Introducing Splash Siblings

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Andy and I are thrilled about the baby girl that will be joining our family in April 2017!

Carter is thrilled that he will finally have his very own Splash Sister to hoop with at home. He thinks she lives in my belly button and pokes it every night to “tickle baby.”

After our miscarriage this past June, Andy and I were surprised and overjoyed when we found out I was pregnant. We feel tremendously blessed and know that our lives are guided by a Father in Heaven. Sometimes, life feels like it is split into many buckets – family, work, school, friends, health, hobbies etc – and in different seasons different buckets either runneth over or feel wanting.

The little one growing in my belly button is a daily reminder that God hears our prayers. He answers in his own time and way. He has a plan for our lives. When I feel like I am lost on my journey, I can rub my tummy and remember that He knows the way. His plan is more perfect than the one I’ve mapped out for myself.

I still have so many unanswered questions. I wish I could see the end from where I stand now. But, this active little girl kicking around inside is the blessing I’ve desired most this year. I know everything else will fall into place. I am filled with gratitude, hope and love.

 

 

 

 

 

On Pressing Forward after the Election

My son is curled up next to me, snoring in his sleep, battling the 101-degree fever that started around 1 am Wednesday morning – right when the election news was rolling in. He has not allowed me to leave his side and even curled up in my lap through two movies and about 100 books. If you know him, you know this means he is really sick. Or really scared. Maybe he has internalized my pain.

In some ways, caring for him yesterday postponed my processing of the election. But, more importantly, it filled me with love.

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We will always be proud of how we voted this year.

Love
I genuinely believe that love trumps hate. That light drives out darkness. That in times of great division and fear, we must turn to love. But what does this really mean? And what does this mean right now?

To me, it means to love as Christ did. To see others as Christ sees them. To see their humanity and to recognize our kinship as children of God. Our Father in heaven loves all of us. We must do the same, even when we disagree. Even when we are wronged. Even when we are hurt. We must embrace love.

This love must be unconditional, but it does not have to be blind. Christ loves us, so he shows us our weaknesses and asks us to repent. He tells us when we are wrong, when we make mistakes, when we sin; He asks us to be better. He gives us a way to be better. So, like Christ, we must love and we must listen. But, we must also call out hatred and injustice and bigotry and ignorance when it exists.

We love, and we fight for light.

Acknowledgement
To fight for the light means we must acknowledge that darkness exists. It is not enough to say let’s just be kind to one another. To do so without acknowledging the ugly is more harmful than good. To do so implies the privilege to ignore realities that so many of us have lived for generations. We must be honest. And we can do it with love.

It means acknowledging that yes, many of the white people in middle America feel abandoned and betrayed by government. That people have lost their trust in a government controlled by money and business and lobbying. It means recognizing that most of us feel the same way and want to see change. It also means acknowledging that every marginalized community has always been treated this way and worse. And, regardless of economic circumstance or location, white people still have more power.

It means acknowledging that though there are other factors involved in peoples’ voting decisions, consciously or not, race was absolutely an issue.

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CNN exit polls

It means acknowledging that the person elected to our highest office represents big money and big business and an impunity that harms our democracy and values. That this man rallied his supporters despite a documented background in direct opposition to many of their concerns and needs. It means acknowledging that his narrative was created through rhetoric and bigotry and lies too countless to mention.

It means acknowledging that a man who ran a campaign founded on racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, white nationalism, bullying, fear and lies had the support of enough Americans to be elected to the White House.

It means acknowledging that while not everyone who voted for Trump is overtly hateful or racist – and that many voted for him reluctantly to support political agendas – some are. And they have been given permission to become more vocal and public in their hatred. It has already begun. It means acknowledging that those who voted for Trump, but who professed not to agree with his messaging were nevertheless willing to overlook, accept and support it with their ballots. It means that nearly half the voters in this country willingly chose to perpetuate racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, and xenophobia and discrimination. It also means they can say they weren’t supporting those things – because for them, those are just ideas, not active threats. But regardless of how they justify it, the overall results endorse bigotry.

It means acknowledging that while some people have the privilege of claiming this is just about politics, for marginalized communities – people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, disabled people, women, Muslims, immigrants – this goes much deeper. This is about humanity and survival and life.

