How I ended up at the Hmong Slaughter House

These words feel like a meager offering in return for the cherished gift I received with this experience and friendship. Yet it felt wrong not to write about it. 

I had half of this story written a week ago, and low and behold, you let your kids anywhere near your computer and a blank page greets you when you return. Ugh. All of my raw feelings and thoughts and words that flowed naturally no longer exist, but that's real.

Instead we can start from a more seasoned place where all those experiences have had a chance to expand and grow in knowledge and understanding. 

Three weeks ago I asked for help on Facebook in finding an Hmong grocery store so that I could bring an offering of food to my next door neighbors whose husband had just passed away. 

(We have lived next door to the same family for 15 years. They speak Hmong, and we don't. We have worked in our gardens side by side. We have exchanged plates of food for every birth of every baby. My kids play with the grandkids all the time. We are neighborly. Ms. Yang's children have been able to help me translate at different times, and we chat. It's been wonderful.)

I could have easily just looked it up online and gone about my way. I included my network of folks for a few reasons.

1. I knew I could bring a lasagna and that would be fine because my culture dictates that's what I do. But I believe a true gift is one that is thoughtful and says, "I took time to recognize your culture and traditions and learn a little about you and bring a gift that would mean something to you, not to me". 

2. There is so much knowledge and wisdom and ideas and creativity housed in the people who live around me and I wanted to tap into that humanity instead of a stale electronic search.

3. I love giving people an opportunity to be apart of something bigger then themselves. Asking for help does this. Including folks in the process does this. Do you know that people I rarely talk to ended up reaching out to their neighbors and asking what an appropriate gift for me to give would be? People searched all over and sent me messages and texts and emails sending me to all sorts of great locations and ideas of what to give. Strangers were invested in this simple gift to say "I'm sorry" to a woman who just lost her husband. The circle of care and kindness that surrounds this one little act now extends all across the city. That's why I did it! Come on, I am an intelligent woman, I can figure this shit out on my own. That's not the point. 

Lastly, two incredible things happened by being vulnerable and asking for help. First my neighbor and friend Mai Neng Moua offered to meet me at the local Good Deal market and walk me through it. She met me after work, taking time out of her day, away from her family to help me learn more about Hmong culture and food and traditions. We strolled down every aisle  rich with ingredients I recognized and a bunch a I didn't. Explaining and teaching me Hmong for the items I couldn't read. She showed me the difference between herbs and different pork sausage.

I was very humbled that this woman would be so patient with me, and also very kind in giving me her time so that I could learn more in turn so that I could love more.

It is often in the position we take that will increase our relationships and expand our knowledge. When we can openly and humbly ask for help in learning what we do not understand, those who hold that knowledge often can meet you with more understanding because of our willingness to learn.

Mai Neng Moua's willingness to walk with me through a generally uncomfortable experience (I was clearly out of place in this market, especially not being able to read much of what was around me, or how to use half of the items sold there.) made it possible for me to release my ridiculous fear and be ready to shop there even more. She turned something uncomfortable for me and made me feel comfortable. 

Thank you Mai, I can't wait to cook with you soon and have our families share a meal. 

Now... the reason for this story. Mai's husband Blong Yang read my post on Facebook and sent me a message that said, 

"A 50lb bag of rice is a good gift and says, 'I'm sorry for your loss and I care.' But a slaughtered pig says, 'I'm sorry and I love you like family.'"

Wait... what? Really? I mean I guess I assumed somewhere there was a place where those things happened, but truthfully, my meat comes dead and wrapped in paper from the store.

Then. "If you are serious about the pig, I can take you to the slaughter house down in south St. Paul. Do you want to try to give them a pig?"

As I was sitting on my couch, I looked over at Paul to which he squinted his eyes at me and said, "You are completely curious aren't you?"

Um... Yeah! Wouldn't you be?

For the next 45 min, Blong proceeded to walk me through multiple layers of cultural context surrounding death and rituals in the Hmong culture. I told him I was in. I wanted the pig. Since I was convinced already I wanted to do this, I then decided to ask. "What does this entail?"

"Well... you pick a pig. They weight it. They kill it. They clean it. They gut it. You take it home."

"You mean like in a cooler?" Is my brilliant and naive response.

"No, like in a tarp. Fully intact. Oh and bring a bucket for its insides."

And.... we have officially entered unchartered territory. What exactly have I done I wonder as a full fledge city girl who has incredibly limited experience on any type of farm. 

In the end, we set a date to head to the slaughter house. 

The next day I hit the streets and started door knocking to my neighbors in attempt to collect enough money to bring a pig to a family in mourning. 

