T H I R T Y

2.21.17. Today marks 30 years of marriage for me and Dave. I think, more than any other thing, time amazes me the most. Like, how did that happen???

Especially when so many days dragged on forever. Three kids all three and under, one with special needs, zero family in the area, friends who were pretty much all in the same boat. I didn’t always handle those days well. And then we added a couple more wonderful human beings to the mix. Some days I saw the beautiful lives we were given; other days all I saw was chaos. Every day was a battle for perspective. Some days I won that battle. And then there were other days.

But yet, as they say, the days may be long but the years go fast no matter what. Thirty lightening quick, blurry years.

We made so many mistakes. And consequently, the regrets that come with them. But the only time there are none of those is when you are looking forward. In those beginning years, we did much looking forward. Like all married couples, we wanted the best for our marriage. Like all parents, we wanted the best for our kids. Dang. Looking forward is easier.

Looking back though, there are a couple of things I have no regrets about. None. I didn’t do 30 years of marriage perfectly. Not by a longshot. But I have no regrets about saying yes. I didn’t do all the years of parenting perfectly. On the contrary, there are so many things I wish we could change. But I have zero regrets about the five beautiful children who seem to believe that love covers a multitude of mistakes. If given the chance to do it all again, I’d say yes before the question even came out. I would just hope I could do it better. So much better.

So today I’m grateful. Grateful for a faithful and loving husband. Grateful for five loving, independent and kind children. Grateful for friends and family who have walked the entire journey with us. And for a God who, it would seem to me, had to be shocked by the amount of grace we needed each day just to survive. For all those reasons, I celebrate this day.
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As I look forward to the next 30, I think we’re going to get it all right:)

Survivors

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Like everyone else, I have been giving a lot of thought to November 9th. Tomorrow. This has been a campaign for the books, with new levels of hated, fear, and distrust everywhere we turn. Even those who are on the “winning side” won’t all be cheering this day. Many are voting for the lesser of two evils.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, tonight, everyone pulls up signs, rips off bumper stickers, takes off the partisan buttons. And we all display a new one with the same message: “We survived the election of 2016,” the craziest season ever.

Survivors are strong. Like women who have battled breast cancer. They fought a battle they didn’t ask for and had their lives completely disrupted. Some days, maybe they didn’t even think they would make it. But with news of remission, they moved past all that. And they came together with other survivors. All kinds of differences mark them. But something bigger has united them. They are survivors.

We have been in a raging battle this past season. Tomorrow, it will be time to think about what unites us. Maybe a new bumper sticker would help us smile and nod when driving past a battle weary neighbor. Maybe the buttons would remind us to high five someone at the grocery store just for getting through. Maybe we’d buy someone a cup of coffee because, well, it’s been a rough season. More smiles. More kindness. More compassion. Because we have all been through it, one painstaking day at a time.

Tomorrow, let’s temporarily forget about winners and losers. Let’s resist flaunting, taunting, and fear mongering on social media. Let’s focus on being kinder, more compassionate, and more concerned for others than we’ve ever been. It just might help dissipate fear, anger, and perhaps violence in the aftermath. Let’s recognize that, really, we all just survived something we don’t ever want to go through again.

Probably a little late to get all those signs made. But we can all think about something bigger than the bloodbath that just took place. Surviving something this crazy just could be the thing that unites us all. And a little unity could make a big difference right now.

Changes That Can Change Everything

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“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”

Recently I saw this quote on Instagram, under a picture of a mud-run type event. And I thought, man, I better get out there and do something challenging because I haven’t done that recently and I am not changing. Yikes, this is not looking good.

But then I got thinking. I have been in an opposite season lately. For many reasons, I have been quiet, low key, meditative. When I’m at my lowest, like when I look at people doing races and being successful in careers and posting about travel and community and collaboration and magical life experiences, I feel stagnant. Failure-ish.

But when I take my eyes off others, and I look deeply into what is happening in me, I don’t see that so much. I see change in many areas. And I am at peace with this season.

There are many avenues of change. When we walk on the beach, or hike in the mountains, or sit beside a lake, we are changed by beauty. Beauty is one of the most powerful change agents I know. It transforms the edges of our soul and makes them less rigid, softer. It increases our sense of awe and wonder. And that changes us.

When we gather with good friends, the power of vulnerability changes us. Intimacy opens us up and allows us to exchange parts of ourselves. When someone trusts us with the deepest parts of themselves, we cannot leave the same. A measure of brave and grace and compassion get woven into our soul. And that changes us.

When we keep a promise or continue to honor a commitment year after not-so-perfect year, we are changed. We become focused less on our entitlements and more on the ones we care about deeply. And that changes us.

When we look at art, or read a poem, or listen to music, or create something with our hands, something inside of us changes. Whether we observe the creative process or engage in it ourselves, something in the deepest places of our soul get stirred. And that changes us.

