Friday, February 27, 2015

Decluttering and Shifting

For Lent this year, I am doing something different.  In the past, I've given up things like caffeine, artificial sweeteners, sugar, dessert, TV, etc.  This year I am doing 40 days of de-cluttering, or “crap-shifting” as a friend of mine aptly calls it.  Each day, I’m de-cluttering different areas of the house and gathering items to give away.  I've cleaned out my closet, dresser drawers, a book shelf, makeup, fingernail polish, dvd’s, and games so far. 

(Can you believe I found duplicates of fingernail polish colors in my stash!?)

I’ll take my items to donate to Bridges Thrift Store, which benefits Bridges Safehouse for women and children here in Cedar Hill.

I enjoy cleaning things out, purging, making more space, and getting the old gone.  It makes me feel so productive!  Usually, though, I just do it when the mood strikes me—and not 40 days of it nor in every area of the house! 

Watch out, if you’re still too long in this house in the coming weeks, you may find yourself bagged up and ready to donate!  

As I’m giving up “stuff” every day but Sunday for Lent, I’m thinking about how, where, and with whom my time and energy is best spent—and asking God to direct this.

We also do this kind of de-cluttering and shifting in our brains unconsciously and continuously.  Our amazingly designed brain is capable of taking in every single thing around us, and then evaluates for the task at hand what is needed and what is important, what should be discarded, what should be kept and where and how it should be stored.  The brain can take in every single blade of grass when looking at a park scene, for example, but if it stored every single blade of grass (along with everything else)—we would become overwhelmed and overstimulated very easily!  Instead, the brain just takes the grass in as a whole—a lawn—because that is what is needed.  

If the information we’re receiving is not new or necessary information, our brain quickly skips over it or stores it in our short term memory files.  Information does not make it out of short-term memory unless we do something with it and use it, if it connects to something else, or builds upon a current foundation. 

Our brains also “shift the crap”—if we learn information that makes previous information incorrect, our brains decide which of the contradictory information to keep and shifts the discarded information elsewhere.  Once new information replaces old, incorrect or outdated information then the brain fashions and shapes itself according to the new belief or information.

This is all a simplified explanation of how the brain changes and adjusts continually, but once the brain changes, we act differently and view information accordingly.  The brain does not stop going through these processes and is always changing, adjusting, shifting, processing, and forging new connections.  

Our brains are made for this!  So cool!
Go, God!

Because our brains, lives, and beliefs are continually changing as we encounter new information, internal de-cluttering is necessary.  Just like stuff builds up in my house, closets, drawers, and cabinets, my brain would fill up, overload, short-circuit if we kept every single image, sound, thought, piece of information and observation. Our thought lives do not remain fixed or static.  While our brain processes everything, we do not need everything stored the same way or accessible to us—just like our lives and our homes.

As Keith and I learned about better ways to handle money, we adapted to them and changed our financial practices.  Once confronted with instances of racism and the ignorance of others as parents, our views and responses changed.  As we learned and experienced more about God, our faith changed and we searched out new faith communities more in line with our changing beliefs.  Dealing with mental illness and suicide and all of the effects, concerns and possibilities has been a huge learning curve, one drastically changing our beliefs and knowledge—and our actions.  Keith’s de-conversion has brought about a lot of learning, adjusting, renegotiating in our marriage and family.  While we see the emotions and changing practices, the brain has made many more changes around this information.  When friends distance themselves from your messy life and emotions, the brain changes around the new experience and relationship. When new people enter your life, changes occur as they make meaning in your life and a relationship is formed.

Generally, these processes are occurring without our conscious knowledge.  We see the results of these processes in our lives.  Sometimes these changes are exciting.  Sometimes they are painful. 

Faith and beliefs change through these same processes.  I believe they are supposed to.  As we have taught our kids as we all handle new information and beliefs in this arena, 
faith is a journey, not a destination.  
We will not someday arrive at a position of belief in which we have found all the answers and we know and believe all we need to know and believe.  Faith is a relationship, no matter where you are on the journey—and relationships are fluid.  Faith and relationships ebb and flow, sometimes easy, beautiful and wide is the path.  Other times, the way is narrow, twisting, blind and just hard. 

John Pavlovitz refers to levels of faith as a continuum and suggests we are not as far apart as we would like to believe.  He calls it “faitheism” and says we are all on one continuum at various points in between belief and disbelief, faith and atheism.  

Although I know many Christians who will be quick to deny this, I do believe Pavlovitz is on to something with the continuum.  I have come to see in recent years that those most unwilling to consider this are often those most afraid that their faith is not static, who don’t want to admit it can change or even worse—be lost.  As much as I would like to see things in black and white, clear-cut and well laid out, when it comes to the reality of faith, it just is not that simple.  Being aware of the continuum, of the fluid journey that is faith, allows us to ride through the tougher times, knowing that this is not the end and we will continue moving up and down as we strive and reach toward God.

In life, we have mountain top moments and experiences, and we have wilderness moments and experiences.  These experiences, knowledge, and our observations in this life change us.  As we live, we are de-cluttering and shifting based on these.

