Black, White and Grey

Good Sunday morning. I am writing, of course, from home, my condo in Baltimore City. It’s a rainy day but the trees and plants outside my windows and on my patio are lovely. You see the lovely in rain these days.

I’ve not blogged recently. I’m transitioning from blog writing to both fiction writing and a legal blog for nonprofits. As this blog will lessen and the other writing increases, I want to listen to God today, and go where he leads. Today, it is here.

Like all, my life is quite different now. My husband is a front line health care provider working constantly to stem the bleeding from this virus, and coming home to a sanitizing regimen that takes longer than it used to take us to eat dinner together. In our little condo, my law practice happens at a table and chair next to my kitchen. My husband sleeps and occasionally has a period of time when he can visit with us, from some feet away and only after the sanitation process. My younger daughter goes to college in another room, adjusting to her Croatian “study abroad” via a Zoom meeting in Charm City. And the two of us, my younger daughter and me, only leave the condo for required groceries or pharmacy runs; given my husband’s work, it is right for us to self-isolate.

I’ve rearranged the furniture so that our oldest daughter, isolated in her apartment across the City and who is immuno-compromised, can occasionally drive over and come up to our condo to visit after I’ve completed extreme furniture wipe-down.

I’m fighting anger mostly–anger at those who don’t get it, who don’t sacrifice for others, who don’t seem to care until it hits them personally. But then that’s always my go-to emotion. Stress can bring out our worst. I’ve deleted a few contacts and I left Facebook last year in an effort to help myself work on this anger issue. Let me tell you, leaving Facebook was God’s miracle prompting–it would not be a good thing for me to have a keyboard and a Facebook account right now.

But it has brought out the best in people too. I’m far more attentive to a husband who has, in our 32 year relationship, been the one to take a back seat to me and my ambitions. He’s a helper, put on this earth to help others. Though leadership positions have been consistently offered to him throughout his life, he tended to shun them, preferring to help at the patient level. But God has different plans to stretch us. And I’m at home, working, yes, but also making mediocre meals, policing a condo building to ensure it is quiet enough for him to sleep mid-day when he staggers home (cue my anger gene), and “pumping him up” in a way I’m used to him doing for me.

I’m busy with my own work when he is also working, counseling nonprofits on weathering this storm or making hard choices when weathering the storm seems as if it is not in the offing. And, from the sublime to the ridiculous, without a body of water in which to plunge, I now do cross fit and Jazzercise (!!) and consequently, am learning more modern tunes. I thought pop music ended in the 90s.

In addition, after a year of being committed to worshipping where I live and attending a new church blocks away, just starting to get acclimated, I am now at home on Sundays and “attending” a streaming Mass, one very familiar and comforting. I continue an Ignatian year-long retreat, but now via telephone with a spiritual advisor living in a Jesuit retirement community that I cannot visit. I think of my grandmother just miles away in a nursing home who I also cannot visit, and wonder if I will see her again.

+++

I’ve lived in black and white most of my life. It has seemed right, even morally right, to do so, and since The Great Binary fit my personality, I assumed it was right. Indeed, I still think black and white, lines between right and wrong, exist for us as guardrails or guillotines, depending on how far we veer off course.

There is more grey now, though–grey in what I’m called to do and when, realizing it might not be some grand, paved road for me to traverse from here to the grave, but a road with starts and stops, detours and returns, more of a day-to-day existence. What is kind, today? What is needed, today? What is best, today?

So, today, there is no long swim set to conquor, or legal briefing to write for a client, or large ministry effort to coordinate. I will not check a box today that tells me I am worthy. For that box is of my own creation and useless.

Today, I will cook a dinner that all but loving husbands would agree is not very good. I will speak to some family members on the phone, a device I hate more than January 20th in Chicago. I will do a form of exercise that was not designed for a swimmer, being a fish out of water at most land activities, and likely will quit early because I dislike it so.

In short, I will do little of consequence as my black and white mind would judge. But my grey mind will ask:

What is kind, today?

What is needed, today?

What is best, today?

Remember You Are

Marked on your head,

Standing in front of St. Stephen’s,

Proud.

How did you go far wrong?

Do not blow your trumpet.

Do not lavish in public.

Do not wear your particulate of virtue.

We see your shattered self,

Not wabi-sabi but fragments

Of necrotic flesh glommed together

With a broad ashen smear.

We hear your sin through your sing-song salutations

To cohort lemmings exiting to their own street corners.

