The Unfinished Work of Freedom

I was today years old when I realized something. As we stood in the meeting house this morning and sang “America the Beautiful”, I found myself looking at the lyrics, the music dying away on my lips as I read and thought. The latter section of each verse is, in its essence, a prayer.

v1 – O beautiful for spacious skies, 
for amber waves of grain; 
for purple mountain majesties 
above the fruited plain! 
America! America! God shed his grace on thee, 
and crown thy good with brotherhood 
from sea to shining sea. 

v2 – O beautiful for heroes proved 
in liberating strife, 
who more than self their country loved, 
and mercy more than life! 
America! America! May God thy gold refine, 
till all success be nobleness, 
and every gain divine. 

v3 – O beautiful for patriot dream 
that sees beyond the years 
thine alabaster cities gleam,
undimmed by human tears! 
America! America! God mend thine every flaw, 
confirm thy soul in self-control, 
thy liberty in law.

For all their extolling America’s virtues, these verses and the prayers embedded into them acknowledge that there is still so far to go, so much to do in the work towards that American Dream of freedom. And I find myself appreciating this honesty, whether the authoress, Katharine Lee Bates, intended it or not.

The absolute truth of our country is that freedom is still an unrealized dream. No, slavery doesn’t exist anymore in our country (not as we historically think of it) but the cultural and societal beliefs and mindsets that engendered it still survive and pervade. Freedom and independence still do not exist for all in America. The fight for equality and equity is still on-going. It is not over because not everyone is truly free and, ever more the worse, many refuse to acknowledge this truth.

“God mend thine every flaw.”

We are such a flawed nation, dear readers. We pull away the rights and access that we were taught were the very basis and foundation for our country’s creation in the first place. We deny others the security, equality, and freedoms that we have enjoyed. We shove people out instead of welcoming them in. We revel in and even proudly display our biases, our prejudices, our hatreds, and out the other corner of our mouths, we declare this “the greatest country on earth”. It is not. We have not fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, clothed the naked. We have not welcomed the desperate stranger nor loved our neighbors as ourselves (no exceptions). We are not free. Not yet.

So, as we cook our hot dogs and terrify our pets with colorful explosions, let’s not forget, dear friends, that one of our most “patriotic” songs acknowledges the long way we have yet to go and prays for us in it.

Till all success be nobleness.”

We are not free because not everyone is free or has the equity or ability to live with dignity and rights. Freedom has never been and still is not yet “for all”. We are not done yet. So don’t you dare think that this is the time to sit back and rest on your laurels and admire how great America is. We aren’t there. Not yet. We are closer. But not there yet.

So. Finish up your hot dog and potato salad, make sure that your sparklers are all the way out, and get up. Let’s go. There’s still work to do, friends–for our loved ones, for our neighbors (all of them), for our country. Let’s go make it beautiful.

Love Is a Superpower

Check out that title again. Go on. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here for you.

See that? Did you know that? Think about it! Love is a superpower.

Love is versatile. Love is strong. Love is life-saving. Love is world-changing.

Love is a superpower.

See that girl standing against the wall over there, her head bowed? That head covered in luminescent teal and aqua hair, hair that perfectly matches her outfit? Imagine how proud she must have been of that radiant ensemble after meticulously planning and putting it together. Then no one complimented it. No one noticed the bravery and care it took to live her unique beauty and truth. Now imagine her face after you step over and tell her, “I love your mermaid hair!” Imagine the smile that might brighten that beautiful young face. That’s the power of love. That’s the supernal magic of expressed kindness and compassion.

Love is a quiet word. Love is a genuine compliment. Love is an acknowledgement of trying.

Love is a superpower.

When we extend even a little love outward, it ripples, reverberates, snowballs, and multiplies exponentially. It may not always come back to us but we can absolutely count on it surging forward like a wave swell, building and increasing in power as it courses onward until it finally hits and explodes, sending uncountable, shining, shimmering pieces of itself out into the air and the world.

Love is what compels children to pick up their plate, walk out of a restaurant, and hand it to a hungry soul huddled outside.

Love is what compels neighborhoods to rally around their sick, elderly, and downtrodden to lift them up to hope.

Love is why children who are left to grieve the death of a parent are gathered close and taken in by family friends. People who have always treated children like their own are taking them into their families as their own, ensuring that they know they are loved, protected, and wanted.

Is love always easy? No. I love always accepted, lauded, or thanked? No. Like courage, love does not derive its definition from simply doing it when it is easy. Courage is doing what’s right or what’s needed in the face of being scared. Love is doing good when we could do otherwise.

Love is we choose to step into an isolated corner or a lonely cafeteria table and speak to the soul that’s hidden there.

Love is when we choose to wait for someone rather than rushing ahead.

Love is when we choose kind words and a soft voice rather than the explosion our feelings tell us is warranted.

Love is when we choose to see the child needing help coping rather than the little tyrant throwing a fit.

Love is when we choose to accept as is. When we choose to sit with, hold close, listen intently, speak encouragingly, handle gently, defend boldly, and act mercifully. Watch what happens. Watch the changes, the improvements; watch the vibration, reverberation, and snowballing of that love as it is passed on to others. Love never remains stagnant, unchanged, or even in one place.

Love is supernatural. Love is supernal. Love is superb. Love is absolutely a superpower!



Five Problems with Social Media

So…hi! I was going to start this in November but I got on a roll today. So, today, I am starting The Writer’s Circle’s 30-Day Writing Challenge. Each day there is a topic and I will do my best to write as honestly and boldly as I can on each. The first one is, admittedly, a bit negative but a necessary truth. To make sure it isn’t all negative, I have tried to include some positive things that I am doing to address/combat each problem as I see it. And here…we…go!

