Author Archives: leahpeah

Accidental Racism, Intentional Activism

Previously posted at Medium here.

This is possibly one of the most complicated things I’ve ever written. That’s not because I shy away from tough subjects. I’ve been writing online since 2002, contributed to books and other publications, and written two of my own books discussing things like religion, politics, and mental illness.

This is more complicated than all of those because going deep into my history to look at things I’ve always viewed one way, but now realize the very foundation I grew from, and have stood atop, is different than I knew, different than I counted on to support me, is understandably scary.

My people are religious, conservative, patriotic Republicans. Defending the constitution and our country is synonymous with living a Christlike life. We are “Good People,” salt of the earth. It would be easy to shorten this entire piece to, “I Now Realize My Dad Is Racist,” but that wouldn’t be the whole story. It wouldn’t feel fair, while technically true. And it wouldn’t explain how easy it is to be racist and not know it.

Let me tell you one version of my dad. This version of Dad is in his mid-eighties and is happening now. He’s still physically fitter than some his age. He can climb the stairs with some help. He enjoys the outdoors and has a walk every day. He does not know my name, nor who I am, and can’t utter more than a few syllables of any word because he can’t recall how to say them. He sometimes has a soft chuckle that dissipates as soon as it hits the air around his lips. He is mostly pleasant and amiable and we appreciate that because we’ve heard stories of dementia or Alzheimer’s patients who are combative at this stage.

Dad chokes on his food and we all stop, frozen in place, conversation suspended mid-sentence, mid-chew, until the danger passes. We do not welcome the day he won’t be here with us anymore, while at the same time, accepting it will be sooner rather than later. We speak well of him, always, because to do otherwise would be disrespectful and he was, and is, a good man. We make an effort not to speak of him in the past tense, as in, “Dad used to love that, didn’t he,” because he seems more gone than here sometimes, even while sitting across from you at the table.

An earlier version of Dad, from 1986, is the one that sends me to John Birch Society Camp where I learn about communism and how white people should be smarter than believing Black people could ever be a part of white society, because Separate But Equal is correct and a combined society is a communist plot that Black folks are just not smart enough to understand.

This version gets the Phyllis Schlafly Report every month in the mail. It’s the one who pulls out his Dancin’ Sam to entertain the grand kids, a black-face-painted wooden puppet with legs and arms that go round and round, swinging to the beat, while he slaps the paddle under its feet, insisting it dance. This version of Dad will weep at a patriotic song, is a member of the local Mormon Battalion reenactment group, and rides the lead horse while wearing full regalia in the parade. He is strong and charismatic. He sings loudly, beautifully, and plays the piano with gusto. He puts up flags along the main streets before dawn on the 4th of July, Pioneer Day, and other holidays. He recites poetry, loves the Founding Fathers, and is the hardest-working person I know. He’ll give you a quarter if you can make him laugh. He’ll pay you a dollar if you memorize and recite a poem.

This version of my dad is well-beloved by the small town we live in. He’s a doctor and doesn’t turn anyone away who can’t pay, including the Native Americans from the reservation, and his office holds pottery, sand paintings, and textiles he’s taken in trade for life-saving procedures when they insist on giving him something.

He’s a public servant. He picks up trash along the side of the road in his “spare time,” of which he has none, but which he seems to find anyway. He speaks fondly of his mother and the dog he had as a child. He loves little children. He is faithful to my mother. He strives to provide well for his family. He tries to help us all understand how to work hard. I watch him speak in church, eyes shining with the Spirit, and witness the people who come up to thank him after services. He is uncomfortable with the praise. He’s a humble man. Everywhere I go in town, people know my dad and love and respect him. He would tell you the KKK was a terrible, hateful organization.

An even earlier version of my dad is from the late 1930s. He’s got a younger brother and they are best friends. They swim in the canal next to the orchard they take care of. They don’t have running water in the house, which has dirt floors. They are very poor. He stares out at me from the black and white photo, both of them wearing swim trunks held up with rope, skinny arms and dark eyes, choppy hair. They live among the citrus trees in Arizona, a place very few people call home, let alone minorities.

Going through my father’s photo albums, which he, himself, has meticulously created over the years, I see him grow up from a skinny child who is mostly limbs, to a young adult sporting a crew-cut and who looks cooler in faded jeans and a checked shirt while holding a couple of cats than anyone could ever hope to.

And then I flip the page and freeze, I stop breathing, as I see a newspaper piece, carefully cut out and pasted on the thick album paper with rubber cement. “Minstrel’s Cotton Blossom Sextet” the headline says, and the image shows three couples in blackface and costumes, including my father, who is getting ready to be “Moe” in a song and dance routine at his college. The year is somewhere in the late 40s or early 50s.

How do I reconcile this man? My heart feels heavy and complicated. Is it obvious I love him? Because I do. I want to excuse his behavior. I want to tell him how hurt I am seeing this. I want to tell him how disappointed I am that he didn’t teach me better. I want to protect him from anyone who might think ill of him. I understand on an even deeper level how complicated people are and how they are many things at once. He is the dad I love and also deeply flawed in this way.

Here’s what I think I know about my dad: he is at once both racist and not, or in other words, he’s accidentally racist. You could replace “accidentally” with other words like ignorant, oblivious, thoughtless, and indifferent and you wouldn’t be wrong. This doesn’t excuse it, but it does help explain how an otherwise compassionate man could also be racist. And, I think when looking from this vantage point, anyone could examine themselves and see where they might be doing the same thing. We have to be fearless in truly seeing ourselves.

My Dad has the disadvantage of his upbringing. He has unexamined bias and prejudice. He would also give anyone the shirt off his back, if they needed it. He used his medical training to help everyone, no matter their skin color, or if they had the ability to pay. He is kind and wants to help others, which is why he became a doctor. He lived in Puerto Rico for two years and continued to talk about how much he loved the people there. And he grew up in, and continued to live in, areas where minorities were mostly hidden on reservations or in neighborhoods he didn’t go to often.

He listened to extreme-right Republican political talking heads. His patriotism and racism somehow converged to be one and the same. Taking care of his own family and his own country came first. He would carelessly talk about another race, not understanding how what he was saying was so hurtful. But then, he would get up at 3am and race to help someone who wasn’t white, at no cost to them, because he loved everyone.

My discomfort with extreme patriotism starts to become clearer as I look through his albums of photos and newspaper clippings. I have never understood my father’s ability to cry while talking about the Founding Fathers or while listening to a patriotic song. I do not feel it as he does. I love my country, yes, but I don’t believe we are The Best and The Only who deserve freedom or a livable wage or all the best toys. Running water. Electricity. Peace. Equality. And I regret the way white people go into other countries and replace the local customs and rituals and spirituality with our white versions, as if ours are better than theirs.

I’d like to think that if he was still of sound mind I could talk this over with him, reason with him, and he would tell me he regrets the racism he participated in and perpetuated by not thinking very hard about it. I’d want him to tell me that he sent me to JBS camp to learn more about how the USA meddles in foreign affairs and less because he wanted me to believe that white people know better than other races. I’d want him to tell me that he’d changed and evolved over the years and that he was proud of me for changing and evolving, too. That anyone could change and evolve if they understood and wanted to.

But, what if he didn’t? What if he told me he thought being in blackface in a college skit was hilarious? That his Dancin’ Sam was just good, family fun? What did he think about civil and social justice in 2000 or 2005 before his mind began to fade? What would he think now of a President Trump? And for the first time in years I’m maybe glad I can’t talk to him because I’m afraid of his answers. I’m a coward.

***

It feels impolite to speak of my father this way. He’s still alive but unable to explain himself, although I would hope he wouldn’t feel attacked. I choose to speak of him and share these things because I know I’m not the only one. I am a part of a generation who came from a generation who was accidentally or purposefully racist. The times, they were a’changin’.

You had to pick a side in the 60s. You were either promoting equality or you weren’t, right? But, what if you lived in a white town, in a white state, in a white part of the country, and it didn’t seem real to you because there was no one to defend, or stand up for, where you lived? It’s the difference between belonging to the KKK, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., or simply being on vacation while the 60s happened. Privileged, yes. But I’d like to believe it wasn’t malicious.

I was born in the 70s, and where I grew up, everyone was white. I lived in a white town, in a white state, in a white part of the country, and race things didn’t seem to apply to me. We were all accidental racists. And I raised my kids accidentally racist, because they had my example and carelessness and misunderstanding about how other people lived. I accept my part and my laziness, which my white privilege affords me, but I am angry, so angry, at the part public education, with textbooks provided from Texas, played in my ignorance.

It’s not that my kids never had friends who weren’t white. They did. But I didn’t teach them about what that meant, because I didn’t know. I didn’t see color. I treated everyone the same. God loves everyone the same, I said on numerous occasions.

***

About ten years ago, a few years after I had realized just the beginnings of a justice awakening, in that place where you understand theoretically why something is wrong but before you feel it inside yourself, I was with my husband around a campfire when someone told a racist joke. I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t laugh. I looked down. I said nothing. My husband loudly asked why that person felt that joke was appropriate. An awkward silence followed. I was simultaneously mortified and exhilarated. I didn’t know you could do that, just speak right up and pin someone to the nasty thing they had said, with no apology.

I felt proud to be his wife in a way I couldn’t explain. I grabbed his hand. I still didn’t dare look those people across the fire in their eyes, but I learned something so valuable that day.

***

When Ferguson happened, I was sad and angry, but I wasn’t lit. I didn’t look around, horrified, and jump into action. I looked around, saddened, drank my coffee, and prayed. I followed the news. I left comments on Facebook threads. I gave my condolences. I hoped that the fighting would stop and that people wouldn’t get hurt anymore, while not understanding anything about why it was happening and that it can’t stop until people like me take part. Black Lives Matter confused me.

I am the white person who learned, agonizingly slowly, why it mattered that Black people were getting mowed down carelessly or with great malice and with no justice.

When Orlando happened, it hit closer to home. I’m bisexual, and I felt those deaths in my bones. I wept. I wanted to DO something. And some of those people were Black and I read a piece by a Black queer man asking why more people cared about Orlando than Ferguson, which broke his heart because they were all his people.

Maybe because I was in a fragile state when I read his piece, it made it possible for me to be open to hearing everything he wrote. I really took it in. I felt it deeply. And I asked myself some tough questions.

Why do I say I love everyone equally and think about them as my brothers and sisters and yet do nothing to help them in a real and physical sense?

Why didn’t I speak up louder, more forcefully, unmistakably, when someone made a racist joke to say I didn’t find it funny and name it — Racist?

What kind of a friend was I to my friends of color if I didn’t have empathy for their stories and pain? Why was I afraid to witness with them the horrors they and their families had lived through?

What good was my caring heart and my tears if they didn’t lead to action?

Why didn’t I know my own history?


***

I felt ashamed when I understood how accidentally racist I had been my entire life. That shame lasted the better part of a week, during which I cried a lot and read a lot and watched a lot of documentaries and sent a few apology emails and messages to some of my friends of color.

The responses I received were varied, but the main point expressed over and over again was simply, “Thanks or whatever, but don’t apologize. Get busy and change things.

Stop being accidentally racist and be an Intentional Activist.

And still, I did not really change. I learned more. I accepted reality further. I sat with feeling uncomfortable. But my life, for all intents and purposes, was exactly the same and stayed that way for months longer.

***

I recently had a post go viral. Thousands of people read something I wrote about listening with empathy to People of Color without getting defensive and hundreds watched the follow-up video where I tried to answer the question that had been hitting my inbox several times a day, mostly from people of color, “Leah, why do you care about social and civil justice? What happened to make you care?”