We know you.

We see through the holy camouflage.

Surrender the charade.

Huddle with them, the other, in the dark alley.

The Deal with Increasing and Decreasing

I have historically loved John the Baptist’s declaration: “He must increase; I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30). I still do love it. There’s a pure intent there, terse but not harsh. The kind of writing I aspire to.

But sometimes it is applied in ways that it shouldn’t be. Rather, I think that Jesus increasing in my mind, my heart and my focus is enough, the main driver, which naturally means I am decreasing but without any (rather typical) tendency of denigrating self. So I’ve taken a new focus: He must increase. Period.

I’ve especially tried to apply that recently, as in the last year, on what I do and what I don’t do. It’s a hodgepodge, things that work and things that I abandon within a week because they were half-baked, but in the long term, in the gloaming after a day, a week, a month of different tries, I see progress.

What I do:

  • A step back, for a time, from formal ministry. I’m in a new place, a new church, and my tendency to think I can/should jump in and try to serve (let’s be honest: improve things, as I think in my heart) needed serious tamping. And tamped it has been. It’s quite strange to have a season of prayer and participation only as I figure out what I should be doing further, and how not to do it as the General Manager of the Universe, a position I will (no longer) seek and if elected to, will not serve.
  • A period of contemplative prayer. This has been very different for me. I’m in the midst of a 9 month long retreat, called the 19th Annotation of St. Ignatius Loyola, with a spiritual director. It’s been illuminating–not in the sense of “Oh, wow, I’m so enlightened now” and more in the sense of “Oh, wow, I’m terribly self-focused and manage to repeat the same damn behaviors ad infinitum.”
  • No Facebook, and Twitter only as a newsfeed. It’s not you; it’s me. It’s what trads would call “a near occasion of sin.” Maybe not for you, but it is for me. I frankly think it is for a lot of people, but maybe not you. For my part, Facebook is history for me because because it has differing views on political ads and data use than I do, and most of all, it’s too much information, most of which scales towards what I call the “anger orgasm,” drawing us back in as we look to fuel our latent anger. Anway, the bottom line is that it’s not good for me due precisely to my own foibles. As for Twitter, it’s a great newfeed, but is also scaling towards the same level of anger baiting. Thus, I unfollowed every individual and only follow a few news outlets I think are the most credible, as well as some sports feeds, and, of course, We Rate Dogs.
  • A different kind of correspondence. You know, the ancient form of communication, email. I’m going to start up regular emails to those I have the closest relationships with and want to check in with occasionally.
  • A study of Joseph, Anna and Simeon. These are three people that never (or almost never) have a speaking part in Scripture. I find these folks are ordinary at first glance and extraordinary upon thought, study and prayer. You can’t read too much about them (it’s just not there in writing) but you can think about them. As someone who has lived her life–if I’m being truthful–looking for the next big accomplishment, the next opportunity to be important to someone or something, I need to focus of these three seemingly ordinary people. They served Jesus as a child with precious little in the way of worldly resume builders (“Carpenter;” “Long-time pew dweller at the Temple;” “Eighty+ year old widow putzing around until the Messiah came.”) I would not have imagined how much power and insight could come out of studying and considering how to emmulate them.

It’s a new season. It’s a season of being less important in worldly ways. That is a very hard prospect for me. It’s a season for me to decrease, not by thinking less of myself but thinking of God more (and therefore thinking of myself less). It is a season, most of all, of interruption. “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God,” said Boenhoffer.

And onward we go, interrupted but perhaps better for it.

Retreat by the Sea

Today begins my annual week retreat by the sea. It is a time of relaxation following the (for me, beloved) frenzy of Christmas. It follows a week of seeing and talking to beloved family and friends, the one week where I am the primary cook (God was with me), and the end of Advent, a season I cherish.

It also caps a year of serious changes. I love to say that I love change. That’s only partially true, however. What I love is the idea of change. Actual change is really hard. This year brought still-new city living, a new church community after 19 years in another, a new job with myself as the boss, an old passion (writing) with a new focus, and new and changing family dynamics. It’s enough to make a body tired. Usually in a good way.

I do some goal setting this week of retreat, but nothing set in absolute stone. If the past four years have taught me anything, it’s that nothing stays the same. Your community can change, your health can change, your family can change. So goal setting is fun for an Enneagram 1 like myself but things must be flexible, a truth this Enneagram 1 does not entirely love.

