Happy Anniversary

This weekend my husband and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary. We kept it pretty low-key. Went out to eat one night, and then on The Day we went for an evening paddle in our canoe while my parents watched the kids. 

20200807_193539

My husband patiently held the canoe while I gingerly climbed in. I have yet to master the art of getting in and out of a canoe gracefully. I was sitting up front, he was behind me. He gave me some pointers on holding my paddle. I adjusted accordingly. We pointed out birds that we could see, fish jumping out of the water. There were many times that we were silent for so long that I half-wondered if my husband was still in the canoe. But, I could feel the tug and pull of his paddling as we sliced through the water. At one point in time, I felt him shifting around, getting a drink from the water bottle, and I was the only one paddling. Suddenly the canoe was barely moving, making it obvious to me that my paddling efforts were not really what was making us move. 

 

We went up the lake and found a creek that we explored a bit. The water narrowing, trees over top of us.

20200807_185750

Then the canoe started tipping back and forth and I could hear a scrabble behind me.

Long pause.

I finally asked, What are you doing? 

I’m trying to get rid of a spider.

The canoe stopped tipping. 

Another long pause. 

Then he says, He’s headed your way now. 

WHAT! 

Just how big a spider are we talking about??

 

Fortunately no spider attacked me. 

 

We ended our paddle peacefully. 

 

And I think about marriage. What do I say to my kids as they approach the age of where marriage is something to think about? 

 

I would say, marry someone that you can be silent with. Marry someone who’s willing to pull the weight of the canoe just cause they want to be with you, and they don’t care how bad you are at paddling. Marry someone whose company brings you peace and a feeling of safety and well-being. 

 

As I write this blog and smell the Chili burning on the stove, because I forgot I was cooking. As usual. I would also add, marry someone who will eat your burnt Chili without comment. 

 

Happy Anniversary My Love. 

You Don’t Belong Here

You don’t belong here. 

 

This has long been a theme in my life. As a white American child growing up in Haiti, I felt it, You don’t belong here. Even in Haiti among the different missionary groups, each group keeping to themselves, You don’t belong here. 

 

Living in Eastern Kentucky, attending a small country school with the name Esther Picazo. Every time my name was called to take roll, it was there, as the teacher stumbled over how to pronounce Picazo, You don’t belong here. 

 

Maybe the only time in my childhood that I didn’t feel that singling out was when we lived in Bush Alaska, in a town that was about half Y’upik Eskimo and half white Americans. Somehow, the culture of that little town made me feel welcome, even if it was only for a couple years. 

 

But then college, as I walked past a group of tall, tanned, blond girls, all talking about fashion and their latest dates, I felt it radiating out to me, You don’t belong here. 

 

My time in Chile was more of the same, as I struggled to communicate in my very poor Spanish, a look of surprise and then, Oh, You don’t belong here! 

 

Moving to our little city here in Eastern Tennessee, everywhere you go, there are pre-existing groups of friends. Polite, but still holding up the invisible sign, You don’t belong here. 

 

And over time, you learn how to make your own groups of friends, you carve out your own little niche. Create your own little cliques. A fortress where you can stand and say, This is where I belong! Though sometimes the walls of that fortress are a little shaky. Sometimes they don’t withstand time. Sometimes those friend groups dissolve. Sometimes the cliques reform and suddenly you are not on the inside, but are left out in the cold, You don’t belong here. 

 

And sometimes I forget. I think it’s just me. I’m the only one that feels this way. Everyone else belongs. I’m the only outsider. 

 

Except. If you listen to enough people. Really listen. You find out. Most people feel this way at some time or another. 

 

Many years ago, during a worship service at our church, God gave me a vision. I was standing in heaven, before the throne of God and my knees were shaking and I was overawed. And God spoke in this thundering voice and he said, What right do you have to be standing here? And I almost panicked. Sure this was the end. I had no right to be here. I was so sinful and imperfect. But then, I looked at myself, and I realized that I was entirely covered, head-to-toe in a white gown, all my imperfections were hidden underneath this gown. And I spoke boldly. I said, I can be here because I’m covered. I’m covered with Jesus’ righteousness. And I showed off the gown. And God smiled his approval. And my fear went away. I knew everything was ok. I could be there. I was welcomed. I belonged. 

 

The last verse to the hymn Solid Rock has been going through my head.

