Loving My Kids Shouldn’t Require Bravery

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We have a few newish drivers in our house and I am the worst person to take them out to learn to drive. I white-knuckle my way through every harder-than-necessary brake. I suck in breath when they get a little closer to the side of the road than I think is comfortable. I grab onto the door for dear life when they take a turn too fast. I have abdicated all driving lessons to their dad or step-dad because if I’m in the car, my fears will absolutely not help them learn to drive well. Teaching my kids to drive requires a courage that I do not possess.

There are lots of moments in parenting that require bravery. We need to be brave when we send our kids off to school. We are brave when we let them cook their first meal and then eat it with them. We are brave when we let them hang out with friends at the mall or go on dates or put them in the church nursery. Honestly, just about everything we do as parents requires us to exercise some level of courage. We’re raising human beings, after all. That’s a pretty massive charge.

One area where we don’t usually need to exhibit any kind of exceptional fortitude is in the way that we show love to our kids. For the most part, that happens automatically. We don’t generally point to parents who love their kids as behaving in a particularly heroic fashion. Loving our offspring tends to be our natural response as parents. In fact, our love is what drives the fears we need to overcome in all other area. Fear of car crashes, fear of broken hearts, fear of any kind of harm. We love our kids, so we have to be brave when we let them do things that could put them in any kind of danger.

People have told me that I’m brave for speaking out for my LGBTQ kids, but the truth is, that isn’t bravery, it’s just love. My kids are funny, smart, talented, interesting people, and sharing about them is easy for me. Keeping parts of them hidden is much harder for me because I always want them to know just how much I love them and how proud I am of them.

What makes it brave to share about all aspects of my kids is that many have made it clear that I should not be proud of all of the parts of my kids. They look at things like gender expression or orientation as negative traits that at the very least, I should be ashamed of and not speak about.

If simply speaking about my kids the way any proud parent speaks about their kids make me brave, then you need to compliment my kids and the LGBTQ population way more. Because support is, for the most part, easy. Actually living your life authentically as an LGBTQ person requires far more courage. It can mean losing jobs. It can mean losing housing. It can mean putting yourself in physical danger. It can mean experiencing state sanctioned bigotry. It can mean being kicked out of a church. It can mean being rejected by the people who should find it the easiest to love you.

Allies who receive that treatment do so only because the opinion of LGBTQ people is so low that even saying, “Hey, I affirm their humanity,” is too much to handle. Because affirming humanity should be a relatively simple thing for all of us to do. Especially if we’re parents.

I’m brave only because people have made it dangerous for me to do the most natural thing a mom does: love her kids.

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The Billy Graham Rule: An Adulterer’s Perspective

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There has been a recent uproar about Vice President Mike Pence following what many have dubbed “the Billy Graham rule.” Basically it boils down to the idea that a man should never, under any circumstances, be alone with a woman.

There are strong feelings on both sides of this issue. Those who are opposed see it as dehumanizing women. Women are seen as temptations or as liabilities; they’ll either make you want to cheat or falsely accuse you of sexual misconduct. These strict boundaries create narratives that place women as non-humans who can only serve to hurt a man’s reputation and men as non-humans who are incapable of carrying on rational conversations if boobs are present.

On the other hand, those who support the rule have their own reasons. These husbands look at it as a way to show that they place their marriage above other relationships, and they respect their wives enough to let her know that she’s the only woman for them. It’s meant to show honor to the woman they made promises and to show that they intend to be men of their word. It protects women from assaults that are far too common.

For those who may not know my story, I spent years as a proponent of cross-sex friendships. For five years, Rich was my best friend. We went to church together, we played music together, we hung out together, we went to dinner together, we texted one another, primarily without our spouses. And yes, for a brief time before we left our exes and became a couple, our relationship was unquestionably more than “just friends.”

But obviously we didn’t just decide one day, “Hey, we should turn have an affair that turns our lives upside-down and leave our spouses and make life hard for our kids!” Of course there was a slow creep toward that eventuality. And for the most part, that’s why the Billy Graham rule exists. Not because men automatically assume that they’re going to lust uncontrollably after a woman just because they share a meal together or women assume that a man is just scheming to get into their skirt, but because they want to avoid that slow creep.

So what’s my perspective now, on the other side? After all, I’ve not only seen, but participated in the worst-case scenario for not following the Billy Graham rule. Would I tell my younger self to renege all of those words I wrote and spoke about close friendships between men and women?

Perhaps some of them.