As we tool down Route 64 in Virginia, my immediate family quiet with tasks of driving or sleeping, I am struck with gratitude, something I’ve tried hard to cultivate this year. Not a natural at being gracious, I have had to work hard at this. I am so grateful for a wonderful husband and terrific daughters. Those are a given, even if not expressed enough to them (and it hasn’t been expressed enough). But I am also grateful for a forgiving and patient God who dragged me into situations I did not want to be in (“Thank you, but no,” is what I wish I said to God, but it was a bit more graphic than that).

We can all do without health challenges, heartbreak, or a volatile political climates that explode relationships like a high school science lab gone wrong. But they come all the same.

Like Christmas. It comes all the same. I think a famous theologian said that, or perhaps Dr. Seuss. Jesus comes all the same and life comes in unexpected ways with unexpected blessings.

Here’s what I’ve learned this year:

-I have no choice but to lean into relationships, even though I really don’t want to. I am someone whose motto is “I know enough people–thanks anyway!” But there has been no escaping a growing number of (and intensity in) relationships. When I lean into them, it is inevitably better. This means still setting boundaries, and that fine line is a hard one. Prayer helps me establish the right ones.

-Being my own boss is amazing and also annoying. The boss is moody and it’s hard to please her. But she lets you work in your jammies.

-Swimming at a leisurely pace is actually fun. It’s no longer a swim meet against yourself anymore, Kathleen.

-Daily prayer time does get easier. And then harder. Repeat.

-Having a spiritual mentor or director is amazing. Who knew? Mine is a terrific retired Jesuit brother who asks me hard questions. If you are spiritual, I suggest you get someone who helps you in accountability. But be ready when they call you on your spiritual crap. Because a good one will.

-Small groups (of the spiritual variety) are still hard for me, mostly due to my judgy nature. But showing up makes me less judgy. But I still don’t want to show up.

-You can’t set up your own website. It was dumb of you to try. Let professionals do professional work (I know a lot of lawyers who need to hear this).

-And once again, a lesson I still haven’t learned, baking soda is no substitute for baking powder. Write it down!

Happy new year, all. Blessings to you. Live well.

-Kathleen

The Church Search and Other Ramblings of a MAWL (Middle-Aged White Lady) in the City

The Sitch

As many know, we’ve moved to Baltimore City–to the Midtown/Belvedere neighborhood, to be precise (which is hard to be, because we are also plotted as living in the Mount Vernon neighborhood; I thought City neighborhoods had hard lines but I guess not).

Our move downtown was brought on by a number of factors, but I’ll cite just a few. Eric and I both work downtown and were increasingly more involved in downtown activities and issues than in the County. In addition, it seemed an ordained move, in the sense that we both felt pressed to explore this, despite the City’s typical bad press, some of which is of course true and much of which is not.

For years, Eric and I both drove downtown every day to work. Our vista was 83 South and then either Johns Hopkins Hospital (Eric) or the Downtown area (Kathleen). The view wasn’t green, the potholes were more plentiful, and the problems more in-your-face. Despite this, working in the City pulled us to the City.

Craving Difference

We craved something different. There are reasons we can identify for this and some we cannot. One was about seeing difference, learning from difference, and then wanting more of it. While the part of the County we lived in was increasing in racial diversity, it’s just that–increasing, but not what I would call “racially diverse.” We wanted diverse, in more ways than one, but racial diversity was missing from our lives and something we felt we needed more of. It’s no secret–we are white, straight, 50-somethings.

It may need to be said that my revelation that genetically, I was half not-white (if that’s a thing) didn’t change my whiteness. I wanted it to, but it didn’t. By that I mean that I, and society (as far I knew), always identified me as white. DNA be damned, my daughters certainly tell me how white I am on a consistent basis.

Further, having had some real awakening moments hearing preaching by and studying Scripture with people of color, I realized I was seeing less than a full picture. It wasn’t a bad picture (truth: It’s not bad to be white) but it wasn’t a full picture (truth: white is not all there is, and when you live as if is, you are myopic–your vision doesn’t provide the full span of what is real, what is possible, and what is beautiful).

In addition, since college, issues relating to sexual minorities resonated with me. My only act of subversion–if you could even call it that–was to “die” (literally fall down like I was on a movie set) on the steps of Boucke Building at Penn State in protest because gay and lesbian students were being denied funding for club status. I’m sure other sexual minorities were a part of this too–at that time, in the mid 1980s, I didn’t know they existed. You were either gay or lesbian, as far I as knew.  A picture of the “Die-In” ended up in the Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper. Let’s just say my swim coach was not pleased.

