Wednesday, June 22, 2016

why I consider both Trump and the Alt-Right to be morally dangerous

A week and a half ago, Christianity Today featured my thoughts on inclusive ministry for families affected by disability and childhood trauma. I was both thankful and humbled to lend my voice in that outlet.

I'm proud of this piece. I'm grateful to Dan Darling and the folks at Christianity Today for running it. I'm honored to have had so many opportunities to speak up for vulnerable kids and families and encourage the church to love us well.

And then, I discovered the Alt-Right. Please be warned, the tweets below are both graphic and horrific. But I think we need to see them for what they are, so I'm sharing them along with my thoughts on the issue. (I know this post might make our family a target again, but I figure I'm probably doing something right if I'm drawing the ire of white supremacists.)

I know they're sickening (and I censored out a few by not including them here). Also, happy birthday to me, as they were posted the night I turned 34. (Ugh.) But who are these people and the 100+ folks who liked or retweeted their remarks? To answer that, here's a snippet from the always accurate Wikipedia:
The alt-right is a segment of right-wing ideologies presented as an alternative to mainstream conservatism in the politics of the United States. The alt-right has been described as a movement unified by support for Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, as well as opposition to multiculturalism and immigration.
And here's what a conservative blogger at The Daily Beast had to say about this movement:
It’s no coincidence that alt-righters who don’t like libertarians or more traditional conservatives often refer to them as “cuckservatives.” The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis explains the term, “A cuckold, of course, is a legitimate word for the husband of an adulterous wife… (but) the people who throw this term around are most likely referencing a type of pornography whereby a (usually, white) man is ‘humiliated’ (or ironically thrilled) by being forced to watch his wife having sex with another (usually, black) man…

“So what does this have to do with conservatism or politics?” asks Lewis. “By supporting immigration reform, criminal justice reform, etc., a white conservative is therefore surrendering his honor and masculinity…

“A cuckservative is, therefore, a race traitor,” Lewis notes.
I didn't know what they meant by cucked when I first saw the tweets. Someone dear to me texted, "I don't know what that word means and I'm not going to look it up." I tried not to. I tried to just ignore it all. (Obviously, I didn't succeed in those efforts.)

I'm writing this because I believe these tweets are symptoms of a larger issue. I think we have to speak up against hate. I won't sugarcoat it. The Alt-Right is defined by hate. Not patriotism. Not principle. Not nationalism. Hate. This is a hate group, no question. And they've been mobilized by Trump, by their own assertions.

As silence doesn't suit me, the day after the Christianity Today piece and Twitter hate, I shared this on Facebook:
I couldn't put the words together last night, and I'm probably going to fumble this too, but I'm no longer shaking in anger so I think I can do this...

I've seen people try to downplay racism. I've seen people try to downplay rape culture. I've seen people try to downplay Trump's hate speech about race and gender and immigration and disability and so much more.

Usually I try to ignore it. Fighting online battles isn't beneficial. (And, please, continue to follow my advice about not engaging the Twitter trolls attacking our family, because they won't go away if they get a rise out of us.)

But sometimes it's time to say something. When a few dozen cowardly white supremacists who strongly espouse both their love for Hitler and Trump make cruel memes out of our family pictures for fun and write vile comments about how my black immigrant son is going to rape me and my white daughter because that's what those people do (in addition to calling my husband a cuckold and us both traitors to both our country and our race), I can't stay silent. I'm not going to engage with them, because they are not worth my time. But? I feel like I need to say that if you're supporting Trump, I see this as the natural consequence of his violent hate-mongering speech about anyone different. No, he didn't write those comments, but we're seeing these groups emboldened by his candidacy. To me, supporting Trump isn't a political issue; it's a moral one.

Please, spare me comments about Hillary or any other candidate and their poorly behaved supporters. I know jerks behind computer screens exist in all shades. But? When my family becomes a target from hard right conservative racists over a piece in Christianity Today, I have to say it's going to be hard for me to stomach anyone's comments here about how mean those on the left are toward Christians. Nope. Not today.

/end rant
I don't consider this a political blog post. To me, this is a moral issue, as much as diversity in dolls or outrage about sexual assault are. Dinglefest isn't going to become a blog about politics, but I won't be quiet on this topic. I think it's important to shed light on what our political climate is creating.

I deliberated long and hard before sharing the troubling tweets above. I might go back and remove them at some point, because I don't want to amplify their voices. But? I think we need to be willing to see the ugliness, because I think it's our refusal to look upon hate speech like this that makes us say "I'm shocked!" about Orlando and Charleston while so many of our friends in the LGBT and black communities weren't in the same ways. After all, they've been watching the hate storms brew, while our white and/or heterosexual eyes have looked the other way, simply because our privilege allows that.

So what can we do? 
Listen. Identify those who are marginalized and start listening. Your eyes might just be opened to the hate you've been glossing over without even knowing it.

Love. Create your own love storms, right where you are. (And, please, drop the conditions. Not "I love you, but..." or "I love you if..." or "I love you, even though..." Just communicate "I love you." Period. Full stop. No stipulations.)

Do. Take action - with your voice and your votes and your time and your money - to act against hate and show value to all people.