  1. If someone was looking at a cross-sex friendship and they were already married, I would ask them to take a real, hard, honest look at their marriage. I didn’t do that. I was deeply lonely for years, but I ignored how that loneliness affected how I viewed my marriage. We didn’t fight. We had regular enough sex. We had kids together. I thought that was enough. It wasn’t enough. Don’t assume that it’s enough. If you’re filling a void in your marriage with someone else, it’s bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re attracted to them or not, it’s bad. The consequences might be worse if you’re attracted to them, but using friends to avoid your marriage is always a negative.
  2. Know that yes, divorce is an option. I was fully in the “divorce isn’t an option” club, which in my case translated to, “marital discord isn’t an option.” When things were hard in my marriage, I had friends to make me forget. I don’t think I ignored things in those relationships because I knew that friendships could come and go – we hadn’t made any vows, so if I wanted to keep the friendship, it was worth working on it. I’ve been divorced now. So yeah, I know that divorce is out there. Not as a scary thing. Not as an escape hatch. But marriage often isn’t forever, and if I want mine to last, I need to be invested in it and working on it.
  3. Be a lot more honest with that friend, and if you don’t want to, do it even more. I am absolutely certain that both Rich and I could see the cracks in the other’s marriage, and we were both pretty quiet about them. There were definitely times when one or the other of us should have said, “You need to put time in with your wife/husband.” We didn’t, and in those times, we weren’t being good friends to each other. Of course we all fudge a little with those closest to us, because we want to see them in the best light, but some things call for brutal honesty, and the state of other close relationships should be one of them.

And yet.

I still stand strong against the idea of keeping sexes separated in their friendships. I believe that we have ways that we see the world that benefit one another and can only be truly shared by friends who are close. I believe that our interests and values should influence our relationships far more than what is going on in our bathing suit areas. I believe that we show a high regard for people when we are willing to engage with them as people, rather than seeing them as potential pitfalls. I believe that we reflect the truth of the gospel when we actually behave in a way that reflects Galatians 3:28 that declares that our oneness in Christ should far outweigh the differences in our sexes.

There are ways for me to honor my marriage. Ignoring half of the population won’t be one of them.

 

Posted in Marriage, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Creating a Pliable God

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In a meme that seems to have originated with the creator of the Red Starbucks Cup Outrage, Joshua Feuerstein, there is a picture of a good looking white guy with long hair and suitcases under his arms and caption reading “On My Way Back to the White House.” It’s supposed to represent Jesus, who has apparently been missing for a few years, heading back to Washington D.C., now that we’ve got a new president. Also, Jesus is a white guy. From the middle east.

It was shared by Christian singer Vicki Yohe (who has since erased her entire social media profile) with the caption, “You know you are doing something right when there is so much opposition!!! #excitingtimes.”

During the inauguration on Friday, Franklin Graham took to the podium and commented, “Mr. President, in the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform.”

I get it. We want to encourage our friends and we want to feel like we’re backing a winner. It’s why we like underdog stories (kind of). So if our friend is facing adversity, we say, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” It’s why rain can be a good omen on a wedding day, even if Alanis thinks it’s ironic.

When one is a Christian, they’re not supposed to be beholden to things like superstition or omens. They’re supposed to quote the book of Proverbs, not quaint colloquialisms. But the human desire to lift up our friends or put ourselves on the winning side is hard to overcome, and so faith is profaned and God is forced into the worldview that most closely resembles our own.

Suddenly rain during an inauguration isn’t “good luck,” it’s “God’s blessing.” Protests against an unqualified, vulgar president are a sign that Jesus is taking his bags to visit the White House.

We have seen it before. God sent a tornado to protest the ELCA ordaining LGBTQ ministers. God caused an the tsunami in Japan that killed nearly 16,000 people because the White House repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. God stopped protecting America from terrorist attacks because of the ACLU.

It’s convenient, because this pliable God also shows approval if the weather is lovely and if people are lining up behind the person you support. No matter the circumstances, God can be bent and twisted to back that which is most pertinent to the person doing the bending and twisting.

When we twist things often enough, they begin to weaken. The same applies to God. If we tack God’s name onto every view that we already hold, we diminish God’s power. We take what is holy and make it profane when God is used as a stamp of approval for that which is already believed. After all, if God destroyed people because you think it’s sinful to support marriage equality, couldn’t it also follow that God killed people in recent storms in Mississippi because I think it’s a sin to have supported Trump?

