D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Category: Writing

monuments and memorials and me

“The way to write wrongs is to shine the light of truth upon them” --Ida B. Wells, anti-lynching activist


 

So I have been working on a piece for some time now. It all started last December, when I went to Montgomery to meet and hear from Bryan Stevenson with some people from Red Letter Christians. I could not get out of my mind what I saw/heard in Montgomery, and I knew precisely what audience would need to hear this message.

 

This piece turned out to be one of the hardest things I have ever written. Not only because the subject matter is grim, but also because it was a delicate balance of compromise and caveats to get the message in a manner that would reach the people who needed to hear it the most. If you are new to me or my writing (or if you have never met me in real life) then you might not know: I am not good at compromise, at least not at first. I have a lot of emotion, a lot of thoughts, I am always wanting to do good and right by my actual neighbors who have experienced so much oppression, and so sometimes toning down my message or making it palatable can feel like a disservice to the people I love. It is a constant struggle, especially as an Enneagram 1 who so longs to be right and correct. But when it comes to being a white girl writing about race/lynchings/monuments/memorials/evangelical Christians in America--there is simply no way for me to be right. So writing this article over the past seven months was like a spiritual discipline in humiliation and sorrow and grief and fear.

 

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It became important for me to include in this this story both a concrete action and highlight racial terror in the PNW. I was born in northern California and grew up all over the “west”—Alaska and Wyoming and California again, but the majority of my life has now been spent in Oregon. People from this part of the country tend to view themselves as distanced, both by geography and ideology, to the rest of the US, but most particularly the South.

 

So when I researched lynchings in my state I found one on record. That number is small compared to other states and counties (Mississippi has over 580 lynchings on record, for instance) but there is a reason for that: in 1849 the legislature made it a law that “no negro or mulatto may enter into, or reside” in Oregon. The pacific northwest made it clear they didn’t want institutional slavery, but they also didn’t want to live alongside African-Americans. The laws had their intended exclusionary effect—even to this day, less than 2% of Oregon is black (for more on Oregon and our history of racial injustice, read this piece).

 

I knew that I had grown up in a state that had criminalized blackness from the start, and that I needed to do something to acknowledge a history that had been ignored and forgotten, brushed aside as we instead celebrated the “pioneer” spirit while overlooking the pain and trauma of both the original inhabitants (native Americans) and our exclusionary practices towards non-white citizens.

 

Writing this piece was like falling down a rabbit hole of all that I didn’t know. I am not an expert in this field and I don’t pretend to be. What I am is a writer, someone who is interested in things, and I became very, very interested in why so many of us grew up without hearing or understanding the history of lynchings in America. (And lynchings is only a small part of it--there were massacres and lack of civil rights such as voting and education . . . the history of racial injustice seemingly has no end). A few years ago, when it really started to sink in about both the realities of lynchings and the response of white Christian communities to them, it was like a veil had been lifted. But I wasn’t just horrified. I was implicated. Lynchings were not just public executions--they were strategies for terrorizing black people and for uniting white people under a banner of supremacy and “order”. One of the most chilling photographs is one from Marion, Indiana in 1930. How can I not see my own face reflected here?

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(Side note: an artist created a mural of this same cropped portion of the photograph--leaving out the men who were hanging from the tree--and recently there has been activity to take down this mural due to white discomfort. But the artist wanted to portray just how it is that ordinary people are the ones who perpetuate and uphold racial violence in the US. These conversations are continuing, and need to be had--but will not go anywhere until we can face our true history).

 

I’m amazed at the timing of this piece. Last December, when I started writing it in my head, I did not know that we would be having a national conversation about monuments and memorials. But I am glad we are. And more than anything, I pray that we listen to the voices of the people who have been the victims of racial terror, both past and present, and take their lead on this. Bryan Stevenson is a good place to start, but there are so many others out there. I encourage you to find these voices, sit yourself down, and listen for a good long while. Any then, when the Spirit tells you it is time, I implore you to go out to your own community and share all that you have learned.


 

//

 

If you are like me and want to start to re-learn the history of our country, I encourage you to start with the Equal Justice Initiative. Spend some time at their website, learning, looking at pictures. Watch the video for the new memorial (it will give you chills). Consider asking your church to send a group of leaders and lay pastors to travel to Montgomery to visit the new memorial and embark on a spiritual pilgrimage of remembrance and repentance (perhaps forgo a mission trip to Mexico and use your funds for this instead?). And then I encourage you to start looking into the history of racial violence in your own state, city, and county. There are spiritual ramifications to our history, often done in the name of Christ. We will not be able to move forward into repair until we have dealt with this.


 

Other resources:

 

Read Ida B. Wells (my new crush!) who was a pioneer sounding the alarm so many years ago about the horrific violence systematically being perpetuated against black people in this country.

 

Read Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. This book is incredibly impactful, and is story-driven--making it accessible to most everyone.

 

Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race by Emerson and Smith. Perhaps the most important book that looks at why evangelicals are so segregated and so unwilling to address the systematic factors of racism. I wish everyone would sit down and read this one.

 

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone. This book might be the most excruciating devotional on the suffering of Christ I have ever experienced--because it is made concrete in the sufferings of our black brothers and sisters in America.

 

Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew G. Hart: This book helps makes connections between our history and the present day experience of people of color in America. A must-read for Christians who want to engage.

 

Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith: I so appreciated this book for helping people walk through the steps of confronting our history (in several different areas) and walking through prayers of confession and repentance.

 

RAAN Network. This is a great place to go if you don’t have real life relationships with Christians of color. I am not reformed, but my faith has been revitalized by the voices I have found here--especially Jemar Tisby, Tyler Burns, and Ekemini Uwan (of the amazing Truth’s Table podcast). There have been multiple discussions about confederate monuments, modern-day lynchings, and more and I cannot encourage you enough to go dive into these resources.




 

Thank you for taking the time to read, prayer, and process these topics. Please share any of your favorite resources in the comments. I know that I still have so much re-learning to do.



 

the loneliest month

the temperatures are so cold here, for Oregon. we live in a burned-out suburb in the shadow of a beautiful gorge. the wind whips through the tunnels that rivers have carved out of stone and it hits my children in the face. their cheeks turn bright red and the baby screams. we don't have the right clothes for this, why spend the money when we only have to struggle through a month or two of survival. we huddle inside and turn up the heaters a tiny bit more, my heart anxious about the bill, our feet perpetually cold.

oh, the loneliness of cold air coming at you with the speed of car going down a main road. oh, the loneliness of putting my children into the car and driving the half mile to school because we can't bear to walk. oh the loneliness of driving past so many people that we know who don't have cars, trudging into the wind. oh the loneliness they feel as they walk, scarves held up to their mouths, feeble peacoats barely protecting them, heads held down as they place one foot in front of the other. oh the loneliness of rough and red hands without gloves, of afternoons spent indoors, of children looking longingly at the outdoor world full of sunshine that is too cruel for them currently. 

some seasons are harder than others. currently i am taking a break from social media and it is wonderful. the loneliness of wondering about what my life could be has dissipated. the fears for the future have lessened. i do not think that knowledge, or fear, will save me or my neighbors. i have time to sink into my loneliness as if it were a friend. the constant black cat that follows my shadow, and emblem of the salvation of my soul. loneliness has always been one of my great character flaws and loneliness has also always made me put one foot in front of the other. i am trudging towards other people, the ones who are transparently just trying to survive. 

my Jesus was sometimes very lonely, it seems to me. he knew what radical love was like, and he knew suffering. in him i see what i both do and do not want for myself: an un-quiet mind and a bleeding heart and eyes to see all that we would rather not. 

my loneliness is my good friend. in the cold sun of a terrible January,  i close my eyes before mustering up the courage to go back outside. it looks beautiful, and it will cut me to my core. 

