The 4-H Fair and a Series of Fortunate Events

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If you enjoy short sleeve plaid button-up shirts, then the fair is the place for you.

Aah, the 4-H fair.  If you’ve been to one as a spectator, as a fried-food connoisseur, or as a ride-goer, then the fair is always something to look forward to, something that is pure childlike fun.  If you are a 4-H’er, then you know this time of year as something a little different.  It’s the time when your work of the past few months culminates into one day.    It can be a tough week.  But to say it’s just a tough week would be drastically selling it short.  I would personally call this week, more than that…I would call it…magical.

Both of our girls decided to show birds this year.  Our two ducks, Momo and Lulu, who have graced our home (including our bath tub) since February, would be entered into the Exhibition Duck competition. This can be a tough category, usually with several entries and tough standards.  But the girls loved these birds and knew they wanted to show them.

And thus the hard part.  These birds were loved. These birds have names. This is the fine line you walk when you raise animals that a)live outside, b)aren’t intended to be pets, and c)are intended to eventually be food.  This is not easy, especially when you aren’t born into it.  If you start this life knowing these animals you raise shouldn’t be named, that their main purpose is to feed your or someone else’s family, then I have heard it is easier.  (I still find that slightly hard to swallow when I see a young man laying next to his beef cow in their 4-H barn.)  But the longer we have lived here and the more animals we have raised, we have  learned and gotten more used to this life cycle and we are grateful for it.  We have always been meat eaters, buying from a local farmer or grocer.  But now raising our own, we have a new appreciation and connection for these lives and the sanctity of the nourishment they provide.

I digress.  Entering an animal into the fair competition gives you the option of putting that animal up for auction.  It is entirely optional, with Maia last year basically forming a protective barrier around her Grand Champion Lulu.  (“Don’t even look at her, people.”) And there are several factors that lie in the auction process.  If you have a ribbon-winning animal, there is a good chance you can make a large sum of money at auction.  And then of course, if you do put your animal up for auction, there is a good chance you will never see that animal again.  And here is where I explain the alternative…there is a second option.  There are several local businesses and benefactors that appreciate 4-H and the kids that participate.  They know these kids work hard, they put early mornings in, and they want to help them.  So they come to the auctions to bid on the animals, not to take them home, but as money for that 4-H’er.  They have no interest in the animal – they are investing in our youth.  When I found this out, the little hairs on the back of my arms stood up.  Our girls get up early, they take care of these living creatures rain or shine.  Do they love it?  Not always.  But they do it, knowing if they don’t, no one else will.

So, by hard work and good fortune, Maddie’s duck, Momo, won Grand Champion of her category.  And knowing the prize money potentially involved, she decided to auction Momo.  She weighed the risk, knowing he may not be coming home with us.  After much thought, she decided to take the risk.

We begin our walk to the grand stand for the small animal auction.

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We are walking to the grand stand for the small animal auction and when we arrive, I am immediately struck by the number of children who look barely school age, that are there to auction their rabbits and poultry.  It is a resilience I did not have at that age and even now, have to muster.

Maia is holding it together at this point.  She is not on board with this and has let Maddie know she is not on board with this.  Maddie reassures her, it will all be fine, not knowing herself what is about to happen.

We arrive in the grand stand, getting ready to take our seats.

But I’ve left something out of the story up to this point.

Joe received a text message the previous night.  A message from our neighbors.  A message saying only, “So I guess we are buying a duck tomorrow night?”

Magical.

Our dear, amazing, loving neighbors went to the fair. They spoke to a friend in the poultry barn, because Monroe County is small and when you live in the country, you are going to know a lot of people at the fair.  They spoke to the auction director and the director mentioned that Momo was going up for auction.

Text message sent.  Eyes tearing up.

We walk into the grand stand and see this:

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Our neighbor speaking with the auctioneer.

We take our seats.  Several animals are sold to the highest bidder.  Then…

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Momo and Maddie make their entrance.  The auctioneer starts and it all moves quickly.  Maia sitting with us doesn’t really process what is happening.  Then it’s over.  Sold to Number 12.  She looks around.  They are looking at her.  And it hits her what just happened.

