Sunday, July 29, 2012

Smothered, Covered, and Chunked

At Waffle House, a local breakfast eatery, you can have your eggs served a few different ways.  A popular choice is to have your eggs served smothered and covered which makes for a delicious way to start your day.   I like my eggs served that way, but I don't like myself served that way.  Let me explain.

I was at a local garage sale the other day, and a few Hispanic families attended the sale.  They looked around and spoke Spanish to each other and spoke English to the ladies running the sale.    The families were polite, kept their kids in check, and left after making a few purchases.    Afterwards, one of the ladies commented, "Don't you just hate when those bunch of Mexicans come, acting like they don't speak English, trying to get the cheapest price?"   When asked this type of question in the past, I have always just remained quiet, not wanting to start a big debate.  This time, I said, " No, not really, I like to speak Spanish, and I like to talk with them."   She then proceeded to comment about how learning Spanish would be great so she could talk with the guys who do her landscaping or the construction workers that work nearby.  I left the sale, came home and seethed.  What I wanted to say, what I wanted to scream was this:
      *Not all Hispanic speakers are from Mexico
      *Everyone at a garage sale barters on price, not just those with a darker skin color
      *Spanish-speaking people are more than landscapers, construction workers, or servers at a taco

Because I am white, speak English, and live in a nice suburb, at times people assume that I, too, harbor racism against the Hispanics who live in my town.   The interaction at the garage sale was just one of many.    In many situations, instead of saying "bunch of Mexicans,"  people will comment on, "that bunch of illegals."  If I continue to stay quiet when these conversations arise, if I continue to cover and smother my perspective, then I am not being true to a people who are being discriminated against overtly and covertly every day because of their skin color and because of their primary language.

Why do I have a different perspective?  At the age of sixteen, I had the privilege to serve as a Rotary Club Exchange student in the Central American country of Costa Rica.  For ten months I lived with host families and learned Spanish, and experienced a different culture and customs.     Throughout my Rotary Exchange experience, I met hundreds of people from other countries, from Mexico and El Salvador to Spain and Australia.    Despite our different geographic locations and spoken languages,  we had much in common, from our love of our countries to our love of family and focus on education.     Over the next ten years,  I studied abroad again in college and then worked in higher education, visiting high schools in North/Central/South America.  

With the changing population demographics, one no longer has to travel abroad to interact with people of Hispanic or Latino origin.  According to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau, there are 4% Persons of Hispanic or Latino Origin who live in Sumner County, Tennessee.   Of the estimated 163,686 population in this county,  approximately 6,547 Hispanic/Latino people reside here in Hendersonville, Gallatin, White House, and the surrounding areas that make up this county.   One of the best ways to overcome stereotypes about this ever-growing population of people is to educate yourself and your children.   Attend the Fall Fiesta at Volunteer State Community College.  Drive down to Nashville and experience the Celebration of Cultures in Centennial Park.   If you have a child in a Mother's Day Out, church pre-school program, or elementary after-school class with a Spanish curriculum,  go over the new vocabulary and the lessons with your children.    At the very least,  don't cover and smother your children with your negativity against Hispanic people.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Someone Else's Problem

Someone Else's Problem

Living in the suburbs of Nashville,  my family resides in a nice neighborhood where the streets are filled with kids riding bikes, skateboarding, swimming at each other's pools, etc.   Parents stand outside talking with one another and, in general, a nice community feel prevails.  One little eight-year-old boy, however, lives in a home nearby where he is neglected.  Yes, his basic needs are being met-- food, shelter, clothing--, but he is starved for attention and for boundaries for his behavior.  His mother lets him stay out all day and late in the night, never checking on where he is or who he is with.  During the school year, he has been kicked off of the bus because of his foul language.   Without the gentle guidance of an active parent, he is slowly becoming the "problem kid," the one whom mothers are cautious to have their kids around.   Recently, when he became angry at a group of teasing boys, he ran home, grabbed a 6-inch Army knife and returned to "take care of things."   Luckily, one of the dads saw the exchange and took the boy home and talked with the adult at the home (the mom's boyfriend).    The adult blew off the incident, not wanting to deal with the child or with the responsibility;  he was dating the mom and the boy was unfortunately just a part of the deal.      This eight-year-old child is being neglected by his mom, but what is my responsibility?  What is my neighborhood's responsibility?  What is the school's responsibility?     It is so easy to chastise his mother,  shake our heads and mutter "bless his heart," and get on with living our lives and parenting our own children.  

This little boy, prone to temper tantrums and impulsive behavior, could potentially grow up into a teenager and an adult with those same anger tendencies.   Rather than seeing a future article in the newspaper because of his accomplishments in sports or academics,  he could easily make the news because of a violent attack at his high school or an attack in his community.

