Friday, July 31, 2020

Quarantine Queries 6: Why does fruit rot on the tree?



We drove to New Mexico for some fresh air, family time, and a change of quarantine scenery. I wanted to do some writing this week but have been in a bit of a dry spell. 
As I wandered about, observing my new surroundings, I found a peach tree. I noticed some rotting fruit still on the tree. As I stood and contemplated this (as someone who usually only gets to see fruit from a grocery store), I felt God say, “Don’t let your fruit rot on the tree.”



I mulled this over and wondered about the application. After a quick google search about fruit rotting on the tree, the first thing I read popped up from New Zealand Gardener and said, “You can protect stone fruit trees by pruning them in late summer during a dry spell.” Apparently a fungus can rot the fruit on the tree, which can be prevented by pruning appropriately.

Here I am, in a dry spell in late summer, apparently needing to be pruned. I’m relieved to know that this is really God’s work, not mine; all I have to do is allow God to do it. For me, this meant spending some time in contemplative prayer, opening myself up for God to do whatever needs to be done in me.

Sometimes we are planting seeds or in the early stages of watching and waiting for the growth to spring up from the hidden places. Other times we bear much fruit, and still others, we have fruit that begins to rot on the tree and may need a good pruning. May we be ever watchful and allow God to search us and know us, tending to our hearts however God sees fit. Wherever we are in the process, everything belongs. This is God’s work to do in us if we will just make ourselves available. 

“... every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
John 15:2


Friday, July 10, 2020

Quarantine Queries 5: How can I help little people with big feelings? Quarantine Calm Down bucket for Kids!


Quarantine parenting, like quarantine-everything, is HARD. I wanted to share something simple but helpful that my almost-9-year old and I put together after a difficult day in the world of parenting. First, a confession: These two books have been sitting on my shelf, unread, for several years now.
If I’m honest, even though my degrees are in early childhood education, I used to teach elementary school, and I parent two children, reading parenting books is a self-discipline that I don’t usually enforce. I kind of hate it. BUT every now and then, I get desperate enough that I need a refresher and some encouragement. Yesterday was one of those days! Though I haven’t read the books, I have had the pleasure of attending some professional development with the brilliant Tina Payne Bryson, and it was outstanding. It fits in really well with some of the trauma-informed training I’ve attended that my dad facilitates with foster parents. 
I'll say it again: quarantine parenting, like quarantine-everything, is HARD. Today the emotions were running high. I remembered Dr. Payne Bryson teaching about what she calls the “upstairs brain” and “downstairs brain,” so I started explaining it to my daughter, who immediately knew what I was talking about. She had heard the same concept explained as the “guard dog and wise owl” from an *episode of Cosmic Kids in the Zen Den series. We talked through how our brains are trying to protect us when we have big emotions, and the wise owl flies away as guard dog takes over. I asked her to help me think about how to calm down the guard dog so the wise owl will come back when she’s upset. 
I remembered learning in a teacher training that fine motor activities can help children calm down. My daughter and I brainstormed ideas and made a Quarantine Calm Down bucket with some tools to help her when her emotions take over. We found items we already had around the house, but the possibilities are endless! We included:
-a glitter wand
-play dough to squeeze
-a pen and journal to write or draw or doodle
-a baby doll to dress
-a shaker egg to shake or to take one bean at a time and move to the other half of the egg
-a straw to blow cotton balls across a hard surface
-pompoms with tweezers and a clothespin to pick them up one by one and put in a different container
What would you add? What has worked for your children or students? After we put it together, she already used it twice later in the day. I'm hopeful this will continue to be helpful!
*This episode helps explain the "guard dog/wise owl" concept of the brain to children:

Friday, July 3, 2020

Antiracism Resources



If you are new to the conversation about systemic racism and how to become antiracist, welcome! I'm so glad you're here. When we are new, we may have a tendency to do a lot of talking, but we really need to spend some time un-educating and re-educating ourselves before we (White folks) assert ourselves into a conversation that Black, Indigenous, and other people of color have been having for centuries.

When tragic incidents shine a spotlight on the deadly racism that exists in our country and our world, it may be a wake-up call for those of us who have not previously been impacted (at least in our awareness). We need to resist the temptation to ask Black, Indigenous, and other people of color to educate us on top of the burden they bear from living in a society that oppresses them daily. 

