Why I Will See 3 O'Clock Twice Today

It is presently 5:16am and I have been awake for several hours.  This time, I can't blame the baby or the insomnia.  My soul is troubled.  My soul is troubled in a way that glossy-eyed scrolling through social media, dominoes on my cell phone, and watching one more cute corgi video will not distract.

In April 1999, I was a 14-year old freshman whose naive bubble got a little bit deflated when I saw headlines of a horrific school shooting that took place several states away.  I devoured two books about lives of two 17-year old Christian girls whose lives were taken in hopes of wrapping my head around any possible good that might have come out of the tragedy.

In April 2007, I was a month away from being a college graduate when Facebook notifications began rolling in from long-time friends who attended a university expressing confusion, fear, anger, and pain over their classmates' lives who were either confirmed dead by gun-shot or not yet accounted for.  A week later, my university went on lock-down when two armed suspects were spotted near the student union building.

In April 2011, I was an elementary school music teacher who had just taped construction paper over the door windows and was frantically trying to keep my 27 sixth graders quiet during the excruciatingly long intruder drill.  As police and their K-9 unit ran through the halls, shaking door handles and shouting, I found myself conflicted in reassuring the obviously fearful students that this was "just a drill" and whisper-scolding the ones whose fear masqueraded in thinly-veiled bravado and sarcasm.

It is now February 2018.  I have a daughter who is the most precious, beautiful child I have ever laid eyes on.  One day far too soon, I am going to have to have a discussion with her about the bad things that happen in the world.  Yes, we will talk about sin and the heart.  Yes, we will talk about alerting the authorities if she sees something potentially harmful.  Yes, we will talk about recognizing and taking care of your needs-- physical, emotional, and mental.  Yes, we will talk about doing the right thing and trying to protect others within your abilities.  Yes, we will talk about how it's the job of parents to raise their children to be kind and respectful toward others.  Yes, we will talk about mourning with others who are hurting.  Then, we will not only talk about praying, but we will actually pray for and with people those who are in pain.  If she wants to learn how to hunt or skeet shoot, I will absolutely educate her on gun safety.

But we will also talk about how we live in a country with elected government officials who we choose because we hope that they will help our city, state, and country be a safer place to live.  And we will talk about the fact that sometimes we have to give up things that we want or desire to do because it isn't good or safe for us or others.  And we will talk about how tradition and the excuse that "it has always been done this way" is not a good enough reason not to seek new, creative solutions to challenging problems.  And we will talk about having courage to recognize when talking is no longer enough, but action is required.

I am not ready to have those conversations and I am grateful that I do not have to yet.  For those of you who have and are currently, I will covet your knowledge and experience when that time comes.  But right now, I am going to go hold my tiny 14-pound human and watch puppy YouTube videos.


An Unsexy and Unpolitical Post About an Unsexy and Unpolitical Discussion

Dust off those imaginations with me for a moment.  I promise, it won't hurt.  Now let's pretend, just for a minute-- are you ready?-- that we don't all know everything.

Whew.  Still with me?  Good.  Moving on.

Unless you have been hibernating under a moon rock, the fact that a growing list of individuals claiming that the current Republican Presidential nominee sexually assaulted them has been all over everything, everywhere, should not come as news to you.  I've heard everyone from television personalities to the couple selecting chips in the grocery store to the second graders in children's church talking about it. At the risk of adding white noise to an already extremely contentious discussion, I'd like to suggest that the present discourse is lacking two key elements: humility and compassion.

First up, humility.  This election is unlike any other in history and media sensationalism is unlike I've ever seen.  So, too, is the seeming wide-spread assumption that we all possess secret knowledge about these politicians' and women's motives. "Isn't the timing of these allegations surfacing obviously just a publicity stunt?"  "Are they embellishing their account for shock factor?"  "Why would any rational human being wait so many years before publicly facing their abuser?"  Listen.  I have no idea if these accounts are true or not.  I don't know what motivated each woman to step into the spotlight at this particular time.  Countless speculations are out there and that's not what I intend to address.

Humility matters because it admits our inability to know these women's motives for remaining silent and, also, for stepping up to speak.  It is much easier to denounce these individuals as frauds and liars and attention-seekers when they are just names in an article or unfamiliar faces on a screen.  (I'm going to assume that anyone reading this probably doesn't personally know any of these women).  But what if that face on the screen belonged to daughter?  Your sister?  Your best friend?  Your significant other?

