Micah 6:8

"...do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

God is Love

Last night my family got the chance to join together with over four hundred other community members to march on the campus of North Central College in support of the power of love to win out over hate. This is Anti-hate week at North Central and as a part of that event the college had scheduled a showing of a film called "The Anatomy of Hate." The film looks at the way in which fear instincts in humans can sometimes lead to violent and primal reactions to groups that we believe to be a threat to us. It takes a closer look at hate motivations in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the Iraq war and highlights a couple of hate groups in the US, including Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS which protests at the funerals of US soldiers because they believe war deaths are God's punishment on the US for tolerating the homosexual lifestyle. WBC had threatened to protest the showing of the film at North Central, calling the school "pervert-run." That threat (which turned out to be empty) was what motivated over four hundred people to march in a show of resistant love. It also meant that four hundred people (instead of let's say maybe 30-50) turned out to see the movie and spent time thinking about where hate comes from and how to recognize it in ourselves. Even though the protesters didn't show-up, it was a powerful night. With all the recent suicides in the news because of gay-bullying, the back and forth on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the legislative battle over the right to marry, it felt like a historic night to stand outside with a group of people from very different backgrounds and perspectives and proclaim love above all else. It felt like what the people of God should be doing. I am grateful that my family could participate together, and I hope that one day when I tell the story to Micah and tell her that she was there with us, she'll be amazed that it ever happened at all because of the progress we will have made. I want to be on the right side of history. I want the people of God to get this right so that we don't have to look back in shame anymore.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. - 1 John 4:7-8

Check out the trailer for "The Anatomy of Hate"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Power of Choice

Before I ever got pregnant I knew that I would choose to stay home with my baby and be a full time Mom. I'm sure that I didn't fully understand all of the realities of that kind of choice at the time, but most days I am still glad I made it. I am definitely not saying it is the right choice for everyone. This post is not an examination of what mothers should or shouldn't do, or what positive and negative impacts working or staying home has on children and their moms. I realize that there are pros and cons on both sides and that it is an issue that is often hotly debated with guilt, anger, and frustration coming from both sides. So let's just turn down the heat right away. I'm not interested in entering into that debate. I don't have a side. Or at least my "side" is that mothers should make the choice that works best for them and for their particular family situations. What I am interested in is the power of choice. The freedom to make a choice is often one of the things that sets Middle and Upper Class mothers apart from mothers living in poverty. (Also sometimes separates single moms from moms who have the benefit of a partner.) I had the luxury of making my own choice about working or staying home. Many women do not have that same luxury.

Lately I've been feeling a little weary of being home with Micah everyday. I love her and I love spending time with her, but she is in a particularly fussy stage that can grate on me over the long hours of a day. And it has been a little painful for my ego that as soon as her daddy comes home she wants nothing more to do with me and often reaches for him when we are out in public and cries if I try to hold her. My logical brain tells me that this is just a stage. That she sees me all the time and takes for granted that I will always be there, but doesn't get nearly as much time with her Dad. That I should be happy that she loves her daddy so much and that I should be grateful for the break since I obviously need one. Even so, it makes me feel bad. There have been some hard, emotional days for me lately, but one thing that I always know in the back of my head is that ultimately I still have a choice. If I ever decided that being a stay at home Mom was just not for me, I know that I could start looking for a job and for a daycare. That thought never stays in my head for more than a second, because I know it's not what I want, but there is something comforting about knowing that the choice is mine.

I know a refugee Mom in her mid twenties who has six children, four of whom are kindergarten or younger. She stays home with her children, but she really wants to work. She grew-up in a refugee camp in Kenya with almost no education. She is not literate, not even in her first language. She has no work experience and very limited English. Even if she could find a job, it would not pay more than minimum wage. And there is still the issue of four small kids at home who would need childcare. There is also the problem of transportation, since she does not own a car or have a license. Her husband works, but she stays home. She could try to work the night shift when her husband could be home with the kids, but even so she would still be home with kids all day. She is a stay at home mom like me, but not like me because she has no real choice.

I know another refuge woman whose husband was injured on the job and then fired by the company instead of cared for under workman's comp. After that incident the man could not find work and so the woman, who had been working only a part-time job starting to work two jobs to take care of her family. (It took two jobs for her to make as much as husband had at one because he had worked for the company for several years.) She wanted to be home with her young daughter, but now she had no choice. She worked all day and often late into the evening and didn't even get home until after her daughter had gone to bed. She is a working mom, but not by choice. I'm sure there are also many single moms who would love to stay home with their children, but they have no choice. They must work.