 

 

 

 

2016 in writing

It's been a hard year for so many of us. It wasn't the worst year of my life but it was pretty darn close. I am still struggling to come to terms with it all, honestly. Being on social media less helps, a lot (I will most likely go dark for the majority of January, for mental health reasons). But looking back and reflection helps me too.

It felt like I didn't get to write or read very much this past year. I had two kids to look after, one which needed my attention an awful lot. I helped at homework clubs and english classes and started a welcome center at an elementary school. I published my first book (which was so much more work than I could have ever realized). We moved into a house around the corner. We started going to church more. I tried very hard to hang around and get to know my neighbors, which takes a lot of time.

But I just went back and looked at the past year. And you know what? I did manage to write every now and again. In fact, I wrote over 30 articles for various publications. This doesn't include my monthly newsletters and the countless blog posts  I wrote (including one every day in the month of November). Also, I was on 7 podcasts and was interviewed 6 times, and spoke at 4 different events/conferences. How is this possible? It truly feels like I spent all of 2016 picking bits of crusty food off of the floor and staring despondently at the news on my phone. 

But it all happened. And moving forward, I will keep writing. Because it will be the artists who teach us how to resist evil and injustice. We need to keep reading and writing and singing and sculpting and crafting and creating music. We need to keep producing for the sake of our hearts and minds and souls. We need to immerse ourselves in the works of people on the margins, because they will be the ones to lead us. 2016 you got me down. But I am going into 2017 with a goal: I am looking for truth and hope from the artists. 

And with that, I will leave you with a few of my favorite articles I published in the past year:

 

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Sadly, I feel like I could write this all over again today. After spending a few days in Montgomery this is fresh on my mind. When will we ever truly repent and lament our history of white supremacy and violence against people of color?

 

Shane Claiborne-again

This piece was heavily edited but I hope the spirit and heart behind it shines through. I have been so influenced by the life and work of Shane and so many others, and I wanted this to a be a sort-of love letter to people who want to do this kind of work moving forward.

 

Raising Ramona in a 21st Century Portland

I got to write about my daughter, Ramona Quimby, and sneak in a bit about gentrification. Perfection!

 

Staring into the Sun

I think this piece is a good summary of my life and work within refugee communities, and the challenge of maintaining hope in traumatized communities. 

 

Gentrification in Portland

This was probably the biggest piece I wrote in the past year and I am still so grateful for the opportunity and the experience. I pray the church wakes up to the moral crisis happening in Portland.

 

Chimayo

This essay means a lot to me because I got to weave in a few very personal reflections on death and motherhood and inequality and injustice, as well as do a bit of travel writing (which I love). 

 

 

 

So there you are. Read, enjoy, and then go and work on your own stuff! We have so much work to do in 2017.

 

 

 

Three Weeks After my Book is Published,

And I am feeling tired, and sad, and proud, and insecure. I could have done a better job. I have a message I want to communicate. No, I’m just telling my own story. I’m so confused, and you might be too. You came looking for a window into another world but all I had to offer was a mirror. 

I’ve heard from a few of you, my people in the trenches, my lovely folks with the do-gooder hearts and the sin (both individual and generational) that threatens to curdle everything. I keep your words close to my heart, because we are all on this journey together, and you never really do stop unlearning.

I’ve felt sorry for myself, a bit. The “perks” of writing are so few and far between. Being visible in an age of the hot take is miserable for several reasons. You get to hear what everyone is saying about you, including the bad. You get puffed up and punched down, and you deserve all of it and yet none of it should touch the core of who you are in Christ Jesus. If you wrote something vulnerable, if you strayed into dangerous territory—talking about communities where you are an outsider, for instance—you can get your heart walked all over. I got paid very little money and it is very stressful and time consuming to try and be good at being a visible person. Did I say something social-justice-y on Twitter today? Was I nice enough to the person who was trying to score points off of taking me down? Did I tweet about other people enough, do I feel less lonely now, do you understand me and my world even a little bit, did I communicate how good I was, and does everyone believe me yet?

 

See? I haven’t really changed at all. 

 

In my real life, it has been a very hard summer. I cannot write about some of the reasons why, but the ones that I can are enough. People are struggling, everywhere. There is fear and hatred in the air, in our news and in our hearts. We keep hearing the bad news, so we try to keep celebrating the good. We make cupcakes for homework club, we harvest the cherry tomatoes we planted, we drink tea in the homes of people who have survived far more than us and we let the gratefulness rub off on our skins. We say goodbye to people who move due to sickness and lack of money and no one to care for them. We walk past the memorial for the young man who was killed across the street from us, a black teenager was run down and murdered by a white man with hatred in his heart. My daughter asks what the balloons and the writing scrawled on the wall of the 7-11 means and I don’t want to tell her but I have to. I have to because this is where we all live, this country in where this happens. 

 

 

I love the process of writing, I really do. It’s natural for me—a constant whirl of thoughts inside my head, getting them down and trying to find the common threads within. This is a joy and a gift that I never knew I would need so badly. I also like the thrill of getting picked for publication. The moment the editor writes you back and says “yes, we want this.” That feels good for a few moments, and I exult in front of my computer screen, affirmed that what I do is accessible to others. But the other parts—the publication, the waiting for people to respond, building a platform, the constant dance of keeping a thick skin and a thin heart—it wears on me so. I used to approach social media with the idea that I wanted to connect with others, that I wanted to be less lonely. Now, I am trying to sell books. Now, I am trying to sell you a version of myself. I feel the pressure to tone it down and kick it up a notch. Communicate the mystery of the kingdom of God and do it in 144 characters. Speak up and be quiet. Pick your lane and run in it, run as fast as you can. But the lane I find myself in now is one I never envisioned for myself. I am surrounded by refugees, by people experiencing poverty, by a neighborhood in the throes of gentrification, in a city stuck in a moral dilemma. And I have tried and tried and tried, but I can’t help but notice everything. I can’t help but pay attention, and want you to see it all too. 

 

 

The day my book released I felt very calm and detached, very zen. That lasted for three whole days (and they were great days!). So many people said nice things, I felt so supported. Then came the inevitable after-Christmas feeling, the letdown. Then the crippling insecurity, the anxiety attacks, the trouble sleeping at night, the paralyzing fear of moving forward, the vows to never write again. Oh my word I am sounding like a freaking Anne Lamott version 2.0 over here but I have to be honest: all that neurotic stuff is totally, completely true. Luckily for me, life moves on. I am dealing with myself. I pray over my children at night, that we would learn to be kind to others and kind to ourselves. 