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Magic.

A lot happens at the 4-H fair.  Some of it is hard.  And some of it will make you cry, the love and beauty that happens between neighbors and community and kids that work so hard.

Maddie walks over, smile and a hug.

A long day and she is tired and ready to go home.

And Momo is coming with us.

Make America Empathetic Again

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Situations like this always remind me of Cadbury Eggs.

I love chocolate, candy, sweets in general, but the Cadbury Egg has always held a special place in my heart.  For a long time, I was convinced that it was just the overwhelming deliciousness of ‘The Egg’ (as it will be referred to moving forward) that made me love it as much as I do.  But in the recent past, I’ve discovered that’s not it – it’s the fact that I only have a certain amount of time each year to enjoy The Egg.  The fact that this treat is only available for a small portion of the spring is what makes it such an extra special delicacy.  Put into one word, scarcity is on what this love is based.

Scarcity has a crazy effect on people.  It will do everything from making a person eat thirty goo-filled chocolate eggs in a few weeks to convincing an entire country that a thirty foot wall is needed for the stretch of a few thousand miles.  In our internet-driven, social media filled world, it is difficult to see some that have so much and feel we don’t have enough.  We need more of whatever it is we feel we don’t have, and we certainly don’t want some person that isn’t a citizen taking part of our share.

It’s an easy sell, isn’t it?   Here is what is missing from your life and here are the people you don’t know who are to blame. And that is where it gets really messy…a feeling of scarcity plus a sense of separation leading to a new found lack of empathy.

I remember growing up in our small subdivision, my nine-year-old brother’s best friend dying of cystic fibrosis.  We went to visit him in his home two days before he passed away.  I will always remember sitting in his family room, on the sofa, next to him.  He and my brother laughing, neither of us realizing that we would be at Charlie’s funeral the following week.

And then today, reading a politician’s quote regarding our proposed new health care system, ““It will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool that helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy,” said Brooks. “And right now, those are the people who have done things the right way that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

Blaming costs of healthcare on people we don’t know who haven’t lived the right way.

Instilling a sense of scarcity and separation. I can just see someone yelling at the TV, “Right!  I take care of myself!  I’m not paying for these people that smoke and do drugs and put themselves in situations where they are going to be the victims of sexual assault.”

He didn’t have a Charlie.

Charlie was born with Cystic Fibrosis, lived a joy-filled childhood and died when he was ten.

He didn’t know people like Charlie’s parents, who loved everyone, cared for everyone, and despite enormous pain. One thing I didn’t mention?  Charlie had five siblings, two others also died of cystic fibrosis.

This dear family is just one example.  One example of millions who lived “good lives” (like any of us are qualified to judge this) who became sick or were born with sickness.  And those who feel they shouldn’t have to/don’t want to contribute to a system that helps everyone lead a healthy life.

A sense of scarcity = a lack of empathy.

But here is the good news, folks.

We have created the idea of scarcity.

There is as much as we want there to be.  There is enough to go around for everyone.

I know there is hardship.  I know there are feelings of others having more, of some not having enough.  And we are shown daily just how much by the media and the internet.  And there are some who no matter what, will most likely always feel the scarcity and enjoy magnifying it for others.  (Insert Joe Walsh, R-Illinois: “Sorry Jimmy Kimmel: your sad story doesn’t obligate me or anybody else to pay for somebody else’s health care. “)

But I bet Mr. Walsh didn’t have the pleasure of knowing a Charlie.

He didn’t know the love that family gave, the love they received from the community around them when Charlie was dying.  It was a beautiful, big love.  I would love everyone to be able to know that kind of love.

If they did, our country wouldn’t be having these arguments.

Because when you live in a community, a state, a nation that takes care of each other, then there is enough.

I give some to you, it opens the space for more, then fills back in.

So now when Easter season rolls around, I buy one 4-pack of The Eggs and really savor them instead of loading up my Target cart to the brim. And I buy some to give away.  And you know what?  It’s more fun to give them away.  And I save a ton of money.  And I don’t feel nauseous the entire month of April.

