Tag Archives: children

an open letter to my students

i-also-remember-this

An Open Letter to My Students on the Eve of the Orlando Shooting.

June 12, 2016

Dear Students,

You likely woke up today as I did: late. You may or may not have turned on the news as is my morning wake-up custom, coffee in hand and multiple snoozes later. Within moments it became clear that there was yet another mass shooting while we were sleeping. This morning’s shooting at a gay night club in Orlando. Over 100 dead and injured.

I remember thinking ‘My soon-to-be godson is to be baptized today. My responsibilities seem yet-again larger now.’

I’m late to the service by a few minutes this morning; I know you’re not surprised. I stood too long at the television in my bedroom, clenching the wooden ledge on top of the dresser left in the room by my great, great-aunts who were the unusual of their era; they were highly educated, remarkably fashionable, and unusually independent women from a time where that was not allowed. No doubt they were recipients of both celebration and judgment. The dresser left in the bedroom of this house they used which I now sleep in has new fingernail marks as of this morning, left accidentally as I should have been dressing for a baptismal service but was instead being washed again in the blood of others.

“I also remember this, and wish I did not,” as Didion once said. I remember that I was not surprised.

Yet another killing, this time the largest mass shooting in our states’ history and the largest terrorist attack on US soil since my freshmen year of college when I sat in a lecture hall of Blanchard at Wheaton and watched the towers fall before my eyes.

I remember this morning thinking that I was surprised that morning as an 18-year-old hopeful, but that I am not surprised now as a 32-year-old hopeful. And it is the hopefulness of my better wiring which has been wanting to talk to all of you all day long today, even though you’ve managed to sneak away from me for the summer. I’ve managed to talk to you in one of our random, side conversations all day long in my head regardless. Then I decided that I hope you might hear it.

Many of you value your faith deeply; I do as well. Because of this, those who believe differently from you are owed your love and honor. The faith you claim has told you so; the faith leaders you are bothered by have challenged this. Follow your faith.

Many of you think
public policy,
issues of social policy and social welfare,
wealth and poverty,
emails to your governors and senators and representatives
(unanswered as most of them go…which you will remember),
childhood development and influence,
family structure and complexity,
group norms and roles,
mob mentalities and social capacities,
and research formulas and findings
aren’t connected in any real way
to your deep desire to help those who are in need.

The crimes of today should remind you that these things are all connected.

The language and now law signed in by Governor Bill Haslam in Tennessee that allow therapists to legally hate and discriminate by refusing counseling to those of the LGBTQ community affected by today’s mass shooting is an issue of policy, welfare, wealth and poverty, legislators who listen and those who ignore (and are paid to do so, which you will remember), legislation and its [silent] funders, biological development and its influences, structure, complexity, norms, roles, mob mentalities and social capacities, research and its findings…

This language and this legislation and these legislators and these voices are the authors of the men and women who will come into your offices and onto your caseloads wounded, orphans of those killed by this morning’s violence, orphans of those who had parents who lived lives of silence or submission to a norm, or stood silently in the back of your sanctuaries on mornings like these as you went to church and thought it was a regular Sunday morning.

I felt the need all day long today, now pushing the clock to make it honest, to let you know that I expect the world of you.

I am pretty sure I have told you this. You will be the best.

I expect a whole other kind of world from you. I expect you to wake up on days like today with the news of the moment and the heart of a saint that is both willing to break the rules and willing to break the norms to dig your fingernails into the wooden ledge on top of the dresser and be late for something planned and appropriate because you decided you had to stand up and speak out for something possibly inappropriate because it puts all of our humanity at risk.

So in class, when I hound you and harass you and rap at you and sing at you and yell at you and take points from you and even when I feed you in an effort to buy you, please know this: I do all these things so that some day, some Sunday morning when someone is waking up and committing to go to church and pledge gratefully to be a godfather for a young man or young woman who has not yet learned to distrust the world…

I do all these things so that you will remember that it will never be okay for us to not be surprised at this kind of hateful news that greeted us this morning.

I’m counting on you.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

 

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when time sticks together

the-base-of-the-tree

He stood closely to the base of the towering tree, him at about three and a half feet tall. His father was on the phone in the front yard for some privacy, but just called him over to see. After hurling my luggage into the trunk of their car so they could deliver me to the airport, I walked over to see what had caught the attention of both boys, now studying the bark.