A family in mourning. Friends, I wish I could unhear my sweet and devastated neighbor as she sits on her back porch and wails from the depth of her sadness. I have never heard crying sound like this. I have never heard pain sound like this. Every morning, before the sun is up, her tears are falling and it is her cries that tell me another day is coming, and she will be facing it alone. And every morning as I lay next to my own husband, I squeeze him a little tighter as my heart breaks for her a little more. It feels like a pig is the very least thing I can organize. 

Our official "Get the pig day" arrived with a trip to the gas station to pick up coffee, the golden rule of getting up early, and I went to get Blong for our adventure at the Slaughter house. 

When Blong gets in the car he asks, "Do you have any idea what you are walking into?"

Nope.

Not at all.

Not even a clue. 

But I packed my garden rubber boots just in case. (who knows right? Not me obviously.) And a jacket. And I put a tarp in the back of the minivan because you know... full faced empty pig.

Blong and I make it to the slaughter house around 8am, to discover it is already packed with people. We came to realize that it was Ethiopian Easter and so everyone was there. Blong takes me to the back where the livestock is. They have separate sections for chickens, cow, and sheep and lambs. Blong looks at me and says, "Pick one".

Sure. Just like that. Just. You know...pick one. 

But how? How can you tell if its a good pig? Or a bad one? Should it be fat? Do the marks on the skin matter? What about short legs, or bad breath? Do I pick a slow one or a fast one? How in the world do you a pig to be slaughtered? I mean, I stood there with the full weight that I was now solely in charge of ending the life of a living thing. I know my eyes got big, my heart lurched a few times, and I will admit it took me a little bit of time to decide. 

This struggle of ending a life to give a gift. To bless a family. In trying to do a good deed, I felt like it was starting with a dark deed. To give to one, I must take away from another. And I had to wrestle with all these heavy feelings in a span a few moments, because the guy speaking Hmong in his rubber apron and paddle was coming towards us to mark the pigs we had chosen. 

I tell you that I would have not survived without Blong. As one a very few women in this place, I was also the only white person. Oh the extent of my Hmong speaking skills are about nill. Not only do I look out of place, it is clear I have never done this before and am struggling to communicate. Blong led this whole ordeal for me, he answered all of my questions, and was so patient as I know I asked some ridiculous questions. I mean not only are our cultures very different, I also have very limited experience with animals in general and my skills in the kitchen are still new. So I feel a little green in all things in this situation. 

Because it was so busy, we stood in line waiting for our pig to be next in line, we got to talk about everything. From our families, to different cultures and thier impact on America, his wife's book, North Minneapolis, politics, what it means to be an unseen minority. You know...small things. 

After a couple hours and a tour of the rest of the warehouse (with cows being skinned and chickens being chosen and feathered), it was our pigs turn. My heart turned over once realizing this was the moment that I set into motion. In full disclosure, this moment was hard for me yes, but knowing what a gift it would be to the family made it better. Knowing that Hmong culture animals are sacred and there is only respect for the animal in giving up its life. They utilize and eat every part of the animal so as not to waste it. I came to this with understanding, but the reality was just... more real.

I don't know that I want to write about the process of what happens next. Not because it is simply to grotesque to discuss, but because it really isn't the point. I wan't ever disgusted by what was happening in front of me. I simply kept thinking, 

"Everyone in here is Hmong, or Muslim, or variety or version of a "minority" here in America. There is such a strong cultural experience happening here that I never knew existed. I am experiencing something that I never would have had the chance to see and know without the gift of Blong and my neighbors."

For this small moment in time I got to see a little bit of their world and what they experience. Not only their culture, but truthfully? I was a minority that day in a place where my language is second. Communication was hard. I clearly stood out because of my skin color and my gender. I believe it is imperative, especially for white folks, to put themselves in uncomfortable situations and walk a bit in someone else's shoes. For a brief moment, and in a fraction of a similar context, I experienced what it means to be in a place that doesn't fully make sense. I didn't hold all the knowledge of what happens in this place. I was lacking in almost every way to know how to navigate this. 

Yet people were kind, though maybe looked at me a little funny. We made our language barrier work, and I met some really wonderful folks while waiting for this whole showdown. And I was there for awhile. 

Yeah. Cause this girl? Picked the only sick pig all morning. After it was all dead and cleaned and ready to go, they slit that pig open to find out it was diseased. 

Yeah. I am really good at this.

So we had to start all over. From the beginning. Blong looked at me and said, "Pick another one!" I thought, "Clearly I showed my lack of skills last time around. I can't even be trusted in this!" 

But I scored a good one, and they rushed us through to the front of the line where we watched the whole thing again. Where they gave us all the innards in a bucket then wrapped the pig in a tarp and dropped in my trunk. 

Blong and I enjoyed an authentic Mexican lunch (where I ate tongue tacos for the first time. This was a day of many firsts!). Hours and hours later (Seriously, he was going to be with me for two max and ended up spending six hours with me on this adventure!) I dropped him off at home. 