They were looking for a story. An incident that happened to change my heart. A defining moment where I went from racist to activist. A reason to trust me.

Even after asking myself the hard questions and answering them as honestly as I could after the Orlando shooting incident, I didn’t spur into action until November 9, 2016, the day after Trump was elected as our next president, because finally, finally, it affected me more than I could ignore.

My white privilege had protected and cocooned me and if Hillary Clinton had become our president, I doubt I would be the activist I am now. And for that I will always be sorry, because what I’ve learned since then is that it has always been affecting me, I was just too lazy to notice. I was a Good Person. I just wasn’t a very great one or a socially conscious one or a truly and thoroughly kind one or an empathetic or awake one or one willing to have the tough conversations even when people I love get uncomfortable.

The knowledge of the massacres and obliteration of tribes of Native Americans didn’t change me. Mostly because in many Christian religions, including the one I was raised in, this land was foreordained and promised as a gift to the white colonialists who “conquered” it. God saved it for them. There is so much in that seed of propaganda that dissecting it would take years.

The knowledge of the way our government routinely used people of color here in the USA and around the world as guinea pigs for medical treatments and medical experiments didn’t change me because I thought it was long before my time. It’s not. It still happens.

The knowledge that this country was built on slavery didn’t change me because I didn’t know what that meant. Not really. It was abstract and I believed it was all over and besides, I hadn’t been a part of all that. The new racial caste system, the school-to-prison pipeline, wasn’t a thing I understood.

The knowledge that the KKK lynched people of color didn’t change me because the KKK and other white supremacy organizations were mostly long-gone before I was born. Only, they weren’t. They never left and they’re coming back stronger than ever and with 2000% less shame than before.

The knowledge that unarmed Black people are killed while white people are given a thousand chances, coddled, and brought in for questioning even when they are heavily armed bothered me, but it did not change me, because I did not witness the pain of my friends of color. I prayed for them. I did not feel it with them.

These and dozens of other things did not change me.

It took a maniacal, sexist, misogynistic, xenophobic, selfish, catastrophically under-qualified white man, who reminded me of some people I grew up with, for me to finally change.

***

I recently watched the film, I Am Not Your Negro, which is done in James Baldwin’s own words and TV clips. It’s a film that captures you immediately with the truth and does not let you go until the credits begin to roll. It’s a piece of genius by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck. You need processing time after this film. You need to weep, witness horrors, and then get back to work.

Mr. Baldwin says something near the end of the documentary, after he’s called out our moral apathy, which should go straight to the heart of any Christian unwilling to get involved in this fight.

He says,

“What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.”

I have been pondering this deep and hard. In my health & wellness work, so much of the emotional processing a person does is about how they feel about their place in their family, in their community, in their churches and all the places where we see Othering.

I was the Other in my family. Many people who I work with were or are their family’s Other. History tells us tribes have always had Others as ways to make the core part of the tribe, the Inside People, feel stronger. Ostracizing those who won’t follow tribe rules makes everyone else feel like keeping the rules in the future.

Tribes survive by conquering their enemies. It’s a matter of life and death. And if we don’t have enemies, we create them because it feels good to band together. It’s not just the smaller tribes, it’s our own country’s way to go to war to bring the American people all to the same side when a current administration feels like they need that.

Dear White People — why have we done this Othering to People of Color? Why do we need someone to hate and oppress? Why have we not evolved past our ancient tribe dynamics to a place where we can accept all as equal and repair with equity the tragedies we’ve perpetrated? Are you willing to give anything up so that others can have what they need?

When will we have enough wealth, property, things, and status that we no longer have to try and hold on to it with our talons, never sharing the good stuff we’ve accumulated and making sure no one else can get close?

Can we be honest with ourselves? Can we move past being simply “Good People” and be truly good? Can you stop being an accidental racist and move into being an intentional activist?

Like my mom used to always say after I’d accidentally hurt my younger brother many times in one day, “Leah, you have to mean NOT to, if you don’t want to hurt someone. It’s not enough to say sorry after repeatedly hurting them on accident. Do better.

***

I’m currently writing a book about Unconventional Gratitude. Would you like support me? Click here to watch the video.

Viral Facebook Post – Hi There, White Friends

This post went viral on Facebook. As I post this, the counts are: 10.4k+ shares, 3.4k+ comments, and 20k+ reactions. Here is the full text. At the bottom you’ll see a video where I answer some of the most common questions that came my way in response to this post.

__________

Hi there, white friends. I want to talk to you for just a minute and I’m going to be using the CAPS to highlight, not to yell.

I see you out there, marching and trying to be better than you were last year, last month, last week, yesterday. I see you trying to figure out how to be an ally to the Black community and to other marginalized groups. I’m doing that, too.

And, then I see you read something from a person who is expressing their hurt and anger, one of our Black sisters, and your old programming comes right back up *bloop* and it’s hard to not just grab those old feelings and put them right back on. Because you’re trying, right? You’re out there, right now, doing what you can and trying to change. So you get angry. You get frustrated. And you say, “Well, why even try then, because I can’t do anything right.” And then you post something like that on your FB wall and you get all the comfort, outrage, and support from your friends who say, “Yeah! You’re a good person!”

Stop. Just stop. Our Black sisters and other marginalized friends have every right to be angry and frustrated and impatient and sarcastic or anything else they want to be. Because they are expressing THEIR LIVED EXPERIENCE. And if there’s one thing you don’t want to do while trying to be an ally/interrupter/co-conspirator, it’s crap on someone who is sharing how upset they are that we, as white women, have been no-shows for centuries and now still have a tendency to make everything about ourselves. This is OLD PROGRAMMING that pops right back up and our instinct is to center ourselves. This does not make you bad, it makes you a white person who has lived in privilege your entire life and it makes you have to pay attention and apologize a lot when you mess up.

The best thing you can do is take in all those feelings coming from our sisters who are hurting and angry and OWN IT. Remind yourself that yes, you’re trying because THIS is how they feel. You’re doing what you’re doing because it’s RIGHT and it’s how humans with empathy and sympathy and a working heart should live their lives once they figure it out. Not because all the Black women are going to magically start appreciating you. They owe you NOTHING. Mark the date on your calendar when you’ve got as many days under your belt being awake as you did being asleep, and then, maybe, start being a tiny bit impatient when others don’t recognize your efforts. My own date is June 17, 2061. I will be 91.

I tell you this with sincere love in my heart because I KNOW you’re trying. Sit in the discomfort of these moments. It’s ok to not feel comfortable. That’s how lots of people around the world live their lives every single day. Comfort is not our goal. Equality is. <3

 

EDITED AGAIN: Get the Tshirt here.

 

EDITED: I can’t keep up with the commenting but please know I’m appreciating them all. I had to ban a few people in the last hour who were not here for the vibes I’ve offered. Let me just say clearly that all are welcome unless you hate. Hate is not welcome in this space.

 

_____

Response Video is here.

Example Letter – Phyllis

Update: I’ve moved my campaign to GoFundMe! Welcome.

You’ve probably heard of the campaign I’m running over on Kickstarter for my new book, Unconventional Gratitude. It’s a collection of letters to important women in my life and a reminder to look for ways to overcome getting caught in the downward swirl of depression in these trying times. So, if you’re sitting unshowered in your jimmy-jams on the couch unable to make sense of the world outside, but you did get to eat a donut sometime earlier, so at least you have that going for you – this book is for you.

I’m the last person to take your hard-earned money for granted. 2017 will be a lot of things, but it probably won’t be the year we all have dolla-dolla-bills to throw away. You should know what you’re getting for your money. So, to that end, please accept my example below.

I’ve considered long and hard what letter to share with you before the book at large is finished, and it’s been tough because I love so many. I’ve decided I want to share the one I wrote to my mother-in-law, Phyllis, who is no longer with us on this earth, but who remains one of the very best humans I’ve ever known.

—–

Dear Phyllis,

A bird pooped on my head the day I met you.

I probably should have had major anxiety meeting my boyfriend’s parents for the first time for so many reasons. I was divorced and had kids that didn’t live with me. I had been in mental hospitals. I knew you thought I was an ex-member of a cult because you didn’t understand Mormonism. And I chose to wear a two-piece swimsuit to the beach despite my tattoos. But I had this sense of optimism about that day for really no good reason. I was in love with your son and he was happy and I supposed that would be enough. I didn’t know then that you and Joe weren’t as close as you hoped and that he didn’t share things with you like I did with my own family. I didn’t realize you didn’t know very much about who I was or how he felt about me.

We met at Coronado Beach. You and Jim had flown out from Virginia and we thought we’d meet out at the beach for lunch. It was a lovely day. The air was warm but not too hot. The water was beautiful. And I remember smiling a lot.

When a seagull flew overhead and pooped on me, I was taken by surprise. I’d been to the beach plenty of times and that had never happened. You laughed and said it was good luck while you helped me clean it out of my hair and off my shoulder. You were sure you’d read somewhere that it meant good things ahead. I thought you were making that up to just to make me feel better, but I found out later it was true.

Joe and I eloped for our wedding. I know that hurt your feelings and I’m sorry. After several dates were thrown out that not everyone could make, Joe and I decided to just take the kids to Vegas and get married without anyone else there. I think partly I just wanted to get it over with after the difficulties we had getting that far in our relationship.

Five years later we planned on having a big party so that anyone who wanted to come celebrate with us would have that chance, but when that date got closer, Joe and I were living through the shakiest part of our relationship and we didn’t really feel like partying so we canceled it. Long story short, we never got to celebrate our marriage with you and I always felt sad about that.

I know this won’t make up for everything, but I’d like to tell you about how it all happened, how Joe and I got engaged and then married. This is the stuff I would have shared with you if I would have known how back then.

The first time Joe asked me to marry him, we were in Krispy Creme. I’d never seen the way the donuts were made and he wanted to show me. He mentioned that maybe in the future he would ask me to marry him dozens of times instead of just once. I asked him how I would know when the real one was, but he didn’t have a good answer.

“I don’t have a ring yet,” he had whispered.
“I guess I’ll know the real one because you’ll have one,” I replied.

Joe pulled the ring off his Alta Dena milk lid and wrapped it around my finger a couple of times. “Will you marry me?” I nodded yes and then we left and drove home.

The second time Joe asked me it was 10:42 on an ordinary Sunday evening. Earlier that day, we had gone to see the film Garden State using passes someone gave us for Christmas. After the movie, we went to the bookstore to get the soundtrack, but they didn’t have it.

We sat down in the little coffee shop adjacent to the bookstore and wrote out the groceries we needed on the back of a brown paper napkin along with what we guessed they would cost. In the end, we ended up spending $8.72 less than we thought we would, even after we picked up the cat food for Basilone, which we had forgotten to put on the list.

When we got home, we baked fish in beer and lime juice and had left over potatoes. Joe sliced a tomato so we’d have a vegetable plus a splash of color. (I think he gets that from you.)

After dinner, Joe ran to the corner store to grab a chocolate bar for dessert. He broke off a piece of the Hershey’s with Almonds, handed it to me, and then tore off a piece of the inner foil wrapper. He made it long and thin and rolled it a few times. He grabbed my hand and wrapped the foil twice around my finger. He looked into my eyes.

“Will you marry me?”
“Sure.”

I almost missed the third time when he asked me a few weeks later. We were cooking together and he slipped a slice of tomato on my finger. I laughed so hard I didn’t hear him say the words and he had to repeat them. I said yes.