This interest in caring for people who are sexual minorities, especially those who are also part of other historically oppressed groups, has remained with me and found an outlet in association with Baltimore City’s HopeSprings. But for a long time, between college and mid-life, it remained dormant.

The City Call

In addition, after reading about what happens to cities and why, I became bothered by the trend of young, affluent people leaving Baltimore City for the surrounding counties (before you direct a pissed-off tweet at me, know this: I recognize that if you did this, you still did better than I. I never lived in any real city until age 51). This trend harms large cities and, I’d argue, the people who leave as well, a complicated but fascinating topic for a different blog.

In a nutshell, we wanted to be older people who didn’t move to Florida but moved to Baltimore City. So we did.

We searched neighborhoods. In the end, we felt called to one neighborhood in particular and kept coming back to see condos in the same building, where we now live. So we moved in. And we loved it.

And it was white. (And, cue, my daughters’ chuckles).

I didn’t notice this until we were moved in. The streets around our condo seemed so diverse. Hooray! But inside of the building was less so. The myopic part of my white self thought if you move to Baltimore City, you get instant diversity. That’s not completely true.

It is diverse in other ways–certainly we are on the older side for our particular condo and neighborhood. It is also highly diverse in sexual orientation. But racial diversity? At least in our building, not so much.

But these two straight, white people soldier on, myopia be damned.

We decided after some months  that it was appropriate that we worship in the City as well. This was a very hard decision, and frankly I was hoping God wasn’t calling me to leave my beloved suburban church after 18 years and the people who brought me back to faith, showed me what service really is, and taught me Scripture for the first time in my life. This is the place where almost all of my friends were–especially two women who, though younger than me, were and are my spiritual mentors–along with an amazing little boy with whom I spent years going to Mass, who fomented my faith more than anyone outside of God. I love him so and miss him and it makes me cry sometimes. But the tug to worship downtown followed us.

So we made that very, very difficult decision. And we started checking out
City churches.

The Church Search

And they were white.

At every church we tried (and they were not all Catholic), I walked in and said, “Why is it so white here?” Some of them were really trying not to be so white. But as Martin Luther King Jr. said decades ago, Sunday at eleven a.m. is the most segregated hour of the week. I’m here to tell you this: at least in my little world, one I’m trying to expand, imperfect though my efforts are, this is still true.

I sought out more diverse church settings. I sought out churches pastored by people of color. The churches that were “perfect” from my standpoint in terms of racial diversity were not a full-on theological fit for me, though they are a part of the Body of Christ that is vital. I’m not a Catholic that thinks unless you are Catholic you aren’t doing it right.

There are, of course, largely non-white Catholic Churches that I hoped would be a fit. But they were not in my neighborhood, a neighborhood we’d felt called to, and there is something in me that thought twice about the possibility that I was looking to insinuate myself into a church of color. What was that about? Was that good or bad? I still don’t know. (Cue my daughters: “That’s because you are white.”)

In the end, we settled on a church that is a theological fit and is more diverse in a variety of areas than I’ve experienced before. But it is not perfect. The search for the perfect church is probably the biggest waste of Christian time outside of the current favorite, yelling at other Christians on Twitter.

“That’s Some Crazy White People Shit Right There”

And yet, even with a modicum of more diversity in my neighborhood and church than before, I am no finished work in the area of learning about and from differences. Here’s a story that will show you how incomplete I am.

At my recent employer, where I headed up human capital efforts, we planned a Black History Month celebration. The first thing I did was turn all decisions over to a small working group of African-American employees, led by a member of my staff who was a woman of color, now the leader of that department (if you listen closely, you can almost hear my inner self cheering, “Yay, Kathleen, you are a beacon of great leadership!”) This fine group worked hard. They came up with a fabulous program that included testimony, learning, celebration and song. They decided upon showing three movies to get us to a place of discussion–Hidden Figures, The Loving Story (the documentary), and 13th. We eased in with Hidden Figures and yes, boldly, this group decided to end with 13th in hopes of rich discussion.

I learned a lot in this process. First and foremost, I learned that people of color constantly worry and agonize over these kinds of events, mostly about how white people will react. Even in a brief celebration of them, their biggest fear seemed to be, what would white people think? That saddened me greatly.