So let us challenge ourselves we we can, because that certainly can change us. But let’s also be aware of all that is around us, all the change agents we encounter every day. Beauty, friendships, commitments, creation, and creativity can all help us move forward in ways that make us more caring, loving, kind and graceful people. And those changes can change everything.

Why We Must Teach Thinking Today

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I spent many years teaching logic to 8th graders. It was a dream class to teach; they come in wired for argument. Having had five one-time 8th graders of my own, I knew how good they were at that. My goal was just to help them understand what made a good one. The section on fallacies was probably most popular. They got very good at identifying those.

This is not about a particular candidate or those who support them. The examples on either side could fill a book. I saw this recently on the politically rock solid Facebook app.

Status: The more I see posted about Trump, the more I want to volunteer for Hillary.
Comment: You vote who you believe is best and I vote who I believe is best.
Other comment: A vote for Trump is a vote for racism. It’s just that simple.
This may fall under a couple of categories, but “straw man” fits well. It oversimplifies another’s point of view by assigning it the worst possible motive. The truth is that those on both sides have complex reasons for supporting a candidate. People have diverse backgrounds and experiences and have arrived at their beliefs over a long period of time. It’s not about ignorance, stupidity, racism, or whatever else the accusation is based on.

Oh, those 8th graders would eat this up. In the end they would understand why so few of our arguments are actually, well, arguments.

The best that education can do is put people in possession of their powers, give them control of the tools with which destiny has endowed, and teach them to think.     ~Henry Ford
Perhaps we could take time away from test prep and common core curriculum. Students desperately need context today. We need to allow passionate teachers help students understand that we didn’t just show up one day. There are important books, philosophers, and events that have shaped today. We are connected to other times and other peoples. It is critically important that this next generation sees a big picture of our shrinking world.

We need classes in logic, argumentation, and debate. In my 12th grade Rhetoric class,  students picked a subject they were passionate about and then–often reluctantly–argued for the opposing view. It showed the complexity of the issues involved and forced them to identify claims and warrants. They learned about the assumption of good will. Because vitriolic rhetoric that assumes the worst about others simply fosters divisiveness.

Critical thinking is creative and collaborative in every sense of the word. Active discussion in the classroom challenges both the student and the teacher. This is where learning happens. If we want to prepare students to be global citizens contributing to a better world, we have to help them become better thinkers. Critical thinking engages responsibility and sidelines privilege.

Maybe we would all be a little better if classes involving logic and thinking showed up in classrooms today. We may not stop the flood of fallacies, but we could at least identify them and understand why this is all so bad. Any possibility to do this before the “debates” begin???

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”–Desmund Tutu

The View Behind A Mother’s Eyes

bridge(Note: I wrote this on Friday to post today. But in light of the killing of police in LA over the weekend, I just want to say, I am not trying to be divisive nor am I ignoring the issue we have with violence and hatred. Wide Angle Lens is about perspective and looking at things from different angles–in this case, from a mother’s POV.)

I had a response to my recent post (“All Lives vs. Black Lives”)* from a mom, who happens to be white, and who has three black children. “As the mother of black children, thank you for writing this article…When I hear people reply “ALL lives matter,” I don’t know how to explain to them why it grieves me so.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about that. She didn’t say, “why it angers me.” She said, “why it grieves me.” I replied: “It would be a step in the right direction if someone actually asked you how you felt. And listened to why it grieves you. And cared enough to stop arguing philosophically that all lives matter. You are a mom to black children and you experience things we don’t…”

So I asked her, and this is a portion of her response.

“Honestly, no one has ever asked me that…That grieves me because, I know, one day soon, my son (age 9), will be a tall strong black man who already turns has in our very white community. At this point, they’re always with me and it’s—oh, your kids are so cute—but what happens when my son is old enough to go into the grocery store by himself?

“I have talked with enough parents of black children to know that is not uncommon to see your teenager followed by security, or questioned at checkout, or simply eyed with suspicion by other customers. Already I find myself telling him not to wear his hood in public and to dress nicely…I hate that my mind goes there…I want to make sure he doesn’t look like the stereotypical, often black man, with baggy pants, hood and sunglasses about to rob a convenience store…Those are the images put in our heads by the media that could cause people to look upon MY boy with suspicion.

“In the end, I must trust God with my children, as all moms do—but there is an extra layer of fear there, I guess, because they are black—and people, police and otherwise, can react out of fear…But as the parent to black children, I feel like I have to consider a lot of different things than I would otherwise. “Black lives matter” is personal because I look at three little black faces every single day and wonder what kind of world they will be given. THEIR lives matter.”

I had to acknowledge that I have never, not one single day, ever thought about any of those things for my children. With our white communities and our predominantly white schools and white jobs, it’s easy to think it’s not a thing.

Only when we really look at history, at our superior perspective, and at those living among us, with real faces and real hearts, that we can begin to change. We have been good at defending ourselves, bringing accusation, and ignoring grief. It will take everything in us to sit beside people in the messiness of their pain. it will take a deeply rooted belief that love is the only answer and that the momentary chaos can maybe give way to new order. 

