This one’s for the girls

Ok, so I’m not a particularly huge fan of country music, but who doesn’t love a little Martina?

Yesterday, we witnessed the Inauguration of the 46th President of the United States and the 49th Vice President, and I am not the first to point out that the day was all about the women. I don’t care which side of the political aisle you identify with, I think we can all agree that the level of representation present was nothing short of inspiring. For the first time ever, young girls saw themselves being sworn in as Vice President of the United States. They saw themselves supporting, and being supported by, their fellow women. They saw themselves delivering their original poetry to millions of viewers. And they did it with poise and style.

We tell our kids from a very young age that they can be or do whatever they want when they grow up. We encourage them to work hard and they can achieve anything. And when little girls say “I want to be President!” we look at them proudly and tell them, “Of course you can!” And we mean it. Or at least we think we do. We want to. But historically, we haven’t modeled it, and if kids don’t see it – how can they really believe it possible?

This behavior and way of thinking isn’t isolated to positions of prestige and power. Fields like construction or mechanics are stereotypically male dominated, and even positions such as doctors and lawyers see more employed men than women, not because men are better at these jobs than women, but for reasons ranging from hiring discrimination to sexual harassment. There has historically been concern that if a woman has a demanding career, it will take away her ability to be a nurturing, supportive matriarch. As if 1) a woman can’t effectively balance both a career and a home, and 2) we as a society can’t require the same level of domestic commitment from men.

There are obviously many reasons we have been slow to see women step into these positions, but one common theme that seems to be keeping women from thriving in male dominated areas is lack of representation. The more women we see leading, the more empowered young girls are to believe they can be in those roles, too.

This is why representation matters. This is why Kamala Harris being sworn in as the first female Vice President matters. Because we can’t keep telling girls they can do and be anything they want if we have no way of showing them that it’s true; they need role models and success stories that look like them. The time is coming when the glass that was once the ceiling that held us in is completely shattered. I believe we’ll continue to see women being elevated to positions of leadership, and before long, we’ll see a time when we won’t even use the qualifier “female” President; it’ll just be President.

This one might make you a little uncomfortable… It did me

Type furiously, select all, delete, type furiously, select all, delete, type somewhat more slowly and contemplatively, re-read, overthink, worry what the reader will think/that I haven’t made my point clear, select all, delete, delete draft.

These are steps I often go through with any blog post, but the ones that I have strong feelings about doubly so; which means I have written and deleted some version of this post probably half a dozen times already. I justify it by saying that no one really reads my blog posts anyway, so it’s not like it’ll be missed, but the truth is that I do it to avoid the discomfort of hard conversations.

How nice it is, to be able sit here in my privilege while the awful events of last week unfolded and not have to acknowledge it if I choose. To know that a mob of white supremacists and conspiracy theorists was able to somehow breach a government building with little resistance as I go on about my usual day to day. To have read the tweets that had been sent out by the current President of the United States encouraging these people weeks before this happened and pretend to be surprised when they did exactly what was expected of them. To not address the blatant double standard this whole situation has exposed. I can sit here in my privilege, and shake my head and click my tongue, and type furiously, and select all, and delete, and delete draft. But as disgusted and nauseated as I am by the whole situation, every time I hit delete, I am complicit.

Last Wednesday, I had the news on TV as background noise while I was eating lunch (not even by choice if I’m being honest, but because the vote certification process preempted Days of Our Lives – just in case you needed more evidence of my privilege). I watched as Mike Pence began the repetitive process of certifying the electoral votes from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona… objection. As lawmakers retired to debate the objection, the reporter threw it to an anchor outside where protestors were marching. The scene looked like a cross between a typical protest march and cosplay, but for the moment, everything seemed under control, and I zoned out, scrolling through my phone and finishing my lunch with the whole scene playing out as background noise. The next time I focused on the screen, there was a crowd of protestors at the top of the stairs of the Capitol building, and obviously had no intention of stopping there. My stomach was in absolute knots as I watched this mob of people push into the police guarding the building, and quickly overwhelm them. “Where is the tear gas?” I asked my empty living room. “Where are the rubber bullets? Where is the National Guard?” At this point, I was so sick to my stomach I turned off the TV. Because of my privilege, I had that choice. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to distract myself with mundane tasks, while neurotically checking my phone for updates; increasingly blown away each time I read that not only was the situation not under control, but had escalated even further as rioters breached the building; vandalizing government property and threatening the lives and safety of the people inside.

Later that evening, I posted on my personal Facebook page inviting anyone on my friend list to please take leave of my space if they, in any way, supported, or thought they could justify the behavior of the people involved in the events of the day. For the most part, though, I kept key details of my own views tucked safely away where my words could not be argued as “political,” because while I think the only role politics should play in human rights is to guarantee and protect them, apparently this view is controversial. So after nearly a week of typing, and deleting, I’ve decided if that’s what it comes down to, I’ll take “political” over “complicit.”