 

When he shall come with trumpet sound,

O may I then in him be found,

dressed in his righteousness alone,

faultless to stand before the throne. 

 

And maybe that’s just another reason I love Jesus so much. He claimed me. He paid the price for my sin. He opened up a way for me to be with him and he stands with open arms and says, Come, this is where you belong. With me. 

One List at a Time

We are back from vacation! I think the drive home hit our world record for least eventful, fastest, calmest drive we’ve ever had.  We did twenty hours straight, drove through the night. Only stopped for bathroom breaks and to get gas, one pass through the drive thru. Kids didn’t fight. No complaints about being bored. We didn’t even watch any movies, just listened to music. I do not have any idea why everything went so well. It’s never happened before. 

 

So, after this amazing trip, I walk into my home. And I’m greeted by an old musty house that is pretty messy. No couches in the living room cause they were nasty and I threw them out a couple weeks before vacation. Stacks of homeschooling books. Clutter. Lots of unfinished projects. My daughter runs up to me, When are we going school shopping? Can we go right now? (What??) No, we JUST got home. We are not going shopping. (School starts the middle of August here.) 

 

I look through the mail. Bills. People needing information from me. Phone calls I need to make. 

 

Mom, when are we taking our kittens to the vet? Uh..soon. Not today. 

 

What’s for supper Mom? Uh, let’s see what’s in the freezer, I need to go grocery shopping. 

 

Mom! The fish tank needs more water! Yes, I will fix it tomorrow. 

 

I sink into my chair. Yikes. Deep breath. Today. Focus on today. Today, I’m going to unpack a couple things, take a shower. Go to bed. 

 

This morning I woke up and again had to fight off the urge to get overwhelmed. One step at a time. In order to get myself from fretting, I sat down and wrote a list of goals. Things I want to happen sometime this Fall. 

 

Personal goals: Exercise every day, get my blood sugar under control.

 

Spiritual goals: family devotions, bible memory.

 

Household goals: buy couches, get a homeschooling space set up.

 

School goals: get everyone ready for the school year, get a school routine going.

 

Nothing unrealistic. All stuff that needs to happen. Writing it down makes me feel better.  When it’s all written down, it feels possible. Like, one day, I will wake up, and all these things will be checked off this list! 

 

I am feeling optimistic about the future. Homeschooling is actually sounding fun. It helps that it will only be three kids, not seven.  I ordered some books for the coming year and I was flipping through them today, How many chapters? How many months do we have? How many pages do we need to get done a day to finish this on time? And it was fun. I’m feeling ready to hit the stores and buy out the school supply department. 🙂 

 

This coming school year, with kids in public school, doing virtual school (one highschooler decided to stay home and do virtual school instead), and homeschool, it is going to be weird, and unnatural, and uncomfortable, and alarming at times. But right now, coming from a place of rest and refreshment, I just have the attitude of Bring it On. I’m ready. One step at a time. One list at a time. 

 

“The Peace of Wild Things”

I am sitting by the lake, I’ve been watching my kids swim, but they have now moved on to playing prince and princess and are concocting some elaborate make-believe game. I only have the three youngest with me. My husband and five of our kids left at 4am this morning to go hike a mountain. I don’t expect them home till late tonight. My other two daughters are at their grandparent’s house, in town, a short distance away. It has now been twelve days since we left Knoxville on our vacation, and it has taken about ten of those days for me to finally be able to just relax. We still have a couple more days before we head home and I am thoroughly enjoying the wonderful feeling of doing nothing except some light household chores and watching my children swim in the lake. 

 

It’s been a different kind of vacation. State mandates mean that we can’t go shopping or go out and be around a lot of people. We have seen basically just a few family members and had them do our grocery shopping for us. Aside from a day trip to the beach, we have just stayed in our little cabin and enjoyed the lake and the woods. And it has been wonderful. 

 

My restless husband has been able to help his Uncle and Aunt with a remodel project, my teen girls have hung out with their grandparents and the little ones have practiced their swimming. 

 

My brain has had time to process. Relive, rethink, reassess. And finally, it has just quieted down. I’ve read some good books, done “adult” coloring where there is an inspiring scripture and then a ton of elaborate details to color in. Not something I do often, but I find when I am coloring, the analyzing part of my brain shuts off, and I’m just thinking about staying in the lines, and what color should I use next? It has the same effect for me as playing scales on the piano, or re-reading a favorite book. Occasionally, I will stop coloring and just think about the verse. Meditate. 

