Monday, March 26, 2012

And Under His Wings You Will Find Refuge

Yesterday I went to bed tired and spent after processing my thoughts on the Trayvon Martin case.  You can read more on that here.

Last night I felt a deep loss of hope.  A mother lost her son to senseless violence and the justice system failed her.  Even now, I struggle to see God in the midst of this tragedy.  Myself a mother, my heart is so entangled with distress as I empathized with her tragedy.  Even though she is a stranger, in many ways she is not unlike me.

But as a Christian I'm not supposed to go there.  At least not in a public forum.  As a Christian, I'm supposed to be a beacon of light in a dark world.  I'm supposed to point others to The light.  Yet all I could do last night was morn the darkness of it all.

I struggle in acknowledging that for a moment I lost sight of God's power.  I fell short.  Fortunately, where my flaws abound, God's grace abounds the more.  He was not caught off guard by my weakness.

Just the opposite, He made provision for it.

Early this morning, my sorrow lifted when I checked my inbox and found this image attached to an email from my step-mom.

It is a picture of a bird nestled into the branches with two small chicks tucked snugly beneath the umbrella of her wings.

The message was coincidental, however as I trace last nights rain metaphor to this morning's image of babies shielded from the rain, I'm almost certain there's a connection.

This mother bird is sheltering her young from a storm, and I am struck by the image of God as refuge.  The thought is comforting.

It is a brief reminder that God is the only safe place where I find strength.

My take away is recorded in Psalms 91:4.  Here the psalmist writes:
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Trayvon Martin, Mountains, and Rain

It's a rainy Sunday morning.  I zip up Simone's sweater and pull the hoodie over her freshly styled hair.  She scurries towards an opened car door.  Her curls droop like Easter tulips past their prime.

Rain can be so destructive.

It gnaws away mountain sides.  To a greater extent, it carves meandering grooves into cliffs and sends sediment running like many trails of salt-stained tears.  Note the irony: the drumbeat of raindrops carved out even the Grand Canyon.

Just as rain greatly erodes canyons, so also the slow and steady drip of racial prejudice, evident in the Trayvon Martin case, further erodes my trust in our country's justice system.

In the US, relations between black people and white police officers is wrought with fear, suspicion, and racial prejudice.

I've had unsettling encounters with white police officers myself.  In most cases, I was stopped in Orange County and drove away feeling like a second-class citizen.  I guess I should consider myself lucky I even drove away at all.

In any case, I received neither a warning nor a ticket.   The encounters left me with a troubling sense of exclusion from the part of society that law enforcement agencies claim to protect and serve.

When I was stopped, each officer told me-- as though reading from a script-- that I "fit the description of a suspect" in the area.    That profile-- as covert as it is pernicious-- meant that I was pulled over because of my skin color.

To be clear, I was not stopped because I had broken the law.  I had no outstanding tickets.  I just happened to be the wrong color.  And even though I left those encounters empty-handed, I did leave with something:  a gradual wearing away of my dignity.

Over time, I've learned that our criminal justice system targets people who look like me.  This perspective is not unique, as many black families will attest.  Most that I know have had similar brushes with the law-- usually involving male family members.

I realize that not all, but many law enforcement officers harbor prejudice deep within their subconscious. While Zimmerman pulled the trigger, criminal justice experts ignored the smoking gun.

Subjectivity prevented police from making an arrest because the shooter had probable cause-- a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary.

The Trayvon Martin case is deeply unsettling on so many levels.  It brings to the surface raw emotions, reminding me that black life has little value in America.

It's disheartening to think that the shooter in the case goes unpunished thus far.  It's even more appalling to watch the Sanford Florida police department's handling of the case.  Why hasn't the gunman been arrested?  The answer to that is unclear.

What is clear is that police officers enforce laws with a large amount of latitude.  They do not treat black citizens with the same deference that they undoubtedly--and perhaps unknowingly-- give whites.

I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that some hope has sprung from this senseless loss.  Thousands of people have amassed around the country and aimed their protest toward the police department that handled the initial investigation.  Armed with skittles and hoodies, their calls for justice have significant implications.  The federal government will put pressure on Florida to change their laws.  Zimmerman will probably be prosecuted.  Like tiny pieces of sediment, they have cemented together and built up a mountainous outcry.  However, the day-to-day injustices blacks experience will continue to go unnoticed.

Unfortunately, in our country it seems that racial prejudice runs deeper than mountains are high.

If history is any indication, actively growing mountains are not exempt from adversity.  During the 60s and 70s, strength thrusted great movements skyward.  But for all the encouraging-- astonishing, really--progress over the last 50 years, racism still runs rampant.

Just as anyone who looks at the Grand Canyon recognizes that water broke rock, so also anyone can point out the racial prejudice unraveling the fabric of the Trayvon Martin case.  Over time, even the Grand Canyon's majestic peaks humbly bowed.   All it took was a constant dripping over days of steady rain.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

He Scoots, He Scores

I knew this day would come.  Samuel is moving around now.  I just imagined a more traditional method of transport.