The fourth time he asked, we really asked each other. First, we fought. He was frustrated that I was moving to be closer to my kids several hours away. He didn’t want me to move and he realized he was mostly asking me to marry him so I would stay or let him come with me. After we talked long into the night, we decided getting married made more sense than breaking up. After all, we did love each other.

Two days later we went to the swap meet and got a buy-one, get-one deal on two silver rings. We made plans to move together up north and he started looking at jobs. As you probably guessed, the reason we had such a hard time our first five years was partly because of how we started– a little rushed and trying to stay ahead of the uncomfortable wave we felt coming.

And then, one day a couple of weeks later, we were driving to Las Vegas in two vehicles, with four kids split between us, with our hopes and dreams crammed into the backs of my car and his truck, along with our fancy clothes bought special, and the blue cooler containing a plastic bread bag filled with egg salad sandwiches.

By the time we got to Vegas it was evening and we looked around for a chapel that looked right (and open). Nothing stood out, so we went to the hotel where we found the Stained Glass Wedding Chapel pamphlet in the foyer and booked a time slot later that night for 9pm.

The chapel sent a limo to pick us up, which might have been the only fun part for the boys. I had let Alexandra pick the wedding colors for us, so the boys had on pink ties and/or shirts. Everyone was being a good sport.

I don’t know if I can adequately convey the surprise I felt when we entered the chapel and a tiny woman, about four feet tall, wearing a ton of stage makeup, platform shoes, and a platinum silver wig greeted us and then walked behind the pulpit, stepped up on a footstool so she could clear the top, and proceeded to marry us. I don’t remember one word of what she said and we laughed pretty hard about it later while eating steaks after midnight at a casino buffet, ties loosened, pantyhose removed, and the pressure finally off.

People often say they don’t have regrets because the things they’ve gone through have made them what they are today, and they wouldn’t want to change that. But, for me, this is a regret. If I could go back, I would change it. I would be more patient and wait until all our family could be there to celebrate with us. I wouldn’t be in such a hurry, worrying about Joe maybe deciding not to marry me after all. I would wait. And see. And hope.

By the time we came and lived with you and Jim in Virginia six years later, Joe and I were separated but not wanting to get divorced. I’m sure it was uncomfortable for you, but you asked me if I wanted to sleep in a different room than him, which I appreciated. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and kindness.

Phyllis, that year we lived with you was, well, I’m trying to find the right words. It was amazing and hard and worthwhile and I’m so glad we did it. Relationships of all kinds healed while we were there. You thanked me so many times for, as you put it, bringing your son back to you. It didn’t matter how many times I insisted it had nothing to do with me.

You were such an amazing example to me. You were exquisitely beautiful at living and then graceful at dying.

I was your companion during the last part of your life on this earth, a role I was happy to have then and still feel lucky to have had to this day.

I offered to do chores and help around the house, cook meals, that sort of thing. You took me up on fixing dinners a couple of times a week, but you wouldn’t let me clean, even when the chemo was putting you through the ringer.

One time I came upstairs and you were rolling around in the kitchen on a chair with wheels, pushing yourself around with the mop from place to place, your ankles crossed and legs pulled up out of the way. You tipped your head back and laughed when I saw you. Your feet were in such severe pain from chemo that you could hardly walk and sometimes you would crawl on your hands and knees to get from room to room. I begged you to let me mop for you and you got serious and told me no, because you loved taking care of your home and your family. It was your great joy to serve and do things for them. It filled you up, you said.

On good days, we went shopping together or walked in the mall in the mornings. A Frank Sinatra or Michael Bublé song would come on while we were in the car and you’d start to snap your fingers and bop your head, humming along, a huge smile on your face.

No matter where we went, people knew you. Roanoke’s population is about 98,000 (I know because I just looked it up.) so the likelihood of someone knowing you every time we left the house seems slim, and yet it happened. And they didn’t just know you, they loved you and would tell me a story about how you had helped them in some way or how you’d done something for them. You always brushed it off as no big thing, just a small thing, but I tell you, you did “just small things” for a lot of people and it’s a big thing to all of them.

Watching you watch your morning television shows was possibly the best part of the day. You got such a kick out of Regis and Kelly followed by Kathie Lee and Hoda. “Kathie Lee used to be on the Regis show, but now she’s with Hoda,” you’d tell me, which I knew, but I liked it when you reminded me. We watched every type of award show together until you started falling asleep if it went on very late. You loved the fancy dresses and hairdos.

You were a devout Christian. Once, before Joe and I were married, when you stayed with us in our little house in Golden Hill, you walked in the door about the time I was getting up. I asked how the outside world was and you told me it was fabulous. You’d already gone on a walk, picked up some things around the house, and attended mass around the corner. You got up early pretty much every morning I ever spent with you, even on your hard days in the middle of your treatments.

Your devotion to God was an important example for me. We both married men who don’t believe in structured religion, let alone a specific Higher Power, but you never let that stop you from your fierce defense of your beliefs. You made no excuses. You didn’t argue. You just believed. Several years later, I would try and do impressions of what I thought you might be like when I went back to church. It was hard to go by myself, but I remembered how you never let that stop you. You went because you wanted to be there, not because of who was going with you. Thank you for showing me how to do that.

Your positivity was challenging for me for many years. You just always, no matter what, looked for the bright side. There I was, a depressed person by my chemical makeup, and you would not let me wallow. You would send me cards in the mail with messages of love and hope along with pictures of Joe when he was little. You’d send me an email after I would write a particularly downer of a blog post and especially if it had to do with suicidal thoughts, you’d tell me how loved I was. Once I sent you a thank you note for your kindness in reaching out and you then sent me a thank you note for my thank you note.

You used lots of exclamation points in your emails but it didn’t seem gratuitous because that’s actually how energetic and positive you were in real life. Seven to fifteen exclamation’s worth of positivity. You were so full of gratitude for every new day and that gratitude spilled out into everything else. Life’s too short, you’d tell me, so live every day to the fullest.

One time in your living room, I was sitting on the couch and you were in that chair by the window that you loved, covered with a super-soft blanket. This was just a couple of weeks before you slipped into the coma you’d never come back from. We were talking about life and more specifically your life, and you told me that you truly loved everyone, even Hitler. I laughed at that declaration because you said it almost like it surprised you, and I actually think it might have.

You told me that everyone was doing the best they could, even someone like Hitler and you really believed that God loved all of us because we were his children even when we did bad things. You said you weren’t afraid to die. You said your children were everything to you and that your husband was the love of your life. You said you used to have regrets but not anymore because you’d let them all go. And you said you hoped all of us would be happy. I didn’t know what to say so I just got up and gave you a hug, which was a little awkward because I’m an awkward hugger, but you pretended not to notice.

I think the bird pooping on my head the first time I met you was lucky, Phyllis, because I later had a year of my life that I got to spend with you. Thank you for your example of believing it’s a privilege to take care of your family. Thank you for showing me how to live and die with so much courage and love and beauty. Thank you for all the laughter. So much laughter.

I love you.
Leah

Support the campaign here.

Kickstarter: The Unconventional Gratitude Book!

UPDATE: This Kickstarter did not successfully fund. Please join me at the new location of this project: on GoFundMe.

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Do you like making the best out of a terrible situation (after you’re done feeling crappy and working through your feelings)? Then, have I got a book for you!

Unconventional Gratitude is my way of saying thank you to many important women in my life. You might know some of them! My gratitude to them is interwoven with my life story in something called an epistolary memoir, which sounds lofty, but which is, in fact, just me trying to find an excuse to come to a city near you and hang out and tell some of these women in person how much I appreciate them. (Stretch goals!)

If you’ve got a little time, please click to watch the video. Share it with your friends! And happy birthday to me!

Also, don’t miss the updates here.

Bisexual White American Female

It’s December 22, 2016. I’ve just written my mom an email.

The contents of this email include me breaking her heart. I’ve thought of a dozen reasons not to write it and fought with myself about it for over two months but at the end of this day, I will go to sleep knowing she knows the truth. The peace I feel from that thought engulfs me and I hit send.

*****

I’m eight. I was just baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I’ve been waiting for this day because ever since I can remember, I’ve been promised that on this day, the day I am baptized, I will feel 100% sinless and clean. It will be the most beautiful day I can imagine, I’m told, and I’m so lucky to be in a family that is LDS because being baptized by immersion is the only *true* way to have your sins washed away. I’ve contemplated the near disaster I avoided many times over the past year leading up to my eighth birthday. What if I had been born to another family? Or in another country where Mormons didn’t exist? What if? This thought has kept me up at night because I know I’ve done nothing to deserve this life, which means it’s completely out of my control.

As I’m raised from the water, the white zippered suit clings to me in annoying ways. I feel naked in this completely wet suit in front of several dozen people, mostly parents and family members of all the eight-year-olds getting baptized today. A tiny bit of water got up my nose, but I was careful to pinch it tightly so I wouldn’t feel like I was drowning. This is another fear that has kept me up nights for many months. What if my hand slipped off and I got water up my nose? I would cough and probably come up too soon which would require them to dunk me again, and if that happened, I for sure wouldn’t get clean enough.

I look out at the smiling faces as the water beads down my face and neck. I feel no different but maybe it just hasn’t had a chance to work yet, I think. Maybe my sins are like rubber cement and don’t come off so easy and it will take until I get dressed and then confirmed with a prayer from my dad and THEN it will take. THEN I’ll feel clean. I walk up the steps and out of the font and feel sins clinging to my ankles, trailing behind me like shadows. The things that have happened to me will never leave.

After I’ve changed into my dress, after I’ve been confirmed, after I give my dad a hug of thanks, my primary teacher asks me, Leah, don’t you feel wonderful? Don’t you feel clean? Don’t you feel the Spirit? Yes, I say, and nod my head and in that moment I realize two things. I am a liar and will always be a liar, and if I don’t feel clean right after I was baptized I won’t ever feel clean and that’s just who I am. I feel further away from God and the people in my family than ever before.

*****

I’m fifteen. I’ve been to several parties on a weekend night where most of the young men and some of the adult men in this chapel have been partying and engaging in debauchery, some of the time with my own person. It makes it very, very hard to take it seriously when I’m told these men hold the only true priesthood directly from God, the only true source on the earth today.

Hypocrites, I think. Everyone in this room including me is pretending to be something they aren’t.

It’s been a fight to get me to church for years, but now I stop going at all. I stop pretending to be good. I embrace who I am like never before. I cause trouble. I hurt my parents. I choose to be Real, no matter the cost.

I’m attracted to one of my best girlfriends and have dreams about her, but in real life I have sex with my boyfriend repeatedly and my parents send me in to talk to the Bishop. He tells me to repent and I tell him I will try. I don’t really try. My parents are beyond hurt. I’m messing up the entire family in an eternal sense. It’s too much pressure for a teenager. They send me to live with various family members to get me away from the situation. I find trouble no matter where I’m sent because that’s what I believe I am and like seeks out like. I am trouble. I will always be trouble.

*****

I meet a guy my high school junior year that seems like a straight-laced good Mormon boy. A few months later I get pregnant. A few weeks after that I get married and six months later, our son is born. On the day he makes his debut, I am seven days away from turning eighteen. I am a baby raising a baby married to a guy who is determined to be an adult. He is alone in his ability to do that.

*****

The pressure from the church to get sealed in the temple is non-stop. My husband and I finally agree and are rushed through two weekend classes with missionaries to prepare us. Our son is one and I’m pregnant with our daughter. We live in Germany and my husband is in the Air Force. Everything about our lives is new and stressful to me.

