Thursday, July 26, 2018

July 24, 2018

July 24, 2018

I woke up early, sick to my stomach because I ate things I shouldn't of the night before. I stayed up and wrote a sermon.

I ate a late breakfast, watched some TV, took a shower, and headed to Costco. 

On Sunday, I'd received an email asking for goods to be donated to help families being reunified following separation under Trump's zero tolerance immigration policy. On Sunday afternoon, I sent out an email to the congregation asking for water, pads, stuffed animals, snacks, backpacks and a few other things. We needed them all by Tuesday night. With the limited time frame, several people sent money instead of dropping off goods. I was headed to Costco to spend that money on what was needed. 

I put giants boxes of Always brand pads in my cart, along with boxes of trail mix and boxes of granola bars. I went to the back of the store to get water, but settled on Gatorade instead. I don't get stomach bugs often, so it was not too long ago that I found out that Gatorade can be a magical elixir. It seemed that people recently released from detention might need that magical elixir, even if it was much more expensive. 

I checked out and went on my way. As I was walking out of the doors, my phone rang. A colleague in Tucson was calling. Were we doing anything? They money donated for immediate needs. Could we get stuff there? I told her I would gladly turn around and buy more supplies if she told me how much. I hadn't been able to find my Costco card before leaving home, so I went back for a temporary one a second time. I grabbed a cart a second time. I bought nuts instead of trail mix this time, but still pads, Gatorade, and granola bars. I loaded these items into my car.

I called my partner as I left the parking lot to tell him it was a good thing I'd gotten his car instead of my much smaller one. When I got to the church, I unloaded so that everything could be better reloaded later. I added to the stash of what was already waiting in the classroom.  

Then, I called my contact at the social service agency to confirm a drop-off time and see if any needs had changed. The needs had, in fact, changed some. The families had requested Bibles in Spanish, men's deodorant, a broader assortment of hygiene items, and shoelaces for kids and adults. Detention, after all, is a form of jail. Of course, the officers took everyone's shoelaces, even the kids'. 

I sat at my desk and cried. The horror settled in. My government, my neighbors see these kids and their parents as dangerous enough to lock them up, even taking away their shoelaces. I'd always assumed that when someone was released, whatever items were taken were returned to them. Apparently, this is not true. These kids and their parents need shoelaces. 

Sometimes, we count atrocities in both humanizing and terrifying ways. I've never been able to shake the sight of the piles of shoes in the Holocaust Museum in D.C. Now, I'm wondering, where are there piles of shoelaces? Can they be counted? What is done with them? Who keeps them? Who notices the workboot laces and purple sparkles of children's laces in the same bins? Where are all of those shoelaces now? Somewhere, there are thousands of shoelaces. Somewhere, there is this tangible record of this horror unfolding on our borders. I wonder who is bearing witness to these piles of shoelaces.

Time ran slowly for a while. I sat, shocked by the weight of the terrible. I know my horror pales in comparison to what my neighbors are going through. I cannot imagine what it is like to have your life fall apart so completely that you must ask neighbors for shoelaces. 

I cannot forget those shoelaces. I imagine that from now on, every time I touch shoelaces, I will remember this day. 

More friends and colleagues donated money that afternoon. I stopped to get food for myself at the grocery store because my packed lunch was insufficient. Deodorant was on sale, as were school supplies, so I gathered up backpacks and deodorant, $90 worth. When I got to the register, I stumbled into a sale, so it was only $65. I was in a hurry, needing to be back at work, so I didn't go back for more. 

Back at church, I unlocked the doors. Friends I had not seen in quite some time brought supplies. Another friend and I sorted through donations, getting them ready to go. At 7, I loaded my car. For some unknown reason, I reserved this task for myself, wanting to somehow count, know what was loaded. 

Having money left from donations and some more thrown in over the course of the afternoon, I stopped at Target and bought every single pair of shoelaces I could find that might possibly be of use. They only had laces for men's shoes, but I bought them. Workboot laces and sneaker laces and dress shoe laces. Seventeen pairs. The total was within 20¢ of the money I had left. I added the shoelaces to everything else and went home, so very tired. 