Finally, I feel compelled to say I do value both Trump and the AltRight. While I don't like their speech, they have a right to express it. As angry and hurt as I was reading their tweets, I know each Twitter handle represents an actual person created by God to do greater things than spread hate online. So please don't interpret this post as a hateful response to hate. No. This is a call for us to look and see the hate storm, but love the people. When everything went down a week and a half ago, a friend asked what she could do. I still stand by my response: "Just be kind. While these are faceless trolls, they are also real people behind a screen. And I can only think that they need a whole lot more kindness in their lives if they're saying what they're saying, even anonymously. So be kind."

I think kindness can be dangerous to this brand of hate. So let's listen, love, and do, all while showing grace to everyone, even those who don't seem to deserve it.

Monday, June 20, 2016

3 things we say when our immigrant children express fear about Trump

"Mommy," a small voice said from the back of the van. "Um, I was talking with [two Hispanic classmates] at recess, and they're scared about what will happen if that Trump guy becomes president."

"Oh," I said, totally as filler to give myself a moment to think. "Why's that?"

"Well," she paused. "They say he wants to send some of their family back to Mexico."

I waited, giving her space to say what I knew she needed to say. Surprisingly, the rest of our kids held space too. They all seemed to be willing her to ask the question, as they waited for my answer.

"If he becomes president, will me and Philip and Patricia and Zoe have to leave the country?"

I'm glad I was driving. If she had seen the anger in my eyes, she might have thought she had done something wrong. I wasn't angry with her, though. I was furious that the hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric by a leading political candidate had made my girl question her place in our family and country.

Some people don't think of our kids as immigrants. But, trust me, they are. We know the paperwork. We've filed documents and paid thousands of dollars to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services department of Homeland Security. We can share stories of the first moments each of our children by adoption spent on US soil. They know too.

After all, this is our family - hailing from the US, Taiwan, and Uganda - while we were still living on African soil:

So what do I say when these questions come? After helping them name the emotion and validating it with empathy - "Wow. It sounds like you might be scared and curious about what you heard. I'm so sorry you're feeling that way, and I'm so glad you told me." - here are the three truths we stress:

1. Our government system involves checks and balances so no one branch can make unilateral action on immigration.

2. You are now American citizens so you are treated as such under the law, even though you weren't born here.

3. If all else failed and you had to leave this country, we would ALL leave, because we're a family and we're in this together.

Our kids need to hear the truth about our government system, the truth about their legal status, and the truth about their standing in our family. We came back to these truths when one of our children had "go back to Africa!" screamed at her by a group of classmates on the playground this past spring. And we returned to them again recently when they overheard something on the news while at a friend's house.

Immigration isn't just a political issue. It's a personal one. Whenever you're tempted to lump one group of people together - either lauded in praise or burned in effigy - pause. Because it's hard to love a group, but it's much easier to love a person.

And if your kids are asking questions, pause then too. Listen. Help them name their emotions. Validate them. Offer empathy. And then affirm the truths of the situation in a way that answers their questions without dismissing their real feelings.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Wellie Wishers: The new diverse American Girl doll line coming next week

Y'all know I love diversity in dolls.

And y'all know we love American Girl dolls.
As well as the no-longer-in-production Hearts for Hearts Girls line.

Well, this week a new AG line called Wellie Wishers launches, and they look a whole lot like H4H dolls. Of the five girls - Emerson, Camille, Kendall, Willa, and Ashlyn - only two are white. Kendall is black (and, squeal, actually has curly hair!). Ashlyn is a bit ethnically ambiguous but I think is meant to be Hispanic but could be Middle Eastern. Emerson is Asian (eek! dolls who look like my Zoe are the hardest to find in my experience). 

(Side note: If you see rumors about the historical dolls going away, those aren't true. Additional doll lines, like the one I'm writing about today, are additions to the line-up and have existed for more than a decade. If they were meant to erase the historical line, it would be gone by now.)

All five are friends, and their stories - which will be featured via 26 11-minute animated episodes - center around their relationships with each other as well as the individual personalities of each girl. Three books are already available to retailers, and they seem to be designed at a lower reading level to match the target age for the dolls.

These dolls are 16" - a couple inches shorter than the traditional American Girl dolls though a couple inches taller than H4H dolls - and have completely vinyl bodies. While the AG line is designed for girls ages 8 and up (though our kiddos usually get their first one in kindergarten), the Wellie Wishers are meant for younger doll lovers, ages 5-8. They each sport galoshes - or wellies, thus the name - and I suspect from their promo video and history that matching outfits for little ones will be available.

Rumor has it that they'll be around $60 each, though we'll know for sure next week. I also hear that matching girl-sized socks will come with each doll, but that's not confirmed either. I do know that accessories - like a doll house and tea set and stage and such - will be available.

And I hear the focus of the stories is a lot on walking in someone else's shoes - or, in this case, standing in another girl's wellies - which is a good lesson for all of us, I think.

For more on these dolls - available for purchase June 23 - visit American Girl.

Disclaimer: I do partner with retailers from time to time, and we did receive three Lea Clark dolls from American Girl when we were on Good Morning America on New Year's Eve, but I have received nothing for this post. I have reached out to American Girl in hopes of review samples to show more of the dolls' features, as well as requesting one for a blog giveaway, but I haven't heard back yet. Basically, I'm just a 30-something gal who is obsessed with racially diverse dolls and who uses her daughters as an excuse to write about them. (Also, all images here are from American Girl.)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

5 things I mean when I say I'm an alcoholic

Hi, I’m Shannon, and I’m an alcoholic.