The headlines this week have detailed a merciless 24-year-old gunman killing innocent victims in a movie theater in Colorado.   This July also marks the one-year anniversary of the Oslo, Norway attack in which a far-right fanatic killed 69 people at a youth camp.    A killer isn't made overnight;  I wonder how many times along the way in their life did people notice that their behavior wasn't quite right.   How many times was the assumption made that they were someone else's problem?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April- Real Feelings

One night for our bedtime story, I held up some picture cards and prompted my sons to make up a story including the pictures as part of the plot.   One of the pictures was of a heart, and Ryan, our 5-year-old, created a story about a little black boy who went to school.  This little boy was bullied and made fun of and ended up with a hole in his heart.   The end.     I sat there in the silence and thought about how sad this story was!   My parent-mind started thinking, "Is my son getting bullied?  Does he think African-American children are getting picked on?  Is he sad in general?"     Determined to lift the mood during bedtime story time, I began to tell a story about a little black boy who was shy at school but began to make friends at a weekend camp.    Ryan interrupted me and asked, " Is your boy the same as my boy in my story?"  I shook my head yes and he immediately responded, "Get your own black boy."      He could use some coaching on his delivery, but his message was clear:  don't change my story.

At first review, this was just an amusing moment for me with my son.   As time has passed, I realize though that I have this tendency to want to make everything better.    Little boy has a hole in his heart? Let me fix that and create a more positive story.     I like for our life's narrative to be pleasant, uplifting, without conflict.     Being positive, staying happy, getting along, and persevering have been more important than being genuine.   No one could deny that positive traits are important to have, yet there has to be a balance.   Rather than hiding or denying negative thoughts and unpleasant situations,  I am learning that they are equally as important as the good moments in life.      How unnerving!   To actually appreciate and live in the moment of challenging and difficult times instead of rushing through them is an entirely different way for me to live, a more authentic way to live.        As my husband's boss at his first job out of college always said,  "Life is harsh and unyielding."    This was such a sharp juxtaposition to the affirming words of our liberal arts college where the mantra was, " To know, to do, to dare- you can do anything!"

Sometimes life sucks.  The water filter in the refrigerator bursts.   My child gets strep over spring break.    I gain three pounds and my jeans don't fit.  My hip hurts after I run.   I am getting wrinkles.  I will never have enough time with my parents, sister, and nephew who live out-of-state.   My husband's mom died when she was only 54.    LIFE IS HARD!!

And, life is beautiful.   After the filter broke, our insurance company paid for all new flooring in our kitchen.   We stayed home over spring break and actually enjoyed the slower pace of just being in town with unscripted, lazy days for a week.   I gained weight because I was blessed with food.   My running pains are badges of courage that I give a damn to try and be healthy.   Wrinkles are evidence of wisdom.  When we do see our Ohio family, we make the absolute most of our time together and appreciate the heck out of one another.    Sandy died way too young, but we learned at a very early time that life is fleeting and will change in a moment's notice so we have placed family and time with our kids as our number one priority over all else.

Authentic living means embracing authentic feelings and, as an extension, having real relationships.  Some of our best friends are those with whom we can laugh and commiserate;   our parent creed when life gets overwhelming?   We smile, nod, and say,  "we're living the dream folks, living the dream."    Truly, we are.   Assuredly, just as much as one day will be difficult, the next day will be amazing and they are both good days!   I am no longer going to fast-forward through the crap.     Sometimes you need the crap to appreciate everything else.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March 2012

The Catholic Church

Almost twenty years ago, I spent a spring college quarter in France.   I vividly remember an Easter Mass I attended at the famous Notre Dame, a service complete with priests bedecked in their finest official robes, chanting in Latin, blessing the crowds with words and sweet-smelling incense.   I could only be a spectator of sorts since my being a non-Catholic kept me from taking communion or from participating in the rituals of prayer and response.  Despite these limitations, I felt completely captivated by the energy of the church, the sacredness of the space, and by the community created amongst this group of people.  

Earlier still in my life, when I spent my high school junior year abroad in Costa Rica, I recall attending Mass with my host mother.   I don't know that I had ever seen such adoration for Christ before then.   Lighting candles for blessings, praying fervently, holding Rosaries with firm faith;  these were the actions that were as important to my host mother as was eating and sleeping.      The phrases  "Gracias a Dios" (Thanks be to God) and "Que Dios les bendiga"  (May God bless you )  were some of the first Spanish phrases I learned that year.  Being so far from home, I was comforted knowing that no matter where I was in the world, the Mass schedule being followed in Costa Rica was the same one as in Paris, France, or my hometown of Lancaster, Ohio.   What a feeling of global connectedness!