I also learned another lesson, one that came to me through correction. All was going smoothly, I was really proud of this group, and I was looking forward to our session that would include food and fellowship. The group came up with the menu, and they brought in most of the food, but the entree was going to be purchased. They requested we get Hip Hop Fried Chicken.

Cue the MAWL.

My first reaction was, I thought, about propriety and racial sensitivity. But now I realize, after correction, it was about me.

I stammered in response, and I don’t remember the exact words, but the gist of it was this: “I don’t want to be the white lady who ordered fried chicken for Black History Month.” The group member in charge told me she understood why I might feel that way,  but that this was what they wanted.

And then I asked, “Could we just get chicken wings?”

Blank stares met me.

“Yes,” the group leader in charge of food said to me, “If that’s what you want.”

I thought this was a good compromise. In my white world, chicken wings were suddenly elevated higher than just their tasty, crispy perfection–they were the food of racial harmony! Everyone eats them! With buffalo sauce or grilled or fried. With bleu cheese or ranch. It seemed the perfect compromise! Yay, Kathleen, you woke white lady!

But I didn’t forget the look of bewilderment the group leader gave me as she politely agreed and left my office.

Later, I recounted this story to a friend of color. She looked me in the eye and said, “That’s some crazy white people shit right there.”

And she was right. The group in charge, to which I handed over authority, which had made impeccable decisions the whole way through, had their authority sucked back by this white lady who was afraid to be thought of as racially insensitive (by white people, because, of course, most of the people of color would have already been aware of–and agreed to–the menu).

There was more discussion between this friend and me, related more specifically to my missteps, but what has stuck with me was her first admonition–this was crazy white people shit derailing appropriate agency over a Black History Month celebration.

Ouch. That hurt. But in a good way.

The Take Away

There is none.

That’s not completely true. There is a take away for me. Maybe there is a take away for you too–maybe something written here speaks to you, or lovingly corrects you, or emboldens you to do more. But that’s all supposition on my part.

I can’t fully articulate a well-reasoned take away for the ages, but then, perhaps that is not my damn job. My take way, for me, is that I should continue to try to broaden my lens through which I see and live in the world. I need to be ready for correction when I do it wrongly or insensitively. That correction should be given in love, not on Twitter, but still, correction is needed.

And yes, sometimes love looks like, “That’s some crazy white people shit right there.”

Today’s Top 10 Reasons to be Grateful

Today is a day for gratitude. Everyday is that day, of course, but today, gratitude is on my mind and heart.

It’s Friday! That means less to me than it used to, as I work more incrementally across the full week now. But today is a day I carved out for thinking and writing (this is not full-on writing–this is essentially long social media posting).

Here’s why I’m grateful today:

  1. Tomorrow I will have been married 28 years. Longer than the Maryland cicada brooding cycle. Longer than you’ve probably owned a vehicle, or perhaps three. Not as long, however, as the Simpsons have been going strong. Still, a good showing. We will celebrate in grand fashion by being states apart, as Eric drives our youngest back from Minnesota, land of a trillion lakes and summer road construction. Interesting fact: two of our vehicles sustained hail damage this summer, but in different states. God is a wonder. And he is most wonderful in connecting me to Eric. I am so very grateful.
  2. I get to work in cool venues–a traditional office, the Baltimore Pratt Library, any number of coffee shops, and my condo (probably my favorite venue). Depending on my work for the day, I can choose what fits, to make me most productive. And sometimes nap.
  3. I get to do work I care about, even though that work is so painful right now. However, painful or not, work one cares about is such a great blessing. Those of us who have soldiered through work that means nothing to us or others know how soul crushing that can be. Be thankful if you have this gift, even when you want to cry.
  4. I so enjoy our change of residency–the City is for us, and we are for the City. I loved our little house in the ‘burbs, and I thought I’d miss it, but you know what, now it is just a great little house that once was our home. It now is home to a new family with three little ones, and my “little” ones came downtown with me. I miss it not at all, and that is a big surprise. I am especially grateful for the time I had to pick up a package that was delivered to our Lutherville house some months ago, and I worried it would be sad. It was not–I saw a new family in that house and it all seemed right–and I had the gift of knowing I wouldn’t be sad early on in the transition.
  5. A new service opportunity has arisen for me, within walking distance of my condo, and I’m excited for that.
  6. I am grateful for a faith community that nurtured me for 18 years and prepared me for this move. We are still exploring but we are grateful for God’s placement of us in Baltimore City.
  7. I am grateful for great family, including of course all my parents (my dad is still with me), my two girls, brothers I’ve been with from birth who have figured in my fiction writing heavily, and new siblings too.
  8. I’m grateful for rejection. It teaches us something, whether it is people rejecting us, providing us an opportunity to love in response to rejection, or a publisher who provides a polite “no thank you” to a written submission. It fortifies us.
  9. Coffee! My stomach seems to tolerate it better recently. I know that is fleeting, but while my gut lets me, I will be grateful.
  10. Last, but not least, I finally have an appointment with the Apple Genius Bar to get the “E” key on my MacBook Pro fixed. I hope my writing does not suffer from a new keyboard, lo these many months of learning how important the letter “E” is in the English lexicon.

Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

A Messy To-Do List in Response to a Mess

I’ve had a number of people privately or publicly (social media) ask, “What do we do?” This is a question borne out of the ugly chaos of American life right now.

Short Answer: Like most, I feel lost at times. I’m chaotic in my approach in these chaotic times. But do we must.

Long Answer: I’ve returned to two truths: 1) Get centered on what God wants from me; 2) Remember my time, talent and treasure.

That means, I have to start with prayer for clarity. Every time I don’t, it’s a mess, a bigger mess than the messy mess we see in our country. So I start my day with prayer. I’m praying through the psalms right now. It’s not terribly long and it’s not terribly insightful. But it’s worship and it’s asking for clarity and the Do right now.

So, here’s my messy, flawed, incomplete list:

  1. Prayer is not all we are called to. Stop staying “I’m praying” out loud to others if that’s all you are doing. Stop. Prayer is great, and as I mentioned, my number one. But nothing turns people off, especially non-Christians, more than thoughts and prayers. If you are just playing TAPs, well, you’re spiritually dead (don’t shoot the messenger–I think maybe Scripture tells us that). And if you think you are witnessing by telling people you are praying but that’s it, well, I can’t think of anything charitable so I’ll not finish that sentence.
  2. Use your time–figure out what you see that needs changing and do a small part, a tiny piece. Figure out what you can spare a week (and if the answer is zero hours, then stop working out one day a week–sacrifice). I’m swimming a lot less this summer, and that bums me out. I’m a bit rounder around the middle. Crap. Oh well.
  3. Use your talent–you can do things. I’m not talking classical piano or world-renowned oratory. If you drive, great. There are people who can’t or who are afraid of being pulled over. If you don’t believe me, do some research. People are staying home (from church, from medical care, from life) due to real fear. If you love kids or seniors, find a way to use those gifts well. At the end, I’ll list some opportunities I know of in my little world. I do believe you were created with a gift. Use it.
  4. Give your treasure–whatever you can. It’s a terrible time for many nonprofits (short reasons I see firsthand: destruction of the infrastructure of many who used to partner with the US government but now that partnership is drastically reduced; the dramatic increase in the standard tax deduction thus not incentivizing people to give to charities). What speaks to you? What is breaking your heart right now? There are nonprofits working with immigrants, with the poor, in Baltimore City and beyond. Give them some of that treasure. I would add for Christians who support their church and suppose their church takes care of this for them–maybe, maybe not. If you want some of your money going outside your church doors, that’s on you to 1) find out how church money is or is not fulfilling that goal, and then perhaps 2) give separately to those organizations you want to support. Make sure a church’s “partnership” with a parachurch charity includes appropriate financial support and to what degree.
  5. Use your voice. One easy way (it’s really easy) is to call your senator and representatives to voice your opinion, whatever it may be, about guns, immigration, poverty issues, whatever. Here’s a tool to find the contact information for your federal elected officials. Calling is best–they keep a log of the phone calls.

Organizations that have local (to me) volunteer opportunities (*remember, this is my little world, so I do have an interest here. Make your own decisions). You can also, obviously, give to these organizations. They need it.

Interested in Baltimore City and the systemic issues that afflict the City’s poorest populations? Heartbroken by health disparities in the City that affect so many other aspects of life? Check out HopeSprings (Equipping to eradicate health disparities and associated stigma in Baltimore City)

Concerned about the treatment of immigrants? Check out any refugee resettlement agency, many of whom provide holistic immigration services to refugees, asylees and immigrants generally. Here’s a list. I worked for and now consult with World Relief.

Are immigrant children in particular your focus? I’ve recently become involved with Catholic Action for Immigrant Children. Get more information here.

