The Swelling Tide, Part 2

It’s that terrible scene that you’ve seen too many times – on television, in the newspaper, on the front cover of Time Magazine, in your nightmares, on slideshows at presentations – being shown suddenly, unexpectedly, shockingly.

It’s the name of your high school – where you were on the colorguard, where you developed a love for Shakespeare, and where you kissed your first boyfriend in the parking lot – being used as a noun that encompasses some of the most horrifying tragedies that have happened in our nation in the last 19 years.

It’s the fact that shootings just keep happening, and yours is a part of the national dialogue every time.

It’s your trauma being resurfaced over and over and over again, for 19 years.

Today I went willingly into a room with my fellow seminarians to learn more about what to do in the case of an active shooter on our seminary campus. It’s an informational session I’ve sat through many times, and even helped facilitate a few times. It’s a session that is always accompanied by a pounding heart, waiting for my school – Columbine – to be named. I wonder what will this presenter say about us? Today I thought I was in the clear. The presentation began with graphs depicting the statistics about school shootings from 2000-2013. And then, on the next slide, was the infamous black and white security camera photo of my school cafeteria, featuring tables, backpacks, and two armed students*. It’s a photo we’ve all seen many, many times, and I wonder if it is even recognizable it as a school cafeteria, or if it is just a symbol for massacre. For us, it was our commons. We bought Chick fil a sandwiches from the lunch line, and blueberry bagels with cream cheese from the school store. Our English class celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday there, with a multitude of birthday cakes and extravagant singing.

That security camera photo shocks me every time. It’s a place I know so thoroughly, and yet it’s also a place that’s so incredibly foreign. My brain has tried to reconstruct what it felt like for my friends to be there, to hide under those tables, to run out those doors, to race to lock themselves in a bathroom stall with their feet up, while they heard the ringing of bullets inside our lunchroom.

Onwards from that photo in the presentation, it’s the language, seemingly informational, seemingly innocuous.

“…47 minutes…”

“…Jefferson County handled it poorly…”

“…the science teacher…”

“…13 kids killed…”

It seems merely factual, but it’s so much more. It does not define, and it does not rule me, but it shapes me in a dramatic way.  It’s what I process and grieve and process and grieve and process and grieve – and it’s been an enormous challenge for the last 19 years.

For the 13 who lost their lives and for the two who took their own lives at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999; for the 27 who lost their lives and for the one who took his own life connected with Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012; for the 17 who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018; and for the many, many victims of gun violence that have taken place between these tragic events – we must as a society acknowledge the devastating and massive implications of these events. It’s the 13, the 27, and the 17 who are tragically impacted, and it’s the countless parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, classmates, teachers, pastors, neighbors, and so many more, who feel the heartbreaking impact of these tragedies long after the media has stopped reporting and people have stopped attending candlelit vigils.

I sat in a meeting today, with my hair curtaining my face, hands clenched in my lap, willing myself to breathe, to calm down – it would be over soon – until it wasn’t over and I could no longer contain my emotions and so I ran out of the meeting room and cried in the bathroom.

It’s been 19 years, and nothing has changed about the tragedy of school shootings. The devastation and destruction that this type of tragedy creates lasts for a lifetime for every single person who is involved.

When a school shooting happens, peace is destroyed. Peace for families, left with a gaping hole; peace for teachers, left forever watching the door and thinking about places to hide; peace for students, left with memories or imaginings of the violence that happened in their library, their science classroom, by their locker, to their friend; peace for communities, left with the awareness that they are not safe.

School shootings destroy peace immediately, and they continue to bring destruction that lasts and lasts, 19 years later and beyond. When we do not change the laws that allow school shootings to continue happening or that do not properly provide mental health support, or when we do not elect public officials who believe gun violence is an issue and are willing to do something about it, we are collectively saying that it is okay for our children to be killed at school. We are saying it is okay for countless students and teachers to struggle with PTSD and anxiety and depression and addiction, long after their high school years are over. We are saying it is okay for families to be torn apart.

THIS IS NOT OKAY.

Everyone agrees this is not okay.

But still, nothing has changed.

I can do better. You can do better.

We can do better, together.

Tomorrow is the 19th anniversary of the shooting at my high school, Columbine High School. Tomorrow my social media will be flooded with Columbine flowers, and words of peace and love, just as it has been for the last 12 years since I joined social media.

