A Slow Burn … and … The 2016 Christmas Chronicles!

It was such a slow burn.  It was so slow that it was almost imperceptible for years.  At times, I could vaguely feel the heat and on occasions I certainly sensed some scorching … but generally, I didn’t take much notice. I simply fanned all the flickers firmly out of my awareness.

It was an implicit and somewhat insidious pattern of behavior that developed so early on in my life.  My gaze was focused outward … my attention turned towards others. I was perpetually hurrying and scurrying to warm others … to make sure they were happy … endlessly endeavoring to earn their love and affection.  And I unwittingly thought that my efforts were keeping me warm too.  And, I guess they did … to some small degree … but those flames were also singeing the edges of my soul. Parts of me were slowly burning out.

strong-but-exhaussted

As a child growing up in a pretty dysfunctional home, I had erroneously assumed that if I could ensure that others were warm, cozy and happy (only ALL of  them) … they in return, would keep me warm and cozy too.  It didn’t always turn out that way. In fact, for the most part, for the better part of my recollection …  very few folks have actually noticed if/when I was left shivering. Not that anyone knew how I really felt. I always put a smile on my face regardless of how I was feeling. It might have been wiser to simply ask for help … but then again … the ‘strong’ ones don’t tend to admit when they we are cold.  No, we’re “fine”.  Arghhhhh.

Source unknown

As I discussed in another blog, part of the problem was A Tragic Misunderstanding on my part, but it’s always harder to see the picture clearly when you are inside the frame … even if you are a master’s level counsellor. Gah!! After decades of discounting, deferring and/or dismissing my own needs, I got to the point where I could no longer ignore the unfavorable build up of cold ash that was slowly stifling my spirit and snuffing out the bright light of my internal flame.  I was doggone depleted. And my usual efforts to toss another log at my internal flame flicker were simply not enough to re-ignite it anymore. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to warm anyone unless I took time to rekindle the embers of my inner spark.

Yes … as some wise soul pointed out … ‘you can burn yourself up trying to give light to others.’ And so … I decided I needed to take a break from my usual way of showing up in the world … both professionally (as a counsellor and life coach) and personally (as a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, friend etc).  I needed to take some time away from tending to others (in general), and instead, focus upon finding more ways to warm my own charred spirit. I decided to call it my ‘sabbatical’ … because a sabbatical is when you take time away from your usual responsibilities in order to focus upon something else or learn something new.  I spoke about it more specifically in another blog entitled  The Gift of Personal Renewal.  Yes. I seriously needed to unlearn my default pattern of putting myself last.

In my profession, we are schooled about the increased probability of “burnout”, “compassion fatigue” and/or “vicarious trauma”  As a result, I have always protected myself from these potential perils by ensuring I get enough sleep, eating nutritiously (well — mostly!),  exercising my body (walking, yoga) and other forms of ‘self care’ (massage and reflexology and solitude) …  but it had gotten to the point where the drains on me personally from 2015 through 2016 were reducing the benefits of these professional safeguards.  Ultimately, they were no longer adequate nor sufficient to nourish my soul.

So, for my sabbatical, I opted to amp up my own self-care considerably. And, in an effort to optimize my efforts towards personal renewal, I also decided to opt-out of doing things that had  typically become my responsibility.  That included Christmas! Yes. I decided to surrender the extra responsibilities, obligations, expectations and work load that had become an inherent part of the Season for me. If I am going to be totally transparent, I recognized that over the past 20 years Christmas had been losing its luster for me. I was feeling increasingly burdened by the duties I put upon myself to deliver a delightful Christmas experience for my family. And, even more than that … I was seriously wondering what it be like to have Christmas magically unfold before you.  Yes … I was aching to have someone else doing all the fussing and bothering in order to make it merry and bright for me.

I explained myself and asked my husband to take a turn and do what I do every year. It felt like a bold move … but I reckoned that it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for him to shoulder the responsibilities … for just this one time … out of our 40 Christmas celebrations together.  And, if the whole truth be known … part of me needed the break, but another part of me wanted him to get a serious sense of how much time and energy it takes to make it all jolly every year. In fact, I laughed out loud when I read the following on Pintrest because it pretty accurately described my hubby’s level of involvement as, year after year, Christmas magically (i.e. easily and effortlessly) rolled out before him.

dad-has-no-idea

After my mom and dad split up when I was twelve, my mom did the very best she could on our welfare budget … but I always dreamed of enjoying those Hallmark holiday celebrations that I was convinced all the two parent kids were having.  And so, year after year, I have been wholeheartedly invested in creating the kind of Christmas for my family that I had always most wanted myself. Yes, I was determined to make my dreams for the ideal Christmas come true for them … year after year after year. 

And so, over the years, I had developed numerous heart-warming traditions for our little family. I joyfully adorned every corner of the house and decorated the tree with unparalleled zeal and stuffed all the stockings for our daughters (and eventually their partners) … each with their own special color/pattern of Christmas wrap. I carefully selected and wrapped gifts for each of the teachers with oodles of ribbons and bright, beautiful bows. I took the lead role in organizing our effort to anonymously deliver gifts to the doorstep of someone we chose for the 12 Days of Christmas. I also mailed out five or six dozen handwritten and personalized Christmas cards on our family’s behalf. I spent hours dipping hand-made chocolates (both dark and milk) in a variety of flavored fondant (peppermint, almond, coffee, maple walnut, rum & butter, peanut butter, etc) along with Olympian cremes (rolled in toasted coconut or chopped nuts) as well as  soft, chewy caramels and licorice toffee individually wrapped in red or green foil too. I boxed them and wrapped up the lids in festively colored paper and completed the presentation with a legend identifying all the flavors. And they were deelicious!!  I artistically iced, at minimum, 12 dozen homemade Gingerbread cookies (in various Christmas cutouts) for sharing in our annual cookie exchange. And, every year, I made a double batch of the shortbread recipe that became our family favorite (from the cookie exchange!).  I often bottled up home-made Baileys and, for many years, I created huge shortbread wreaths to give out as tokens of my appreciation to honor my friends.  Sheesh … I even have an old pic of those yummy gems!

shortbread-wreath

It was also very important to me to spearhead my daughter’s understanding of the true Christmas spirit as one focused upon ‘giving’ rather than just ‘receiving.’ To that end, I helped and encouraged them to fill ‘Shoe Boxes’ for the less fortunate.  And, in an effort to pay it forward from my own childhood memories, I always faithfully donated to ‘Toys for Tots.’ I always tried to get things done early in the season (October  or November) because I had to commute 80 kilometers/50 miles (often on crappy winter roads) to the nearest city.  And … I had figure out how to surreptitiously purchase all the gifts with my three little gals in tow (childcare was not an option). Somehow I pulled the wool over their eyes so the ‘believers’ didn’t catch on … year after year after year.

I also remember navigating the shopping mall chaos and standing as patiently as possible so our sweet little girls could leave their requests with Santa.  I will never forget the year that my two daughters both changed their minds (at the last minute!) about what they wanted for Christmas!!  It was during the Care Bear craze of the early 1980s and perhaps all the advertising had finally gotten to them. No one was more surprised than me when they unexpectedly asked Santa for Care Bears. What??  Unfortunately, by that point in the season, there was not a Care Bear to be found in any store anywhere on this planet!  So what was a doting momma to do??  I ended up purchasing an official Care Bear pattern and spent hours sewing up two facsimile bears … a ‘Cheer’ Bear for Tiana and a ‘Tenderheart’ Bear for Sherisse. I hoped they would look authentic and real enough to pass their inspection.

carebear-delight

Yep.  I clearly nailed it. The sheer delight on Tiana’s face tickled my heart clear down to my toes. We still have both those blessed bears in our grandchildren’s toy box. The years have not been kind to them … but for the very best of reasons.  I don’t think they get much, if any, attention anymore. I’m guessing our grandchildren think they are downright ugly … but …  I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them! And, although they were just homemade imitations of the store-bought Care Bears … there is no doubt that those ‘replicas’ certainly became real in my daughter’s hearts.  As Margery Williams stated in The Velveteen Rabbit:

[Real is something] you become. It takes a long time … Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes don’t see as well and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”

care-bears-collage

Oh my … the sweet riches of making Christmas’s past as merry as possible cannot be denied. I mailed off special care packages (dutifully heeding the Canada Post deadlines for delivery) filled with small tokens of love for my father and step-mother … usually a banana loaf or some homemade cranberry fudge … some hand-crafted ornaments … and maybe some pics of our growing girls to add to their grandparent’s ‘Brag Book’ (we had no internet/social media connections back then).  I made the annual wife-saver (eventually two of them – one savory and one sweet) preceded by warm gooey cinnamon buns (fresh out of the oven) on Christmas morning. I have typically hosted Christmas Day at our house for the last quarter century … ever since my Aunt Mil passed away … and so I’ve roasted the bird and/or the ham with all of the fixings.