Refining, reshaping, reflecting, and reviewing.
What we need.
What is old.
What is unnecessary.
Ever changing.

In our homes, in our lives, in our brains.
In our hearts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Falling for You

I'm not known as a graceful person.  I mean, I hope some people might sometimes say that about my insides, maybe? (OK.  Maybe not.)  But. My outsides?  
Definitely NOT.  

No grace there.  I fall. I trip.  I lose my balance.  I break my knee running.  
Some of my falls are legendary.  

Like the time I was standing in a chair straightening curtains and lost my balance and fell off of the chair.  And shattered my left radius at the wrist and broke the right radial head and scaffoid in my right hand.  OH, and badly sprained one of my ankles in that fall, I forget which one.  Not to mention all the tendon & ligament & nerve damage.

I'm the stuff of legends.
All in one fall.  

What was also legendary, was the fact that I had 2 babies at home.  22 month old Jerica and 11 month old Cade.  And it took several years and multiple surgeries to completely heal, correct the bones resistant to healing, and eliminate the pain.  I have titanium in my left wrist and have had to be fed, bathed, and dressed by someone else, as a 28 year old mother. No dignity there. Not much grace either. An ankle brace, a cast on my right forearm, wrist and thumb, a fixator and pins and screws sticking out of my left arm.
My days as a cyborg. 
The stuff of nightmares. 

My church took care of me, of us.  And my Mom, who spent 3-4 days of every week with us for about 3 months, while still helping at my Dad's office on the other days--are all part of the many reasons we say she is a saint.  For several months, our house was cleaned, meals prepared and delivered, groceries bought and put away, babysitting (both me and the babies) and 1st and 2nd birthday parties even carried out. I cried on their shoulders when my physical therapy was trying to pick up a penny from one bowl and move it to another, which brought sweat and frustration, because it was so hard and I was having to retrain tendons and ligaments, beginning with my finger tips. My Mom's prayer group and small group at church helped to take care of her and my Dad the rest of the time when she was in Abilene.

We didn't know that their care of me in this time was just a dress rehearsal for the care and community that became a well-oiled machine taking care of my best friend, Lynn, her husband and 2 small girls.

Lynn was pregnant with her 2nd baby girl when I had my legendary fall.  At her baby shower weeks later, she said. "These broken arms, surgeries, and your pain sucks!  At least when I finish labor and delivery I will have something wonderful out of it--a beautiful baby girl."

I agreed. At that moment and in many moments, I couldn't see anything good about breaking both of my arms, surgeries, and being unable to care for my babies--my babies I'd waited so long for--my 2 miraculous gifts.

But I thought about it more later on and corrected myself to Lynn, because the truth was I did gain some wonderful things out of this process although it took some space to get there.  I learned that my church family at the time was simply amazing, that they would take care of us, and even though I did not understand how I/we would get through it, I knew we were ultimately going to be ok.  Our needs were being met--food, transportation, babysitting, house cleaning, party planning, etc.

That knowledge and experience has made it easier along the way because as other challenges have come up in our lives, I've known that somehow our needs would be met--even if I didn't know how! That is a hard-earned, experiential peace.  

My friend I mentioned above and the dress rehearsal?  Well, when my best friend Lynn was helping to care for me, she was pregnant with her 2nd daughter.  She would come with her toddler in tow when my mom needed to go back to Abilene.  Lynn would sit with me, play with the kids, make dinner, and give Keith some space after he got home from work before he had to take over for the evening/night. When that baby girl was 8-9 months old, Lynn was diagnosed with cancer.  In her tongue.  The tongue of a woman with the voice of an angel and a heart after God's.

The dress rehearsal of my broken arms prepared us all for the next year and a half as Lynn battled cancer, enduring chemo, side effects, radical surgery, debilitating pain, radiation, experimental treatments, and lots of time in Houston at MD Anderson.  We also managed a girlfriend's trip to NYC with her and our little crew of young mommies 6 weeks before her death, with the help of our community.  Unfortunately, my dress rehearsal prepared me to care for Lynn on her very death bed, a truly holy place, and for her her children after her death.  Yet, it was an honor at the same time to do so and worth my own previous pain and struggle.

Many lessons I can share, and I may do so at some point, from having these experiences with Lynn--my time with too many broken bones and her time with too many cancer cells.  My focus in my thoughts about all of this today are on community, because community is something on my mind continually these days.  The community of our church was amazing and we remember these times and these people fondly, even as we think of those hard circumstances.  Also, I tend to hold other communities up against this one.  These people.  They knew how to take care of each other.  And they did it well.

Most of them probably don't know this, but Keith and I had planned to leave that church home when our kids were bitty babies--before the broken arms.  We wanted a church that was more diverse racially--more like our own family, but also we were seeking a church in which the gifts of the Spirit were more encouraged and all gifts celebrated.  We tried to leave, but we couldn't at that time.  And it was all in God's provision--both for the Bizzell family and the Furlich family.  We did eventually leave later on when we needed our black church family at Cornerstone.

