Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's Not About Me

** You're going to read me swearing in here. If that offends you, please do not read. It is my attempt to stay true to what I was/am feeling, and I won't give that up.**

 Let me start out by saying this year has been hell. Absolute hell.

It was our first year of marriage, so David and I dealt with all that comes with two people, who are used to being pretty self-serving, joining our lives together. Add to that some pretty nasty medical issues for both of us, David commuting an hour to school each way every day (and us not being able to afford it), David graduating and being in the job search, him ending his military service of eight years, the list goes on. And on. And on. And then, on Valentine's Day of this year, comes the bomb of all bombs.

My position at the college I worked for was going to be eliminated.

Funding cuts. Federal government issues. Just my position, no one else. I don't care who you are or what you believe, but just because Obama was/is in office, doesn't mean us government workers don't feel the pain of budget cuts. People who need help (what you might call "entitlement programs", which yes, I believe people should be entitled to an education) ARE having their programs cut, and I am living proof of that reality.

This came at a time where I was the only one in our new little family that had a job. And even then, we'd been dipping into our savings every month in order to get by on one paycheck. David would be graduating in three months, but still. We had until May for both of us to find jobs, in this economy. Awesome.

And then yay! March hit, and David was offered a job working in commercial real estate appraisal. Two full months before he graduated. Being offered employment before you graduate RARELY happens. So what that it meant he would be adding an hour to an already two hour a day commute in order to work part time and go to school? We knew the money for gas was worth the beauty of having one of us with a secured job. We could dig a little deeper into our pockets to make it work.

And then bam! My second to last day at my college, I was offered a position at a new college, closer to home, same federal program. We had money! We could pay off our credit card, actually make a dent in my student loans, maybe even save for a house (that most days seems so far away...).

But then, I got in the new job, and from day one, it became starkly apparent this was not right. I won't go into details, because I don't think it's fair, but the job was not a good fit for me emotionally, professionally, and physically. The amount of stress I endured during my time there made my physical ailments worse, and I became, lets just say it, a royal bitch at home. Sure we had money and health insurance, but I was miserable. So I toyed with the idea of quitting. But how can you do that!? How can you quit a job in this economy, with no back up? Every person in my life told me I was crazy, to stick it out until I found something else, who cares if you screw over that program by quitting out of the blue, focus on yourself. But something inside me said that option, wasn't really an option for me. For my health, for my sanity, for the sake of the program who needed a permanent person in there, I couldn't stay. And then my friend Mike Matthis (love you!) posted this quote on his facebook:

"The opposite of faith is not doubt, it's certainty." - Anne Lamott

And that was it. I followed my heart, I stepped out in faith, and I quit my job.

And you know what? Following your heart and stepping out in faith feels pretty awesome. For about a day. Then it sucks. It kicks in that you forfeited your health insurance for you and your husband. You are putting your student loans in deferment. Coupon clipping even more than you already did. Dipping into your dwindling savings again. And you apply to any job you can get your hands on, only to be told "no" after nine interviews in one month. 

Which left me with a thought that is the reason behind this whole blog entry. Where the hell was God? Seriously?! What the fuck? 

I've never really questioned whether God was real and personal. Jesus, yes, many questions there, many that still linger. But God? Nope. Never. Until now. All the canned Christian answers kept coming into my head:

"God's got a plan"
"He's in control even if if doesn't feel like it"
"He's got something better for you"
"He's teaching you to trust Him"

Well pardon my french, but fuck that. Seriously, fuck that. If this was "God's Plan", to make me sick to my stomach, crying every day, take away my job, that I loved, only to place me in another one that was not right, then He's a pretty messed up God. What an absolutely shitty way to bring about your plan.What a convoluted way to make me follow and trust you. How sadistic. I wanted nothing of it, and it became clear real quick this idea of God could not be congruent with a God I wanted to believe exists, a loving God who cares for me; so I started questioning whether God was real at all. Because I couldn't, in my head, make logical sense of why all of this was happening. A hiccup or two here or there, fine, but all of this! That's just messed up.

