also in the KC metro area. And that meant I had the opportunity to take a risk. And so I did.

Even before the 2016 election, I was unhappy professionally and looking for the next move, but was unclear as to what that would be. I wanted to leave the legal profession, but was unwilling to give up the flexibility I had with my job at the time, something I feared I would lose if I switched professions to something that required more of an in-office presence and full-time status to “prove myself.” Although I tried it, I’ve never enjoyed direct sales, and disliked how so many of the opportunities in that area were so focused on primarily female interests like jewelry or makeup. (I like those things, but not my passion.)

November 2016 intensified my need to make a change. The mission of my federal agency was “to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools.” For years, we had struggled to fulfill that mission due to a lack of adequate funding for investigative staff, and a general lack of support from Congress for any effort to clarify to schools and colleges their legal obligations under the civil rights laws. And that was under the Obama Administration. Now, we had an incoming Administration that was completely hostile to civil rights, and really, the very idea of public education. We were all questioning how we could fulfill our mission in that environment. Thankfully, some decided to stay and continue the work as best as they could. In January 2017, I felt that a year of wait and see would be appropriate.

Meanwhile, I searched for outlets for exercising what I considered my civic duty to minimize the damage this new president could do to our country. Yes, I attended the Women’s March, and it was incredibly powerful. But I know from experience that real change comes not only from a microphone or bullhorn, but days and months and years of ordinary people doing small things to engage citizens, change the hearts and minds of leaders (or just change who the leaders are), change policies and laws, and ultimately, improve lives.

As part of my search for what was next, in February 2017, I attended my first meeting of the Kansas City local group of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the grassroots gun violence prevention group started in 2011 in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting. I had supported the organization from afar since it’s formation, but with a demanding job and two young children, I just hadn’t made it to a meeting. And then I went to a second meeting in April 2017, which changed my trajectory. The group’s local leadership had turned over significantly, and they needed new people who could help re-energize their efforts. It was a call to action, and I was eager to be a part of it, if nothing else, to change their meeting times so it was actually convenient for more people to go. (Seriously, 5pm meetings on weeknights are the worst.)

The next step was a smaller meeting with a few others who were also interested in leadership. And then, as part of the local leadership team, I got to meet (virtually and in person) other leaders from the movement across the state. I walked with the Columbia Moms Demand Action group in the 2017 Mizzou Homecoming Parade, and got to meet our state chapter leader, Becky Morgan, and the founder of Moms Demand Action, Shannon Watts, who is also a Mizzou alum (MIZ). I met people who are survivors of gun violence (homicide, suicide, and unintentional shootings), moved to tears by their courage and determination in the face of unspeakable loss. After every interaction with this group of amazing volunteers across the state, I came away impressed with their organization and focus. These women and men were horrified by the tragedy of gun violence in all its forms, but they used facts and data as well as their pain to help gun owners and elected leaders understand it wasn’t about taking away their guns. Moreover, I was convinced that I could significantly contribute to the cause, and I just jumped right in.

By the time Doug got his new job that fall, I knew it was time to devote significantly more time to gun violence prevention work in Missouri. His job meant we had the financial flexibility for me to make a radical change. At the time, I was the Kansas City local group legislative lead for Moms Demand Action, and I wanted to spend more time getting ready for the upcoming Missouri legislative session kicking off in January 2018. All of this is volunteer, mind you. Contrary to what the NRA says, we are not paid for our hours of work. But this was exactly what I needed to make the jump away from the legal profession and into something I had experience with and loved doing–inspiring and organizing people to make change. And so in December 2017, I left my job and poured myself into Moms Demand Action, not knowing that on February 14, 2018, yet another horrific school shooting, this time at a Florida high school, would again change the trajectory of the gun violence prevention movement.