It means recognizing that for us, the fear is real. The trauma is real. The terror is real. This is not leftist political fear-mongering or over-exaggeration. This is a genuine response to Trump’s threats and words and actions. Just listen to the children. Listen to the teachers who had to go into classrooms Wednesday morning to talk with youth filled with terror. Pay attention to the things that have already started happening, even in liberal strongholds. It is a response to a legitimization of white nationalism. To the silencing of women and the acceptance of sexual assault. To the vitriol against Muslims and immigrants. It is knowing history and fearing its repetition.

It means learning about reconstruction, Jim Crow, eugenics, the Chinese Exclusion Act, DAPL, indigenous history, Tuskegee, and farm workers’ history, just to name a few. It means learning about voter suppression, the resurgence of voter ID laws and this year’s attack on voting rights.

It is about admitting that the ugliness exists, even if the brighter part of our souls wants to believe it doesn’t. It’s about choosing to confront the ugly rather than try to interpret it in a way that makes us feel better. Some people have expressed surprise. Not all of us have lived this privilege of looking away. We invite you to see the world as it has looked from our eyes all along.

I am afraid. I am terrified. I think about internment camps and concentration camps. About medical bills and an environment destroyed. I fear a loss of rights that took years to achieve. I fear a nation pushed backwards fifty years into a hole that will take generations to escape.

I fear. I tremble. I’m angry. But, I won’t wallow here. I will harness my emotions into power.

Empathy
For now, please don’t tell me it will all be okay. One must have a lot of privilege to say it will be okay. Most people saying this are White. Maybe it will be okay for you. And, to be honest, I’m glad about that. At least it will be okay for some.

But, it will not be okay for everyone. No Child Left Behind was not okay for the generation of students forced to practice taking multiple choice tests at the expense of genuine learning. It was not okay for students who never got art or music or physical education in schools. It will continue to have lasting effects on individual lives, schools and society for generations to come. The economic collapse of 2008 was not okay for people who lost homes, lost savings, lost jobs, lost everything. Maybe you were able to choose a neighborhood or pay for a school that provided a progressive education and more opportunities. Maybe you had enough of a buffer to survive and even benefit from others’ economic tragedy. But not everyone had that choice.

It will not be okay for the families who are torn apart. It will not be okay for the refugees who are turned away. It will not be okay for young people who will be ripped from schools and jobs because they were brought to our country as children. It will not be okay for people threatened by or hurt by violence. This is literally a matter of life and death for some. It will not be okay if millions of people lose their health insurance. It will not be okay if our economy collapses. Maybe you will be able to weather that storm – but remember the privileges that helped you get where you are. Not everyone has those.

It will not be okay for anyone if our planet and our environment are destroyed. No one has the privilege of avoiding those effects.

This is how I feel today. Maybe many of these things are fears that will never find fruition. I hope so. I hope the man who campaigned is a different leader than the person he presented as a businessman and campaign figure. As Hillary reminded us, we owe him an open mind and a chance to lead. But, I am more than a little skeptical.

Don’t tell me things will be okay. Don’t ask me to keep you comfortable. Listen and tell me, we will get through this. Because we will get through this implies difficulty; it implies perseverance and hard work and action. Things won’t be okay unless we plan and prepare for the changes that may come, until we acknowledge the real and lasting effects they will have. Until we work through things together.

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We will look up toward hope and light.

Hope
Still, I have hope. There are still so many reasons to hope.

I have hope in my husband, who has the courage to share his opinions publicly despite hurtful responses from beloved extended family members. I have hope in former students who voted for the first time, got out the vote in Philly, studied to be informed decision makers and protested in the streets. I have hope in Pantsuit Nation, whose stories and posts have been inspiring and moving. I have hope in the people who reached out to me today, in the hugs and communities that are being galvanized toward action. I have hope in the group of Mormons I talked with last night at a book-signing event – faithful men and women who are devastated, empowered and willing to act.

I have hope and tremendous pride in a California who voted forward as the nation turned backward. I have hope that we will again be the rebel state leading the country back into the future.

I have hope because Hillary won the popular vote. I have hope knowing the majority of voting citizens did not choose the ideologies and rhetoric of division strewn by Trump.

I have hope that yesterday’s election will catalyze action among those who have been complacent. I have hope that people will be motivated to share opinions they have previously held close for fear of judgment or offense. I have hope people will realize these fears are what prevent us from generating dialogue toward change.

I have hope because, as Theodore Parker once wrote, history shows that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It is painful and slow, but it always does in the end.

I have hope that the emotions of the moment will turn into committed actions over time.

