Saturday, February 11, 2017

Where is the Christian Love?

I grew up Catholic. I believe I was a good Catholic. I found strength from the rituals of the church and wanted to do my best to be a good person. I went to mass EVERY Sunday and more often if I could. I was crazy about confession. If I had any guilt about an action, I went to confession. I even sat out on communion many times feeling guilty for ill thoughts of others, sexual interest, minor lies, etc. I didn't follow every rule perfectly, but for the most part, I think I was a decent Catholic. Today, I am not Catholic. In fact, I am no longer Christian. But, I value the years I was both and hold them close to my heart. They will always be a part of who I am today.

So, what happened to that "good girl"? Three major events happened in my early twenties.

1. I got married. As I attempted to explain Catholicism to my husband, I began questioning many things. My whole life I had followed rituals and beliefs without really knowing why.

2. I went to college. Not just college, but a Catholic college. It was there that I learned college is a place to expand your thinking, to see outside your own walls. Have you ever had a life experience that stuck with you forever and you can see yourself at the moment, even years later? The expectation to expand my thinking by professors/nuns that I respected was one of those moments for me. A Catholic college education is also where I learned that using birth control is not an abortion every day as I was told growing up. Phew! I can still see myself in that biology class feeling the weight of the world lift from my shoulders.

3. As I moved into my career as an elementary teacher, I was placed in a low income elementary school where for the first time in my life I understood that my life experiences were very middle class and very different from those of my students. Later, as an educator to adult immigrants and refugees, I continued learning about people of the world. There is still so much I don't understand but my experience has been that no matter what your religion or lack of, your heart can be full of love.

I've been religion-free now for almost 30 years. I feel that as I left the church I started thinking for myself instead of relying on what the church told me was right and wrong. What were my core values? What responsibilities as a fellow citizen of the world would I be responsible for? It may surprise many, but the further I got from the church, the better person I became. Without the rules of a church to follow, I had to create my own rules and obligations. A lesson repeated often by my dad became one that has best served me, "put yourself in someone else's shoes,"

For almost 30 years now I have been completely fine doing my own thing religiously while respecting and often defending the beliefs and actions of my Christian family and friends. Then the Presidential elections began. As Trump became more popular and the threat of him becoming the nominee seemed more possible, my heart kept telling me that Christians would not support him, especially the Christians I know. Sure, he was spouting out issues that were important to them, but hell, they are Christians. I trusted that they would choose love of all God's children rather than sell themselves to the devil in order to end abortion. In my heart I knew they would choose someone who supported "love they neighbor as thyself." and would reject the hateful tactics of Trump. Then I started seeing posts on social media and heard conversations showing support for Trump. I felt betrayed. Could all the warm fuzzy feelings I had growing up with religion just be a scam? My heart is saying "yes" but my mind is saying "no". I don't know. Please know that I do realize not all Christians support Trump, but I think I relied on the values of Christians as a group more than I thought I did and that is where the conflict in my heart is stemming from. As news of $14 billion being set aside to build a wall and a travel ban on refugees from seven Muslim countries being fought in court, I find myself searching for Christians that are standing out against such shameful behavior. For some reason I need to know they are there. I need to know the idea I have created in my heart and mind about Christians is true. Pope Francis is of course a remarkable person who I find an educator of love for all. I also found a priest on Facebook recently and my heart began fluttering in happiness. He is my first sign that I was not misled years ago. However, the hateful comments he receives on his page from Christians is appalling. Overall, I have found that my friends of little faith seem to be the ones I turn to when I need to hear words of love.

I am not writing this post as a way of bashing Christians, although I do realize it sounds that way, but instead as a way of working out my thoughts on why I hold Christians up to such a strong code of conduct when I am not even one and why I now feel so disappointed. Since the night I sat with my children and watched the election results, my heart and mind just haven't been able to grasp hold of why I am so angry. Is it because I have spent my entire career trying to build bridges between students and was deeply shocked that racism is still so prevalent in a group that claims to love all God's creatures? Is it because I am part of a health advocacy group and know first hand what happens with and without healthcare and can't imagine why loving people would be okay knowing others are suffering? Is it because immigrants and refugees are my livelihood and I have never found people so caring and capable of putting negative events in their life aside to build a new life for their families? Is it because I held Christians up to a higher standard than I have held myself?  I don't know. Maybe it isn't Christians I am disappointed in, but like many who hold refugees and immigrants at fault for our problems, I am doing the same now with Christians. I have a lot of soul searching to do because overall I am disappointed in our country and especially in our Republican representatives for supporting a man who thrives on spreading fear and hate.