That’s how I started my last post. I hadn’t shared that part of my story publicly before, and it felt more than a little vulnerable. But it also felt like one of my most honest and genuine pieces of writing.

I’m more comfortable talking openly about this than I am the other deeply personal topics I opened last week. (That said, I wrote this week for Key Ministry about why church leaders need to talk about sexual assault, and my post next week there will be about 10 ways churches can be safe places for survivors, so I guess I’m getting more comfortable with that discussion too.) And I want to clarify a little bit of what I mean when I say I’m an alcoholic.

1. My body has two switches when it comes to alcohol: yes and no.

For the last six months I was drinking, I never had just one drink. I planned to, plenty of times. But one glass of wine became a bottle. One margarita became a pitcher. One beer became a six pack. (And I’ve never even liked beer.)

Anyone who knows me knows I don’t do middle ground well. I live on extremes. When it comes to alcohol, I can either stay sober or be drunk.

2. I can’t drink. Ever.

My husband, my kids, my friends, myself… we all deserve a sober Shannon. I say I am an alcoholic instead of I was an alcoholic because this isn’t a past tense thing. Sure, I’ve been sober a long time. My kids have never seen me drunk. (And, oh, how I thank God for that grace!) I’ve lived in Raleigh for 11 years now, and no one here has known me as a drinker. But alcoholism doesn’t have a cure. It doesn’t go away. I stopped drinking, yes, but if I started again, I’d be switching back to that extreme.

Last summer, I toyed with the idea of trying alcohol again. It had been long enough, I figured. Maybe I could try socially drinking again. I like alcohol, after all. (You don’t become an alcoholic without liking the taste!) I’m glad I didn’t go there, though. I’m confident it wouldn’t have ended well for anyone.

3. You can drink, though, assuming you’re not an alcoholic.

I’m not bothered by alcohol. As long as you’re not pressuring me to drink, I’m happy for you to have a glass of wine. (I miss wine.) I’ll gladly join you, with a diet coke or lemonade or water or anything else that’s not alcoholic. Please don’t feel like you can’t have a drink just because I can’t. I can handle being around alcohol.

Except when I can’t. And if I can’t, I’ll let you know or quietly excuse myself.

And alcohol jokes? Please don’t silence those for me. At a recent birthday party for a little friend of my big girls, the mama hostess quipped that we should have a keg available in the back for grown-ups. I agreed, because OH MY WORD NINE YEAR OLDS IN A SKATING RINK could drive anyone to consider drinking. Another mom friend of mine recently laughed as she suggested a play date where the kids could have Capri Suns while we sipped wine. I didn’t bristle at that. Instead I laughed with her and made a comment about “mommy juice.” I wouldn't have partaken in the keg or accepted a glass of that juice, but I can join in the joking.

4. I have crisis plans in place with my people so I can stay sober.

You might ask, but you’ve been sober for more than 12 years? Why do you need crisis plans? Is life that hard? Here’s the deal. I’ve stayed sober by knowing my limits. During the stress of our first adoption, I found myself craving alcohol for the first time in years, and it scared me. So I texted my friend Melinda, whose background was in addiction counseling but who didn’t know my story back then. I said something like, “I know this is random, but I’m an alcoholic with 8 years of sobriety and I’m struggling. Could we talk?” We had been friends for a while, but that moment shifted us to go far deeper than the surface. I’ve shared a lot online lately, but Melinda knew those stories, just like I knew she was in a dark place before I got the news she had taken her life almost 15 months ago.

I wanted to drive straight to a liquor store when I got that news. But I had a friend’s daughter’s birthday party, and though I didn’t feel like celebrating, I put on sunglasses, loaded up the kids, and drove to the party because sticking to the routine would keep me from buying alcohol. Back then, I hadn’t let other people in much. Other than Melinda, I didn’t have a friend who I could text, “I want to drink. I won’t, but I need someone to know I want to.”

I do now. Several, in fact. My people are truly the best people.

5. Staying sober means dealing with my stuff.

Getting drunk was never about drinking. Staying sober isn’t about not drinking.

I drank to forget. I drank to relax. I drank to feel confident. I drank to not feel at all.

When I told my friend Annabel that I thought I was an alcoholic more than 12 years ago, she said, “You know, the solution isn’t to just stop drinking. You need to figure out why you were drinking in the first place.” Boom. She was right, but I didn’t like it. She’s still right. I know if I want to drink then I need to get curious about what’s truly going on under the surface for me.

I shared a couple days ago that I was going to my first AA meeting. That was last night. I liked it. I’ll go back next week. I won’t blog about it or share details out of respect for the anonymity of the program, but I can say one thing: AA is a room of truth tellers. When everyone who speaks starts off with “I’m ________, and I’m an alcoholic,” that cuts through the superficial.

Everyone’s story is different. Today, a precious friend is celebrating her first year of sobriety. Today, I’m celebrating my 12th year, 2nd month, and 19th day of sobriety. I have other friends with more and fewer dry days they’ve earned. Some of five things I mean when I say I’m an alcoholic will resonate with those friends while others might not. I’m only speaking for me here.

I’m Shannon, and I’m an alcoholic. And this is my story.