It may feel like honoring God when we invoke that power into our discussions of politics and culture, but claiming to speak for God is serious business and we should treat it with reverence and awe.

In other words, we shouldn’t boil down God’s power to a weather report.

Posted in Faith and Doubt, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Why I Support Protesting Trump


We tend to have selective amnesia about how people react when there’s a change of party in the White House. Some always feel disenfranchised and overreact with the worst possible caricatures of what the words said during the campaigns could mean. And I’m old enough and cynical enough to agree that most of the time it’s a case of the losing side just being sore losers. Because really, we’ve mostly had educated men in leadership who have surrounded themselves with other educated men and women. I may wildly disagree with their agendas, but the caricatures were mostly unfair.

I don’t feel that way this time. 

The president’s own words have painted the caricature. He’s the one who said “grab ’em by the pussy. He’s the one who flailed around, mocking disabled people. He’s the one who called Mexican immigrants rapists. He’s the one who brought up the inner city every time he was talking about black people. He’s the one who told followers to “knock the crap out of” protesters. He’s the one who calls people who didn’t vote for him his enemies. He’s the one who encouraged foreign governments to hack the emails of his political opponent. He’s the one who called her nasty and threatened to jail her.

These aren’t exaggerations. These aren’t overreactions. These aren’t the machinations of sore losers.

These. Are. His. Words.

So yes. I fully support the protests today. And tomorrow and the next day and the next day. Not because I’m disappointed in the outcome of the election, even though I am. Not because I’m a woman, even though I am. Not because I’m the mom of LGBTQ kids, even though I am. 

I support all of these protests because his words are worthy of protest. Today and every day following.

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Betrayal

It’s been nearly 2 months since I’ve written here. The last time I took such a long blogging break it was after my affair and divorce. My marriage now is just fine, but since November 8th, I have had a sense of being betrayed.

To be sure, I have been on the outs with Evangelicalism for quite a while. I probably haven’t used that term to describe myself in at least the past 8 years. But we’ve still traveled in the same circles. I’ve attended Evangelical churches nearly my entire life, and I recognize that there are aspects of Evangelicalism that have had a positive impact on my life. Virtues like honesty, repentance, humility were taught to me as a part of my Evangelical upbringing, and I am grateful for that.

Evangelical teaching is etched into my being. I am the woman I am today largely in part because of my Evangelical upbringing. Even without the label, it is still part of who I am.

So when an overwhelming percentage of Evangelical voters cast their ballot for Donald Trump three months ago, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of betrayal, like everything that I have believed of Evangelicalism has been a lie.

I grew up being told by Evangelicals that True Love Waits. But then Evangelicals supported a man who said that sexually assaulting a woman was the right of his celebrity.

I grew up being told by Evangelicals that life inside the womb matters, even and especially when that life is touched by disability. But then Evangelicals voted for a man who uses grotesque gestures to mock those with whom he disagrees, using his body rather than his words to call people “retards.”

I grew up being told by Evangelicals that repentance is essential for every man, woman, and child. But then Evangelicals voted for a candidate who said that he wasn’t sure he’d ever asked God for forgiveness.

I grew up being told by Evangelicals that we are to care for the least of these. But then Evangelicals joined with Trump in threatening to abandon Syrian refugees, many of who are women and children.

I grew up being told by Evangelicals that moral relativism is the scourge of all who would call themselves Christian. But then Evangelicals said that we were just electing a president, not a pastor in chief, so his character didn’t matter.

I grew up being told by Evangelicals that we see the fruits of genuine faith, laid out in Galatians as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. But then Evangelicals elected to office a man who claims a Christian faith, but whose fruits are hatred, anger, fear, impetuosity, bullying, cruelty, brashness, infidelity, and impulsivity. 

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And as betrayed as I feel by this, I imagine thinking, feeling Evangelicals are feeling that betrayal as well. In nearly every way possible, Evangelicals betrayed the tenets of Evangelicalism in the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency.

The lead-up to betrayal usually catches us off-guard. We don’t intend to break with what we hold dear. But there are small compromises along the way. A silence when torture is  used. Feigned ignorance when an entire religion is maligned because of the acts of a few. Pretending that saying “all lives matter,” is basically the same as saying “black lives matter.”

Then the betrayal happens and your first instinct is to find something or someone else to blame. You weren’t voting for Trump, you were voting for a seat on the Supreme Court. You weren’t voting for a racist, you were voting for someone who was tough on crime. You weren’t voting for a misogynist, you were just voting for someone who would make sure the Church wouldn’t be in danger of marrying gay couples. If only everyone else was better, you wouldn’t have been in this relationship. Betrayal was the only choice available.