All three of our faces now––nearly pressing into the tree’s trunk––were studying the creatures. At first glance, it was the same old bark towering up into the leaves as I had likely stood staring at over twenty-five years ago in that same yard. My mysterious and celebrated great, great-aunts likely then inside the house speaking poetry or reading Spanish and cooking spaghetti sauce. The one gracefully and quietly grinning as the other loudly laughed, the elastic waistline of her skirt bouncing up and down even with her navel where it rested.

Leaning in closer, the bark was a layer of cicadas woven golden-brown into a pattern mimicking wood chips. I’ve heard them for days now outside, but had not registered the source until this very moment. I flashed back to my own front yard over twenty-five years ago. Standing with my brother and another neighbor on the wooden ledges that formed the flower box squaring out the trunk of a towering oak just outside my bedroom window. We were filling a gallon-sized glass jar with cicadas that morning. I don’t know if we finished or what was done with our collection, but I remember that moment all those years ago as crisply as I remember this morning in my own front yard under the shadows of my great, great-aunts’ tree.

One white cicada stood in the middle of all the other golden brown creatures climbing around the curved sides of the tree. It stood out now boldly, or was now finally noticed to be standing out boldly.

The father is now back across the yard for his phone call, the son is now being directed by his mother back into his carseat rather than the road, and I’m now scanning through a mental list of things not to be forgotten before weeks away from home.

For a moment there, though, decades worth of time stuck together and I was reminded to look and see.

djordan
London

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all our problems

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They have been saying it for several weeks just before we are dismissed from the service on Sunday mornings. As we participate through the Kenyan liturgy, the children are invited to the front of the room, bumbling and running and sisterly fighting their ways to the front, up the steps, and to the center of the stage and everyone’s attention. They are guided, as the congregation is guided by them, to take their right arms and respond to the priest as he says:

leader: all our problems
kids/congregation/me: we send to the cross of Christ

As we all say together, led both by the children and the priest and also by this deep and gut-wrenching reality that we are staring problems in the face everyday that we don’t know what to do with, “we send to the cross of Christ,” we hold up our right arms as far out as we can reach and then throw them pointing or open-handed to the cross centered at the very front of the room.

The children giggle or try to hit each other or actually stare in amazement every now and then at the cross itself, or at their hands and their naive abilities to send things to Jesus and feel like they actually ever got there. I, on the other hand, find usually as my hand flies toward the cross in the front of the room that I get choked a little with the reality that the problems I’m carrying around are a little too big for me and mostly too heavy to actually send to the cross of Christ. As if I couldn’t get a good enough grip on them to throw them that far in the first place.

leader: all our difficulties
kids/congregation/me: we send to the cross of Christ

It’s amusing to me, as I look at those children up there throwing their arms toward the cross as they hurl their difficulties, to consider how simple some of their lives are. I’m not ignorant enough to think their lives are all simple, that some of them aren’t witnessing yelling and screaming and fighting, that some of them aren’t experiencing abuse and illness and secrets they think will kill them rather than be taken with them to their grave at some unreal and future time. Some are, no doubt, living amidst great difficulties. Many of them, however, are living in great comfort and safety and community that is true and rich and deep. But even for them that hurling of difficulties toward the cross feels almost like a prayer for their future selves, or for their sisters thousands of miles away or three miles away who are fighting to survive amidst great difficulties. They don’t know that their silly hurling of difficulties toward the cross of Christ is actually an offering of love and trust for one of their unmet, unknown peers. I move my hand gently toward the cross with them, but I can’t get words out of my mouth because I feel a little taken over by what is happening in the thin spaces these mornings.

leader: all the devil’s works
kids/congregation/me: we send to the cross of Christ

This one, of course, is a little scary because while we’d like to demonize someone else and name their works as those of the devil, we know deep down that some of our own works are marked by something other than the incarnational love of the king. So we know that to send the devil’s works, all of them, to the cross of Christ is actually to send a chunk of ourselves to die in uncertainty. We throw our perceived or desired success. We throw some of our pleasures and comforts that require the pain and heartache of others for us to afford them. We throw our reasons for why what affects us is more important that what affects the “others”. We throw our grudges and our bitterness and our stinginess and our insecurities and our greeds. It’s like we are taking off all of our clothes and throwing them up there to the cross of Christ. Then we find ourselves, if we dare throw all that up there, naked and embarrassed at what we actually look like now. I often can’t even get around to throwing my arm forward to send the devil’s works to the cross of Christ as the children are throwing it even more dramatically. Their innocent leading makes me feel a little more like a fraud if I were to join them.

leader: all our hopes
kids/congregation/me: we set on the risen Christ. 