We always spent Christmas Eve with my in-laws because it was my mother-in-law’s birthday. I leaned in to help as much as I could on Christmas Eve too because my mom-in-law was disabled and the bulk of the work fell upon her only daughter.  And, of course, the annual Christmas tasks were not complete until the turkey carcass was simmering in the crock pot and the homemade TV dinners were assembled into pie shells with all the leftovers (the brilliant idea of my sweet sister-in-law!). And then … I typically led the charge in cleaning it up … always grateful for whatever support was offered.  As I itemize all the ‘work’ I’ve invested in the Christmas preparation and execution, I have to concede that it has not been without a strong element of martyrdom sneaking in over the last two decades. And so, when I saw the following sign on a Facebook page of a young millennial, I could clearly relate … and … realized that it wasn’t just me that often felt this way.

exhausted-from-watching-me-do-everything

Little by little, over the decades, I have stopped doing most of it. We’ve grown in numbers and it’s just so much harder to ensure everyone is warm and happy. I have continued to fill all the stockings and decorate the house, make the meals and be attentive for when I needed to put out trays of appetizers.  These days, my husband roasts a Prime Rib in the smoker and my grown daughters contribute to the meal preparations and my sons-in-law help with the clean up and my oldest grand-daughter helps me prepare the ooey-gooey cinnamon buns.  And so, of late, my biggest concern has been that I’m typically bouncing up and down during the Christmas morning gift opening (to tend to things that needed doing) that I feel like I miss out on witnessing the joy as my family unwraps the gifts I have invested my heart into getting for them.

So, in 2016, I was eagerly anticipating simply sitting back and let it all unfold effortlessly in front of me.  There was a part of me that delighted in the thought that because Christmas was ‘on him’ this year, my hubby would have the opportunity to invest countless hours and oodles of energy into making it a Hallmark kind of Christmas for me.  I suspected that I would deeply savor the experience.  Yes.  I had a lot of hopes riding on switching things up. Ha. Ha. I can hear you all wisely wincing at the ‘set up’ I created for both him and me.

That said, I do hold some very special memories of Christmas past where I was on the receiving end of the fussing and bothering. One of my all time favorite memories was during the era that we were hand-making our gifts for each other (to resist the commercialization of the Season).  Anyway, I was reduced to tears the year that our daughter Sherisse handcrafted stockings for her dad and I!!  And then … she and her sisters filled them with gifts for us … so we could join them in our annual stocking opening!  It still remains one of the kindest and most meaningful gestures I can remember.  We continue to use those stockings and my heart secretly smiles with warmest recollection of their thoughtfulness every time I see them.

Another one of my other most favorite Christmas memories of the Season being made merry and bright for me is when my husband loaded up our little girls and drove 20 miles to pick out a fresh, live tree that easily reached our 10 FOOT ceilings.  It most majestically replaced the scrawny little five foot fake one we had been using!  Honestly, I remember it being the most extraordinary tree I had ever seen!!  The scent of spruce filled our home!!  I even had to make a whole schwack of red and white bows out of some ribbon I happened to have on hand because I simply didn’t have enough ornaments for a tree of such magnitude!  It was beyond my wildest dreams!

best-christmas-tree-ever-1988

And well … I dug up an old photo so I could show you.  All I can say is that the picture does not even remotely do any kind of justice to just how much that tree warmed my heart and nourished my spirit!!! I get toasty all over again just thinking about it. ❤

At any rate, it was quite interesting to turn the baton entirely over to my husband and wait for him to commence the merry making. Staying out of it and keeping my mouth shut was more challenging than I expected. He picked out the tree on the first weekend in December (as per our usual) and got it standing up in the house on the 6th.  It smelled quite beautiful.  I was heading out of town on the 8th and 9th … and … I fantasized that I would return home to a brightly lit and beautifully decorated tree. But …  no such luck.

I could have decorated it myself, but remember … I was on sabbatical.  And … I knew that if I did that I would have really resented my husband (for my martyring actions) because we had agreed it was his turn to make it merry around here.  So, as excruciating as it was to let it stand there dark and naked for over another week, I forced myself to dwell in the discomfort until he decided to do it.  And, I noticed … he chose not set himself on fire in order to meet our long-standing traditions and/or my expectations around timelines.  It was finally decorated 10 days before Christmas. christmas-tree-2016

He got it done while I was enjoying some sabbatical self-care  … I was getting a pedicure.  He really did a beautiful job of decorating it. And … he commented on how many marvelous memories came back to him as he dressed the tree with all the ornaments we have received from our girls and/or picked up over the years along on our travels.  Our tree really did look quite lovely!  It does not escape me though, as I write this, that the tree that most warmed my heart (with all the red and white handmade bows) was not anywhere near as ‘pretty’ as this one.  I guess it’s really true what they say … looks aren’t everything.

Our tree is in the living room, but we gather in our family room (near the fireplace) to open gifts on Christmas morning.  As you can see from the pics below, my idea of “decking the halls” is a little different than my husband’s.  I have to concede that his lack of interest in decorating the family room irked me a bit.  I really missed the lights … BUT … it was really interesting for me to observe, once again, that because he was very busy at work, he was not inclined to set himself on fire tending to things that I have always thought were essential.  In fact, for the first time in over 20 years, he also opted NOT to put up outdoor lights on the front of the house.  He did get some up in the backyard, though, and they looked gorgeous twinkling in the moonlight.

decorating

Once again … keeping my mouth shut and letting him do Christmas his way was much harder than I expected. Yes, with boxes of decorations left undisturbed in the basement, our tree was the SOLO sign of the Season in our house until December 21st … when the decorations unexpectedly doubled!!  We received a gorgeous glitter dusted poinsettia in a beautifully spirited ‘pay it forward’ exchange that one of our next-door neighbors inspired in our cul-de-sac.  Thank you for that Mandy!

poinsettia

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While I could have tendered this task over to my hubby, I jumped at the opportunity to savor the Christmas spirit tucked into that neighborly invitation myself.  I got directly into the car and headed downtown to pick up a little something to take over to the neighbor to our ‘right’.  Honestly, it felt so good to be doing something Christmassy.  And, as luck would have it, while I was at it, I ended up tripling the decorations in our home (and fueling my Christmas spirit!) by purchasing a Christmas wall hanging (that was 50% off!!).  The message completely captured my heart!  Fa la la la la … la la la la.

wall-hanging

Yes. It was becoming clearer and clearer to me that many of the joys I usually experienced during the Season were clearly tucked into the spaces between the holiday tasks and toilings!  And, I must share that watching my husband delegate the holiday tasks to others was also very eye opening for me!  He had no problem enlisting my three grown daughters to help with his stocking shopping. I actually felt a bit guilty because I certainly didn’t mean for their workload to go up because I had surrendered mine.  They reassured me, however, that they had quite enjoyed helping him out.

I did, however, secretly worry that their compassionate efforts to help their dad were somehow going to sabotage his appreciation for how much time and effort I actually invested in the annual merry making. I didn’t want them to make it too easy for him! I also suspected that daddy’s little girls might rescue the old boy with the cooking and kitchen duties too!  But, as it turned out … my three sons-in-law stepped right up to the plate and helped out immensely with ALL the cooking and cleaning.  I played games while they slaved away.

I had to silence the critic in my head that niggled at me relentlessly … suggesting I should get up and help. I reminded myself that I was supposed to be on sabbatical. And so, I tried to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself throughout the whole season. I did, however, pick up the donation for Toys for Tots. I didn’t want to risk it falling off my husband’s radar. I also printed out the sticky cinnamon bun recipe as well as the wife-saver recipe for him. As it turned out, though, he opted to make a full breakfast of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs and pancakes instead.  It was absolutely scrumptious, and although it meant much more work and clean up on Christmas day, the boys did it the way they preferred.  And, guess what?  I just sat back and thoroughly enjoyed all their fussing and bothering and kept my mouth shut about how much quicker the clean up would have been with just one pan each from the wife-savers!

I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, at one point however.  I felt obliged to remind my husband that he also needed to purchase gifts for our eight grandchildren.  I’m not sure why that task caught him by surprise, but it did. Ultimately, he met up with a couple of his daughters  and they helped him choose some gifts that were really big hits with the grandkids!

Yes, he was doing Christmas his way.  Perhaps my biggest surprise was when he told me he was going to pick up some gift certificates for our son-in-law’s stockings for fancy hot shaves from Tommy Gunns.  He added, quite nonchalantly, that while he was at it, he might indulge himself in a hot shave himself.