I feel like I am only now coming up for air after that awful day when we learned 17 students and staff lost their lives. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will go down in American history as heroes for how they energized this movement, and I am so grateful to have been ready and able to help Missouri meet the outpouring of interest in joining this movement. Moms Demand Action participated in and helped support March For Our Lives rallies in Washington, DC and all over the country, including in Kansas City. Moms Demand Action launched tools to empower young people, who started their own Students Demand Action local groups across the country (over 200 of them). In Missouri, Moms Demand Action went from seven local groups in January 2018 to EIGHTEEN local groups in January 2019. Many of these are in outstate Missouri, places like Maryville and Joplin and very rural north central Missouri. And we still have such a challenging environment in Missouri, but we are making progress. We beat back terrible “guns everywhere” legislation in 2018, and we are preparing like hell to do it again this year. (Come join us in Jefferson City on February 19! Sign up here: https://www.facebook.com/events/129413447978976/ ) We continue to grow and organize around the fact that you can support the Second Amendment and still back responsible gun laws that research shows will save lives.

More broadly, I look back on the two years since my last blog post and see a transformation. I see my anger transformed into actionable love, channeled through donations to human rights and religious organizations and nonprofits and service through my church to people in my community. I see it transformed into the energy of citizenship, through regular contact with my elected representatives, knocking on thousands of doors for candidates who will be change agents, and voting. I am transformed by my new Moms Demand Action “framily” (in the words of my friend, Kara) who vary in their life experiences that brought them to this movement, but forged in us all a determination to save lives.

I am humbled to see the beautiful things made out of the dust, the lovely bones of a new life that fits so much better than the one I was leading. It doesn’t mean I am glad for the results of November 2016. In my faith, we talk a lot about how God does not send disasters or tragedies or evil to hurt people, but God does work through these things to bring good. In my Star Wars fandom, when darkness rises, the light rises to meet it. We are living through some pretty awful times in this country. Our government is willfully separating young children from their parents at our southern border in what will surely be a national shame and stain forever. Right now, 800,000 federal employees are either on unpaid furlough or being forced to work without pay because our president, who had agreed to a budget fix that had passed the Senate and had the votes to pass in the House, got scared when Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh criticized him and backed out. The folly of that shutdown is rippling throughout the economy in negative ways. There is increasing evidence that our president committed criminal activity in the pursuit of the presidency and may even be a Russian asset. But there is also a new engagement on the part of our citizens, particularly women, that is sunlight through the darkness. It is going to take the everyday acts of citizenship by all of us to push through this time and demand better. I fully realize not everyone has the flexibility to leave the job I did and jump in full time. I didn’t have that flexibility until recently (THANK YOU THANK YOU DOUG) and I may not always have it. But I believe that if we each do all the good that we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, to all the people we can, as long as we ever can, we will be the carriers of the light in the darkness, and better times will be ahead.

Where Do We Go From Here?

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Like many, I am still processing the results of the presidential election.  I have experienced  a variety of emotions this week and have had a few days to consider how best to move forward as a diverse and vibrant country.

  • Elections have consequences, but your obligations as a citizen continue beyond voting in an election. 

Donald Trump is the winner of the 2016 presidential election.  Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and perhaps significantly, as the ballots continue to be counted, but the popular vote is not how we elect our president.  If you don’t like it, work to change it. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing my concerns about many systemic changes I believe are needed to ensure that democracy survives.  We particularly need people willing to work on moving the drawing of Congressional districts out of the political process to avoid gerrymandering, and to counter voter suppression efforts, and address via legislation or court rulings the damaging impact of money in politics.  These are not sexy issues but for voters on both sides who believe “the system” is not representative and corrupt, these are important reform efforts.

In addition, I think President Obama and the First Lady have set a tremendous example in their grace toward Mr. and Mrs. Trump.  He pointed out that he does not want to see the President-Elect fail.  None of us should really want that, although we can certainly  disagree with how and what he wants to accomplish.  We all want America to be a safe, prosperous place.  We can extend that grace to him.  I am willing to give him the chance to be a different President than he was a presidential candidate.  I realize that many in Congress did not accord that same grace to President Obama, but President George W. Bush did.  I think that grace shown by President Bush significantly influenced President Obama in return to do the same for Mr. Trump.  We do not have to respect the person in the office, but we should respect the office itself.