My mom also has amazing testimonies about faith community.  If you've read some of my other posts, you may remember my mention of Mom's prayer group.  This group of women has been together for nearly 40 years.  Their group has changed, too, in recent years as my mom moved away to be with us and for help with my dad.  Marinell has gone home to be with the Lord after a cancer recurrence.  Becky left us too soon since then in a tragic, apparent suicide.

These women are some serious prayer warriors, they bring meals, clean houses, plan showers, help with weddings, take trips together, sit in hospitals, hold each other up at funerals, and studied scripture together for many years.  So many years together, they just automatically jump in to their roles addressing whatever is called for, any time there is a need in their group or around them. They are my role models, always have been, and a desire in my heart has always been to have the same.

It's hard when communities such as these change--even if it is for good reasons, acts of God, or the normal changes in a life, but especially when communities change and shift due to losses, tragedies, and hurts. The grief is real and must be addressed in either case.

While we've tried to find that same sense of community in churches since then, we haven't found it. And we've been motivated newcomers--getting involved, joining ministries and small groups, etc.  And it has felt like a job. An exhausting job. A job I don't have the energy to keep up with. A job I am giving up for now.

I have been through a season of grieving this.  I recognize that my experiences with community in the past have been amazing, but are not the norm.  I've decided recently that I must let go of my expectations for community.  And that is ok.  While grieving this can be seen as a negative, it is also a positive in that it helps me move forward. Let go. Wait and see. Who knows what's next?  No matter what, I remain blessed and changed by the community that loved us all my life in a prayer group and in a church that surrounded us as young couples and young families.

In the past, community was a natural, healthy function of our church family.  That was how my mom's prayer group came to be.  That type of community carried us through broken arms with 2 babies.  Community like this fed, loved, cleaned for, cooked for, and grieved together and supported us all when Lynn was sick and after her death.  We didn't use phrases or tag lines about "doing life together", as I've heard in more than one church we've attended in recent years.  We didn't have time for talking about doing life.  We were all busy doing it.

Now that we do not attend church as a family, not only do we not have a real sense of community, we do not have a shared community either.  We all need community.  We are wired that way.  But who says that community is to look like we've always expected and desired or even experienced in the past.  Maybe God has us in a place to begin looking to less conventional avenues of community and to affect and touch those others also standing on the fringes looking in, looking for hope, looking for their place.

I fall a lot these days.  

Not so much physically, although that is always a threat with my lack of grace ;-), but I fall emotionally and spiritually.
On a regular basis.  

Life has thrown us many curve balls, unforeseen potholes, and dead end trails.  We may fall again and feel lost again, but we keep getting up, catching that curve ball, finding a path and using it to heal, change, touch, and grow.

The community that needs us and accepts us all--falls, curve balls, dead ends and scars will be where we hang our hats for a while.  
Eyes wide open.  
Expectations only for God--He will not disappoint.

So you know, I miss Lynn.  Every day.  It's been years since I grabbed the phone to call her, just to remember that she was no longer with us in painful realization.  After the last few years in our lives and journey, there are some things I sure wish I could talk over with her...some things I need to tell her...

Friday, February 13, 2015

"American Sniper Trial" Misses the Mark

I'm going to take my life in my own hands, as is usually the case these days...

I have some things to say about the "American Sniper Trial."  Let's go ahead and get the preconceived notions out of the way--I am NOT anti-gun.  I am NOT anti-war.  I am NOT anti-military.  I am NOT anti-justice.

I grew up in a hunting family, with military members I am proud of and have prayed through deployments, and I also grew up with law enforcement officers a part of my family.  I have family members and friends who carry guns.  I have a cousin who has been a successful and well-known federal defense attorney. I have friends who have served Dallas County as prosecutors in the DA's office. I am not against any of these things.

Now, let me tell you about what I AM FOR.

I believe that Eddie Routh must be held accountable for taking 2 lives and the wake of tragedy their deaths leave behind.

First, I am for Naming.
This trial is NOT the American Sniper trial.  This is not the trial of a man who killed Chris Kyle.  This is the trial of a man charged with shooting TWO men:  Chris Kyle AND Chad Littlefield.  For the love of all that is holy, do not forget this 2nd victim.  Chad's family needs justice, acknowledgement, and they also need to hear his name said aloud--by the media, by the wannabe commentators on every form of social media who have an opinion, and the bloggers, etc.

I would imagine that for Chad Littlefield's family, the media coverage of this trial is difficult, and not just because they are having to relive his death and their grief. Chad's family is not hearing his name enough. This is not about Chris Kyle, although that is primarily who we are hearing about and how the coverage is being named.  This is about Chad Littlefield. Let's not leave him and his family out of the naming, the coverage, and the discussions.

No matter who it is or what the circumstances are surrounding a death, for the loved ones left behind, they NEED to hear the name of their loved one.  It is for this reason, I say, "Denae" to my dear friend, Janabeth.  I say, "Sarah," for my lifelong friend, Marlo.  I say, "Lynn" and "Connie." No one should be forgotten. No name should be left unspoken.