Whattt???  The voice in my head balked loudly!How on earth was he ever going to appreciate how much effort goes into making it merry and bright if he was going to find ways to enjoy and nourish himself while he was at it??”

Yes. I know. It does not escape me just how ridiculous that sounds as I say it out loud. Bah. Humbug. I wasn’t sure whether to be cranky … or … to simply recognize that I was being seriously schooled in how I could very well have been seizing more peace and joy for myself all of these years!  Here I had been hoping he would get a deeper sense of how much elbow grease it takes to put smiles in the hearts of others … and instead … I was learning, over and over, that you are not required to set yourself on fire to warm others.  Gahhh.

All in all, though, I think he did gain a better idea of how challenging it could be … in the long run. There was a bit of a snafu with his efforts to stuff the stockings.  Because it had been so frigidly cold here, I had packed up a big bag with all my winter weather wear to keep in the car while traveling.  I’ll spare you all the details, but I discovered that my toque and mitts had been earmarked as stocking stuffers!  It was so darn tempting to not alert him of this error … to simply let the chips fall … and let my daughter find some of her mother’s old winter wear gifted to her in her stocking.  But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut on this one. I felt compelled to save him. Nonetheless, it’s a faux pas that will go down in history!

And … when it finally occurred to my hubby that maybe he should be stripping the beds and laundering the linens for our extra 13 overnight guests, it only took him a few seconds to reckon that the sheets couldn’t be that dirty since the last time our family stayed over.  Once again, I observed how he was not catching himself on fire to keep others warm. And, you know what?  Everyone slept fine … in those sheets that had not been freshly washed and dried and tucked with crisp hospital corners around the mattresses.

And so … I started to question myself: “Maybe … just maybe … I never needed to do all the fussing and bothering that I believed was such an essential part of Christmas??  Was it possible that I had been burning myself up unnecessarily?

And, in all honesty, I also have to concede that my lack of involvement was just not as nourishing as I thought it would be.  It is simply not my nature to watch from the sidelines.  And … I also recognized, just as the plaque I bought suggested, that much of the Christmas spirit is tucked into the moments between completing all the tasks.  I did offer to help my husband wrap everything … 64 gifts in all … 54 stuffers (9 for each daughter/son-in-law), 8 gifts for the grand-kids and one gift exchange item for each of us. It would have been torture to watch him fumbling with the gift wrap by himself with his fat sausage fingers.  It ended up being quite enjoyable … we cranked up the Christmas tunes and sipped on a nice Cabernet-Sauvignon while we cut and taped and chatted about Christmas’s past.

And then, a day or two later, I literally jumped at the invitation to travel into the city and help my busy daughters wrap their children’s stocking gifts.  I also toted them all home so our grandkids wouldn’t catch sight of any of them in transit to our house. It’s getting harder and harder to uphold the spirit secret of ‘Santa’ as they grow older.  In fact, my bright little 5 year old granddaughter reluctantly but earnestly admitted to her mother “I don’t trust you fully” as she skeptically questioned the whole notion of Santa. It was just no longer adding up for her.  It was an interesting year for my eldest grandson too. Even though, at eleven, he had already given up ‘believing’ … he became suspicious this year when he and sisters each received an iPad equivalent from ‘Santa’.  He reckoned that Santa might indeed have to exist after all.  As he shared with his mom, “I know you and Dad would NEVER get these for us!” Ha ha.

And so, in 2016, a believer becomes a doubter  … and … a doubter flirts with becoming a believer.  Yep.  These are all the priceless moments that catch your heart and make your spirits soar!  And … during my sabbatical, all of my perspectives were being challenged too. It was becoming so clear that the joys that are tucked ‘in-between’ all the toiling and tasking are part of what makes it all merry and bright. And I was learning that it was possible to do so … without catching yourself on fire.

I learned so very, very much during my sabbatical! “In the final analysis” (as I fondly recall my father often saying) … I learned that I was absolutely right: If I didn’t  fuss and bother to do it all, it wouldn’t get done ……… at least not the way I thought it should.  Truth. But … I also learned that perhaps it wasn’t all necessary in the first place.

Yes.  “In the grand scheme of things” (another dad~ism) …  I came to recognize that the multiple and myriad ways I had martyred myself over the years … with the intention of making it merry for others … was pretty much misguided and somewhat unnecessary.  Who knew you could have a completely marvelous time unwrapping gifts in an entirely undecorated room?  Ha Ha. And, although no one baked the annual shortbread cookies … we ended up enjoying all kinds of baking that had been gifted to my eldest daughter. She brought them home for us to share. And, it turned out that my youngest daughter ended up making the ‘Melt-In-Your-Mouth Eggnog’ cookies I had tasted at our staff Christmas luncheon.  These cookies might even de-throne the traditional shortbread as the best cookies for Christmas consumption.  Deeelicious!!!.

Recipe Source: Pintrest … slightly adapted from allrecipes.com and inspired by Parent Pretty

And, what became most evident to me during my sabbatical was that the things that make the season truly merry and bright showed up … our children and their children. Yep. Everything that was essential and important was present.  And, no one had to set themselves on fire to feel the warmth and peace of the holiday.   Oh … and by the way … the clean up is a snap when you most of your decorations are still in the boxes downstairs.

And so, another year has passed by so quickly … and … I am happily back in the ‘make it merry’ saddle again for Christmas 2017.  And, I am realizing that I need to put up lights in the family room because I LIKE LIGHTS.  Not because of some notion that they will brighten Christmas for my family.  I am recognizing that I need to do the things that nourish the spirit of the Season for me … and … drop all the rest.  And … I am, once again, thoroughly enjoying the ambiance created by the lights in the family room this year.

Yes.  My ‘sabbatical’ taught me a whole lot and was deeply transformational for me in terms of the way I am approaching Christmas this year.  I had hoped some of the lessons learned during my sabbatical would be for my husband … and … I think there were some of those too.  But, I see that the greatest ‘ahas’ were for me.  And,  for the first time in many, many years … the preparations don’t feel like a weighty, daunting task. I am greeting them with renewed enthusiasm and zeal.  I am realizing that there is absolutely nothing that MUST be done in any particular way.  And most importantly … I really like the way it feels to fully embrace the notion that I am not required to set fire to myself to have a very delightful Christmas.

And … I am reminded, as 2018 waits eagerly around the corner, that I can show up in a way that keeps me from shivering.  I can ask for help … I can let some things go … I can give myself and my own needs some priority. And not just at Christmas … but the whole year through.

May all our hearts be warmed during the 2017 merry making  – without any singeing of our souls  …  ❤ Karen ❤

 

 

 

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Filled with PRIDE …

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Marching with the Taber Equality Alliance PRIDE FEST PARADE 2016  Lethbridge

I marched, for the very first time, in the 2016 PRIDE FEST PARADE in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada  … the largest city nearby where I live in rural Southern Alberta.  I feel badly that it took me so long to do so, because as a social worker, I made a professional commitment to resist social injustice by advocating for those who are relegated to the margins of the dominant mainstream majority. As it states in the final line of my social worker declaration:

“I will act to effect social change for the overall benefit of humanity.” 

And honestly … I not only see sociopolitical activism as my professional responsibility, but as a result of my extensive studies in anti-oppression, it has also become a personal passion to ensure that each and every one of us feels a sense of respect, love and acceptance in our lives … despite any perceived differences between us.  We certainly don’t have to agree on things and/or walk the same paths to be kind and compassionate with one another.

As an ally, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived to march in the parade … but I can tell you that being a part of the incredible PRIDE movement was deeply meaningful to me.  It touched me in ways that I could never have anticipated … and … that are exceptionally hard to describe with these words. You might get a wee sense of the sublime joy stirring in my soul from the smile showing on my face in the picture. My enthusiasm reflects the honor and pride I felt in waving the rainbow flag … both as an act of resistance to ‘othering’ and as an allied voice for inclusion.

It’s difficult to describe the energy of acceptance, joy, love and connection that was both particularly potent and entirely palpable during this event. It struck me that it didn’t really matter who you were … straight, queer, gay, lesbian, trans, bi-sexual, older, younger, married, single, white, black, brown, red, able-bodied or differently-abled.  There was such a rich and deep sense of appreciation for all of our humanity … in all its diverse expressions and equally divine incarnations. I sensed that each and every person in attendance was marinating in this undeniably warm, accepting and welcoming atmosphere.  It was clearly a safe place for folks to stand tall in the fullest expression of who they know themselves to be.