  • Invalidating or belittling others’ feelings accomplishes nothing.  

I have seen many posts from people who feel offended by  media outlets referring to “uneducated” citizens.  (I have actually heard the media use the term “people without college degrees” which is a simple statement of fact and does not necessarily imply that one is not educated).  There is a strong temptation to condemn people who voted for Trump as ignorant and uneducated, but I don’t think it is true or helpful to make that claim.  Likewise, I have seen many Trump supporters condemn the people who are protesting across the country as crybabies who need to get a job, which is equally presumptuous regarding the status of these people.  In a classic “mean girls” move, I have also seen women who complain about bullying at their kids’ schools openly ridicule people who have cried or missed work in response to Trump being elected.  This week I had someone openly laugh in my face when I acknowledged my own tears about the election.  I called the person on it for the cruelty involved, only to have the person justify it by saying others cried when Obama was elected, then shake it off as a “nervous tick.”  (To the contrary, I remember how upset some people were about Obama’s election, and I would never laugh at their pain.  I’m just glad when people care enough to have that depth of feeling!)  To move forward, we need to recognize the humanity in each one of us.  Your social media post making fun of the other side does ZERO to move the country forward.  Your desire to have everyone come together and “just be Americans” so you can be comfortable does nothing to help heal the nation.  Let the feelings subside, because they will, eventually, even if the loyal opposition does not (and should not).

  • Look hate square in the eye and meet it with radical love.

This next part is the most important to me.  I have read and shared widely on social media the concerns of many people of color, LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, Jews, and others who feel very afraid right now in this country.  They have seen a person who has behaved as a bully, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women, who has called for Muslims to register, who has called for a ban on immigration for non-Christians, and who has called Mexicans rapists and criminals.  He also has stated that an American-born judge of Mexican descent should not be allowed to adjudicate the FRAUD trial he is facing (for scamming regular people, I might add, out of thousands of dollars for lousy degrees from Trump University).  Many people from his own party, including Paul Ryan, have condemned Trump’s statements as racist.

You may not consider yourself a racist or a sexist, and you may believe in the religious pluralism that is at the heart of the American idea.  As others have pointed out (especially good take here), you need to consider that your vote enabled and empowered someone who has made statements that strongly contradict those ideals, and whose election has emboldened some of the ugliest, most reprehensible bigots in our society.  The KKK endorsed him and is celebrating; others, too.  You have the power as one of Trump’s supporters to reject that behavior and policies that undermine equality in this country.  You may believe that Trump is really not a bigot and that your support for him is more about “respect” for the little guy (from him? really?) or his policies.  Just keep in mind that from the perspective of the many groups he has insulted and ridiculed, you found their very humanity to be an acceptable sacrifice for you to get your respect.  One man’s heartfelt Facebook post:

“Trump’s appeals to racism, sexism, Islamophobia, etc. made it about personhood.  Sure, all of my moderate or conservative friends try to reassure me that Trump voters were really voting ‘pocketbook issues’ – not for the racism and sexism.  That doesn’t make it better.  Because it means they voted for their pocketbooks over my personhood – over the personhood of everyone who isn’t a straight, white, Judeo-Christian male.  They sold me out for money – and that makes me no better than a slave.  I would never have done that to them.”

As one person said on Twitter, “Not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a deal-breaker.”  And while you may point to the fact that more African American and Hispanic voters supported Trump than they did Mitt Romney in the last presidential election, there is no disputing that Trump won the presidency because a vast majority of white men and a majority of white women put him in office.  Had only people of color voted, Clinton would be our president-elect, and by a wide margin.