Then with a car smelling of dead pig that is getting warm from the sun and the hot car, I started to make the drive to a northern suburb where my neighbors family was gathering. Ms. Yang's son has a home about 20 min outside of the city. 

In my sweatpants, big garden rubber boots and tank top, smelling like slaughter house, I pulled up to a huge family gathering with tents and lots of food. Many of the adults were sitting around tables quietly talking while kids played in the yard trying to distract themselves from all the melancholy adults. Then there's me, timidly looking for a man I have never met before who owns this house. A woman stops me and I say,

"I am the next door neighbor of the grandfather who passed away. The neighbors and I pitched in to buy your family a pig as a way to say we are so sorry for your loss. I hope this is an appropriate gift to bring and I haven't done anything offensive by bringing a pig. Otherwise this a really terrible practical joke." 

We laughed together. Whew.

And I looked at her hoping I made sense and praying that I did't have to keep explaining myself, still feeling unsure about looking so out of place, in the suburbs, with a Hmong family and a rotting pig in my trunk. I mean come on.

Everyone came out then, and I had to talk again, and I was so uncomfortable and the attention was getting to me, and grandma just kept hugging me, and then they sat me down and kept bringing me food to try. The family sat with me and talked for more than an hour.  More than we ever have. 

It was so incredibly overwhelming. 

It was so incredibly beautiful. 

It was so incredibly humbling. 

My day started at 630am. I came home at 7pm. This was what I was going to do with my morning. I was gonna make a quick trip to the slaughter house then "drop" off the pig with the family.

I am reminded again that people do not belong on a timeline. That giving of ourselves means sacrifices we never thought we would need to make.

I am reminded that being in someone's pain with them is potentially one of the most powerful things we can do. 

I am reminded by the beauty in people. That Blong and these neighbors of mine would give of themselves without expecting anything in return. They simply gave because someone was hurt. Human interest stories aren't going to save us, but they do give us strength to go on. That's what this did for me. I saw the Beauty in people. I saw hope and love. I saw the way it could be when we look out for each other. 

I learned what it means to walk a little in someone else's shoes simply to know them more. To understand them in a way I didn't before. To grow my heart and make room. To remind myself that my way isn't always the best or only way. 

My neighbor still wails in the morning. I still wake up to hearing her cry. Her pain is deep. Yet, now, she stops and hugs me. We didn't do that before. 

A wall came down.

We are closer now.

We share something now.

Special Note: I did not take any pictures of this as it felt insensitive to me. I wasn't there to capture something for you, I was there to experience it fully for me. (yes I am sharing now, but only after I took everything I wanted to keep and protect for myself. You get the highlights)

Special Thank you: Blong Yang and Mai Neng Moua for ALL the time you gave to walk me through this. To help me see and understand. For your patience with all my questions. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

To my neighbors who contributed to make this moving gift happen. We couldn't have blessed them without you.

To all the folks who shared info with me, asked their neighbors to help me, and took time to do research for me. You went above and beyond and that was very heartfelt. Thank you.

 

 

 

A little life update from the Tietjen's

So... I never send Christmas cards. Even though I love getting them, but we haven't ever actually sent one out. And now that its WAY past time, and I couldn't even write a Christmas blog, I just decided to give a little family update here. And NOT call it a Christmas card. or an epiphany card, or whatever else. Just a simple, "Hey, here's what the Tietjen's are up to!" kind of card. I mean post. 

I am also including the photos we had taken of our children FOUR months ago and only now just got around to getting together. I mean, these beautiful faces have been locked in the computer for months. They aren't online, or printed or nothing. Nope, this girl right here actually convinces her housemate to take his nice camera, do a quick photo opp with the kids and then sits on it for months. Because yeah, I am apparently that lazy? busy? unmotivated? tired? feel like the pictures are for me so who really cares anyway? Who knows, it's probably a combo of all the above. But here they are, and who knows, now that I gotten this far, I MAY just be motivated enough to get them printed. 

Did you know we don't have any pictures printed and framed in our house of our family? Seriously, I am the worst. 

And these kids should live in a frame. They are the pieces of my heart that live out loud in the best way. They are uncontainable in their passion, fierceness, ideas, creativity, demands, energy, and kindness and frustrations (mostly at each other). You never have to ask them what they are thinking or feeling, they share it all with essays of words. (You can't have two parents who communicate as much as Paul and I and not grow three kids who are just as passionate at communicating.)

Paul and I continue to grow as parents (and spouses) in our knowledge, understanding, learning from mistakes, insight and time with these kiddos. They keep us challenged and humbled. Noah is the protector of the bunch, Caleb the inventor, and Lu our helper. Their hearts are big, their minds are always wondering and their bodies always wanting to explore. For us, we find it critical to learn how to teach them good practices that will help them stay that way. How do you care for yourself and others in a way that respects all life and gives glory to God? This is a guiding theme for us. 