No apologies nor concessions were required in order to feel approved of … and/or … to be valued and recognized and acknowledged and appreciated. I can’t honestly remember being in any other social situation where I sensed such a complete lack of judgment. It seemed so unusual because, quite frankly, although unconditional love is loudly lauded in our culture … in reality … it seems relatively rare for one to actually experience it.  In fact, it strikes me that it can be quite challenging to find a space where people simply connect soul to soul … where hierarchies are suspended, differences are duly honored and each individual gets to feel unequivocally respected as an equally significant member of our human family.

The reality is that because I am a straight, married, white, middle-class, able-bodied, well-educated professional woman I can wander about my life enjoying an ample allowance of cultural acceptance simply because I visibly fit so comfortably into the dominant mainstream.  Not everyone is afforded this unearned grace. I reside in a very small rural town (about 8400 people) boasting a fairly homogeneous heterosexual, white, patriarchal, hard-working, family oriented and conservative Christian majority.  There is nothing problematic about that … unless you don’t happen to visibly ‘fit’ within that demographic majority … because it’s really hard to be anonymous here … unless you are good at hiding.  And, my heart aches because I know there are folks ‘hiding’ out in our little town because, in some way, they do not reflect dominant mainstream cultural norms.  Sadly, I’m aware that those who identify within the LGBTQ+ (i.e. lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus more) demographic may feel obligated to trade their personal ‘authenticity’ for the safety of small town cultural ‘approval’.  Yes. It can feel like one or the other for many folks. Many may feel pressured to hide the truth of their differences in exchange for a semblance of acceptance.

In fact, even speaking up so publicly in support of the LGBTQ+ community makes me feel somewhat vulnerable because I risk losing some of the safety and acceptance I currently garner from Taberites who perceive me to be solidly aligned with the dominant, mainstream beliefs of the Christian majority.  But I have to admit that, I too, have been hiding a bit.  I have been relatively silent in the public domain about my own sociopolitical convictions for far too long. It is time, however, as a constructivist, feminist, social worker that I stand in solidarity with those whose voices have been muted and marginalized.

From what I have come to understand, June is recognized as LGBTQ Pride Month due to a rally that took place in 1969 which was touted as the first major demonstration for gay rights.  And so, much to my own chagrin, here I am … finally joining those who have been speaking up for almost 40 years in support of the LGBTQ+ cause.

Yes.  At this point, my relative silence is starting to feel like a betrayal of human rights in general. It feels both essential and necessary to utilize some of my mainstream power and privilege to publicly support those don’t feel safe enough in our community to come out of hiding.  I sense it is important to do so, because it is common for our town locals to believe that we don’t have any members of the LGBTQ+ community living here.  They assume that the LGBTQ+ population resides only in the bigger centers.  And while it is entirely possible that many members of the LGBTQ+ community do, in fact, move away in order to live more honestly and authentically … the Forum Research Poll from 2012 estimates that approximately 5% of adults aged 18 – 59 in Alberta identify within the LGBTQ+ community.  That means, that of the 8428 people residing here … 421 may not identify as heterosexual or cisgender. And, as also noted in the Taber Times (our local newspaper) on April 5, 2017   … “of those numbers, some 194 could be students or youth (based upon a population of school age children and youth of 3, 879)”  And so, if we are not ‘seeing’ obvious evidence of this diversity in our town, then we can assume these adults, youth and children are working hard at ‘hiding’ their differences.

A couple of years  ago, I was super excited to learn that a local group had been started (in our small, rural town) called The Taber Equality Alliance (TEA).  The mission of this coalition is to create a safe space in our community for sexual and gender identity minorities and their allies.  This alliance is focused upon building a more welcoming and inclusive community through engagement, partnerships, social groups and advocacy.  I instinctively knew this initiative was something I wanted to be a part of.  We meet on a monthly basis and are slowly growing in both allies and those who identify as LGBTQ+.  Our membership hit 135 people in May of 2017!  And … we are committed to gaining more visibility in our small rural community. A while back we gained some good press coverage when we acquired our ‘Society Status’.

After participating in the Pride Parade in Lethbridge Alberta, we determined that it would serve our cause well to raise our visibility in our little town.  Our first event was a fundraiser and silent auction.  It was a great evening for LGBTQ+ members and their allies to come out and connect.  And then … we got even braver and decided to put a ‘float’ into our own little community parade.  I wasn’t able to attend but our members donned their new white TEA shirts … and then … we also competed in the Chili Competition at our infamous Taber Cornfest Celebration in August of 2016.

And even though the clouds rained on our parade … the downpour never dampened our spirits!!

Recently, we determined that we should host our own PRIDE event … right here in our own little neck of the woods.  Our delegation of 22 people entered the officious Council Chambers of the Town of Taber to request that the PRIDE flag be raised on June 12th and then allowed to fly until June 30th.  This time frame represents five percent of the year to symbolically  honor the five percent of the community that identify as  part of the LGBTQ+ community.  Two of our delegates were seated up front to provide our presentation to the seven Town of Taber Councillors.  One of our members who identifies as transgender spoke candidly about the pain she experienced:

“The first time I attempted suicide, I was 10 years old.  I had been led to believe that how I felt was wrong and sinful.  I felt a great deal of shame for feeling things I did not understand or control. If I could not be a girl, then I didn’t want to live at all. I hated myself for how I felt, and the fact that I could not be normal. I went into the kitchen and pulled the biggest knife I could find from the drawer.  I held it to my chest and struggled with myself. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t take my own life.  I placed the knife back in the drawer and went to my room.  I couldn’t end my suffering.  I felt completely and utterly trapped in this wretched life.

This wasn’t the only time I attempted. Every day I think about killing myself. It has taken a long time, but I have now finally been able to learn to love and accept myself.  Not as a boy or as a girl but as a being.  I’m now okay with being transgender and wear it as a badge of honor.  My hope is that through the efforts of TEA, we are able to help prevent someone else from going through the same misery that I have felt.”

I have to admit I was a bit dumbfounded to witness these two beautiful souls courageously expressing such achingly hard truths …  from the bottom of their hearts straight to to the tops of the Councillors down-turned heads. Although two of the politicians were visibly engaged and consistently sustained eye contact with our delegates, the majority of them were focusing their attention on the documents on their desks. Perhaps they had not yet read the package we had forwarded to them well in advance of the meeting? Perhaps this is common practice in the political arena? Perhaps I am just too old school …?  I have no idea, but I really struggled to make sense of what I was observing.  In this culture, from the time we are children, we are socialized to look at people when they are talking to you. It is perceived as a sign of respect.  It just doesn’t feel like people are really listening … nor interested in hearing you … when you don’t have their eyes.

It took a couple of motions before they agreed (by a very slim margin of 4-3) to permit us to raise the rainbow flag on a pole behind the Town Office. We had petitioned to raise it in front of the office where it would get more visibility on one of our main streets. It was suggested by one of the politicians that TEA should be “accepting” of their decision. It struck me as kind of ironic that we, the minority, were the ones being admonished to be ‘accepting’. It’s entirely paradoxical because the central issue perpetually facing marginalized groups and minorities (over time and across history) is that they have been silenced by the those in positions of power. And therefore, for the most part, they have had little option but to ‘accept’ the will of majority.

In the final analysis, however, we choose to see this as a small victory and, ultimately, a step in the right direction.  And … we will persist.

Margaret Mead

For some reason, it also seems germane to mention that prior to the meeting, I had noticed that one of the town Councillors had a sign posted in his front yard saying “Protect pre-birth rights.”  It was tempting to hope this meant he might be equally committed to also protecting ‘post’ birth rights … but he voted against both motions … adding verbally, with a slightly perceptible shake of his head, that he could not support this initiative. I do understand that the objections around supporting the human rights of the LGBTQ+ community are often founded upon religious convictions. That said, it is certainly not my intention, here in this blog, to take issue with people’s fundamental rights to stand behind their own tenets of faith. I completely respect every individual’s right to their own opinion.  And so, if the content of this blog offends your sensibilities, please accept my sincerest respect for our differences. It’s just that, from a my own spiritual perspective, I might interpret things a bit differently.   From where I am looking … I am guessing that if Jesus was still physically present among us, he would have joined us for the flag raising … inspiring a spirit of compassion and acceptance for one and all.

I trust that we truly are a small town with big hearts!  I expect that there are many folks in our small town who are also interested in supporting post-birth human rights.  And so, if you feel inclined to help raise the vibration of inclusion in Taber and create more safety and comfort for members of our LGBTQ+ community, please plan to gather with us at our first ever PRIDE event  on June 12th, 2017!  I hope we can come together (both allies and those who identify as LGBTQ+) … have a hot dog, enjoy the entertainment and stand in solidarity so that this sector of our humanity can visibly ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the support that is available within our little town.