I donate to all of these organizations as well as to the places I worship. Make sure you support the good work you want to see continue.

It’s a crap time, folks. Count it all joy, though.

And then, do.

MAWL in the City

I’m a MAWL.

I’m a city dweller now, and can think of little that has disappointed me in this move. The parking is sometimes rough, and my driving has deteriorated (yes, that is apparently possible). But otherwise, I love it.

Something that isn’t new is being a middle-aged white lady. White and female are long-time attributes. Middle-aged has been true for more than a decade. In fact, you can argue that “older-aged” is a better term at this juncture. These descriptors aren’t new. But what is new is my need to know more than my world has traditionally known.

In 2019, I’ve intentionally (and not necessarily, I must admit, out of desire) read writers who are different from me. In a time when being different is increasingly viewed as being “other” in the worst sense of the word, I’ve tried to occasionally put myself in situations where I am unfamiliar.

I’ve started in a manner that most appeals to this introvert. So far this year, I’ve read 33 books. Ten have been written by authors of color.

Before you think I am writing this to get an approving nod or am making an overt attempt at bragging, let me be clear: this isn’t admirable or brave by any means. In fact, it’s embarrassingly too little and too late. Not too late in the sense that there is no point trying anymore, but quite literally too late in time. I should have made this effort earlier.

It’s an admission of ignorance and a sheepish recognition that I have typically chosen reading material in a manner that reflected only me, or who I thought of as “me.” All of these ten books were quality, and a few blew me away. Some I’ve appreciated for great writing even if the story didn’t ring true for me or if I couldn’t quite “get” the work or understand the circumstances portrayed.

Of course, it’s not wrong to read that which reflects me or who I think of as me. In fact, it’s a good thing. But if that’s all I read, if that’s all I watch, if that’s my whole world, well, my world isn’t whole. I’m missing a dimension. The song is incomplete. The story lacks a strong plot. The meal is comforting but is underseasoned. Pick your metaphor.

This is the journey of one MAWL who has seen a tiny glimpse of what having difference at the table — difference where you live, work, play, and worship — can bring.

Today I listened to the preaching of a pastor of color, the first I’ve heard on a Sunday in my memory. That hurts to write and is hard to admit. It was great preaching and courageous guidance. And I shouldn’t be surprised. But I was. And it hurts to admit that too.

We have to learn to admit when our little biases, built up over time, smack us in the face. If we don’t admit them, others won’t see that there is a place for them to do so too.

Come back to my blog as I chart the journey of one MAWL who will surely screw up, write poorly, and otherwise be clueless. I’ll at least try to be humorous, but even that will be, no doubt, hit or miss.

And, last, be careful of the MAWL tooling around Baltimore. Her driving is even worse.

One Grump’s Gratitude

I’ve had a series of grumpy weeks. Meaning, I was grumpy. Annoyed at events, condescendingly bewildered at how others did things, and internally rolling my eyes at everything from Baltimore drivers to Tweeples and the universe they inhabit.

We all are grumpy at times. Some are overt grumps (“Get off my lawn!”) and some are more passive about it (“If Dawn wants to meet for coffee, it would be nice if she would show up on time . . .”)

Me, I’m an overt grump. We, our little family of four, have two overts and two coverts (and the coverts are really our optimists, as well–they are only ocassionally grumpy). But one thing is not secret. I’m the grumpiest.

With what little self awareness I have had over the past few months, I have concluded that grumpiness is generally proportional to pessimism. The more pessimistic you are, the more likely you are to be perceived as (and actually be) a grump.

So you stomp on through your days, with your grumpy self. And then life strikes and you learn a hard lesson, one you needed to learn (or re-learn, probably) but so desparately wished you could have learned a different way.

This week, I met and said goodbye to a man I never met. I was witness to hundreds of, maybe close to a thousand, people whose life was impacted for the better by someone who by all accounts was the opposite of grumpy and pessimistic.

The most striking thing to me was how much more optimistic I grew during the week. That, of course, makes no sense, when the presence of a stupid idea or a reckless driver is enough to make me shake my head and wish people were different (read the unsaid but most arrogant part: “and more like me.“) The loss of a beloved, impactful person, one that I only knew through stories of his life cut short, should make me more pessimistic about the state of this world. One less saint on Earth, right?