Republican Administration, what's the Plan?

Our current chief commander made many promises during his campaign. While I don't agree with them at all, I understand why he and the rest of the Republican Administration want to follow through on their promises. Elections do have consequences, unfortunately in this case. But what is the plan? So far, it seems like everything being done with such urgency, but little to no thought. In his acceptance speech, the man in charge promised to bring our country together. However, he and the rest of the Republican Administration have done the extreme opposite. For weeks we heard that the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) was going to be dismantled. Republicans told us not to panic until we heard what the plan was. Not panic? Millions depend on this for lifesaving medications and treatments. I personally rely on it for preexisting conditions that would financial destroy my family and for insurance for my young adult children. Why threaten to begin dismantling something that you have no plan for or if you do, have not released for citizens to compare and know that their country is supporting them?

Along with removing ACA, the Republican Administration wants to remove access to birth control and end abortion. What??? Okay, I get wanting to end abortion. I do. But what is the plan for the woman who gets pregnant? Will abortions just end because it is illegal? Does the Republican Administration have families ready to adopt or will these children be brought into a world where they aren't wanted and eventually turn to crime? If you sincerely want to end abortion or at the very least reduce the numbers, why not continue educating the young on birth control? This one makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. A family member told me it is easy, "just don't have sex". I would like to stop eating also so that I don't continue gaining weight, but unfortunately as a living being I was designed to both eat and reproduce. Those impulses are not easily restrained. Plus, the reasons young girls have sex is way more complicated than "just don't have sex". A comment such as this is inexcusable and super unsympathetic to the issues young teens/women endure on a daily basis in their homes, schools, work places, etc.

The man that is now leading our country promised to ban Muslims from the US while campaigning and then followed through on a ban of seven countries with no more thought than what he plans to have for dinner. My Republican House Representative Peter Roskam wrote back to me saying, "President Trump’s executive order was not perfect, and it is unfortunate that it caught up some innocent travelers." Um, no. It was more than just "unfortunate". Families were torn apart. Jobs were left unattended. Cars were left at airports. Visas were put in jeopardy of expiring. Travelers faced potentially being sent back to countries that would kill them. This is more than "unfortunate".  We are now spending almost $15 billion to build a wall (maintenance costs will add to this bill) that shows the world we are bullies when we can't afford to help citizens with health insurance, educations, improve the lives of vets, etc, etc. We already have walls and fences, this is purely a sign to the world that we no longer accept those different than ourselves. Again, where is the plan? Deportations have begun. What happens to the children left behind, apartments/houses that are being rented and owned, jobs that are now unfilled? Will American citizens out of work pick up and move to California to begin working on farms? Most likely not. Why? There is no plan. The plan will have to come when we can no longer pay for groceries or other goods. 

Let's stop and put some thought into what is happening to our country. Let's not just react, but actually talk with experts on both sides of the fence and make decisions that truly benefit our country. We are not bullies. We are not a country that hates. We are the greatest country in the world. Let's act like it.  


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Enjoying Christmas Traditions

It's Christmas Eve. I am up early attempting my first tiramisu. I like trying new recipes at Christmas. I am excited for today and tomorrow. My kiddos will be all mine. School is finished, work is closed, and friends are busy with their own families. This is our time together as a family. One that I cherish deeply and realize may change in the future as they create their own families.

Living 700+ miles away from my extended family, we made the choice to stay home for Christmas when my daughter was three years old. Traveling over Christmas was always hectic. The kids didn't like being in car seats, they always had to become reacquainted with family at a time that people were also shoving gifts at them and expecting them to be happy, and with both of our parents divorced, we had multiple houses to visit. It was more stress than pleasure. Instead, we created our own traditions. Every Christmas Eve we have spent baking and preparing for Christmas day. We plan one special event for Christmas Eve. In the past we have made gingerbread houses, went ice-skating in Chicago, visited the Museum of Science and Industry for their Christmas trees around the world, bowling, and more recently we have started eating out on Christmas Eve. Then we come back and the kids open their gifts from one another. It is simple, but enjoyable. On Christmas morning we get up to see what Santa has brought, eat breakfast and finish opening gifts. When the kids were young, we spent the entire day playing with them and their new toys.