The leader isn’t hurling anything forward to the cross anymore, and neither are the children. Their hands are up and usually open. Reaching out to the only place we know to reach with our fragile little arms to communicate where the kingdom has come in Christ’s resurrection, we reach up and out to the skies because we know there is more out there than we have ever understood. We know, too, that right here in the moment and in the space and in the wrestling brother and sister who’ve now been center stage too long to remember their mother’s threat of an after church mingling with no snacks if they misbehave, we are reaching out to something that we must have.

That hope we are reaching out for as if our lives and sanity and humanity depended on it.

We’ve been brave enough to speak out loud with our words and our bodies of our problems, our difficulties, and the devil’s works that we have co-opted and coauthored. Because of the courage of the kids and the costume of the priest, and because even our choking-up makes us know we must be telling a little more of the truth than usual, I’m able to lift up my right arm to the unknown skies, or the ceiling of this sad little building, and decide to set my hopes toward the impossible kingdom that I can’t stop thinking about, and the impossible king who has been causing impossible problems in our storylines since the very first story was ever set in motion.

all our problems
we send to the cross of Christ
all our difficulties
we send to the cross of Christ
all the devil’s works
we send to the cross of Christ
all our hopes
we set on the risen Christ. 

djordan
Pine Tree

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burnt burger buns

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They are a large part of what made me so grateful for the evening.

It was also fun that the three-year old kept asking about the “toast” in the oven. It’s not fun when the car breaks down, when questions linger in the air about bills and responsibilities and logistics. It’s not fun when things feel like they are spinning faster and faster and if one thing goes they’ll all go most likely. And normally a day like today closing out with burning burger buns would not be fun at all. But burnt burger buns and a three-year old asking about toast while the “adults” spill out their own worries and concerns and forget to notice the toast in the oven that will soon sandwich the burger beams helpful.

The laughs oozing from simultaneous exhaustion and relief over the dinner table are also part of what made me grateful for the evening. They were present not because it’s all figured out, not because things are resolved, not because the car is fixed, the bills are paid and the plates are stacked rather than spinning. But fun instead because after a three-year old prays, his tiny, waited-for and prayed-for face now here in the room with us hovering over those burnt burger buns he tried to tell us about, there are people sitting around the table eating, laughing, worrying and living forward. And doing it together in one way or another. It makes the day worth a toast again.

The burgers were delicious, by the way.
But it was the burnt buns that will make me remember to give thanks and pause for good moments and great friends.

djordan
Pine Tree

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don’t miss out

don't-miss-out

“Don’t miss out,” she said.
She was trying to get her two younger twin sisters arranged
In the laundry room before they came
dancing out to the music.

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I think I know exactly what is happening.
what means what
what is and isn’t important
what is and isn’t valuable
what is and isn’t worthwhile
what is and isn’t clearly meaningful when
push comes to shove
and kingdom math is done.

and so I do my best to
be involved in the things that
bring honor
and respect
and value
and power
and validity
to the pursuit of the
kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

but I find out–
more often than not–
that I had no idea what actually matters
what actually counts
what God is actually looking for
what moments are actually worth holding on to
as if we are holding on to life itself
because perhaps we actually are

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I heard her say,
wearing her dancing tutu as if
that’s what we always wear on a Tuesday night

“Don’t miss out!”

She yelled it in a kind of panicked voice,
as if it happens when we don’t know it is happening,
and if we don’t participate right then
the chance will vanish forever.
And she was telling the truth, of course,
as children often do.

“Don’t miss out,” she said
to her younger twin sisters, both in leotards
before they danced to whatever kind of music I could find on my iPhone.
And then they moved gracefully and childishly
from the flung open closet doors into the den
dancing to whatever music I offered for dancing.

And the room was filled with the promise
that we are all figuring this out
slowly and surely
when we don’t know what to do
and we don’t know how to do it
but we know that there is something
we can’t live life without
and it has to do with us dancing
in our leotards on a Tuesday night

because the Kingdom of Heaven is made clear
over dinner
on Tuesday nights
when we have no idea what on earth is happening
but we know, as if our lives depend on it,
that we can’t miss out.