Change is in the air, I can feel it. We are buying a house around the corner from our apartment complex. My daughter starts first grade at the local elementary school tomorrow. I am writing a few things again. I am trying to help get a refugee welcome center off the ground. People are moving away, and new people will move in. The stories will continue to pile their way inside my heart. I will never not pay attention. 

And yet the days will continue on as they are. I will go to the library and a woman will turn to me, bursting with pride at all the books her son is checking out “can you believe how much he reads? Always has his nose in a book, this one.” And the boy will hold up two plastic bags full of books, proudly telling me he got most of them from the shelter where they are staying. And together the boy and his mother will walk out of the library, back into the real world, which is so cruel and so punishing to those who aren’t at the top. And I will be left standing in the library with my soft heart and my wet eyes, wondering what I ever did to deserve this ministry of rubbing shoulders with another world, this ministry of trying to explain just the tiniest bit to those who want to sit down and listen with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 it's totally ok to eat your feelings. #theministryoffunfetti #thecommitmenttocelebration

it's totally ok to eat your feelings. #theministryoffunfetti #thecommitmenttocelebration

 

Thank you so much to everyone who has emailed, tweeted, commented on instagram . . . all of your feedback means the world to me. I love hearing from you!

 

(For those who are new to this space . . . here's a link to the book I was talking about). 

The Commitment to Celebration (Book Bonanza Edition)

So, I’m not sure if you all heard or not--but I wrote a book! And it was released last Tuesday!

 

There are a lot of things I could say about this process, and I am not quite sure where to start. Of course I am grateful for the opportunity, and I am so touched by every kind word and comment, and I feel some measure of accomplishment, and I am relieved to have it out in the world. But (true to my nature) for every positive feeling there is an equal and opposite reaction: I wish publishing didn’t favor people like me (white, dominant culture), I have received criticism that is both fair and not (which def takes the wind out of my sails), and I am very wary of being put in a position of being an expert on anything.

So many of my writer friends talk about wanting to hide under the covers in the weeks post-book-release. I never understood that until just this moment (I hit a wall three days after publication and am still trying to recover). I have a vulnerability hangover, people. I am sure I will recover soon. In the meantime, my actual life of care-taking and neighborliness and activism is still just as great and as exhausting as ever. The people I am surrounded by for the most part do not care that I wrote a book (except my husband. He is very, very proud. It’s adorable).

 at my book launch party, the snacks were very On Brand.

at my book launch party, the snacks were very On Brand.

 

Still, it’s both necessary and a pleasure to make a commitment to celebrate this momentous time. To that point, my friends and my readers have been amazing. I asked a few of my favorite writers/people to write down reflections they had after reading the book, specifically in a few areas:

 

1). What is your favorite unrecognized ministry?

 

2). How did you use to want to change the world? How do you view yourself now?

 

I’m going to link to all the posts right here, but I would love to hear from more of you! Please feel free to leave a comment on this post (or link to a blog).

 

Without further ado, here are some thoughts from some of my favorite people:

 

Michaela Evanow "The Ministry of Meal Making"

 

Amy Peterson "The Ministry of Reading Aloud"

 

Kevin Hargaden "We were just Sitting there Talking When . . ."

 

Christie Purifoy "The Ministry of Flowers"

 

Addie Zierman "The Small, Ordinary Ways we are Changing the World"

 

Marilyn Gardner "Small Things for the Kingdom"

 

Abby Norman "The Ministry of a Messy House"

 

Jessica Goudeau "The Ministry of Keeping Vigil"

 

Shannan Martin "The Important Poverty of Enough"

 

Stina KC "The Ministry of the YMCA"

 

Christiana Peterson "The Unrecognized Ministry of Listening"

 

Lori Harris "That Time We Thought We Assimilated"

 

Tanya Marlow "For Every Wannabe Missionary"


 

A few more links:

 

I have two separate essays about food and interacting with my refugee neighbors (both of these themes are very big in my life, obviously).

 

For Off the Page I wrote this (on despair and resilience in the face of so much being wrong in our world): Staring into the Sun. (Off the page also did an interview with me AND published an excerpt of my book! They are awesome!)

 

For Her.meneutics I wrote about my obsession with the Great British Baking Show and how it points to the importance of interdependence in a fractured world: Let Them Bake Cakes.

 

And here’s two other interviews I did: one for Sarah Quezada at A Life With Subtitles and one for Upright Magazine about Nurturing Craft in an Age of Content.

 

Here’s a link to a podcast I recorded with Matt Mooney.

 

Finally, if you are in the Portland area, make sure to come out to Powell’s on Wednesday night at 7:30 for my book reading/signing. Can you say life goals achieved???


 

WHEW.

 

Now I’m off to indulge in the ministry of coffee, baby snuggles, and reading all of the lovely and kind things so many of you have said. Thanks to all who have shared about the book and who reviewed it for Goodreads and for Amazon (keep em coming!) and who have taken pictures of it out in the wild. I am treasuring this all up, and I will never forget it.



A Visible Life (Or, an Update on That Brutally Honest Christmas Card)

 

You know things are better when not all the sad songs seem to apply directly to your life.

 

It’s been about 6 months since I wrote my brutally honest Christmas card, which astounded me with how it seemed to resonate with so many. But I shouldn’t really be surprised, since the walking wounded is my tribe and my family, since I live surrounded by survivors of the very worst situations the world has to offer. Six months ago I was still in the trenches of a darkly gray fog—call it PPD, or PTSD, or Secondary Trauma, or just plain old grief at processing so many transitions in such a short amount of time—whatever it was, I had it. And each morning I woke up knowing it was still there, sometimes a friendly little Gollum, sometimes an oppressive weight that I prayed aloud against. Sadness became a part of me, and the hardest part was wondering if it would ever go away.

I stopped having panic attacks, eventually. I went to see a counselor for a few months. I took low doses of a medication to help me sleep and to also combat depression. I watched Tom Hanks movies like my life depended on it. I trained and completed a half marathon, letting my thoughts wander wherever they wanted to go. I did not hang out with a lot of people, because it was very hard for me to pretend I was OK, to talk about kids and jobs and whatever else I thought was expected of me. I wanted to be intense and quiet and a little rebellious. 

I hated my new neighborhood, but tried hard to fight that feeling. I slowly found a sense of solidarity with it instead. As it turns out, depression, coupled with having young kids and zero dollars, is one of the best ways to get to know your new neighborhood. We took walks, we hung around, we never went anywhere, because there was nowhere cool to go (plus, someone would have been in tears anyways). Slowly, we started to recognize people, and they recognized us. We got a sense of the layout, of the atmosphere, we learned things that you can only learn by staying put and being quiet. Even though it was a burned-our suburb, the new face of poverty in America (payday loans and 7-11’s being some of the only stores within walking distance)—I started to try harder to look for the good. Mexican food, I decided, along with the incredible view of Mt. Hood. Tacos and a great view of the mountains. Lift your eyes up to the heavens, then lower them down to your plate. Say thank you, and eventually you will mean it.

Things have simmered down emotionally, but it is not perfect. I get thrown back into chaos over simple things: reading a story of a missionary trying to do good, for instance, or by the thought of my baby getting his shots next week. These moments of irrationality (I am no longer doing anything of value with my life! I don’t want my baby to get sick and die!) remind me that I am not in control. And in my own small way I am grateful for that reminder. Because control itself is a big fat lie, one that I will have to keep beating back with all of my worth if I am to make something of this chaotic, delicious existence. None of us could ever really be rich enough or safe enough or praised enough to satiate us. No, we have other, much deeper wells we need to be digging.