We have created wonderful traditions. Yet, as the kids get older, those traditions are challenged. Will they be happy with just the four of us? Do I need to come up with some other activity to keep them excited? As a mother, I see my precious two days as a family more important than ever because I know it may not always be this way. I want our traditions to be something they always look forward to and will eventually want their own partners and children to take part in. But I also want to keep an open mind to the changes that will occur in the coming years. I want my children to know that being with them is what really matters. Seeing their faces light up, sharing a meal together, or just sitting together is all that really matters in the end.

This year, I get to enjoy another year of tradition. Both kids will be home today to help put together our traditional Christmas burritos. My son will be sleeping at home tonight after we go out to eat. I love knowing both kids are snug in their own beds. I have been reminded that we need fruit for the morning in it's special Christmas bowl, a wonderful reminder to me that they still enjoy the traditions we have made together. In the morning, we will wake up as usual and see what Santa has brought. I don't know what next year will bring but today and tomorrow, I am planning to soak in as much of my family together as I possibly can. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Lesson Learned

One of the fascinating things about aging is that while each experience is unique, there is also some form of repetitiveness to each one. Having been through similar situations time and again, you get it. You can easily predict what the outcome will be.   

For the last nine years, my border collie and I have walked through frigid temperatures and blizzards. This is her time of the year. She may opt out of walking on a warm summer day, but never during the winter. In fact, she will sometimes lay down during a walk just to eat snow and enjoy the cold snow on her belly. Most of our walk is on shoveled or partially shoveled paths, but we have one long stretch through our neighborhood park where the snow is NEVER plowed. At times it has been up to my knees. Izzy hasn't cared. In fact, I think she has always enjoyed the challenge. It might be an exhausting physical accomplishment for me, but she has always bounced through the snow with gusto. 

This is the entry.
The walk continues
through a park area.
But yesterday when my almost ten year old Izzy and I hit this open area on our walk, she stopped. I could see her thinking. (It's lovely to see her mind working.) She looked up at me for a second as if to tell me she had made a decision and then turned around. Our walk would not include this path. Like me, she has hit that place in her life where she knows what she is getting into, and it was as if she remembered what a workout this part of the walk could be and said, "I am not up to it anymore." To be truthful, I was relieved. I was seriously dreading this part of our walk. We had between 8-10 inches of snow and this path is often tricky not only  because it isn't shoveled, but because so many have stepped on it already and those footprints have frozen over. She has gotten to an age where when she lays down, she groans like I do. She isn't a puppy anymore. Life has given her enough experience to know she doesn't need that type of physical workout anymore.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Leaving a Piece of Heart Behind

Last weekend I tearfully said "good-bye" to the Ford Freestyle I have had for eleven years and 175,000 miles.  Crazy, huh?  My husband had gone earlier in the day to get the details on the VW I have been eyeing for some time and reported back that my Ford valued at $250.  That's fine Kelly's Blue Book, but my heart values that car as so much more.

As we were signing papers for my new car, I could see my blue Freestyle outside the window.  I choked back tears as the memories flooded through my mind.  My kids have been raised in that car. Eleven years means my kids were nine and seven when we purchased this vehicle. Now they each have their own car. As we lifted up the seats there were years of crumbs and evidence of times my teens took the car out with friends. Dog fur showed the numerous times Izzy and I have gone to forest preserves, vet appointments, or her favorite - Starbucks.  She loves those puppuccinos. We have taken family vacations, camped, and loaded our bikes up for family bike rides. My heart was remembering all the times the kids had friends in the car or talked to each other and I was able to just listen as I drove.  I remembered picking up our border collie in this car and the kids and I laughing all the way home.  Both kids learned how to drive with me in this car. My daughter and I have had heated arguments while sitting on the seats of this car but some of our best conversations have been after pulling over in a Starbucks parking lot, crying, talking, and working things out.  Memories of all the homeschool events we attended over the years rushed through my head as well as the first time I dropped my daughter off for a high school event and she told me to stay in the car because she could handle it alone.  I could see her in the driver's seat as she chauffeured five other friends to their spring dance.  She was so beautiful in her formalwear.  I remembered all the hours my son and I drove together, the involved conversations we've had, and the years we shared the car making each other's schedule work.  It's also the car I have used as my "mobile office". Since I teach several of my classes off-site, this car has stored everything I need for class.  I've loaded and unloaded more books than I can count. We have picked up numerous people from the airport and had lots of fun adventures with family in this car.

