August 16, 2018

How Did I Get Here - Part 1

It's my favorite cuisine: German. Give me sauer braten, knackwurst and strawberry schaum torte.

It's a Dr. Watts hymn sung by earnest deacons at Sunday devotionals before service starts.

It's a Mighty Fortress sung at the right tempo at Reformation and Gott Ist De Liebe on Christmas.

It's sweet potato pie spiced to perfection on Thanksgiving.

All of that is home to me.

I asked my daughter what home was to her. Insightful enough to realize that home can be a place or a state of mind, she asked, exactly how I defined home.

I told her that her definition was up to her.

She called upon memories of when she was young. She said she saw them as sunny faded Polaroids flecked with orange shimmers. She giggled and remembered the time when she believed she led her preschool class in a Happy Feet dance on the playground. Then her face grew dark when she recalled awkward situations at summer camp in the years that followed.

Home is different for everyone -- whether good memories or bad.

Home is home.

Maybe the real question is: How did we get home in the first place?

I mean, you can't really understand everything about your definition of home if you don't understand how home ended up being "home".

It's a question I've been asking for a number of years and was fortunate enough to recently find out the answer.

Now, I'm able to dig a little deeper.

More on that later.

My earliest memory of home on 22nd & Keefe. We moved away when I was 3.
It was a duplex and my parents were the landlords, only a few minutes away from my dad's full-time job as a crane operator / iron pourer at one of Milwaukee's now-defunct manufacturers.

August 4, 2018

Joy...Outside of Me

What brings you joy? Like, actual joy?

Somehow, the question came up in conversation with friends. I didn't want to put myself out there, so I sat back and listened:

My relationship with friends.
When I accomplish [insert accomplishment here]
When people really get what I do all day.
When I...
When I...
When I...

From my judgey perch, something uncharacteristically pushy inside me added Okay. But what brings us joy outside of ourselves?

I'm pretty sure that's probably the last time I'll be invited anywhere. But anyway.

There was a long pause and people (including me) began shifting uncomfortably. I mean, what in my definition of joy is not exclusively and inextricably linked to some benefit to me? How self-centered and self-serving am I anyway?

We kept shifting and soon changed the topic.

But I kept thinking: what brings me joy that isn't about me at its core? I came up with a few. And by a few, I mean few:
  • Watching the lightbulb moment. These are the times when a concept, a feeling or an idea that I explain becomes clear in whomever I'm explaining that concept, feeling or idea. Bonus points if it's my kid who's having the lightbulb moment.
  • Giving my best and having it make a positive difference. The positive difference part is important here. I mean, I could give my best when it comes to anything in the maths and it would do all of the harm and none of the good. But man, if I can tack out a few lines or toss some structure into a program or curricula and it makes a positive difference, then yeah: JOY.
  • Saying/Writing the right words at the right time. Whether I can encourage, console or even point out something that just ain't right, it's all about discernment, timing and phrasing. If I can do any of those things right, it'll hit home for somebody and their life can be better.
  • Hearing God when He's talking to me. God's voice doesn't always mean a big ol' booming voice from on high. In fact, if His voice was that, I'd never hear it because I'm a scared of EVERYTHING. Sometimes, His voice is in the getting quiet and laughing at baby squirrels or bunnies' cottontails or even a Facebook post that someone's posted that speaks directly TO ME. Sometimes it's in the guy who approaches my car asking for cash when all I can offer him is bottled water.
So yes, there's joy in hearing God's voice too...but I guess that is directly related to me, but anyway...

You. You who have continued thus far in this exercise in reflection:

What is it that brings YOU joy outside of yourself?

Feel free to shift uncomfortably. I still am.

From the 2018 Women of Influence Awards. This pretty much sums up joy, if you ask me.

July 22, 2018

Don't Understand But I Do

My daughter's friend's mom stood up and publicly acknowledged her daughter for who she was, the blessing she was to her parents and community, and then prayed for her daughter to keep the faith. 