With deepest reverence for our human differences and much enthusiasm for all that is possible when we bring our hearts together … Karen

 

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No Snowflake in an Avalanche Feels Responsible …

Source of Quote Unknown

Source of Quote Unknown

But it is.

Each and every little snowflake is irrefutably connected to the downslide.

And, metaphorically speaking,  we are all snowflakes.

Our individual consciousness is continuously aligning and connecting with others.

We are collectively creating the world we are living in.

No thought, word or deed is insignificant.

thoughts and feelings

Sometimes we deny, dismiss and downplay the power of our intention.

BUT, our seemingly innocent and powerless presence as an individual is an illusion.

When we join others … in thought, prayer, word, and deed …  we have highly tranformative powers.

And when enough connections are made … when enough of us are united together, we reach a critical mass.

An avalanche is simply a critical mass of individual snowflakes united in their power.

When those snowflakes stick together, they have the capacity to rock the world. And they do.

Consciously  … or … unconsciously.

We are always rocking the world energetically. Always. Our thoughts, words and deeds are aligning us with each other.

And, so, if we want to see where our collective consciousness resides  at any moment in time, we just need to look around us.

We produce empirical evidence of our dominant vibrational frequency each and every day on our planet.

We often live in fear.  

We marinate in nasty news reports and the negativity can consume us.

We allow the pains of our past to trump the possibilities in the present … (excuse the pun with regard to the U.S. election).

We let the darkness eclipse the light.

But we can choose to live from a place of  love.

The beauty, kindness, love and light that coexists quietly in our lives can and will be eclipsed by the darkness if we let it.

As one of my favorite old adages says: “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

mlk-light-versus-darkness

We brighten the world by joining in love … or …  we can darken it by joining each other in criticism and judgment.  

With either option we have the capacity of creating a critical mass.

Our collective outer world is simply a reflection of the sum total of our individual inner worlds.

We are inextricably connected to one another.

There is only one way to end the contempt and war between people, cultures, communities and countries.

We must end it within each of our own hearts and minds.

We must monitor and effectively manage the darkness and/or light in our OWN minds.

We can’t change the world by pointing fingers at others.

 Yes.  The end of war in the outside world begins when we end the war in our inside world.

responsibility for energy

It begins when we cease to ignore or perpetuate our own contempt, judgments, blame and criticism of others. 

And it is completely possible for us to do exactly that.

We are completely capable of creating a cultural avalanche of love, compassion and acceptance.

We will see peace when we stop blaming, judging and criticizing all the others for causing war and/ terrorism.

We bring no energy of peace to the planet when we cast blame and criticism and projection.

We will finally see peace when we are collectively more  committed to embracing, honoring and accepting our differences than we are to judging, condemning and eliminating them.

As Gandhi suggested, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

We are just like snowflakes … attaching to each other in very powerful ways.

What kind of avalanche do YOU want to be responsible for creating?

It’s a powerful and important question. Let’s be very deliberate in monitoring the energy we bring to our relationships, communities and countries.

WE are co-creating everything we are seeing. Each and every one of us is either perpetuating the problem or supporting the solution.

And … we choose through our thoughts, words and deeds.  

NO choice is insignificant.

Not one.

 

Lets join together and create an avalanche for which we will be very proud to feel responsible,  Karen 

 

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Focus ≠ Exclusion. Ever.

Focus does not equal exclusion

Lately, our social media has been ablaze with competing American campaigns about whose lives matter. Is it the black ones? The police ones?  All of them?  It saddens me to see all these accurate assertions reduced to a public debate.  In doing so, we are creating unnecessary divisions between our hearts, and consequently, we are diluting our collective capacity to affect some significant shifts towards a more harmonious future … for everyone … on all sides.  I spoke to much of this in a prior post,  but I believe there are some additional perspectives that might be helpful to consider as we move forward:

  • We must refrain from assuming an implied “only” exists in front of these slogans.
  • We must not neglect the history and context in which these campaigns have been generated.
  • We must step out of our “Soldier” mindsets and into our “Scout” mindsets. (More about this concept later.)

Focus does not mean exclusion. There have been countless campaigns in the past that have intentionally invited extra attention to one thing, but we understood that this amplified focus did not imply that that other things were not also equally important.  For example:

  • “Feed the children” Don’t feed the adults.
  • “Save the Whales” ≠   Sacrifice the Seals
  • “Help prevent forest fires” ≠ Don’t concern yourself with grass fires.
  • “Join the Army” ≠ Don’t even consider the Navy
  • “Pray for Paris” ≠  We don’t care about Rome.
  • “Travel Alberta” ≠  There is nothing worth seeing in British Columbia.

These various social campaigns emerged for good reason and with just cause.  They were attempting to raise awareness in a particular direction for a specific reason. We didn’t interpret them offensively nor did we create counter movements … because we comprehended the context in which they emerged. In fact, one of the most popular and historically revered Christian campaigns in American society was“Love thy neighbor.” And, we would never mistake it’s earnest intention by assuming it meant that you shouldn’t love people unless they live near you. We would never presume that this meaningful adage was covertly conspiring to ensure all traces of love are withheld from strangers. Nope. No. Nada.  That wouldn’t even enter our minds.

And yet, there is no denying that the Black Lives Matter campaign has certainly touched a national nerve. And, as I was trying to make sense of the public push back, I was most grateful to a follower of my blog, Sue Dreamwalker, who authors a very meaningful and deeply inspiring blog, for kindly nudging me in the direction of a a very short but highly potent Ted Talk that may very effectively explain the contention has been sparked during this particular campaign. In roughly 10 quick but juicy minutes, Julia Galef raises the concept of “Motivated Reasoning” which very logically explains when and why we will feel “the drive to attack or defend ideas.”

Galef identifies two necessary and equally important mindsets than can land us in separate camps and on seemingly different sides of the coin.  It’s a fascinating perspective and it makes so much sense to me. She discusses the benefits/challenges of both the “Soldier Mindset” which reflexively triggers one’s internal defense system and is “rooted in a desire to protect your side” and the more curious “Scout Mindset” which is when we are “trying to get an accurate picture of reality, even when that is unpleasant or inconvenient.”  Each of these mindsets serves very critical but distinct purposes.

And so, we can see how these two mindsets can be activated and may or may not be beneficial in our lives, depending upon the context.  With this in mind, as White people reflecting upon the Black Lives Matter campaign, (and if we are willing to quiet our more defensive internal “Soldier” and make room to embody our more curious inner “Scout”), we can see that our own lived experience has poorly prepared us to see things from the side of African American people.  This is not because we are insensitive or stupid.  It is typically because we have been taught only one side of the story … our side. Traditional grade school American history books were written from the side of white, middle class, male academics who had the power to unilaterally decide what was important to include and what could be left out.  While this bias in our mainstream education most definitely needs to be changed … most of us have never even considered that our curriculum offers us a White-washed version of the history and context of Black lives.  It may be entirely unsettling for many of us to recognize that we have been sold a version of history that tends to dismiss and downplay the magnitude of social injustices experienced by African Americans.

Our solider mind may resist making room for us to see this, but our scout mind certainly does not.  Even though we have been distanced from truly understanding the African American side of things, it is difficult to deny that many, many innocent black people have been mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply because of the color of their skin. And recently, we could see their reflexive soldier mindset horrifically played out during the protests in Dallas.  And, with that, innocent police officers were mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply for doing their jobs.  And we can also see how the soldier mindset sparked the subsequent emergence of the Police Lives Matter campaign.  And then, in the space of competing interests, social media invites us to choose sides.  Really??  To me, it is all just entirely heartbreaking.

Instead of choosing sides, I would like to suggest that if we are going to successfully find the solutions to stop all the senseless suffering and loss we are seeing, we must be willing to temper our own soldier mindsets and round out our reasoning with our scout mindsets. The incomparable Marianne Williamson  invites the mainstream, dominant culture to do exactly that with an exquisite and exceptional prayer which compassionately highlights and sincerely honors the history and context surrounding African American lives that White people have been privileged enough to step over:

Prayer of Apology to African Americans

From where I am looking, this apology is so very long overdue.  I interpret the Black Lives Matter campaign as a sincere attempt to tell their side of the story … to help raise awareness and/or to generate support and to foster enough collective energy to shift and transform the unjust context in which they have been forced to abide.  And, I can also see that the Police Lives Matter campaign is a genuine attempt to honor their unique and particular side of the story.   How do we make space in our hearts for the voices on each side of these social movements without dismissing and diminishing the other?