A few months ago, we started helping out at the homework club our friend and neighbor started. The kids are wild and scrumptious, all over the map scholastically, and when it is sunny they play soccer in the busy parking lot because there is nowhere else to go. I started an English class, really an excuse to meet people and to help them meet each other. It’s like a little gathering of the United Nations, we are a map of people from the most war-torn countries you have read about in the newspapers. The troubles of surviving pile up in front of me as people tell me their stories and situations and I feel the old temptation to despair. But how disrespectful would that be, to wallow in sadness when their bright eyes are in front of me, wanting to learn and change and grow and thrive. I learn from them, is the cliche thing I am trying to say. I learn how to get better, because every day I see it modeled in front of me.

I can feel it, like the changing of a season. I am entering into a new phase of life. I feel incredibly visible, like I am living in a fishbowl. Now that we know people, if we step outside our back door into the communal courtyard the interactions are immediate: women inviting me over for tea, women waving from the balconies, commenting on my appearance, children wanting to play with my daughter or eat the few tiny strawberries we are growing. I feel like I am living in the Oregon (and happier) version of a Ferrante novel, everyone living life in the sight of each other. I try and wear long, baggy clothes, conscious of my mostly-Muslim neighbors. Our small little prayer time that we hold weekly is growing, slowly. We say the same words to each other, every week, as we share the joys and sorrows of our lives: O Lord let my soul rise up to meet you, as the day rises to meet the sun. Every day, every morning, every week. Look for the mercies, they are new every morning, even if they are surrounded on all sides by lamentations. 

I also wrote a book, and copies are making their way into the hands of reviewers and endorsers, and soon enough—to your hands too. It’s a different way of being visible, and I am not quite sure what to do because I don’t live next door to you. My story, my thoughts, my neighborhoods and how they have changed me—they will all be laid bare before anyone who wants to judge. But instead of focusing on that, and my fears and insecurities, my pride and my hubris, I am trying to look for the good. And that, as always, is connecting with others through our hearts. Connecting with others who wanted to change the world, or thought they did, or thought that in some small way they could make it all better and possibly convince God to love them just a little bit more. 

I have some exciting things coming up in the next few months, podcasts and articles and giveaways and blog series. I’m going to be preparing to send the book of my heart into the world, and I look forward to hearing from those who read it. To all who have been with me on this journey—from the beginning, or maybe just from last week—I am so grateful. You have been a part of helping me heal in a way, as well. You continue to help me move forward, and you show me that it is possible to love neighbors both near and far.

 

 

 

Also, if you pre-order the book now it is currently on Amazon for a little over ten dollars. Get it!

Here is what one of my literary heros, Kyle Minor, has to say about it:

As always, if you would like updates and/or links to places I have written or spoken in the past month, please sign up for my newsletter. I will be sending out a juicy one soon!

 

 

 

thirty-two and rock'n this 'do

 I feel bad that everyone can't have as cool of sisters as I do. my younger sister especially is amazing at creating custom birthday hashtags.

I feel bad that everyone can't have as cool of sisters as I do. my younger sister especially is amazing at creating custom birthday hashtags.

 

Both of my children are sick today. Sick enough to be cranky and not go to school, but not sick enough to take long naps. In our personal lives, huge upheavals are happening. We trust the end outcomes will be good, but in the meantime it is unbelievably painful. I just finished the copy edits for my book, and I feel incredibly vulnerable. The negative self-talk has reached a fever-pitch, and I truly wonder why anyone signs up for this. Why do I feel such a compulsion to write down as honestly as I can everything I am noticing around me? Reading this final manuscript, I have to confront a few truths about myself. I am not a funny, empowering Jen Hatmaker type. I am not a gorgeous, literary ethnographer like Chris Hoke. I am not a hard-hitting investigative reporter like Barbara Ehrenreich. I am not a contemplative academic artist like Kathleen Norris. I do not inspire like Shane Claiborne or gently instruct like Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove. Instead, I am a complete and utter mess. 

 

But perhaps my only saving grace is that I tried very hard to be honest about that.

 

//

 

I used to love writing birthday posts, I used to love having themes for the year, I used to love picking out one Scripture to give me focus and inspiration, I used to love the centering practice of being intentional about the next 12 months, of reflecting on who I am and where I have come from and what lies ahead.

 

Now it’s just another day, except it’s a day where I make myself a cake (a Funfetti poke cake, if you must know). It’s another day to kick anxiety to the curb. Another day to say “Not Today, Satan!” (my current favorite phrase). Another day to listen to Rain for Roots sing about the parables (I think it says something right now that I need songs about God that are crafted for children; I am trying so hard to have more of a child-like faith). Another day to marvel at my husband, such a magnificent creature that he is. Another day to kiss my babies and make sure they don’t eat too much sugar or stick their fingers in the electrical outlets. 

 

I’m 32 now, and in the past year I: quit two jobs, had a baby, almost died, moved across the country, developed depression and an anxiety disorder, settled into yet another low-income apartment complex comprised mainly of refugees, edited and revised a book about myself. So . . . that is a lot of stuff, and I can recognize it as such. The upcoming year seems a bit blurry to me. I will get to do a little bit of travel again, I’m gonna run a half marathon in 2 weeks, I’m going to do pursue the weird blend of activism/charismatic ministry/radical vulnerability/relational presence or whatever it is that I do and try to not worry so hard about whether or not others are doing it too. I’m going to try and repent of judgement more often, and care less what other people think of me. 

 

So I don’t have a verse or a plan or a theme for this next year. I still feel worried about it, truth be told. But I do have this picture that my husband took of the tree right outside our door. I have this symbol of so many things I wish for myself and for others, that we can bloom where we are planted, no matter where that place might be. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s to the next year. I hope we all get to see some blossoms. 

 

 

 

 

The long (busy) December

 

 

 amazing illustration by Cristina Byvik for Vox

amazing illustration by Cristina Byvik for Vox

 

 

Happy 2016, y'all. As you all know, 2015 was not the kindest year to us (and true to form, on New Year's Eve I found myself at both the DMV and at the dentist due to a dental emergency. Good riddance to that year!). 2016 is going to be all about our new normal, dealing with anxiety (several members in our family get anxious due to change), slowly building on the foundations we have been working on for some time now. We want to work on beating back the blues and getting out of the apartment. We want to invest in our neighbors and community, which might look like starting ESL classes and attending the "failing" elementary school and/or sampling every single taco to be had within a mile radius. Who knows! I am entering into this year fragile and determined, aware as ever that the Spirit of God is wild and weird and never meant to be cooped up in a room of people who all look and think and act the same. We are all supposed to be bringing that weirdness out into the world, wherever we may be.

Soooooo, December was real weird. I wrote a post during nap time and it went viral (well, viral for me). Over 500,000 views and 300+ comments. What the what? (Of course, it was one of the few posts where I posted pics of my husband/kids. Naturally!). Thank you all who read it, identified with it, shared it, and shared your own experiences. I am gratified and also feel pretty sorrowful that so many could relate. Then Vox.com had the awesome idea to illustrate the piece and the results were amazing. Merry Christmas to me!