But here’s what I know about betrayal. We must own it. Even if we believe that our excuses are valid, even if we believe that we had no choice in the matter, even if we believe that the ends justify the means, we must own our betrayal and we must repent. To build trust, to repair relationships, we must acknowledge our sin and commit to doing better. 

Evangelicals, abandoning your principles to vote for Trump was a betrayal. To black and brown people. To Muslims. To women. To children. To the LGBTQ community. To yourselves.

You do have a choice going forward. You can continue down the path of the betrayal, allowing your concessions to darken and become more damaging to those you claim are the children of God. Or you can repent and work with those you have harmed to foster trust and to rebuild a sense of companionship.

Some of us will be waiting. Probably not for long.

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3 Actions to Take Following the Trump Election

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It’s been three weeks since the election, and it’s been hard for me to think much about writing. I’m still processing a lot of what happened, and I’ll be honest, it’s not always going great. I’m deeply saddened by it on levels that are still revealing themselves to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to a place of understanding how this level of hatred, fear, and incompetence has risen to the level of president.

In the days immediately following the election, I felt deeply overwhelmed. My kids were (and still are) deeply upset and fearful about how a Trump presidency would affect them. I have a few LGBTQ kids in my family, and when anti-gay hate group leader Ken Blackwell was tagged to lead the domestic policy end of the transition team, their fears seemed to have some basis. We’ve watched white supremacist Steve Bannon elevated to the position of Chief Strategist. Just this morning we watched the President-Elect tweet that flag burners should be jailed or lose their citizenship. The “drunk uncle” has been given the most powerful position in the world and we don’t have the tools to deal with it because most of the time we just block him on Facebook and avoid family reunions when he’ll be around. We’re not equipped to have his YouTube channel as our primary means of governance.

There’s a lot of madness out there. And by “out there” I mean, “right here in our country.” Overwhelmed seems to be the word of the day for a lot of people, especially minority groups and those close to them.

When I start to feel like everything is just too much, my tendency is to just shut down. Time to bake cookies, binge watch Breaking Bad, and ignore everything that’s happening. After all, I’m just a mom in West Virginia. People aren’t listening to me. And there’s an element of truth to that. I’m not a powerful voice. I can’t change the outcome of the election. I can’t change the political appointments made. There is very little on a national level that I can affect in any way.

But that doesn’t mean that I can stop. It doesn’t mean that I have no power at all.

So here are a few things that I’m doing already or will be doing in the coming weeks and months and years.

  1. I’m knitting. I love knitting and crocheting, and I’ve decided to put that love to work and I’m selling some of my knit items with 50% of the proceeds of the sales going to LGBTQ+ charities. I’ve already been able to make a donation to GLSEN from sales and there are several other organizations that I hope to support financially. If you’re interested in ordering something, you can check out the Facebook page or Instagram feed. I’ll likely get an Etsy store up soon, but this is a start.
  2. I’m fasting. I’ve decided that on the 9th of each month, I’m going to fast and pray for one of the groups that Donald Trump vilified during his campaign. Money that I would spend on food will be donated to an organization that supports that group. On December 9, I will be fasting and praying for Syrian refugees and my donation will be going to Islamic Relief USA. I invite you to join me. You can check out the blog’s Facebook page each month to see what organization I’ll be supporting and I’ll be sure to include links so that you can donate along with me.
  3. I’m writing. Not so much on the blog (though I hope to remedy that), but I’m writing letters and emails to people who I see as making a positive impact in the way that we communicate. It’s important to let people know when they have done something damaging, but it’s probably more important to let them know when they’ve done something good. It’s not always easy to stand up for the oppressed, and people need to be encouraged when they do because it helps build courage to do it again and again. And then a few more times. Find politicians, writers, activists who are making a difference and offer them encouragement.

These things aren’t sexy. They don’t make for great Instagram pics or even really blog posts. There’s nothing terribly big and bold about these actions.

But these are primarily positive acts. Fear, hatred, anger – these things can motivate for a while, but they become wearing. They grind away at our humanity and leave us feeling lethargic and beaten down. They only add to the darkness. But when we fill ourselves with light, there’s no need to battle darkness. It simply can’t occupy the same space.

Find ways to bring light. This world and your own little corner of the world need it.