 

We don’t get to do this every year. More like every two or three years. But I am glad for these times. 

 

As my brain has quieted and I have rested, I find myself getting ideas again. Getting excited about projects. I am even starting to feel excited about homeschooling some of my kids. I am plotting out schedules, and thinking about books to read and papers we will write and discussions we will have. Spelling charts for the second grader. Homemade calendars.

 

And this is the difference between stressed-out me and healthy me. The ability to dream and be excited about the future. 

 

I remember in the flurry of having lots of babies, I went for years without having any dreams. I was too exhausted. Too overwhelmed. The future was too far away. I was just surviving today. This moment. This minute. This second. 

 

The past months have been that for me. Survival. 

 

And it’s good to feel that quieting down. To feel like the ability to dream is coming back. 

I even told my husband that one day, when all the kids are grown, I want to get a giant fluffy dog. Like a St. Bernard. Or something like that. He immediately pointed out that big dogs are expensive. And I pointed back that all the kids will be gone and I will have money to spend on a dog. 🙂 He’s not over-excited about that dream….yet. I’ve got some time to talk him around. 🙂 

 

Here is a poem I found.

 

“The Peace of Wild Things”

Wendell Berry

Listen

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

Today, I am thankful for nature. For God’s creation. For the beauty he created that provides rest to all people, believer or not. It is one of his gifts to humankind. 

 

And I’m thankful for the time he has given me to just rest. 

Peace is a Verb

It has been days since I’ve last written and I almost feel a craving to get back to my keyboard. Our family is on vacation at the moment. Staying in a family-owned, small, rustic cabin on a beautiful lake that has entertained generations of my husband’s family. Tucked away in rural America, far from home, it is a wonderful escape from daily life. I have been weathering the shock to my system that comes from suddenly disconnecting from everyday life. No agenda. No plans. No schedules. The kids have been living in the lake. They have turned into little minnows. My only job is to keep an eye on them, join them occasionally, when the whim hits, and prepare three meals a day. 

 

I’ll tell you what I have been thinking about the last couple days. 

 

Peace is not a place. It’s also not a lack of movement or busyness. It’s also not being in nature. Or having complete freedom in your schedule. 

 

Cause, if it was all those things? I’d be floating on a cloud of peace right now. 

 

Instead, I am finding that I am having to fight for peace just as hard as I was when I was home, surrounded by schedules and appointments and work and busyness. 

 

I am having to take my thoughts captive, train them to go in a better direction. I am having to be purposeful about being thankful and looking for the good all around me. I am having to mentally box up all the things that I can’t fix (world pandemic, crazy politics, the coming school year) and again say, Ok, God, I am leaving these things in your hands, my worry is not going to change or fix any of these problems. I am having to seek out scriptures, to remind myself of the goodness of God and strengthen my faith again. 

 

I am hoping that the fact that I am on vacation will mean that I can actually be more purposeful about seeking peace. I am hoping that simply sitting in nature will eventually help my tense muscles to relax. I am hoping that the change of pace will be a time of bonding for our family and a time to simply have fun together. I am hopeful that by the end of this time, I will be recharged, ready to tackle the coming school year. These are my hopes. But, these things are not going to happen automatically. I am going to have to seek them, chase after them, pursue them. If I don’t, I will just spend this entire time fretting and worrying and stressing. 

 

Peace is a verb. A state of being. Sometimes, it’s a gift that is simply handed to me, but usually, it is a purposeful pursuing. A conscious choice. And in my experience, what I’m pursuing is Jesus. More of him, less of me, that is how I get peace. It is an acknowledgment of his sovereignty, his goodness, his love. A moving of my thoughts so that they line up with what the Bible says about my life. 

 

The good news is that you don’t have to be on vacation to have peace. While I’m going to treat this time off as the lovely treasure that it is, I know that the peace I look for during this time is something I can take home with me. It is always close at hand, whenever I’m willing to seek it. 

 

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. 

Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)

This is What We are Going to Do

Well, our school district rolled out their plan yesterday for how we are going to proceed in the Fall. I will try to simplify it here.