I also published a bunch of other stuff in December. Like a piece on Hallmark Christmas Movies (which is also about cultural elitism/classism). Or this piece (which was super fun to write--both deadly serious and completely not) on who the *real* protagonist of Home Alone is. I also wrote about how we don't do Santa in our family (but I do feel conflicted about it). I then wrote a pretty serious piece about racism and violence against black bodies (with an underlying theme of how the Pacific NW is more a place of exclusion than it is out-and-out oppression). And lastly, I helped Christ and Pop Culture decide what our favorite 25 things of the year were. This list is awesome, all over the map, and genuinely diverse (POC! Women! Books Galore!). I wrote the blurb for our #2 pick, and if you want to hear me get feisty about things like Russell Moore and Mad Max, you can listen to the deliberations podcasts here (number 1 and number 2).

And finally, 2016 is going to be the year of the book (official title: Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith). I'm starting a once-a-month newsletter where I will update you on the book (cover designs, excerpts, probably some sort of cool printable or something), link to various publications (like I just did up there) and end with whatever is making me happy at that moment (a la Pop Culture Happy Hour). I'd be so pleased if you would sign up!

 

Thanks again to everyone for reading along! It means more than I can say. 

 

update city

 

 

 how we be rollin' these days

how we be rollin' these days

 

 

heyo. A few things have happened in my real life that has made it hard to update you all about my writing life. But for now I am sitting in a house (housesitting) while my baby naps and my 4 year old watches Spongebob, so I may as well do it now. 

 

1. Firstly, for the month of July I had the incredible honor of being Image Journal's Artist of the month. Seriously, the nice things they said about me almost made me cry. They also re-designed their website and it is AMAZING. Plus, they went ahead and made their content more accesible, so if you never got the chance to read what I wrote for them, now is the time! Be warned: this particular essay is probably one of the bleakest I have ever written, and in a sense I was trying to explain what it means to burn out AS you are burning out in a literary fashion. Anyways, here is a link to that piece: The Rule of Life.

 

2. Secondly, I also had the honor of receiving the VanderMey NonFiction prize from Ruminate Magazine. If you have never heard of Ruminate, you might want to remedy that right now. It is an absolutely gorgeous journal, chock full of art and poetry and a bit of prose, and it feels incredibly fresh and awake to me. If you only had the choice to subscribe to a few journals, I would put this in the top of your list. 

Anyways, I submitted an essay to their non-fiction contest and in return got some lovely words from none other than Scott Russell Sanders himself (squee!). Which just goes to show: submit, submit, submit! While you can't read the essay online, you can buy PDF versions of the journal for the bargain price of $5

 

3. Thirdly I, like everyone else in the world, wrote about Harper Lee's new book Go Set A Watchman. I had a bit of a controversial take on it (spoiler: I think GSAW was her original intent all along). You can go on over to The Curator to read the rest

 

4.  And lastly, I wrote an intense little piece about Cosby, Dr. Dobson, and not raising polite kids over at Christ and Pop Culture. I have to be honest and say I did not think this essay would blow up like it would, but so far it seems to be resonating with a lot of people. You can go on over and read it here

 

 

Well, when I type it all out it certainly gives me the illusion that I have been productive in spite of living out of a suitcase for the past month or so. Even though our car broke down (for good) and we don't have jobs yet, things are looking up for the ol' Mayfields. We move into an apartment on Wednesday and I am sure at some point I will tell you all about it. I just can't seem to help myself.

 

 

 

 

notes from a place of transition

This is just going to be a regular-old life update post. Nothing fancy. Nothing edited.

 

Life is full of transition. I say that from my bed, surrounded by messy piles of books and clothes and my cat curled up by my feet. On Friday my doctor told me to get a little more comfortable with hanging out here—modified bed rest as it were—and it’s hard to process the mixed emotions. The past week I have been feeling the symptoms of HELLP creeping back in—the fatigue, the swelling—and my blood pressure is up, borderline worrisome. But it could all be nothing, it could all go away, or it could be something, it could progress slowly or quickly, nothing to do but wait and try and be calm, take it day by day. I do not like taking it day to day. I would like to have a plan. I am 32 weeks along. 

I am so lucky. I did just quit my job, so I have that added space now. I can read books, listen to podcasts, play with my daughter, I have a very supportive husband. I can still do a lot, I just have to take it a bit easier. But then—my mind starts to get away from me. I need to get the house ready. I need to get baby stuff. I need to pack my hospital bag. There is a very good chance we will have a preemie again, and perhaps I need to spend some time thinking about this. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to remember getting sick, the breastfeeding struggles, the hospital time. Little things like remembering why my own daughter never co-slept with us—I couldn’t seem to remember why she slept in her own crib from day one back at home. Then last night I realized: it was because she spent her first two weeks in the make-shift NICU, and got very used to being put down on a flat surface and going to sleep on her own. I don't want my next baby to be so used to that, to not want to be rocked to sleep. 

And there are other transitions, too. This summer we will be leaving our organization, InnerCHANGE, and moving back to Portland. It’s a natural ending place, the end of our 3-year commitment. I have known since December, and I have great peace about it. But why oh why does this place have to be so beautiful, so sparkling, a place both of crushed and revitalized dreams? We are heading off to keep doing what we have been doing all along—a bit wiser for the wear, thankful for all we have been gifted here. I have cried, a lot. I dream of retiring in the towers where I teach. But for now, we are called back to our families and communities and churches where our roots are. We want to be planted, and we need to be honest about where that can actually happen.

We know the neighborhood where we are moving (technically a suburb of Portland) and it’s the place where all the fun stuff (as we like to call it) goes down. It’s the Portland you don’t see on Portlandia, is another way to put it. Portland, as close to a home as I will ever get, is one of the silliest, saddest, least-diverse cities in America. The battles of gentrification happening are a microcosm of where poverty in America is headed—pushed outside of the inner-city, people are forced to move farther and farther into the suburbs, where lack of infrastructure (busses, etc) and social services makes it even harder to thrive. I love Portland, but I long to see her change, to really see what’s happening in the underbelly, in the other America. 

We don’t know exactly where we will live, however, but are pretty sure it will be apartments. We don’t know what jobs we will work at but we know that we are done raising support. We are so, so happy that we have no clue as to what exactly we will be doing, what our ministry will be, how will we explain it to others. We are so glad that we know nothing, that we are finally learning the skill set of moving in and being quiet, of letting a place teach us, of moving into a neighborhood for our needs and in pursuit of our own vocations and joys. We are excited to continue to learn to see where God is already at work, to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet.

But still: that is a whole dang lot of transition. I sit on my bed and try to contemplate it all but I can’t. I think about the past almost-3-years, the lessons we have learned about community and simplicity and service and celebration. I think about my present, how currently it could change day-to-day. I think about the future, a gray blur of hope and anxiety with a strong shot of peace. So many lovelies we are leaving. So many we are moving towards. It just isn’t fair, the trauma involved with loving people, of being loved by them. But still we do it.