It is time for that, and it is time for MORE. It is time for all of us who are outraged to add our voices to the swelling tide of those who are marching, speaking out, and demanding change. It is time for us work together to help our lawmakers understand what’s really at stake in our schools and for our nation when we allow this violence to move forward unchecked.

Write a letter to the editor, write or call your congressman, write or verbalize your support of a politician who shares your outrage and your dreams, write or talk to a friend or family member about why this issue matters. Ensure you are registered to vote, and plan to vote in the upcoming primary elections. Find your local chapter of Moms Demand Action and show up to the next meeting. Go to an event on the 20th and march or stand or protest in solidarity. Visit Protect Our Schools to learn more and to take action.

It is my hope that, 19 years later, you will finally be angry enough and heartbroken enough and sick of it enough that you will join with me to say “NO MORE” with your words, your actions, your dollars, and your votes.

 

*Please visit No Notoriety for more information and a challenge to mass media.

Read Part 1 here

Read my story from April 20, 1999, written in 2012, here

The Swelling Tide: Part 1

I sat on the edge of my bed, sobbing as my boombox’s radio filled my room with Sarah Machlachlan’s “Angel.” Less than a week ago I had danced to this song with my winter guard. Today, it was being played in honor of the 12 students and 1 teacher who were murdered at our high school by 2 student gunmen who also took their own lives. School violence like this hadn’t happened on this scale in our country until now, and it certainly hadn’t happened in Littleton, Colorado. I had been glued to the television for days, watching in alternating horror, disbelief, and numbness as the news unpacked this tragedy. I left the television to go to friends’ houses, to attend a vigil at my church, to visit the enormous memorial at Clement Park, to mourn at funerals, to go to speak with a pastor. Family and friends came to visit, bringing flowers and food. My aunt asked me how I was, I said I was fine. She looked at me in disbelief.

I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine at 16 years old, in the days following the shooting at my high school, and I’m not fine now, at 35 years old, in the days and months and years following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, or the shooting in Las Vegas, or the shooting at Pulse nightclub, or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, or the shooting at Virginia Tech, or the shooting at ….

In 1999, the conversation wasn’t focused on gun control, and our terrible tragedy was considered unique. To that end, the conversation at the time did include safety measures for schools for moving forward. Marjory Stoneman Douglas knew all those safety measures. They practiced, as all American schools do, multiple times a year, and they did it well when their day came. And yet those 17 were still murdered in their school. The stories of students and teachers in closets and under desks, hiding in bathroom stalls, and racing through the hallways are the same stories we told back in April of 1999 as we gathered with our friends. The photos that immediately came out of Parkland, Florida are the same as the photos from Littleton, Colorado following April 20: parents clutching their children, people sobbing, teenagers looking scared and in disbelief.

It’s been 19 years, and nothing has changed about the tragedy of school shootings. The devastation and destruction that this type of tragedy creates lasts for a lifetime for every single person who is involved.

What has changed in the past 19 years are the brave voices who are speaking out to advocate, to hold accountable, to take steps so that this most reprehensible of tragedies will not continue. I am in awe and in complete support of these bold and long-awaited voices.

I add my voice to this swelling tide as a 16 year-old girl who was heartbroken and didn’t know what to do except move forward, and I add my voice to this resounding chorus as a 35 year-old woman with two children of my own. I’m not fine, and these are not stories I like telling, but they’re stories that must be told to understand the depth and breadth of the tragedy of school shootings, outside the immediate consequences.

I’ll share one story in this series a week as we move toward the 19th anniversary of the shooting at my high school. It is my hope that sharing my stories may encourage others to share their own. It is my hope that sharing my stories will help our voters and lawmakers understand what’s really at stake in our schools and for our nation when we allow this violence to move forward unchecked.

I’ll proudly join the March For Our Lives tomorrow, and I hope you will, in your respective cities, too. It is no longer a time to be numb, no longer a time to sit quietly. I’ll march tomorrow for myself, for my children, for my former students, for my friends who cannot march, and for so many others who deserve better.

#theaftermath #whatreallyhappens #19yearslater #mystory #ourstories

#marchforourlives #neveragain #momsdemandaction #everytown

Where God Lives

We were driving into Denver for Christmas and we arrived, just as the sun was beginning to set, at the part of I-76 where you first see the mountains. We were stuck in traffic, but the show couldn’t have been more glorious. After four months of being spoiled by Iowa sunsets, it was still revelatory to again see the sky split open above our beloved mountains, where the air is so high and crisp and fresh that the brilliance of the sunset looks remarkably different.

