Tuesday, June 20, 2017

This Should Not Be (My Flint Lament)

Sometimes you grow so accustomed to something you forget it isn't normal, or at least, shouldn't be normal. Sometimes unhealth and dysfunction become so ingrained in the narrative that you forget certain things should not be.

Welcome to life in Flint. 

Where violent crime has us in the headlines as one of the most dangerous cities. Where sitting in my living room allows us a near nightly game of "gunshots or fireworks?" Where my children regularly ask if they are safe. Where there've been more efforts for mayorial recalls than I can count (here and here and here and here). Where, likewise, the relationship between the mayor (no matter who it is) and city council is one of the most dysfunctional, ineffective I've ever seen. Where residents elect unqualified, law-breaking men as councilman and then they are kept in office. Where the state won't trust us to run ourselves responsibly, and as infuriating as that is, we haven't proven to be capable of competent governance when we've had the chance. 

Yep, welcome to Flint. Just another day in our neighborhood.

And all the while, we are STILL living with water we can't drink but for which we pay exorbitant prices.
This morning was one of those mornings where the ridiculousness of it all hit me. I was pouring bottled water into my crock pot and I felt anger. It's probably a good sign, as feeling anger reminds me that what I live with everyday should not be. 

Most days I feel nothing and think nothing of it. As if contaminated tap water is what we should all expect. As if it's normal to have a filter on your bathroom faucet to brush your teeth. As if it's completely acceptable for your children to be suspicious of every water fountain outside the city limits.
This should not be so. It's now been 38 months since our water source was first changed that started this whole mess. It's been almost three years since those, who should have known better, used their degrees to finally come clean and say the water wasn't. Three years. And I'm still opening water bottles to clean strawberries, prep pot roast, and boil spaghetti. Three years living every single day with this reality, while those in charge shift blame, point fingers, cry foul, and then dare to claim "Flint Fatigue." We've been waiting three years for those with the power and influence to change our reality. You want to talk fatigue? Then talk to a Flint resident who still can't drink the water thats overpriced while the very officials who should be protecting citizens drag their feet debating whether Flint is worth the time or the money to fix the water problem (at least in a humane amount of time).
This should not be so. My city is 57% black and 42% of our citizens live in poverty. Apparently, elected government can't be bothered to leverage their position to get something done here. It's been shown that systemic racism has been a factor. That is completely and utterly unacceptable; and I'm angry that we still have to live as we do. Not to mention the thousands who are suffering more acutely in this city than I am. Many can't pay their water bills, and are now in danger of losing their homes because of it. Many don't have a means of transportation to get bottled water, filters, and the like. Many are suffering from skin rashes and irritations that my family has never had to endure through this crisis.
And to think this might not have been this way for this long if more Flintstones had lighter skin and made more money!?! This should not be so. I'm sick and tired of it all. And because I am white and hold privilege because of the color of my skin, I can not know how my African-American brothers and sisters are really feeling in all this. I am reminded of something I heard Tavis Smiley say last fall (following the election of President Trump) about how blacks are used to set backs; used to the struggle, and the shaft. That blacks are used to the cold shoulder, closed doors, and fighting for every square inch they gain. That's stuck with me as I sit here in Flint, three years after it was known that our water was undrinkable, getting just a smidgen of a glimpse into what Smiley meant. And I'm still white, so I can't ever understand fully. (I digress. This can be another post.) Three years. 
Over one thousand days without clean, useable water. 

This should not be so. Our family sponsors a young man in Kenya through Compassion International. His name is Francis, and we pray for him every night. Over the last 9 years, one of our prayers for him is that he would have access to clean water. Because after all, he lives in Africa; in a poor, underdeveloped, third world village. And now our family prays the same exact prayer for ourselves and our city. This should not be so. This issue isn't even a question of first-world problems versus third-world problems. Although, if that was the only argument, it would still be enough to expect some movement from those who can change this reality. No, this isn't just a first or third world problem. It's a human rights problem. It's a social justice problem. Clean water is a natural right every person should have. 

And, if that ruffles your feathers and you want to play the first-world/third-world game, then who would have imagined that a city in a first world country, considered a world power, would be living my reality in 2017? A reality that says our state and local government agencies made decisions that endangered the health and lives of its citizen; then chose to cover-up the evidence in hopes of not having to publicly disclose the findings. A reality that says those same agencies wasted time bickering and posturing, all while the water entering our homes was poisoned. A reality that has these same agencies burying any possible legislation on this human rights issue under a mountain of bureaucracy while making judgements about whether my city was really worth it anyway. You know, because we're mostly black and poor anyway? This should not be so. Today, I opened bottled water and filled my crock pot and I'm angry. Today is a day I remember that just because I've grown accustomed to something doesn't mean it's the way it should be. Normal doesn't necessarily mean helpful, beneficial, satisfactory, or right. 

Today, in Flint, our reality is normal, but it should not be.

This should not be so.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Kintsugi and Being Voted Most Likely to Succeed

I donned white jeans and a red turtleneck in that photograph. Standing next to Jeff Ponatoski, at the main entrance of a high rise building in downtown Louisville, we smiled for a picture we knew would be in the yearbook with the title "Most Likely to Succeed." 

Twenty-three years later, as I am clawing and clamoring my way out of the toughest 12 months I've ever lived, I am amused at my 18-year old self. What in the world did I know of success?

When one graduates from high school, all plucky and energetic, one may believe they know a lot. But they don't. Even though they think they do.

I thought I knew what it meant to be successful.