Enamored with and captivated by the Catholic tradition and faith of the people,  you would think that I would have signed up for RCIA (Right of Christian Initiation for Adults-- classes to enable non-Catholics to convert) as soon as I became engaged to a Catholic.    Well, I didn't.   While I saw the beautiful side of the Catholic faith, I also saw the ugly side:  the scandal of abuse of young boys by pedophile priests, the anti-contraception stance for women, the exclusion of people from other faiths during communion.    I couldn't reconcile the glory with the stain and thus, I stayed a Methodist for the time being.  

If you have read my earlier posts, you know that we are trying to live authentically and find a place of organized religion which would be a community for our family.    We decided to attend a Catholic Mass today.   This wasn't our first service at our local Catholic Church-- we have accompanied my husband Bill a few random times;  this morning was different in that I really wanted to experience and consider if this beautiful church could be a long-term choice and not just a diversion from our normal routine.

What did I feel today?  Relief;   we were surrounded by so many families and so many children, such a vibrant community.  People attended in jeans/casual clothing, and the focus seemed less on wearing the latest fashions and more on being present in the church.   The music was beautiful;  a talented group of men and women sang short responses before and after the priest spoke or a passage from the Bible was read.   The message today on this 2nd Sunday of Lent was one that we all could relate to:  sometimes we have moments up on the mountain that are glorious and feel divinely-inspired, but we have to come back down from that mountain-- we have such lows as well.  And, the unifying message was that God will be there the entire time.

Ryan and I wandered around the church for awhile-- he had restless legs, and I had a curious mind.  What would we find?  We found framed, panoramic pictures of children celebrating first Communions,  RCIA graduates, mission abroad pictures.   As we walked around, we were invited to "Taco Tuesday" to help support the youth and were encouraged to attend a Fish Fry next Friday.   After Mass let out and we reunited with the rest of our family,  we were approached by one of the men leading service.   He came up to us and said, " I don't believe I know you;   Hi, I am Deacon Jim."   Hands were shaken, names were exchanged, and we felt very welcomed.     In fact, five-year-old Ryan decided he hadn't shared enough about himself and re-approached the Deacon and shared, "my whole name is Ryan Patrick McAllister."  

I am encouraged, and we will return next week.  I read in a book recently that we have to live "life in the contradictions."  No faith, no religion, no church is perfect and we don't have to wholly accept or reject any certain one.  What we can do is find what we like and celebrate that aspect.   In turn,  I can identify what I don't like and see what progress the Church has made and see if the current atmosphere is one which is accepting/open enough for me and my family.    Will we all convert and become Catholic?  That decision is quite a few steps away in the future.  What is comforting for now is at this stage of the journey, we had a lovely morning filled with kind messages, beautiful music, and welcoming interactions..... and those were sufficient enough for today.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

February 2012~ Yoga and my life story

I read recently in a book that yoga helps you to release your life story.   Within our bodies, we hold tight to past memories and these aches/pains/problems we encounter can be partly attributed to our inability to release the memories.   For me, anger manifests itself into my right hip flexor—too tight and inflexible.   Sadness finds its way into my lower back, wilted from past conflicts, unable to stand up straight.     You get the picture.   So when a friend invited me to a yoga class, I joined her, eager to release some aches and pains and, more importantly, to find an entrance to my own stories.

As I breathed in deeply and focused on the various poses, I began to understand what the author was saying about finding our story through yoga.  I felt a physical release; much like the “pluck” sound one hears when you open a vacuum-sealed jar of spaghetti sauce.    As I closed my eyes for the restorative exercises, I kept seeing a recurring image of an eye.   How curious—I wonder if this is some sign that I will finally be able to see and understand the stories that I hold within me.

I am desperate to find a way to release my life story.   I want to be a writer so badly, and yet I find EVERY task or responsibility to complete before I will sit down and let the words flow.   Sort my son’s Lego collection into color-coded bins?  Sure, that sounds like a great way to begin putting pen to paper.    Plan my week’s grocery list, check out my new favorite website, Pinterest, dust the tops of my ceiling fans, talk with my girlfriends on the phone, watch the latest The Middle episode  (was the best Valentine’s Day episode truth be told); these have all taken precedence over my writing.

Writing is difficult.   When you slow down and start to let the stories come out, the emotions that encircled those times also tag along.    I am afraid to revisit the stories that have made me who I am.

I have been told that the negative times in your life will outweigh the positive ones 11 to 1.    This seems to be true with my focus on my past as well.   For every amazing experience, like getting married or becoming a mother for the first time, I find that the negative stories beat their gorilla chests and try to overwhelm the positive memories.  I can imagine the conversation going like this:  Oh yeah, positive memory, so she became a mom, BUT, how about the time her dad disowned her or when she had postpartum depression or when her best friend was mad at her?   Try to top that!”  And the negative memories assert their dominance.        What are the top five negative memories that hold the most weight?

o  *Tumultuous relationship with my biological father, filled with conditional love and estrangement

o  *Recurring issues with my choice to leave my career and stay at home with my three children

o  *The challenge to make this life seem meaningful and not ordinary

o  *The struggles to balance our spending and live within our means

o  *My childhood feelings of being outside the circle and not truly fitting in

        This month, my stories will begin to emerge.   I want to be intentional and get in touch with the negative memories and also empower the positive ones that sometimes get pushed back.   This process ties into my desire for authentic living and real spirituality.   Maybe this month's lessons won't be found in a church, but will be found here at home, sitting in front of the computer, letting my stories fill the pages.     Should be interesting!  