If you aren’t comfortable sending your kids to school you have one week to sign up for online school. They will expect you to commit to that choice for an entire semester. The other option is to send your child to school (starting one week later than normal). Everyone will have daily temperature checks before entering the building and face masks will be required for staff and students. Lots of cleaning will occur. It sounds like each school is going to make their own call on how they do eating and group classes. There is no set in stone plan for dealing with a positive case of Covid 19 in the building. They will take each case as it comes and decide what is appropriate. It does say that a teacher who is required to quarantine will have to take that time from their own personal emergency sick days,  and if they run out of those they will have to take unpaid time off. Doesn’t sound very fair. Also, every student is going to get a computer (and there are instructions on how to get wi-fi if you don’t have it) so that, if students get sent home for quarantining or any other reason, they will be able to continue doing school online. 

 

I’m now going to tell you what we are doing and why. 

 

My two high-schoolers are going to school as normal. They’re old enough to be able to handle wearing masks and if school ends up getting shut down for sickness, and they have to switch to online learning, I still want them to be doing that through their high school, not through me. 

 

My seventh grader has asked to stay home and be homeschooled. He does not want to wear a mask all day, and he doesn’t want to be sitting in front of a computer all day. I said yes, we can homeschool because, first, he’s a laid back kid, easy to teach, and second, he’s a very good student and I am confident that I can keep him on track easily. I plan to teach him the same science subjects and history subjects that they are doing at public school so that he can easily return to public school either in January or for the next school year. 

 

I did not give my 5th grader the option to homeschool. We have already established that we don’t work well together. He also said that he’s not interested in sitting in front of a computer all day and would prefer to be in a classroom. And he has no problem wearing a mask all day. Also, he is a very healthy, active child. 

 

My fourth grader has also asked to go to school. Same reasons. She doesn’t mind the mask and she wants to be in a classroom. She is also a very healthy, active girl. 

 

I did not give my 2nd grader a choice. She is going to stay home and homeschool. She has asthma, her immune system is a lot weaker than my other kids, and she goes into a complete panic any time she has to wear a mask. While online school would be an option, I feel like a 2nd grader should be doing hands-on work, not staring at a screen all day. She is also a good student that works well with me, so I’m not worried about homeschooling her. 

 

I also did not give the kindergartner a choice, he is staying home and being homeschooled. While he could probably handle wearing a mask all day, I worry about the times that he will get sent home and have to do his work on a computer. I do not feel like computer school is appropriate for kindergarten. Again, I want him working with manipulatives, and working on his handwriting and coloring pictures and running around a lot. There is also the fact that I was already a little concerned about how he was going to do in kindergarten. He’s a dreamy kid who gets lost in his own thoughts often, not an ideal characteristic in a classroom. He’s also a smart little kid. We have already done a kindergarten curriculum at home this year because he whizzed through all my preschool stuff. He’s ready to start 1st grade level curriculum and I was afraid that he might get bored in Kindergarten. So, I’m keeping him home. Let me add that he is also a laid back kid who is easy to school. 

 

I’m giving you all this information because I worry about moms feeling pressured both ways. Pressured to homeschool when they don’t want to. Pressured to send kids to school when they don’t want to. Pressured to make a blanket decision for the whole family, when actually, each child needs something different. Be encouraged. This year, there is no right answer for how to school your kids. 

 

I would also encourage you to pray about it. Last night, my brain was whirling and I didn’t think I was going to get any sleep. I finally prayed, God, you love these kids, you know what’s best for them, you also want me to make the right choices for these kids. So I’m going to trust that you will give me a plan. 

 

I woke up this morning and this was the plan that was in my head, to make an individual decision for each child depending on that child’s needs. So, happy decision making to all of you! And let’s have lots of grace for each other, as each person decides what is best for their family!

 

Thoughts on the Upcoming School Year

Let’s talk about this upcoming school year. Our county’s school board is planning on giving us their Plan this coming Wednesday, July 15th. They have already said that their goal is to have students in the building on August 10th. I have quizzed my public school teacher friends, and they are all as equally in the dark as I am as to how this next year will proceed. Which seems pretty crazy to me. You would think that if teachers were about to be asked to teach a completely different way than normal, they would be given lots of time to prepare. Apparently not. 

 

We HAVE been notified that all of the children in Knox County will be given a computer. Which is great except, I don’t particularly want my kindergarten and second grader to be handed a computer. Sure, I would like them to start learning the basics of computer use, but I don’t want them to be doing their school work on a computer on a regular basis. I want them using manipulatives, and hands-on items, and writing with big thick pencils and crayons and turning pages on books. Not clicking and typing. 