As for me, I will keep writing. I will sign petitions. I will go to protests and donate money. I will fight DAPL and stay informed about issues. I will vote in every election and write to elected officials. I will make my home a refuge for those that need one. When my home fills up, I will make room elsewhere. I will teach my children.

I will practice civil disobedience. As Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

I will not sit idly by to watch as others fight on. I will fight the good fight, finish the course and keep the faith. All of our voices and our actions matter more than ever.

Be not weary in well doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. Out of small things proceedeth that which is great. – Doctrine and Covenants 64:33

A Lesson on Love after Six Years of Marriage

When Andy and I dated, I spent a lot of time praying about marriage. Was he the right person? Was I supposed to marry him? Was it God’s will? I felt so light and happy; was it real?

One day after praying, I read this verse in the Book of Mormon, “O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good.” (Alma 32:35)

It was a direct answer to my prayers. It was real and it was good.

We got married. Continue reading “A Lesson on Love after Six Years of Marriage”

Social Justice and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Last year, I participated in an identity activity with my socially-conscious, liberally-minded staff. In this activity, everyone wrote down several forms of personal identity on index cards: name, race, gender, religion etc. Then, one by one, we had to choose index cards to throw away. We discarded pieces of our identity until we were left with only two cards each; then, the facilitator instructed us to choose one of our neighbors’ identity cards and throw it away.

My neighbor – and close friend – chose my “Mormon” card and threw it away. When we debriefed as a group I realized that, given the option, other staff member also threw away their neighbors’ Christian identities. I reflected on this pattern of disregarding, disdaining, devaluing, opposing, ridiculing and even reviling Christian religion and believers – particularly in more liberal spaces. We discussed it briefly.

But, I have thought about it often.

Meanwhile, I watched and read bits and pieces of the Republican National Convention, noting the number of times something along the lines of “returning to values” and “Christian values” and just straight up “Jesus Christ” have been referenced to support the campaign of a man who has fanned flames of division, racism, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry and hatred across our nation. (Watch: The Divinity of Donald Trump).

It seems that there is a deep, fundamental misunderstanding about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. On both sides of the aisle. Between conservatives and liberals and people who don’t fit on the spectrum. Right to left. Left to right.

At best, it is a misunderstanding. At worst, it is a shameful misappropriation and propagandizing of Christ.

The Left
In circles where I work and often socialize– urban educators, social justice activists – I find that people are surprised to discover that I am Mormon. Surprised that religion is the foundation of my life.

To many friends, religion – especially Christian religion – holds connotations of imperialism, colonization, genocide, Westernization, ignorance, bigotry. There are a few who stopped speaking to me when I decided to serve a mission. I find that many are quick to recognize Islam as a religion of peace. Quick to support Muslims against rhetoric equating terrorism with Islam. Quick to embrace Eastern religions. Quick to make the distinction, I am spiritual but not religious. But slow to recognize the disconnect between those who twist the Bible to support immoral acts and the actual teachings of Christ.

Christianity seems to holds a negative connotation to many liberals. They work and sacrifice for the acceptance, love and rights for all, yet seem to frown on Christianity.

I am often asked How can someone who believes in social justice also be so religious?

The Right
As a member of a church whose members tend to lean conservative, finding fellow like-minded individuals creates an instant connection. I have been surprised to discover the number of closet liberals surrounding me at church. Surprisingly, my blog has facilitated this ongoing discovery. I’ve had people send me private messages of support and affirmation, or approach me in private moments to express their appreciation. Why do we tend to be less vocal in more public settings?

FullSizeRender-1When Andy wore his “Mormons for Obama” t-shirt the day President Obama was re-elected, he was all but booed and spat on in his classes at BYU-Idaho, a bastion of conservative thinking. Thank goodness for the two professors who stood up for him.

In conservative circles, I find many good-hearted men and women who are quick to serve others, yet slow to recognize White Savior complexes. Quick to love, yet slow to realize the ways they differentiate between “us” and “them.” Quick to give, yet slow to acknowledge the personal judgments that differentiate those deemed deserving from those deemed to be undeserving. Slow to see ways in which some people are blamed for their circumstances, while others are helped. Slow to recognize the ways their world is shaped by racism and privilege.

In more conservative religious circles, I am often baffled by the juxtaposition of genuine, pure-hearted love with privileged ignorance.

In these spaces I am not asked outright but abruptly terminated conversations and upraised eyebrows imply the question, How can someone religious be so liberal and social justice-oriented?

My question is, how can I not?