And then last Monday, Augsburg College called me. Let's back this train up real quick; I applied to a job there twice this year, only to make it to the top three the first time, and then the top two the second time, and then get turned down. This job would have answered so many questions for me. It's a short walk to my doctor (who is a specialist, so I need her), five minutes from my house, in financial aid (an area I've felt for a while I would thrive in), and who's mission statement, that serving your world is not an option, but a command from God, I could wholeheartedly get on board with. So when I was rejected, there was no bigger "f-you" slap in the face, and it felt like it was from God. The final "sorry babe, but you're not getting any answers or help here".

So when they called me, I was shocked. They asked me if I was still interested in working there, because they had another position open, and they wanted to bring me in based off my interview this past summer. If the meetings I had set up went well, they'd offer me the job.

And guess what? This past Friday, I was made an offer of employment at Augsburg College. Starting January 2nd, I'm their newest Student Financial Services Counselor.

Yay! Right? I'm so happy, and so relieved, and so at peace with what's coming up in my life. But I didn't know where this left me with my thoughts and feelings on God. Because, let's face it, all the shit I've had happen this year, still happened. There was no need to go through this; if Augsburg was where I was meant to be, why not stick me there this past April when I applied the first time and be done with it? I really didn't know where that left me.

And then, at Mr. Mike Matthis' suggestion, I picked up Anne Lamott's book "Traveling Mercies: Thoughts on Faith" and started reading it about two days ago. She's a fantastic writer, authentic in every way. It's her authenticity and desire to be raw and honest that finally led me to a bit of truth about God and faith:

It's not about me.

"It turned out that this man worked for the Dalai Lama. And he said - gently- that they believe when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born - and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible."

When I first read that I thought, "Yeah, okay. I bet." Like, it's someone grasping at explaining the problem of pain, to relieve the cognitive dissonance they have about what's going on. Been there, done that. 

But I haven't been able to shake this idea. What if, this year wasn't really about me. Without saying too much, the department I'll be working for at Augsburg has had a challenging year of transition. The two other individuals that were hired the first two times I applied had more experience than me. At the time, the fact that that was why I wasn't getting hired, really pissed me off. You can teach someone how to do a job, you can't teach people how to work with and care about people, which I know I have that quality in spades. But after hearing more about all the transition they've had this year, it's a good thing they hired those two people with that experience, because those two have already been moved around and given more responsibilities than originally intended. What if, God was working on something, bigger than me, and I just needed to wait for my turn? Maybe? This whole time I'd been wondering "why me?" when really the question I should have been asking was "why?"

I think that's where I'm at with everything at this point. I'm back to thinking there is indeed a God (yay!), but the above is the best explanation I can come up with for this year. And I guess for me, that's good enough. It's my time to be happy, so I'm done trying to figure it all out. Time to rest in the fact that we were provided for, and that we are about to embark on another new journey. 

I wrote this, in a way, to let God know that I get it. I would say I'm sorry, but I don't know if that's what He requires. I felt how I felt, and I believe I was allowed that. But I also write this for anyone else out there who feels like lately, they just can't seem to catch a break. For those who've allowed themselves to really ask the difficult questions of "why". Allowed themselves to go beyond what "they should be believing" as a person of faith, and have the courage to really challenge what the hell is going on. It's okay to do that. But also know, perhaps God is working on something else, something that has nothing to do with you, and for now, that's all you need to know.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why I’m choosing to vote “No” on Minnesota’s Marriage Amendment this November

Disclaimer: I’m not writing this to open up discussion. In fact, unless you are still undecided on how you want to vote, and want to talk about that, please do not comment on this at all. I am not looking to start a debate, not looking to hear why I am wrong, or to hear “the devil’s advocate position”. I’ve been thinking about/struggling over this topic for years, and this is what I have come to for myself. So please, only continue reading if you are sincerely interested in hearing my thoughts, not to try to propose your own. I have disabled comments, and if email me your thoughts, I will delete them before reading them.

This Sunday, David and I went to the Minnesota State Fair. Upon entering the gates, I was stopped by someone with a clipboard. She didn’t waste much time, just got straight to the point,

Clipboard Lady: “What is your opinion on same-sex marriage?”

Why hello! Welcome to the fair. My response was almost as abrupt as her question,

Me: “I support it.”

Clipboard Lady: “Can you tell me why?”