Through a series of awkward maneuvering, side-ways wiggling, and few irregular clutch-and-pulls, Samuel has officially become mobile in his 9th month!  The object of his affection?  Anything off limits, out of reach, and naughty.  Tiny toys, pointy parts, outlets, and remote controls.

The girls have learned to anticipate his go-to items.   They are experts at intercepting objects in his pathway, and gently relocating them.

But when he's in the zone, he's like a heat-seeking missile; he won't let up until he gets his target.

And what does he lock his radar on?  His toys?  Pfft!  Those are for babies.  He's got a much more sophisticated palate.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sadia's Stroke of Genius

I'm not sure why Santa Claus is still relevant in our house.  It's March.  We should be talking about leprechauns and shamrocks, not the jolly man in a red suit.  Perhaps this is the reason, and I'm expressing some latent sense of loss behind it, but I digress.

Lately Sadia has been questioning Santa's existence.  She's been asking a lot of questions about magic and Teddy thinks someone at school has cast doubt in her mind.

Tonight, his name surfaced over a plate of sausage, potatoes, and cabbage.  Sadia argued that magic didn't exist.  She used the disappearing finger trick to illustrate her point, and reasoned that magic happens mystically [paraphrase].  It is invisible. Unexplainable.  "Like fairy dust."

"Are fairies magical?" I asked

"Of course!" she said emphatically, though clearly uncertain.  She admitted to never having seen one.

She went on.  "No one really knows how fairies do what they do, but in the vanishing thumb trick, you're just hiding your hand."  The distinction being what can vs. what can not be seen.

"But what about Santa?" I said to further probe her thinking.

"How do you explain him?  Surely flying reindeer, and legendary rides around the world are magical."

Silence fell over the dining room.  As Sadia's wheels turned, she relaxed her eyebrows, leaned back in her chair, and thought for a moment.  Finally, the silence was broken.

"You're right!"  She said excitedly.  "Santa Claus is evidence that magic does exist!   After all, you can't afford all of those gifts that we get on Christmas."

And with that quip, the matter was closed, the magic of Santa remained magical, and my March Christmas musings her innocence was preserved.

35 Portraits at 35 in 254 Days

Portrait 1: Blind contour with Sharpie on paper

If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it. 

The quote above is from Andy Warhol.  He created many self-portraits.  Warhol said he was deeply superficial and that there was nothing behind his artwork.  Is that possible?

I don't know.  I think art can be so telling.  Sometimes a technique or collection can present a very thought-provoking self -image and reveal something unique about a subject.  

I turn 35 this year. Thirty-five seems like a big number.  For many, it's half a lifetime.  I've challenged myself to document this milestone through a series of self-portraits-- artistic renderings of myself. Thirty-five portraits at thirty- five.  

My biggest challenge will be my shrinking free time.  I'm not even sure I'll collect 35 portraits, but here are a few questions I hope to explore through this process:

  • What distinctive qualities make me "me"?
  •  How do I want people to see me?
  • How do I see myself?
  • How do I express different aspects of myself?
  • How do I reinvent myself for different purposes or times in life?
  • How do I change from day to day or month to month?
  • Who do I want to become?
Artists have many reasons for making portraits.  Here, I hope to preserve some memories, and to document my journey of self exploration.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Kite Festival Trip That Almost Wasn't

Perhaps my favorite kite of the day.  It's made of a simple piece of paper.

Kites rise highest against an opposing wind. We had a beautiful time at the Redondo Beach Kite Festival today.  It couldn't have been better if I had planned it myself.  But as beautiful as this day was, it's hard to believe how close I came to calling the whole thing off.  Yes, this was the trip that almost wasn't.

I have a habit of over planning trips.  I realize there is no such thing as the perfect trip, especially when you've got three small children in tow, but I tend to over-analyze everything.  I weigh every aspect of the  trip as though the slightest mis-calculation will set the whole thing askew.  I'm sure you can see how this thinking is problematic.  I have canceled events before because of my inability to just let things go (a bit self-fulfilling, I know).

This habit usually cast a dark cloud over every thought.  If I cannot account for every aspect of our day, I convince myself that everything will fall apart.  In this case, I told myself that we waited too late, I had too little sleep, and the weather was too cold.  By the time we were ready to pack-up the car the night before,  I literally felt like I was being knocked backwards off my heels.  

We didn't have kites for the kids.  I rationalized that I couldn't take kids to a kite festival, without kites.  From here, my thoughts spiraled quickly out of control and I got this sinking feeling that things wouldn't turn out right.  In fact, the entire time I packed the car, I fought a creeping suspicion that everything would just come crashing down all around me. A little dramatic?  Perhaps.  I told you I was flawed.  

Sadia nudges her kite up a little higher.