Oh Noah. He is known among his friends as the "Hype Man". His passion serves him in uplifting his teammates, classmate and friends. He is a fierce lover of reading, football, baseball, basketball, legos, spoken word, hip hop, and his family. I can't believe he is 11 and in the 5th grade at Yinghua Academy, which he LOVES. Noah thrives with the Chinese language. Noah's football team also won the championship this year and it was well celebrated. He continues to grow and yet still remains this sweet, innocent young boy who loves to be silly, snuggle and cook with me in the kitchen. 

Aaahhh Caleb. Where I find it easy to describe my other two children, this one just can't be defined in any one word. He has this natural ability for learning, knowledge, reading, math, science, foreign languages, creating and inventing and basic athletic skill. He is wise beyond his years, has a voice that can be heard across town, loves to laugh and play. He makes difficult tasks look easy, he forgives faster than anyone I know, and wants to know everything. Caleb also played football for the first time this year, and also joined the baseball and basketball team. 

Both boys play for our neighborhood leagues and also participate in the local Boys to Men Club which give them a space to hang with their friends, learn life skills, earn some money and volunteer in the neighborhood. 

And then there was her. Eleanor. She is so goofy, and incredibly kind. I have never met anyone who is so concerned for the well being of others quite like this little one. She loves her stuffed animals, her brothers, reading, puzzles and all things artistic. She hasn't started any extra after school activities, but her time will come. She is thriving at Yinghua and loves speaking Chinese. This spunky brave little girl is growing at a rate I am not completely happy about. While I can't wait to see what an incredible woman she will be, I am taking every opportunity to sew, color, do puzzles and snuggle with this little bean. 

Paul and I continue to do what we do. We still live in our little bungalow on the bluffs of the Mississippi with our community garden project right next store. Paul is in his sixth year at Ameriprise which affords him the ability to travel with his band 100 White Flags. This past year Paul also started his three piece blues trio, GOBO which has played a few local fairs around town. He also took the time to help coach Caleb's football team, and assist with Basketball. And for Paul it was a year unmatched as both his Bronco's and his Cubs won their championships in 2016. Needless to say, sports took over a bit over here. Whoa.

I continue to travel and speak. This summer was full of great gigs including the National Youth Gathering, Luther Hour Ministries, and the adult gathering on Mackinaw Island. I love writing for Gatherhaus, an online community that promotes intentional living through simplicity and purpose, and our local paper. I am also working on two new book projects which will hopefully final first drafts this year which I will pitch to publishers. I started working at the kids school two hours a day to bring in a steady income. It's not much but I can't believe how much it eases the pressure of my works of passion. Writing is not a lucrative career, and the anxiety of turning it into one was too much for me last year. Now, I am able to approach my work with the question, "What do I need to say?" NOT "How can this make money?". This distinction is critical to my creative process and the integrity of my work. I have already discovered profound peace in my work with this shift. 

And though the Garden may appear to by my project, it really is a family/community investment. I am honored to be apart of it, proud of what it is becoming, and love my time in that space. We strive every year to grow and improve our outreach and effort. We hosted multiple events last year, grew a TON of food and experienced high community engagement. We are confident this year will be no different.

Thank you all for doing life with us. For following us on this journey. For your interest, your kind words, your time in the garden, showing up for the kids games, donations to our ministry, and booking either Paul's band, or me to speak at your event.  No man is an island, and what good is our heart and soul if we can not share it with each other. 

May we all continue to grow in knowledge, wisdom, understanding, love and compassion. And hopefully in that, be challenged to participate in the restorative and justice work of humanity showed to us by Christ Jesus. 

Happy New Year!

To hold a story

I have talked about Mr. Roosevelt here before. He is my neighbor who lives with his daughter across the street. 

Last week Mr. Roosevelt and I were visiting on his stoop. We were laughing and joking about kids, cars, life in general. You know, all the things that African elders and youngish white girls have in common. (I can claim youngish if I am speaking of my spirit right?!)

"I have a book for you." He says.

"Is it a good book? This girl ain't got no time for crappy books." I jest.

"It is." He chuckles.

To which he then takes pause while he looks me in the eye longer than necessary. Mr. Roosevelt gives a smirk, slowly nodding his head, he takes my dirt covered hand in his worn one and says, 

"This is a book about my hometown. Where I grew up and lived. It's about the south, and our struggle and our reality. It's pictures and stories and..." he paused. He looked straight through my eyes into my heart and said,

"I have come to know you and I know that you can hold this story. You are someone I can share it with and you will respect it."

He nodded again in recognition, that yes, we could do this together. We could do life equally together. He could share a part of himself with me. A part of his life, his blood, his skin, his history, his story and it wouldn't be shunned, denied, excused away or met with guilt and shame and narcism. 