My sister and her husband fly out to be with us for the temple sealing. Everyone in my family is so excited we’re taking this next step. I’m hoping and praying that I will feel something while I’m in the temple. I’m hoping God will finally answer my prayers and bless me to feel the Spirit.

We begin in the temple by doing the Initiatory and I immediately feel violated by hands touching my naked skin. The rest of the time in the temple is a blur as the feelings of violation continue and I can’t figure out how to act right. So many memories of being abused from my childhood are swirling around in my head. I feel angry that everyone has been telling me to come and do this and I feel bewildered by every else’s lack of concern by what happens inside the temple.

I don’t go back.

*****

I drift in and out of mental stability, birthing three more children, weathering the mostly downs of a marriage created of necessity. Most of the time it takes too much will power on my part to buy into the idea that there is a God who would approve of how my life has gone down.

During one of my active church phases in 1995, I sit in the bishop’s office and listen to him tell me that I should forgive my husband his indiscretions again and if I don’t, the sin is with me. Forgive, forget, and move on, he tells me. That’s what Jesus wants you to do. Do it for your family.

I think about what he said as we drive home and I realize I won’t be able to and I literally have no idea what that means for my future. The idea of divorce doesn’t move in my circles. This is an unknown world. I will again be the person in my family who is completely different than everyone else. This isn’t a new feeling, but it doesn’t seem to get any easier as the years go on.

*****

Joe and I have been unofficially dating for two weeks. It’s October 2002 and neither of us wants to date anyone but neither of us wants to not spend time with the other person. This leads to lots of hanging out and doing nothing remotely date-like while at the same time totally dating.

It’s a Sunday and LDS conference is airing. We’re watching it together and I’m explaining that I’ve been thinking about going back to church after years away. Joe tells me he’s never going to be a Church Person. I tell him I want to be with someone who is religious. He shakes his head, no, he doesn’t think he ever will be. I start to cry. And then he starts to cry, because it’s possible we just identified a Deal Breaker even though we most certainly aren’t dating.

I’ve recently come out of a second mental hospital stay and the urge to try and fit in with my family is insistent. It’s exhausting to always be different. If I found someone religious, maybe I’d be like all of them.

Instead, I listen to my gut and start to really date Joe on the record.

*****

Joe and I are married. Our parents all come to our home for a weekend to meet. I’m struck by how vehemently his mother, Phyllis, argues in favor of Catholicism straight to my mother’s face. It’s like she believes it as much as my own mother believes in the LDS religion! My mind is blown. In all my travels, I just assumed Mormons were the only ones that truly believed theirs was the real truth or cared that much. Other people seemed to take their religion with a grain of salt. To realize that most religions believe they are also The One True Religion is information I wasn’t prepared for.

My thinking about religion and churches begins to change. I attend mass with Phyllis and get blessed by a priest. I ask one of my Catholic friends if she truly believes her church is the only true one. Of course, she says, why else would I attend?

Why else, indeed, I think. And when I extrapolate this thought to the millions of people around the world who are alive now or who have ever lived, religions begin to seem much more like tribes of people who need rules to keep them similar and give them structure than they do divine institutions created by God.

All the churches can’t be true, can they? Wouldn’t that make none of them true? And what does “true” mean, anyway? There are parallels to country patriotism here that I can’t quite put my finger on, but the negative feelings I have when people go super-mongo USA! USA! USA!!!! and how I feel when someone says their church is the only true church begin to converge.

*****

My youngest son is nine. He has not yet been baptized into the LDS church. This is causing concern for many people, none of the least being my own parents. My son isn’t sure if he believes what his teachers have been teaching him. He is a slow and methodical adopter and will not be rushed. He has gone to church sporadically over the years as I’ve ping-ponged between believer and doubter, resulting in stretches of months of non-attendance. His three older siblings have all been baptized. Eventually, he decides what the heck. Might as well. I attend the service with my husband. My ex-husband is the one who is baptizing our son. I know for a fact that he isn’t “worthy” to do it because he drinks alcohol. No one seems to care. The LDS church is full of people just like him and it no longer surprises me that so many are lying and pretending.

*****

Instead of getting divorced when things start to fall apart between us, we radically change our lives by selling all our stuff and making a plan to travel the United States. Our first stop is to visit Joe’s parents in Virginia and instead of leaving right after Thanksgiving, we move in and I become his mom’s companion for the next year.

I watch Phyllis get weaker day by day physically, but her spirit just gets stronger. She’s a beautiful example to me and I grow to love her deeply. Joe’s dad is what I would describe as agnostic and pokes a little fun at religion in general, but Phyllis never apologizes for having her beliefs. She never tries to convince anyone else she’s right. When I’m with her, I can believe, too. She just simply Is and Believes until the very end.

*****

My dad is getting older and continues to remember less and less. I go home to spend some time with them while he can still remember my name.

I’m with my mom in the basement going through boxes of old family photos. She asks me how I know Joe is faithful to me after my first marriage ended so poorly. I tell her it’s because one day early on, Joe called me from work to tell me a redheaded woman had just walked in and he was suddenly smitten with a crush. In that moment I realized he would always tell me. He wasn’t into secrets. He didn’t get off on constructing an alternate life while married to me. He immediately called me to include me. I was on the inside. He would never cheat on me and lie.

Mom asked me if I had ever had the experience in reverse. I told her about a woman I had fallen for during the period Joe and I were separated in our fifth year of marriage. I heard myself saying the words but I couldn’t believe I was actually telling my mom I had had extremely deep feelings for someone the same gender as myself. Her face was turned away from me as she bent over the box to grab another album.

But that was then, she said into the box, now you and Joe are fine. And that was true.

*****

I’m becoming Reiki certified. I finally feel things– energy and movement–and it is a type of spirituality and I embrace it. I start to understand what everyone has been talking about all these years. There is a warmth you get in your chest or a melting in your gut. I can sense movement in my hands and denseness or clearing as I work on someone else. It’s amazing. I am thankful and enamored with finally being able to talk about Feelings and know what I’ve been missing. This is a connection to my family that I’ve longed for. I can talk of spiritual things and fit in. I’m a part of It and it is delicious and satisfying.

I find God or He finds me. I’m determined to get to know Him better. I embrace the concept of being a Church Person.

*****

It’s October 2014. I’m in my quest of Reclaiming the Divine. I decide that I don’t know what I’m saying no to, so I better go back and try the LDS church back on to see if it fits me now, or if I fit within it, now that I’m older and can feel things.

I decide that if I’m going to do it, I’m going to Do It. I’ll become temple-worthy and say yes to callings and get involved in every way. Immerse myself as completely as I can.

I keep the Word of Wisdom. I throw out my inappropriate clothing. I attend church meetings. I tell my mom I’m going back to church. She is astonished. She does not believe it. She is unbelievably happy. Her prayers are literally being answered. The missionaries tell me that the rituals inside the temple have changed since I went in so many years ago. They tell me I have nothing to worry about.

On Halloween, late in the afternoon, tattoos carefully covered, I sit across from my mom on a beautiful couch in a heavenly, white room inside the St. George LDS temple and she still looks as if she can’t believe it. I smile at her. She leans forward and whispers, I didn’t think this day would ever come. Tears glisten in her eyes. Where is your faith, Mom, I whisper back jokingly to her in hushed tones. My brother, sister, and niece are beaming. I feel like I finally, truly fit in with my family.

*****

In the temple it’s quiet. For a person like me who is sensitive to mental energy, it’s such a relief from everything. White and calmness are everywhere. I step inside, and it’s peaceful. I step outside and it all comes landing back on my shoulders again. I am relieved that what the missionaries told me is true. The way things are done in the temple has changed. I don’t ever feel uncomfortable and no old, painful memories are triggered when I go. I make a goal to go weekly to enjoy the peace and freedom I feel inside.

The rituals and prayers in the temple are beautiful. There is a sense of the Sacred all around you. I sit in rooms quietly and contemplate God. I can’t seem to rectify how I believe He is with how my church describes Him. As usual, I’m quick to believe the fault must be with me and my understanding.

My God is welcoming and non-exclusionary. I don’t believe God requires special words or handshakes that only some people know to come into his presence. I push away my questions about why I continue coming and working in the temple because I fit in with my family and because I assume I must be missing something. I just don’t get It. I continue to focus on the parts I love and appreciate and not look at the parts that don’t make sense. This isn’t hard for me because I have lots of conflicting beliefs at the same time.

I simultaneously hold and believe the following two concepts: 1. Everything matters and everything I choose to say and do, or not say and not do, impacts everything else in large and small ways. I am responsible for everything I experience so if I’m frustrated and disappointed by the world, I need to fix things inside of myself. 2. I am insignificant and nothing I say or do matters in the big scheme of things because Almighty God is in control of all things and His plans won’t be thwarted by someone so insignificant as me.

It crosses my mind that this entire thing is privilege. I have the opportunity and time to sit inside holy buildings and have these philosophical thoughts when others are outside these walls simply trying to survive. That in and of itself is something I can’t make sense of.

*****

The attack in the Orlando, Florida nightclub happens. I’m devastated. I feel it inside my bones. I weep. I see posts on social media declaring that these people brought it upon themselves because they are gay. I’m sick to my stomach when I realize some of them are LDS.

In grief, I brandish my keyboard like a sword and write a Facebook post declaring that it’s no secret I’ve been in relationships with women in the past and if you believe it’s a sin then you should unfriend me immediately.

But, then I find out it has been a secret to a lot of people that I am Bisexual and I realize I haven’t been true to myself or others in my community because I Pass.

An LDS friend send me a message telling me I’m not sinning because I’m not acting on those feelings and I’m married to a man. No one would ever know if I didn’t tell them, so why tell them? I’m hurt and angry by this note but I can’t put into words exactly why because she’s right. No one would ever know if I didn’t tell them.

*****

Someone asks me if it hurts Joe’s feelings when I talk about being in relationships with women and I have to think about it. I realize what she’s asking is if it hurts him MORE than it would if all my past loves were men. Like, me being Bi is against him somehow. Insulting to him, maybe.

*****

I visit my brother and his wife. It’s the 4th of July. We’re talking about politics, which is historically a no-no given that we are on diametrically opposite ends for most things. The LDS church has recently come out with additional policy statements for how the Gay community is to be treated. Love the sinner, hate the sin remains the mandate, but now we’re going to love the sinner even better and harder and with more intensity so they really feel it. But their kids can’t be baptized until they are over eighteen to save the families from fighting and even though it’s the law of the land, if you’re in a same-sex marriage, you are apostate and will be disciplined and probably excommunicated from the church.

I ask my brother if he understands how it feels to be the person who is “the sinner” being loved, despite the sin. He tells me of course he does because we’re all sinners.

I tell my brother that I’ve been in relationships with women and been in love with women and to me, loving a woman or loving a man is the same thing. He reminds me that I was like that “before” and that those sins don’t apply to me anymore, thank goodness. I struggle with how to tell him that I’m still the same person. I’m Bisexual. That’s how I’m made. I’m married to a man who I love deeply and can’t imagine being with anyone else. But that’s not because he’s a man. It’s because he’s Joe. I “pass” because Joe is a man. No one who knows me from church would think of me as Bisexual.