= = =

  1. It’s addictive. I admit. I have a bit of a Facebook addiction. I usually have a tab with it open on my browser all day long as I tend to post whatever I find encouraging and edifying throughout the days, as well as a few daily staples, like my workout (it’s my personal accountability to post it each day). Aside from Google Hangouts, it’s my main method of communication/knowledge with a great many friends. These are not excuses, simply acknowledgements. But, yes, it’s very addicting. I have been working hard to make sure that Facebook is not the first thing that open on my phone or computer when I wake up in the morning, trying to be intentional about spending those first few moments of the day in quiet time with God before I do anything else (aside from the caring for the toddler if she needs me).
  2. It’s subjective. Social media allows us, if we want to, to only show the best parts of ourselves and our lives. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. We can completely change the image of our lives by what we post and share on social media. We can make ourselves into supermoms, studs, A-students, etc. We live in a comparative society. We compare ourselves to others and they to us. If we are not careful with social media, we can project (as well as accept defeat at the hands of) an image of perfection that no one can live up to. We are here to support one another, not compete with one another, because everyone loses that contest.
  3. It can be quite negative. I’ve known several people who portray only the worst parts of themselves on social media – the vindictive, critical, argumentative, or bitter. I can entirely understand voicing your opinion but when that privilege comes along with tearing someone, something, an issue, or a stance to tiny little shreds and then dancing over those shreds with malicious glee…no. Such a thing is cowardly and unkind. I have had to check myself on several occasions when I have started to allow my dislike of something to tiptoe from a difference of opinion into unkind nastiness. True, I tend to pull myself back fast but the dirty feeling doesn’t leave quite as quickly. We need to make sure that we are not allowing ourselves to spread or be infected by the massive levels of negativity that can pervade social media. If that means unfollowing, unfriending, or not posting altogether, then that’s a conversation you need to have with yourself.
  4. We can fall into the approval trap. We need to be careful that we are not basing our self-esteem on the approval of social media. Our pictures, our stories, our opinions. I never want the basis of my personal self to be built on how many comments I received on that selfie or how many people liked my blog post, even. We cannot build ourselves around the shell of social media.
  5. It can distance us rather than connect us. There are articles and videos and PSAs aplenty about social disconnect and how being connected on social media can actually leave us physically and emotionally disconnected with those in our personal sphere. I don’t want that to happen. I am working harder on putting my phone down or computer aside when my daughter runs up excitedly and wants to tell me something, or cuddle with me and read a book or watch a movie. I trying to be intentional in conversations with my husband: turn off the ringer/put the phone down, set the laptop aside, turn the TV down or off, full eye contact, and actually listen to what is being said to me because, whatever it is, it is important to him, important enough for me to give him my full and loving attention, even if all he wants me to do is listen as he orders his mind through conversation. I never want to be so media connected that I am socially no good.

Morning Body – July 22, 2010

Some people talk of morning breath, bed head, morning hair, even…yeah, that. I like to think of myself having “morning body”. I think my body looks its best in the morning, right after I wake up, before the day and its cares have had a chance to stress and ravage it. My eyes don’t look tired or my mouth pinched in thought, the curve in my waist is gentle, feeding into the slope of my back, the “S” of my form from shoulder to thigh. I spent a good ten minutes this morning just looking at myself in the mirror, wondering over my lifetime and the changes my body has gone through.

When I was a child, I was a little stick, skin-and-bones. People used to comment and, yes, tease me about how skinny and small I was. When I grew into a teenager and my body began filling out, I remember not a great deal aside from that it was rather painful. I had a horrible time with my skin as well, though I got over it, even though it continued for a long while.

When I entered college at 17, I still felt very much like a child. I had not dated, the only “date” I had been on was a Valentine’s Day banquet with someone I had known since kindergarten and did not think of any deeper than a friend. No one had ever told me, outside of my family and perhaps a girlfriend or two, that I was lovely. I felt little, young.  Of course, I gained weight my freshman year, which my mother failed to inform me of, since it is sometimes hard to judge for one’s self. It wasn’t until I saw the pictures of my summer that I realized, which, honestly, made me feel badly. Over the years, my weight fluctuated, not hugely but a bit.

In 2004-2005, during my first year of graduate school, the stress of the move and my new course of study stressed me to the point that I lost weight down to 97 lbs. I hadn’t been that skinny since….I don’t know when. But I wasn’t happy with it because I knew that something must be wrong. I started gaining weight again after I saw my doctor and got things figured out.

In 2007, I began belly dancing in order to get myself in shape and be active in some way that didn’t involve conventional exercise. Today, I have no idea how much I weigh and that is fine with me. I’ve worked hard on my conditioning and dance drills, yoga, and exercise this year (though I can always do more). As a result, I quite like the way my body looks. I like it! 🙂

I remember admiring my mother in her A-line dresses and running my little hands over the graceful curve of her waist from her ribcage down to her hips. Such a gorgeous hourglass figure. I remember saying to her, “I want to look like this.” And now I do. Perhaps that is part of why I like the way I look now. It reminds me of my mother at the height of her beauty. I still very much find my mother beautiful with her quirky smile and close-lipped laugh, her abundant dark hair, some of it a beautiful silvery grey now. I remember when she used to let it down and let me play with it; I’d hold its weight in my hands and marvel at it. I love my mother and always wanted to look like her.

I like my body the most in the morning, I like to be able to look at myself and admit that I do in fact like the way I look. It has been a long, long time in coming for me to say that, as most of you know. It’s a nice feeling, though.

Now that I’ve indulged in a little vanity, I shall go and kiss my husband happy anniversary and thank him for the lovely flowers.