And because I love this clip and feel like it explains alcoholism well, I offer Leo McGarry and his story. (Don't try to tell me he wasn't real. In the current state of politics in our country, I've been retreating into The West Wing often. Bartlet for America... )

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

more than an alcoholic

My name is Shannon, and I’m an alcoholic.

It’s been more than 12 years since I realized that: 12 years, 2 months, and 17 days, since my last drink, to be specific. I knew that night that I wasn’t living a life aligned with the values I professed, but it would be another few days before I realized I truly had a problem. I told my best friend almost immediately. It took a week before I told Lee, my fiancé at the time.

back in the day, pre marriage or babies
Tomorrow I’ll go to my first AA meeting.

I’m stable. I’m not going because I’m in rocky territory. I'm going because I think there's something powerful and sacred of being in community with those whose stories overlap with your own. I’m going because I always meant to go to meetings, even though I've never been to one.

Tomorrow that changes.

I don’t know if I’ll keep going after tomorrow. Lee will be with me this time. Our new church is just beginning to host meetings, and this first one is open. Anyone can come. Subsequent ones will be closed, meaning they’re just for those trying to live sober.

Next week, I’m planning to go by myself.

That’s fitting in a way. In the beginning, I had a lot of support. Newly sober folks need that. I had a therapist and a supportive fiancé and some phenomenal friends. Then I got married and moved to Raleigh.

And I tried to go it solo.

Technically, I stayed sober. I haven’t had a drink. But I kept my hard-earned sobriety a secret. Instead of celebrating what God had done in my life, I hid it. I kept my head down, kept my mouth shut, and kept myself away from alcohol. I was scared I would be defined by my addiction alone if I told anyone. I didn't want to be treated as fragile if I told new friends I had been sober for exactly 15 months on the day I moved back to North Carolina. So I kept quiet. And I was part of denomination known for abstaining from alcohol, so that fit. Most people assumed I was opposed to alcohol in general.

I’m not. Have a drink for me if you can drink in moderation. Seriously.
(And if it’s a margarita, martini, or glass of Riesling, all the better. Yum.)

This year, I switched things up. The morning of my soberversary, I texted some friends to let them know what the day was. At least one had no idea about my alcoholism until that text. I told my husband. (He knew, obviously, but I'd never made a big deal about the date so the specific day wasn’t on his radar.) I sat in my therapist’s office that morning and started by saying, “So, 12 years ago today I had my last drink.”

She congratulated me.
And I realized I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion, for the first time ever.

Lee and I threw together a date at the last minute. Our usual sitter wasn’t busy, surprisingly. I suggested we should go out drinking to celebrate my sobriety, because if you can't make jokes about addiction, what's the point? He nixed that idea. (Spoilsport.) Friends on social media responded to my request for date night suggestions. We ended up at Cowfish.

It felt good to celebrate.

Before March, I felt ashamed of the years I used alcohol to numb my feelings. This year, I’m smiling about the years in which I’ve felt everything so much more deeply. No shame.

I wanted to go public on that soberversary but I wasn’t ready then.

Now I think I am. (Too late now if I'm not, huh? Hi, interwebs. This is the week in which I share all my secrets, it seems.) And I’m heading to an AA meeting. I’m done with shame. I’m done letting the stigma of addiction close my mouth. This story, like the painful story I shared last week, is part of who I am.

But it’s not all I am.

Alcoholism isn’t my sole identity. It won’t be the sole identity of anyone else at my AA meeting. I’m still everything else you know me to me: A wife. A mom. A Christian. An advocate. A writer. A speaker. A Netflix binge watcher. A lover of coffee and bacon. (God, please don’t ask me to give those up.)

Whatever you struggle with doesn’t define you either.

I’m Shannon, and I’m an alcoholic. You’re you, and maybe you struggle with something in secret* too. And? That’s okay. It’s okay to not be okay. I’m more than just an alcoholic, and you’re more than your secret struggle too.

Jesus was and is perfect. We don’t have to be.

Thanks be to God.

*I hope I'm not overstepping here, but if you have a secret struggle too, might I encourage you to tell someone? Not to blurt it out, of course, but to be intentional and vulnerable with someone who has earned the right to hear your unedited story? Shame doesn't go away without empathy, and isolation only lets it grow in the dark places where it whispers lies in your ear. The internet isn't the place for most of us to broadcast our personal struggles - and my choice to do so has been intentional and calculated, both weighing the costs and choosing the words with care - but total silence doesn't lead to healing either. Find a friend or maybe a therapist. Life is too hard to do it alone. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

friends, you are so loved

I love words. But today they've been failing me. I feel like I have so much to say about what happened in Orlando, but I can't organize my thoughts.

But saying nothing says a lot, I think. So I can't say nothing.

To my friends in the LGBTQ+ community, you are so loved. I grieve with you. This is hate, and this is wrong. I'm so sorry you are feeling fear today. You are not alone. You are dear and precious and so very loved.

To my friends in the Muslim community, you are so loved. I know that one murderer claiming your faith doesn't represent your entire religion. As a Christian, I don't stand accused when someone of my faith commits a heinous crime, and I'm sorry you aren't treated with that same dignity.

To fellow Christians, you are so loved. Please join me in condemning this. We can't be moved to speak against hate only when it happens in a church in Charleston or a school in Newtown but stay silent when it's a gay nightclub in Orlando. If we say that Jesus loves everyone and so do we, then let's show it by not being selective with that love.