I would also challenge you to reconsider what you believe to be racism.  Trump has certainly undermined the more recent social norm that overt racism is taboo in polite company.  But generally, people are smart enough now to express racist opinions or sentiments around people they consider “safe.”  Too many white people are afraid to speak out when their uncle or grandmother makes a racist statement, out of some ill-advised “respect” that they grew up in a different time.  You are enabling racism, and are complicit.  This must stop.  You don’t have to be angry with them, but you do need to say that such statements are offensive.  While we are certainly seeing a rise in overt racist acts and statements these days, systemic racism is equally if not more damaging to our society.  Do you realize that in many school districts across the country, African American students are disciplined more harshly than white students for similar offenses, and that the discrepancy exists even when we control for socioeconomic status?   Do you know that this tendency to discipline African American students more harshly starts as early as preschool, and results in loss of critical time outside the classroom in early years, contributing to educational deficits?  Have you heard of the “school to prison pipeline?”  If not, please learn more as this is one of many examples of systemic racism we need to address to move forward as a country.

For me, what is most compelling is sharing the stories of friends who are disabled, LGBTQ, people of color, Muslims, and/or Jews who are so afraid right now.  You may think such fears are unfounded, but we have Japanese-American citizens who lived through domestic internment camps during World War II.  I’ve heard from friends whose family members survived the Holocaust and say this time is eerily reminiscent of pre-World War II Germany.  Even if you support Trump, you can and should call out bigotry where it manifests, and reject not only his supporters who behave badly, but reject policies based on unfair and racist stereotypes.

  • Re-focus your time, talent, and treasure to be the change you wish to see in the world.

My husband and I were already in the process of recalibrating our family priorities in terms of time, talent, and treasure.  This election only further motivates us to continue our charitable giving to our church and for organizations that protect and defend our civil liberties and refugee relief and resettlement groups.  Consider how you can shift your normal holiday spending from consumerism to support of things you and your loved ones love.  Instead of going out for drinks, go serve at a local soup kitchen.  One of my friends started a “Goodness Group” of busy moms who take turns selecting a different charitable activity each month for us to support.   The group prepares and serves meals at a soup kitchen, collects clothing and furniture for refugee families, donates school supplies to an area charter school, and many other activities.  At times like this it feels exhausting to get back out there, but we have to do it.  Find your causes, and then be the change you wish to see.

  • Be bold in caring for the hurt and broken, and resolute in standing up to bullies.

This goes along with the time, talent, and treasure above.  We are seeing an outbreak of racist incidents around the country, including in our schools.  We have to set the standard for our own children that bullying and bigotry are unacceptable, and we must demand that our schools, places of employment, and public accommodations take prompt and effective action to address it.  Moreover, we should not wait for such things to happen and respond, but instead take a proactive approach to make crystal clear that such harassment is illegal and unacceptable in a pluralistic, civil society.  We also have to check in with our friends and family members who are hurting in light of this election and reassure them we have their backs.

  • Listen.  Read widely.  Seek understanding.  Be a connector.

This week I sat down for coffee (soft drinks, actually) with a friend who is a solid Trump supporter to get an understanding of why he voted for him.  He had offered the idea of getting together in response to a social media post I made before the election, in which I stated that many principled and respected conservative thinkers reject Trump profoundly and I could not understand Trump’s appeal to a conventional ideological conservative.   During our time together, we laughed and admitted we both thought that we’d be discussing a Hillary victory.  Our conversation was pointed at times.  However, I did learn from him about his personal motivations and world view that helped me understand, if not agree with, his decision to support Trump.  I also had a great discussion via Facebook with another conservative friend who was not supporting Trump or Hillary to get a sense of why.  I have sought out these conversations with friends and family not to simply push my opinions on them, but to understand why someone I frankly found to be so reprehensible and eminently unqualified for the office to be an acceptable choice.  Some preferred not to discuss and closed me off; others were more receptive.

I am trying to connect because I am generally a connector.  I believe in the goodness of my friends and family and I hope that when I share the stories of my friends who are so afraid right now, there will be a human reaction of kindness and understanding and love.  I realize that as a white, straight, non-disabled person, this is my work to do.  I may withdraw at times because it is hard work, but it is still my work.  It is our work.