Can I get a bit personal for a minute?  The past weekish has been pretty uncomfortable for a lot of us who have personally been sexually assaulted.  Yes, I am sure the language repeated throughout the media rattles some, but for most of us, it goes much deeper.  Regardless of the form of sexual assault, its potential to heap fear, shame, guilt, and hopelessness onto a person is extremely real and affecting.  Fear, for instance, that you will share something deeply personal only to have your experience dismissed, downplayed, or disbelieved.  Fear that the aggressor, if confronted, will only get a slap on the wrist and continue, or worse yet, turn the tables against you, the victim (as is very possible with a charismatic person or someone with power) and slander your reputation.  Fear that reporting what should be reported will mean having to recount the details of your very personal trauma to strangers and acquaintances alike.  Shame that your physical person has been violated and that violation transcends beyond the physical to the emotional, mental, and possibly, spiritual as well.  Shame that taunts, "You are weak and cannot protect yourself."  Shame that belittles, "You belong to someone else and shall be treated as they see fit."  Shame that stares back in the mirror at the bruises or marks and mocks, "You are tainted and everyone else can see it just as plainly as you do in the mirror now."  Guilt that weighs down each day with the accusation that you brought this upon yourself somehow.  Guilt that sneeringly suggests, "By doing or wearing such and such, you were basically begging for it."  Guilt that maybe you could have stopped or prevented it if you had responded differently.  Guilt that can paralyze from seeking comfort in religious circles for fear of appearing less pure or "less Christian."  Hopelessness that publicly recounting your nightmare will only serve as a more constant reminder of an instance you would prefer forget happened.  Hopelessness that the only result of ever saying anything will be pity.  Hopelessness that it often comes down to one person's word against another and the law will fail you.  Hopelessness that hints that maybe it's just easier to attempt to numb or repress the pain than face it.

So please.  Do me and every other woman or man who has been sexually assaulted a favor and consider these public allegations with a strong dose of humility.  To you, it may seem implausible that legitimate victims would have chosen to go public with their stories of harassment or assault until this particular moment in time.  But without bearing in mind that you do not know their motives, however unintentional, the strong doubt cast upon these possible victims may confirm the feelings of fear, shame, guilt, and hopelessness that your daughter or sister or best friend or significant other may be plagued with.

While many applauded the First Lady's passionate speech fervently, many others responded with trite memes, cries of hypocrisy for inviting rap artists to the White House, comparisons of how what was dismissed as "locker room talk" is no worse than what is consumed as mass entertainment, or pointing back at a former President, in the same manner that a child might, and saying, "Oh yeeeeah?  Well look at what HE did!"  None of these responses, or the myriad of others like it, move the discussion forward in a helpful manner.

Can I suggest that a little compassion added to this discussion of sexual assault is long overdue?  We are completely missing the point if, before resuming our political mudslinging, we neglect to stop and consider the very real fact that women and men (because, let's be honest, men are victimized too) are experiencing sexual assault every single day in ways that can define a person's view of self-worth.  And these individuals aren't just faceless victims.  They are your loved ones: friends or co-workers who may be watching to see how these conversations about traumatic sexual experiences unfold.  Family members who may be watching YOUR response to these public allegations to gauge whether they can trust you with their private burdens.

So please, dear reader, before assuming you know why these women stepped into the spotlight to confront the Republican nominee when they did, proceed with caution and-- most importantly-- with humility and compassion.


It's [Not] the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas music has officially replaced the smooth soulfulness of Adele's "Hello" as the soundtrack of the season.  The reminder that "the most wonderful time of the year" has arrived is jingled everywhere you go, from parking lots to the grocery store to the radio scan in the car.  And to many, this rings true.  The abundance of memories "of Christmases long, long ago" still holds a magical spell over the calendar-packing insanity that this month has become.  While it may be true for you that the festive music, the scents of pine needles and sugar cookies, the big bows and striped wrapping, or the celebration of Christ's birth rekindle a spark of joy unlike any other month of the year, friend, can we be real together for a few minutes?

Behind many of those plastered on smiles you see bustling through the aisles is deep, wounded brokenness.  Brokenness that barely musters the strength to acquiesce to "everyone telling you be of good cheer" with a smile, but that is still frantically attempting to patch up holes left by the recent loss of beloved grandparents.  Brokenness that feels compelled to give an upbeat, optimistic answer to "how are things?" for fear that no one really wants to know how depressed the unfair, vindictive, forced resignation has made her because right now it does not feel like the "hap-happiest season of all."  Brokenness that has made the office a second home because of the pain that he's not invited to those "gay, happy meetings" and no "friends come to call."  Brokenness that has learned the safety of isolation after years of being torn down by the soul-crushing tongue of a resentful spouse, but who publicly goes through the rote motions of "much mistletoeing" though the heart isn't glowing since loved ones aren't near.

To the joyful friend who does believe this is the most wonderful time of the year, have you looked beyond her grin?  Dear friend, have you noticed him?  Are you too frantic "preparing Him room" that you neglect time to see those who need Him the most?

And to you, dear one, who tries to shove that brokenness in the closet because you feel you need to BE something else right now, know this: It's okay to not be okay.