So, instead of throwing something at the television every time I hear and see "American Sniper Trial" and "Chris Kyle" (without the mention of Chad Littlefield), I will say, "Chad."  My stand in my own little world.

Second, I am for Honest Reporting
I don't know how much more reporting I can stand on this trial and this is still just the beginning. Living in Texas, just down the road from Midlothian and Stephenville, we are getting it on both the local and national newscasts. Overload of errors. Uninformed and inflammatory media reports do NOTHING except to further misinformation, continue the stigma, and fire people up--over wrong information and the wrong issues.

Two issues in particular are not being addressed correctly in current reports.  First, is related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.  Numerous reports state that Routh cannot have PTSD, because he did not see any action while deployed in Iraq.  While we hear about PTSD mostly in conversation about military officers and the horror they have been through, PTSD is NOT an exclusive condition to our soldiers.  It is also NOT a disorder that only affects those who have been in combat.

PTSD is the resulting damage to the brain's response system from the body's reaction to a traumatic stress--this could be combat, a car wreck, a natural disaster, a very tragic loss, or finding your 12 year old child barely clinging to life after a suicide attempt.  Yes, PTSD can happen to any of us.  Yours truly can attest to that.  Whether or not Routh saw combat, he can still have and be fully affected by PTSD.  His mental health records are not available to the general public, though I am sure there will likely be a point at which they are made public in the trial.  Until that time, no one commenting on his condition or state of mind really has all of the information necessary to do so.

Here are some basic facts on PTSD from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation's largest grass roots organization for mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.  This is an organization I support, advocate with and for, and serve on area committees and assist with presentations.;

The symptoms of PTSD fall into the following categories.
  • Intrusive Memories, which can include flashbacks of reliving the moment of trauma, bad dreams and scary thoughts.
  • Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed or having trouble remembering the traumatic event.
  • Dissociation, which can include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is "not real" (derealization).
  • Hypervigilance, which can include being startled very easily, feeling tense, trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.
PTSD affects 3.5% of the U.S. adult population—about 7.7 million Americans—but women are more likely to develop the condition than men. About 37% of those cases are classified as severe. While PTSD can occur at any age, the average age of onset is in a person’s early 20s. 

I also heard a reporter/former prosecutor on a national news program comment earlier this week about how this alleged murderer could not have PTSD and that he used drugs and alcohol--and that drugs and alcohol are the real issue.  For the record, the majority of individuals who are afflicted with a mental illness turn to drugs and alcohol in an effort to self-medicate and end up with addiction issues IF their psychological needs and health are not being addressed.  Individuals receiving appropriate health have NO NEED to self-medicate with unlawful substances.

Again, information from NAMI's website--information readily available for anyone searching:

Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within 3 months after a traumatic event, but occasionally emerge years afterward. Symptoms must last more than a month to be considered PTSD. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse or another anxiety disorder.


Having PTSD or other mental illnesses does not mean, include, or indicate that the affected individual is insane or psychotic.  So, while there is definitely a documented biological component at play, this does not mean that individuals committing a crime should not be held accountable.  However, there are better ways to address it before there is an issue, which leads me to my 3rd and 4th positions...

Third, I am for Best Practices.
Best practices means treatment that is shown in viable research studies to be most effective to treat a particular condition.  In this post, I am referring to conditions of the brain; biological conditions & changes in the brain of affected individuals and documented by medical professionals.  While I agree that Routh must be held accountable for his actions, I maintain that his punishment should include components to address any mental health conditions he is determined to battle.

Following are best practices according to NAMI. (Because why invent a wheel that has already been fully covered.)  In most cases, a combination of these approaches work best based on each individual case.

PTSD is treated and managed in several ways.
  • Medications, including mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications and antidepressants.
  • Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or group therapy.
  • Self-management strategies, such as "self-soothing". Many therapy techniques, including mindfulness, are helpful to ground a person and bring her back to reality after a dissociative episode or a flashback.
  • Service animals, especially dogs, can help soothe some of the symptoms of PTSD.
Though PTSD cannot be cured, it can be treated effectively.

Fourth and final, I am for Prevention.

Did you know that 22 veterans per day commit suicide? 
As a result of PTSD, Depression, and Traumatic Brain Injury

Right now, stateside, in our country.  
This is a statistic that SHOULD NOT BE.  

The tragic statistic above doesn't even begin to cover those struggling through each day who keep getting up. We owe our military members and their families better than this.  We owe them health, help, training, services, and whatever it takes to help them address what they've experienced, and to transition back to life, employment, and healthy relationships.  Why is it we wait until there is a tragedy such as the deaths of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield to address this as a nation, a system, and an administration?