Sometimes I hear middle class working moms say that they also have no choice. They must work. In some cases that might be true, but also sometimes those moms have made other choices about what kind of lifestyle they expect that in itself is a choice. It is true that in order to drive certain cars or live in certain kinds of houses or wear certain kinds of clothes that many women must work outside the home, but that lifestyle is a choice. It is a very different thing to work because you must in order to feed, clothe, and shelter your child with the basics.

Choice is a luxury that I often take for granted, especially after a particularly difficult day being a mom. Choice is freedom. Choice is hope. And choice is just one of the things that poverty steals from people. I am so grateful that even in my most difficult days as a mom, I still have the power to choose. And I want to make sure that I never forget all the millions of mothers here and around the world who do not have the luxury of a choice.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Troubling Headlines on my Mind

There are a lot of things that I am unsure of, but one thing I know for sure is that having Micah has woken me up from a deep spiritual sleep that I didn't even know I was in. Sometimes when I hold her; really hold her, not just to get her dressed or change or her diaper or keep her from jamming something sharp or dirty or electrical in her mouth, but hold her. Treasure her. Breathe her in. I get this little glimpse of holiness as if I too had somehow reached out and touched the hem of God's robe and felt the sacred power enter me. When I look at her and really see her, remembering that she was once just a little speck of a fish swimming inside me and now she is here and real and warm and full of light, I feel as if I am standing in the presence of God. Not because she is some perfect child. Far from it. She is as fussy and demanding as any sticky, clingy toddler can be. But because as her mother I have a unique front row seat to see up close the image of God sparking in her. And now I really know for the first time that all that stuff about each of us containing the image of God is actually true. I have always believed it. But Micah has given me the gift of seeing it. It might sound crazy, but the feeling is so overwhelming sometimes that I don't know whether to dance or pray or burst into tears. The swell of love in me is so much bigger than my tiny soul could possibly hold. I know that it must come from something bigger than me. Something I call God.

These last few weeks the news headlines have been flooded with stories of young people who took their own lives because of bullying related to their sexual orientations. My heart aches for the mothers of those once babies. Babies, who like Micah, carried within them the image of God. Sometimes I wonder what I would do if Micah grew-up and discovered that she was gay. I don't mean that I wonder whether I would accept her. There is no question in my mind about that. I mean I wonder what I would do about my relationships with other people...family, friends, church folk, who might try to tell her and me that she was somehow less. Who might try to diminish the image of God within her. Who might think they are being kind by saying "love the sinner hate the sin" but all time are still alienating and rejecting my baby, my love, my very window to the wonder of God.

No matter what you think about this issue, too many children are dying. Too many mothers are weeping. History is going to judge us harshly on this one. When I think about Micah being put in that situation I feel fiercely protective. I would shout my love and support for her from the rooftops. I would reject any person or institution that tried to deny the image of God in her. I would do whatever I could to protect her life and her spirit and her joy. So why should I feel any different about any other Mother's child?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mothers and Daughters and the Cultural Divide

I watched the movie, "Spanglish" again last night. I have seen this film 8-10 times and I still cry every time I watch the final scene between Flor and her daughter Cristina. If you haven't seen the film it is a gem. A beautiful, heartbreaking, and funny look at mother/daughter relationships, cross-cultural communication, the hidden lives of hard-working immigrants, and the giant socio-economic divide between the rich and poor. Here is the trailer:

In the final scene Cristina is angry with her mother because of a decision Flor makes to protect and preserve her daughter from being completely swallowed up by white, American, upper middle class culture. They are standing in the middle of the street and Cristina is yelling at her mother. She tells her that she is "unfair" and that she is"ruining her life." Flor looks almost as if she had been slapped. She tells Cristina, "I am sorry to make you face the central question of your life at such a young age. Is what you want out of life to be so very different from me?"

My daughter, Micah, is only a year old, but I am already afraid of conversations like this one that we will eventually have. I had them with my mother and I'm sure she had them with hers. The mother/daughter relationship gets pretty tricky to navigate around eleven or twelve and doesn't seem to get easy again until 25 or so. When I was a teenager I thought that I wasn't anything like my mother and that I would never want to be. I know I said things that hurt her deeply. And I am afraid of the day when Micah will start to say those words to me. The only thing that gives me hope is knowing how much I value my Mom now and how close we have become, so I know it's possible to get through. But as difficult as I anticipate those days will be, I cannot imagine the way the pain is magnified for immigrant Moms who are not only losing their daughters to teenage angst, but also losing them, in a sense, to America.