I humbly suggest that we need to allow ourselves some focus.  As the old adage goes, the eagle knows that if it chases two rabbits, it will lose them both.  There are times when we must channel our focus in one direction because without that additional, sustained and fixed focus we will lose our power to effect the changes that sparked the campaigns in the first place. But once again, focus does not mean exclusion.  Our focus upon one thing typically means that there is something special, important and worthy of extra attention and/or consideration at a particular time for a particular reason.  We can choose to focus our gaze in one particular direction for a period of time to help address a pressing concern that needs extra public support and attention. And once we have affected sufficient support to alleviate the problem, we can turn our attention back to other important issues of concern.  It’s a triage of sorts …

And this is an example of the context where our soldier mindset can be counterproductive.  It seems to me that unless and until we engage our scout mindsets to gather enough history to adequately understand the context in which social movements arise we will remain subject to all manner of misinterpretation.  And then, instead of coming together to collectively honor, acknowledge and address the special interests that are being highlighted within the campaigns, we may be reduced to bickering with each other.  I fear that if we, the mainstream dominant culture, steadfastly stand in our soldier minds (i.e. intent on defending only our own side of the story), the marginalized parts of our humanity are once again pitted against those with more power and social clout … and then … we all remain angrily divided and helplessly distracted from pursuing a more unified humanitarian goal.  And, with the competing interests, the group with the least volume in their voice then loses any leverage they may have gained during the social movement and the status quo is very nicely maintained.

Sadly, when we allow oursevles to be pitted against each other, we are missing the sacred and divine opportunity we have to join forces in a caring, conscious, collective, conscientious and concerted effort to ensure, in fact, that ALL lives DO matter.

Right Vision

Hmmmm … my scout mind is inviting me to be very transparent here.  I must openly admit that it has crossed the suspicious and cynical part of my mind that this controversy (pitting ‘lives’ against each other on social media) certainly serves to maintain the status quo.  And … it cannot be denied that, all though “all lives matter’,  the status quo definitely privileges some lives over others.  Our soldier mind doesn’t like to believe it, but our scout mind knows it to be true.

And, it strikes me that the bickering between camps benefits the soldier mindsets/agendas of those in high places … those with the most power and privilege to lose if, in fact, we actually achieved a successful shift in the direction of a higher vision and landed in that miraculous space where we can unequivocally see the empirical evidence that All Lives Matter.  Arghhh . I really don’t like the sound of that unflattering perspective.  And honestly … given this particular social context, I’d sooner be wrong than right.  Honestly and truly … from the bottom of my heart. I would much prefer to believe that we were investing our collective energy into ensuring Marianne’s inspiring vision becomes a reality.

Yes, please … let’s make a concerted effort to do that, Karen

P.S. I’ve added even more extra-ordinary resources to the list in my prior post that will appeal to our scout mindset. 🙂

 

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Well, I Sure Got Told, Didn’t I … ?!?

Black - White Photo

Yep. That was the outraged response I received to a comment I made on Facebook after the following post appeared on my news feed.

Race Card

I commented on my Facebook news feed and then followed this post back to the original source and pasted my response there too. Here is what I posted:

“Oh my. I swallow hard when I read this. I thought about simply not responding but my heart won’t let me stay silent. In theory, of course “all lives matter” … but when we snarl, scoff and generalize in this way, we allow ourselves (i.e. the mainstream dominant majority) to step over all the ways, places and spaces that this theory does NOT match the reality. When we do that, we give ourselves permission to dismiss, diminish, and deny the horrific injustices that people of color have experienced historically … and … we can then fail to acknowledge how these inequalities are currently being perpetuated. I truly believe we need to give extra careful attention to learning about the experience of the marginalized … to highlight the extent of the oppression that continues covertly … to help us collectively see how we are NOT actualizing that altruistic theory. With heartfelt respect, I humbly suggest we have much to learn from the ‘race card’ … and … I really hope that it keeps getting played until we actually sit up and listen, until we actually do something in order to see justice for all … beyond simply theoretical rhetoric.”

Well … this fellow was sure determined to set me clear and straight. I can’t quite comprehend how he’s qualified to accurately assess my level of intelligence because I don’t even know the guy. Maybe he’s just very comfortable with name calling? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing his scathing criticism says more about him than me.  I have no problem holding space for a respectful debate or difference of opinion. In fact, I welcome those discussions because that is how we stretch and grow and learn from each other. In this case though, his attack on my character does little to validate his position. By the same token, I would also suggest that the implicit snarl and condescending nature of the Facebook post (“get over yourself”,”put your race card away” and “grow up”) smacks of unnecessary vitriol as well.  Maybe it is just me, but as a counselor, my ears have also been trained to listen for what is not being said.  With that particular choice of wording,  I am sensing a somewhat covert but patronizing lack of respect for diverse racial experiences.

I understand, though, that what we see depends upon the eyes we are looking through.  Our opinions are fortified and framed by what we learn from our own lived experiences … and … by what we are taught (both formally and informally) in our families, cultures and schools.  I’ve come to believe that, without specific schooling, much of what we as White people really need to know, understand and recognize about race issues is simply not taught to us.  And so, although this guy’s approach was questionable, I can’t fault him for defending his perceptions. He just doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I’m not being critical here. None of us do. How could we? The problem is not that we don’t know … the problem is that we think we do.

It wasn’t until I spent five years specifically immersed in social work and anti-oppressive practice (during both my undergraduate and graduate studies) that I began to understand how much I did not know.  I was dumbfounded to learn how much we have not been taught. It was deeply humbling and forever changed how I view things.  As White people we don’t recognize the unearned power and privilege that we are so generously afforded in our society.  It’s not possible for us to truly understand the complexities of these issues  … 1)because they are beyond the realm of our own experience and 2) because we are only exposed to some particulars about it. We are taught just enough to make us feel informed, but not enough to give us a truly comprehensive understanding of the complexities.  Unfortunately, the gaps in our awareness can skew our perceptions and derail our very best intentions.

I will give this guy two things though:

1.) There probably aren’t any black people alive who were “involved in the slave times.”  However, I would argue that the prejudice and bigotry that condoned and sustained the slave trade did not cease just because slavery was finally abolished. You can mandate changes in legislation but you can’t mandate changes in attitude. The legacy of such racism continues whether we like to admit to it or not.  One doesn’t have to look further than the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign to see that bigotry and discrimination is not only alive and well in America … but is now being proudly perpetuated and cavalierly brandished by Donald Trump. And most disturbingly, it’s being loudly applauded by a staggering number of American people … who, by the way, would vehemently contend they are not racist in any way.

2.) It’s true that life can be a bitch.  I would contend, however, that life is more of a bitch for some of us than for others. I doubt if my critic would honestly be happy to surrender the unearned power and privilege that he lives with in exchange for being treated the same as Black men often are in our society.  He can call me dumb again, but I’m not sure very many of us who live in the mainstream dominant culture would make that trade willingly.  In a mere 45 seconds, Jane Elliott clearly illuminates this point:

 

Although my Facebook critic contends that if people like me would just quit bringing up the past, there would be no problem.  He believes the mistreatment of Black people was only in “the slave times.” This video shows, however, that at some level we DO collectively recognize that what is currently happening to black people (however covertly) is not desirable!  We wouldn’t want that kind of treatment for ourselves, but we are comfortable allowing it to continue to happen to them.

And, that is why the slogan “BLACK LIVES MATTER” emerged.  If we are ever going to make a significant shift, it is essential for us to narrow our focus and point our gaze directly towards this longstanding and deeply systemic issue. When we generalize that “All Lives Matter” we take our eyes off the problem and focus instead upon a theoretical concept that may very well  be true … but that fact does nothing to solve the problem.  The following metaphor speaks to this issue very well:

Bob

Of course, all lives matter.  But, philosophical truths and altruistic rhetoric don’t feed Bob.  When we neglect to honor the specific needs/deficits experienced by specific individuals (or groups of individuals), we are failing to ensure compassionate and humane treatment for ALL.  And that is just not okay with me.

I am posting this blog in hopes that we will continue this conversation … over and over again.  We really need to talk about this.  It really matters to our shared humanity.  But, for the most part, as White people, we have the luxury of being bored, disinterested or maybe even annoyed by ‘the race card’ … and so … we don’t talk about it. And like my critic … we might do our best to simply shush anyone who brings it up.

During my social work studies, however, we did talk about it.  In depth.  I remember wondering why these lessons were not mandatory in our grade schools.  I was introduced to the pain that marginalized groups of people were feeling …  and … how as a White person, I benefit from racism by default. And once it was pointed out to me, I could see it very, very clearly. And now, I can’t not see it.