So we have nothing left to say except
“Amen.”

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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worried about big legos

worried-about-big-legos

During a week filled with worries about class schedules, family illness, nonprofit fundraisers, big decisions, and tax nightmares, I found myself most concerned Wednesday afternoon about whether or not I would have a chance in the “intergalactic battle” being created at my feet with enormous legos.

I needed to type out a quick note for his grandmother on letterhead before our session was over, and I asked him if he preferred I do it at the beginning or the end. He said he would start building his army while I typed the letter, and then I could build mine, and then the war.

Halfway through the paragraph-long letter, I caught myself looking down at my feet and thinking, “How am I going to beat him? He’s built a fortress around his robots, and he has soldiers lining the wall on the inside and outside! I need to get finished with this letter so I have a chance at all!”

He was talking the entire time I was typing, which was adding to my stress. “You know I’m going to beat you, Donald. This wall is impenetrable. And these robots can break through all of your walls. Are you getting scared yet, Donald?”

And I WAS getting scared. I found myself trying to type faster so I could get to work on my own fortress and walls and robots.

So for about fifty minutes on Wednesday afternoon, I was laying on the floor in my office with an incredibly brave nine-year-old, who recently found his mother dead in her bed and called the police, worried about whether I had enough mega blocks to make an army big enough to contend with his.

I didn’t, of course. He won, not that I was trying to go easy on him; I wanted to win, but he beat me. We began to talk about his planning, his bravery, his skill, his initiative. These were all the things which led him to beating me in our intergalactic war on the bamboo rug in my office.  There were all the things which also led him to cope in miraculous and hope-affirming ways with the loss of his mother and a world turned upside down.

And it would be his lesson in these things which made me consider my class schedule, family illness, nonprofit fundraisers, big decisions and tax nightmares with the eyes of a nine-year-old who is much braver and stronger than I.

Every conversation is  privilege with answers waiting to be found by all involved. If it doesn’t feel that way, our arrogance is leading.

djordan
Pine Tree

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all the implications

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This video has been on my brain since I first saw in when it came out a few days ago on February 19.

Yes, it’s about bullying, but it’s about a great deal more.

It’s about the impact of little things.
It’s about our own assumptions under which we bury others.
It’s about how art is redemptive and makes beauty of tragedy.
It’s about shared stories that crash into shared reality after being hidden for so long.
It’s about all the implications of all the things we find ourselves doing, thinking, saying, being,
both horrendously good and remarkably evil.
It’s about the bothness in all of us.
Our Cain and our Abel.
It’s about telling the truth.

This is good. You wont regret the time.

djordan
Summar Dr.

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he measured time in houses

When asked how long ago something happened, he said, “three houses ago.”

We were both laying on the floor of my therapy office, playing with cardboard boxes painted to look like bricks. Recently adopted into the “last house” he was placed in, at around ten years old, he’s in trouble here and there for stealing and lying.

I’m always amazed at how conversations are hijacked by the problems, and both parent and child never notice that the problem begins to run the show and determine who the child is and who the child will be. Most of the time, the therapist is fooled as well.

Trying to see how we could stack the cardboard bricks in ways that would almost crash down, but stay standing, it was his answer that snapped me out of my haze. It was his answer to a simple question that made me realize I had been thinking about him as a child who is a sometimes thief and liar, rather than as a child who, after his parents were caught and incarcerated for drugs, has moved so many times to so many different foster homes, it has become a reliable method of time-telling.

Me: “When did you last see your mom?”
Him: “Three houses ago.”

The session ended soon after, with block stacking and rearranging happening as I was realizing how off-track I’ve been in working with him. The only other words spoken once he answered “three houses ago,” were one last exchange between the two of us before our time was up.

Me: “Do you know I think you’re a pretty strong dude?”
Him: “No.”
Me: “Well, I think you’re a pretty strong dude. Can we discover together next time what it is that makes you so strong?”
Him: “That would be cool.”
Me: “I think so too.”

 

djordan
Nashville

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from the archives | a little help from his friends

 

 

In reflecting on the upcoming one-year anniversary of mosthopeful.com on August 23, I’m throwing some of the posts that readers have looked at the most back into the mix. Thanks for allowing me the space. It’s been a most humbling experience.