I explain to my brother that there are countless people who are in relationships with someone who is the same sex as them and they are in love, married, having families. They are happy. I watch his face as he starts to understand what I’m saying. I’m telling him those people don’t feel like they are sinning. I’m telling him those people are just like me. Up until this point he has assumed that people who engaged in same-sex love and relationships knew they were sinning and doing the wrong thing. It’s almost beyond comprehension to consider that they just feel like regular people.

Later that night as I fall asleep I pray to God and ask Him how this all works. How can I know so strongly that I’m ok, that all these people who are like me are ok, and at the same time belong to a church where people like me are thought of as being wrong and sinners when they choose to be with someone who they love who is the same sex? There are no answers as I lay in bed, but I feel the string that makes me fit in with my family begin to go slack and become tenuous. I’ve tried so hard to fit in, but there is the slightest fragrance of relief I sense just outside my field of consciousness as I drift to sleep.

*****

It’s October 2016. I go in to talk to my bishop and renew my temple commitment. He asks me questions, which I recall answering two years ago, and answer the same way. I pass.

I meet with the stake president and he asks me the same questions. I answer the same way. I pass.

*****

It’s November 9, 2016. I feel hungover even though I haven’t been on a bender in many years. I’m devastated by the election results. I slept terribly. I feel crushed and worried and I’m in mourning.

Most of the people at church that next Sunday are curiously quiet. It takes me way too long to realize that’s because so many of them voted for Trump. The message is unification and moving forward. I am heartbroken and alone. I realize I haven’t done my job in declaring who I am and what I believe and decide going forward I will be different. I consider how that will work when I teach the women’s class and the lesson talks about the Proclamation to the Family and I realize this is going to be even harder than I thought it would be. How will I fit in with them and still say what I need to say? How will I bring their white privilege to their attention and help them understand how voting for Trump put so many at risk? How will I pass as a good Mormon, Relief Society Education Counselor, Temple Ordinance Worker, and still be who I feel like I need to be?

But then I realize, I don’t want to pass anymore. I’m not straight and I don’t agree with some church policies. I plan to publicly protest for the rights of marginalized people, including the gay community. It feels vitally important post-election to do whatever I can and to use my voice however I can.

I set up an appointment to speak to my bishop again and explain how upon further reflection, I can’t answer the questions the way I did originally. I need to change some of my answers. After some consideration, he asks me if there’s any way I could have my own private beliefs and support groups as I see fit, but not protest publicly, and teach the lessons as outlined in the handbook. I tell him I cannot. What seems to him to be privacy, feels to me like hypocrisy. I cannot be one thing but pretend to be another. I won’t.

My husband tries to get me to reconsider and move slower as I extract myself from my church commitments for reasons I think even he doesn’t understand. He’s seen me have a lot of joy these past two years. He’s helped me pay my tithing and made sure I got to the temple. He’s gone to church with me and sat through uncomfortable fast and testimony meetings where people of all ages speak to the congregation about why our church is the one and only true church. He’s never made fun of the sacred underwear or changes to my wardrobe. I literally can’t imagine a more supportive person. I listen to his worries and I take them to heart because he’s seen how happy I’ve been.

We eventually find our way into a tense discussion where I have to ask him to stand down. I tell him that no amount of fitting in with my family is worth living a lie that I don’t believe, and they wouldn’t want me to do that, anyway. I tell him that I don’t believe there is one true church and that the very exclusive nature of the phrase “One True Church” has the narrow-minded sticky fingers of man, not God, all over it. I reject it. My heart tells me all churches are good that bring people closer to God. That in the scriptures it talks about the Body of Christ and that’s everyone who identifies as a Christian. We all have to work together. We need to stick together. We need to accept each other. God lives in my heart and I take Him with me no matter where I go. I fit in with God and it no longer matters if I fit in with my family or not.

Life feels so incredibly short and precious to spend any of it worrying about if I’m fitting in the right way or belonging to the right church. What spectacular wastes of time those things are and what a significant amount of energy I’ve been spending on them. I renew my commitment to God to be the best person I can be and to be His hands wherever and whenever I possibly can.

I feel a weight being lifted off my shoulders. I feel a warmth in my chest. I feel a confirmation that I’m doing what’s best for me and I’m immediately engulfed in gratitude to my God.

I start writing an email to my mom.

When Donald Trump Wins

So. Donald Trump won. He won the first time with a little help from his friends and he won a second time when the Electoral College cast their votes today. That image is from when Pennsylvania voted. Just a stream of sad and mad emojis for 45 minutes across my screen.

This is our reality now. We’re living in the Trump America Reality Show. And we all have to take responsibility for it, especially if you’re a white, straight American. And I say that knowing full-well that no non-white American would think otherwise, because they have known for, oh, always, that they have to show up and fight. They haven’t had a choice.

No more petitions to email boxes that don’t have a pulse. No more phone calls to the harried staff of members of congress or state senators who are overworked and exhausted. No more mailing a ton of paper postcards to someone to make ourselves feel better. None of that matters except to make you *feel* like you’re doing something. I know because I signed all the things. I sent the postcards. I sent all the emails. And they didn’t change anything.

What You Can Do That Really Matters

Who do you know in your local government? Can you volunteer?
What are the policies that are being written? Can you help inform others?
What is happening this year in your area in regards to the LGBTQ community and their rights? Can you show up for them?
Is your city accepting refugees? Can you help tutor or acclimate them?
Is your city taking care of the homeless? Can you help do more than donate items?
Do you have a local SURJ? Can you join? Can you start a local chapter?
Is your church talking about important things? Can you speak out?
Do the schools your children attend treat hate appropriately? Can you find out?
Does your neighborhood have small businesses? Can you shop there?
Does your neighborhood have families that need support beyond Christmas? Can you become friends with them and help them all year round?
Does your family understand what’s happening in the world? Can you have tough conversations with them?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned through this last election cycle, it’s that if we don’t get really, REALLY involved in our local government and cities, we can’t do jack. It’s always been that way, but I think it’s been easier for most of us to just sit back and wait, hoping others will take the helm and then we freak out towards the end when terrible things are happening and we can’t change anything.

Trump is our president elect and there is nothing we can do about it. It’s happening. But if we all pitch in and create change in our local areas, we can change things. We can have real impact. If you’re a white person, please feel the weight of this on your shoulders. It’s appropriate. If you’re a straight person, please feel the weight of this on your shoulders. It’s appropriate. If you’re a Christian, white, male American, *please* feel the weight of this on your shoulders. It’s appropriate.

I know it would be so much easier to go back to bed and pull the covers over your head. I want to do that several times a day. But, I can’t. You can’t. It’s time to get super focused and fight harder than you ever have before.

When President Obama said we’re at our most vulnerable when we’re making enemies of each other, he was right. We’ve got to do better. Stop pointing fingers. Stop blaming each other. That ship has sailed. Start really talking.

No one is coming to save us. No one is going to make it better. This is our mess and we have to clean it up and I really think we can if we work together.

Communication 101

img_0274Growing up, my mom sat down with us every few months and taught us a new principle of conversation. It should be noted that I did not like these meetings. I wanted to watch Scooby Doo, but it was a requirement, and so I tried to quiet my interrupting voice and keep my fidgeting limbs still so I could learn about things like Reflective Listening and the Broken Record technique.

To have a conversation means to give and receive words, ideas, views, thoughts, and feelings. If I look objectively on what happens on Facebook, other social media platforms, and often in person, we aren’t having many conversations. We do a lot of Deflecting. Watch talk shows, news programs, or anything on TV where anything of importance is being discussed and you’ll see what I mean. There is hardly any real conversation happening and this is a bad thing for us as a people, as a nation. This is the world where someone like Trump thrives because truth means nothing to him or the people around him. Truth is everything and in order to find out the truth, you have to talk about things without getting defensive or dismissive so you can really hear.

Our kids soak up how we talk about others and how we treat others and then they go to school and act it out, but even more, bigger, harder, wilder. So if you’re calling people who don’t think like you do idiots at home and laughing when the talk show says they should get thrown out of the country, then they’re going to go to school and call someone an idiot, laugh at them, and then take it two steps further. Because that’s what kids do. And right now, our schools are missing empathy big time. (Help me create this empathy game for kids!) When you have 90% of teachers reporting that the increase of hate in their classrooms has skyrocketed this past month, you’ve got to pay attention. (And then consider supporting a cause that tries to help teachers know how to handle it.)

Here’s my advice to you if you’re new to this and you honestly would like to not be enemies with everyone who disagrees with you. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Just sit with it. You won’t die from this discomfort, I promise, even if it feels like you will. Be willing to suspend that NEED you feel to make a decision and just sit with the new information.

Here’s a quick rundown on some communication types: (This would look great as an illustration. Someone do that.)

Deflective


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 Why are you always exaggerating?
Person 1 I’m not! Here’s some supporting evidence that happened!
Person 2 You’re an idiot. I can’t believe you’re upset about that.
Person 1 (yelling) You don’t care about anything or anyone! You’re a terrible person!
Person 2 No, YOU’RE a terrible person.

RESULT:(And then they unfriend each other on Facebook.)

Reflective


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 Something terrible happened?
Person 1 Here’s some additional information about what happened. I’m really scared and upset!
Person 2 Wow, that sounds hard. I can see why you’re upset and scared.
Person 1 Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for that. This is terrible.
Person 2 Yeah, that sounds terrible and I can see why you feel unprepared.

RESULT: Person 1 usually leaves this conversation feeling heard by Person 2. Nothing has changed for either person, but Person 1 doesn’t feel alone.

Empathetic/Compassionate


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 What? Oh no! That sounds terrible! Tell me more!
Person 1 Here’s some additional information about what happened. I’m really scared and upset!
Person 2 I would be, too! That’s upsetting! I’m feeling upset with you!
Person 1 Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for that. This is terrible.
Person 2 How can I help you be prepared next time? What can I do to help?
Person 1 I could use help with A, B, and C. Could you do any of those things?
Person 2 Totally. I can do A and C and I bet we can find someone to do B. Let’s figure this out together.

RESULT: Both people are changed in this conversation. Ideas and feelings have been exchanged and heard. Person 1 feels supported and Person 2’s compassion has made it impossible to not help in some way. Good things come from this type of conversation.

Disagreement/Discussion


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 Tell me more about it.
Person 1 Here’s some additional information about what happened. I’m really scared and upset!
Person 2 Well, I’m hearing your concerns, but I don’t think I would be upset in your situation.
Person 1 I wasn’t prepared for that. I’m worried and upset.
Person 2 Yes, I hear that you’re worried and upset, but have you considered A, B, and C?
Person 1 No, actually. I haven’t heard about A, B, or C. Can you explain more so I understand?
Person 2 Sure. Here’s all the facts I know about it, plus here are some websites where you can read more.
Person 1 I’ve read the stuff you sent me. Thanks for the links. Because these things happened in my life and how I was raised, I don’t really agree. I’m still worried.
Person 2 Thanks for taking my opinion in to account and reading the facts I sent you. I guess we’ll disagree with each other on these points but I still think you’re a good person.
Person 1 Thanks, I think you’re a good person, too. Let’s BBQ this weekend.

RESULT: This one can go all different ways. People get really passionate. There can be yelling sometimes. But the focus stays on the issues and not the people talking. They remain human beings to each other, instead of “stupid idiots” because they don’t agree.

The thing is – we all feel like good people and we all are “good people.” (There are exceptions to this, of course, but generally…) The person who believes differently than you on a political matter is not an idiot. They are your family, a member of the human race, and if one of us is hurting, we’re all hurting.