I came to understand that I don’t even have to do anything obviously “racist” to benefit from the way the system is set up in our society.  I enjoy ‘favor’  because of the way racism makes one part of our humanity count for less than another.  As my eyes were opened to more and more and more, I could no longer deny or dismiss the advantages of having white skin. I never had to worry about whether people would rent accommodations to me. I don’t have to worry about whether someone is willing to sit beside me at a public function. I never had to worry about my children experiencing racial slurs at school. I don’t have people making fun of the way I talk.  I don’t have to worry about being snubbed if I ask for help in a department store. I don’t have to worry that the job will have “just been filled” as I arrive for the interview. I am more likely to be considered for ‘prestigious’ jobs because I have the right ‘qualifications’ (white skin). I could go on and on and on …

But here is the real kicker!!  As White people, we don’t typically ‘see’ the extra power and extra privilege we are gifted because our society is set up to benefit us and not them. AND … it is exactly because of that unearned advantage that we have the luxury of dismissing and/or ignoring conversations about racism.  And, it is also due to our privileged place in society that we can also afford to remain ‘silent’ on the topic. I have done it myself. I would suggest that we are often more committed to protecting our own feelings and/or not making other White people uncomfortable than we are to gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges beyond the margins of our own experience.  We are far more likely to ignore, dismiss or deny those struggles than to honor and investigate them.

It would be such a different world if we find it in our hearts to heed the wisdom of Glennon Doyle Melton

“Today: let’s be curious instead of defensive.

When someone says: I’m hurting.

Let’s say: “Tell me more” instead of: “No, you’re not.”

I think the difference between curiosity and defensiveness might be the difference between war and peace.”

We have so very much to learn. I just wish we were more interested.  But because we think we already know … we aren’t always open to looking or learning more. I was both stretched and humbled, though, by the many potent teachings and pivotal moments  over the course of my studies.  And perhaps one of the most critical is this: I now know there is so much I don’t know.  I am still learning.  Two sources of the most poignant and powerful lessons I received included these:

Now, I don’t expect that my critic would bother to take the time to look at any of these, but if you’ve stuck with me this far, I sure hope you will!  Especially the “Blue Eye/Brown Eye Experiment” .  Gather the whole family, make some popcorn and pull this 45 minutes video up onto your smart TV or your computer and watch it together.  And then, I hope you’ll have a conversation with your family about it. And I really hope you’ll pop back and add your thoughts in the comments section  … so we can continue to deepen this very important discussion.

There are also lots of more recent publications, videos and resources on the subject that highlight considerations that often escape our mainstream dominant attention. Here is a smattering of some thoughtful and thought-provoking ones I have come across thus far.  I hope at you will check them out. AND, if you can suggest any other resources, please post them in the comments section of this blog.  I am always eager to learn more … and will add them to the list:

From where I am looking, the altruistic truth that ‘all lives matter’ won’t really be actualized UNTIL we ensure that ‘black lives matter’.  And Aboriginal lives … and Latino lives … and Middle East Lives … and … and … and …

But then again, as “the dumbest person … ever seen” – it may not be wise to give much merit to my perspective … Karen

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An Un-Lived Life …

An unlived life

Grrrr. Boooo. Hiss. Pffft. Arghhh …

A little while ago, I experienced a particularly troubling week … one in which my emotions got really ramped up.  I don’t tend to get triggered all that easily anymore, but two days in a row, right back to back, I endured distinctly different scenarios that both wreaked havoc with my heart and left me fumbling my way through the fountain of unfavorable feelings that arose in the face of those formidable frustrations.  And so … as I often do … I took pen to page to help me find the message that those muddled moments may be holding for me.

I remain so deeply discouraged by the inherent powerlessness of marginalization … both feeling it myself during that particularly woeful week and observing it for others – far, far too often. There are some things that are beyond my control. Important things. Or, perhaps it would be fairer to say, things that are important to me.  And important to some others …. but, for the most part, they are things that the vast majority doesn’t experience as a problem.  And, sadly, unless or until an issue affects people personally, many will not acknowledge, recognize  or even give much attention to such things.

Perhaps it is truer to say that in our dominant cultural majority, we have the exquisite privilege of not needing to understand the particular problems of  those who are unlike us … of those whose issues lie beyond the margins of our own lived experience. And, regrettably, we live in a world where assuming an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ stance is often glamorized as a desirable patriotic position and/or a reflection of our religious devotion. Sadly though, this sets up an ‘either/or‘ mentality rather than a ‘both/and‘ mindset.  And as a result, a very well intended desire to take care of our own often means that the issues of others get subjugated and dismissed. Or, even worse … ridiculed. Yes. Ridiculed. We get to be oblivious about the issues that affect them, because the obstacles they may be facing are just not at all apparent upon our own paths.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

When you are NOT the one being oppressed, you have the luxury of not even noticing the prickles and perils on the path that ‘others’ are experiencing.  And, you don’t even know what you don’t know because the ‘others’ are grappling with issues that have never even hit your radar.  It’s not that you don’t care.  You do care.  And you may very earnestly believe in equality … and … you might even think that because things are purported to be equal, that all people have the same rights and opportunities as you do.  Some may even think, if they don’t take advantage of the options in front of them, well … that is not my problem.  They could get it together, if they just tried or if they were really committed to helping themselves.

But ‘equal’ does not mean ‘equitable’.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

Adapted from original source: Craig Froehle

And so, those with the most power and advantage can unwittingly continue to step over the unmet needs of others.  Not because they are heartless.  No. Not at all … but because they really don’t see the problem.  And, they honestly don’t.  It is simply not an issue that registers in the framework of their experience, and so they have trouble understanding how it could be a problem  for others.  From where they are looking, they see lots of  options that could be accessed … they see solutions that are not being actualized.  But, they cannot see how their own alignment with the majority affords them an unfair advantage … a fast track to ‘solutions’ that seem simple and obvious to them, but in reality, are not accessible to all. Many, in fact, will speak about their privileged standpoint as though it were a merit they somehow earned.

And yet, there are some places where we get that it is not a matter of choice.  We understand that we must collectively seek to disrupt the inequitable disparity among us.  Golfers get it.  They honor differences and foster equity by offering handicaps in order to level the playing field in terms of skill sets.  And somewhere along the way, we realized that the racers on the outside lane on an oval track have further to go, so we stagger the starting line to offset the advantages on the inner lanes. There are many places in the arena of athletics when/where we do acknowledge inequities and seek to rectify them.

But, it’s entirely exasperating to attempt to address a social issue with people on the inner lanes that don’t see the problem for those on the outside lanes.  Even those with ample power to changes things, may feel no sense of responsibility to rectify the issues others are be facing. Arghhhh.

Source Uknown

Source Uknown

And so, with that recognition, it is so tempting to simply give up … to allow myself to be silenced … to succumb in weary resignation and benignly accept the mainstream majority’s perceptions of what is ‘right’ for this world and/or adopt their narrowed notions about which minorities might deservedly merit some accommodations … and … which do not.

But … to do so … would leave my life un-lived.  To do so, would leave my days un-inhabited by the very things that steal my heart and kindle my inner flame.  To fail to show up for the ‘truths’ in my own soul would be to suffocate my spirit.  And, I sense deeply that this is no way for me to fully embrace my days.

As Dawn Markova points out: I must risk the falling … I must risk catching fire … I must allow my living to crack me wide open.  I must pursue my own particular passions and plant the seeds … in hopes of enjoying the blossoms … and … trusting in the fruits of my efforts, even if I never get to taste them myself.

I remember my red-faced recognition of my own complicity in the marginalization of others. I was taking a class in social work. I remember learning things I did not know.  I remember questioning why these important things were not taught to us in our mainstream curriculum.  I remember wanting to hide.  I remember wanting to blame others.  I remember my sense of shame  … and  … I remember ultimately recognizing that if I was not part of the solution, than I was part of the problem … by default.  

And so, I feel both obligated and compelled to inhabit my days more fully invested; with my eyes fixed beyond my own lived experience, using my voice to stretch awareness and disrupt the oppressive influences that I become aware of … despite risking my connection to my mainstream comforts – despite risking connection with the family/friends who can make me feel safe in my own comfort zone … because as Ben Franklin so wisely recognized:

justice - 1

And so, with a tremble and a tear, I make this pledge to myself.  I humbly choose to risk my significance. I cannot comfortably inhabit the polarized dualism of us versus them.  I cannot keep my gaze reduced to my own lane.  I cannot step over the injurious conjecture or contemptuous confabulations coming from those who don’t see or erroneously dismiss the complexities of an issue  … even though I have an understanding of some of the fears that perpetuate the problem.  I do recognize that we may personally pay a price when we make room for ‘others.’ And, I realize that when you are accustomed to living with privilege, a movement towards inclusion and equity can feel threatening … it can even seem like reverse oppression.  I get that. I just can’t continue to condone it with my silence.