 

I have had more than one teacher tell me that I should probably homeschool. If not all the kids, at least the youngest. That is also alarming. I have NEVER had a public school teacher advise me to homeschool. Things are definitely upside down. 

 

While I don’t want to homeschool, it is a viable option for me. I homeschooled for twelve years. I kept most of my curriculum. If I suddenly chose to homeschool all my children right now, I would have to buy very few books to do it. Even for high school, which I’ve never taught at home, I have talked to friends, and they have curriculum ready to lend me if I need it. I also have a home school umbrella school handily at my church and the lady who runs it is a friend of mine. I’ve already consulted her on how easy it would be to switch mid-year to homeschooling, if public school is a flop, and she has assured me that it’s very doable. In other words, I can very easily homeschool if I have to. Let’s also throw in the fact that I am a stay-at-home mom and my only plans for this next year was to take care of my three year old at home and help my children get to and from school and take care of them after school. There will be very little hardship on our family if I have to homeschool.

 

This is NOT true for a large percentage of people I know. Single parents. Dual income families. Parents whose children have special needs. Parents whose kids need extra remedial help. Low income families who can’t afford the extra cost of purchasing homeschooling material or the fees for signing up under an umbrella school. Homeschooling is not a viable option for these people. 

 

Why do I need to homeschool? School is going to be open after all, whether it’s in-building, hybrid, or completely online. Well, here is my big question. What is going to happen when (not if) a child or a teacher in a classroom tests positive for Covid-19? Will the entire class be sent home for two weeks of quarantine? And if one child is sent home to quarantine for two weeks, what about the rest of my family? Will we all have to quarantine? What about my husband? Will he need to stop working for two weeks as well? If that is the case, I can foresee our family, which will have seven school age children this year, spread through three different school buildings, spending most of the year in quarantine. 

 

Ok, so doing school completely online is also going to be an option in our county. That might work for my older children. But, a teacher just explained to me yesterday that teachers are trained for classroom teaching. Not at-home school. For younger children, especially, trying to do regular classroom work on a computer is not going to be an effective way of learning. 

 

What I see happening this coming year is the gap between the Haves and the Have-nots becoming significantly wider. In the end, families who have resources will make the sacrifices necessary to make sure that their children get an education, no matter how creative or ingenious they have to get. And families who don’t have resources will just have to take whatever public school can offer. And right now public school has so many hurdles to jump over, (through no fault of their own) that they are simply not going to be able to offer the quality of education that we used to getting from them. 

 

My heart goes out to public school teachers right now. They are in an impossible situation. Please remember this in the coming weeks as your public schools roll out their plans for the coming year. Turning our anger and frustration on the teachers is just ridiculous. And really, I don’t know who it’s appropriate to turn our anger on. Does turning our anger on faceless School Boards and Governors and Secretaries and Presidents help us? 

 

If we turn that anger towards seeking change, all of these people were elected after all, we can certainly elect new people, then the anger is doing something good. But if we turn that anger simply into moaning and complaining and slandering, we have accomplished nothing. 

 

This is also the time for all the HAVES to step up and see what they can do for the HAVE NOTS.  Get creative. If you don’t personally know any HAVE NOTS then contact your school, ask if there is anything tangible you can do to help families in need concerning the upcoming school year. 

 

What comes to my mind is that I have three neighbors whose children play with mine. If we end up having to school at home, I could easily walk over to their houses and offer to babysit their kids during the school day if they need to work. Or at least be an adult directly on call, if they choose to leave their children home alone. That is just what comes to mind in the first five minutes of thinking about it. I’m pretty sure we could each find at least one thing we could do to help ease someone else’s load. 

 

And if we can turn this chaos of trying to do school during a pandemic, into a time of reaching out to help others, then in the end we are succeeding, no matter what happens. 

Goodbye for Now

Yesterday our time with our foster kids came to an end. And it felt like my heart walked out of my door. And I am frozen between conflicting emotions.

 

I love foster care, the chance for families to help children in need. I hate foster care, the need is too deep, too wide to ever possibly completely fill. 

 

I am heartbroken that these kids are gone, they became part of our family. I am relieved that these kids are gone, my family unit is back in place again. 