I’d recently written a poem for Wartburg’s Advent service about God living in the sunset, and it struck me anew as I watched the spectacle from a new, yet very familiar vantage point. Because God is everywhere. It’s the very nature of God, to be in and of and through all things and all people – whether in Iowa or in Colorado or in New York. This week I find myself in Manhattan for my January-term class, which I designed so I could study the table ministry that’s happening here in the city, and better understand how food brings communities together.

This is my passion. This is what I’m more and more certain I’m supposed to do at this point in my life: to feed people, to bring people to the table so that they may eat together, grow together, and ultimately be a presence of God’s love for each other. When I think back on my life, the times I’ve most experienced love are linked to food memories: my dad making scrambled eggs with Velveeta cheese and fried hot dogs for Sunday morning breakfast. My mom making a giant pot of tortellini and meatball soup for Christmas Eve. My family eating chicken tenders at Disneyland. My sister preparing huge salads for us while our kids play in the next room. My husband feeding our babies yogurt. My daughter standing on a stool and measuring out ingredients with my hand on top of hers. I think of the meals we prepared together as a youth group in Galveston and Boulder, the snacks my all-girls class made at our school in Thornton. I think of the group today that invited me to join them for brunch at the pub around the corner from their beautiful church.

In all these memories, we didn’t talk about God. We didn’t talk about Jesus. We joked, we laughed, we shared stories, we urged each other forward, we taught. This is where God lives, too. In sunsets, and in meals. In food that we need to nourish our physical bodies as well as our souls. We need the hands that prepare it together. We need the conversation that happens around the table. We need the service that goes into the cooking and the clearing. This is love. This is God.

I haven’t seen any sunsets yet while I’ve been in the city, but it’s okay. I’ve seen God in many other places, many other gaps in “regular” life. God really is everywhere – in the farm lands, the mountains, the city. God is in all places as the light and the dark of the world mingle together to create something new, yet something as ancient as the universe – just like bread, just like sunsets, just like love.

“Where God Lives”
By Kellie Lisi

You know when you’re watching a sunset
That moment when the light is at its peak
Glorious waves of crimson spread wide across the great, long sky
The darkness in between the waves
That’s where God lives
Not quite light
Not quite dark
It’s both
And it’s for all the world
In between times at all times happening in every moment at this exact moment, simultaneously around the world, this huge sphere that must have felt
So
Empty
So
Full
In the days
When the light and the dark mingled together in the sky
A sunset then, before they were separated
A sunset now.
Light and dark,
a glimpse of the beginning of the world
Each night.

You Gotta Do It Anyway

I was terrified when I decided I was ready to have a baby. For the years leading up to my pregnancy, I was convinced that I never wanted to be a mother. I didn’t want to deal with everything that surrounded motherhood, and I certainly didn’t want any children. And yet. My heart (HORMONES) started to shift and even though my brain was terrified and scared, a baby was all I wanted. In a matter of months, my desire to be a mother went, on a scale from 1-10, from being a 2 to being a 20. It took many months to get pregnant, and when I did it took several more months to tell anyone (sorry Mom and Dad), so great was my fear – about the viability, about my ability, about this crazy decision my damn hormones had forced upon me. That little baby turns four years old this week, and there are new terrors every day. Yet, I remain eternally grateful that my heart changed, that my brain shifted, that my body was ready.

I was terrified when I decided to become a consultant with Rodan + Fields. For years I had watched friends announce their businesses in various companies, and I was always a bit confused. Why had they done this? What were they trying to accomplish? Had they lost their minds? I resisted and resisted and said “no”, and yet my skin grew more and more dull and every time I looked in the mirror I fretted over how old and exhausted I looked. And so I tried my friend’s lotion, placed my first order, watched my skin heal and then change, and became a consultant myself. I was terrified of other peoples’ opinions and perceptions of me. I was scared of the work it would entail. I didn’t want to feel like people were judging me or avoiding me because of this strange THING I was doing. And yet. I quickly grew to love my new business. I loved it for the way it gave me a community, the way it forced me to reconnect with people in my life whom I cared about, the way it brought me back to myself in many ways, the way it challenged me and helped me grow. I still feel scared, yet this business came to me before I knew I needed it, and now it’s here, helping support my family, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I started it, even when I was so scared to do so.