So, I do expect some push back. But I am also sensing that many in the mainstream majority will want to meet me on the margins.  Many will want to gain a better understanding of what it is that we have not lived …  so we might learn what it is that we don’t yet know. Ultimately, for me, I am realizing that I have to keep stretching myself because it just doesn’t feel right for me to continue to dwell silently in those privileged spaces …without further investigation about who is paying the price for my comforts …and/or … who does not have access to the same.

I think its because I cannot fully live there … Karen

P.S. I believe that talking about power and privilege is not about imposing guilt on the mainstream. It is not about blaming and shaming any of us.  From where I am looking it is more like talking about air.  Please click here if you are interested in that conversation.

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[GUEST POST]: The Man In The Arena

With gratitude to A Momma’s View for posting this phenomenal reminder … and … a huge shout out to Brené Brown for her efforts to bring this consciousness to the mainstream!  May we all find strength and victory in daring greatly!

A Momma's View

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“Come have your tears with me …”

come have your tears with me

We all have those times when a cascade of tears is seriously threatening to burst through.  We try, very valiantly, to hide them.  And, we profusely apologize when we just can’t do it and the flood gates fly wide open.  We feel embarrassed by our excessive emotional exhibition.  We beat ourselves up for not being more effective at keeping our feelings at bay … out of clear view.  And, we often deem ourselves “weak” when we can’t soldier on and just muscle through the ache … when we fail to adequately ‘man up’ through the pain.  And, for some crazy reason, we have been taught to admire and glamorize those who have lost their tears … reverently applauding them for being “so strong.”

And, forgive my language, but it’s all such bulls#*t.  From where I am looking (both professionally and personally) this stoic, stalwart stance is just not optimal for humanity.  There are some circumstantial exceptions (which I won’t discuss now), but it’s typically not beneficial for any one of us to harden our hearts in order to hide our pain … whether we are babies or children or teenagers or adults.

Tears are a natural and normal and necessary part of healing.  They activate our parasympathetic nervous system … which helps to process our pain and dampen our internal alarm system.  That is why we often ‘feel’ like a weight has been lifted after a good, long cry.  Dr. Gordon Neufeld (a renowned attachment theorist) asserts that the tears of pain release toxins from the body … that the chemical composition of tears we cry when we express our emotions is different that the tears that leak out when we are cutting an onion. That is why our eyes burn and swell … and … our cheeks get uncomfortably chaffed after we have spilled our tears without trying to stop them.

I wish we could collectively and universally get comfortable with tears.  We are not. As a counselor, though, I always know we are edging close to a heartfelt ‘truth’ when someone’s eyes begin welling up. Tears are an honest and authentic expression of our wounding.  They are a wise reminder that our tender, tattered hearts need to be nurtured.  Tears are an important invitation for someone to lean in and provide comfort.  And … at the most primal level, isn’t compassion what we most need when we are hurting … emotionally, physically or otherwise?

Imagine a wee little child, helmet on, riding their two wheeler and totally enjoying the thrill of it.  And then, for some reason, they get caught up in some loose gravel and they bite the dust.  And then what happens?  They cry.  And then what?  They seek out someone for comfort.  And then what?  They find you and climb up onto your lap and sob freely while they explain what happened.  And then what? You get the ‘boo boo’ cleaned up, and get them a band-aid and give them a kiss to make it all better.  And then what? You compassionately hold them until there are no more tears. And then what?  They jump off your knee, put on their helmet and gleefully get back on the bike.  And then, at the end of the day when you ask them how their day was … they say “Great! I love bike riding!” Probably no mention of the fall … unless, of course, you inquire about how their knee feels.  They will likely assure you, “It doesn’t hurt anymore.” Their pain has been processed, their hurting has been invited to heal and ‘the crash’ is reduced to a faint recollection of a past event.

On the other hand, imagine the same wee little child, helmet on, riding on their two wheeler and totally enjoying the thrill of it.  And then, for some reason, they get caught up in some loose gravel and they bite the dust … but they have learned through teasing, shaming or scolding that they are not supposed to cry.  They have determined that there is no safe place to have their tears.  Then what?  Perhaps a bit embarrassed, they look around in the hopes that no one saw them. And then what?  They fight back the tears and pretend it didn’t hurt.  And then what?  They act mad instead of sad and look for something or someone to blame.  And then what? They kick up the gravel and throw some at their bike. And then what? They might think if they had a better bike … maybe a blue one …  they would not have crashed.  And then what? They angrily protest their upset with the ‘stupid green bike’ by pushing it home instead of riding it again.  And then what?  They kick the cat on their way in the door.  And then what?  You sternly remind them that cats are not for kicking. And they sneer something under their breath.  And when you ask them how their day was … they say,  “Stupid. My bike is so stupid.”  And then you tell them to stop being so silly because you know how much they love riding their bike. And then what? They snarl back at you with seemingly unwarranted and irrational rage, “No I don’t. I HATE it!  And I’m never going to ride that stupid bike again! And you cant make me!” And then what?  You firmly remind them, “don’t you use that tone with me” and may even send them to their room with an invitation to “stay there” until they can “be nice.”

And they are isolated and alone. And their pain gets hidden. It is repressed rather than released. And their tears are lost. And the unprocessed pain of their past persists angrily into the present … and then … may be triggered again and again in the future.  And no one else is any the wiser about what has transpired at the deepest level.

And, in all honesty, which experience would you rather have? Unless or until we have transformed into ‘the strong one’ who resists all measure of tearful displays … we instinctively crave comfort when we are wounded.  That is why, on occasion when we have hurt ourselves haphazardly and publicly … all it takes is for someone to say “Are you okay?”and the tears escape involuntarily.  And that is why, when we see a toddler trip and fall, we say “He’ll be okay as long as you don’t look at him.”  We are instinctively wired to cry when we are hurting.

And, it’s almost humanly impossible to hold back our tears in the space of heartfelt compassion.  However, if/when loving comfort is not a safe or viable option to mediate our wounding, we might subconsciously seek to numb our discomfort or distract ourselves with the next best thing … food, drugs (legal or illicit), alcohol, gambling, video gaming, social media, sex, pornography etc.  As Dr. Gabor Maté contends, addictions are not the problem in and of themselves … they are more likely to be a symptom of unexpressed wounding and/or unhealed pain. 

And honestly … don’t each and every one of us deserve to be lovingly supported through our pain? As Dr. Neufeld suggests, at the very deepest level of our being, don’t we all just want someone safe to tenderly and gently and compassionately offer, “Come have your tears with me.”

May we all find our way to that sacred healing space … and also … hold that sacred healing space for someone else, Karen

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I Put Up a Wall …

two people

Source Unknown

I put up a wall to keep you out … because I am wounded and fragile and afraid you will hurt me.

You see my wall and feel rejected.

You perceive my wall as a judgment or criticism of you.

The space between us becomes large and ominous … and … keeps us from truly seeing each other.

It keeps us from truly loving each other and meeting each others needs … which we could do and would do … if we weren’t looking at exactly the same thing and seeing something totally different.

If only we could see through the wall.

If only we could feel each others vulnerability.

But we don’t.

And so we both suffer … needlessly.

Source Unknown

There are times when we need to wall up,  but … not all the time, Karen

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[GUEST POST]: Maybe I’m Actually Not a Christian After All

I MUST re-blog this powerful piece penned by John Pavlovitz. These are words that our world must hear … over and over and over. Words that our world must let land in our heart …over and over and over. Lest we forget … over and over and over.

john pavlovitz

160126120633-jerry-falwell-jr-donald-trump-january-16-2016-large-169
I’ve always thought that I was a Christian.

I’ve simply assumed that since I believed myself to be and strived to be, that this was enough. Though I’ve devoted my days to emulating Jesus and to reflecting his character in the world, this seems to have been a woefully errant path leading me far afield of righteousness.

Over recent years I’ve spent countless hours debating with those who contest my claims of faith; self-professed believers who debate my authenticity, my theology, my conduct, my motivations. They make dire assessments of both my moral worth and my eternal destination, chastising and condemning with great conviction.

It’s difficult to quantify just how much time and energy and mental bandwidth I’ve expended attempting to justify inclusion in their heavily fortified faith fraternity and to prove my personal spirituality valid and genuine in their eyes.

But these days I’m looking at what alleges to be Christianity in my country and I’m now almost certain…

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My Tributes: Better Because of You ...

Teresa – A Fond Tribute to your Spectacular Sparkle and Gregarious Grit!

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[GUEST POST]: Township Environment

Originally posted on Iizidima:
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You know the old saying … ‘a penny for your thoughts’?  Well, I’d like to switch it up  and offer my ‘thoughts about a penny’.  A very precious Penny.  I’m not even sure how many years we’ve been doing it, but it’s become a very important tradition for us to sit and sip a little coffee together before the hustle and bustle of our […]

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