It's been a long time coming for a new car.  We planned to purchase a new one for me a few years back but instead got the kids a car to share.  Then we planned on it again, but my job became unstable. Honestly, we have let the car go.  When one of my children broke the driver's side mirror off for a second time, we decided the car wasn't worth the expense of replacing it and I had a very interesting "conversational piece" attached mirror for months.  The tires were completely bald to the point I worried about driving on the highway.  Every time I drove it I whispered, "Please let the brakes work a little longer."  It needed new shocks and more. But as we drove away, I felt a little sad for my friend.  It was old. It had lived it's life and provided well for us.  But I also felt sad for myself.  It was like leaving a piece of my heart behind.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Purpose

Deepak Chopra says, "Everyone has a purpose in life . . . a unique gift or special talent to give to others. And when we blend this unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal."

My adult education students come to class for a variety of reasons.  Some are there to improve their language as English language learners, others want to improve their reading skills, some are working towards their high school equivalency exams, and a handful come due to a court mandate.  My students are special because for many of them, previous school experiences weren't kind to them. That is why I feel I have been given a very unique job, but also one that matches well with who I am.  Not only am I able to help my students with learning the academic skills they want to acquire, but my personal gifts allow them to feel safe and comfortable.  And the amazing thing is that the gift I share with my students as they come to class worried they won't be able to keep up, scared that their lack of knowledge in academia will be exposed, or reliving all their past insecurities is that what I give them tends to stay long term.  

The beginning of the school year always brings students I have had in the past dropping by my classroom for hugs or standing in the hallways waving.  After their first days with their new teachers, they share that they had good experiences, but it is me that is forever in their hearts for being patient with them, showing them kindness, and helping them find their unique way of learning. I hear over and over, "You are very special Teacher."  Sometimes it seems simple to me, but when I have student after student share how I have made a difference, I know it isn't simple to everyone.  For me, it is natural.  It is the gift I bring to the world.  I don't always have the fantastic amount of information in my head as other teachers I admire, but that isn't what I bring to the classroom.  I bring calm.  I allow students time to figure out how they learn best, and to realize that mistakes are there to learn from.  My goal is always to find my students' strengths.  Sometimes it takes a bit of work, but once I see them seeing it in themselves, my heart wants to burst with happiness.

The first week of classes is always crazy busy with paperwork and testing but it is also my reminder that I am where I am for a reason.  I have found what I am good at and it benefits many people. And best of all, by sharing my unique gift, I receive so much love back.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Life Doesn't Let You Get Too Comfortable

Life never lets you get completely comfortable, does it?  For the last 15 years I have been working as adjunct faculty for two community colleges teaching adult education (English as a Second Language and Adult Basic Education).  I LOVE it!  I love the variety of students I am able to meet, the small but important lessons I am able to share, learning new things myself, and being surrounded by colleagues who want to make this a better world for everyone. The problem? Due to a screwed up state budget, both schools have cut their programs.  I am now facing a year of 50% of the classes I have had for many years.  Unfortunately, our family does depend on my income which means I need to get serious about finding a new full time job or finding a part time job to supplement my teaching jobs.

In addition to teaching adult education for the last 15 years, I have been busy raising my kids. I've always been passionate about motherhood.  While the kids still need me on occasion, they are growing up.  Between my job slowly dissolving and my kids growing up, I feel like I'm in limbo. What's next for me?  It's a scary uncertain time. I want my next phase of life to be just as rewarding as the previous one has been but have no idea what my skills allow me to do.  Plus, once you've been in a position of helping people as a career, it is pretty hard to give that up.

As I slowly prepare my heart and mind for a new job, I know what I don't want.  I don't want to go back to public education.  Teaching fifth grade was a lot of work and I don't have the energy for it anymore.  I don't want to be stuck in an office working on a computer all day.  I cringe every time I try to see myself there.  I like variety.  I also have a few things I want. After twenty some years of teaching, I want to continue helping others.  I love that part of my life.  I love knowing that I have helped many students who have been away from school for many years feel comfortable and component.  Also, after working odd hours for so long, I'd like a regular schedule that also comes with benefits, something I haven't had as adjunct faculty.

Each morning I wake up and ask for guidance on where I am supposed to be.  I search different career sites and try to see myself in different jobs. So far, nothing.  I know there is a place for me and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it won't be long before I see myself in a place designed for my unique gifts and I can continue contributing to our family income while also making a small dent in a better world.   

I am curious, how have you transitioned into a new phase of life?