We move into neighborhoods far from where we grew up, we have babies even when there is risk, we clutch our disappointments and our joys and we sally forth not into the life or the community or the birth experience we always wanted but the one we actually have. And we trust, we trust, we trust, that it is all being made new.

 

For those along for the journey with us, we are so thankful. 

 

 

 

Writing Round-Up: March Edition

I'm having a smashing good March, which is exciting. Right before my birthday we went on a little family vacation to Chicago, a city I had formerly only been to on business (shhhh, don't tell anyone but I used to sell beauty products in convention centers on the weekends all over America when I was in college. I was very bad at it). We did it up in our original style, which was cheap and fun. For people with kids who don't enjoy all sleeping in the same room as each other I highly recommend finding an airbnb place in a more colorful part of town. Cheaper, you get your own parking spot, and it feels much more legit. We also found $4 drive-thru gyro's which were delicious, found an out-the-way lebanese restaurant (we left entirely stuffed for $10) had chocolate cake milkshakes, took in a few museums, and made much use of the free conservatories and zoo. 

My birthday was lovely and now my parents are in town, spoiling both my daughter and myself rotten. I am slowly starting to feel better about my health and am realizing I really might have a full fat and happy full-term baby this time. As per my lenten discipline, I am exercising every day and while it doesn't affect my weight it sure does affect my mood. I have one more week of teaching (sob!)  and then I will get on to the business of hanging out with people and nesting (which, in my case, involves Konmari-ing everything to my great satisfaction). Yep, looks like everything is coming up D.L. these days. I am sure the sunshine and occasional 60 degree days have absolutely nothing to do with my cheerier mood. 

 

 

Anyhow, I had a few pieces go up over the past few week which I wanted to highlight here.

 

 

1. The first is one I worked really hard on--and as many writer's know, the ones we love the best often land with a thud. This essay was no different! I don't think anyone even read it, but I don't care. I went to the Minnesota State Fair last August and had a great and terrible time. This state really is so weird and so diverse and chock full of so many contradictions (Minnesota Nice/Minnesota Ice is REAL people). I'm still just an observer, taking it all in. It doesn't help my feelings of confusion that I definetly live in a neighborhood/context where it doesn't actually feel like I live in Minnesota at all (I have one, ONE friend who has the blessed MN accent). Anyways, here is the beginning:

The girl is wearing a tie-dyed shirt, comfortable jeans, her curly brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. Perched on a stool next to the calf in his pen, she is telling us how to get a cow to give birth at the Minnesota State Fair. It takes careful planning, especially if you plan to do it year after year. Here, in this barn, this girl is a star. Here, in this barn, we are witnesses to what she experiences every day: the rustling hay and the stink of animals, the sensible shoes and the awkward teenagers who water the animals. She is sitting on a stool, and she is talking about a cow she owns that has given birth here, at the State Fair, over thirteen times. That kind of cow, she says to everyone and no one in particular, that kind of cow is only good for ground beef. You can’t get any good steaks out of a cow that has had thirteen calves. I am staring at the white paper attached to the calf’s pen that describes when he was born (less than twenty-four hours ago, here in this barn) and his name: Ferdinand. I think: sometimes I eat ground beef.

I wander past Ferdinand to the larger pen just to the left of him. There is a large black-and-white spotted cow lying down, sides heaving. There are people milling everywhere, pressed around the sides of the large pen. There is a small set of bleachers, a mini grandstand to watch the action. And indeed, that is why everyone is here. This is the Minnesota State Fair, and this is the Miracle of Birth barn. There are flat screen TVs hanging from the barn ceilings, a loop of sticky legs and hooves and heads being pulled out of various birth canals. A gangly boy sees me and my friend hovering by the sheep pen. I suppose you want to pet one, he says, and hoists up a two-day-old baby lamb for us to fall all over, rubbing the soft ears. What kind of life is this little guy destined for? I ask him. He says something about wool and being used for breeding. At six months old, this little lamb (name tag: Cosette) can start having lambs of her own, over and over again for as long as she is able. As we leave the barn, my friend Jen whispers to me:Imagine that kind of life. Jen is a successful doctor, a resident of Minnesota, friendly and welcoming and always sporting the nicest smile. She is also a vegetarian, a self-proclaimed “nutrition freak,” and greatly interested in democratic politics. We are here because we are interested in the absurdities of this great state, this great nation, this great fair. We go, we eat, and we are blessed.

You can read the rest of the essay, The Sermon On the Plain, over at The Other Journal.

 

2. I wrote about trying to drag my child to the aquarium in Chicago and my ensuing realizations about both being and having a highly sensitive child. In retrospect, I just think my parents were super awesome and tried hard to listen to me--even as we lived a pretty transitory, certainly not-easy life. As I see our path spread out before us I see some similarities in my daughter's life, and the older she gets the more difficult it might be to explain our life choices (plus the amount of loss in regards to relationships one experiences when living in chaotic, under-resourced neighborhoods). Anyways, I am continuing on in my Anne Lamott renaissance and she did not let me down in this instance. Here is the beginning of the piece:

 

Recently I found myself engaged in another maddening conversation with my four-year old daughter. We were discussing the aquarium we were going to visit the next day. She wrinkled her nose and pronounced that she wouldn’t go.

“Why?” I asked, more than a little impatient.

“What if there are sharks? What if there are eels?”

I assured her that we would keep her safe.

“No,” she said, firmly. “I am not going to the aquarium.”

“Yes,” I said, “you are,” thinking of the tickets we’d already purchased and out-of-town friends we’d meet there.

She cried and flung herself onto the couch. “But the sharks! But the eels!”

I had no pity. My heart was a steel trap of already-made plans.

My daughter has a history of fixating on small worries in her life—every night there was a book or a toy I needed to take away, and so many questions about death and existentialism that I’m unprepared for. As she wades deeper into an awareness of life, I just try to get us through as best as I can.

And I really wanted to go to this damn aquarium.

 

Read the rest of the essay over at Good Letters. 

 

 

And I think that is all for today. Have a happy Friday, and as always, thanks for reading along with me. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A round-up, of sorts

 

So, I keep forgetting to post things here that I have written in other places. If you have some time this weekend for reading, here are a few pieces I have published (plus a very special essay by a friend that I implore you to read). 

 

1. A Review of On Immunity by Eula Biss

This review (done for Books and Culture) turned out to be more timely than I could have imagined (measles outbreak, anyone?) The thing I appreciate about Biss more than anything is the fact that she has so much compassion and empathy and understands why parents fear vaccinations, but she also lays out the case for how harmful individualized choices are for the community. As someone who has always felt uneasy about vaccinations (yet I got them on schedule for my daughter) this book put me solidly in the camp of pro-vaccines due to what my theology of interconnectedness already is. For those who are similarly in a middle-ground place, this is a smart, compelling, lovely read that forces us to consider how much we do or do not love our neighbors (in a myriad of ways). 