So what do we do?  We move forward.  We don’t listen to those who want to make us believe there isn’t enough.  That we aren’t all in this together.  We lock arms, we love each other, and we give all we can.  Because when you are busy giving, you aren’t worried with what you have.  But I promise you’ll find, there will always be enough.

Hey Christians, Where You At?

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My mom always told me, “Stand up for your rights.  Speak up.”

It’s easy to speak up when we are in agreement.  To say, “Me too! I also love dry martinis and bleu cheese and guys with beards.”  Not so much when we are not seeing eye to eye – especially when it’s about the important stuff, the life and death stuff.

The Jesus stuff.

And the fact that some you thought would speak up, should speak up, don’t – it makes you want to shout even louder.  And sometimes, that shout is, “Why?”

I am looking at you, Christians.

This world, this country – we have had a crazy year.  There is war, oppression, hunger, homelessness.  There are people fleeing their homes, trying to escape their war-torn countries, to save their lives and the lives of their children.

There is so much to speak up about right now.  So much to say, “this isn’t right.”

To live a Christian life means to be of service, to help those in need, to be the hands and feet of Christ.

This is where I got confused when I was younger.  And why I left the church for a while.  I saw several people who claimed they were Christians, running around using Jesus’ name, judging and name-calling.  And I saw several who didn’t proclaim a faith, living in a more loving and giving way than I had ever witnessed.

The latter were the ones I wanted to learn from, wanted to be more like, and I still feel that way.  Whether you are Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, atheist – if you are working to make this world a more loving, giving place, speaking up to make it a more loving, giving place –  then you are the boots on the ground.

For example, if you are more concerned with maintaining the “Under God” portion of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools than you are helping the poor, or if you are more concerned with keeping marriage out of reach for a loving gay couple than helping refugee children in need, then I am closer to an atheist who does the latter than a Christian who does the first.

I know I am going to fire some people up with that one, but if it helps to quote scripture, then here is Matthew 12:50 for you:  As Jesus said:  “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Living how Jesus asked us to live.  This includes speaking up.

I remember after the Trump tapes situation during the election season, I was so confused about the amount of Christian leaders who excused this kind of talk, saying that it called for grace and forgiveness and to move on.  But when it came to his opponent, there was none to be found.  So how is the decision made?  That the ones that Christians want to win to further their cause are given grace but the ones who don’t deserve to be “locked up”?  This is incongruous and a convenient way to live, but not a good representation of the one we follow.

Let me be clear, I know several churches, several individuals who have spoken up.  Who have said, “This isn’t right.”  People and groups who have shown in their actions that they want to help.  But if there ever was a time in our world to speak up collectively, it is now.

When refugees try to make a home here in our country and so many saying, “No, they are not welcome,”  And not only are they not speaking up, some Christians, namely our Governor now Vice President- Elect, attempting to put a law into place making it illegal for refugees to find shelter here.  Where is Jesus in that?  It is time to say, “This isn’t right.  We need to do better.”

When we have an election where there is misogyny and xenophobia, it is time to stand up and say, “This isn’t right.”

When we have a group of people being judged based on their faith and it is suggested there could be a registration for that population, it is time to say, “This isn’t right.”

When we have our climate changing, our Earth’s natural resources being pillaged for financial gain – it’s time to say, “This isn’t right.”

Human trafficking, oppression, innocent people being shot – it is time to shout from the rooftops, “This isn’t right!  It is time to live differently.”

I know there is fear.  Fear among politicians that if they speak up, they won’t get re-elected.  Fear that they will lose funding to run another campaign.

I know there is fear in the church to speak up about politics and the state of world.  The need to not alienate anybody, I fear, has done the opposite and left everyone alienated.  How can our leaders rationalize it’s okay that our President-Elect mocked a disabled person?  They can’t, for fear of alienating those who voted for him, for fear the collection plate won’t be as full the next Sunday. So they just don’t bring it up.

But which is more important?  Having courage, speaking the truth, being clear about what being a Christian is about – about love, about service, about bringing everyone, even those you would disagree with, into your life?  Or giving in to the fear that we will anger some and lose their support?