To be honest, this is the first time someone has ever asked me why I support it. Normally this topic comes up under the guise of facebook fighting over some stupid thing that’s happened in the news, like whether or not to eat chicken sandwiches from a place that does not support same-sex marriage. So other than the conversations David and I have, I had never really formulated a clear reason for what I believe, so I spouted out the first thing that came to my mind.

Me: “Because I believe in human rights and doing what’s fair.”

She commented on what a simple answer that was, and for me, it really is that simple. Turns out she was recruiting people to volunteer for the “Minnesota United for All Families” campaign, a campaign David and I have supported since it’s origination, so we signed up to volunteer the weekend of September 8th. I was told I’d be talking to people about the amendment. It was then that I realized I better figure out what I want to say/what I really think!

For me, writing this is like coming out of the “Christian Closet”, meaning, this is the first time I’ve gone on record as supporting same-sex marriage. As most of you may know, I grew up Christian for the most part, went to a Christian university, and identify as Christian. So sitting here, typing these words, is terrifying, because I know many people reading this will not agree with me, and will potentially be praying for me because of this. But the older I get, the more desire I have to be myself, not what other people think I should be. So here it is; I support same sex marriage, and I don’t find that to be at odds with my faith.

Two blog posts I came across (both below) helped me to reaffirm what my heart was already telling me.
“Why I regret voting Yes on Prop 8”: http://www.elizabethesther.com/2010/08/why-i-regret-voting-yes-on-prop-8.html
“Apologizing to my Gay Neighbors”: http://www.elizabethesther.com/2011/09/apologizing-gay-neighbors.html

I believe in the separation of church and state, and because of that belief, I do not think it is okay to legislate my religious beliefs. Whether or not I think “being gay” is a sin, does not and should not change the way I vote on this issue. The bible is very clear about taking care of your body, and treating it as a temple, and I will not be rallying around laws to determine limits on caloric intake any time soon, so how is this issue any different? For me, it is no different. We live in a society where I believe consenting individuals should be able to make their own choices, whether or not it aligns with my religion or not.

I’ve also heard the argument that same-sex marriage will hurt the institution of marriage, and potentially the kids these couples will (maybe) adopt. Hmmm. Well, I’m not quite sure these thoughts are research-based (like literally, I really don’t know if research shows this or not, because I haven't looked), but I do know this:

Research has shown that children of divorce are more likely to divorce later in life. Research has also shown that divorce has a negative impact on the children from the union. I am a child of divorce, so therefore, according to the research, I am more likely to get a divorce, thus potentially hurting or imposing negative impacts any children I have with David.

Now imagine if someone told me that because of this likelihood, that I was legally NOT ALLOWED to get married, ever. That. Is. Terrifying.

Which is why I’m voting “No” to the marriage amendment this November. I do not believe that a group of people should be discriminated against because of their personal choice as to who they consensually marry. My call, as a Christian, is to love. Honor God, love people. That’s it; that’s the basis of what Jesus was saying. He never used the political system to change the hearts of people; he used love and acceptance of the person. I’m not convinced that using political power to get people to comply with “God’s word” is an effective strategy in loving his people. If anything, I think it sends a big message of “not welcome here” to any gay or lesbian individual, and for that, I am so sorry.

I am sorry to anyone who feels hurt or abandoned by the church. I am so sorry that the church has made you feel like you were not welcomed or loved by God, just as you are. I’m sorry that anyone made you feel like you were “less than”, like you were condemned and hated. I cannot apologize enough for how misconstrued this whole thing has become. Mostly, I’m sorry I stayed silent for so long. My call is to stand for what’s right, and the way the church and select Christians have treated you, is simply, unacceptable. It’s the exact opposite of what Jesus called his people to, and I’m so sorry I haven’t said anything before now.

To hear about how others are reconciling with the GLBT population, read this awesome blog post:
“I hugged a man in his underwear. And I am proud”: http://naytinalbert.blogspot.com/2010/06/i-hugged-man-in-his-underwear-and-i-am.html#!/2010/06/i-hugged-man-in-his-underwear-and-i-am.html

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It Gets Better

"A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever." - Jessamyn West

For those of you who've read my facebook statuses over the last couple of weeks, I've been trying to raise awareness of the new documentary that just came out entitled "Bully". As the title suggests, it's about the bullying epidemic in our country, and follows the stories of kids and families who have been impacted by bullying.

