Monthly Archives: April 2015

Race matters and holy discomfort

This blog has been percolating in my heart and mind for weeks. Given the string of painful and disturbing images flashing before our eyes from Ferguson and Baltimore and beyond, today seems to be the day to begin an attempt to form words around my complex and overwhelming thoughts.

Though I in no way condone the violence and lawlessness that is happening, on some basic level, I get it. It points to a much deeper and insidious pain, suffering and inequity that is endemic to our American urban society. To understand the backstory of today’s Baltimore, the critically acclaimed TV series “The Wire” is a place to start. Government corruption, drug culture, police brutality, along with lack of education and opportunity all play a role in this story. It is a story that many of us have the luxury to ignore – until we can’t any longer.

Any group of people that is overlooked and silenced for too long will eventually rise up. Sometimes violence is the only voice available. It is uncomfortable and angering and sometimes devastating to watch or be victim to another’s despair, but often we Americans don’t listen until someone is screaming very loudly either in word or deed. It is in the DNA and founding days of this country and many others. I imagine that the Boston tea partiers were viewed as hooligans and thugs by the establishment of their day.

Identifying the underlying issues and a path forward is overwhelming and extremely complex. And for me as a 52 year old female, what in the world can I do to make any difference at all in this depressing situation? So much to ponder and pray upon.

These are not new internal struggles. I vividly recall my first grade self having great compassion for and curiosity about the perspective and feelings of the first black child in my 1970 school. I watched her interact on the playground, had big feelings, but never spoke a word to her.

Last week I finished up a 6 week book study with about 30 other women – half African American and half Caucasian American – on The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. It is a novel based on the true story of the growing up process of an abolitionist and her slave girl. In this book group, the viewpoints of any and all were given voice and respect as we tackled sometimes uncomfortable matters. But at the end of the study, we all realize that we have only addressed the tip of a gigantic iceberg. Ferguson, Baltimore and beyond confirm this.

Sometimes when faced with a situation of overwhelm and complexity, I become paralyzed and tempted to just walk away and back into my comfortable, privileged existence. It is not difficult to self segregate and only walk and talk and do life with those most like me. In fact, it takes a significant level of intention to get out of this comfort zone on occasion.

During the recent book study, I received a God nudge. There was a black woman who I had interacted with elsewhere in a very surface way. Her words and passion moved me as she spoke. The nudge was to invite her to my home for tea and conversation, just as I would do for anyone I wanted to get to know better. It was a beautiful morning shared on our front porch. We asked each other questions and took our friendship one level deeper. A few weeks later, she invited me and my daughters into her home to celebrate a family milestone amongst her family and friends. Initially, there was a tinge of holy discomfort, but very quickly I was engaged in conversations with other moms doing their best to raise boys into young men. We listened, laughed and shared our experiences on that journey. In fact, part of that conversation led me to a greater understanding of the now famous mom who yanked her son away from the Baltimore rioting.

The “what can I do” answers are floating into my heart and mind. They include:  be mindful of and check any mentality of being a white savior or the one with answers; treat all that I pass on my downtown streets with warmness and kindness; be intentional about inviting people who are different from me into our home; ask questions and opinions of those with different viewpoints and listen to the sometimes hard to hear answers with an open heart, mind and soul. I would love to hear your thoughts on how to mindfully address our nation’s and neighborhoods’ race issues.

There is no one black perspective or one white perspective on any matter. But if we never interact with individuals different from ourselves, we will never begin to understand. I have found this to be true in all human interaction whether the person before me be of different race, religion, sexual orientation, political thought or economic status – listening to their story, asking respectful questions and taking their perspective to heart leads to compassionate and non-judgmental living. Sometimes I have to be willing to feel a little or a lot of holy discomfort along the way.

PS I recently listened to a poignant podcast at On Being. A Jesuit priest, Gregory Boyle, was interviewed about his twenty plus years working in a gang intervention program in Los Angeles. He has also written a book entitled Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. After hearing him, the book is on its’ way to my home. I encourage you to take a listen or read the book.