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View the original post and comments from April 2, 2012

a little help from his friends | guest post by Rayna Bomar

 

rayna bomar guest posts

This is the first guest post here on mosthopeful.com, and I couldn’t be more convinced of its appropriateness. Hugh and Rayna Bomar have become friends of mine these last few years, and their ongoing journey of remembering their son Sam has had an impact in my own life. I hope you glean from Rayna’s words about what has helped and what has not helped as she has been on her own very personal journey with grief. 

In August 2009, as my son Sam started his senior year of high school, I happened upon an essay by a woman named Mimi Swartz entitled “Empty Nest: In a Week He’ll Be Gone – And I Can’t Stand It.”  Her son, also named Sam, was leaving for college a year before my Sam would leave, and I read her words to prepare for what, I thought, I would be experiencing the following August. And, the following August, I did share some of the life changes described by Swartz – dinner for three became dinner for two, my schedule no longer revolved around the school calendar, and the “mundane rituals of child rearing,” just as Swartz had predicted, were gone.  But my role as a mother changed for a reason not anticipated. My Sam didn’t leave for college. Instead, he died on May 4, 2010, ten days before graduation.

There are many things that I could say about the past almost 23 months, but what I would like to do now is share some of the ways that others have helped us get through those months – and a few things that have hindered us.

My husband Hugh and I quickly realized that all grief is personal. What you have experienced losing a loved one, even a child, is not the same as what I have experienced losing Sam. My experience is not the same as Hugh’s experience. Therefore, things that I mention that have helped (or hindered) us may not help (or hinder) you.  I am an expert only about my own grief.

We have been most touched by the kindnesses that have been shown by Sam’s friends. We are in awe of the young men and women who are so naturally compassionate and who have put aside their own grief to help us with ours. They have taken us out to eat on Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, visited on holidays, designed t-shirts and bumper stickers in Sam’s memory, mowed our yard, shared stories about Sam (what we love the most), written letters and sent cards, laughed with us and cried with us, helped with chores, preserved Sam’s spot in the high school parking lot, invited us to their celebrations- I could go on and on.  We are greeted with open arms and a hug. Sometimes we get more than one hug. They tell us that they love us. They share their lives with us and allow us to be part of their future. Their actions are drops of water on parched ground.

What they don’t do is, perhaps, more important. They don’t tell us that it’s almost two years since the accident and it’s time to “move on.” They don’t give us any advice.  They understand that our world changed when Sam died and that we will never be the same. They don’t expect us to be the same because they will never be the same after losing their friend. They don’t try to “fix” us. They don’t make any demands on us. If we feel like a visit, that’s great. If we don’t, they understand, and they don’t take it personally.

Maybe because of their relatively young ages (late teens to early twenties) they don’t have any preconceived ideas about how we should act or feel. Therefore, they don’t think they know what’s best for us, and they don’t try to impose their own feelings on us or try to dictate what is appropriate behavior.

Instead of trying to make us be who they think we should be, they already know who we are. We are Sam’s parents, and we always will be. That’s good enough for them, and it’s good enough for us.

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” Robert Benchley.

One of the upcoming ways you can join the Bomars in remembering Sam is by attending the 3rd annual Sam Bomar Night at the Jackson Generals. Half of each ticket pre-ordered with the promo codeSamBomar goes to the Sam Bomar Scholarship FundClick HERE to learn more, and to buy tickets for the event on June 23.  

For other most hopeful posts on grief, loss, trauma and resilience, CLICK HERE.

 

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a world lives in you

It’s surprising, really
the way it rattles the ribcage
and then leaps into the lungs.
missing.
missing and needing.
especially on days like today
the missing and needing arrive
when face to face again.
the miles and miles made it easier
to forget the ways they make up my world
to forget that it was them who began to teach me
who I was
who I was not
what the world could be
what the world actually was
how the kingdom insists on bursting through
how the kingdom waits to be released.

but today, this morning
on the edge of the literal sunrise
on the bumpy, muddy roads
on the way to school
when seeing your faces
and hearing your giggles
and feeling your faces
the way we feel faces when it has been so long

I was reminded that you are a part of me as I carry you inside me

and the only words are thank you
thank you to the kiddos who keep growing
growing in their shrinking sandals
growing in their brilliant brains
growing in my heart as they expand my world
expanding the spaces inside me that
had closed in a little too tightly.

And all is well once again.
And the world grows bigger once again.
And the kingdom protests once again.

djordan
León, Nicaragua

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