And cue the thirteen year old version of myself entering the scene.

There's this kid in the movie, Alex, whose parents cannot for the life of themselves understand why their child didn't tell them about what was going on at school or during his bus rides. Why couldn't he just tell someone about what was going on. Of course I came up with the obvious answers: he had not developed fully enough to understand that his parents are a safe space, that he didn't realize yet that he doesn't have to put up with that garbage, that the "it gets better message" just hadn't reached him yet. But when it comes down to it, I don't know if the twenty seven year old version of me is any more prepared to face my own scars that bullying left behind than the thirteen year old version of Alex was. At twenty seven, I could still barely tell my husband that night after the movie about the bullying I was subjected to growing up. And it SUCKED. I was eventually able to share things with him I've never told anyone. Ever. It made me realize though, that although things get better for these kids, and I truly believe that and hope those kids choose life long enough to hear that message, that the things you've heard said about you, never fully go away.

I can still picture the faces of the kids who taunted me. Some of them even started being nice to me in high school, but I never forgot, and still haven't. The girl who barred me from her basketball court in gym class, simply because I wasn't popular enough to play on her court? I haven't forgotten you. The two boys who on the bus in seventh grade made fun of me numerous times about my weight? I haven't forgotten you. You may have grown up, maybe into bigger and better people, people who don't bully anymore, but your words, much to my dismay, will never leave me. I still struggle with who you told me I was back then. So thanks for that.

But I'm lucky. I didn't let these little punk asses take my life away from me. I grew up, made quality friends, and married a wonderful man who thinks I'm beautiful, no matter what I weigh. But some kids, aren't so lucky. Some kids believe the words of these bullies and internalize them so much, that it becomes their new reality, and inevitably, they take their own life because of it. My heart breaks for these kids, who don't know yet that the person making fun of you? Is really, actually, just an asshole who is trying to put you down because they're just as confused as you are about who they are.

The movie is a must see for not only anyone who has kids or works with kids, but really, for anyone with a heart. Period. Anyone who plans on participating in our culture and society, thus inevitably coming across kids at some point, should see this film.

What brought me back to this blog was the realization this year that silence is simply not an option anymore. Silence, because I'm too scared to speak the truth, cannot happen anymore in my life. So I am pledging to speak up for the silent, to speak truth when it needs to be spoken, and to take a stand, even if it makes me look like an idiot. To, no matter how hard it may seem, always choose love.

And really, I do encourage you all to go check out the movie if it's playing near you. You can see if it's at a theater near you by clicking here. If enough people go see this movie, it will be able to spread to more theaters throughout the United States, spreading the message of love that so desperately needs to be told.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Follow up on the bathroom writing...

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wrote to Brainerd High School. Here is what I originally wrote:

To Whom It May Concern,

This past weekend, the National Guard held a Family Readiness Training Academy for families of soldiers about to return from overseas. My husband, a soldier in the National Guard, was there as a part of this training. While there, he called me and told me that there were not one, but two swastikas drawn inside the bathroom stall near the teachers' lounge. He also noticed a third swastika drawn on a flyer outside of the teachers' lounge, advertising a blood drive. In addition to the symbols, there was also racist language written on the bathroom stalls.

I am writing to encourage you to do something about the hate symbols and words on your bathroom walls and posted flyers. Not only are they completely inappropriate, but I feel that if you plan on hosting family and community events where there will be children, you make efforts to clear your school of hateful speech.

I am aware that the markings are probably that of a student at your school, someone who is not yet mature enough to realize how detrimental perpetuating these kinds of beliefs are. But what I would like to see is a school who will be proactive about not only taking these messages down, but educating the students that this behavior is not acceptable.

I know it's very easy for me to sit here and criticize you and your school. I do not know how you handle these issues, you may very well educate your students on these matters, and if you do, then I commend you. I understand it's difficult to monitor each and every thing written anywhere in the school by students. But I am emphatically asking you to take down what is currently on the walls of your school so as to show that as a community, you do not condone that kind of behavior.


