Category Archives: Resilience

Join the Frogs with Me

It’s almost time for the frogs in the wetlands beside our house to awaken from their winter lethargy and announce their presence.  Our time to awaken has come, too.

As much as I hate publicly calling someone racist, the time has come.  President Trump is racist in thought, word and deed.  He is not the first such occupant of the White House.  Eight Presidents owned slaves while in office.  Woodrow Wilson screened the KKK movie, Birth of a Nation in the White House.  Franklin Roosevelt turned away a ship of 900 Jews fleeing Europe because he didn’t want more Jews in the U.S.*  Richard Nixon used his racist Southern Strategy to become President and Ronald Reagan trumpeted the Welfare Queen.  Until 1965, our immigration policies were written to exclude nearly all immigrants from everywhere but Northern and Western Europe.  Some, like the Chinese Exclusion Act, were particularly heinous.

Scratch below the surface and America’s systemic racism is still visible.  That has become abundantly clear in the past two years.  Those racist currents have again become dangerous as President Trump fans the flames of nationalism, White Supremacy and Christian exceptionalism.

Why do I say President Trump is racist and in thought, word and deed?  He proudly denigrates people of color and Muslims.  His vile comments encourage xenophobia, greed and hate.  His words give succor to those who burn mosques, deface synagogues, and destroy black churches.  His policies against Latinos and Muslim majority countries are break families apart and terrorize U.S. residents.  His comments and actions are considered so derogatory and racist around the world that they endanger our diplomats and military personnel.

Some White folk say the President ought to be free to speak the way they, themselves, do at home and in pubs, as if their racism is O.K. and his ought to be, as well.  But when President Trump uses vile language to speak of Africa, Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras,  or racist language about people here at home, there is much more at stake.  His words carry the full power of the United States, for good or ill.

This is not a game.  It is not innocent.  It is not harmless.  It is life and death.  It is nothing less than the future of our country and the world at stake.

Like the frogs beyond my garden, it’s time for us to raise our voices and start moving.  Citizens have moved this nation towards its ideals in the past.  We can do it again.  We must do it again.

Two citizen movements in U.S. history inspire and prod me to action:  “citizen spies” in Los Angeles and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and ’60’s.

As the KKK and neo-Nazi groups grew in power across the U.S. in the 1930’s, a handful of  citizens in Los Angeles thwarted White supremacists’ plans to torch Boyle Heights and its residents with flame throwers mounted on pickup trucks.  They also disrupted plans to  murder Jewish movie stars and businessmen, and to seize armories across the Los Angeles Basin.  With courage and determination, they acted on their values.

I draw strength, too, from the young Blacks of the Civil Rights Movement who sat in White sections of lunch counters in the South; Black and White Freedom Riders who were beaten and jailed as they registered Blacks to vote; and Black citizens who risked their lives standing up for one another and trying to claim their right to work, love, worship, vote and travel unhindered.  With bravery and determination, they acted on their belief in the ideals of America.

Most of the people who have bent the arc of America’s history towards justice were ordinary people like you and I.  They gave time and energy, skills and expertise, compassion, hospitality and life experience–sometimes even their jobs, homes, and life.

Now it’s our time and turn:  Our time to be courageous and creative.  Our turn to reclaim America from those who tarnish it anew with racism, injustice and greed.

If you’re looking for ideas, here are a few to choose from.  Voice your concerns and beliefs to family, friends, coworkers and members of your church/synagogue/mosque.  Challenge their comments and jokes.  Join Daily Action Text Alerts to participate in coordinated phone calls to Congress.  Contribute money to the NAACP, ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center.  Volunteer with groups that protect immigrants.  Pray.  March.  Run for office.  Read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Learn about White Privilege, systemic racism and how change occurs.  Listen humbly to the experiences of people whose race is different from yours and learn.  Look in the mirror with honesty, and change.  Be creative and courageous.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”


*At least one quarter of the Jews on the German ocean liner, St. Louis, died in the Holocaust after returning to Europe from the Port of Miami.
**The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 removed limitations of previous policies and, with a more generous quota system, instead based immigration on merit and family connections.
***“Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America,” by Steven J. Ross, Professor of History at USC. 

Small is Huge

Peace LilyRob and Ruth asked if we’d like houseplants they can’t move to their new home.  “Sure!” I responded.  Ruth, with a green thumb and a love for gardening, has a gazillion plants in her home.