To all of us, hatred doesn't get the last say. I believe love can win. As we engage with the litany of hard topics this mass killing brings with it, let's do so with kindness. Even when we disagree, we can do so without being disagreeable. Politics matter but not more than people. When our passions run high, let's make sure our compassion for others is present too.

Lord, be near to the brokenhearted today.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

her life isn't ruined, and neither is mine.

Again and again and again, I'm seeing the comments saying "her life is ruined."

And no.

Her life is different, certainly.

But ruined? Not necessarily.

Let's be careful with our words, please. Because when you say her life is ruined because of her rape, it sounds like you're saying my life was ruined by each of mine. But this?

photo credit: The Archibald Project


photo credit: Chad Bartlett, ERLC



photo credit: Rebecca Keller Photography




photo credit: The Archibald Project

She knows, I know, 1 in 6 women, 1 in 33 men know a darkness that can threaten at any moment. For her, it might be a glimpse of a dumpster, an ordinary scrape on her arm that's too much like the ones she woke up with, an article about a swimming prodigy. For me, it can be an unanticipated touch, a certain kind of bush that was nearby then, any moment when I have trouble catching my breath because I couldn't breathe then. For you, if you've survived the darkness too, you have your own list of triggers that can put you back in that moment.

One ugly chapter - maybe you could even call it a ruined chapter - doesn't define our stories, though. Rape doesn't get that power. Darkness doesn't get the last say.

Therapy helps. Friends help. My husband helps. (Oh, how he helps!) Snuggles from little ones I love help. My dogs help. Being safe now helps. Sharing my secrets in safe places helps.

But the darkness still threatens, often when I least expect it.

That doesn't mean my life is ruined. Changed, yes.

Her life is changed. Right now, in the pain of all she's endured with the assault and examination and continual revictimization throughout the trial and sentencing? She might feel ruined. She is fully entitled to that. I have a faint scar on my wrist from a failed attempt of ending the ruin once, many years ago. But that scar wasn't the end of my story. (Thank you, God, for the grace of being woozy at the sight of too much blood.) And now? The word enough is permanently etched into my skin below that line. Nothing about what happened to me robbed me of being enough.

My story wasn't over then, not in the moments or the aftermath. Neither is hers. In her statement, not to mention her tenacity in seeing this case through to its unjust end, she has shown the bravery she'll need to keep waking up each morning and fighting the darkness when it comes.

As for me, I keep a post it note in my car to remind me that the darkness doesn't win.

Some days I need to read it more than others. Some days I need to scream in secret places. Some days I need to have a hot sweaty workout. Some days I need to eat all the sugar. (Don't judge.) Some days I need to text a friend to say I'm hurting. Some days I need to rewatch Pitch Perfect for the hundredth time because it always makes me laugh. Some days I rest in God's arms, and some days I wrestle with him, and some days I give him the silent treatment. Some days I take a break from Facebook. Some days I post passionately there, because using my voice on behalf of the vulnerable soothes sore places in my heart. Some days I have to talk something through with my therapist by phone in between sessions. Some days I say all the bad words and make up some of my own. Some days I need to have a dance party in the kitchen to remind myself of all the light in my life.

Every day I get out of bed again, because this life - even when it's hard - was never ruined.

Neither is hers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

thank you for your outrage about the Stanford rape case

Outrage has gotten a bad reputation lately. I'm not sure that's fair. Sure, we shouldn't be fired up all the time. But? If we're never outraged in this world full of brokenness, then we're either heartless or simply not paying attention.

(That said, give yourself permission to not pay attention sometimes. If you need to step away from all media outlets from time to time because life hurts too much, you're not alone. Step away. Take care of you. The world won't suffer without your outrage. Promise.)

When outrageous events occur, outrage should follow. That's logical. Healthy. Good. Deserved. Meanwhile, if we can stay silent in the face of injustice, something inside us is woefully broken.

Lately the main topic of social media outrage is one million percent deserved. When news stories about a heinous crime lead with descriptions of how much alcohol was consumed and what a skilled athlete the offender is, that's not okay. When a judge handing down a shockingly short sentence on three violent felonies expresses more concern for the rapist's future well-being than the victim's, that's not okay. When the only truth teller in the room is the one who is still recovering from her trauma, that's not okay. When the perpetrator talks about wanting to address the drinking culture at college without acknowledging the rape culture, that's not okay. When the felon's father refers to the rape as 20 minutes of action as he excuses his son's behavior, that's not okay. When black criminals are identified in the press by their mug shots but it takes public outcry to get the white swimmer boy's, that's not okay.

When so much is not okay, outrage is the righteous and just and proper response.

I haven't shared a single post about this situation, though. So far, I've been silent. But I've been soaking in your outrage. It's been a gift, truly, because this feels personal to me.

I wasn't behind a dumpster. I didn't face my attacker in a courtroom. I couldn't speak with the survivor's eloquence until years later. I've never publicly owned this part of my story before now. I don't see any benefit to you or me in offering specifics, but let's just say that I identify with the brave girl in the beige cardigan in more ways than one.

Yes, I am a survivor of sexual assault as well.