Mr. Roosevelt went inside and brought out this book.

He told me I could hold on to it for him for a awhile. He didn't want me to rush through it. He wanted me to absorb it. Digest it. Consume it. 

He wanted the images and the words to leave its finger prints on my very soul so that I take it with me everywhere. That his history wouldn't be lost.

We are building a bridge together Mr. Roosevelt and I. One that can hold two very different experiences and accept them both. That each story can be held with respect and honor and recognition. That through listening, we would learn and grow and discover understanding that deepens our compassion.

To hold each others story in a way that honors the life and experience of another human being.

What would our cities look like if we could hold each other in that way? To cultivate those kinds of relationships and conversations? To surrender our own perspective and realize that we each experience a different kind of reality and truth? That we have much to learn from one another? That our histories can teach us how to learn from our mistakes? 

If we can be blunt here? I think in general, we white folk don't do a very good job at this. We have a tendency to input our truth and our reality and our perspective into the lives of those who have greatly different experiences than our own. We can not tell them what is true or not. It would be very wise of us to start listening more without objection. Without justification. Without reasoning away hurt. 

Friends, lets learn to hold each other's stories with respect and honor. But not just our friends, but also the stories of those who have been left vulnerable. The stories of injustice. The stories of our African brothers and sisters. The stories of our Mexican neighbors. Our LGBT sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. The people who suffer from mental, physical, and emotional trauma. The stories of those who worship different than you. Look different than you. Speak different than you. Spend money different than you. Dress different than you.

What does it look like for us to hold each other with respect?

Public Consumption

I'm kind of over social media. I'm just done. Exhausted by it. Drained from it. I even feel crippled from it, not quite remembering what it feels like to live without it.

I know I know, I will most likely at some point come back to it. That's fine. I am not against it. But for now, I'm just kind of done being publicly consumed. I mean we put the pieces of ourselves out there to be absorbed, to be seen, to be evaluated and measured and consumed. 

Right? I have a fun day or special moment and I write about it and put it out there for you. Then you take it in and like or don't. Comment on it or not. Either way, you consume it because I put it out there to be taken. I get it. 

I get that social media connects us. It can inspire us and educate us and teach us. There are so many good things about it. I am not anti-social media. (The irony of still writing a blog and putting myself out there is not lost on me. Trust me. The difference however is this place isn't about the likes or comments or measuring. This feels a bit more genuine because you choose to come here and spend time with me.)

But, for real, I am way out of balance. My whole feels likes it getting consumed at a rate in which I can't keep up and there isn't much of me left.

I keep thinking, I don't remember what it feels like to simply live my life without the lens of sharing it with you. Every moment to have a picture, but not just a picture, an Instagram worthy photo. And not just a Facebook post, a crafted, witty, moving post. And not just a few words for twitter, something that will stand out and catch attention. Ugh. I am tired just writing about it. 

I miss moments that are simply for me. Or to simply share with the people in the moment with me. And that's on me. 

It's also really easy for me to twist that whole strange public space into something dark. A place where I start to weigh and measure my worth. How do you respond to what I share with you? How much do you like it? Or don't you? How much attention do I get from this? If I share these types of stories, then you respond more, so I start to "perform" for you. Giving you what I think you want from me. Then it gets weighed and measured again and I am left with a false sense of self and security and I couldn't believe I went there.

I started to see it for what it was, me needing you to acknowledge my worth and existence. Then I thought, Damn how did I get here? I never wanted to be here. 

So I left. 

The other piece of this is all the media that surrounds our current complicated race, ethnicity, political, systematic, religious problems. (NOT that they didn't exist before, but many the internet has a way of enhancing all of our issues.) I was being consumed by info; posts, opinions, articles, videos, comments. I was turning obsessed and not in an edifying way. No, I was simply consuming it and it was taking over my life, turning my heart against people, and deep judgement was winning over building bridges. 

I couldn't do it anymore. I had to leave. I am consumed enough in my daily life by the people who live in my house and on my street. I already have so many things that need my time, attention, respect, understanding, patience, and ability to show up. Where I struggled to have boundaries before, living in North Minneapolis has demanded that I start to figure this out, otherwise there will be nothing left of me before too long. 

I am consumed almost from the time I wake up till I go to bed. I have no more space for social media and its all consuming ways. I came to a moment in my life where I thought, 

For now, do I want to show up in my real life, or show up in my electronic life?

So I choose my real life. 

I still struggle with, "Oh man, I want to share this online!" But it causes me to ask why? Why would I share this? Is it so you see me? Is it so I can make myself look good, or smart or educated or servant hearted? And why do I need you to know these things? Is it not enough for my me to simply have this experience? Or is it not enough that I might know these things are true?

Does your opinion of me matter to me more than my own?

And that's when I knew that I had started to loose my deep waters. 