Here is the beginning of the review:

 

 

"Reading On Immunity: An Inoculation, I am unprepared to be plunged back into the high drama of first motherhood: the sleepless nights, the endless internet articles sent by earnest and well-meaning friends, the googling of symptoms, that sensation of closing the laptop with a deep unease in my stomach. I suddenly remember my daughter, six months old, happily splashing in her baby bathtub as I hovered over her. I remember vague recollections of an article where Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo had been linked to chemicals which might cause cancer. I remember absorbing the information, adding it to the litany of cautions and chastisements that had begun the moment I had learned I was pregnant. Watching my daughter gleefully slap and smash the bubbles, I felt a deep despair settle over me, staring at that tell-tale yellow bottle. Of course we, and everyone else we knew, used Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo. It was the cheapest one available. We were living in low-income housing, surrounded by families hovering near the poverty line. I watched my daughter play in her bath, both frightened and paralyzed by all that I knew. I chose to comfort myself with the blackest of thoughts. Well, if my daughter gets cancer, at least she will get cancer with all of the other poor children. I told this to my husband, wild with futility. He gently suggested that perhaps I needed to take a break from reading articles on the internet.

As Eula Biss would point out, I am but one of a slew of mothers who are trying to outrun the fears of our age. My desire to protect, to love, to nurture, to make all the right informed decisions, can be traced back to the mother of Achilles, who dipped her own baby into the River Styx in order to protect him from harm. On the cover of On Immunity, we see the mother, holding her upside-down fat cherub of a child. We see her fingers grasped around his heel, preparing to dip him into immortality. We know, of course, how this story ends. How the very place she clutches her child will, in the end, cause his undoing.

Biss takes this as her starting point in a book that is not neatly categorizable. It is a book about Achilles’ mother, and it is a book about current Western obsessions with self-preservation, especially in regard to our own children. Using vaccines as a metaphor for our fears, Biss writes a series of short, interconnected essays to highlight how—well, how very interconnected our fears, hopes, and bodies are. It is an argument for a very un-American view of science. It asks us to believe in myths, and it asks us to look at the preservation of an entire community instead of the individual."

Read the rest of the review here

 

 

2. A small piece of writing advice

I wrote a little bit about the best piece of writing advice I have heard in recent years over at Good Letters. If there is one faux pas of the novice (or experienced) writer that bugs me more than anything it is endless self-promotion without regard for the sharing the quality work of others. The second one would be when big name people pick on the little guys--this happened to me in a startling way this summer and I just couldn't figure out why famous people would feel the need to quash someone so obviously less-established, and in a very offhand way at that (to be clear, definitely think that criticism plays a role in refining art, just not a fan of people taking a piss at others in order to feel good about themselves/their work/their views). Anyways, let's all take a moment to reflect on how we can be more generous in sharing the work of other creatives. Here is the beginning of the piece:

 

 

“'I want to write,' people often tell me, eager to talk about the myriad ways that this happens in our mysterious, internet-driven world.

Writing means different things to different folks: “I want to get published,” or “I want to be seen,” or “I want to be heard,” or “I want to change the world.” This last one, so full of hubris and hope, is especially dear to me, and the trap I fall into the easiest.

I try and encourage others the best I can, mindful of the journey I have been on, and how I am only at the beginning. But the best thing I can say to anyone who wants to write is this: you have to be a reader, and you have to be a generous one.

Writing was never a part of my plan A: at six years old I told my family I was going to be a missionary to Madagascar, and while the geography changed, the vocation remained. Over the past few years, the combination of my chaotic life coupled with a need to process led me to start writing, and I was astonished by the community and solidarity I began to discover."

 

Read the rest over at Good Letters here. 

 

 

3. A Guest Post

My friend Martyn is one of my favorite new writers. Everything he does is surprising--which ain't easy when you try and write for evangelicals. He writes a column for Christ and Pop Culture that basically has iconic status now, where he takes an object steeped in Christian culture and writes an essay that somehow always makes one ponder death and life and human fragility and resurrection. He is like super smart and has some sort of high-end philosophy degree. He is a shooting star, and I don't know where he will land. 

Anyways, he is getting married and asked for people to guest post for him for a bit so I wrote a little something about missionary maps (it's also very personal, which is par for the course for me I guess). Here's the start of the piece:

 

 

"The little blonde girl stands in the foyer, thick bangs in her eyes, and stares up at the large map of the world tacked to the wall of the church. At the top of the map it says that phrase she has heard her entire life: “Go Ye Into All the Earth and Create Disciples.” She reads it again.

“Go Ye.” She has memorized the shape of the continents; she knows a bit about most of them (the starving babies in Africa, the orphans in Russia, the communists in China, the shirtless cannibals in Southeast Asia); she knows all of their wants, both spiritual and material; she knows how much they need her. When will she grow, when will it be her time to go, when will all of those other verses she memorizes on Wednesday nights to get fake plastic jewels in her fake plastic AWANA crowns apply to her?

Blessed are the feet of those who bring the good news. She looks down at her own feet, clad in scuffed Mary Janes. She looks at the map again. There are faces pasted all over, portraits of families and singles, spread wide over the earth. She cannot see the feet in most of the pictures, just the smiling faces, the nicely brushed hair, the polo shirts and khaki pants. The families with the multiple children, serving in the Congo, in Guatemala, in India. The young marrieds in Russia, in China. The single women, posing alone and strong, scattered all over the map.

“Go Ye,” says the sign above the map, and the young girl stares hard at the ones who were good enough to obey. It is easy enough for her to imagine her picture up there in a few years, her hair cut short and efficient, her blessed feet clad in sensible shoes. Perhaps she will be a Bible smuggler, or an orphanage director, or an open-air preacher in the refugee camps. Her dreams fill up the map; she is not called to one specific area. She wants to live everywhere, do all the important work, save all the souls."

 

You can read the rest of the piece here. And be sure to check out the other columns!

 

 

4. The Proper Weight of Fear

Now, I did not write this next piece but my good friend Rachel Pieh Jones did and it is stunning--so stunning, that I wanted to make sure I shared it with all of you. Rachel lives in Djibouti and lives the most fascinating, authentic life. My life is very far away from hers yet we are connected in so many ways (the apartments she writes about living in Minneapolis, where she first met all her Somali friends, is where I currently teach). It is a great look into the culture and climate of Somalia too, for those of you who are interested (or obsessed, like myself). It is a long, lush read, so I suggest taking some time this weekend to sit down with a cup of coffee and savoring it. Here's the beginning of the piece:

 

"As soon as the Jubba Airways plane lands I fold in on myself. I tug on my black scarf with fringes and a maroon hem, settle it over the masar that already tightly conceals my curly blond hair. I defer to my husband. I disembark behind him. I keep my eyes on the ground. I don’t smile at the immigration officer, make small talk, or even look at the Somali man with the power to deny me entry. I’ve been here before, to Somaliland, done these things before.

So when the woman behind me presses her large purse with the gaudy gold buckle and her massive breasts into my back in a futile attempt at moving forward in line, I press back. I speak in a voice even more hushed than my normally quiet voice. I notice the color of my ankles, peachy beige, and the way they flash, scandalously, if the wind blows just so and lifts my long black dress.

The first time I landed in Hargeisa was in 2003. Less than a year later my family was part of an evacuation of all foreigners, after three expatriates were murdered.

Annalena Tonelli.

Richard Eyeington.

Enid Eyeington.