While Rob fixed us Saturday brunch, the rest of us walked from room to room, choosing plant after plant for the brand new homeless shelter my husband manages, Compass at First Presbyterian Church of Seattle*.  We loaded 7-foot palms, Christmas cacti in bloom, weeping begonias and Aspidstra; plus tables and artwork, African masks, Peruvian baskets, and two bags of clothing into our pick-up.  The stark white, newly renovated rooms of the shelter need softening.  These would make a good start.

Of the four of us, only Mark realized how much this would mean to the shelter guests.

When we arrived at the shelter, guests emptied the truck in minutes.  One guest with a horticultural degree called each plant by its botanical name as it came in the door.  Another was reminded of the Christmas cacti that filled the deck of her childhood home in California.  A man whose calligraphy decorates the dining area brainstormed where to hang a large, colorful Picasso.  Yet another removed a safari shirt from a bag and, beaming, told me, “This is my Christmas present.”

As we drove home, we were a stew of conflicting feelings:  joy, humility, and gratitude, horror and rage.  We wiped silent tears and blew our noses.  We were lost for words.  How does one speak of the unabashed joy and gratitude we encountered as we delivered what seemed to us like mere plants?  How does one not feel humbled by the guests’ appreciation for the beauty such seemingly small things bring?  How does one articulate awe at the joy of such folk as they decorate a warm, safe, hope-filled shelter for themselves and future guests?   And how does are society justify throwing away people when they or their circumstances become difficult?

HomelessTents_Seattle_KIRO7_620-620x370The next morning, we brought a second load of plants.  It was like walking straight into a geyser of joy, gratitude, and pride.  Guests showed us plants from the day before which they had trimmed and watered as beautifully as if they were in an expensive nursery and which made the rooms softer and more human.  The shelter was full of hardship, resilience, joy and community.

Mark and I headed upstairs for worship.  The scripture read and discussed was a fitting close to Thanksgiving weekend and the beginning of our preparations for Christmas.  As you proceed through the month of December, I pray it will stay with you as it has with me.  Even the small can be huge in impact.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  Matthew 25:31-40

*The newest shelter in Seattle, Compass at First Presbyterian, provides a safe temporary home 24/7 for 80 men and 20 women from homeless encampments in Seattle.  Staff works intensively to locate permanent housing in 60 days, assembling documents such as photo IDs and birth certificates and helping with employment, medical and psychological care as needed.   King County has the third largest concentration homeless in the U.S. behind New York and Los Angeles, 11,643.


Beyond Cozy


Butterfly in Mount Ranier National Park, by Mark Smutny

I pulled a soft blanket over my shoulders, tucked my hands under the pillow and fell asleep.  Sometime in the night, I woke up with my right hand and arm numb and hurting like Hades.  Curling myself into a ball felt cozy at first but eventually cut enough circulation to my arm that my arm and hand “went to sleep.”  Note to self:  Don’t stay curled up so long you become numb.

It’s been about two years now, that I’ve lived a mostly secluded life because of health issues.  First in LA, where I was pinned inside because air pollution inflamed my lungs and put my life at risk.  then in Seattle, where it’s taken a year for my body to recover from the injury I did to it in LA with years of pollution.  My world shrank as I curled into a ball to survive.

Safe to say, I’m not the only one who finds it hard to exit the cocoon and come back to life after a time of solitude.  Folding in on ourselves is often an essential, life-saving strategy.  It conserves our energy, lets our mind and body heal from illness or grief.  It keeps us safe.

But staying like that for too long can cut us off, numb us, cause us to feel invisible and useless, and make it hard to re-engage.  Butterflies struggle to emerge from their cocoon.  My fingers tingle and ache as I wiggle them back to life.  We hesitate to reach out friends, search for a new job, adapt to new circumstances, resume hobbies we used to enjoy.

I slept through my hand and arm going numb until it became too much to bear.  I only acted when the pain awakened me.  Then I rotated my shoulder and dangled my arm.  Action, even minor, restored feeling and life.

We emerge slowly.  Testing.  Pushing through discomfort.  Pausing.  Starting again.

Feeling returns.  Life flows again in fits and starts.  Bit by bit, we wiggle our fingers, dry our wings, and begin to live again.