I was terrified when I first felt the pull to come to seminary. My husband, who was in his first year of seminary to become a pastor, asked me, “Would you ever do what I’m doing?” Uh, NO. I didn’t want to be a pastor. I didn’t want to deal with people forever correlating me to the stifling churches of their youths. I was scared that my friends would think I had changed, that I no longer cared about those whom I previously loved, or that I was like “those” Christians who judged and condemned and threatened. But then my husband told me about the role of the deacon in the Lutheran church. The deacons are the bridges between the church and the world. They focus on service, on representing those who need representation or a voice or a meal. And I knew in an instant that was me. Yet fear held me back, until it became undeniable that this was it – it was what I was supposed to do. I was still scared as I applied for seminary, and for candidacy (the process of being approved by the church at large to do ministry within the church), and for scholarships. It is a massive understatement to say that I was terrified as I resigned from my beloved job at my beloved school, and as we prepared our brand-new home to go on the market, and as we packed up everything we owned, and as we moved our family to this new home in this new state. And yet. Here I am, and I know it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be and I am so incredibly grateful that I began the journey that landed me here.

In life I’ve often encountered more questions than answers. I’ve often been scared – sometimes really really scared – to make the decision that was in front of me. I have a lot more to learn about this. But for now I’m learning to take the next right step, even though I may have so much at stake and even though I may feel so frightened of what will come next or what people will think of me. I’m learning to take that fear and shove it aside so that I can DO IT ANYWAY – and be the person I’ve always wanted to be. Our world is a place where it can be a real challenge to be brave, as there’s so much noise and mess and opinions. At a time when our world is filled with so much instability, fear, and unprecedented hate speech, it can feel even more frightening to make a big decision. It can also feel silly to think about things like skincare or the little steps in our journeys. But those little steps add up: increased confidence, children who know how to treat others, reaching out to link arms and experiences with our fellow humans. 

It’s there in the little steps that the good stuff happens, that we get to be brave and learn more about who we really are and GIVE BACK to the world in ways that are deep and soul-satisfying. I wish this bravery for my soon-to-be-four-year-old, and I wish it for my phenomenal team, and I wish it for you, and I wish it for our world. The next right decision. Be terrified, but then be brave, because you just gotta do it anyway.

How Very Young and Nervous

I mentioned last week that I’m not much of a Bible person, and it’s true. It creates some challenges as a seminarian who is tasked with reading, analyzing, and thinking critically about the Bible. A good number of my issues with the Bible stem from the two years I spent in a Charismatic Christian school as an 8th and 9th grader. I have a lot to say about those two years and my experiences at the school, but that’s not going to happen today. What I do want to say today is that I was scared of the Bible for a long time. I still am. It came to represent anxiety, judgment, and outsider-status for me, and it still does, in many ways. This factored into my nervousness in approaching the first day of school.

In the most amazing first day of school moments, my New Testament Narratives professor gave us a gem. He urged us to “think of the Bible as a library of contextual voices”, rather than as a rule book. This is so grounding for me, as libraries have been (mostly, with one very large exception) havens in my world, and voices from libraries have guided me on all of my most important journeys.

Today was my eighth wedding anniversary. My husband and I watched our wedding video with our three year old tonight, and I was struck by 1. how very young he was when I married him, 2. how very nervous I was at the start of the ceremony, and 3. how many poems we had as part of our ceremony.

I’ve always found my way through poetry, through books, through the voices that make up my own personal library. I go back today to a poem from our wedding, the first text read, that framed the entire ceremony which took place in the Fall under the many aspen trees of our camp in the Southwestern Colorado Sangre de Cristos. Read by a dear friend from college, and printed in our program, “the lessons of the falling leaves”.

“the lesson of the falling leaves” by Lucille Clifton

the trees believe

such letting go is love

such love is faith

such faith is grace

such grace is god

I agree

with the leaves

Lucille Clifton was first a voice in my college poetry anthology, where I read “Homage to My Hips” and “Poem in Praise of Menstruation”, among others. I circled, starred, underlined, highlighted. Her powerful words resonated within me and made me feel powerful, too. On the day I married my husband, her words were again there, soothing this time, telling me to let go, to trust, to simply believe. And here I am again, eight years later, at the start of a very new, very unexpected journey, surrounded by new voices – but she’s still there. I can’t help but wonder now if she was there at my wedding so that I’d be brought back to this poem now, when I really, really, truly do need it.