I know I am going to upset people with this.  Some will say I don’t know scripture enough, I don’t have the education to speak about this.  And they’ll be right.

But I do know Jesus.  Even when I left him, when I couldn’t get on board with his followers, he fought for me.  And here I am.

Jesus got in the mix of life, he got dirty. He brazenly spoke out against inequality, helped the oppressed, condemned the oppressor, and embraced those who were alienated.  And by doing so, he was alienated – cast out for speaking up for those stepped on and calling out injustice wherever he saw it.

So here I am.  I am calling it out.  If we who follow Christ know of those suffering, of those being oppressed, of inequality, and do nothing about it, then we are not following Christ at all.

So let’s jump in.  Together let’s speak up. Let’s not be bystanders.  Let’s stand up for those oppressed, let’s call out our leaders when they are being unjust.  Let’s jump in, make our voices known and make our actions louder. It is the most Christian thing we can do.

Hunting Season

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A hike in the woods.

I brought them out here.  Gun shots in the distance.

Put on your bright clothes.  The hunters are far away, though.  They won’t hurt us here.

It wasn’t always gun shots.  They started with their bows.

Quiet.

We couldn’t even tell they were here.

And then gun season.

I brought them out here.  Too beautiful to be inside.

A blanket on the forest floor.  Long periods of peace in between shots.  A resolution of comfort, my girl lying with her book, her head on my lap.  The leaves crunch beneath us.

The encompassing forest, I see the trees I choose.

The big ones, with branches high.

My idea of the wood.

The shadows of others make their way in my line of sight.

The sun makes its way in the cracks of limbs, revealing the roots of all of its composition.

Do I choose to look?

The small trees muddle my truth.

Do I choose to look?

I have them here with me.  The hunters’ shots get louder.

I have to look.

I nourish the fate of all of us.

I have to look.

Bringing Decency Back, Election Season and All

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Give me a reason to reference Pride and Prejudice and I will:)

I remember, he was in the the fourth grade and was nine years old.  The public school system in Geneva, Illinois offered evening etiquette classes and my parents registered my brother.  For five evenings, he went to one of the local schools and learned how to sit at a table, which fork to use, how to dance.  All families were invited the last evening to see the lessons that they’d learned.

I remember seeing my older brother that evening, dressed up, white gloves on.  He pulled out the dining chair for the young lady next to him.  He then stood up from the table, helped that same girl up to stand with his gloved hand, and led her to the dance floor.  It was like watching a fairy tale.  But it wasn’t a fairy tale, it was real life, and it was training him to be the gentleman he is today.

While we were pretty rough and tumble kids, having bruises and scabs and saying the occasional curse word (usually while playing neighborhood kick ball:)), my parents taught us to be respectful of ourselves and others, to hold a door when you can, and to say excuse me when warranted.

I know that when my girls have their friends over, they are some of the most kind, most polite kids I have ever met.

I am thinking they could give us adults some lessons on how to behave right now.

How about we all work together to just lay some ground rules?

No more name calling –  Whomever you are voting for, it is not acceptable to name-call.  We have been taught this since we were little.  Let’s go back to that.  Calling a candidate a “heifer” or a “pimp” won’t change anyone’s mind.  Let’s accept that, have some respect for ourselves and each other, and move on.

Let’s be decent with each other – Let’s remember, we are not the candidates we are voting for.  It’s not okay to call someone ‘deplorable’.  It’s also not okay to make fun of a disabled reporter or grab women’s genitals.  Just because they said or did those things, we should not let them set the example.  Let’s remember what a proper society is comprised of – people who respect each other and teach their children the same.

Let’s listen to each other –    Has someone ever just yelled their opinion at you?  Or you felt, even though they weren’t actually yelling, that they were yelling their opinion at you? Like you couldn’t get a word in edge-wise?  It can be tough to take that in.  I know by now we are all pretty steadfast in our beliefs.  I know you feel strongly.  I feel strongly, too, and I’ll tell you with passion why I feel that way.  And then I will use that same passion, that same energy, to listen to you.  I want to know your opinion, I want to know what you feel strongly about.  And you may change my mind.