Newly-awakened White people often ask, "But what can I do?" I'm sharing some tips to get you started, followed by a list of resources. 

TIPS TO BEGIN YOUR ANTIRACISM JOURNEY
1. Read books written by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) and follow them on social media. See list below.

2. Listen to BIPOC through podcasts, social media, documentaries, etc. See list below.

3. Find places to have these discussions with other White folks who are on the journey. Be the Bridge has an incredible curriculum guide for White people to work though. Be the Bridge also has a private Facebook group with tons of great resources for learning. We need to do the internal work of figuring out how we are contributing to the problem.

4. White people have a history of profiting off of the labor of BIPOC. Don't do that. Financially support them and cite them when you use their work. Pay BIPOC for their labor in educating us. Don't make demands; find BIPOC who are already offering services and resources for compensation.

6. Support organizations, books, media, etc. led/created by BIPOC.

7. Call out racist behavior when you see it and point other White people to resources created by BIPOC. Racism is our (White people's) problem. White supremacy is our problem. We need to be working to dismantle it.

RESOURCES


Books I've read and highly recommend:

Be the Bridge: Pursuing God's Heart for Racial Reconciliation 
by Latasha Morrison, founder of Be the Bridge

White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Pastor Daniel Hill


Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin Curtice

The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church's Complicity in Racism 
by Jemar Tisby of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective & host of the Pass the Mic podcast

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlyn Curtice

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption 
by attorney Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and professor of law at NYU

Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision by Randy S. Woodley

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum


Books on my TBR list, highly recommended by others:


Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

by Dr. Ibram Kendi 
or a shorter adapted version Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You 
by Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram Kendi

How to Be an Anti Racist by Dr. Ibram Kendi

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubling Times by Soong-Chan Rah

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Dr. Carol Anderson

Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores by Dominique DuBois Gilliard

Unsettling Truths: The On-Going, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah

Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up by Kathy Khang

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah

Podcasts:








Film/Television
When They See Us (Netflix)
True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality (HBO online)
Just Mercy (film 2019)
13th documentary (Netflix)
The Hate U Give
If Beale Street Could Talk
"The Racial Wealth Gap" episode of the "Explained" series on Netflix
Selma

People to follow on social media:

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Experiencing God’s Grace at AUMC

The following is a transcript from a brief sharing I was invited to give at our church, Arapaho United Methodist Church, and can be found on the church’s live stream from 6/29/20. I was answering the question, “How have you experienced God’s grace at Arapaho?” The transcript may have slight differences from the talk but I mostly followed my script:


In the beginning of 2017, I was slowly emerging from a second season of postpartum depression with my second daughter. I had been in survival mode and everything had felt hazy and blurry, with days and nights rolling into each other in a way that almost seemed indistinguishable at times. My daughter had recently turned 1, and at the very beginning of the year, on my birthday, January 2, I felt like I suddenly woke up. As God so often does, God got my attention through suffering and the sense I was trying to make of it. 

I started to practice trusting my own experience of God, which as a 6 on the Enneagram, will be my life’s work. As I began to experience God for myself instead of just what I was taught or what I read about God, I was surprised to find how good and compassionate and expansive and gracious God was. God was so much better than I had realized. 

Experiencing God in this transformative way gave me a desire and a passion to put my faith into action, with a specific calling to the work of racial justice. In Austin Channing Brown’s book I’m Still Here, she talks about a white friend who is newly awakening to the problem of racism. She quotes her friend, who says, “Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.” That’s the place that I was in but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it or who to do it with. 

I experienced the grace of God in finding a community of people to come alongside me and help me put my faith into action. Sanctifying grace is the ongoing work to conform us to God’s  image in a way that leads to restoration within us and through us.

In her book Native, Kaitlin Curtice says, “If we cannot go into our faith spaces proclaiming a narrative that is inclusive for everyone, how are we supposed to, throughout the week, proclaim a narrative of love that is for the poor, women, immigrant, tired, queer, or abused? If we stand on Sunday and sing songs about personal sins, how are we to go out and challenge institutional systems of hate? The answer is that our communion table, a gathering place of community, must really be a table of communing.”

My experience of God’s grace at Arapaho is in being a part of a community that is doing the work to allow God to transform our table into a real table of communing. The grace is sanctifying because we remember that we haven’t arrived and this is an ongoing, imperfect work but we are doing it together. 

We are doing this work when we take a stand against systems of oppression while reflecting on the ways that we have been complicit in those same systems. 