I don’t profess to be a religious expert. But everything I know about Christ shows me that He is an advocate of social justice.  Tim Kaine said that in high school, “my faith became something vital. My north star for orienting my life. And when I left high school, I knew that I wanted to battle for social justice.” It was my favorite line from his entire speech at the Democratic National Convention. I feel the same way about my faith.

I cannot be a disciple of Christ without seeking to change the injustice and inequity in the world.

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Some of my favorite images of the Savior; an award I won two years ago for “embodying the spirit of Dr. King”.

Love

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. – 1 John 4:7-8, 11

Jesus Christ is pure love. He loves every single person who lives, has lived, and will live on the Earth. We cannot comprehend the infinite depth of His love and nothing can separate us from it. Christ doesn’t just teach tolerance. He teaches love. His gospel teaches us to love our neighbors, our enemies, the Lord. Love everyone. We are to love each other as Christ loves us, and this means seeing each other as brothers and sisters. We are sons and daughters of God and part of a human family.

Generosity

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.  -Mosiah 4: 19, 21,26

Basically, we are all beggars. Everything we have is from God. He gives us every blessing. Even when we work hard, we don’t deserve any of it. We are nothing without him. The rich are not more righteous; the poor are not less deserving. God showers blessings in different ways.

If God gives so freely to us, then we should give freely – spiritually, temporally – to others. Without judgment (and Wo! To those that judge, it does not sound pretty). We should give what we have to the poor, hungry, naked, sick. Time, talents, gifts, resources…give give give.

Advocacy

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.  – Alma 7:11-12

Christ took upon himself the pains and afflictions, the weakness and sins, of every person on Earth. He has tread the path before us and knows every hair on our heads, every fiber of our souls. He knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts. He knows each one of us perfectly.

With this perfect knowledge, Christ is our Advocate with God. Through Christ, we receive mercy. His Atonement accomplished what we could not, and still He walks with us and works with us in everything else. He teaches us to follow His example – understanding, empathy, compassion, mercy. We are to be advocates for others as He is for us.

Equity

And not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory; and his glory shall be the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, equity, and truth, full of patience, mercy, and long-suffering, quick to hear the cries of his people and to answer their prayers.  – Alma 9:26

Christ sees each of us for who we are. He understands our identities, our stories, our circumstances. He sees color; He sees gender; He sees all. He knows the realities of our lives in today’s world. And He invites us to come to Him. Christ knows exactly how to succor and strengthen us. He doesn’t give everyone the exactly the same things; He gives each of us what we need. This is equity.

Truth

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life  – John 14:6

Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness.  – Alma 38:9

Jesus Christ is truth. He is the way and the light. This is how I see the work of social justice. It is a discovery and unveiling of truth and an increasing of light in the world. It is not some politically correct way of changing vocabulary preferred by dominant groups. It is helping people to embrace truth, and empowering them to create change.

Christ’s gospel is about love and truth and change. He teaches us that we can change, become better, more light, more kind, more honest, more generous, more understanding, more loving. We can become more like Him.

Which means we can change the world.

 

The Angels in Our Lives

Last Friday afternoon, I was wandering around Union Square when I saw a homeless man approach a group of holiday shoppers in an attempt to sell his copies of Street Sheet, a street newspaper published by the Coalition on Homelessness. Street Sheet vendors are given copies of the paper free and keep all their earnings. They are trying to build better lives for themselves. The women who acknowledged this man looked at him with deep suspicion while the others turned their backs and walked away. I approached him as the last woman, arms laden with shopping bags, made her excuses and began to turn around. I told him I wanted to purchase five copies.

After pulling out my wallet, I realized that I needed to make change for my $20, but the nearest retail store wouldn’t do it. When I emerged from the store and explained I needed to look elsewhere for change, he asked if he could walk with me. We walked a few blocks together and I learned about his family, his hopes, his current living conditions and the training programs he has joined. I bought him a meal at Burger King and five copies of Street Sheet. I told him I wished I could do more. In my heart, I felt like one meal and $10 of newspapers would not make any significant impact in his life and I felt overwhelmed with sadness.

But, he thanked me over and over. He couldn’t believe I would buy him a meal and purchase a few copies of the paper. He told me multiple times I was a blessing. I was a gift from God. An angel.