I don’t believe “All lives matter” erects bridges. We have too many attempted bridges leading nowhere in this country. Grieving hearts need compassionate ears. Maybe recognizing grief will help us take that step toward healing. This has been declared the Year of Mercy. I am praying that we take steps to demonstrate mercy–a posture of leaning in and embracing. Because mercy might be the only way out.

*  https://kathyagilbert.com/2016/07/11/all-lives-vs-black-lives-we-must-argue-the-particular/

All Lives vs Black Lives: We Must Argue the Particular

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As an ex-logic teacher, it seems some basic logic is necessary today. I taught this during the first week of class to eighth grade students. It really is basic logic.

There are four types of declarative statements. The first is a (universal) “A” statement. Example: All lives are lives that matter. Another is a (particular) “I” statement. Example: Some lives (in this case, the entirety of black lives) are lives that matter. According to basic logic, the universal can only be true if the particular is true.

In other words, if there are examples of black lives not mattering in our culture, then it cannot be true that all lives matter. It doesn’t matter what we believe. When the “I” is demonstrated false, the corresponding “A” must necessarily be false.

It is often important to argue the particular, and we do it all the time. One of my children was born with conditions that put him on unequal footing with siblings and peers. If he was being treated poorly, I had zero tolerance. I often needed to set some things straight about a “particular.” I would argue that all day every day if necessary. Because until that particular was true, nothing else mattered.

One of our most moving, heart-wrenching rhetorical documents is Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It was written in 1963 about injustice and police brutality in the black community. Those issues still confront us over 50 years later. The particular must be argued.

King understood that people who were not heard would get their message across in other ways. He appealed to voices who could bring love, compassion, and wisdom to see justice prevail. And an appeal to reject hatred. “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

The murder of innocent police officers shows where hatred leads. We cannot allow the media to foster a climate of rage and blame. They do not represent the whole picture. We need the other voices–those with a heart for justice, those who can bring light, compassion, and wisdom forth. We have to give them platforms, positions, and resources. We have to believe that “liberty and justice for all” really means ALL.

In practical ways, we all have voices that can make a difference. We must ensure that those who have authority in any arena no longer abuse their power. Abuse of power is the evil root of all injustice. We are all responsible to call out abuse where ever we see it: on playgrounds, in schools, in churches, in law enforcement, in the courts, in the political arena, in marriages, in families, in business. A blind eye anywhere gives access everywhere.

The “particular” needs arguing so we may validate the “universal.” It cannot happen the other way around. No one would deny that all lives matter philosophically. But if behavior demonstrates some lives do not matter, the universal “All lives matter” can never be true. It’s basic logic.

Love is the operating principle which will help us demonstrate that “Black lives matter.” It’s our only chance to bring us to the conclusion “All lives matter.” It’s not an abstract platitude to get us out of action. Love without action is no love at all.

“Love is the only cement that can hold this broken community together. When I am commanded to love, I am commanded to restore community, to resist injustice, and to meet the needs of my brothers.” MLK, Jr.

Savoring the Long, Hard, and Crazy Fast

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“It all goes by so quickly. Enjoy them while they’re young.” Having my fifth and last child recently leave the teenage years behind, I know this is all too true. They enter the teenage years slowly and exit them at the speed of sound. But, honestly, if one more person had told me that when the kids were younger, I just may have said bad things. It took everything in me just to feign a smile to the one offering kind advice.

I knew it went fast. But with five children, sometimes those days were hard. Excruciatingly hard. And some days I didn’t care if it went fast. Actually, I had hoped it would go fast some of the time. I went in and out of savoring the moments and thinking they were the longest days ever.

Now that I’m at this end of it all, I want to go back and savor a little more. In retrospect, the challenge came from so many directions. It wasn’t just parenting. It was the responsibilities that came from working, and trying to keep the house looking good for all the people we had over, and rushing to too many meetings, and keeping relationships strong, and trying so hard to do it all well.How do we find the balance in the middle of those days? We continually check our “moments.” We analyze the cost of those moments. We prioritize and try to make the best decisions we can for our family. We recognize that hard days are normal days. And they go by just as fast at the easier days. We are the only ones who can decide what is best for our families, and decisions must be made in light of the moments we are in. Because we can’t decide backwards.

Enjoy it all on the good days, and on the hard days, remember that every day includes sleep. When their busy and noisy lives have settled into slumber, seeing their sweet sleeping faces remind us again that it is all worth it.  Built into every day are sacred spaces where we can slow down and savor moments.

Saying “yes” to parenting them well is worth every “no” we may have to say in the process.  There are a lot of years to say “yes” when they are grown. And they will grow up more quickly than we can imagine. Savor the sacred, sweet space of parenting. The long and the hard go by quickly too.