I don’t have any words.

I don’t have any words, and that means something is wrong because I always have words – that’s my thing, my jam.  I spent last night at the 7th Annual Bay Area Pun-Off, for crying out loud, celebrating the twists and turns and joys of words.  “Quiet” is near rock-bottom of the list of adjectives anyone would use to describe me – probably tied with “short of stature,” “goes with the flow” and “not very opinionated.”

I don’t have any words, because this week took them all away.  

This week pummelled and pulled and wrenched all the words out of me.  This week left me mourning and weary, outraged and afraid, discouraged and downtrodden.  

This week broke my heart.

I have wanted to say something, to write something, but felt so afraid of saying the wrong thing.  Afraid that there were already so many voices fighting to be heard, that the last thing the world needed was mine.  Afraid that I had no right to weigh in with my thoughts, feelings and reactions when in so many ways this isn’t my grief, isn’t my pain, isn’t my struggle.  Afraid that what I said would be misunderstood or misinterpreted, that my words would somehow make things worse.

But then I read this piece by Heather Armstrong, and I was reminded that saying something – brokenly, imperfectly, in a spirit of love  – is always better than saying nothing.  Because I can offer my thoughts and my prayers and my heart with humility, and hope that my words will be received as they are intended  – as words of love – but silence offers no such hope. Silence sounds too much like indifference, and that thought terrifies me.  Because I’m pretty sure I’ve felt every range and octave of emotion this week, but the one thing I haven’t felt for a hot damn second is indifference

So I’m going to use my words.   I’m going to say something instead of nothing, speak and not be silent.  I’m going to tell the truth, and ask for grace.

This week I have wanted to go up to every black person I saw and hug them.  

I wanted to hug them – really, really hug them – and tell them I so am so sorry.  

I wanted to tell them I am so sorry that you are bearing the burden of yet another death, yet another tragedy, yet another life cut short with violence and shock and pain.  I am so sorry that you have to be aware and afraid – for yourself, for your children – when you walk around in this world because the color of your skin makes you a target.   I am so sorry that my heart can break and I can mourn with those who mourn but the truth is I will never, ever fully know your pain – because the truth is this white skin I walk around in is a shield, a coat of armor, a pair of rose-colored glasses that shields and blinds me from seeing the full brokenness of our world the way you have to.  It is for that privilege and power that that I am the most sorry – because you live and operate in a world that I will never experience, a world built on and defined by injustice, a world that benefits me no matter how much I don’t want it to.

I am so sorry.

The other thing that has felt most true this week is what I want to say to people outside of the black community, to people in my life whose first reaction to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile was a posture of defensiveness and disbelief that either of these could be a case of racism, to the glib response of “all lives matter” to a friend’s heartfelt post on Facebook, to talking heads and side-taking-addicted pundits on both sides of the aisle who want to move us away from a response of human compassion and grief to finger-pointing and political scorekeeping.

I have one word I want to say to all of us who are outside the black community: Please.

Please wait.

Please pause and breathe before you speak or tweet or comment or engage in a hashtag war.

Please take a moment, a breath, a beat and close your eyes and imagine something with me.

Imagine for a moment a world in which you weren’t quite you – a world in which your DNA was ever so slightly tweaked, and you didn’t look the way you do.  Imagine a world where the color of your skin alone made you a target, a suspect.  

Imagine a world where every time you sent your children – your sons and daughters whom you would give your life for –  to the park or the corner store or to school – your heart clenched with fear because you knew – you knew that for them to walk and talk and breathe and take up space and air and be present in this world was dangerous.  That for them to do the normal, everyday things we take for granted – driving, shopping, working – was always tinged with danger, just for who they are.

Imagine a world where you went to the best colleges – Harvard, Stanford, Cal – maybe even went on to get an advanced degree.  Imagine a world where you worked hard and got a great job at a prestigious company – where you made a great living and lived in a nice neighborhood and drove a luxury car.  Imagine you were a devoted husband or wife, an involved and loving parent, an active member of the community and model citizen. Imagine you had all the advantages an education, a great job and family could provide – and none of that stopped the neighbors from calling the cops because they thought you were a burglar trying to break into your own house.  Imagine none of that mattered when the cops pulled you over at 6-months pregnant and asked if you were a drug dealer.  Imagine none of that mattered when you were stopped and frisked on the streets of NYC for walking home to your apt in a “too nice” neighborhood.  Imagine none of that mattered when a routine traffic stop turned into a tragedy.