Even though I now read the Bible with a critical lens – all the others are still there, too. In the moments when I’m too nervous, when I find myself needing to take deep, shaky breaths, when I don’t quite see how I fit in, when I’m too much teacher and not enough peer, when I’m defensive and protective, when I’m wanting to dig deep, when I yearn for community – I’m surrounded by the library of my voices that have provided context all throughout my journey.

Lucille, Anne, Donald, Ina, Barbara, Laura, C.S., Katherine, Maya, David, Isabel, Margaret, Mitch, Patrick, Toni, John, Ann, Erich, Oscar, J.K., Julie, Tim, Louisa, Beverly, Greg, Judy, Ayn, Kurt, Charles, Alice, Langston, Harper, Lucy, and so very many more: thank you. For the safety, the sense of self, the exploration, the understanding, the beauty, the heartbreak, the peace, the curiosity.

In the Beginning

I’ve never been a Bible “person”. I had to memorize the order of the books in the Bible when I was 13 and attending a small (very small) Christian school (math class was in the storage closet! You could only access the Spanish classroom by walking through the English classroom!). I also had to memorize Bible verses for Bible quizzes every Friday, but I usually cheated on those, so there clearly wasn’t much takeaway. Ever since then, I’ve been a bit put-off by the Bible. Yes, I am a seminary student who isn’t much into the Bible….this is all sounding very strange, I know.

But for me, my faith has never really been about the Bible. My faith’s roots are there, but its wings and its nest and its daily feathers and its worms are in my life and in my work. For the past 13 years, that’s been with my students. They are where my faith has been invested, where I’ve practiced everything that I believe. The God that I believe in is a God who loves desperately. A God who wants relationship. A God who cradles our world with its school shootings and terrorist-driven vans and government corruption and knows our pain and our desperation so completely. God is like my Mom, whom I avoid telling about bad or hard things that happen to me because I know that it will be so upsetting for her – but even when I intend not to tell her something, she often figures it out anyway, because she can see it on my face and she knows, without me having to say anything. God knows. And through it all, God loves.

This is what I’ve tried to bring with me into every classroom I’ve taught in. I’ve tried to bring love. I’ve tried to be there with my students as they struggled through homelessness, or hunger, or rape, or absentee partners, or jailed parents, or sick children. It’s hard to be there sometimes. It can be hard to love. But sometimes it is easy, and so joyful – when those college acceptance letters start rolling in; or a little family gets their own, much longed-for apartment; or their child stops biting and starts using words to communicate; or they finish the very first book they’ve ever read.

This accompaniment is my faith. This accompaniment is where I have tried to live out the teachings of the Bible and tried to respond to God’s love. And so, these students are so much more to me than just my former students. In so many ways, they are my heartbeat. They are my faith.

Today our professors announced that we’d be doing a text meditation from the Bible, and I inwardly groaned, my 13-year-old self fluffing up her rebellious little tail feathers. And then we started, and we were given permission to allow our minds to settle on something. My rebel brain was very quickly quieted down as the thought of my students and the thought of the devastation of the potential new DACA rulings settled in instead.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” John 1:1-5

The meditation went on for several more verses, but little rebel stayed here.

Have you ever seen more life than in a high school hallway? The jostling, the carousing, the rushing, the slamming, the shouting, the shuffling. That is life. That is light. Those students who are there – despite the mountains of shit that you know they waded through in order to get there that day – that is the light.

There is light, and there is darkness, and so many people are scared of that light because they do not understand it. They don’t comprehend. They can’t/don’t/won’t see the light that exists all through this supposed darkness because of this lack of understanding. What happens when we don’t understand? Maybe we become afraid. Maybe we shut down. Maybe we try to shut it out so that we don’t have to figure it out.

I saw my students in the Bible today, and I saw, so clearly, this reminder of why I’m here: to understand, to love, and to shine light to help others understand so that they can love. That love is what this life is all about, both from a biblical perspective and a social justice perspective. So, in the midst of the hate and the fear and the terrible, devastating decisions, let’s get out there and love who we can, and live our faith – whether we proclaim that faith as part of Christianity or simply as part of who we are.