The ONLY way to move forward is to talk together until hearts and minds are changed, and that won’t happen when we use conversation stoppers aka insults and accusations. We are actually on the same team. We all want the freedom to pursue happiness in a peaceful nation where people are thriving and prospering. How we think we should get there will vary wildly.

Speaking to someone who has different beliefs than you or comes from a different type of life than you, who is so foreign that they just don’t make sense at first is ok. It’s good. Let it feel weird. Be willing to look dumb to try and learn more. Ask questions. And when they tell you things you don’t understand, ask more questions. And then, and this is of the upmost importance, don’t discount someone else’s lived experience because it’s never happened to you.

They lived it. They’re sharing it. Receive it.

Things to remember:

1. These tips do not apply when someone is verbally abusing you. If that happens, walk away.
2. These tips do not apply if you are a person of color and you’re talking to someone who is racist. Walk away and call in your white friends.
3. These tips do not apply if you’re having a really bad day and you just need to eat brownies and watch reruns of M.A.S.H. Tell the other person you need a time out and you’ll reconvene soon.
4. It’s OK to disagree with others. It is not your job to make them change their minds. People typically need time and space for that to happen and the harder you push, they further they back away.
5. The best way to change the minds of those around you is in the example you set and this goes a frillion times more for kids watching you.
6. You will make mistakes. This is fine. This is life. We are all learning. The question is – what will you do immediately after? (Answer: apologize sincerely and then do better.)

Onward – Day 20

marmaladesunset
MARMALADE

I come to the beach
Heart deflated
Breath flat and simple.

I sit on the dune
Waves smashing
Sun bronze and dipping.

I watch the pelicans
Wings beating
Formations ebb and flow.

I soak in burnt color
God’s palette
Marmalade and scarlet red.

I brush sand off my feet
Soul infused
Life fat and possible.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

We’re on day #20 since we, the Americans, voted to put Trump in office this coming term. These past twenty days have felt like a gut-punch mixed with some invaluable family time, and a steep learning curve of about 50 degrees. Uphill. In snow. Wearing used and leaky Wonderbread plastic bags over the insoles of my Moonboots.

I chat with my friend who comes to help me deep-clean my home once a week. She tells me how afraid she is for her son in elementary school because of the violence she’s seen since the election, even in the schools. I feel helpless to do anything for her besides repeat that we are here for her, whatever she needs.

Another friend reports to me in a wooden voice how she was grabbed and shoved the other night and how the two men laughed as they left her, bruised and shaken, yelling, “Welcome to Trump’s America!” not caring who heard them, daring the night to call them on their assault. I feel scared to leave my home alone most days because of how their rudeness and brashness reminds me of how I felt during and after the assaults that happened to me.

Because of those incidents and hundreds of others, it feels like there are no more rules. I survive with rules. Rules make me feel safe, but they only work when people respect them. This America, on day #20, feels like the rules no longer apply.

I can’t stay still. I refuse to sit in my home, scared to leave. I’m deciding that to do nothing is to say I’m ok with what’s happening. And I’m totally, for sure, not ok with what’s happening. If you’d like to do something, too, you could use this website to help you get started or make your own list like mine below.

Here’s what I’m doing to insert a bit of normalcy and power back into my court:

I’m using this as a guide to make sure I’m supporting who and what I want to support: Boycott Trump, Mashable
There’s also an app that can help: Boycott Trump
Boycott companies that support the Dakota Pipeline: Collective Evolution

I’m participating in Weekly Action by using these two websites as a guide:
Weekly Acts of Resistance
What to do This Week

In an effort to never be blindsided again, I’m trying to understand all sides of the issues by consuming news from reliable sources:

Podcasts:
Hey! That’s My Hummus!
Politico’s Nerdcast
The State of Things
NYT The Run-Up
NPR Code Switch
FiveThirtyEight Politics

And to get the conservative side:
Common Sense, Dan Carlin
Dana Loesch
Glen Beck
Chris Salcedo

Websites:
BBC
PBS
Reuters
The Independent
NYT
Inside Newsletter

I signed up to help refugees in my area. Check locally and see how you can help.

And I self-care like crazy.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing. xo
(Sign up for the Vital Empathy newsletter in the sidebar and footer.)

A Mormon Speaking Out

Buckle up. It’s a long one.

Since the day of the election, I have been looking for prominent LDS people who are speaking out against what’s happening as Trump puts highly questionable people in his cabinet and violence has erupted around the country in his name. I feel pretty alone in being an LDS member and wanting to speak out about what’s happening. And with the exception of an absolutely beautiful piece by my new friend Jennifer Borget, who is a Mormon and also a Black woman, I can only find very few talking about it.

The church put out its official statement, just like they do every election year, where they remind the members of the church that we believe in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law (AOF #12). The LDS church doesn’t pick sides. I get that, although I’m not comfortable with it in all circumstances.

I’m no John Pavlovitz, but I’ll do my best.

Not everyone has been quiet. Some Mormons, like C. Jane Kendrick, voted for Hillary for the same reasons I liked her better than Trump. Some are speaking up about what they see happening now that’s similar to other regimes that went bad quickly, like this piece by Allison Czarnecki which contains this gem, “Initially when Hitler ran for office, people laughed at him. He was totally unqualified, he was crazy, and he wasn’t even considered to be a viable contender. Sound familiar?” The similarities are something to notice. Take it from this Holocaust survivor.

As I’ve asked those around me WHY don’t we talk about what’s happening right now, the bulk of responses I’ve received from loved ones have been some variations of these: “Focus on the good because what you focus on expands, This is all part of God’s plan so have faith in Him, Article of Faith #12, It’s time to come together and pray for the best, In our church we just go do the work quietly and don’t invite contention or anger (because that invites the devil), Some Mormons feel about Hillary like you do about Trump, and WWJD.

I don’t really buy it. I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about. I know we aren’t used to it. In theory I agree with some of those things. But in practice, do they hold up?

FOCUS ON THE GOOD BECAUSE WHAT YOU FOCUS ON EXPANDS


From an energy perspective, this is true. If you focus on bringing joy into your life, you will bring more joy in your life. This will be personal joy – for you. That’s wonderful and a natural law of the universe. If you’re a negative person that focuses on the negative aspects of life, you will start to notice more negative things and you’ll feel more negative in general. This will be a personal sadness – for you.

Is pointing out that horrible things are happening, to the tune of an astonishing 400+ *reported* hate crimes since the evening of the election done in Trump’s name, focusing on the negative? I’ve been posting and reposting things from others on my Facebook wall that no one wants to look at and I get that no one wants to look at them, but some people have no choice. How do things change if you don’t shine a light on them? If no one speaks about what’s happening to the minorities, immigrants, and people of color in our country, does that make them just disappear because we aren’t noticing them? I’ll tell you what, I haven’t been talking about them for over 20 years because I didn’t need to because I’m white and it didn’t affect me, and they haven’t gone away, so if that would have worked, maybe I’d agree with you, but the result of millions of people not talking about something has made it worse, not better. There isn’t more joy for everyone, even if there is for us personally, because we focused on our joy.

What I hear when you say this now isI’m white and this does not affect me. If I don’t look at it, it doesn’t change anything in my life, so why would I care? I’ll focus on the stuff that is joyful because I can. This is white privilege wrapped in a Universal Truth, so it feels ok. If you are a Black person or Muslim person today, you aren’t saying this. Sure, you’re trying to find your joy. Sure, you’re trying to bring light and laughter into your homes. Sure, you’re hoping your children are having some fun and that everything isn’t pressing down on them 24/7 and trying to have the best attitude. But you don’t have the luxury to NOT LOOK. You know what’s happening politically. You know who Trump is putting in his cabinet. You have to look at who is being hurt and where and how. You must look, or you might die. You might be next.

THIS IS ALL PART OF GOD’S PLAN, SO HAVE FAITH


I might have a unique perspective on this, or at least a different one than many members I know, being someone who left the LDS church for many years and then came back. Usually what this means in the church is: just accept what is happening because we don’t have all the answers and we don’t pretend to know better than God. If it’s happening, it’s because He wants it to be.

Here’s the truth – God can turn everything around to be good because He is a mighty and fearsome and awesome Being. Someone rapes me? He can turn it to good years later. You lose someone you love in a horrible death? He can turn it for good. You make mistake after mistake after mistake? He will turn it to good. There is literally nothing God can’t eventually turn to good for you.

This does not mean it is all part of His plan. That’s the “free will” part of the LDS gospel. I don’t for a second think that the guy who molested me when I was a toddler was part of God’s plan for me. I don’t think He and that dude created this little event where I would get traumatized and damaged from being sexually violated. That guy had free will and he used it to hurt me. And then, years later, God turned it for good for me. Same for every insult and injury I’ve sustained to my person and all I have accidentally and intentionally perpetrated on others in this life. That’s the beautiful part of having faith in the gift of the atonement. We make mistakes and we have a way to find Grace.

What I hear when you say this now is Thinking about how our actions affect each other is harder than just accepting that everything is going how God planned. Having faith that God is taking care of everything means I don’t have to worry too much about what’s happening around me. If you’re an immigrant who is being spit on or roughed up or yelled at to leave, if you’re a Black person who has for YEARS been looked at as less than when they didn’t even want to be here, or if you’re any person in this country who is not white and straight who has had to endure persecution, or if you’re a person of any color that horrible things have happened to, then what you’re telling them is that these things are what God wants to have happen to them. Is that really what you want to say to them? I don’t think you do. I think you simply don’t understand what you’re saying. We’re responsible to do better as we understand better.

ARTICLE OF FAITH #12


AOF #12 states: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” As one of my brothers pointed out, this doesn’t say we’re “obeying, honoring, and sustaining” the kings, presidents, rulers, or magistrates. It says we are subject to them, the same way we are subject to the laws of the land. This one feels like an easy fix to me. You live where there is a king? He’s your king. You live where there’s a president? He’s your president.

As a church, we don’t believe in breaking the law. We believe in living by and upholding the law of the land. We uphold honesty. Somewhere there has to be a line where if the laws are unjust or oppressive or wicked we no longer uphold them. I don’t know where that line is. I imagine we’ll soon get to see it in action, though. If there is a registry for Muslims, which is a religion, and they are forced to register and face possible deportation, detainment, imprisonment, or unfair practices of being watched by police because of that religion, that seems like a pretty unfair and unjust law. You wouldn’t want your religion to be next.

Now is when we need to stand up for our Muslim brothers and sisters. We need to try and make sure laws like this don’t get created. And that might mean stopping white supremacists from being placed in the White House so they can’t help create them. So when you see me posting on Facebook links showing you how awful Steve Bannon is, that’s why. That dude is a racist and is personally giddy that so many terrible things are happening in our country right now. He thinks Satan is a good role model. He likes the darkness. And he’s not the only scary person being put in White House positions.

IT’S TIME TO COME TOGETHER AND PRAY FOR THE BEST


Here’s my short answer: Let’s pray, never ceasing, and let’s back our prayers up with some good works that show where our hearts are.

DO THE WORK QUIETLY, DON’T INVITE THE DEVIL WITH CONTENTION


If your goal is to educate and have a discussion but that makes someone uncomfortable with what you said and then you get in an argument because they got defensive about what you said, did you bring the contention or did they? Who invited the devil in? When we try to work through our disagreements, does that mean we’re bringing in contention and anger?

I agree with what it says here about the difference between disagreeing and contending. Most of the time, people don’t like to hear how they need to change. There is discomfort in change and tempers flare. And some of these conversations have been going on for years because we don’t want to hurt each others feelings and risk contention, so we back on down and say, It’s ok. At least we’re good people.