I don't think we need to be inflamed by every topic of potential outrage in our Twitter and Facebook feeds. But this one has been so worthy of our outrage. And with each post someone has made, it's felt like you're not just saying that she is worthy of more than what she has endured.

I'm hearing that you believe I'm worthy of more than what I endured.

Other survivors are hearing you too.

And? We are thankful for your outrage.
And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.
~the survivor in the Stanford rape case
So, please, keep being outraged. Keep speaking up. Keep saying this is not okay. Some of us can't speak out like the Stanford survivor did so powerfully, maybe not yet or maybe not ever. If you can and you do, your voice matters. I truly believe that righteous outrage can make a difference.

After all, rape is always bad. Outrage isn't.

Thank you for your outrage.

*All quotes can be found in this courageous statement from the survivor herself. If you haven't read it yet, please click here so that you can.

Friday, May 27, 2016

a big change for our family

I have loved my church for a decade. I still love it. 

But we’ve been visiting another church for a few weeks. We’re not sure it’s home, but it’s feeling right for now. We’re being loved well by the people there and being fed God’s word.

You might be wondering, weren’t you being loved and taught well at your other church? Yes. We wouldn’t have been there for 11 years if that weren’t true. 

This shift happened fast, much faster than we expected. Church friends, we genuinely wish we could have told everyone ourselves, as we know hearing about this on social media instead of from me will sting if we’re close. I’m truly sorry for that. As we just officially communicated to all the Access Ministry families and volunteers about our transition yesterday, we know this sort of news will spread quickly. I’d rather put the news out there from me in this impersonal way rather than have you hear it from someone else.  

Why? That’s a valid question, and the answer is complex. (Again, let me say that we love our church. If you’re hoping for juicy gossip behind this change, you won’t find it.) The three basic reasons are racial representation, sensory issues, and adoption transitions:

  • Racial representation:
When we joined our church, we were newly married white couple. Now we’re a multiracial family by transracial adoption, with half our family made up of people of color. A few of our non-white children are struggling with feeling like church isn’t a place for them because they don’t see people in leadership who look like them. With racial tensions in this country at an all time high in our lifetimes, we’ve decided it isn’t healthy to raise our children - two white, three black, and one Asian - in a church whose leadership and membership is more white than their school, their city, or the faces that influence them from their favorite TV shows. Lee and I both consider our faith to be more central to our identity than education or politics or entertainment, so it hasn’t sat well with us to know that they see people like them front and center in those arenas but not the one that matters most to us.

  • Sensory issues:
One of our children is being evaluated right now for what we expect to be labeled as high functioning autism. One way this shows up is sensory overload. For the past year, we’ve been realizing that church literally hurts for him. The sounds, lights, and chaos of a larger church environment are experienced as pain by this child. Our church has accommodated us the best they can (I even wrote about it here), but we’ve seen this kiddo grow to hate church. All the accommodations we can offer simply haven't been enough. In three visits to a smaller church, though, we’ve seen a huge change in this kid’s attitude on Sundays, both before and after church. Even Saturday night was easier last weekend. Meanwhile, I pulled into our long-time church’s parking lot for a quick stop a week or so ago, and he started rocking back and forth, covering his ears, and crying, whimpering that he “didn’t want to go into the big loud church.” That was the moment for us that made us decided to have a faster transition that we planned. We’d hoped to alternate between churches for a while as we sought discernment from God. That’s clearly not going to be wise. Furthermore, our son's reaction offered the confirmation we needed to keep moving forward with this change.

  • Adoption transition:
Honestly, we didn’t even see this need until we talked to one of our children after the first time visiting the church we’re currently attending. One of our kids who was adopted at an older age feels like everyone in the old Sunday school class knows their adoption story and remembers when they weren’t in our family. That’s mostly true. Our church friends and their kids - our kids’ future classmates - were excited for us through the adoption process. We were loved. All our kids were celebrated. This was good and right and wonderful (in other words, you did nothing wrong, my friends!), but it created a consequence we didn't expect for some of our darlings' tender hearts. After one visit at this new church, one child told me, “Mommy, I like that no one at this new church knew our family before I was in it.” Wow. We talked about that a little more as a family. I realized that this was a big deal not only to her but another one of our kiddos. Because of adoption and race and disability and other factors, a lot of our kids will experience being othered: treated as different or as if they don’t belong somewhere. If we can minimize a small bit of that, we think that’s worthwhile.

What about families affected by disability at the church we’re leaving? First, let me be direct: we’re confident that Access Ministry wasn’t about us. It wasn’t led by us. It wasn’t centered in us. It is and has always been God’s. As we have seen this coming, albeit more slowly, we have been intentional to raise up leaders to step up in our absence. We are sure this area of ministry will continue, and if you are at that church, the family discipleship team there can answer any questions you have about the transition. But second, we want to share here that leaving Access Ministry is the most heartbreaking part of this transition for us. I love the children and families we serve, as well as the sweet servants who serve alongside Zoe to include her well in her classes. As I said in emails to those groups last night, each of you is one of the reasons we’ve wrestled long with God over this, in hopes of finding a way to stay. While we know this ministry will outlast us, we are grieving over leaving it. 