Prevention is key.  Key for noticing warning signs, finding appropriate help, and not taking unnecessary and hazardous risks.  If Routh had received the help he needed, the deaths of Chad Littlefield and Chris Kyle would have not occurred.  If there had been help when Routh's family asked for it, Chris and Chad would still be carrying on the work of helping veterans.  If Chad and Chris had been trained and educated on the warning signs, treatment recommendations, and resources available, they would not have made this fateful trip with an unstable individual.  If they had listened to their gut feelings, which we've heard in testimony this week through their text conversations, they would have never put a gun in this man's hand.  There may be men and women for whom shooting guns at a firing range helps as was indicated in the movie.  However, this not a best practice for many, many individuals--military or not.  Please know I am NOT blaming Chad or Chris for their own deaths.  I do maintain they might have made different decisions based on facts should that knowledge have been readily available to them.

These 2 deaths were preventable.  These 2 men should be celebrating Valentine's Day tomorrow with their loved ones.  With the education available today, we should not be watching this trial or the uneducated, bias-producing media on television and online.  Eddie Routh should be learning to live each day with the help of medication, professionals, and support, whether in hospitalization/treatment or in outpatient settings.

And I know that the VA system is seriously broken. I won't even get into all of that in this post. Again, I say, this should not be.  The rest of us should be standing up, speaking, and demanding that this be addressed.  Our military deserve so much more and so much better.

I am happy to relay to you that President Obama signed an act into being yesterday after passing both houses of Congress unanimously, after it had been held up for a while by one senator.  The Clay Hunt SAV Act honors a soldier who served well, both abroad and at home. This law is to provide necessary reforms, accountability and community mental health access for service members and veterans. I will be watching its implementation, and I hope you will, too.

Say, "Chris."  Say, "Chad."  
Not on my watch.  

Because I NEVER want to leave you with information, but without any practical help, I am listing below immediate resources if you are concerned about a friend or family member--or if you are struggling yourself.   No matter if you have a diagnosis or not, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

ADAPT Mobile Crisis Line:  (866)260-8000
National Suicide Prevention Line:  1-800-273-TALK (8255)
NAMI Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI
MilitaryOneSource:  1-800-342-9647
US Department of Defense Coaching & Support @ In Transition: 1-800-424-7877

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Race Relations Addendum

I typed and shot off my blog post this morning much more quickly than usual.  I wanted it out today, and I was spending the majority of the day in the car transporting to and from an urgent therapy appointment.

So, I've already been criticized for my poor writing.  Which made me chuckle.  It's not someone who knows me AT ALL.  So, they don't know. And it almost makes me want to write "incredibly poorly" again.  (One of my character flaws.  Sorry, not sorry.)  Incidentally, looking back at my previous post pre-criticism, I knew there were more errors than I prefer.  With more time, I would have cleaned it up a bit, but I felt pressed to get this out.  From some private conversations I have had already today because of the 1st post, I am glad that it went out, errors and all.

AND.  The reason I am adding this follow up is I meant to add some resources for you if you wish to learn more, dig deeper, and change hearts--your own and/or others.  (And I was going to do this when I sat down to type and saw the criticism of my writing.)  I have already heard from some of you and the trying racial situations you are in.  I understand.  I am sorry that you are not feeling valued, or heard, or that you have a voice.

I am incredibly sorry that some of you who are fighting for love and equality are having to do so in Christian situations and churches.  I do know that it does.  Some of the worst we have experienced have been in those same situations.  I know the disappointment is so great, because we expect better of those who claim Jesus as their Savior.  I keep telling myself that I shouldn't expect better of faith families, but that part of me keeps hoping for and wanting better.  No matter the dominant race in a church, Church Hour is still the most SEGREGATED HOUR OF THE WEEK. So, I also want to address a couple of things that I did not put into my first post on this topic today.

Adding to my "things we've experienced section..."

5.  It doesn't mean anything when my child says he or she doesn't like your child's brown/black skin or tells your child that he/she can't play with them.

  • This makes me want to curse a blue streak and snatch someone bald.  
  • My child who heard this at ages 4-5, did know what it meant.  And she's never been the same.  At that age, she started wetting the bed at night, cried about these statements.
  • From that point on, when others stared at our family, yep it happens, she automatically assumed they didn't like us or her.  For years, we have tried to help her change her perspective to consider that these people might be thinking, "What a beautiful, unique family.  Aren't they lucky to have that precious child!"  
  • We changed churches at that time.  This is where this situation occurred, and we needed an environment for our child and our family at that time which could minister to us about this and empower us and our child.  This is precisely when we moved to a wonderful mostly black church.
  • The most harmful parts of this situation are NOT what the CHILDREN did.  It was how their parents responded to us when we spoke with them about it.  For those who were floored and had their young children learn to make an apology by drawing a picture, had important conversations, our relationships were not harmed.  We understand errors and how important those teachable moments are for all of us.  With the adults whom dismissed our concerns and said the kids didn't really understand what was being said, that it was just like saying, "I don't like the color of your shirt."  These relationships changed dramatically.  We couldn't trust them with the heart of our child.  I'd also like to send them some of our therapy bills from that time and its scars.
6.  Earlier this year, Jerica was asked to a school dance by a boy (yes, black).  He came over with his mom to meet us a few days before the dance.  He had asked Jerica some questions before hand about what he should call us and what we were like.  Jerica's 1st response to him was pretty telling.  She said in a text, "Well, they're white, but they're not racist. Obviously."