Shannon Watson

And this is what the principal wrote back:

Dear Ms. Watson,

Good morning. My name is Andrea Rusk and I am the principal of Brainerd High School. I apologize for not responding to your email earlier as my secretary was out of the office last week and just forwarded your email to me.

Thank you for emailing our school in regards to the symbols found in a restroom and a flyer in our building. We respond immediately to these types of reports and will do a better job of monitoring our spaces for these types of hate symbols. You are correct; some of our students are very immature and do not realize the hateful behavior this has on our other students and community.

I have contacted our administration and our custodial staff to respond immediately to your email.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact our school in regards to this.


Andrea Rusk
Brainerd High School

I then wrote her back, thanking her for her response, and letting her know I'm finding the same kinds of stuff on the bathroom walls at my college, and will be working with our counseling department to take care of that. I just wanted to give an update and say that sharing your voice can work!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

First World Problems

I've been doing A LOT of thinking about my future lately. Okay, so maybe it's not thinking... maybe it's more... worrying. Yes, worrying seems to be the appropriate word. I feel like that's all I do. Worry about how we'll pay rent. How will we be able to afford to keep living? Will we have to move? What if David doesn't find a job? What if my stuff here at work falls through? And of course, what about my precious kittens!? Their birthday's coming up, and momma needs to make them a kitty cat food cake...

And then I remember. I remember that I'm doing all this worrying while watching Teen Mom 2 on my DVR, on our flat screen. That I'm texting David about "if he's heard on that job yet" from my smart phone. That I worry about paying for the gas going in my 2010 Mazda 3, with bluetooth speakerphone capabilities. The groceries I so tirelessly clip coupons for? Are to make this Indian Butter Chicken recipe I found on pinterest this week, which I found while searching on my laptop, one of the four computers in our apartment.

These, ladies and gentlemen, are what I like to call "First World Problems".

Now let me backtrack. These problems, to me in this point in time, hurt like hell. I'm scared, I feel lost and unsafe; they are real to me. And they should be. It's my life, and this is what is going on in it, and I don't feel bad about feeling... well, bad. But what I'm urging myself to do is to keep it in perspective. Be scared, be afraid, but then remember just how lucky I am. I have a clean bed and warm place I come home to every night. I am in the top 1% of the world.

Which reminds me of a video Rob Bell put out a few years ago. Whether you like him or dislike, think he's a heretic going to hell or really, don't think of him at all, what he has to say in this video is, to me, dead on:

Maybe I need to remind myself that I am "rich", despite how it feels to be the one at the discount food store buying crystal light that expired last September (yes, I did that this week, and you know what? It tasted GOOD). Maybe, what I have is enough.

Which leads me back to this idea of "First World Problems". Below is a blog I found some time ago; it cracks me up every time I read it. I've provided the link below, the blog's description, and a few posts from readers I could definitely see myself saying at some point in time.

I write to challenge myself, but also all of us, to really sit back and reflect on how blessed we are, even when it doesn't feel like it.

First World Problems Blog: "It isn't easy being a privileged citizen of a developed nation. This blog is a catalog of the unending ways it's lonely at the top. Contact the honkies in charge at info@first-world-problems.com and tell us how you've suffered."

“My back hurts from carrying my $2000 laptop around.”

“My roommate has a different song that plays for every different person who texts her. 'Party in the USA' friend has been texting her for the past two hours.”

“I wanted to watch YouTube videos; however, I found it to be too much effort to roll over and take my computer off hibernate, so I had to wait forever for it to buffer on my iPhone.”

“I can’t fit all of the gift cards I received at Christmas into my wallet.”

“I have to wear a regular motorcycle helmet because the two Bluetooth models I purchased can’t share music with each other.”

"Family Guy’ is on two different channels at the same time and I can’t figure which one has the most potential.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

They're Just Kids...

Since my last post, I've had two different people indicate that perhaps I was a little harsh in my words towards the individual who wrote on the bathroom stall. Their reason? This person is a high schooler; despite how wrong their comments were, they don't know any better, yet. Their brain isn't fully developed, so even though they are wrong (and each person who questioned me agreed that the behavior was wrong), I shouldn't judge them so harshly because kids do stupid things at that age. I was even encouraged to think of the mean and ridiculous things I said or believed at that age. And they're right, I did say and do stupid and probably hateful things at that age.