I am pretty sure more of us fit into this second category than we'd like to admit.  Will you allow me the honor to encourage you today?  Trust one person enough to express that you're not okay; that this does NOT feel like the most wonderful time of the year.  Allow someone else to bear your burden in love.  If you don't know who you can trust with that, send me a message.


Chocolate-Salted-Caramel-Cream-Cheese Brownie Frosting

Okay guys.  The greatest thing just happened.  This thing is Chocolate-Salted-Caramel-Cream-Cheese Brownie Frosting, and shall henceforth be dubbed the "All You Could Ever Want in a Frosting."  So shall it be.
Who's coming over to die of happiness with me?

Problem #1

After a particularly incredible football-watching afternoon, in an attempt to continue the merriment, naturally, I thought, "Chocolate!"  Problem #1: The only chocolate in this house is in the form of unroasted cocoa beans or unsweetened cocoa powder.  Solution: Brownies.  The recipe I used wasn't to die for, and I certainly won't be saving it, but it served its purpose.  Measure, stir, pour, and bake those puppies. 

Problem #2
The recipe called for a frosting, and considering they looked like they'd come out on the cakey side (I happen to believe that a brownie cannot claim to be unless it is fudgy and chewy).  Frosting is a subject on which I excel.  A great frosting can amplify any confection it is placed on, and the possibilities are unending.  This particular recipe looked a bit lackluster.  Solution: Let the creative flow.

Problem #3
I had a tiny bit of left over salted caramel that had been in my refrigerator since the July 4 cupcakes filled with salted caramel and I wanted my container back (one does not simply dispose of homemade caramel). Solution:
All You Could Ever Want in a [Brownie] Frosting
  2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  1/4 tsp vanilla
  2 tsp cocoa powder
  <1 tsp water or milk, if needed for consistency
  1 1/2 Tbsp salted caramel sauce (or other comparable recipe)
  4 heaping Tbsp confectioners sugar
  2 oz cream cheese, softened

Using paddle attachment in mixer, beat butter and vanilla until smooth; add cocoa powder.  Once mixed through, add half confectioners sugar.  While mixer is on, drizzle caramel in until mixed thoroughly.  Add remaining sugar to reach desired sweetness, and then beat in cream cheese.  Spread on warm brownies.  Cool slightly, and then enjoy your sugar coma.*
*Note: If you try this and make adjustments, I'd love to know how it turned out!


In Which I Am Grateful for Wrath (and Wayne Grudem)

"I could never believe in a God who would send people to Hell."  "If God is so good, why is there so much suffering in the world?"  "I like what Jesus stood for a lot more than the angry-faced God of the Old Testament."  21st Century Western culture is obsessed with a grandfather-God full of love and acceptance.  On the surface, who wouldn't want a supreme being with the universe at his fingertips bestowing abundant, unending blessings on us?  Any hint at a God who possesses characteristics that seem to clash with this idea causes most to balk at either the idea or the deity in question.

If we assume that there is a God, it isn't a far step to take to also assume him to be perfect.  God always acts in accordance with what is right asserts theologian Wayne Grudem*.  Let that simmer for a moment.  If God is perfect and always does what is right, which would need to be true for a God to be worthy of trust.  (Could you really place faith in a deity who was occasionally a liar or manipulator or lover of evil?)  Beyond perfection, however, if God always acts in accordance with what is right, that would speak clearly of His justice.  Without justice, we as a society have little hope.  Justice keeps society filled with evil and wrongdoing safe.  Our society loves the idea of justice.  Public wrongs that go unpunished or held unaccountable become cultural dartboards.  At the core of our being, we know that evil must be dealt with. 

If God loves all that is right and good and all that conforms to his moral character, it should not be surprising that he would hate everything that is opposed to his moral character*.  So if God is perfect and always does what is right, it would stand to reason that He would oppose what is wrong/evil/unjust.  This is good news!  To have a god who loved those things would be truly terrifying.  To have a god who was lukewarm toward evil would leave mankind in a similarly destitute place.  But when we are powerless to stop or fight evil, having a god who is perfect and able to thwart and punish evil should be a comfort to us.

The focus of God's wrath has always been and always will be on evil.  Because it is in God's nature to do and love what is right, He could never damn good people to Hell.  Since God does what is right, hates evil, and requires justice, the evil in the world demands punishment (specifically, from Him, since he is the only perfect being).  When Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins, it showed that God was truly righteous (just), because he did give appropriate punishment for sin, even though he did forgive his people their sins. 

I am grateful that, in His perfection, God loves what is good and hates what is evil.  This gives me hope in a world chock-full of pain and suffering and wrongdoing, because God is the ultimate definition of justice.  Yet, I am also grateful for His mercy in taking that punishment that I deserve (for all of the evil and wrongdoing I have done) upon himself, in the form of Christ.

*quotes from Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem (1999), pages 93 & 94