We are doing this work when we affirm the imago dei, the image of God, in ourselves and in every other person. 

We are doing this work when we attempt to disentangle the true meaning of the Gospel from the harmful ways our cultural lens has caused us to interpret scripture. 

I have experienced God‘s grace in countless ways great and small at Arapaho. I have experienced it in the smiles at the door when we come in and in passing slippery pumpkins down a human assembly line. We talk and laugh and swap stories and sell pumpkins in support of Navajo farms in New Mexico. 

I saw it when we voted as a church to be fully inclusive of the LGBTQ community because we agree that all means all. 

I’ve seen it in our Sunday school class where difficult questions are allowed and invited.  The wrestling leads to a more refined, robust faith, and questions are not a threat but an invitation to engage with God. I experience God’s grace when others say, "I used to think this and now I think that;" "I’m not sure;" "I don’t know. What do you think?" "I’m really struggling with this idea;" "What do you think this means?"

I’ve seen it extended to and then pouring out of my children. I saw it when my four-year-old daughter used Chapstick to make a cross on the back of my hand and said, “You are blessed to be a blessing.”

I’ve experienced it through hearing my husband’s report about the training for LGBTQ allies. 

I’ve experienced it through a group of people working together to understand the concept of whiteness and how it has contributed to the oppression of people of color. 

I experience God’s grace in ongoing conversations with the pastors at the church about how we can better promote racial justice. 

I have experienced the grace of God through Arapaho in finding a community that is committed to continually working to become a place of belonging. When everyone belongs, we get a fuller, richer picture of who God is. We are awe-struck and inspired to worship this Mysterious Divine who is so much greater than we knew. As we worship, we are transformed to go back out and do the work of restoration, which again enriches our understanding of God, and the cycle continues.

I will close with a quote by someone who can say it better than I can. In Tattoos on the Heart, Father Gregory Boyle writes, “Mother Teresa diagnosed the world's ills in this way: 'We've just forgotten that we belong to each other.' Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen.” 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

parenting yourself: Mental Health Awareness Month


Pre-quarantine, back in the days of yore, my husband and I went to a dinner party. I had been battling on-going physical and mental health issues and learning how to deal with panic attacks. We had jumped through some hoops to find childcare so that we could spend an evening with adults, but Anxiety didn’t care. I had been up most of the night with one of my kids, and my anxiety was through the roof. We were sharing a babysitter with several other families, and all the kids were at our house, so I didn’t want to cancel even though I knew I wasn’t in a good place to socialize.

I spent the whole evening battling panic attacks while  trying to appear to be fine. I knew what tools to use and how to talk myself through my anxiety, but it was completely exhausting. Instead of a refreshing time with adults, it was a terribly difficult evening. I spent most of it fighting the urge to run away, to get some space, and to breathe through it all in a private place.

As someone who has struggled with depression and continues to live with anxiety disorder, I am passionate about sharing openly in order to help #breakthestigma around mental health issues. This is Mental Health Awareness Month. I wanted to say something beautiful and inspiring, but all of the beautiful things feel a little disingenuous right now. Instead, I’ll say what’s true for me about my mental health right now: it is exhausting. I have learned so much and have a lot more tools at my disposal now than I did a few years ago, and for that I am grateful. However, I’ve been thinking about how much energy I expend in trying to re-parent myself when I am anxious. Perhaps because of the quarantine, I am more acutely aware of how difficult it is to parent my children when I am also trying to parent myself. 

When I became a mom, I had no idea how hard it would be. As hard as motherhood is, I have discovered community with so many other moms who have the same struggles. However, I find it more difficult to find the same solidarity and validation in the journey of mothering myself. I just wanted to say that if you are doing the good, hard work of parenting yourself in the midst of the craziness that is 2020, I see you. You are not alone.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mothered by God: reflections for Mother's Day



In the beginning, God hovered over the Earth like a mother bird preparing her nest. A baby grows within a mother’s body and then emerges with the mother’s DNA, like the mystery of Jesus’ “I in you and you in Me.”  When new life arrives, mothers nourish and nurture. They remain deeply in tune with and protective of their young but also lead them through the beautiful, painful process of growth and maturity. 