And I need to get them back. 

So I hope you can forgive my lack of presence online, outside of this space. This feels like the closest version of online relationship that we can have. 

I debated on even writing about this, but since I have been active on all forms of social media, and now I am clearly not there, I thought you deserved to know why. 

I mean, we're in this together aren't we?

If you need me, respond here, or email me or give me a call. I'm not hard to find. 

Or you can always meet me out in the garden. I'll brew us some coffee and we can pull food from the ground and share in the life giving force of being connected together in the earth. 

 

I am for you

I feel like we make a lot of mistakes over here. Our selfishness often gets the best of us and we can't see what the other people in our home need from us. 

If I am honest, in the shades of night before I sleep I am saddened by the way I have treated my children earlier in the day. Most often, the loathing starts quickly after I have already misstepped. My remorse can be great, and I think, what kind of example am I leaving them with?

I often take my insecurities out on my kids. Or my impatience with them is biting as I am the one who over scheduled herself. I will use shame to get them to do things, and if we were measuring my parenting success by my tone of voice, I would come up grossly short. 

We may do a bunch of stuff well over here, but man oh man, we sure do a bunch of stuff not so well. 

And it's not like is a competition with other parents. It's just real life. Two screwed up people fell in love and had babies and didn't work through all their crap before they decided to raise more humans. Whoops. 

So at this point, we have a choice right? Pretend like we have our shit together which causes tension because pretending will always pushing against the real rawness of our soul. Or own the fact that we screw up. Admit it. Embrace it. Confess it.

Which we do all the time with our children. We confess our missteps. Our wrong doings. Our sin. Or we confess that we stand behind our choices that they don't understand. The rules we put in place that they don't like. The choices we make on our families behalf. We push hard to make sure they have the reasons behind the information.

With all the ways we hurt our kids by our mistakes, or they feel jaded because of our choices and they don't understand, they put up walls to protect themselves from us. I then have to figure out a way to get around the walls or bring them down. 

So you know what I do? I say to my kid every day,

"I am for you. I am going to screw up, but I will remain here and fight for you. I will say the wrong thing, but we can talk about it because, I will stay till you know I am not going anywhere. You are not going to like some, or most, of the choices I make for you, but you need to remember, I am for you.

"I am your advocate. I am on your side. I am rooting for you. I am for you. I will walk every step with you. You are not alone in this. You have me. Whether you want me or not. Whether you like e or not. Whether I am the last person on the planet you want to see right now, I see all of you. The big beautiful personality you show the world, the scared parts you try to hide, your inflated ego that masks the insecurity you are struggling to figure out. As you navigate these waters of self awareness and identity, I see you. And I think you amazing. And nothing will keep me from cheering you on, for being the lap you need to curl up on even when you are 16. For getting in my car and rescuing you, or standing by and calling out to God as you battle yourself in self discovery. 

Good. Bad. Right. Wrong. Appropriate or not. 

I am for you."

The tears in the fabric of our relationship are coming. You will need to pull away to discover who you are. I am going to screw up in this. You are going to screw up in this. We are going to hurt each other. We are going to hurt ourselves. 

But nothing will keep me from showing up. Every day. Rooting for you. Standing for you. Fighting for you. Being for you.

 

Her spirit teaches me

Friends, tonight I was putting my daughter to bed. Her brothers were still at football practice and since they all share a room, I had this rare time of just her and me laying in her bed and talking. 

Our heads were together as she was speaking, her hand holding mine, and her whole body curled into me. She was retelling in great detail about a struggle she had today with an old friend and a new friend at school. 

"I wanted to play with my new friend because we don't normally do stuff together. But that choice made my other friend sad and she started to cry.

When the teacher came over to ask what was wrong, in between her tears my old friend told the teacher I was the one who made her cry. Then the teacher looked at me because she thought I did something wrong. So I said, 'It's OK! We got this. We can figure it out. Please let us talk about this on our own. Otherwise we won't ever be grown ups who can work through our problems."

I sat stunned by her intelligence, her awareness, her consciousness of self and others. I took in her soulful eyes and her sweet smile and it was then that I knew.

I don't think I was given to her to lead the way. 

I believe she was given to me to teach me how to be a good human and love fiercely. To see people and do the hard work it requires to live in peace. 

 

Finding my truth

He is not my knight and shining armor. 

He is not my prince charming.

He is not even my best friend.

He's not hearts and flowers and rainbows.

He's not my captor or my savior. 

He is not my everything. 

He isn't candy hearts and sweet nothings in my ear. 

He is most definetly not my yes husband.

He isn't my better half or a fix to any daddy issues I might have. 

But he is... my truth.

When I was a young woman trying to find who I was, he could see me. I mean honestly, truly see me. The hidden pieces, the secrets, the madness in my mind. He could see who I was pretending to be and who I was hiding. He could see me struggling to be what everyone else wanted while loosing myself in the process. 

