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A certain trembling

They were attacked. Right here. Their blood stained this piece of earth.

I was walking when I heard the news. Walking on the hot crumbling asphalt of Alabama, near a town called Selma.

A pit bull had attacked several animals at the farm that my church nurtures, loves, and shares space with. A sheep who had given birth to twins only weeks earlier, a sheep pregnant with what would have been Easter twins, and our sweet emu were all killed in the slaughter.

People I sing hymns alongside on Sundays held the heads of bleeding creatures while they passed, tried to rescue their little ones, and sobbed when these efforts failed.

When I heard, I was walking on crumbling asphalt where 50 years ago another mother was slaughtered. Viola Liuzzo was driving a man back to Selma after having marched 54 miles from that town to Montgomery demanding voting rights for all, no matter their race. She was white and her passenger was black. When she rode past the KKK, they shot at the car and killed her. Her passenger dipped his fingers in her warm body and used her blood to fake his death. She saved him on the road that day. Her five children and husband would later learn this news in their Detroit home.

When the blood of another, be it animal or human, touches us- when we touch it- there is a certain trembling. Our own death feels that much nearer. Our inevitable mortality is smeared across our palms, covers our fingerprints. As I marched with 300 others those same 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, I thought of the lives of those no longer with us. The lives of all the civil rights activists, whose blood had been spilled and whose lives were stolen. I thought of how shallowly I love and treat others. How I fail to recognize that the blood beating throughout their being makes them holy.

When I returned to the farm and saw the orphan lambs and heard the stories of my friends, was reminded that my own life is also holy- but also short. May each of our hearts beat fearlessly until the day it beats no more. May we see it our duty to delight in each other. May we see our mortality as a propeller towards meaningful living.

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This blog was originally published here. 

I judge you.

This blog was originally written for a Lenten series on the Episcopal Service Corps Blog. The Episcopal Service Corps strives to serve others in solidarity, promoting justice in community, deepen spiritual awareness and vocational discernment, and live simply in intentional Christian community with young adults. This year I am a member of their program in Atlanta, GA.

I judge you. I judge you for the money you spend on that new bracelet. I judge you for the way you over-spiritualize your morning coffee. I judge you because you never use public transportation. I judge you by your lack of awareness for anything outside your own neighborhood.

And I pass this judgment like one passes salt and pepper at the dinner table- casually, almost unconsciously, and regularly. It bellows up within me some days. It blocks any goodness in you like a cumulonimbus cloud.

Yet I’ve come to know what I judge most of all, is my own soul.

I see all the minutes I have in a day, how I fail to use each one productively and I find this detestable. I retroactively watch my words falling out of my mouth, spurting with bitterness and I recoil at my behavior. I notice all the ways you encourage and I perseverate on my selfishness. I judge you because I judge myself. This exchange of hypocrisy and raising of eyebrows and shaming, though, murders any hint of grace.

Because each moment I fail to offer you or myself forgiveness, an extra try, a piece of understanding, or an assumption of good-will, I put my weight up against the door of grace that aches to open up within me. I push back on the door and limit myself from going anywhere. I keep myself locked in the room with judgment’s putrid presence.

I am the one who chooses to keep my back against the door. I can also be the one to feel the cool doorknob turn over in my palm and escape this judgment room.

Extending grace to myself might be that doorknob which allows me to extend grace to you. So in these forty days of reflection, I’ll reflect upon the grace I give to you and to myself. This Lent I’m choosing grace over judgment.

The Day Kelly [Almost] Died

I stood there among friends and strangers. Among those who yelled about death machines and those who wept deep tears. I stood on the steps of the Georgia State Capitol and instead of feeling a moment of solidarity, instead of feeling peace or comfort, instead of feeling like holding a vigil was a good and appropriate response- I felt a wave overcome me that what I was doing was very, very wrong.

Earlier yesterday I went with two people, Michael and Shelly, from the Frazer Center, a center for adults with developmental disabilities, to drop off (at that time) around 45,000 petitions to stay Kelly Gissendaner’s execution. This morning the same petition is up to 77,000. As we left the Frazer Center, I told Michael we were going to the Governor’s Office because the State of Georgia wanted to kill a woman.

“What?! They can’t do that!”  “But they are.”

I told Michael why the State wanted to kill Kelly. I told him that Kelly studied the Bible. I told him Kelly was a mother of three.

“We need to go to the Governor and tell him to stop killing that woman. Kelly is a mother,” he responded. Michael was able to understand in seconds that the State murdering another human being was monstrous.

