Thursday, April 25, 2013

Don't Despair

Love recognizes no barriers.  It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.
-Maya Angelou

Last week I sat in on a presentation by local political cartoonist Joel Pett.  Two days prior, he was working on his day's drawing when he heard about the Boston Marathon bombing.  He scrapped his plan for that day and drew a symbol of terror running toward an unreachable finish line. 

Whether or not it was his intended message, I heard despair. 

I think in the minutes and days following the bombing many felt that emotion.

In some ways, feelings of desperation have been replaced with relief, celebration or at least determination to go forward.

But I still hear murmurings of despair around me.  Friends and strangers dealing with overwhelming circumstances, heavy local and world issues, unsure how to overcome.

I'll admit I've felt it myself.

In the fight for freedom of the world's 27 million slaves.  More enslaved people than ever before, despite the efforts of history's numerous hardcore abolitionists.  In the agonizingly slow journey toward global gender equality.  Being allowed to learn and to vote and to choose a spouse and a job is bittersweet when some sisters are being killed because of the value their culture places on testosterone.  In the work of child abuse prevention. When you make that your full-time job then turn on the news at home to hear about the death of a precious two year old.  Any child reached fades away when you see the pale blue eyes of the one you missed.

Your list is probably different from mine, but I do not think I am alone in sometimes thinking: 'Is anything even really getting better at all?  Is there even really any point in trying?'

When those doubts hit.  When I go to bed at night bone-tired, weary and defeated, this is the thing that convinces me to get up the next morning: Love.  It wins.  And always will.

That's not something I made up.  And it's not just a Pollyanna outlook. 

All of the great thinkers, change-makers, scholars, theologians, prophets and deities agree.  Love prevails.  It conquers hate.  It overcomes evil.  It rights wrongs.  Love has the final victory.

You can see it in love's response to tragedy.  The thousands who spontaneously rebuild the destruction of two.  More than once.

Love is often quiet.  It doesn't draw the same attention as wickedness.  But rest assured, it is at work around you.  If you look, you will see it.  If you close your eyes, you may be able to feel it.  It will fill up your empty soul.

And when you are bombarded by bad, when you are gripped by despair, remember that everything will be okay.  Better than okay, actually.  Love -- the most powerful force this world has ever known -- is working to make it that way.

Grieve.  Mourn.  Wallow a little (and a little more) if you need to.  That's just part of having a heart.

But then dry your eyes, square your shoulders and get back to the task you've been given on the side of love.

We'll get there.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Manifesto for Earth Day

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay.  Want more
of everything ready-made.  Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more.  Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute.  Love the Lord.
Love the world.  Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag.  Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand.  Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium.  Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit.  Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.  Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable.  Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade.  Rest your head
in her lap.  Swear allegiance
to what is nighest in your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it.  Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.  Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

-Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Just as I encourage people to be respectful to one another, I also encourage you to respect earth, nature and its inhabitants.  No matter how you feel about environmental issues, none can argue that the next generation will inherit our blessings and our mistakes.  The less you expend, the more that will be left for others to enjoy.

And support your local Mad Farmer(s).  They do more for us and for our planet than we take the time to realize.  With very little appreciation.  Ask about their crops.  Buy their produce.  Hug them. 

Maybe get to know them before you try that last one.

Happy Earth Day.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Respectful Communication, Part One (of many more parts)

Microsoft Office clip art

The day of the soft answer has apparently passed into twilight.
-Jen Wilkin, blogger

The seeds for this blog were planted nearly a year ago as I became increasingly discouraged at the ways in which people were choosing to communicate. 

From my limited view, people seem to be getting more and more comfortable using harsh, sensationalized words and polarizing language.  Name-calling and crudeness are not only accepted, but sometimes even rewarded by ratings and revenues.  On social media, by likes, shares, retweets and plus-ones.

It was enough to make me seriously consider disengaging from social media (and a lot of traditional media) altogether.  It was enough to make me seriously consider my own personal and complete ban on pithy comments, sarcastic comebacks and loaded words in writing and all forms of communication.  But extremes are what I try to avoid, and brusque communication has its place.

So I continue to follow and engage, but also sometimes silently cringe.

I don't feel credible and I don't feel capable of changing things.