Alongside choice

This past weekend was a milestone event for my husband Mark and his career. He has stepped aside from the role of chairman of his company and is ramping down the time that he spends at work over the next few years. No, he is not yet retiring, but his focus is shifting. This was a much planned and intentional shift from both the home and work sides of the equation. Our family is already enjoying benefits of this decision.

When we dated and dreamed of our married days, it was always my desire to stay at home with children. I have kind of made a career of that! Some mothers have that same desire and the choice to do so. Others love to work and choose that path. Necessity and the stream of bills sometimes leave parents with little choice but to have two parents at work. Personally, I have great respect and admiration for each path taken.

In our home and with the demands of the work that Mark has chosen, having mom stay at home and keep things afloat there has worked best. Along the way I have exercised my own gifts and talents in various volunteer spaces and places. I am extremely grateful for the resources, experiences and people that we have met in connection with his company.

Yet, my personal relationship with this job is also a bit complicated. At times I have felt jealous and resentful of the time and energy required of him. At the same time, there is great joy in seeing him flourish in a place where he is able to utilize his talents and gifts. I have felt tired and lonely when he is out of town, but have also delighted in the fact that he has had a career that is fulfilling and challenging year after year. The mere fact that his pay more than allows me the choice of holding down the Wilson fort is a gift. Mixed emotions for sure.

I recently heard my mom once again say something like, “when I was in college, most women had the choice between being a teacher or a nurse” – both wonderful professions, but not for everyone. My mom would have made a wonderful architect… When I was in college, there were certainly broader options for women but the challenges to fulfill career dreams remained, as they often still do today. At Mark’s company, there is currently a focused initiative on how to adapt and support women for long-term retention – that warms my mom of daughters, feminist heart.

This past weekend, Mark and I were blindsided by a beautiful and touching recognition of his leadership role and my support of him in that pursuit. It was humbling and emotional. Much is a blur, but my proudest moment was when he was referred to as a servant leader, one thing about him that I deeply love and respect. There is something incredibly attractive about seeing a grown man choke up and cry. Most of us don’t get standing ovations from a big room full of people, though many more should. It was an honor to share the spotlight on that night.

Getting to the decision for my husband to begin to step away from work and more toward home has been quite a process. It has required a great deal of honest communication – sometimes in love, sometimes in desperation and hopefully always with respect and open ears and hearts. At times it has felt like a great big negotiation full of compromise from every side.

Work-life balance is challenging. One of my favorite moments during the recent weekend was when two company employee dads shared that they make it a priority to show up at their children’s schools each and every week for an extended period of time. As to the missed work, they stated that they figure it out. It is also exciting to see more female presence in a company that has traditionally been predominantly male. I have seen flexibility and progress in this area during the 25 plus years since Mark began his work in that place.

As I reflect on the emotions and the observations from this past weekend, hope arises. I have a great deal of optimism for both our daughters and our sons as they move toward work-life balance and choices. Hope that their choices will be broader and approached with greater imagination and the careful consideration of both partners’ wishes and dreams, whatever they may be. Optimism that each will have voice and choice in the path forward for their family.

My husband’s company is quite mindful that the time and energy required of its’ employees has an impact on the children and spouses in each family story. They often express gratitude for sacrifices made. On Saturday night when I was asked to share the spotlight, I received beautiful flowers with this note attached, “Behind every good man is a great woman. Thank you.” From their perspective, I am certainly behind the scenes. There isn’t a lot of immediate gratification nor glory in my chosen profession. And I truly appreciate the acknowledgement that this career path has been a team effort.

photo 6

But in this next season of life, I hope that at its’ close, Mark and I can write this to each other: “alongside every good partner is another”. That is our desire and choice for this next phase. I look forward to all that we will learn and experience together and separately in the days to come.

An early morning view of the Dallas skyline where we spent the weekend.

An early morning view of the Dallas skyline where we spent the weekend.