He could see me before I knew me.

And he loved me. 

He looked at me and spoke softly, "I see who you are and who you could be. I love all of you. I love the light and the dark in you. If you never change, I will continue to love you. Either way, I am in."

I am starting to think I might feel lost my whole life. Looking and searching and rediscovering and redefining myself. I often feel adrift and wandering. I wonder if I will ever find my center, or peace in the process. My dreams shift and change and my passions are vast and wide. I carry the same struggles, never really letting go, always dragging my baggage a little behind me. I also live as a kid in a candy store, wanting all the things, loving all the things, wanting to try all the things. All the dreams, all the projects, all the ideas, all the music, all the art, all the books. It is impossibly hard to live with me.

He is the truth who keeps me grounded. He is the truth that speaks into my madness when I have lost my way. He is the truth that calls bull crap when I start to pretend to gain acceptance again. When I throw excuses at him, or try to lie, he calls me out and brings me back.

When I am lost or confused or stuck in unhealthy patterns, he is my true north.

He sees my brokenness and says, I love you.

He is in the thick of it with me when my weaknesses take the strength out of our life and says, I still have patience.

When I have given up on myself, he says, I'm not done believing in you.

When I pull the blanket over my head and want to stay in bed all day, he climbs in and says, I feel it too, but we are at least in this together.

We don't see each other as the polished and fancy versions that can be captured in photos and tag lines. We aren't sugar and spice and everything is perfect and nice people. We're kind of gritty, dirty, sarcastic, reality folks. The kind that can own our vast disfunction and say, Hey, we're doing the best we can.

Our version of romance looks like having the perfect way to snuggle on the couch so we can be touching from head to toe, but he can still reach his scotch on the table.

It looks like him scratching my back every night because he knows, HE KNOWS me and how it relaxes me and is my favorite thing at the end of the day. 

It looks like him showing up every night to his family because he chooses us again every day.

It looks like each of us having "going out time with friends", because we both understand that we can't be everything to each other. We still need our tribe of individual and independent friendships. 

Romance for us looks like hard truths, commitment, and even when we are excruciatingly annoyed with each other, which we can be often, it still says, "I don't like you right now, but I still choose you."

That is my truth.

He is my partner. He is my champion. He is my biggest advocate. He is my wise council. He is my listening ear. He is the one I have vowed to create a life with. To be together and create family together. He is the one I come home to, no matter where I have been. No matter how long I have been gone, he is my home.

He also doesn't understand all of me, but accepts me all the same. He knows on a very real level that I will always live in a bit of madness. That my issues at this point might never be overcome.

And yet... And yet... he stays. He loves. He gives me truth. He gives me home. He gives me space to be me and wrestle with myself. He doesn't give up. 

We have this intense partnership that involves honest conversations, hard truths, accountability and lots of passion. We love big and we fight big. We don't agree on much and have very different opinions about things. Our marriage is a meeting of two driven, powerfully spirited people with lots of thoughts, deep emotions, and a million ideas. This was never a "you complete me" kind of thing. It's more a "Wow I think you are incredible and I would like to know you and love you for the entirety of my life" kind of thing. A choice to stay and build on the life and love we had when we started out.

We are what I like to call "full folks". We are full of it. All of it. All the time. Drive. Passion. Commitment. Ideas. Love. Anger. Wonder. Fear. Regret. Hope. We got it all. 

Both of us. It's a very full relationship over here.

Much of our life feels steeped in a battle. We fight for peace in our neighborhood. We fight for open communication and healthy relationships with our children. We fight for our marriage. We battle for contentment while pushing hard towards dreams. We battle to find truth in politics, art, religion and culture. We battle to be true to ourselves and to each other. 

Which is why him being my true north, my steadfast one, is the best version of  romance I can come by.

So to my sweet and opinionated and passionate husband, I love you. Thank you for choosing me. Every. Day.

Happy 14th Anniversary. 

 

The tale of Ms. Murphy

Mr. Roosevelt is a sweet old man who lives across our street with his daughter Sharlonda. Over the last couple of years, I see him walking to his semi parked down the street, or sitting on the porch enjoying a drink in the late afternoon. We wave, we say hi, we do neighborly things. Mr. Roosevelt always has a smile for me, and me for him. 

Yesterday I was getting out of my car, and he timidly called out to me to come over and chat with him.

"Ms. Danielle, I grew up in Alabama on a farm pickin cotton. We was poor, the whole lot of us. We spent our days as kids pickin cotton and hauling wood and whatever chores were needed. All us kids needed to work, so we didn't do no school. Then one summer Ms. Murphy from MN came down to teach the whole lot of us to read. We didn't even know how to spell Cat, and she gave us that. She would take us to the marches for Dr. King holding my hand the whole time. She told us this was history. This was our story and we needed to be there. She taught us to read and write and what was important.