Michael exclaimed that statement to all those would listen. “We need to go to the Governor and tell him to stop killing that woman. Kelly is a mother.” “Tell him to stop that.” “Kelly has children.” “We’re here for Kelly.”  We held a press conference in the rotunda; we delivered the petitions; we sang; we left. These are the words Michael wrote describing his day.

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And then, we came back to hold vigil for a woman the State was scheduled to execute on our behalf. As I stood there on the steps of the golden dome for the second time yesterday, I wept for our inaction. I regretted the weeks where I heard about Kelly and her date but failed to do something as small as google her. I was remorseful about the times I had forgotten that the government representing me was planning to kill someone in my name. I shed tears for failing to love Kelly faster and for the time we lost by not acting.

I grieved Kelly’s death and my hand in it.

Friends, Strangers- this must stop. Three hours after Kelly’s scheduled execution time, officials decided the drugs they planned to use might be unsafe. The psychological trauma of this is cruel and unimaginable. It will likely be a few days wait, not taking the final SCOTUS appeal into account.

And a week from today we will do this all over again, folks. Georgia will execute Brian Terrell on March the 10th unless we finally get fed up with state endorsed murder. Unless we finally say- Not in Our Name. Unless we take our tears and turn them into a communal response against violence.

Welcome Them In

You feel frustrated and want him to stop. To discontinue. To only be moderately excited. And you realize it is probably because you’re a little jealous of him. You’re jealous of his joy.

Larry is a greeter at Home Depot and is in love with his job. He sits in his wheelchair for four hours at a time by the door with the cold wind blowing in. He is often ignored as he tells folks walking in, “Welcome to Home Depot!” Despite being looked over by customers, despite the blustering wind, despite the repetition, he couldn’t be happier.

His legs bounce with anticipation and he blushes with enthusiasm. He feels and knows his work is valuable and important. He feels great about himself and is overwhelmingly proud of his position. His work is like play for him. He is able to not only find, but continually find the deep joy in the things he does each day.

Some days I want to tell him to take it more seriously. To ocus a bit more and calm down. And some days he might need to take the energy down or giggle a little less or not tell every customer just  how “cute” they are. But perhaps mostly, the joy and life in him is so rare that I ‘m not sure what to do with it except be in awe.

Finding meaning in your work has very little to do with the things you produce or the meetings you hold or even your effectiveness at welcoming folks in a hurry. Finding meaning in a job is not restricted to only those jobs whose descriptions sound like heroic feats. Larry reminds me that finding meaning and subsequently discovering joy spurs from an inward knowledge of one’s belovedness and the simple desire to welcome in those around us. Welcome them in.

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This blog was first posted here. 

Find out more about the Frazer Center, a center for those living with developmental disabilities, here. 

Perseverating

Red light means stop. Green light means go. Orange light means walk now. Yellow light means slow down.

He repeats these phrases throughout the day. Perseverating, it’s called. To continuously repeat something long after the time for the action or phrase has passed. It is a common thread in folks living with autism and one I see often in my work each day.

Sometimes he says a color and couples it with an incorrect meaning. He slips the misaligned pairs in between slurs of childhood memorizations- Green light means go. Red light means go. Yellow light means slow down. It’s not that he has forgotten or had a momentary lapse. For although he tries to hide it, his white toothed grin sneaks out with the incongruent words. He is playing with you. He wants you to catch the mistakes; he wants your attention.

This game of his is one requiring quick reaction times and focused listening. Of concentration and discipline. It only takes a few minutes of playing before you begin to forget the colors and their corresponding meaning yourself. I played with him as we went on a hike through a nearby forrest. As the leaves crunched beneath us, I thought it might be nice to use the foliage around our feet to play his color game. I stooped to lift up a bright ruby leaf singing out, Red light means stop! when I realized the game was all about the leaves.

The green coniferous pines signal us as people to keep moving. Unless they are garmented in silver bows and Santa ornaments we too often fail to pause before their majesty. The first orange leaves peaking out from gnarled branches, amuse us as we go. The signal of the beginning of fall, the orange leaves tell us to walk unhurried now and look both ways. The yellow bursts of the tress right around your corner and mine practically scream at us to slow down, as their golden shadows fall on car dashboards and kitchen tables. And finally the red maple leaves cause us to stop. To abandon rushing around and do the hard work of concentrating. The red leaves discipline us to listen more fully, as the squirrels rustle and toss acorns at those of us below. The game of leaves requires us to react quickly to the things that amaze us before they pass by and to yield our attention to the beauty that pervades our surroundings.

To perseverate finding that amazement and joy in creation and in each other is perhaps one of the best games I know. 

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Four Letter Words

It started with a casual itch.

I denied anything was out of the ordinary.