Friday, January 27, 2012

January of Authentically Living: Religion

January of Authentically Living~    

So many times I have believed simply because someone told me to do so.   I became a United Methodist because my stepdad was;  after he and my mom married, we began attending his church.   When I was in college,  I attended the local Disciples of Christ Church.  Was this a familial tie, my attendance urged on because my great-grandfather had been the minister of this adorable church in the middle of northeastern, rural Ohio?  No.  I attended because this church was within walking distance of our residence halls.  The former reason sounds so romantic and honorable;   the reality was that I was just lazy.    Fast forward to present day, and you will find that we attend our local United Methodist Church in Tennessee.   Habitual preference was the real motivation for attending this church when we moved from Ohio to Tennessee.    Also, the close proximity to both Publix and Krogers was key, as we could buy popcorn chicken and chips about five minutes after service was over.  

My husband,  raised as a Roman Catholic, attended the Methodist Church with me because he didn't really care too much one way or the other.   At the time, he felt Jesus and God could be found at any church.   Over the past few months however, he has found that he misses his roots.   He misses the rituals of the faith within which he was raised.   He also, at age 40, just survived open heart surgery and is doing really well.  If there was any "come to Jesus moment," that would have to rank fairly high up on the scale.   So, he now attends Catholic Mass on Saturdays at 5:30 p.m., just like his family did when he was growing up.  The only aspect missing of his ritual would be the after-Mass pizza.  If you could somehow transplant Sunrise Inn Pizza from Warren, Ohio down to Tennessee, he would be amazingly happy--  service and pizza, a duo made for the religiously faithful.

Sunday mornings, we have attended our local Methodist Church.   While I have enjoyed the friendships we have made over the years,  I just have this feeling like we aren't at the right place;   my husband has the same opinion.   So,  we are now trying to blend this beautiful family of ours into supporting one religion, one church that will meet all of our needs.    This is a blog of our journey toward authentically living and month one focuses on Religion.    Should be a "piece of cake," right?

Sunday in January                    local Lutheran Church                  

We dress and ready ourselves for church.  This is no easy feat, considering our 4-yr. old son considers "dressing up" to mean sweatpants in lieu of his traditional t-shirt and shorts attire.   He is Mr. Casual and Comfortable.   Any slightly annoying tag on his shirt will make him so mad, his cowlick will stand straight up in indignation.    So,  after our hour of wrangling the three children into semi-presentable churchwear, we decide to visit our local Lutheran Church.   One of the main reasons is that there is a service is at 10:30 a.m., a respectable hour in the morning, later than the usual 9:30 a.m. service we attend at the Methodist Church, and not as late as the 11:00 a.m. service at the Catholic Church ( I don't even mention the 8:30 a.m. services offered at all three locations because you will never see a McAllister there at that crazy-early hour in the morning).  Also, some of our good friends have migrated to this church;  we like these friends, so it reasons that we would like their church.

We enter the sanctuary and are surprised by how small the area is, at least half the size of other churches we have frequented.   Somber, funereal music is playing and families are sitting quietly in their pews.  I notice that the congregation is filled with mostly older adults, with just a few children.     I have heard that the Lutheran Church has similarities to the Catholic Church, so I am curious if this might just be the perfect match.

Fast-forward thirty minutes ahead, and we are headed back out to our dependable van, ready to go home and call it a day.   After reciting verses as a congregation about fornication, after kneeling and having confessed as a congregation that we are sinners in the world, and after hearing the pastor constantly weave political views into the sermon, we are done.      All this work to come to service and we are disappointed.   Maybe we came on a dud Sunday.   Maybe the services are in general more light-hearted.       All I know is that at one point our youngest leaned over and whispered, "Where are all of our friends?"    Out of the mouths of babes, my friends.    He hit the nail on the head.   We felt out of sorts not only because we didn't align ourselves with such a conservative, somewhat depressing service;  we felt out of sorts because we didn't feel exactly welcome either.    Our friends attend the early service so we will never see them.   Yes, we can make new friends  (somewhat the point of communing with fellow believers), but this first introduction didn't bode so well.     We will see.  

What am I looking for?  I need to define what we can offer to a church and what we are searching for in a church.   This is an exciting process but not a quick process I am realizing!

~Amy  1/27/12