This was my very first QuinceaƱera mass and it was all in Spanish; and, even though my brain doesn't speak Spanish, my heart totally does.

So the Baptist call and response tradition in me was all...

BECAUSE I COULD FEEL EVERY WORD THIS KID'S MOM WAS SAYING even though she was speaking Spanish.

The mom was barely five feet tall and wore a sparkly beige dress with blue accents that mimicked her daughter's dress. Tasteful, but not full-on mother of the bride or anything.

I figured she and I were around the same age.

We're in that phase when you shave your legs less and pluck your chin more. Both of us understand that we've got more years behind us than ahead. Both of us understand this isn't a drill -- it's real life.

We're passing a torch right now and praying for our babies. Praying hard.

My tears understood every bit of that, and I figure that's why they so easily found their way from my throat, to my eyes and to my cheeks. My pinky finger tried to fend them off, and even with the help of a tissue, it was all to no avail.

I didn't understand every word of what my Sister-Mom said, but I could understand in way that only mothers can, regardless of language, nationality, ethnicity or race. I said an Amen for her and her daughter as much as I said it for my daughter and myself.

Some folks believe if we don't have borders, we don't have a country. Some folks believe if we don't have an official language, we don't have a country.

And to those folks I say:

Country and borders ain't nothing but something we made up.
Mother-hearts prove that out by speaking a universal language that exposes every frailty of nationalism and highlighting the strength of our common bonds like faith and family.

Dios, tdamos las gracias por habernos reunido.

July 3, 2018

Balancing Reality

Please forgive me if the following seems self-indulgent and feel free to check out of this post if you do.

I admit it. I'm probably the only one who's been discouraged, disheartened and frankly -- frightened -- about the tone and timbre of the good ol' U S of A in the past week and I don't know how to find...well, Balance.

It's not just #BarbecueBecky or #PermitPatty or the kid entrepreneur on the wrong end of mowing grass a hair over a property line or denying asylum to asylum-seekers or children being held in modern day interment camps or its accompanying argument that the previous administration started it...I'm just tired.

Tired and torn, because down here on the third rock from the sun while all that is ripping me to shreds, I know people are still trying to balance out everything from whether they oughta buy the chicken or pay their electric bill, to grieving over children gone too soon.

Man, I'm struggling to balance all of that with the bright spots that still exist.

Because they do. I know they do.

Like music.

We went to the James Taylor concert at Summerfest last Thursday. Our tickets were secured back in January, what seems now like decades before the tapes of crying children emerged or before Antwon Rose...

...or before my friend lost her son.

So we went, despite me feeling off-kilter.

We -- all of the eleventy-thousand people there -- sang our hearts out. We rocked, we shed tears to lyrics that spoke to our souls, we hugged one another.

We even made friends. It's like we were all humans again or something.

These are my new best friends. We met in the bathroom line and we all agree that women gon' make everything alright because we take care of each other.
Then real life barged in after that, as it always does.

There was today. I dreaded it because I knew my friend was dreading it: her son's funeral.

I went anyway with nothing to say, nothing to give. Nothing to salve an eternal wound.

The send-off place greeted me and the entire neighborhood with joyful, celebratory African drums. They beckoned celebration and community as a steady stream of people, some I knew and others I didn't, finding their way to the send-off site.

It's a weird reality: Good and Bad can occupy the same space within singular people. Hurting for the world around us and celebrating life's beauty are not mutually exclusive events. And mourning for a life lost while celebrating that same life well-lived go hand in hand.

It's all a delicate balancing reality -- not a balancing act -- but a reality of the life we all live.

Guess we just gotta look for the simple things like a tune or lyric that touches us, or the freedom that comes from belting out a song even if we're offkey, or the kindness and kindredship of people we won't see again on this side of Heaven...

...or the drumbeat that reminds us we're all traveling this human journey and we need to travel it the best we can with the years we're given.

Linking to the HOST