Let’s be informed and educated about what we cite in our decisions – I can make reference  to HardcoreDemocrats.com and you can cite TeaPartyExtreme.org all day long.  Maybe we should all check CNN, BBC, and FoxNews so we can know what all of the facts and opinions are.

Earlier in the week, my daughter told me that one of her closest friends had a little brother whose upcoming birthday party was going to be at the local trampoline park.  This friend was allowed to invite one friend and she was trying to decide who to invite.  My daughter and I discussed it, I could tell she wanted to be the one invited.  I could see her working it out in her head.  She then said, “…I know Elyse hasn’t been to the trampoline park yet, though.”  With that she got up, picked up her iPad, and walked to her room.

I admit right now,  I read my daughter’s texting threads.  I think you should, too (one of the things I feel passionate about).   I’m all for privacy, but as I have heard, having privacy on the internet is like asking for privacy at a baseball stadium.  I digress…  Anyway, she knows once a week, I take a look at her iPad to make sure we are all on the up-and-up.  Two days after the birthday party conversation, I see a message my girl sent to this same friend.  My daughter wrote, “…I know it’s hard to pick just one person.  Even if you don’t pick me, I will always be your friend.”  The next bubble from this same friend, said, “…that is just what I needed to hear.”

Decency.  Compassion.  Trying to feel where the other person is coming from.  When we have those things in our corner, then there is no need to name call.  There is no need to yell and not listen to each other.  We can state our educated and informed case to each other, make peace and move on.  And say to each other, no matter what happens, no matter who wins, I listened to you and I respect your opinion.

It is just what I needed to hear.

 

 

 

On Enough

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The cream almost empty, but the jiggling of the carton proves enough for morning coffee.

The broken shoelace, but if removed from one eyelet, enough to tie for a run before buying new.

The market flowers lovely, but the wild ones by the side of the road fill my pitcher.

The tiny hole in the toiletry bag, with a quick whipstitch is made whole again.

Made whole again.

This of mine I give to you.

It opens the space for more.

There is enough for both.

The blanket cannot stretch over the whole bed.

But if you come closer, it can easily cover us both.

And there is enough.

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.*

Five years old, sitting on the kitchen table, like every morning.

My mom, curling my hair.  The sun shining in the back window.  The smell of hairspray and coffee.

“Why does she live far away?”

“Because they bus her to your school, honey.”

“You mean she rides the bus to school?”

“Yes, but from a different part of the city.”

“Why?”

“I think it’s because schools in other parts of town might not be as good, honey.”

I didn’t know when we played ‘house’ in first grade that she was from another part of town.  I knew I couldn’t walk to her house to play after school and on the weekends.  And that she was black.

Mostly, I felt she was just like me.

“…schools on the other side of town might not be as good…”

SCHOOLS ENDING CHAPTER IN U.S. DESEGREGATION SAGA

In South Bend, Ind., a city that boasts of being ”the first Northern school district to enter into a voluntary desegregation plan,” school officials say their plan will desegregate the schools ”now and theoretically forever.”

The South Bend plan is not without its critics. White parents have sued, saying the plan is too sweeping, and black civil rights activists have sued, saying it places an unfair burden on minority students.

“Twenty seven years after the United States Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in schools, communities are still caught in confusion and dissension over how best to end it.”

I don’t know how it ends.

Another thirty-five years later.

My girls on their bike ride on our country road.  I let them go by themselves to get a taste of some of the freedom I had at their age.

The young man who lives down the road from us, driving his truck at fifty miles per hour.

This is the time I worry about my girls’ safety.

My luxury.

Mothers who have to worry every time her child leaves the house.

The color of his skin.

Too many stories of others.

Too many.

Thirty five years later.

Sixty five years later.

Two hundred years later.

When will it end?

Mothers in arms.

I stand with you.

Your child is my child.

I worry when he leaves, too.

I cannot say I know how you feel.

But I will no longer let my silence be misunderstood as indifference.

I stand with you.  I stand with love.  And I will not be quiet.

BLACK LIVES MATTER.

*Quote – Elie Wiesel