I wouldn't be a truck driver today if it weren't for her. I wouldn't be able to provide for my family and put food on the table without her. I hoped when I moved up here, I might be able to find her. All I knew was her name was Ms. Murphy and she was from MN. I was never able to find her to say Thank you. I want so badly to say thank you to that lady who changed my life.

For two years I wanted to say something to you, but I was embarrassed and felt kind of shy about it. I see you all the time working out there in that garden, playing with those kids, teaching them to plant and work and grow food. I see you smile at everyone who comes by, stop what you're doing and visit with them. 

You remind me a whole lot of Ms. Murphy. You two have the same spirit. You got this openness about you, this way that wants to give back.

So I never been able to say thank you to Ms. Murphy from MN, but I want to say thank you to you. It feels kinda the same."

And what in the ever lovin crazy world does one say to that? 

I know I don't feel that way.

I know I don't see myself that way.

I know what I do feels radically different than that.

And yet. 

And

Yet.

I have been so deeply touched by this story. A story of love and devotion. A story of people seeing other people. And I mean, really seeing them. Not looking past them. Loving them. Sacrificing for them. Devoting time and care and kindness to them. To humanity. To a cause that draws us closer together, instead of pushing us further away.

I so desperately always want to be apart of that kind of love.

Now I know that every day I can strive to be more like Ms. Murphy.

That we all could.

And I am going to do whatever I can to start solving the mystery of Ms. Murphy, so that my friend Mt. Roosevelt can say thank you. 

The unseen things...patience with humanity

My son shyly approached me the other day. It was a moment that I knew held emotion and weight by the way he awkwardly didn't even know how to be in his own skin. He was uncomfortable and then, unable to keep it in anymore, he said,

"Mom I am scared of spring. The weather is nicer now and spring means storms. Storms mean lightening and thunder and tornados. I feel dumb because I'm scared of storms and they still bother me. I'm too old to be scared of storms. I don't want to be scared but I don't know how not to be."

It is the stirring of the unrelenting chaotic current that lies underneath our demeanor. 

I know it. 

I know many people who know this feeling well. 

It is the anxiety of what could be, what has been, what might happen. It is the unknown, sometimes based in reality, other times rooted in fear.

I forget sometimes how deeply effected my son was by that day 5 years ago. How that struggle stays with him as he tries to learn how to do life with this wound. 

I think about how already he is worried. I watch as his eyes follow the clouds. How he sneaks peaks on my phone to check the weather. I notice how he plans time with his friends around the weather to not expose his fear or weakness to the people around him. 

His fear and earth shattering experience through the tornado has altered him. 

It makes me wonder about all the others out there who are struggling with a fear, a demon, a ghost, a moment, a person. It makes me wonder how they change their lives to work around this scar in their own existence.

We all have them, yet we feel pressure or shame or anxiety about the timeline in which we should be healed. We have these moments that redefine who we are because these moments never leave us. We simply hold them differently.

Yet from the outside, it is easy to forget that someone else would have an internal scar that I can't see. I only live with your coping techniques, and the sad reality is most often we forget or don't understand so we cast judgements on one another. 

The wind was picking up and tossing and throwing items around the yard and my oldest son wanted to come inside and stop playing catch with his brother. He was embarrassed and so didn't explain why he wanted to come in, he simply left, to which it caused a rift between the brothers. There was angst and some name calling and lots of frustration. 

I saw it and knew. I knew it was  based in fear and panic, lack of communication and embarrassment (shame). It was all about deflecting and hiding and projecting. 

I think it's easy to forget the pain and scars others carry. I wonder how our friendships and relationships could be stronger if we held each other more gently and had patience for the healing process. 

I am no one to judge you and the process of how you carry your struggle, your wound, your scar.  We are all mostly simply trying to navigate our lives and emotional healing is a beast that takes much longer than expected to tame. 

I'm his mother and I forgot his scar. 

I want to take this moment with him and remember to hold him well, but also to reflect and remember that most around me carry scars as well. I am not responsible for all the pain and healing in the people around me. However, if we are in community and relationship as we say we are, then I deeply want to be a vessel for healing and peace. And in order to work towards that beautiful gift, we must be patient with one another and grant understanding. 

 

A reason why it hurts...

Sometimes it's hard to find the words to explain what it feels like to live in the tension of the ghetto. A few months ago, I found these words stirring in my heart.

 

We are explosive because there isn't time between the raging war and moment of peace to process all that is happening.

To navigate our way thru the war zone of emotion.

To settle fear down and release it before the next moment takes us.

It's why we are explosive, on edge and angry.

We don't have time to settle that rage to see that it hurts us and find the healing that lets us be free.

To hear and listen and understand.

To be a people of peace.