So here we go.

First of all, I refuse to believe anyone can be truly surprised “something like this” happened. Plans to protest the election certification had been planned for weeks. The President himself called his supporters to the Capitol to protest the certification as early as mid-December, and if anyone thought it was going to be an afternoon of linking arms and sing alongs, they’re not being truthful to themselves or anyone else. Even if authorities were operating on good faith that the protests would be peaceful (because when has a group of angry white people ever gone wrong?), they have no excuse for being “unprepared.”

Interestingly enough, the same police force was completely “prepared” for a Black Lives Matter rally at the same location last summer – complete with tear gas and the National Guard (just in case) – and those protestors weren’t anywhere near breaching a government building. If you don’t see this as a blatant double standard in support of whiteness, I implore you to challenge your views. It’s my opinion that most people have a hard time accepting that they are on the privileged side oppression because they’re afraid that makes them bad people, and that’s where we get into the “not all…” rhetoric. I’m asking that instead of taking the situation personally, you try and step back and look at things from a different perspective. The fact is, this situation would have been handled very differently had the protestors not been a group of white people in attendance at the invitation of the President.

I’ve said before that I’m not interested in arguing Republican vs. Democrat in this issue. While protestors present were there in support of the President, who claims to be Republican, I doubt any of them could give a very compelling argument to which Republican values they were there to stand up for. This was an opportunity to further the platform of hate and division and violence that so many of the groups in attendance stand for, and while it failed to stop the vote certifying the next President, it succeeded in stirring a now boiling pot that has been bubbling at the surface for years.

“This is not America.” Actually, it is. This is what happens when history is ignored, and generations of hate and intolerance are waved away with excuses and claims that “it’s not like that anymore.” As sad and as disgusting as the entire situation is, we’ve reaped exactly what we’ve sown. We’ve allowed ourselves to become complicit in our division. To put all the blame on “them,” but never on “me” (because we’re all so individual – there is no “us”).

So where do we go from here? This is where the talk of unity has come in. “We can’t let this further divide us!” “Shouldn’t we show them they can’t win by coming together and being peaceful?” As someone who goes through life avoiding conflict at every turn, even I have to shout a resounding HELL NO! Make peace?! With people that stand for violence and white supremacy and civil war?! What kind of message does that send?

Listen. I hate conflict. I hate the knotted up feeling it gives me in the pit of my stomach. I hate how on edge even the slightest feeling of contention puts me. Even typing this post makes me uncomfortable. But as I said before, choosing to ignore it makes me complicit; and making peace with groups and individuals that stand for values that I am so strongly against is a level of complicit I just can’t sign on to. The events of last week crossed a very large, very bold line, and the people held responsible – ALL the people held responsible (including, and especially, the President) – have to be held accountable, or it will happen again – maybe not soon (but maybe), but if we set the standard that this kind of behavior is tolerable at all, it will be a green light for extremists from every angle to incite violence. There has to be accountability.

And then, once accountability has been issued for this event, maybe we can start talking about unity and healing. It’s not going to be a quick thing. It’s going to be a lot of hard conversations involving looking into some very dark areas of our past, and taking responsibility for things we have done or said – or maybe didn’t do and didn’t say. “WE” – not “them.” It’s our job to see our own defects, because those are the only defects we have the ability to do anything about. It’s important that we realize that we didn’t just wake up a divided nation one morning, and we can’t wake up united in the same small time frame. We’ll never be effectively healed as a community unless we acknowledge and work through the areas we are broken. I have faith in humanity though, and in the belief that there are more good people out there with a heart for peace than there are those with a heart for hate.

There are no resolutions here

It’s New Year’s Day, and this year is a weird one. There are plenty of posts out there that will break down in detail what a mess 2020 was (and don’t get me wrong, it was), but this is not that post. There are also many posts talking about finding the blessings amidst the destruction of 2020 (of which there are plenty if you bother to look), but this is not that post either. Though there is much value in reflection, and we’ll need to do a lot of reflecting to even begin to heal from the events of last year, this is a post looking forward to the year upcoming. But instead of resolutions and specific goals, I am choosing instead to focus on improving specific areas of my life through habits and systems. There are five areas in my life that I have decided to focus on for growth this year.

Focus 1: Physical Health

First, let me emphasize this focus has nothing to do with weight loss. I haven’t weighed myself in months, and I have no intention to do so anytime soon. It’s not even about how my clothes fit or what the mirror shows. It’s all about how I feel. For example, I know by listening to my body that I am sensitive to sugar. Too much in the morning makes me nauseous, and too much any time gives me a headache. I also know from experience that sodium effects me pretty strongly. My hands and feet swell when I am the slightest bit dehydrated and have had anything too salty. I know I feel my best when I eat real food that is prepared fresh and hasn’t been in a package for who knows how long. The solution to this problem seems pretty obvious: just eat healthier, home cooked food. Ironically, I actually enjoy cooking. But often by the end of the day, I’m tired, and I don’t feel like it, and it’s really easy to talk my family into ordering takeout (we are a family of loving enablers). But in the interest of focusing on taking care of my physical health, I am putting in place a system that at 5:00 each evening, I will cook dinner.