Wrong. It made me grateful to witness the impact of this person and to learn a few life lessons. I can preach to teams and staff members to be creative in offering solutions (and I have) but it’s not something I’ve been too accomplished at these past few months, as I reflect on (or more accurately, bemoan) how hard my professional endeavors and faith struggles have grown. But listening to person after person talk about the impact of someone who always looked to make things better, despite big obstacles and even opposition, somehow I couldn’t help but catch a bit of the optimism bug. It made me ask myself, “Why aren’t you asking how you can do something instead of logging the ways you can’t?”

Yes, to some degree, that’s the lawyer in me, logging the “can’ts.” But lawyers should always be problem solvers. My job is to problem solve. It’s a trap to allow myself to be dogged by external forces, like lean budgets and hateful politics and bad actors in churches and governments. If I do that, if you do that, we are offering up our agency to others. We are giving away, abdicating, our power. Hardest to admit–we are being lazy.

And so, today, I look for solutions to hard (really, really hard) problems that my clients face, that my family members face, even that my Church faces. I express gratitude for those who have taught me this lesson of optimism and gratitude, and for those who helped me get where I am now–those who presented a path when I wanted to leave private practice, and those who presented ever-branching paths thereafter. I am grateful for family, ever growing, and friends, always challenging.

Are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution? This is one of my favorite questions, one I have sternly asked staff members in the past. One I haven’t asked myself enough as of late.

I am grateful for today and its many blessings. Tomorrow is not promised, folks.

Be grateful.

\

51 and Done

Good morning! I’m 51 and done.

More accurately, I’m done with some things and expanding to others. There are things I am doing now that are different and things I’m declaring as true for me.

I am done being an employee, at least for now. I’m a consultant, only consulting currently for my former and much, much beloved recent employer. I’m doing this part time for a season as I settle into a new life. “New” has been the buzz word of my life this year. New home, new to city living, newish to empty nesting. But other things are new now as well.

I’m done being a sibling of only a few. Indeed, news break, I have a new sibling, just discovered in the past year, which is all at once amazing, exciting, sad and real (this is probably true of most family sagas in some way or another). My current count is ELEVEN siblings. All are half, and all are loved, those I’ve known my whole life, those I’ve met recently, even those I don’t yet know. I’ve talked with an author who wrote about the emotions of learning new parentage and gaining new siblings, and you feel real kinship with others who have weathered this storm, but this author’s experience emanates from the sperm donor context (where some people learn they have hundreds of half siblings). My story is not one of fertility clinics but relationships. It has a different tenor in that regard–love or like or lust, and infidelity and heartbreak and oh-so-many repercussions and complications. It’s sadness in so many ways, real life in so many others, with blessings seeping from the cracks of despair (most especially having my real dad–the one who loved me like his own because he always viewed me that way–still in my life).

I’m done being Latina. I’ve grown in my understanding of race and ethnicity and who gets to claim what. It was exciting to announce I am Latina and Indiginous American, but it wasn’t real in one sense. My DNA may say one thing, but my life and privilege and circumstances tell another, truer truth. I’m white. Really white, as my kids would tell you. My identity is southern American, and all of the messiness that entails for me.

I’m done being a Catholic who thinks she has to be in lockstep with the Church. Yes, I’m still a Catholic, though at times that feels really tenuous, but I’m not a fully orthodox one. I question the Church’s teaching on a few, major matters after prayer, thought and study (one might call that a “well-formed conscience”–see, my Catholic is showing). Indeed, I disagree the Church is right on these matters (and yes, these are matters of “faith and morals” and therefore I am questioning my beloved Church’s infallability. WHAAAT….This is where devout Catholics close the browser). I wonder what a local church should be often and am not fully content with what I see in many places. I very much agree with most if not all of its social teachings. But as a chronic malcontent, I disagree on some matters of faith and morals, and it goes without saying I am appalled and furious at the hierarchy (including hierarchy at the parish level which is or has been complicit and lay people who choose to have their heads in the sand), and the vast, deep and horrid sins that continue to surface.

I’m done hiding behind just a few labels. Yes, I’m still an attorney and a swimmer, a wife, a mom, a sister, an aunt and a best friend. But I’m something else. I’m a writer now. Actually, I’ve always been a writer, but never called myself one. I love to write. It’s theraputic, clarifying and edifying all at the same time. I may not be a great one, and I may never be a published one other than in some niche areas, but it is who I am. I’m an auditory learner but it is in the creation of written work that I find solace and hope, and where I am most often crafting my future plans.

I’m 51 and done.