Why are we sharing this publicly? To be clear, we are not trying to malign our church or create dissent. Also, none of this is brand-new news to our leadership, as we’ve worked with the family discipleship team at our first church to make for a smooth transition. (And we have been so loved by them in that process!) But simply put, we’re a public family. I’m a public speaker at ministry conferences. Before making this move, I had to communicate with a few organizers who have scheduled me to speak at upcoming events in case a change in churches would lead them to change those plans. (If so, we would have respected those changes but not changed what our family is choosing.) 

And? There’s always a chance God could lead us back to the church where two newlyweds found a home eleven years ago. I do see an increased willingness there lately to wrestle with issues around race in a way we didn’t used to. For that, I am thankful. Perhaps the racial make-up of leadership will change in time too. Additionally, the new building plan will result in different acoustics and a different flow that might be received differently by our child with sensory struggles. Perhaps God is leading us away for a season, only to bring us back again someday in the future. We don't know. We don't have to know. Honestly, I don’t really think that’s how this will play out, but we’re open to whatever God’s plan is for our family. We can say for sure that we won’t church-shop for long as we don’t believe that to be biblical or wise. Church membership matters to us.

For now, please pray for us. 

Please don’t worry that our relationships will end when our church membership does. We continue to love the church we’re leaving, and we know our friendships aren’t so fickle that a change in churches will end them.

Please ask any questions you might have. I’d prefer to do so privately. We don’t have any secrets, but I feel like I’ve probably said all I’m going to say publicly here. That said, I don’t want anyone making false assumptions, so ask away. We’ll do our best to offer answers or explain why we’re not comfortable doing so (for example, if it would be sharing too much of a child’s story than we consider fair)

Please trust us when we say this is good and right and positive, even as it is sad and hard and challenging too. 

Please pray for our kids, for whom this change is beneficial but who have already experienced more change in their short lives than anyone should have to.

And please join us in being excited. As hard as this is, we believe God is writing a new chapter in our family’s story. How cool is that?!

Friday, March 25, 2016

fighting to see the good in Good Friday

I wrote this post a year ago, but I couldn't bring myself to publish it then. Through my warped lens of grief, I felt like blogging about the death of my dear friend would make it more real. Maybe, I hoped, if I just didn't share these words, she wouldn't be gone... 

But she still was. She still is. One year ago today, she took her life.

So today, after a hard and good conversation with her husband this morning, I'm sharing these words - just as I wrote them last year with all the raw emotion intact - because I don't think grief is meant to be silent. We exalt comfort and pretend it's right and good and even godly. But? God's word is full of lament and pain and even doubt, so I think I'm in good company to say this life hurts without sugar-coating or silver-lining my words. God is glorified in the pain and not just the platitudes.

So here goes, my post written on Good Friday 2015...

I grew up Lutheran. The rhythms of liturgical seasons still flow through me, but I haven't felt that same somber feeling at Good Friday most years since joining a Baptist church.

Until today.

In my youth, the notes of Ash Wednesday, Lent, and purple vestments joined with the singing of "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" to elicit a mix of grief, reverence, and expectation. Today the memorial service of one of my dearest friends is doing the same. 

Oh, how I miss her. 

Since her death almost a week and a half ago, I've found pockets of joy here and there but most have been bittersweet. Despite them all, Melinda is gone from this earth. I believe God's words are true in Revelation 21:4 when they promise of heaven where "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." I believe my friend is there, eternally divorced from this life's torments and brokenness. While I am glad she is fully free, I feel bound by my grief.

Today I am better able to imagine the depths of agony that day long ago held. While I know Sunday is coming, I woke fighting to see any good in Good Friday. While I know I'll see Melinda on the other side of eternity, the day seems too far away and today feels too dim without her.

So I scanned Facebook, busying my mind with anything other than my friend's memorial service later today. And I found words from my friend Hugh that resonated deep in me, and maybe they will in you too:
I know it breaks me with orthodoxy (surprise!) but I have always seen Good Friday as a victory for Jesus.

The most powerful Empire the world had ever known sets out to kill you in the most violent, most painful, most humiliating means it has at its disposal. It humiliates you, beats you, mocks you, spits on you, hangs you on a pole to watch you die in the afternoon sun in front of your mother. They do all of that.

If after all of that, your last words are your forgiving them for what they have done? Then they didn't win. You did. Or more accurately, Love did. (See what I did there?)

Empire has lots of tools at its disposal to strip you of your humanity, of your dignity, of your ability to love. But if you can love anyway in spite of their best efforts to break you, they don't win. And they don't know what to do about that.

I know the darkness doesn't win in the end. And I don't want the darkness to win in my heart, not even today, a day on which I'm tempted to let it overshadow all that is good and light and cheer. I know Melinda wouldn't want that for me or anyone else she loved either.

As I searched through old pictures for our oldest child's school project this past week, my breath stopped for a moment with one in particular. At my daughter's baptism, my friend sits just behind - feet in the water, sunglasses on, smile radiating - cheering with me in my girl's step of faith:

It seems fitting to share, as baptism represents dying in the water and being raised to new life again. Because we can hope in the latter, we deem the former to be worth it. Today I celebrate my friend and I grieve her absence here, in a fickle dance of pain and joy, grief and hope, loss and love.