Once upon a time, I would have said exhausted. That is not true. I was very tired. I was not exhausted. People who need shoelaces are exhausted, not me, who curled up in bed and watched a movie before drifting off to sleep, safe and secure in my own home.  

May God have mercy on our neighbors who need shoelaces. I don't know how to ask for God's mercy for the rest of us.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hope of a Teddy Bear

This week, I have wept. Before this, I'd held back tears about the children in cages in detention centers. Maybe that's why it's been so long since I've written, actually, unwilling to open the flood gates. The dumpster fire is raging after all. 

But many times over the last two days, I have wept. 

On Saturday, an agency reuniting families sent a request for donations of items. While families have been held, there was little to collect in the way that churches do. The list was not long and many of the things you would expect: water and Gatorade, backpacks, pads, and snacks. I cried over one item, though: small stuffed animals. It wasn't the stuffed animals, but the descriptor given: "comfort items for the children." 

My heart broke, the flood gates opened, and they haven't stopped. 

It's a clinical descriptor, one I've heard before in education about child development. However, the deep place that I know it from is The Giver. If you haven't read the children's book, go get it and read it. I guarantee your local library has it. Like many of my favorite books, it's set in a dystopian time--future or past, I don't know. It is a world of sameness, though, and familial bonds have intentionally been destroyed. Children are born in one place, birthed by women of sturdy stock, but placed with families deemed more functional. Among many things, love is not a concept or a practice. Read the book; I promise that it's really good. 

In that world, children are given specific clothes to mark transitions. Items come and go at specific times in development, as they do for all children in the community. One of those items is a comfort object. The main character's sister, Lily, is near to losing hers because of her age. It is, indeed, called a comfort object. She doesn't realize in other places, it would be called an elephant. She has had it since infancy and sleeps with it at night. After all, that's what comfort objects are for. 

There's some horrible reality when this phrase from dystopian fiction comes barreling into requests from churches. Last night, I went to Target and bought ten small teddy bears as my family's contribution to the drive. Comfort objects. 

My own childhood comfort object is stashed away at home. I've had it for more than thirty years now, a gift from family friends for my third birthday. At least that's what my family tells me. I don't remember getting Flop, but I do remember him always being with me. He's a pink rabbit, now faded to nearly gray. His eye and head were reattached by my grandmother, her stitches still visible. Like Flop's origins, my family remembers nighttime searches for him so that I could sleep. There were trips back to grandparents' houses to retrieve him and flashlights taken to the playhouse. He was necessary and loved. My mom still rolls her eyes when I mention him, remembering the many times she moved hell and high water to find him; she'd do it, again. He's still in my home for a reason. 

Maybe I would not cry so much for these children if I didn't have such an attachment for Flop. He represents a stability that every child deserves, from the bunny himself to the people who searched for him throughout my childhood. My parents still attend church with the people who bought him for me. There is so much stability wrapped up in that raggedy stuffed animal. 

I am glad for these tears because we should mourn for these children who will never have that sort of stability in their lives. We should mourn for our complicity in their reality. 

Strikingly, the best secular descriptor I have for the Reign of God also comes from The Giver. When the main character, Jonas, is realizing the gift he possesses, he catches a glimpse of red as he and his best friend are tossing an apple back and forth. In this world of sameness, most people do not see color. He only sees it occasionally and is never quite certain it was there and no one else sees it. When he does catch a glimpse, he wants to know more; it piques his curiosity. "Red" he learns later. "Red" describes this amazing thing. 

I often think of that image. It's Matthew's "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" and all of the already and not yet of the Gospels. It's the upside down of Luke that God would choose the poor over the rich, the child over the leader, and the simple over the complex. It's beautiful and hopeful, even in the midst of threat.

As I write, people are dropping off the items needed. I have prayed over them many times today and will pray over them some more before handing them off. I hope they are at least a glimpse of something else. I don't care at all if the people receiving would call it the reign of God. I hope they see a glimpse of a world where hungry people are fed, thirsty people are handed water, and children are comforted. I hope they see a glimpse of the fact that many of us would not choose their reality for any one. I hope it is a beautiful, wonderful glimpse of something, anything else. 

Here's hoping this little teddy bear does exceeds expectations in the Reign of God.