I take some pride in the fact that I can recognize the vicious thought cycle now.  In the past, I couldn't always catch myself in these moments, and I'd lose sight of the big picture.  

This morning I ground my feet in the sand, took a deep breath, and found peace in the simplicity of just being in the moment with my family.  This was a huge step for me.

Teddy coaches Simone on kite navigation.

Not long after this incredible moment of self-awarness, peace got bullied by Daylight Savings.  It caught me off guard.  Again.  Despite the fact that I left myself constant reminders throughout the day, and then there were the countless Facebook posts.  I synced all of my electronic calendars and I still forgot.   By the time I remembered, it was already an hour past bedtime.  A one hour loss to Daylight Savings, plus getting to bed late knocked me off balance.  But I couldn't let a fatigue rob me of precious headway.

Simone takes her kite to the limit.

When I woke up this morning, the sky was overcast.  The temperature was a brisk 69 degrees.  That feeling sank within me again.  Then the early morning threatened rain.  Luckily, the weather ended up holding beautifully, and by 1 o'clock, we headed to the Festival.  

Gifted with a kite.
And I am so glad I did.  Moments after we laid out our blankets and got settled in, a family approached Teddy and offered us their kites.  They had packed up to leave for the day, and wanted to find a good home for a Star Wars boxed and a traditional diamond newt with a three foot tail.  

The girls work at keeping their kites in the air.
The girls were ecstatic.  I was shocked by their good will, and even more surprised at  how simply this wrinkle seemed to iron itself out... and without my having controlled it.  

I felt as if God had rewarded me for stepping out of my comfort zone.  This generous family happily handed their kites over to us-- something that I could have never anticipated-- and just like that a weight lifted off of my shoulders.  

This weekend almost didn't happen.  A little resistance was all it would have taken to derail everything.  It seems silly now to think that I would have lost out on such a wonderful experience, if I hadn't let go.  I had to come to an end of myself.  I set my gaze to the wind and I flew.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Day Six: A Place Where You Find Peace

Samuel's nursery

Tomorrow: Something yellow

Monday, March 05, 2012

Day 5: Last Item Purchased

Simone is in a Michael Jackson one-glove-phase, while Sadia just likes being quarky.

I took the girls to the movies Sunday to see "The Lorax" in 3D. Here they are posing in front of the cardboard display.

Tomorrow: A place where you find peace

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Day Four: Gratitude

Better late then never.

Today the prompt is gratitude. I am eternally grateful for the gift of growing with my children.

After my mom abandoned me (there is something so uncomfortably permanent about writing that word), I naturally doubted my own maternal instincts. This fear was rooted in a belief that I was a mirror reflection of her. I thought I would fail as a mother, because she failed. I thought my fate was inextricably intertwined with her choices. I thought I would repeat the same cycle of abandonment in my own life. These thoughts imprisoned me.

Freedom came the day I claimed my own individuality. I am not the sum total of my mother's choices.

I am imperfectly human.

When I look at this picture, I see remnants of my own imperfections. These small reflections show up in a smirk or a smile. A mannerism or temperament. On the other hand, when I look at this picture I see individuals. I see unique personalities; people who will ultimately make their own choices in life.

I am grateful to be there for those choices. I am grateful to share every emotional outburst, impatient meltdown, peaceful compromise, and loving embrace, because I live in the immediacy of these moments.

There is something wonderfully abiding in these rich experiences, and I am grateful to share in the full breadth of the human experience with them.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

March Photo a Day Challenge

Alright, time to knock the dust off this blog. It's been a year and 24 days since my last post. I don't have my sea legs yet, so bare with me.

Diane got me into this "Photo-A-Day" challenge. The idea is you post a photo according to a predetermined prompt each day in March. Diane's friend Shannon creates the prompts. I'm linking to both their blogs here.

Today, we have to document a "first". Initially, this challenge seemed daunting. I felt pressure to scrutinize every aspect of my day, to find something unique. By late afternoon, I had nothing. During my 5 o'clock rush hour commute home, I had resolved to scrap today's challenge and focus on tomorrow's instead. Then, it hit me like a six-foot tree.

I walked through my front door, laid the baby down, and collapsed next to him on the couch. There, beside the arm and stabbing my elbow, stood my "first"-- preserved in all it's dry-winter glory.

Of course! What took me so long to document the Mother of all Firsts!

I refer to this photo as My First Christmas in March. Yes, yes..I know. Our Christmas tree is still up. And yes, I do realize that it's already March. I meant to take it down sometime in January, but alas.., the months got away from me.

By February, we had the Christmas ornaments taken down, but then the branches were naked. I couldn't stand for this once majestic tree to look so exposed. Finally we decided to hang the kids' Valentine's Day cards from it's brittle limbs.

Please don't judge me. I am a busy mom of three children. I work a full-time job and I am a loving wife. I don't have time for the frivolity of Christmas decoration dismantling and storing. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some Valentines' to store and Shamrock ornaments to hang.


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