Following are books that have added to our understanding greatly, and I recommend them.

I'm Chocolate, and You're Vanilla by Wright

Different and Wonderful by Hopson and Hopson

Loving Across the Color Line by Rush

Of Many Colors:  Portraits of Multiracial Families by Kaeser & Gillespie

Another resource for transracial families primarily formed through adoption, fostering, etc., there is a great book company that we have used for all of our children's lives.  Tapestry Books has books for children, parents, teens, birth mothers, foster families, transracial  and international families, same sex parenting, etc.  Check them out!  Affordable and quick shipping.

Below I have included links to a couple of books related to Race and Religion and church.  While we were attending the black church, we participated in a book study addressing these topics in a group of both black and white church members.  I cannot find that book or remember the name of it to share with you.  I have not read the books below, but they are on my long, never ending list of books I'm going to read.  Based on descriptions and my knowledge and experience, these books look very worth while.

Race Relations

I LOVE my family.  I love who we are.  I love who we are becoming.  And that includes, and is because of, our quirks, struggles, differences, and the WAY we love.  All in.  All the way.

Being weary, or stressed, or frustrated--it doesn't change the love.  If anything it just gets better.  We talk about topics in our family.  Topics like mental illness, sex, race, adoption, pornography, God, atheism.  They broke the mold when they made us a family.  

Race and adoption are normal topics for us.

Listen.  Keith and I didn't go in to the Gladney Center for Adoption as some great white saviors coming to rescue and save a poor child.  We wanted to be a mom and a dad.  And it was not happening.  There were some complicating factors.

We also hope that you can hear this white mama in a way you can't hear of black mama, because of fear or misunderstanding or lack of contact.  I'm praying you can read, really listen, and reflect.  I don't want you to feel defensive with me, because there are things I understand from more than one pair of perspectives--perspectacle glasses.  When black people express their anguish, experiences, frustrations, and fears--PLEASE--just listen.  Open your heart.  All most of us want and need is acknowledgement and validation.  We don't have to all agree.

Now, it might help you to know that I grew up in a somewhat unusual setting back in the day.  My mom has been in a prayer group with a group of women for the majority of my life--like nearly 40 years for them.  This wonderful group of women and their families are our extended family.  They have prayed me through every stage of my life, and celebrated each moment, including being a wife to Keith and a mom to Jerica and Cade.  These women have raised children, survived cancers, lived life-long marriages, celebrated milestones, and traveled together.  They know how to pamper new mamas, equip graduates, throw amazing wedding showers, speak blessings, and mourn together.

Also.  Several women in this group have adopted children.  The majority of the children who joined their families in this manner are of varying races.  This multiracial family is part of mine, my whole life.  So, when Keith and I discussed adoption, our picture of a family was one of varying and wonderful possibilities!  For us, weighing fertility treatments vs. adoption, it was no question.  We wanted to adopt.

We told God.  "We want to be a mama and a daddy.  Give us the child you have for us."  And, wow, did He bless our socks off!  Our chocolate drop, Jerica, made us a mama and a daddy.  Being her mom and dad has completely wrecked us, made us, and wowed us.  And it has fundamentally changed, challenged, and enlightened us.  As a side note, God really wowed us.  It wasn't because we relaxed, weren't stressed or anything like that.  God surprised with Cade 11 months and 1 day to the day Jerica was born.  We wouldn't have it any other way--we have TWO miracle babies.  TWO babies we "shouldn't" have had.

Special Programming Note:
It might be good to note here that I am telling our story as I tell it.  This is how we told our story of becoming a family for many years.  If Keith were to tell you this story now from his perspective, his story is different.  Whatever.  God did it.  I'm good with that.  And Keith knows I love him despite how his atheism upsets my story.

As I mentioned, being Jerica's mom changed us.  We are not a white family.  We do not think like "typical" white families.  As I've said many times, I will never know what it is like to walk in my daughter's shoes.  But I do know what it's like to be her mama--a mama of a black child.  And I understand in the way that I uniquely can what black mamas go through in regards to their children.  I've seen my daughter be treated differently in a crowd, like a black child. I've also seen that tone, look, and treatment change dramatically when the other person realizes I AM HER MOTHER.  AND I SAW WHAT YOU JUST DID.

Being Jerica's mom and dad have let us in to some circles we would not have been welcomed in.  When our black friends tell us what they've experienced, what their parents told them growing up--about how to make it in a white world and how to respond to police and how they'll have to work harder than their white equals.

We rely on these friends because we need them to help us do this with our children.  We have to have these conversations with our daughter.  We have to have these conversations with out white son, because of what he will experience and witness--both in how his sister might be treated and in how his black friends will be treated.  We expect him to act as they do if confronted by police--and to use his white privilege to stand up for and with his friends.