I mentally rejected the possibility that I had them.

I had heard tales of sweet, innocent children secretly carrying these repugnant critters in their braids and under their prayer caps.

But then I started feeling them.

On my head.

I lay awake at night, paralyzed in fear, because I could literally feel them moving around under my hair. I am so disgusted by lice that it is difficult for me to even type those 4 letters. 

But I choose to be courageous. I decided, as shameful and gross and vomit-inducing as this was, I needed to tell someone. I texted a nurse here I knew and she told me what medicine to buy. Then she jerked all my pride issues to the surface and said I needed to get someone else to check my hair to comb them out.

What? Someone else has to know? Uh-Uh. Nope. Not happening.

Oh the shame. I wallowed. I squirmed. I succumbed to the humiliation.

I bought the stuff. I bought the special comb. I felt nauseous. I pretended they were for someone else. I waited. 

After another restless night, with things creeping around my head, I decided I had to stop by my friend’s house on the way back from work. I called her name and she came out, all smiles. I sat her down. I need to ask you something, I told her, but you can say no. My tone said that this was serious and essentially life-threatening and not a joke at all.

With all the bravery I could muster and in my best Urdu so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself, I said- You know those small bugs? Would you check my head for them?

She paused for half a second, laughed, and replied, Yes yes! Hold on.

I fumbled in surprise and tried to grasp what was happening- Well you don’t have to do it right now! Just whenever you might be free. I told her. Oh no, she said. Sit still, she said. Let me get a comb, she said. 

I can run to my house and get the special comb, I told her. (The one I had condemned to this awful fate.)

Really- it’s fine, she said confidently. I’ll boil and clean this one after. And she bounced right into her house and brought out her own comb.

And right then and there, in the middle of everything else that afternoon, in the middle of chores and cooking and minding the kids, like it was of absolute no importance at all, she sat me down. For an hour, she looked through and picked out bugs from my hair with no gloves and her own comb while she made small talk about her studies.

This task I had loathed and shuddered at, the favor I had asked with so much shame and nausea- it was nothing less than exactly what was expected in her understanding of friendship.

And I understood- this is love. Getting down and dirty. Seeing each other at our worst. Choosing to show kindness right then and there. Using what we have to demonstrate the power of one four-letter word over another four-letter one. This is what love looks like.

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Motorcycles

I did something my father always told me not to.

I rode on another man’s motorcycle. (Strike one.)

Without a helmet (Strike two.)

Side saddle style (Strike three.)

 

Sorry, Dad.

 

But since I figured I was already out of the game (3 strikes you’re out, right?) and the rush of the moment was addictive, I went ahead and tried for the home run.

I asked to be taught to drive the motorcycle. And I sat my little butt on that bike- no helmet, wearing sandals, and a long dupatta that could easily, treacherously wind itself around a tire.

He said- this is the brake, the clutch, the this, the that. And in my enthusiasm, I vigorously nodded and giggled and said- let’s do this. And the engine purred and I went all of about 15 feet on the sidewalk and then braked. I turned to flash my confident smile- go to the end they prompted. But my second start wasn’t quite as smooth. And my cockiness pushed out my ability to remember which one was the brake and the gas and the this and the that. My stomach flipped and I knew I would fall. So before I reached the gravel, while the cushion of grass still enveloped me, I inhaled and released all the things my hands were grasping. As gracefully as possible, I fell with the bike into the grass.

The guys came sprinting over, scared to death that some CNN reporter would get wind of the crash and ask questions about how the white girl died in a motorcycle accident and whose fault it was. I stood up, laughed to cover up my shame and skinned elbow, and tried to brush my embarrassment off with the bits of grass in my hair. Their eyes were as big as the tires. I reassured and reassured them I was just fine and they reassured and reassured me that (thankfully) so was the bike. They-as culturally appropriate as was possible-pointed out the dirt on my shirt and-without ever actually touching me-noted the grass stains on my pants.

I’ll be quicker to follow my father’s advice next time about the helmet.

 

Risks. Adventures. Thrills.

They drive us. They propel us. They make us look ridiculous.

But the moment we let go, the moment we release our hands-

we give ourselves over to the freedom that allows us to fall.

 

Failures. Defeats. Flops.

They shame us. They inhibit us. They make us look ridiculous.

But the moment we fall, the moment our elbows get kissed by the ground-

we give ourselves over to the beauty of the friends who surround us.

 

Laughter. Humility. Vulnerability.

They unite us. They shape us.

They make us the beautiful, broken humans we are.

But the moment our community shows up, the moment in the midst of stupidity when we can squeeze out a grin-

we give ourselves over to the heart of life.

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