When the mother daughter cord is already stretched it's tightest, I can't imagine adding the tension of language and cultural differences, the tension of the upside-down power structure when a child must be the translator and cultural broker for a parent. And how does the immigrant mother connect with her daughter when she has never attended an American school, when she cannot communicate with or is afraid to communicate with teachers, and often must work long hours in a low paying job that is physically demanding and mentally numbing? What does she do when she can't ever be sure if her daughter is fully explaining things? When her daughter laughs at the mother's attempts at English or social participation? When the daughter has so many extra reasons to see herself as wanting to be so different from her mother because they live in two completely different worlds.

I think immigrant Moms, and especially single immigrant Moms, must be commended for their ability to make it through the teenage years and maintain a strong connection to their daughters. They deserve our recognition and support. I could learn a lot from the women who are walking those paths. I think we all could.

If you haven't seen "Spanglish" put it on your list of must sees. But have the tissues ready.

Monday, September 20, 2010

First Birthday Blessings

Micah is now a one year old. A blessed one year old. Here are some of the ways she is blessed: She has access to medical care; a 12 month well-child check with a caring doctor and vaccines to protect her from disease. She has access to good nutrition: protein, fruits, vegetables and clean, safe water. She has loving family and friends who gathered to celebrate her first year and a great church family to nurture and support her spirit. She has access to brain developing toys and books, and a clean, safe place to play. These are simple things that I often forget to stop and be thankful for. Many, many children throughout the world and even here in the US do not have access to these fundamental building blocks of a healthy life. But every child should have them. Every child could have them if we all decided together to give that as a birth day gift to the world. Imagine a world where every child had basic health care, education, nutrition, a clean safe environment, and a loving supportive community around them. Just imagine the kind of heights we could reach as a people if we could unlock the creativity and potential of all those children who are chained and broken by poverty. A new world is possible. It must be. If we can make a way to travel to the moon, than surely we can make a way to protect the early lives of our children. "Our children." Because after all, they all belong to us. If it's good enough for Micah, then I say it's good enough for every mother's child. Whether they live in Aurora Illinois or Kibera, Kenya. I spent a lot of time planning and preparing for Micah's party. I wanted to give her something special, and I think I did (though she won't remember it.) But maybe next year we'll throw a birthday party for all the children of the world and ask our guests to think about giving a gift that can do more than just bless a little girl who is already blessed. We are so grateful for all the people who came to celebrate with Micah and all the kind and thoughtful presents she received. We are blessed to be a blessing, so we're going to work hard to try to think about how we can share from our abundance. Check out this video below about one way to help children around the world with your voice.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Who Am I Now?

In five days my baby girl will turn one. I have spent nearly every day of the past year at home focused on her. Holding her. Feeding her. Reading to her. Watching her grow. Trying to be a good mom. Practicing my new identity. Giving up much of my former self and stretching my little heart into something new...something she calls "Mama." I am "Mama" now. And sometimes I go days without ever hearing my old name. Mostly that's ok. But there are parts of the old Desiree that I miss. Parts that are so much harder to cultivate now than they were before my baby was born. A year after becoming a mom I am still wondering, "Who am I now?" Do I still have something to contribute to the world? Can I still be a part of the movement for justice? Can I give more than everything Micah needs from me?

Motherhood is tricky. I know what the research says about how critical these first three years are in the development of her little brain. I want to pour myself into her. I want to give her everything I can. I want to read to her every day and take her to the children's museum and the nature center and the library. Her world is my world. She is everything to me. She has sucked me in heart and soul. But sometimes my singular focus on Micah makes me forget that there are other little ones out there in the world. Hungry little ones. Sick little ones. Neglected little ones. When I stop to think of them I wonder how I can possibly make time for them on top of what I'm trying to give to Micah.

I feel the tension. Part of me wants to keep trying to be a force to change the world, but a big part of me wants to just drop out of the world completely and focus all my energy and attention on Micah. To put everything else on hold until I can at least get her through preschool. In some ways I feel like I've already dropped out of the world. Or at least that Micah has become the world to me. I've spent hours thinking about how to make her birthday party special. But no time thinking about all the other kids around the world turning one next week. The old Desiree had a deeper sense of burden for those other kids. In some ways becoming a mother has deepened my compassion for others and in other ways becoming a mother has limited my ability or willingness to act on that compassion.

How can I hold tight to Micah and hold tight to the Micah 6:8 life at the same time? Sometimes I don't feel like I have enough space in me to do both. This blog used to be called, "Remembering Kibera" because it was focused on remembering my friends who live difficult lives in the largest slum in Africa called, Kibera. I still think about Kibera all the time. But I wonder what impact I will be able to have on Kibera and places like it now that Micah is my world.

I want to love my baby girl with every ounce of my power and I want the best possible start for her. As I'm sure all the mothers of the little girls turning one next week in Kibera do too.