This is especially true when we start to talk about race. Calling someone a racist is rarely a good beginning, middle, or ending to any discussion. We all feel like we’re good people and good people aren’t racist. I mean, we all know that, right?

If I had to wager a guess, I’d say that it’s the Good People of the world who do the most damage. This is because Good People don’t think they are hurting anyone and they don’t need to see if they are because their internal gauge is always hitting the sweet spot of God-Fearing Good Person.

This is a huge blind spot. Being a Good Person doesn’t mean very much if you hurt people on accident. You have to mean NOT to hurt them. And right now, millions of people in the USA are hurting. They’re telling us they’re hurting and scared. They tell us they don’t understand why we, mostly white people, voted Trump, who with his own mouth has proven to be a racist, misogynist, xenophobe, and sexist person, the president elect of this country that they also call home. And we did that because as Good White People, it didn’t hurt us. We had no reason to worry (unless you’re a woman, like me).

What I hear when you say this now is Don’t make me think about this. I don’t want to feel bad. I’m a Good Person so stop bringing up anything that makes me have to reevaluate that.

SOME MORMONS FELT ABOUT HILLARY LIKE YOU DO ABOUT TRUMP


Here’s something I’ll admit – I have no idea what’s true about Clinton. The media spin machine has been on overdrive this election and I’ve heard all kinds of things that she was accused of. I’ve read explanations of Benghazi from both sides and I have no idea what’s real. It’s probably somewhere in the middle. I suspect the majority of Mormons wouldn’t vote for Clinton because she supports a woman’s right to choose and they see abortion as murder. So, if you’re a one issue voter, you’d have to vote against her. (But, do you know Trump’s true stance on abortion?)

I get that you’re not going to vote for what you consider murder of innocent babies (but you know that 9-month term abortions aren’t real, right?) but I don’t understand how when you’re so invested in the lives of fetuses, you fail to then be invested in the lives of millions of people that are walking around in our country right now, this minute, in danger. Where is your compassion for them? They were once in someone’s womb. Surely you still care about them after they are born?

At the end of the day, I’m willing to look at both Clinton and Trump against each other because I know that what I stated previously is true for so many, even if I believe in my heart it is a total false equivalency because one of them was a person qualified to run for president, who has spent her life in public service, and the other person has never held public office and has no idea how our government works.

Let’s look over the worst of what they themselves said over this election cycle:

Clinton Trump
“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. You know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president.” — Hillary Clinton, said during the first presidential debate. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you,” Trump gestured toward members of the audience at his June 16 announcement speech from Trump Tower. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Donald Trump, on Mexico, at a June 16, 2015, speech announcing his candidacy. Trump stood by his comments in the weeks that followed, asking CNN’s Don Lemon to explain to him “who is doing the raping?”
“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.” — Hillary Clinton, said at a fundraiser. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said at the Family Leadership Summit, during a discussion. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Speaking about John McCain.
“You may have seen I recently launched a Snapchat account. I love it. I love it,” she told an adoring crowd at Iowa’s annual Wing Ding dinner in August. “Those messages disappear all by themselves.” “I got him to give the birth certificate,” he said about President Barack Obama, bragging about the birther movement.
“Many of you are well enough off that the tax cuts may have helped you. We’re saying that for America to get back on track, we’re probably going to cut that short and not give it to you. We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.” “Look at all the cameras. This is like the Academy Awards.” Trump, at an event for veterans on Jan. 28, that he staged to counter the Fox News debate, which he boycotted.
“There are rich people everywhere. And yet they do not contribute to the growth of their own countries…..They don’t invest in public schools, in public hospitals, in other kinds of development internally.” “I alone can fix it.” Trump, in his July 21 acceptance speech at the GOP convention, on how he will reform the system.
“If you have guns in your home, tell your parents to keep them away from you and your friends and your little brothers and sisters.” — Hillary Clinton to middle school students. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” Trump, about Megyn Kelly, in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon the night after first GOP debate.
“Maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is … There is something he’s hiding … Who does he owe money to?” Clinton speculating on why Trump hasn’t released his tax returns. “Such a nasty woman.” — Donald Trump, said of Clinton during the third presidential debate.
“We’re going to build a wall.” — Donald Trump, said numerous times throughout the election.
“But we have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get them out.” — Donald Trump, said during the third presidential debate.
“Wrong!” — Donald Trump, said multiple times during the debates.
“Look at that face!” Trump said, according to the report. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” He continued: “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
‘I would bomb the sh– out of them’ Trump has made no effort to tone down his fiery rhetoric when it comes to fighting the Islamic State, remarking a day before deadly terrorist attacks in France just how far he would go to defeat the group. “ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because of the oil that they took away, they have some in Syria, they have some in Iraq, I would bomb the sh– out of them,” Trump told a Fort Dodge, Iowa, rally on Nov. 12.
“I would just bomb those suckers, and that’s right, I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, I’d blow up every single inch, there would be nothing left.”
Trump on taxes.
“That makes me smart,” Trump said in response to Clinton saying he might not pay federal income taxes. (Which he doesn’t.)

And then we have what he said to Billy Bush about women. There is no interchangeability with Hillary Clinton in this. You can watch it here. You can read the transcript here. It wasn’t “locker room talk.” It was sexual assault talk and let’s not talk about it like it’s normal, unless that’s the kind of world you want to live in.

All in all, there are about 20 women accusing him of sexual assault and there are over 3,500 lawsuits and legal actions against him or involving him, because he likes to try and eviscerate whoever crosses him.

Let’s talk about their experience to be President of the USA:

Here’s Hillary Clinton’s achievements from her website. Here’s some from Reddit.

Here’s Trumps accomplishments from the Washington Post and from Time.

No matter how you slice it, one of those people has ample experience in public service and government work and one of them has none.

Here’s what Trump has done since we elected him.

(Quick aside – President Obama is the only president to be relatively scandal-free.)

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO

Jesus said Love Everyone.

Jesus was also a protester. “Protesting is the antithesis of being apathetic, complicit, callous, and passive, and Christians should take comfort in the fact that Jesus — the son of God — was very good at it.

I’m guessing Jesus would be listening to people so they feel heard, and in that, He’d be doing a way better job than I have been. I feel an urgency to help white people understand how their privilege affects our country and our world and I confess to not being as understanding and empathetic as I want to be.

I’m starting to understand the deep frustration people of color have at white people trying to tell them how they should be talking about things. “If you would just say it nicer.” “You’ll get more flies with honey.” “If you’d stop being so angry, I could hear you.” It is not up to the witness/listener to police the tone of the oppressed. I am not a person of color, so I truly don’t understand the depths of this, but based on the responses I’ve received about my “angry tone” on Facebook or in my posts, I’m starting to understand it. I’m hearing that you’d like someone to serve these things to you with more grace than I have, but I’m doing my best to talk about really challenging subjects. Are you listening with empathy in your heart or judgement of the delivery? Some of these things are just ugly and there’s no way to soften them up for you, but they still have to be said.

Here are some places you can learn on your own. Pick anything and read it. You can’t go wrong.

Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves
Toni Morrison – Mourning for Whiteness
Faiqa Khan – Somewhere In Between
Morgan Parker – How to Stay Sane While Black
George Takei – They interned my family. Don’t let them do it to Muslims.
Rhon Manigault-Bryant – An Open Letter to White Liberal Feminists
Sarah Kendzior – We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump
Jonathan Korman – How fascism accumulates power by testing people
Elizabeth Gilbert – I cannot throw you away
John Pavlovitz – Freeing Christians From Americhristianity
N Lamar Soutter – To My Republican Brothers and Sisters: A Thank You
Tobias Rose-Stockwell – How We Broke Democracy
Liel Leibovitz – What to Do About Trump? The Same Thing My Grandfather Did in 1930s Vienna.
John Scalzi – The Cinemax Theory of Racism
Rembert Browne – How Trump Made Hate Intersectional
Leonard Pitts Jr. – Time to take OUR country back
Courtney E. Martin – Questions I’m Asking Myself in Our New Present
Alexis Okeowo – Hate on the Rise After Trump’s Election
Robert W. Wood – Trump Gets $25 Million Tax Write-Off For Trump University Settlement
How Did Hitler Rise To Power?
Andy Borowitz – Many in Nation Tired of Explaining Things to Idiots
Patrick Thornton – I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America
Dan Evon – Make the World Great Again
Charles M. Blow – America Elects a Bigot
David E. Sanger – Harry Reid Cites Evidence of Russian Tampering in U.S. Vote, and Seeks F.B.I. Inquiry

Let me end this epistle by saying that I love my family and friends that voted for Trump or support him now and I love those that are currently asking me to stop talking about the things I’m talking about or to change the way I’m talking about it to make it nicer. I hope by sharing my experiences and thoughts I can help people understand why I’m talking and writing the way that I am. <3 _______ Sources for quotes above: 1, 2, 3, 4.

White Privilege

img_5767When I wrote my guide for white people about systemic racism, the main feedback I’ve received in emails and direct messages from white people is some variation of, “I’m not racist. Stop calling me that. My life was/is hard. I don’t have white privilege.”

There’s a big misconception out there of what it means to have white privilege. Having white privilege is not a “bad” thing. It is a responsibility. I tell you this with all the love in my heart, white people.

Here’s how you know if you have white privilege: Are you white? Do you have white skin? If the answer is yes = you have white privilege. You cannot disown it. You cannot decide you don’t want it. You cannot spend your whole life doing good works that somehow erases it. You can *never* get rid of it. And having a hard life with white skin on does not mean you don’t have white privilege. It means you have a hard life and you might be challenged economically or otherwise.

White Privilege exists because this country was built by stealing and kidnapping people of color from other countries, forcing them to come live here, and making them slave laborers to build our country because we could. White Privilege exists because as white people, we slaughtered millions of indigenous peoples who lived here before us because we wanted their land and we could. White Privilege exists because we rounded up Japanese people and forced them without being accused of any crimes to live in interment camps because we could. White Privilege exists because we don’t have to declare war but we go into Vietnam and kill as many people as we can find because we can. White Privilege exists because we depend on thousands and thousands of Mexican people to do the jobs we don’t want to do and yet we get to look down on them and yell at them to get out of Our Country because we can. And White Privilege exists because we, as a country, can focus on a religious group like Muslims and threaten that we will catalog all of them in a registry so we can keep a governmental eye on them. Because. We. Can.

You, as a white person, don’t like or promote any of those things? Great! But, that does not erase your white privilege. You, as a white person, lived in an area that was predominately Black and experienced prejudice against you for your skin color? I understand, that has happened to me, too, but that was not reverse-racism nor was it Black Privilege, because neither of those things are Things That Exist because of this thing we call Systemic Racism.

Allow me to explain.

Because of the way we built our country and our constitution, non-white people were not thought of as Real People. They were livestock who could be owned like cattle. I mean, think about that for a minute. No, I mean FEEL about that for a second. It sucks. It’s really, really bad. And in our own constitution where we discussed the worth of people, our founding fathers decided Black people were worth oh, about 3/5th of Real White People.