 

 

 

 

 

Seasoning

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We are in the midst of spring here in Kansas City.  The up and down temperatures have somewhat dampened the new flowers and buds on our big, beautiful trees, but as I look outside, the sun is shining and the wind is no doubt carrying kites and seeds and birds to new destinations.  We celebrated the start of the baseball season with our world champion Kansas City Royals.  The Kansas City Symphony is performing Gershwin’s lively “An American in Paris” this weekend.  Conversations around town range from morel mushroom hunting and school field trips to patio weather and outdoor festivals.

I love the rhythms of this season.  I love the awakening of the earth, the smell of green.  I do not have my mother’s green thumb, but my favorite smell is of the earth after a spring shower.  I breathe in the musty, grassy, watery, elemental nature of it all.  I spent the afternoon yesterday at a local park that overlooks the mighty Missouri River, the “Big Muddy” water that flows through Missouri, near all the places I have lived in this state.  I watched the wind ripple the river’s surface.  I followed the whirlpools my grandfather warned me about as a kid as they roiled and boiled and raced downstream.  I saw the light of the sun break through the clouds only to hide again for a smattering of rain drops to fall.  I celebrated the renewal of life on the planet and gave thanks for the season to come.

The seasons are important in this part of the world.  At my family’s farm equipment business in rural Missouri, conversations at “the tractor store” often revolved around the conditions for planting, the winter snow and spring rains needed to carry the crops through the furnace of July and August, the hectic nature of harvest.  The external world determines, to a large degree, the fortunes of an agricultural community, and Kansas City by extension, as a city with a significant focus on agribusiness.

The seasons are important to me.  And yet, I live a lot of my days inside my head.  I think and ask questions and reason and write for a living.  I apply rules to facts and make conclusions and suggest remedies.  I am more connected to a computer than the earth most days.  Many of us are, in this knowledge economy.  Our jobs do not change with the seasons.  Humanity has not evolved to handle this well.  Part of us yearns for a return to that seasonal rhythm of life despite our love for consistent home temperatures and our favorite fruit no matter the time of year.

I am in the middle season of my life.  I find I am gaining an appreciation for all of the rhythms of the earth:  growth, decay, death, renewal.  I embrace Ecclesiastes 3:1-8’s promise of a season for everything under Heaven.  I am more concerned with preserving and restoring the Earth’s beauty and health and that of the people who live in it.  I am more aware of my own smallness.  I am grateful for my awareness of the beauty around me.  I am mindful of making sure my children notice it and rejoice.  I am drinking it in.

Happy Spring!!!  I am celebrating this weekend with my son’s soccer and some kite-flying.  You?  I hope you connect with nature in some way and share with me.

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Christian Community…via Twitter?

I love Twitter. It’s my primary news source for sports and politics.  It helps me keep up to date on friends I don’t see often and has even led to new, authentic friendships with people I may never have otherwise met.  Twitter certainly can bring out the worst in people, as with other types of social media, but this Easter I wanted to share a story of how my friend Cristin created a perhaps-unlikely Christian community during this season of Lent. 

First, about Cristin, aka @artofbeingblunt. You need to know she is amazing.  I met her via Twitter maybe six years ago.  Like me, she is a die-hard Mizzou alum and Kansas Citian.  She is an incredibly talented writer and funny as hell.  She is also a preacher’s kid who shares very openly her struggles with finding Christian community.  Before the start of Lent this year, Cristin suggested via Twitter that she wanted to start an offline group of people to help each other focus on the season.  Seven of her followers wanted in, including me.  I didn’t know most of them, other than my  fantastic cousin Andrea (@akgarcia311).  I’d met another person once briefly through Cristin.  We came from different branches of the Christian family, Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, maybe others?  So we began Lent not knowing for sure what this would be. 

We communicated via Twitter’s “direct message” function, which made our messages visible only to the group.  It started out with sharing of inspirational pictures with verses.  Someone started sharing these great daily Lenten reflections that I believe were from a Catholic bishop.  I subscribe to my own church home’s daily lessons and would also share them on occasion.  The person sharing Lenten reflections also started sharing YouTube songs from Christian-inspired bands.  (I’d totally forgotten about Jars of Clay!)