Depression is a heinous illness, and sometimes - as was the case with my friend - it can become terminal. As much as I want to say "what if..." the reality is that she was doing all the right things with medical care and support and vulnerability, but it wasn't enough. I wish an extra measure of friendship from me or love from anyone else could have changed the story, but we're not the authors of this. We did all we could, and so did she. Please don't talk in hushed tones about the choice she made. Please. In her darkness, she couldn't see choices anymore; if she had seen another way, I know my friend well enough to know she would have chosen it. Just as someone can succumb to breast cancer despite all the best treatments and deepest will to survive, my friend succumbed to another terrible disease, one called depression. 

If you are struggling, tell someone. Seek help. Find a therapist. Talk to a doctor about whether or not medication might be a good option for you. Risk trusting friends to be faithful to you, even when smiles are hard and burdens heavy. 

I've done all of those things in the past year - for myself and my family, but also in honor of Melinda - and I'm better for it. If you need encouragement in taking the next step toward healing, let me know. I'm here for you. 

(If you are in a similar place as my friend was and don't know what to do, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is one good option. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting "START" to 741-741. You are precious, and your life is worth fighting for.)

Monday, February 15, 2016


I've been walking down memory lane a lot lately. During one of those strolls, I pulled out my old literary magazine from high school and came across this:

by Shannon Saunders (my maiden name)

She smiles, laughs in public;
the whole world thinks she's happy.

She goes home, and the tears come;
Her mask of ebullience falls to the floor.
I wrote the poem in middle school. As if those years weren't challenging enough, I went to three different schools in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades respectively. I tried on different facades in each: the extroverted Blossom-wannabe who petitioned the principal to allow hats as part of the dress code in sixth grade, the more withdrawn poet in seventh grade who wrote the lines above (and many others verses that aren't fit for public consumption, because most of my middle school scrawl was, well, more middle school-ish), and the bubbly eighth-grade cheerleader who also sported a collection of flannel shirts and pretended to care as much as her boyfriend did when Kurt Cobain died.    

Then I submitted the poem to be published in high school. I had chosen one primary mask by then: perfection. If I could be smart enough in advanced classes, fast enough in the pool, well-written enough in the school paper, dramatic enough on stage, skilled enough on the golf course, godly enough at church, and spirited enough in student government, I'd matter. That's what I thought, at least. I remember spending hours trying to choose the right quote that would show that I was worthy, wanting something witty with a pop culture reference but settling for a verse I hoped would convey that I was good enough. 

Now, as a grown woman, the words of my younger self's poem still resonate. As I wrote last week, striving for enough-ness is still a thing for me. Wearing masks can be too, even though I wrote a year ago about wanting to be a truth teller rather than a mask wearer.


My masks are falling. I'm confronting the lies of scarcity I've been telling myself. I'm wearing bright colors of nail polish and setting up a home office of my own for the first time ever and trusting friends in a whole new way and considering running more 5Ks and connecting more deeply with Lee and... well, I might call it a mid-life crisis except I'm only 33 and hope to live past 66. So let's call it my 1/3-life crisis, k?

Or maybe not a crisis at all. Maybe I'll go with breakdown spiritual awakening, a la Brené Brown. (Side note: if you haven't read her stuff, start here and then here and then here. You're welcome.)

Whether it's a crisis or breakdown or awakening, this walk down memory lane has been good for me. It's nice to finally be growing up from that middle school girl who wrote about pretending.

Monday, February 8, 2016

what my youngest daughter taught me about grief

I opened the email and might have uttered a cuss word under my breath. It had already been quite a week. The news that our daughter's hippotherapy pony had unexpectedly passed away?

Not what I wanted in my inbox.

I seriously considered not telling her. I just didn't want to deal with that.

At least, not this week.

But honesty is one of my core values, so I couldn't stomach telling a lie when we arrived at her session that day and she asked where her favorite equine friend was.

An hour before therapy, I sat down next to her chair. I asked her to turn off her tablet. I looked into her deep brown eyes through her petite pink frames, and I took a deep breath.

"Today, you're riding, but you won't be riding Rambler."

She looked away and started to pout.

"I'm sorry, Zozo. Rambler is dead. You won't get to ride him anymore."

She grabbed her tablet and threw it at me. Then she grabbed the lone goldfish cracker left on her tray and flung it too. I tried to make eye contact again, and she grunted "NO!"

I told her she'd probably get to ride Peanut, the pony she rode the first time.

She said, "No," still not looking at me.

"No ride. No Rambler. No ride."

Then her lower lip pooched out, and the sobs began.

I held her. We cried together. Eventually, she calmed down.

We went out to the barn, not sure how she would handle it.

I second guessed my decision to tell her, wondering if a lie would have been so bad after all.

We got there. She saw Peanut. She told her therapist, "I ride Peanut. No ride Rambler. Rambler dead."

I might have cried a little. But that wasn't the moment that will be forever embedded in my soul.

After her session, I said, "See Zoe. It's sad that Rambler is dead, but it's okay because you got to ride Peanut. That was fun, right?"

As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them. I hate when people try to wrap hard things in pretty packages instead of being willing to dwell in the discomfort, but that's exactly what I was trying to do. I winced at my own hypocrisy.

"No," Zoe said again. "No. It sad Rambler dead. I like Peanut. But it not okay Rambler dead. It sad Rambler dead. Rambler my friend. Peanut my friend but Rambler my friend. And Rambler dead."

"I like Peanut. But I sad Rambler."

Not either/or. Both/and.

Amen, sweet girl.

RIP, Rambler.