So it is with God. In my own spiritual journey, I’ve been recognizing the ways that I have been mothered by God. The affirmation of Imago Dei in me, not despite being a woman but because I am a woman, has healed me in places I had not recognized were hurting. Whether we give literal birth or not, we are all like God as Mother any time we give birth to, nourish, or nurture another person, a dream, an idea, or a creative endeavor. We give of ourselves for the protection and growth of the thing that is both of us and separate from us.

Joy and grief both arise out of the vulnerability of loving deeply. Motherhood is wrapped up with so many intense emotions. This day finds deep gratitude and grief sitting side by side. Whether you are joyous or grieving or both, I am rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. May you find yourself mothered by God.

Thank you to all of those who have mothered me. You have helped me become who I am and give me glimpses of who I will be. 
Blessings to you all on this Mother’s Day.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Quarantine queries, #4: How can I talk back to my shame?



We are coming to the end of week 7 in quarantine. Every day I am grateful for many things, but today I felt Not Ok. I’m learning that when I struggle, the struggle itself usually pales in comparison to the shame that is close on the heels of the initial problem. Some days, it whispers and I can dismiss it without too much effort. Today, it was loud and insistent.

Today’s quarantine query is: How can I talk back to my shame?

Shame says, “You should be better than this.”

Love says, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting.”

Today was a really difficult day in the O’Connor household. For seven weeks, I’ve ridden the ebbing and flowing waves of anxiety and mostly felt like I was handling life well enough. Today, the illusion was gone. My child’s shame spiral fed into mine and they played off of each other like a dizzying tangle of slinkies. I had one of those moments in parenting where I had no idea what to do, other than to be present, despite the emotions I could not hold in.

After a physically and emotionally draining day, I saw a sunny post of a mom with her happy children, and the shame hit hard. “Your kid is not ok because you are not ok. You should be better.” This is what shame says, but I’m learning to talk back.

I reached out to someone who loves me very much because that’s the first step in exposing shame for the lie that it is. My loved one helped return me to myself. As I criticized myself for “checking out” and not engaging more with my children, he said, “Dissociating is a sign of trauma and stress. What can you do to take care of yourself?”

And then I wept. I wept for the little girl in me who is struggling more than she thought. Shame had said I should be better, but when I could step outside of myself and gain a new perspective, I could love myself by saying, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting.”

So if this is you, if you are struggling with “not enough” or “too much” or the terrible burden of both, I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone. Shame says you should be better, but I see you, and I hope you’ll let me help you talk back. I just wanted to say that I’m so sorry you’re hurting.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Quarantine queries, #3: Where will I belong?

As a 6 on the Enneagram , I am aware that I tend to give too much weight to authority figures and systems. A year ago, when I was praying and discerning a big decision, I pictured myself with tons of cords coming from my body, plugged into many outlets representing systems that I’ve trusted more than I trusted myself. I pictured God telling me that God was working on gradually unplugging me from these external systems until one day, all that will be left will be the two of us. 

We have a tendency to become overly attached to the gifts God gives, forgetting that our first love must be the Giver, not the gifts. I got sad news today, that the leader of our beloved faith community is being called elsewhere. I felt overwhelmed by another big change when I’ve had so, so many in the past couple of years, and right now, the whole world is changing so much. At first I kept thinking, when everything changes, where will I belong? Our pastor gave me a place to belong when I felt spiritually homeless. She made a place for me and affirmed, supported, and made a place for my calling when she really had no reason to do so. She showed me what a woman in a position of top leadership could look like in a faith community, which I needed more than I had realized. It is such a loss.

And yet, though she has been such a gift, she is remaining faithful to her calling, and I trust that God will continue the unfolding of mine. God is the one who gave me this place to land when I didn’t belong anywhere, just as God was the one to provide so many other gentle spaces for me during a big faith transition. I don’t know what the Lord is doing now, but when I look back, I can see that God was always enough. When everything around me changes, the Lord is steady, extending a hand and inviting me to take hold as I fix my eyes on God’s and try to “bear the beams of love.”

Instead of deliverance from trials great and small, I now pray for God to give me eyes to see divine provision in the midst of them, and what I now see is that God has always been enough. When everything changes, I belong to the Holy One, who affirms my fixed place as the apple of God’s eye and always makes provision for me, usually in a way I never would have known to ask for. Instead of asking God whether I will be taken care of, I can watch in anticipation to see HOW I will be taken care of. The ways we are held in different seasons are far more creative than anything I could dream up, and God rarely provides the same way twice. In the midst of change, the one thing that has remained and will remain the same is that God is always enough. As our pastor says, “So may it ever be.”