We built our education system with white people succeeding in mind. We built our business systems with white people succeeding in mind. We build ALL of our systems with white people succeeding in mind. And in cases like Brown VS Education, we took what was working for Black people, meaning schools that were successfully educating their students, and we squished it by TRYING TO DO SOMETHING GOOD like eliminate segregation, and we forced those folks into environments where not only were they not wanted, but the entire system was set up to help white folks succeed and not them. Brown VS Education highlights just how much we, as white people, screw things up that we don’t understand because we aren’t willing to look fully and unflinchingly at our own white privilege. Segregation? Bad. Yes. Let’s agree that dividing people solely on the color of their skin is bad. But forcing people into a SYSTEM where ONLY white children will be successful because we aren’t willing to truly listen to what their needs in education are or to train our teachers to understand the deep and soul-rocking after-shocks of what generations of slavery have done to their families is unconscionable. Why not get rid of the white schools and put the white kids into the schools where the Black kids are learning? That’s not even an option because White is the Gold Standard. What is White is what everyone should want. I would bet good money that as the discussion went forth on how to integrate the schools, it was never even a question that they wouldn’t take the Black kids and insert them into the white schools. And this is a pattern that is replicated in every single system in our country. Hence = systemic racism based on white privilege.

If you have white skin, are you supposed to spend the rest of your life feeling guilty about it? <-- actual question I was asked. Well, I guess that's up to you. You can choose to feel any way you want about it. But, I can tell you that your guilt isn’t helpful in making anything any better. It’s going to keep you stuck where you are in your feelings, and your feelings don’t get any work done. I feel great about having white skin because that’s how God make me and I look for opportunities to use it for the benefit of those who don’t have it. God also made tons of people around the world in beautiful other shades besides white and they are all just as good as I am, but they might not have the same opportunities that I have. I go out of my way to look for people who don’t have white skin wherever I go so I can kind of monitor out of the corner of my eye if anyone is going to give them a hard time so I can intervene, especially now since Nov.9. And I try to recognize in all situations where things come easily to me how it might not be the same for others. That’s my responsibility because I was given this skin I did nothing to deserve. No, I don’t feel guilty about having white skin. I look at it like a sacred responsibility to use it for others. I’m no saint. I make a ton of mistakes. I have so much to learn about my own white privilege still. But, that’s ok. I’m trying, I’m teachable, and I’m paying attention.

See also: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

Hidden Gifts

rainbow-jpgThis past year or so I’ve been trying to find the gifts in whatever life hands me. When I’m stuck in traffic, maybe it’s that I got to hear something really great on NPR before I reached my destination. If I dropped and shattered a favorite heirloom glass serving bowl, maybe it’s that when I swept the floor I found the missing earring I’ve been looking for under the fridge. You get the idea. The game is thus: can I find the gift no matter how deeply it’s hidden, because I really and truly have to believe in a God that cares about me so much, He would only give me a trauma wherein a gift is hidden just for me. Otherwise, I don’t think I could do this Life.

When I meditate in the mornings, I frequently have an old trauma come forward in my consciousness. It will be something from when I was young and vulnerable. Abuse of all kinds. Situations where I’ve been holding on to guilt and shame and anger. Most of them I felt like I’d already dealt with and let go, but I stopped being surprised to see them months ago. And what I’m learning is that I can’t really fully release them until I find the gift, even if I’ve dealt with the trauma. And with some of the stuff? It’s hard. HARD. Finding a gift when someone has sexually assaulted you is a tall order, my friend. But so far, in my own experience, it can be done. It may not be fast. It is definitely not easy. And who knows, I may run into one in the future that takes the rest of my life, but it won’t stop me from trying because the pay off is worth it. And just in case it’s not clear, this gift is NOT in any way from the person who perpetrated the crime. That person did not do me any favors in harming me. No. It’s just that my God is so powerful, He can turn anything for good on my behalf.

Which brings me to this election cycle and this past few months in particular. In case you don’t know who I am, I’ll sketch it for you.

I’m the most white woman possible coming in at 100% European octane, who has been in relationships previously with women and believes in marriage equality and safe living for all, and who fell in love with a half-Mexican man. I was abused and assaulted by those I knew and some I didn’t starting before age four. I went through most of my life challenged with mental health issues like bipolar and DID [ I was a consultant for the Showtime series, United States of Tara ] and I am a passionate mental health advocate. I have physical issues like Lupus. I’m a mother to four children and have two grandchildren. I was raised in an LDS family, left the church for about twenty years, and then came back to it about two years ago. I live in California in a warm seat of liberals with a local economy that does alright and even though I was raised by an ultra-conservative father who sent me to John Birch camp one summer, I lean more left than center in most things. My husband has a full-time job with benefits which makes it possible for me to work from home on a part-time basis mentoring and doing energy work for others who have compound physical and mental challenges. I also write, shoot photos, make jewelry, paint, and do pretty much any craft that exists.

Between my husband and myself, we have a lot of family, including many minority and gay family members and friends who live all across the country. We mostly live paycheck to paycheck but have modest 401Ks. We have three month’s food storage smack dab in my bedroom requiring me to get in bed by crawling over canned goods because we live in a tiny condo and there’s no other place to put it. We will not have a gun in our home. Neither of us has a Bachelor’s degree but two of our kids do and one will soon and the other one doesn’t seem to need one because he’s already making more per year than we do by a very large margin. We don’t care about material things and are usually late adopters. The largest TV we’ve ever owned is so small you can’t read the questions on the screen when you watch The Chase.

I volunteer for my church on a weekly basis and can’t imagine my life now without it, although I’m also deeply conflicted about multiple beliefs that are held by most members. I hate crowds and having conversations that mean nothing. I’d prefer an afternoon on my couch reading, snuggled up to Joe instead of heading to a fancy party. I’ve been known to be awkward in public settings because I have a hard time regulating my language if someone says or does something that rubs up against what I consider imperative like protecting the underdog or exhibiting blatant racism, misogyny, xenophobia, or anything that implies that person thinks they are better than any other person on the planet. I’m getting better at picking it up when it’s not so blatant.

That means that this past year I’ve been repeatedly hit by Donald Trump and his words and promises. I’ve been in fear. I’ve been angry. I’ve been confused. I’ve been worried about my friends and family that aren’t white and straight. I’ve been worried about the future and what it means for someone like me with preexisting health issues and how protected I need to be walking down the street alone because my body is now not my own and is open season for leering men who want to grab me and assault me (which is how minority people have felt for, oh, ever.). And I’ve been wondering how to just forget all the things Trump said he’d do now that he’s going to be the president like so many people suggest because of course HE’S NOT REALLY GOING TO DO any of those things (but I don’t believe that) and I’ve been wondering how it’s possible to expect all the people who are now committing violence in his name to just stop because he says to, IF he says to.

These are not hypothetical worries I have. They are very real. And I’m that 100% creamy mayo white lady living in the lap of liberal territory. I can’t imagine how my Muslim immigrant friends feel or my Mexican and Black family and friends in red states feel or my LGBTQ and Latinx friends feel who married someone of the same gender or simply hope to use a bathroom in a public place without getting beaten up. And what keeps me up at night are the thoughts about how this is trickling down into our youth. The stories of what the kids are doing to the other kids at school. I mean, you remember school, right? It’s a nightmare even when you’re popular and the going is good. Imagine how those kids are feeling. (And then donate to Kelly‘s Being Black at School because they are doing the work.)

Circling back to the beginning of my post –> where is the gift? That’s what I go to sleep asking my God. Where is the gift in this? And He didn’t answer. For months I’ve been asking and frustrated and angry because it felt like He wasn’t playing by the rules.

Wait on the Lord, I’d hear. Wait.

Election night, as Joe and our son, Tony, and I watched the election results come in, it was about the time Florida kept going back and forth that I realized, I mean, it HIT me, Trump could win this. The only hope I’d had for months was that Trump was about to get his hat handed to him with a thorough trouncing and then things would go back to normal. I needed that so bad.

Normal is not coming. It’s not happening. Normal doesn’t exist anymore and I don’t think it ever did but I didn’t know that in my bubble. All my worst fears came true. Trump won and reports of violence started pouring in. It was like someone took the cap off the slow leak of terrible things that had been happening and everything burst out. Conservatives pretty much across the board had one of three things to say: 1. Stop complaining. 2. Things are not that bad. 3. Voting for Trump doesn’t make me racist. Minority liberals had one thing to say: 1. I’m terrified.

Over the past three days I’ve been in a crash course of learning what I didn’t know. Normal for me looked like living in a bubble of information that I already knew. It meant not having important conversations with the conservative members of my family to see how they felt. It meant not looking deeply into why so many people in the middle states were hurting. It meant discounting the importance of listening to my minority friends who had been worried for MONTHS that this was going to turn out bad. It meant looking at everything through a simplistic telescope. It meant being slightly smug that I was smarter or “got it” and those in the red states didn’t. It meant being able to lie to myself that I knew everything would turn out how I wanted it to. Needed it to.

And then, that is not how it went down.

Joe and I wept that night and off and on the next day and the next day and even today. We listen to someone elses story, witness their pain and grief, and feel that connection that only comes from surviving trauma. Make no mistake about it, this has been a PTSD experience for thousands. This is severe trauma that taps into survival fears. The Flight/Fight response. People are fighting for their lives.

But there’s been a gradation of grief that has begun to dissipate from time to time and every now and again something extraordinary happens. I find a gift. I realized today that I had a few I could list and as I started listing, more and more came. It was as if my God was saying, “Hey there. Here’s your gifts. You thought you would just get one or two? Sillyhead.”

That’s often how it goes. He gives me way more than I was expecting.

  • I had to dig deep to find out what I believed about the world and in doing so, I know myself better.
  • I have an opportunity to shore up my boundaries about what I believe is acceptable and think up strategies for what to do when I see them being crossed.
  • My own capacity for being there for others has increased. I can be more present.
  • I have to open my eyes to see where I failed and what my own part is in this, which creates room for me to change, grow, and improve.
  • I’ve been shown where I dropped the ball in relationships, giving me a chance to reconnect and do better.
  • I’ve been brought closer to members of my family who I haven’t had any serious conversations with in quite some time.
  • I realize I’ve made it through terrible, horrible things in my life and no matter what happens now, I’ll find a way to be ok and I take it upon myself to help everyone I can to find that peace also.
  • I reaffirmed my determination to not be a victim in my own story. No one gets to decide but me what kind of person I am or how I will respond to a situation.
  • I see more ways to be emotionally useful to others.
  • The training I’ve had in energy work repeatedly comes in handy in supporting others.
  • Joe and I had conversations about emergency preparedness and survival that we should have had long ago.
  • The potential for growth and important learning is happening right now. Like, RIGHT NOW.
  • It’s ok if I don’t know how to do everything right the first time around. I can always learn if I stay open to it and don’t get defensive.
  • I’m more ok with other people feeling uncomfortable while they’re learning. It’s part of the process.
  • I’ve had a sneak peak into my own soul and I pretty much liked who I saw.
  • To Do:
  • Learn Spanish.
  • Take a Self-Defense class.
  • Learn how to peacefully protest.
  • Learn the art of agreeing to disagree so conversations can continue.
  • Choose even more deliberately where to spend my energy and which direction I want to go.
  • Try to get more “in-between” moments with the kids where the real connections happen.
  • Tell everyone I love them

None of these things changes the situation at large. Nothing I’ve learned makes it easier for anyone else. It only changes what’s happening inside me, but with those changes I can come from a place of peace and that might be helpful to others while they navigate this tricky and deeply upsetting terrain.

I believe real conversations are the only ones worth having, and I intend to make as many of them go as deep as I possibly can. It’s going to take a long time to release all the trauma that’s happened, not just for me but for so many this past year, especially because it’s ongoing. I have hope I can do my part now because of receiving so many gifts with which to process it all. I’ll keep waiting on the Lord, but I’m also going to do everything within my power to help those around me. It’s a sacred responsibility.