IMG_3187I didn’t feel worthy of the gratitude or the generous descriptions. There is so much more to be done; what is fifteen minutes of time, a fast food meal and $10 of newspapers? But, as I pondered this experience, I realized that I often get so focused on the big picture, on working toward systemic change that I don’t stop enough to acknowledge the power in these small human interactions. Perhaps a conversation, a meal and a sale were what he needed that day.

Each of us can have eyes to see clearly and ears to hear distinctly the tender mercies of the Lord as they strengthen and assist us in these latter days. May our hearts always be filled with gratitude for His abundant and tender mercies.  – Elder David A. Bednar

The Lord has been particularly generous in His tender mercies to me in the last few weeks. It has been a challenging period of time professionally; I’ve felt myself destroyed in ways that have left me questioning my abilities and even my identity as an educator. I’ve been praying to be reminded who I am and what I am capable of and my prayers have been answered in abundance. Heavenly Father has been sending me angels of my own.

  • Andy and Carter: They have been my haven of love and joy. Our home and family feels like a ship, “tight like unto a dish,” that is tossed by mighty winds and waves, yet remains full of laughter and light.
  • Mom, Harv and Dave: After an extremely difficult period of work, I was able to spend almost a week with my family in Kauai. We don’t always talk about personal things and we are all quite different in personality and perspective. But, there’s nothing like the healing power of the love my family, in their own quirky ways, can enfold around me.
  • Katie and Lea – Hadn’t seen either of these two dear friends and former co-workers in several months, but was able to have an impromptu lunch with Katie and then see both at Lea’s birthday party soon after my tough week. They remind me of who I am as an educator and person and they do it with great love.
  • Marlena – One of my bestestestestest friends for almost ten years now. I call her 姐妹 or “sister” in Chinese. We’ve been able to take the train to work together multiple times in the past few weeks. I can’t think of a better way to start the day than being with someone with whom you can talk to about anything and who understands everything that is unspoken too.
  • Melissa – Another close friend and my former coach, she has always been a source of wisdom and support. Though she lives in a different state, connecting with her frequently over the past few weeks has helped me to see things with brighter hope and a fuller perspective.
  • Suzy: Our neighbor who recently sent Andy and me this email, “I’m unexpectedly home this evening and would be happy to come over and take care of Carter if you two would like to get out for a date.” Who does that? Oh, yeah. Angel people. Once in a while, she also brings us soup and cookies. She probably doesn’t have any idea how much we appreciate her gestures of kindness and love. Andy and I often feel like tiny satellites floating off in space in the solar system of our ward; Suzy helps us feel cared for and connected.
  • Alice: A new friend from the ward who has been inviting us on some awesome adventures. In addition to being an incredibly fun and thoughtful person, she is also an insane baker (Heavenly Father knows what we need in our lives!). Last week she dropped off some homemade chocolate toffee amazingness – and I immediately devoured it…grinch-style without sharing. Our budding friendship is like a ray of light that has come at a perfect time.
  • Mrs Paugh – I’m supposed to call her Kaye now, but I’ve been calling her Mrs. Paugh since my sophomore year of high school and the transition has not happened in my brain. She was one of my favorite teachers and my high school advisor. She’s known me for a long long time. Last Sunday, she passed me in the hall at church and paused to tell someone how amazing and wonderful she thought I was. It was a small thing, but it lifted my spirits. Sometimes you just need to hear it from someone you know really means it.
  • Mr. Mac – He taught me English my freshman year of high school and is one of my all-time favorite teachers. I still have the notes he wrote me at the end of my essays. He’s one of those teachers that makes every student feel like she or he is his favorite. Last week he messaged me on Facebook for last minute advice on WordPress and we met over hot chocolate a few days later. I don’t think I was much help to him, considering my technological ineptitude, but as always, he was an uplifting force to me.

I don’t get to see these beloved people nearly as often as I’d like, and God, in His miraculous and tender way, arranged it so that I’d see or speak with all of them in the last few weeks. Some people might call it coincidence, but I know it is much more than that.

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I believe in angels. Both the ones we see and the ones we don’t. Heavenly Father has been sending an army of angels – only a few of whom are mentioned here – to watch over me and they are filling me with love. They are reminding me who I really am. They show me that He hears and answers my prayers. He is always aware of me and He blesses me more than I deserve. I am so incredibly grateful.

Sometimes it is the small things that make a big difference. A conversation. A meal. An invitation. Sometimes these things are an answer to prayer, a reminder that God is still watching over us. He sends us angels and allows us to be angels in the lives of others. I need to be better about remembering this.

I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.
– Doctrine and Covenants 84:88