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Caring for Yourself as You Parent After a Trump Election

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On Tuesday night, as the results began to point toward a Trump presidency, my son messaged me and asked if he could come up and hug our dog. He arrived around 1am as his sisters sat in the living room, refreshing the electoral map as more states turned dark red. We all sat on the couches, wondering how this could be happening.

On Wednesday, I allowed my girls to skip school. We had already discussed a potential day off if Hillary Clinton had won, but following the results, there was no question that they needed to stay home. It wasn’t until the late afternoon when I noted that it had been an hour since anyone had been crying.

I have two transgender children, a son and a daughter. They have significant fears about the impact that a Trump presidency might have on their lives. What will happen to their ability to use the bathroom? What will happen to their ability to obtain hormones and surgeries? What will happen to their ability to marry?

My other daughter is wondering if her body is really her own. Do boys and men now have the right to put their hands on her after the president-elect said that he did that to women, and those boasts were brushed off as “locker room talk”? And if she is assaulted, will her stories be believed or would she be seen  as another woman in the crowd who must be trying to ruin a man’s life?

These are just my kids and these are just some of their fears. Some are more irrational and I can address those, but some are legitimate concerns and those are harder to address. We have talked about how living an authentic life always carries with it some risk, but that the risk is worth it to be who we are. We are trying to embrace the idea that the joy of being our honest selves must outweigh our fears. Right now, that is harder to see.

There are other parents who are caring for their adopted children with black or brown skin. Parents who are immigrants. Parents who are gay. Parents who are Muslim. Parents who are atheists. Parents who have children with disabilities. Each of them are scanning the Internet, searching for ways to assuage the anxiety that the election results have stirred in the people they love the most.

But if you’re like me, you may have been ignoring some of your own fears and anxieties as you tend to those of your children. You’ve read about how to care for your kids following a Trump election, but may be finding it difficult to care for yourself while you do that.

As a reminder to all of us, the best way we can help our children with their emotional struggles is through dealing with our own mental health. Here are just a couple of ideas for caring for yourself as you care for your hurting child.

  1. It’s okay for them to see you cry. I haven’t watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech because I’m pretty sure there will be a lot of ugly tears that may raise some anxiety for my kids. But we have all cried together. I have told them that I’m sadder than I thought I would be that there won’t be a female president sworn in on January 20th. We have cried as we have held one another, and it’s good for them to know that I join them in their grief and it’s good for me to let them see my humanity.
  2. It’s okay to take a break from being a parent. My kids are a bit older, so my ability to find alone time is a bit easier. But regardless of how old your kids are, find time to process your grief without them. Talk to a therapist. Go to the gym. Spend time in prayer or silent reflection. Scream into a pillow. Yes, we probably need to shield our children from some of our more base reactions to the results, but we still need to access them in some way.
  3. It’s okay to unfriend some people on social media. We will never agree with everyone. We will absolutely come in contact with people who voted differently than we did. And when we are parenting children who could very well be affected directly by some of the policies the president-elect has said that he will enforce, those votes can feel like a personal attack. In our social media circles, we interact with people of all kinds. People who we friended to help tend our gardens back in the FarmVille days. People we knew in high school but weren’t super close to. Family members. Close friends. I believe there is beauty in having diverse friendships, but I also know that I only have a certain amount of emotional bandwidth available, and it does not extend to everyone whose friend request I clicked “accept” on. There are relationships that will need to be repaired, but if I feel bombarded by negativity from “friends” where there is no relationship, it makes it harder to focus on the friendships that matter. Evaluate the strength of the relationship and if it needs to go, let it go.
  4. It’s okay to have negative feelings that don’t have to do with your kids. Most of my  frustrations with the election of the next president are related to how his presidency will impact my children. But there are feelings of anger and fear and sadness that are unrelated to those. I’m just a regular old white lady, so I can feel like my feelings are unimportant compared to those of someone with less privilege, but they are still valid. I need to acknowledge them and work through them so that I can see the pain and fear of my children more clearly.
  5. It’s okay to ask others for help. Rely on your communities for encouragement. I’m a member of several groups for parents of LGBTQ+ kids and we have been leaning heavily on one another the past few days. Find friends who can commiserate with you. Friends who will listen to your complaints without trying to fix you. Grief is handled best in community, so find a community where you can share your grief honestly.

As we parent as minorities or as parents of minority children or both, we must remember that we are more than just parents. Take time to care for yourself. Our children need it.

 

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