Sunday, April 5, 2020

Quarantine Queries, #2: How can I stay centered?

This week's quarantine query:"How do I stay centered amidst all the uncertainty?"

I find that during this anxious time filled with a steady outpouring of information that is constantly changing, I am leaning on spiritual practices that I have been introduced to over the past couple of years. My practices are inconsistent and very imperfect, often interrupted by the other people in my house, but they are still helpful. God can do so much with our imperfect offerings.

These days, my emotions and mental state are a roller coaster--I feel fine for a few hours, the better part of a day, and then suddenly anxiety surfaces. Recently I took a moment to sit quietly before God and was amazed at how immediately I felt God's presence. I realized that I need this spiritual discipline (centering prayer) in order to practice allowing my body and heart to remember what my mind knows: God is with us. When I struggle to trust the information coming from my mind, perhaps I can learn to trust my body and heart. I'm answering this week's quarantine query in the form of a poem because sometimes writing in verse helps me to get out of my head and into my heart and body.



Epidemic

I know the signs by now.

Help!

Bring me back to myself, 
I pray.

The swirling uncertainty within me 
is now mirrored by the world without.

How can I go outside of myself 
to get what I need,
when outside of myself 
is just as tumultuous?
Noise, news,
pain, panic,
story after story after story so textured,
they bleed together liked watercolors and 
fill in the rough sketches of my mind
as it effortlessly paints detailed pictures of 10,000 what-ifs.

I should stop inhaling the stories, right?
But then how will I know what’s coming?
How can I prepare for 10,000 what-ifs
without reading 10,000 stories?
I can’t stop myself from reading them.
I put them on like clothing, 
placing myself within them 
to see what I would do.
Could I stand the suffering?

Of course, I knew he was essential,
but now Dallas county does, too.
To my husband as he leaves for work:
We have Tylenol, right?
They’re saying not to use Ibuprofen, 
though the reports are conflicting.
And we have cough medicine?
And nausea medicine?
And Gatorade?
And chicken soup?
And a thermometer?
And a teledoc?

and, 
and, 
and…
Sanitize your groceries
Disinfect your doorknobs and light switches
Dispose of the outside packaging from Amazon
And letters from loved ones
whose love might be tainted with infectious disease.

Wash your hands for 20 seconds.
I pretend it’s a thousand massages a day for my fingers—
they’ve never felt so loved.
Let the counting add some rhythm to the dissonance.
Wipe down your screens,
Stay 6 feet apart—but only if you must go out—
Wear a mask,
Wear gloves,
Wear goggles,
And cover every part that makes you human.

Stay at home,
Hop on Zoom for the tenth time this week,
FaceTime with the grandparents
and remind them of these simple 
Rules for Staying Alive.

Sanitize your life
so that you will be safe, safe, safe
Safe safe safe safe
safesafesafesafesafesafesafesafesafe

Stop.

Breathe, 2, 3, 4,
And out, 6, 7, 8

Someone 
is here with you, 
waiting to be remembered.
My head remembers, always—
You were ingrained in my thoughts from the beginning.
My mother and father sang of You to me
before I drew my first breath.

But this body, 
my body,
Forgets.

My jaw clamped shut,
Shoulders drawn up,
Stomach churning,
Muscles burning—

This body 
forgets.

My heart leaps forward
to go get what it thinks I will need
out there.
Feeling judgy feelings about my anxious body,
tense as it is.
Body and heart at war with my mind,
as it is rationally explaining irrational thoughts.

I used to dismiss you, body,
Or try to reason with you
Or blame out there
for in here.

I’m so sorry.

Now I know you were only giving information,
just like my feelings were doing—
giving feedback
to help me to survive. 
But it’s ok now;
I’ll listen.

Close my eyes,
Breathe again…

You’re here.

Emmanuel.

I feel You enshrouding me with Yourself,
closer than the air I’m breathing.

Jaw relaxes,
Shoulders drop,
Stomach stills.
When I stop
my body remembers.

I check in with heart:
Do you remember?
I wait.

Peace.

My heart remembers.

When we all remember
that You are here,
I can finally finally finally say
It is well with my soul.

Help me— body, heart, not-just-mind—
Remember
as You re-member me,
putting me back together,
returning me to myself
until all that’s left is 
love,

Love,

Love.