Still, I feel a need to ask people to be nicer to one another.  On and off line.  In actions, words and writing.  I've spent the last several months studying this, thinking about this and working up the courage to ask: 'How about not calling someone a derogatory name when explaining why you disagree with him?'

Well, there's more to it than that.  A lot more.  But I do think that would be a great start.

A social media study that made headlines last week said nearly 80 percent of the respondents reported increased rudeness by their online friends.

I didn't respond, but I would have been in the 80 percent.

I understand that there are some complex issues facing our nation and our planet.  And consequential topics deserve passionate debate.  But I think a lot more could be accomplished in the end if we change the way we talk about things.

I hope you'll stick with me through a series of posts on my own thoughts about respectful (and effective) communication, but if you choose to do nothing else, then please at least try to cut down on the name-calling, put-downs and crudeness.

Here are a few suggestions:

If you must use words like 'dumb' or 'stupid' then use them as sparingly as possible.  'Retard' really isn't acceptable at all.  Before you conclude I'm being too sensitive about this please read the editorial that helped convince me.  If you still think it's okay, then we'll just disagree. (Respectfully, of course.)

Please refrain from referring to people as animals.  Even if you think some of their actions are similar to certain animals' behaviors, or they weigh a similar amount, or their name is very close to the sound an animal makes, you'll sound more credible (and less crass) if you do not communicate that observation.

Don't support disrespectful communication.  If someone makes a good point that you whole-heartedly agree with but does so in a disrespectful manner (even if you feel like the person being disrespected deserves it), then try to find someone who has better articulated the message and share or support that one.  I have read many articles, blogs and editorials that are hard-hitting, persuasive and polite.  If you do share or support rude communication because of the value of the underlying message, then I suggest that you at least add a disclaimer against the crudeness.
Use harsh language cautiously.  I agree it is sometimes needed and called for.  But it is being grossly misused and overused these days.  Choose words with your end goal in mind.  Usually softer words will yield a better effect.

Friday, April 12, 2013

What child abuse prevention means to me...

To believe in a child is to believe in the future.  Through their aspirations they will save the world.  With their combined knowledge the turbulent seas of hate and injustice will be calmed.  They will supply humanity with music and beauty it has never known.  They will endure.  To these ends, I pledge my life's work.
-Henry James

Nearly thirty years ago, a child was born into a large, loving family.  Planned for by her young and in-love parents.  Welcomed by a whole throng of doting aunts, uncles and cousins.  Immediately attached to two devoted grandparents.

Her childhood experiences could have been lifted from the pages of a storybook. 

Holiday traditions were established that first year and continued through her life.  Summers were spent outside.  Running, playing, exploring.  Well into her adolescence, she celebrated the first year she managed to avoid the inevitable bee sting that became as much a part of the season as bike-riding, hiking and trips down to the garden.

Life was easy and innocent, as it could only be for a child.  When the biggest concerns were which cousin would be her playmate, how much chocolate milk and cartoon-watching could be negotiated, what little trinkets her aunts and uncles would surprise her with and how fast she could make it to her papaw's arms when her grandmother playfully chased her through the house.  He was base.

She felt safe and loved almost every moment of her young life.

Her grandmother and many of her teachers always pushed her to make education a priority.

Not unlike thousands of other girls of her age and in her country, she received a college degree, began a fulfilling middle-class-wage career and embarked on a very happy life with a handsome man who stole her heart and then fiercely protected it.

This story isn't at all unique until you realize that -- statistically -- it never should have happened.

This little girl grew up in a rural, isolated community where the supply of jobs was inversely related to the beauty of the mountains surrounding her.  The 2010 U.S. Census placed her home county as second poorest in the nation, with a median household income of $18,869. 

Even adjusted for inflation, her family made much less than that.  It wasn't two-dollars-a-day poverty but still qualified them for every government-assistance program around.  Her mother had completed high school, her father just seventh grade.  They divorced when she was ten years old.  He was an abuser of substances and of people.  Ironically, not in that order.

She credits a higher power for orchestrating her deliverance from the life typically lived by girls born into her circumstances.  Those who deny that kind of power cannot deny the influence of the caring, involved adults in her life.  The people (and the programs) who stood between her and the abuse (and the consequences of abuse) that could have been.