Soon, something else started happening.  Someone shared that she felt Satan biting at her heels and thanked others for what they had shared as it helped her.  And then we started seeking each other out for prayers.  One asked for prayers for a family member’s job interview, and another for him and his spouse as they faced some unspecified challenges.  I asked for prayers for one of my brothers as he went through surgery.  And it struck me how sometimes it is so much easier to speak your fears to someone who a bit more removed from your personal life.  That’s good and bad, but in this case, for me, it was powerful to know people I had never met were praying for me, and humbling to be asked to do the same for someone.  

Often we focus on Lent by giving up things, and I certainly tried, with limited success, to do that again this year.  I found that this group did more to focus my heart and mind on the powerful sacrifice and promise of the Easter story.  I asked the group if they minded me sharing our journey with you, and the support was great.  We intend to continue our group beyond the season and I look forward to it. 

Happy Easter!  Follow my church @rezdowntown and if you are in the KC area, join us for Easter at the Kauffman Center at 9am or 11am tomorrow!  Details at http://www.rezdowntown.org.

I finally did it

So I’m finally creating a more personal blog.  I generally hate oversharing online.  I’m cautious by nature.  Why now?  I want my kids to read it someday and understand their impact on my life.  Also, while writing is a huge part of my daily professional life, it’s not the kind that gives you the freedom offered in this space.  I feel like I am supposed to do this now, to shine a light on these inner workings and see where they lead.  So here I go.

The title is a working title more than anything and inspired by my five year old son’s actions today.  It’s Thursday and my husband flew out very early, so I was taking both kids to school.  We’re almost to Alex’s school when he reminds me he was supposed to dress for “career day.”  I had forgotten.  He was wearing a nice sweater and jeans.  We’d planned earlier in the week for him to be an engineer or architect with a button down shirt, slacks, tie, and “blueprint.”  Feeling horrible that I’d let him down and not wanting him to go into school without a costume, I turned the car around to head home.  He asked if I would be late to work and I said yes but it would be fine.  He asked, “What was I going to be again?” I reminded him.  He said, “Well, I want to be a spy instead.”  Much more fun, and convenient, as I explained to him that as a spy he would need to blend in with his surroundings and look like a student.  I turned the car back around to return to school and said he was all set, but suggested he spend time in Kids Zone, the before school program, making a construction paper “watch” that included helpful spy tools like a recording device.  As we walked in, I questioned him about the change of mind.  Did he get the idea from another student?  Why the change?  He said it was because he knew he would not have to change clothes and I would not have to miss work.  I don’t really think he understood that when he suggested it, but maybe so.  Regardless, it brought me to tears that I managed to hold until I got back to the car.  This little guy, this big-hearted little man, showed me the grace I needed today.  I strive to be a professional mom who is very active in my children’s lives.  I successfully negotiated a reduced schedule at my job primarily because I desperately wanted to pick my son up from kindergarten and hear about his day before he forgets, as he tends to do. I wanted time in the evenings to review sight words and count by fives and tens and read and  color pictures and take walks and rake leaves and giggle.  We are doing all of those things and more!  But I forgot something important in his life today.  He was fine.  He showed me his “watch” as soon as he got in the car at pick-up and said the teacher loaned him a magnifying glass as an additional prop.  Completely fine.

Perhaps mom guilt serves some sort of evolutionary purpose but I’m trying not to let it overtake my parental journey.  Hold me accountable on that score, please?

As we said bedtime prayers tonight, I thanked Alex for how he handled me forgetting his career day and said it was an example of him showing me grace.  I explained that grace was when we showed kindness and love to someone who perhaps did not treat us in the best way or did not deserve it.  I explained that God shows us this grace every day because we all make mistakes and yet he forgives us and loves us deeply.  I think he may have drifted off to sleep before I finished.  Maybe the lesson wasn’t for him anyway.

Welcome to our journey!

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