Send off or shove off

Saturday mornings are typically for sleeping in at the Wilsons – at least for the females in the house. This morning was a bit different since one of our girls was going on her first church youth group overnight. She was scheduled to go in the fall, but a tree fall and concussion derailed that plan. So today was her inaugural retreat.

This particular girl is no fan of early morning Saturday wake ups, for any reason. She groaned when mom gave her the time to get up nudge but did roll out and get moving. I communicated to her the news that the one of her three “go to comfort zone youth group friends” signed up for the weekend wasn’t going to participate. She seemed to take that in and ponder it a bit but didn’t verbally express what was going on inside of her.

We headed to the meeting spot and parked. She rebuffed my offer to help her carry her stuff. In body language, she was screaming that she was a bit anxious and uncomfortable but mom support wasn’t the answer to her problem. She got signed in, I said goodbye and then she sort of wandered away all by herself and disappeared. I started to go back to my car but my mom sense tingled just a bit and said to check in with her one more time. After a short search, she reappeared and I asked her, “do you want me to stick around until you leave or head out now?” She tersely replied, “go!”. And go I did.

There was a level of tension within me this morning. My wish was to give her a nice send off, but in the end I needed to hear her desire for me to shove off. A bit of nostalgia and sadness rises up as I reflect on this encounter. It seems to be symbolic of this middle school, identity seeking time of life for my girl. It all makes logical sense, but sometimes I miss the little girl who happily held my hand and skipped along beside me.

In years to come, we will continue this send off/shove off dance. There will no doubt be times when I am the one who needs to push her a little harder toward independence and growth and other times when she offers a more subtle and sensitive “no” when I need to move out of the way. The hope is that we can learn and grow together in love, respect and grace as we send and shove each other off along this mother and daughter journey.

The delight of one-on-one

No, this is not a post about basketball, though our family is in the midst of a bracket challenge. Mom is just about to sink to the bottom. Virginia let me down…but I digress.

I remember when we had our third son, a wise person told us that we as parents had moved from one-on-one to zone parenting. There was a great deal of truth in that metaphor. With three children, it was fairly rare that one parent spent time and shared experience with just one child. Each boy did go on a fun “10 year old trip” with their dad, but the one on one experiences were rare. Of course our first child received a few years of two on one, our third boy got a season of lunch and afternoons with mom after his big brothers started elementary school, and the poor middle guy never got it. Maybe that is why he is so flexible today…

We just came through spring break with our girls. This year, we split our family and went in different directions. Dad and girl #1 headed north to Chicago to visit family and Mom and girl #2 teamed up with another mom/daughter duo and headed south to Florida. Weather wise, my destination won the prize.

The Chicago travelers shared a new and delicious experience of eating Ethiopian food

The Chicago travelers shared a new and delicious experience of eating Ethiopian food

This trip was a reminder of how extra special time shared with one parent and one child can be. In the midst of the busyness and sometimes craziness of everyday family life, it is hard to make the connection that happens when extended time is spent with one other. We have time and attention to share words and experiences. Competitive or challenging interaction between siblings or any other less than functional family dynamic fall away. This child and I both have a love of roller coasters and interacting with animals. These passions aren’t shared by all in our family. It was around these pursuits as well as a myriad of little moments of talking, eating and drifting off to sleep in the same room that we were able to connect in a deeper way last week.

Our favorite roller coaster ride of the trip

Our favorite roller coaster ride of the trip

Swimming with the manatees

Swimming with the manatees

The same dynamic is true in a marriage or in a grandparent and grandchild relationship or any other that has meaning for us. In our home, we have at times set special evenings for husband and wife only outings as well as “dates” with our girls. My very favorite gift from our grown sons is the promise of an outing with one of them. Making time for this takes planning and intentionality and often gets squeezed out by the seemingly urgent matters of life. After last week, I hope to be going on a lot more dates in months to come – with my husband as well as with each of our kids. The all together family times are often fun and lively, but there is not the same chance to deeply know another. I would love to hear from you the ways that you stay connected one-on-one with those you love.