 

I am devastated that I can no longer pour into these kids. I am relieved that my daily burdens have lessened. 

 

I feel desperate panic that their departure from my home is causing them even more pain. I feel comfort that the struggles that my birth children have been facing are now being relieved. 

 

And I hate the messiness of it all. Why can’t life be a neat printed picture where we carefully color in the lines and everything is orderly and in place? 

 

Why is love so painful? And beautiful? And ugly?

 

I feel like there has been a death in my family. 

 

Goodbye my loves. I will always be here. I pray that there will be a time again when I can be in your lives and let you know just how much I love you. 

 

Running on Empty

You know that phrase, “God never gives you more than you can handle” ? I am going to go on record and say, Bullcrap. That is not true. 

 

Looking back at my life I can see times when all of my reserves have been full. I have had a lot of margin in my life: lots of stored up energy, an overabundance of grace and peace. And then there have been times when I have been completely drained dry, nothing left to give. I would compare those times to kind of like putting $5 of gas in your tank ever day and then having to commute to work and run to the store, and every night, the tank is empty and you wonder if you can make it to the gas station with what you’ve got left the next morning. And you hope you can dig up another $5 for the next day. 

 

Sometimes God throws jobs and challenges at us that are more than we can handle. 

 

Giving birth to ten children within a sixteen year stretch of time, was more than I could handle. Raising ten kids was more than I could handle. Having various homeless families and couples live with us over the years was more than I could handle. Taking in foster kids was more than I could handle. 

 

I find myself in a place now, where the phrase, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” really means something to me. I am in daily need of sustenance. Daily. Yesterday’s bread is gone and used up. I need more today. The phrase “My grace is sufficient for you..” has heavy meaning. Sufficient means enough, adequate. Note, it does not mean overflowing abundance. It’s just the right amount, none left over. Each day I need a new dose of that grace. 

 

I have learned what living on empty means. It’s kind of like doing math all day. Here, you get 10 units this morning. Dealing with that conflict subtracts 3 units, running errands subtracts 2 units, stressing about bills? Minus 2. If we run out of units, then we shut down the day. Turn on the tv, take a short nap, go get pizza for supper…There’s some addition going on as well. Read your Bible in the morning? Add on 3 units. Shut the door to my room and do something peaceful and solitary for fifteen minutes, Plus 2. 

 

And each night, I collapse into bed. Not dead. Haven’t completely failed at life yet. We’re still taking steps forward. The daily bread was provided. The grace proved to be sufficient. 

 

God is still on his throne, and his hand is still upon me. And I will sleep and do it all again tomorrow, leaning  heavily on my God. 

 

And I pray that somehow my life will bring glory to God. That somehow this season of desperation is also a season of great fruit, a season of big growth, a season of close intimacy with God. 

 

And I realize that despite the fact that I am living on the edge, it can still be a place of peace. Today my bible reading was in John 16. Verse 33 stood out ot me,

 

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

 

This old hymn comes to mind…

 

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

Alan Jackson

What a fellowship, what a joy divine

Leaning on the everlasting arms

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine

Leaning on the everlasting arms

 

Leaning, leaning

Safe and secure from all alarms

Leaning, leaning

Leaning on the everlasting arms

 

What have I to dread, what have I to fear

Leaning on the everlasting arms?

I have blessed peace with my Lord so near

Leaning on the everlasting arms

 

Leaning, leaning

Safe and secure from all alarms

Leaning, leaning

Leaning on the everlasting arms

 

Happy Birthday America

My relationship and feelings toward the United States of America has always been complicated. I grew up in Haiti among people of many different nationalities and America had the reputation of being the bully of the world. They also had the stereotype of being uncultured, crass, oblivious. As a child, I was not overly impressed with my American citizenship. 

 

Before I was born, my American Father and my British Mother had given birth to my brother in Haiti. The United States, Great Britain, and Haiti all refused to give my brother citizenship because my parents had spent very little time in their home countries. My parents made the decision that the entire family needed to have citizenship from the same country so they moved to the States and began the process of getting citizenship for my brother and my mother. I was born during that time in Kentucky. 

 

I remember as a child, asking my parents why they didn’t go to Great Britain and get everyone citizenship there? That would have been way more cool than being American. I can’t remember their exact answer. I think it had to do with the fact that they were working as missionaries in Haiti and the United States was closer and easier to travel to than Great Britain. I think there were more reasons than that, that’s just the one I remember. Maybe something to do with the fact that an American passport is easier to travel with? 