Of course, physical health isn’t only about food. Movement is important too. I go through pretty drastic hills and valleys with regard to exercise. I’m either working out 6 days a week and feeling amazing, or I haven’t gotten off the couch in a week with no current desire to do so ever again (one guess as to which extreme I’m at now – hint: I’m currently lying in a recliner watching my 4th Marvel movie of the day, typing on my phone because my laptop is charging in another room). The challenge with this one is finding the best time to do it. If I start my day with movement, I feel great, but then I feel like my day is running late. If I wait until the end of the day, it’s likely something will get in the way and I won’t get to it. So the system I’m putting in place for this one is at 4:00 each afternoon, I will move my body for 30 minutes. This could be a jog around the neighborhood or a workout in the garage. Hopefully before too long it can be a gym workout, but right now that’s not in my comfort zone due to Covid.

Focus 2: Mental Health

A lot of the mental aspect of health can be improved by improving physical health, so if I can get that under control, I feel like I’m that much closer to better mental health. Unfortunately, I have historically focused specifically on one or the other meaning that the one that wasn’t the focus at the time only got as much benefit as the other provided. For example, in times that mental health was the focus, I tended to make sure that I was prioritizing rest, meditating regularly, and being kind to myself without putting any real emphasis on nutrition or movement. My mental health systems are small, but impactful. Most of these practices are how I start my day. I will list 5 things to I am thankful for first thing. I will not check my phone for the first hour I am awake. I will meditate and reflect each morning before I start my “work” day (more on that in a minute). I will continue to meet with my counselor every other week.

Focus 3: My Work

This is a tough one because it doesn’t yet have a specific focus or determined direction. That’s why I’m putting these systems in place – to establish that direction. I have joined author Kathi Lipp’s ministry team as an intern to learn more about how to build my brand and put myself out there. In joining this team, I have joined the Writer’s Collective which is a program that I feel will really strengthen my progress toward my goals. The program is broken down into three categories: create, build, and serve.

3a: Create

Creating for me means making progress toward writing my memoir. The plan is for this manuscript is to follow my evolution of a mother through my life as a pregnant teen, teen mom, single mom, married mom, and now that my kids are mostly grown, as a self aware individual. I will spend 90 minutes daily, Monday through Friday, working on some aspect of this manuscript.

3b: Build

In addition to writing, I am also putting a system in place to spend 90 minutes each day building my platform and community. This will be useful in hopefully increasing my readership, but also in attracting an audience that will actually find value in what I hope to offer in terms of hope and support and acceptance.

3c: Serve

The final 90 minute block in my “work” day is dedicated to serving my community. Right now this will be primarily through blog posts, but as I get more comfortable reaching out and as it becomes safer to interact in person post Covid, I would like for service to be feet on the ground serving marginalized communities wherever I can.

As I mentioned before, all things “work” related are pretty vague. The systems are there, but the projected outcome is not. Not yet anyway. If nothing else, I’ll be learning.

Focus 4: Personal Growth

Another pretty nondescript category, but not any less important than the others. I would like to set aside time to discover new interests and rediscover interests I have set aside. I mentioned earlier that I enjoy cooking. I’d like to remind myself that regularly and make a habit of it. I used to play piano, and while I hated it as a child (to be fair – my teacher was really mean – even my mom will back me up on that), I wish I still played. We got rid of our piano about 5 years ago, but I think maybe I’ll pick up a keyboard and try to get back into it. Part of me would like to learn to dance, though that sounds terrifying. Regardless, I plan to set aside 30 minutes per day for some sort of personal growth activity.

Focus 5: Spiritual Growth

This one is a little bit scary for me as my spiritual upbringing swings between my step-dad’s extreme Old Testament, fire and brimstone beliefs and nonexistent avoidance. I’m in a place now where I’d like to learn actual truth. I have a hard time accepting a God that is ok with things like misogyny and white supremacy and homophobia, yet sends his son to teach love and peace and acceptance. I need more information. I need reconciliation. Last year, I started to get involved in the Daughters of Abraham and was looking forward to learning more not only from women from my own faith background, but women from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds as well. Covid put a damper on that though, and it fell by the wayside with so many other intentions. I plan to get more involved with the group this year – even if it is virtually. I also virtually attended the Evolving Faith conference this year, and found myself among a group of seemingly like minded people. My hope is that in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have the opportunity to make some connections in person and find a church community that I can plug in to and learn from.

So there you have it. No actual resolutions, but plenty of areas to focus on growth. I’m seeking out accountability resources to keep me from losing focus, and the only real goal is growth. Here’s to 2021.