On white privilege.  It exists.  And it is not a thing white people need to get all defensive about.  First, because it is not your experience.  Second, because it's not your fault.  This began many years ago.  With slavery.  And when slaves were emancipated.  And with Jim Crow laws, segregation, unequal educations, and with silence.  Even though I don't even live in a white community, it is still a white world because of who is running our government overall.  And who holds the majority of the power and the wealth.  Recognizing it is not an indictment or an admission of guilt, but it makes change possible.

We rely on our black friends to share and teach and empower Jerica.  We also rely on them to teach us the basics of hair care and skin care.  We promised Jerica's birth mom we would learn all of this.  And girl looks good!  And her black friends still doubt sometimes whether or not she has weave--NEVER.  And if she's sure she's not biracial--FULL BLOODED BLACK BEAUTY.

I want to address some things we've seen and heard as Jerica's mom and dad--and some responses from us.  We want our white friends to think about these things before they say them & to realize why we don't buy them.  First is the comments of others.  Bulleted are my responses/experiences/feelings.

1.  Our young (white) children don't notice color.

  • Children do notice color.  This may not be a problem if they see good role models loving and respecting all colors.
  • White children don't need to be as aware because they live in white privilege.  They're not witnessing what their friends of other races & cultures are experiencing.  Black children do not have this same experience.
  • We SHOULD notice color.  Don't tell us your color blind.  We don't want you to be.  We recognize and appreciate and love what is different and beautiful of other races and cultures.
2.  We have black friends, too.
  • We know lots of people who have friends of other races. We get it.  We also know even more people with black acquaintances or black work friends.  
  • When you say you have black friends, think about how many of them have been in your home--for meals, conversations, laughs, etc.
  • MANY, like the MAJORITY, of Jerica's black friends come in our home.  Regularly.  With many of these boys and girls, they comment that the 1st time they came over was the 1st time they've ever been in a white-er family's home.  We've even have had Jerica's friends ask to come over because they want to experience what it's like in our house.  This tells me there are a WHOLE LOT OF BLACK KIDS and their families who are not truly friends with white-er families.  (I use white-er because we are a white cultural family, but we are not a white family in our experience.)
3.  We don't believe or buy into stereotypes.
  • We all do.  We see it everywhere--tv shows & movies, online, the written word, the news, society, the list goes on.
  • Even as Jerica's parents, before and past and present, we have had to face our own buy into some stereotypes.  Most pointedly, when we joined an almost all black church--a church and friends we still love.  (And who love us.)  I realized that I was surprised at this very large church to see so many black men--black men who loved their wives, are educated and have good jobs, men raising their children.)  And we love and appreciate and recognize and honor these men--the norm of what we saw and came to know personally.
  • I'm not proud that I had to face and deal with that stereotype. I'm honest about it so you know I do understand you as well, my white-er friends.  Facing it did bring change and GREAT change.
  • I also know from these black men that we are the few white people they know who look black men, especially, but also women and children, right in the eye--when talking, when passing in a store, etc.  Black men tell us they see the majority of white people NOT looking them in the eye, especially in passing when they don't know each other.  Keith and I were even unaware of that change in us initially, but we are very aware and purposeful since.  We purposely express our respect in this manner.
4.  Combination of--Racism is no longer an big deal. & Racism goes both way.
  • Neither of these statements are true.
  • Racism does exist.  We have seen and heard racist beliefs and thoughts--from strangers, family members and have witnessed it directed at black friends and our biracial family members.
  • Racism does not really go both ways.  Now.  Stereotypes go both ways.  Fear and ignorance goes both ways.
  • Subtle racism is most prevalent and most harmful, in my opinion.
  • Our most frequent examples:  "That's not your sister"--directed at Cade.  "Are you babysitting?" "Is that your son's best friend?"  "You have your hands full."  "Isn't that wonderful of you to help this child!"  "Were you with a black man?  And a white man?"
  • Including dirty looks, people trying to figure out if I'm a slut or what.
WE ALL want the same things for our children, no matter the race or culture.  We want our children to be loved, cherished, respected, protected, and accepted.  For who they are.  Color, race, culture and all.

This.  This amazing picture that continues to amaze and fascinate me, this is LOVE.  All in.  All the way.  The very best of race relations.

Monday, February 2, 2015

For the Record

Although I am not posting every day, or even every other day, I have this running list of topics, notes, and quotes.  I'm pacing myself, partly because I don't want to post a whole lot and then run out of things to say and post.  (I know. Unlikely, I will ever run out of words.)  I also am pacing myself because these topics I'm touching are heavy and emotional.  While it is healing for me and energizing, it is still a process that takes a lot at the same time.  I cannot exhaust all of my emotional energy here and not have any left for my man and kids.

Let me tell you. 
I am tired.  
Weary, bone aching tired.  

I know you are, too.  I see you and I hear you.  And I know your road.  Even you, who thinks about commenting or emailing me, who sits in the background and on the fringes, who thinks of reaching out, but doesn't.  Because you just don't know. And you discount yourself.   We've both been here before. Do it. You'll be glad you did.