I was a straight-A student, president of the National Honor Society, a Governor's scholar, and headed to a private college on academic scholarships. I was a rule follower, a conscientious learner, and I never skipped college chapel to sleep in. I graduated from university with honors, despite the best effort of that semester of Macro Economics that tried to bring me down. I did the right things, said the right things, behaved the right ways. 

The world will take notice when you do all the right things the expected way. Enough notice to lull you into the belief that you are on your way to success.

But what happens when life comes crashing down around you? 
When you are burned out and wiped out professionally? 
When you live in a city that desensitizes you to dysfunction? 
When death comes for a visit and leaves an ache that won't stop? 
When what you thought you knew doesn't seem to be what you are sure of anymore?
When you are at a loss because of the amount of loss you've experienced? 

Either I have crashed and burned on the fast track to success or I need a new definition.

Maybe success isn't what I thought it was at all.

Maybe the definition and measure of success should be fluid and contextual. Maybe it isn't what the world decides is laudable. Maybe success is more rebel and rule breaker, not packaged neat and nice. Maybe success would actually frighten that starry-eyed, line-tower in white jeans standing next to Jeff Ponatoski.

Maybe success is a little more subjective than I thought. At least in the sense that succeeding is highly variable depending on the particular circumstance, the priorities, the pressure points, and the unique person.

By most standards, this last year I would have succeeded only in failing to live up to that superlative title, "Most Likely to Succeed."

I've earned no accolades this year. I've walked the blackness of burn-out and depression. Instead of going by the book, my husband and I have thrown it out, and broken away from what "normal" mid-life parents should be doing. We've given up certainty. We've walked away from vocational identity. We've grieved. We've seen the worst of ourselves. We've questioned what we believe and why we believe it. And we've sat among the broken apart pieces of the life we've lived so far and wondered what good could come of it all.

Broken. Completely. 

Success? Most unlikely. 

Maybe success looks entirely different than I once believed.      

There's an ancient Japanese art form known as Kintsugi, which means "golden joinery or repair." Kintsugi artists repair broken pottery with lacquer that is mixed with powered gold, silver, or platinum. 

What's most fascinating about Kintsugi has less to do with the work itself, although great skill is required, and more to do with the philosophy behind the art. Kintsugi "treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise."

If life has ever broken you down, left you holding the fragments of your dreams, of your known life, of your tidy beliefs, then you can understand the pure hope that resides in the idea of Kintsugi.

Maybe success looks entirely different than I once believed.      

What if success isn't about perfection, or achievement, or recognition? What if success has more to do with letting go then maintaining control? What if the whole of success is only found in embracing the breaking of our own humanness?

I have walked through some moments of sheer hell this last year. Some have been external while many have been inner devils. I have walked to the brink of hope, unsure I would see sunlight of the soul again. I have cried a million tears (this is only slightly hyperbolic). I have questioned my sanity, my salvation, my security, my sense of self. And I was certain there was no room to claim success in any of it.

I'm a far cry from that baby-faced, naive girl I used to be. A far cry from what I believed success to be.

Maybe success looks entirely different than I once believed.      

If you have ever succumb to the lie that success is:
only defined by the people in power or the ones with privilege,
only comes when you tow the line and don't rock the boat, 
earned when you do what you're told, and don't ask too many questions,
adhering to the rules, meeting the expectations of everyone else,
walking through the stages of grief in predictable and manageable ways,

and yet find your soul withering, 
and find you are at the end of yourself, 
and everything feels like it's in pieces...

then, only then, can the golden repair begin.

What if success isn't a shellac that fossilizes our heart so that we never crack under pressure? What if success isn't a perfected image, or a flawless performance? What if success is best seen in every gold-filled crack and silver-lined fracture? What if success has more to do with embracing the imperfections, and allowing the brokenness to help define our beauty? What if success isn't about what we've done, but who we become?

I am beginning to understand success has more to do with what results in the midst of the struggle, the strength revealed in the vulnerable places, and the artistry of God who brings beauty from brokenness, and offers renewed hope to one who's been beaten down, burned out, and washed up.

I am also beginning to understand that choosing to define success this way is to embrace the harder, deeper, more sacred meaning of success. The one that has more to do with who Jesus is, than what I've accomplished. The one  that leans hard on the graces of this life because we recognize our inability to deliver perfection. The definition that says my once-shattered-now-golden-repaired heart is more lovely today than before it all broke apart.

Maybe, just maybe, in the golden patch lines and highlighted broken spaces, I might find success most likely to happen after all.

 "If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come..."
2 Corinthians 5:17a

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show 
that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." 
2 Corinthians 4:7

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost Waiting

photo from sharinghorizons.com

Presence as a loud roar,
a celestial surprise
opening the sealed up heavens…
I still sit in silence
after storming the pearly gates
requesting audience,
but instead the only noise I hear 
are kids 
to jump start a day.

Newly poured spirit
like hot flame,
burning off fear
consuming darkness…
It’s raining here today,
water soaked dirt
quenching the spark
of renewal,
of life,
of hope.

Even so,
I wait.

isn’t a claim
I stake concerning You
or all You allow.
I don’t even allege to 
like You at times.
I do assert,
for now,
You seem elusive, 
All at a time 
I grasp for 
Even so, 
I wait.

Men, ragtag and redeemed, 
in a high room
joined by 
devoted women,
every one of them
and wondering; 
but pondering;
yet tethered
by something greater.
I am them,
because I trust You.

All the while,
I sit in deafening quiet 
with saturated ground,
for You
to come
in a fresh, new way.

To burn up the confusion,
autocorrect my pain,
illuminate my path.

To rush in with Your exhale,
expand my lungs,
fill me with breath.