 

I was living in Haiti when the United States decided to put an embargo on this tiny little island country. I watched as food, fuel and medicine became very difficult to find. And I was ashamed. Ashamed of my citizenship. Angry at the US and the harm it was causing to this tiny country where I lived. That anger lingered a long time. Maybe some of it is still there. 

 

As an adult I think I’ve had a good reality check. I spent some time living in Chile, gave birth to my second child there. Loved Chile, but it wasn’t home. I’ve read articles and followed devastating stories of the lack of medical freedom in other Western countries. I’ve talked with friends from Russia, learned a little bit about growing up in the Soviet Union. Essentially, just learned a little bit more about the world than I knew as a child. 

 

My husband and I are wanderers at heart. It’s hard for us to be settled down in one place. It feels bizarre that we have actually lived in the same city for sixteen years now. It’s a common conversation for us to talk about where we would like to move. Especially when things get crazy here in the U.S. Let’s just leave, my husband says. And I take him seriously. Ok, where should we go? We start listing off countries. And as we say a name, I point out the problems that I am aware of for that country. And by the end of the conversation, we always reach the grim reality that there really isn’t any “better” place that we could go and still be able to raise our large family in the manner that we see fit with the minimum amount of dangers to our children. 

 

And now, I realize that I have a multi-national audience. I will just point out that while our country probably has just as many pitfalls as any other country, we are familiar with these pitfalls, we are citizens here, not foreigners, and we know all the ins and outs that we wouldn’t know in another country. No offense meant towards other countries. 

 

And so, here we are on the 4th of July. Firmly established as American Citizens. Not going anywhere. And it’s my country’s birthday. 

 

I got on Facebook this morning and was bombarded by heavy discussions about mask wearing. Pros, Cons. A lot of strong feelings. Our county’s health department has mandated mask wearing. Our Mayor has spoken out against it. Our Sheriff has spoken out against it. This has caused a very big stir in our county. The division is irritating to me. But, now I will tell you what I like about my country. We have the freedom to speak out and tell the world at large what we think. I think your law is stupid, and I’m not going to follow it. I think your “mandate” is unconstitutional and these are the reasons why…I think all of you all should stop fussing about masks and just wear them! I think we need to fight this! I think everyone should be more worried about this virus! I think the virus is a scam! I think we are all going to end up dying in the hospital if people don’t take action soon! 

 

We have the freedom to voice what we think without fear of retribution. 

 

We have freedom to speak up about anything and everything. Hey! Black Lives Matter! Hey! Blue Lives Matter! Hey! Medical Freedom is important! Hey! I hate that decision that our President made! Hey! I think your State is stupid for opening up their economy in the middle of a pandemic! Hey! I think your state is stupid for shutting everything down and ruining their economy! 

 

Though all of our viewpoints have become very polarized, we still have the freedom to voice them. 

 

I worry about this freedom being taken from us. I can see a political trend where this right is slowly being gutted. I pray that those who want to silence all these voices will not be successful. 

 

From my standpoint,  this is the strength of our country. The freedom to think what we want, hold whatever views we wish, and the freedom to voice those opinions. 

 

I do not hold with the view that the United States is the most amazing country in the world. I don’t hold with the view that Being Christian and Being American are one and the same thing. I do not hold with the myth that America has been a paradise, a bastion of freedom, for all peoples since day one. 

 

I will tell you what I am proud of though. My husband was able to quit his job and start his own business with very little hassle. I can send my children to a free public school, or I can keep them home and homeschool them. I can go to the church of my choice and worship in the way I choose without fear. My city is clean. The trash is picked up weekly. I have reliable clean running water and electricity. My city is full of parks and playgrounds that I can enjoy without charge. I am an hour away from a beautiful National Park that is also clean and well-kept and free of charge. If I have any complaints, I have places where I can seek justice. 

I still have mixed feelings about my birth country. These past months have been a time when minorities have been voicing their reality that this country is not as Free for them as it is for others. Here’s the thing. While our country may not be the Home of the Free…yet…we have the potential. We have the framework to make it happen. We still have the freedom to pursue change and reform.  Our country is not static. All the things we don’t like, we can change. And that is probably about as free as we can get. 

 

Happy Birthday America.