I am compelled to keep writing--even if it is only for me. It does feed my soul to hear occasionally that somehow my words, openness, rawness is touching someone somewhere. And I share resources, thoughts, experiences and others' blog posts that touch or reach me here, or on Facebook.  And I'm ok with the push back from some people.  I know there are people who think we Christians should keep our dirty laundry pile of sins, failures, hurts, disappointments, illnesses, etc. out of site--and especially out in the world for others to know.  I know why you think that.  I also know that the world has already read our mail.  They see the dirty laundry poking out that you think is hidden well.  They might trust us more if we didn't pretend like it wasn't there or we didn't know things need attention--and that we really aren't any different than anyone else.

And for those of us who have lived a lot of life, hard life, we don't have energy any more to wear masks, to paint pretty pictures, or to keep up with pretenses--or the laundry.  We've learned the hard way that this takes energy from what really matters.  We know time is fleeting.  We want to know quickly and up front--who is going to believe in us?  Who is going to support us?  Who is going to stand or sit with us?  If you are not these people, we can't expend much time or energy on you at the moment.  Because we don't have it to spare.  And we have very strong BS meters and little tolerance for it.

When you experience crises on top of each other, you live in crisis mode.  And that mode is about pure breathing.  One breath at a time.  Forget one day at a time.  You don't get a haircut or your color done for months--and the gray has doubled in a matter of weeks.  You get dressed only because you have to get the kids to therapy appointments & everyone's tired of your ratty pajamas. Occasionally you eat, but mostly Dr. Pepper floats.  Survival mode comes later when you can think about going through the motions and attempt to do so.  For your spouse.  For your kids.  You do things that are expected but with little heart.  You put up the Christmas tree and buy a few presents even though you'd like to sleep through it this year.

As you move out of these crisis survival modes, it is scary. The ground is not stable. You don't have a normal any more, because everything changed.  All at once.  You want to be out of it, but you also know how quickly you got here.  And you don't want to go there again. So you are cautious and move very slowly. There are people who believe that we want to stay here or choose to stay here.  I don't know any, and I know many now, who would never choose to stay here.  And we are all ready for it to pass.

We want to see in color again.

Sometimes you can't fully leave this place, because it's just too soon.  And maybe it can become a habit as some believe.  I also know that sometimes we walk out of this stage, and we can look back from where we are.  And, YAY!, we have moved forward and this feels so much better to all of us.  The problem is that we can fall back into crisis mode, not because we like it or because it feels safer--because it really doesn't.

Sometimes we fall back into crisis survival mode 
because our tank is just too low, 
sitting on empty.  

When you experience crisis after crisis, every bit of you drains right out.  For a long time, you cannot fill that tank back up.  Because wave after wave crashes on you.  Knocking you down.  So you stay where you are in a small puddle on the floor.  Even as we begin processing and healing, which takes a lot of time and energy, there still isn't enough to put any extra gas in your tank.  Right now, with some stability and progress and good times and victories, my tank rarely gets very full.  I do have some extra in my tank, but it's not enough.

There just hasn't been 

enough time 
enough people 
enough community.  

One instance of instability, concerning behavior, backsliding with your child and your tank is completely empty again and it feels like you're in survival mode again. Even though you don't want to be here. We know that this could be the beginning of the downward spiral again, or it may be a short interruption in progress.  But we don't know that yet.  And you need other people to know and to fill.  But we don't often ask.  Or we ask a time or two, a person or two, and then give up.  

Because it's too much or we're too much.

So, I'm reminding you and mostly myself today that we need each other. Your emotional box is as full as mine.  And your grief shelf is not empty and still needs attention.  We still have something for each other.  Today, when my tank feels empty again.  When a child's behavior is escalating in a concerning way.  And the child knows it is happening and doesn't like it or want it. But the child doesn't have complete control over it.

And is as afraid as we are.  

  • Being with my people, my 2 friends who have walked with us in these stages, helps fill my tank.  Always.  
  • Sometimes its the surprises and/or surprising people who put a good amount in your tank.  Someone today, put some gas in my tank.  Someone who doesn't know me. Except through an internet connection. Who purchased a tunic I was looking at and gifted it to me.  Just because.  Y'all, she doesn't even know me or my story.  But she was moved, not by me, and willing.  I've never met her.  And I will pay it forward some time.  
  • Time away with my man fills my tank.  Even though it's a bit rocky and scary right now, the tank's warning light is on.  So, I'm tagging along on a business trip of Keith's next week.  And I'm going to see dear friends in Connecticut and then spend some days in NYC.  By myself.  While Keith is in meetings.  
  • Me and Manhattan.  No schedule.  No clock.  No rules.  Alone time is good, too, especially if you're a social introvert like this girl.

Even though leaving always is anxiety-producing for me initially, as if I do literally hold everything and everyone together and everyone keeps breathing and not dying if I do everything and balance everything perfectly. 

 Even though.  
I'm reminding myself again, because it's not my natural instinct that I need my oxygen mask.  Without it I'm no good for my kids.  

So, I'll take my Xanax (because I really like the ground) and get on that jet plane.  

And be. 

And come back better with something in my tank. 
So I can put something in yours.