I worked for a lady at a child abuse prevention agency in Kansas who often said 'we'll never know what we prevented.'  That's true.  And we'll never know exactly what this little girl's life would have been like were it not for her extended support system. 

The possibilities sometimes haunt me though because -- as you may have figured -- she is me.

Neither I nor my family realized at the time the extent to which my risk factors were being counter-balanced by protective factors.  Such clinical terms hadn't even been invented yet.  Back then it was simply family looking out for their own.  Community rallying around a child, of great value just for being.

And though the terminology has changed, child abuse prevention looks exactly the same today.

Get involved in children's lives.  Be a positive influence and make a difference for them.  However you can -- in little and big ways. 

As an extended family member, it may feel like only a meaningless game played, idle time spent or a cheap toy given.  As a friend or neighbor, it may be only a smile, a quick hug or an afternoon activity.  As a teacher, it may seem to be just another day on the job.  In reality, though, it is building a happy, healthy, stable adult.

And to all those who pitched in during my childhood and made my life great, thank you.  You are the epitome of efforts to strengthen communities, families and children. 

I'm so glad we have no idea what you prevented.


April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.  For more information, you may visit .

I encourage you to get involved in your local PCA State chapter.  Learn more at

And you don't have to reside in a state to support their efforts.  Having worked for both, I am especially partial to the chapters serving states that begin with the letter 'K.'

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

For those who have no choice. (yet)

God is good, and one day I won't be a [slave] anymore.
-Bill Nathan, Haitian child slave at age 8 -- after a beating -- to his owner, as shared by Ben Skinner in A Crime So Monstrous

There are more people living enslaved on our planet today than ever before.  27 million men, women and children.  In the United States of America, where we pledge liberty and justice for all, and 160 other countries.

To clarify, that number is not based on a loose definition of slavery.  But rather of one human completely controlling another human person through violence or threat of violence, with no pay and no ability to leave. Usually for forced labor or forced sex.

In the time since you started reading this, another sweet little innocent child has been sold into that definition of slavery.  For as little as 50 U.S. dollars.

What will her life be like? What will she be used for?

I try to imagine what it would feel like to be a slave. I try to imagine the depth of evil, or cultural complacency, it would take to enslave and use a fellow human in such a grisly manner. But I can't handle it for very long and always come up short.

The snippets of modern-day slave stories I've been able to stomach lead me to believe her experience will most likely be horrifically gruesome, to say the least.  I can't bring myself to type it.

If you were not aware of Earth's persisting slavery epidemic, this is not news meant to overwhelm you.  Though you may be feeling overwhelmed.  And I actually tried to keep the shock-factor as minimal as one possibly can when dealing with a topic as horrendous as human trafficking and slavery.

Because I want to focus on the flip-side to the modern-day slavery story.  It is a story of hope.  Well-founded hope.

Said another way, the percentage of people living enslaved on our planet today is smaller than at any other time in history.  Yes, there are more slaves in number, but it is also true that there are more of us free and capable of freeing them than ever before.  Some who are better informed on this issue than I am say we can free every last one of them in one generation.  And completely prevent the bondage of future generations.

Free people are rising up -- in groups and individually -- and doing the work to free others.  Entire organizations are devoted to the effort.  And they are making a difference.

Bill Nathan's words proved prophetic.  He was freed and now works to free others through a boys' orphanage in Haiti.  All 27 million brothers and sisters in bondage can say those same words.  It is true for each of them.

One day no one will be bought or sold, chained or beaten.

One day all children will keep their childhoods and their innocence.

One day every little girl will be cherished, every woman valued for her full worth, every boy nourished, every man respected.

One day there will not be any slaves any more.

The only question is, what part will you play in realizing that day?



This post is in honor of Shine a Light on Slavery Day.

I am so thankful to say that there are far more organizations, people and efforts to end slavery and human trafficking than could ever be included in a blog post.  To learn simple (or not-as-simple) ways that you can get involved, visit .  They provide a lot of helpful information and links to some (but not all) organizations working to free people.

If you would like a peek into the reality of modern-day slavery, the END IT Movement website also contains a list of informative books.  A quick internet search will yield plenty of reading material.  Be warned, it's worse than you think.

Statistics and information used in this post were taken from the END IT Movement campaign, the CNN Freedom Project, and the writing of slave-advocates Kevin Bales and Ben Skinner.