Annalena was shot in the head in the dirt lot outside her tuberculosis/HIV clinic in Boroma, a ten-minute walk from our house in the village that we referred to as the end of the earth. Her murder is still unsolved. Richard and Enid were English teachers in an even more remote village. Drive to Boroma and keep on driving, over the edge of the end of the earth, and you will find yourself in Sheikh. The couple was shot through the windows of their home there while watching television in the evening. Their murderer was put on death row, where he remains. I sometimes wonder who died first, if they knew what was happening, if they tried to grasp hands in the space between the living and the dying. Their maid found their bodies the next morning. The television was still on.

I never met the Eyeingtons but their death has shaped the past ten years of my life. I never met them but I attended their memorial service in Nairobi, Kenya. I wanted to memorialize what they had given to Somalia and what we all had lost. A life. A dream. Educating leaders in a country awkwardly and painfully pulling itself out of hell. I never met the Eyeingtons but I will never forget them."

 

 

You can read the rest of Rachel's piece over at The Big Roundtable. 

 

 

So that's it. Have a great weekend, everyone. I am going to take my daughter swimming for the first time this winter and then spend my weekend in a training learning how to work with traumatized people. You know, like you do. 

 

 

Another Post On Advent

 

The last thing the world needs is another depthless post on Advent. This doesn't mean our world doesn't need a bit of good news about light entering into the darkness--no, we sure could still use that. But we surely don't need another post yammering on about expectation and longing, all self-contained and individualized, ignoring the fact that a large portion of humanity is suffering terribly right now--that people are hungry for freedom and justice, ready for the systems of oppression to fall now. All people have to lose is their chains. And they are tired of waiting.

//

I had the absolute privilege to hear Dr. William Barber preach a sermon. Me, white girl from the NW, sitting in front of the leader of the Moral Mondays civil resistance movement, a man who so believes in Jesus--that he came to preach good news to the poor, the sick, and the sad--that he he cannot stop preaching--even when he is the general assembly for the state of North Carolina and it gets him arrested. 

Dr. Barber pointed out that the birth of Jesus involves mourning. Not just holy longing, but gasping, painful sorrow. Matthew 2 quotes Jeremiah:

 

“A voice was heard in Ramah,

weeping and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be comforted,

because they are no more.”

 

This isn't the song we like to sing at Christmas, but it is one that too many already know by heart. It is hard for me not to think of Trayvon, Mike Brown, Eric Garner in this words. It is hard for me not to think of all of my refugee friends, so many of their families devastated by war and death. So many people in our churches and communities with empty seats at the table--people taken from us by addictions, broken relationships, unjust systems, or the plain old evil of death. 

 

For so many people, they are living in Ramah, that is their reality. And this Advent, they are never far from my mind.

 

All of these things and more have made it impossible for me to just write another post about Advent. So instead I wrote about how tired I am of waiting, and what my Somali friends have taught me in regards to this. Click on over to read it. 

 

 

Thanksgiving (part 2)

This summer while doing research for a book review I stumbled upon one of the most famous documentaries of the last decade, called A Harvest of Shame. My husband and I watched, astonished at how powerful and intense it was. The documentary also made me rush back to re-read one of my top five books ever, Children in Crisis by Robert Coles. In it, he has an entire section devoted to migrant children (and their parents). Here is a (long) quote from that section:  

“Somehow, then, we come to terms with them, the wretched of the American earth. We do so each in his or her own way. We ignore them. We shun them. We claim ignorance of them. We declare ourselves helpless before their problems. We say they deserve what they get, or they don’t deserve better—if only they would go demand it. We say things are complicated, hard to change, stubbornly unyielding. We say progress is coming, has even come now, will come in the future. We say (in a pinch) that yes, it is awful—but so have others found life: awful mean, harsh, cruel, and a lot of other words. And finally we say yes, it is awful—but so awful that those who live under such circumstances are redeemed, not later in heaven, as many of them believe, but right here on earth, where they become by virtue of extreme hardship a kind of elect . . . I have many times extolled these [migrant] children and their people—extolled them all almost to heaven, where I suppose I also believe they will eventually and at last get their reward, and where, by the way, they will be out of my way, out of my mind, which balks at speaking what it nevertheless must be said about how utterly, perhaps unspeakably devastating a migrant life can be for children." (201)

The conditions chronicled in Harvest of Shame remain virtually unchanged--we just have a different population working the fields now. As a season of feasting and abundance is nigh upon us, this is an excellent time to consider where our good fortunes are made. Can we put down our religious language and lofty idealism and consider the human cost of our broken world?

I can think of nothing better to do with your time (today, tomorrow, or on that most horrid day known colloquially as "Black Friday") as watching this documentary. Gather your friends and family and watch it together. And think about how the kingdom can come, and even now is coming, here on earth.

Here is the video:

 

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJTVF_dya7E]

 

 

 

I wrote more about this documentary for Red Letter Christians. Go on over to read it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing About Thanksgiving (Part 1)

Do you guys know the Enneagram test? I tend to think people who get waaaaay too into personality types can be a teensy bit boring, but there is something decidedly spiritual about the Enneagram. I think it is because it points us to our flaws just as much as it points to our strengths. Anyways, this was my Enneagram e-mail of the day (I'm a 4, by the way, if that means anything to you):  

Remember that your Direction of Stress is towards the Two, where you people-please, try to find needs to fulfill, and call attention to your good works. Is this showing up in you today?

 

Um, yes. Every damn day. And this especially comes out during the holidays, where I go into a zealous sort of overdrive, trying to cram goodwill into every thing I do. I think that this year marks the 10th or 11th time I have made a traditional (yet pared-down) Thanksgiving meal for refugee friends and neighbors.

Celebrating holidays is always such a mixed bag for me . . . this year it has come up more than others. It's just unbelievably difficult to celebrate holidays with a). people who don't celebrate your religion/culture and b). people for whom the holidays are the worst time of year and they just want to hibernate/drink/medicate until January 2nd. And that sums up a large chunk of our relationships--which causes me to constantly wonder who am I cooking this for for?

This year is no different. I went to the store and bought all of the supplies for the meal and I never know who will really show up. There is a large, lovely family of Kurdish refugees who we are friends with and we invited them over. In true Muslim hospitality, they then insisted that we come over to their place on Saturday for an epic 4+ hour feast (my daughter was in heaven, both because she loves Kurdish food/music but also because she got to watch cartoons and was surreptitiously fed pieces of candy all day). It was so relaxing and so wonderful and makes me feel very pitiful about my own awkward attempts at hospitality. I think they are coming over for Thanksgiving, but as they are quick to tell us--they don't like trying new foods or going to new places. Life is hard enough, and they prefer to eat their own foods on their own terms (one of the few things in life they can control). It has taken me years to get to this place, but I am trying to have open hands about it all. I am prepared for nobody to eat much this year, and it will be ok.

 

 

she waited patiently for 3 hours while the food cooked, and then she was ready to EAT.

 

All this to say: I did write about a Thanksgiving we had a few years ago and it is up today! I am super excited to tell you that I am going to be writing semi-regularly for the Good Letters blog (which is run by Image Journal). The company I will be writing with is . . . intimidating, to say the least. I think I will have a post up over there once or twice a month, and I will be sure to link here.

 

So head on over to read about my type 4 tendencies, hospitality, and the Day We Cooked the Big Chicken.

 

 

 

 

 

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