But here is what I have to say in response to this question: how will we change the minds of kids, and teach them that the things they are saying and doing are indeed wrong, if no one is willing to say it?

For the record, I don't think this is "kids being kids". This is systematic thinking that is being passed down throughout the generations. My husband later told me that he saw an additional two swastikas drawn in the school; a larger one on another bathroom stall wall and one drawn on a blood drive flyer outside of the teacher's lounge. This additional information prompted me to write the school and ask that they take efforts to take down these symbols, especially if they intend to host community events where kids will be present, and will probably be using the restrooms (this was a military family readiness academy, hosted by the National Guard for the families of soldiers coming home from overseas).

I agree that a person's brain takes a long time to develop; some say it may not be fully formed until the age of 25. But I do not believe that it means that kids can't be taught the values of what is good, right, and kind. Here is an example of a kid who gets it:

Kids have enormous influence in the lives of each other, as evidenced by the new wave of teens committing suicides for being bullied, specifically as it relates to their sexual orientation. My hope is that we can become a people, and a world, that learns to love our neighbors, no matter who they are and what they believe. To be a people who pour love into all people, despite our differences.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Niggs, Wiggs, and Hicks

My husband is at National Guard Drill this weekend. Somewhere through the course of the weekend, his endeavors led him to Brainerd High School, a high school located in central Minnesota. While there, he texted me this picture:

You may not be able to read the words in this picture, but it's a picture of a bathroom stall wall at the high school. Above a drawn swastika, it reads,

"Fuck niggs and wiggs, hicks will rise."

Which to that, someone has written "ya!".

I don't know why, but for some reason, I am still, absolutely astounded when I hear about things like this. But to be honest, I shouldn't be. I have a degree in sociology and am on my way to a masters in social justice studies. I, more than most, should be keenly aware of the racism that still exists in America today. I know about the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. I know that
where you live in America dictates how you live. I know that while many people are fighting for justice and for real and lasting change in this country, institutional discrimination is still alive and well. Take a look at the New Jersey Turnpike Study if you don't believe me; it will blow your mind.

And yet, I see something like this, and I am still stunned. I am still disgusted. I want to cry.

that, is why I am writing. After a five year absence from this blog, I can no longer stay quiet about the things happening in this world that are simply not right.

Amid all the recipes, home decorating tips, and friends' baby nursery ideas on pinterest, I came across this photo the other day. Something about this photo awoke something that has been sitting idle inside me for far too long. Silence. Silence about what I know to be true and the courage to say it.

I can say with full confidence and assurance that what is written on that bathroom wall, is wrong. The fact that the school has done nothing to take it off, is wrong. The fact that someone wrote "ya!", is wrong.

Unfortunately for us, the word "racism" is thrown around far too much in this country. Too often, people accuse each other of being or acting "racist". Just so we're clear, I'm going to provide us all with the sociological definition of racism. Racism, is "the idea or belief in the superiority of a given race of people and therefore the inherent inferiority in other races." This bathroom wall writing, is a clear example of one individual valuing their superiority over another. "Rising" assumes the need to elevate, or "rise", over another. To become superior, while making others inferior.

It is this kind of thinking that is, I hate to say it in such crass terms, ass backwards. This thought is a thought that divides us as a people, and as a country. So here is what I have to say to this individual....

Hello name-less, face-less, cowardly person who had to voice his thoughts on a bathroom stall, where no one could identify him,

You are wrong. I am ashamed of you, and I feel sorry for you. I truly do. I don't know if anyone's told you this recently, but you live in the year 2012. In 2012, we don't, or shouldn't I should say, believe that some are superior while others are inferior. We are
all, children of God, and have worth that you can't even begin to understand. As Brad Paisley so wonderfully sang, "welcome to the future". In this future, you are welcomed, but your hateful thoughts and actions are not. As John Mellencamp put it, "if you're not part of the future, than get out of the way." So please, next time you feel the need to elevate yourself above others, making yourself higher while pushing others down... don't. If you're not willing to change, and accept all of us, then just keep it to yourself.

Oh, and next time, don't deface public property. Besides being illegal, it's just not nice.