Please imagine – and have some compassion.  Because those aren’t outliers or sensationalized stories – they are the reality, the every day for men and women of color in this country.  I know it’s uncomfortable, I know it’s easier to disbelieve – but it is truth.  There are no shortage of stories – research, read, listen, believe.

I know.

I know that it’s complicated.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a police officer, to have to make split second decisions every day that are literally life or death.  I don’t know what it’s like to have to be suspicious as part of your job, to have your daily life consumed with the knowledge that if you trust the wrong person or let your guard down, you could die – that people around you you have sworn to protect could die. I can’t for one second fathom the weight of that responsibility and I am deeply thankful that I probably won’t ever have to, because we have men and women who do that hard and necessary and complicated job for us.

Trevor Noah has a great piece about the fallacy and danger of setting up an “us vs them” dichotomy between the black community and the police.  No one wins in that scenario, and it’s a false one.   To paraphrase Jon Stewart (clearly on a Daily Show kick here) we can honor and respect and be grateful for the police, and still acknowledged that there is something deeply broken in the system.  Something is deeply broken because police officers are not superheroes or saints – they are men and women, just like you and me, with a mix of good and bad inside their hearts and minds.  They have prejudices, just like every human being does, and when those prejudices come up against split-second, life or death decisions – injustice happens.  Tragedy happens.  This week happens.

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa –  these men died this week and they  shouldn’t have, and I am heartbroken for their families and friends and communities.  Fear and hate and division seems to be taking a foothold, to be gaining the upperhand, and I am going to fight tooth and nail against that.

Because hate doesn’t get to win.  Fear doesn’t get to win.

But fear and hate aren’t going to forfeit the game – we have work to do to drive them out.  We have work to do approaching one another with love, compassion and empathy.  We have work to do being humble enough to admit we don’t have the full picture, courageous enough to listen to the stories and hurt and pain of people who look different than we do, and loving enough to do something about it.

This week has felt like the world is falling apart, but I believe there is still hope.  

I believe there is still hope because I have to.

I believe the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.

I’m praying that we believe together, and work together to shine the light of truth, the light of love and compassion, and bear one another’s burdens.

Let’s listen and love and find a better way forward together.
Those are my words.


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Next month will be the 8 year anniversary of my dad’s death.

8 years.

I can’t quite wrap my head around that number – it is so nearly a decade, and so much has happened in that time yet in some ways it feels like yesterday.

I moved recently, and came across a few of my dad’s old t-shirts, tucked away in my closet – I hadn’t looked at those t-shirts since I put them in my closet when I moved into my apartment 18 months earlier, but not for a second did I hesitate putting them in a moving box, onto my next destination.  Because at what point do you say “I don’t need these anymore.  I don’t need these tangible, physical reminders that there was this person who wore this NYPD t-shirt I brought him back from NYC and that he was so proud of?”  At what point do you say I don’t need to remember anymore?

I used to think the death of someone you love was the worst pain there was – now I realize that there are a lot of other kinds of pain that hurt just as much, that are more nuanced and tricky.  I once heard the phrase “we grieve because we lost something good” and for me that’s so true.  I had a wonderful dad who loved me well and I lost him – that hurts.  But so many people around me are grieving their dad for different reasons – complex, painful, emotional-landmine reasons.  Maybe their dad was physically present but emotionally absent, or he walked away from their family when they were young or he was emotionally or verbally or physically abusive.  Maybe he was weak or cowardly or healing from his own wounds and that meant he couldn’t be the dad his kids needed him to be.  Maybe he tried to be a good dad, a loving, involved, connected parent –  but for a million complicated, human, broken reasons it didn’t quite take, like a car engine spluttering, trying and trying but never quite connecting.

When I first saw Kelly Clarkson perform Piece by Piece, her autobiographical song about her father’s abandonment, I cried and cried.  I felt her pain – the abandonment, the wondering what she did wrong, the yearning for this person who is supposed to love her and the knowledge that he never will – not because she is deficient in some way, but because he’s not capable or willing to give it.

I don’t believe in stack ranking pain –  mine is worse than yours, and hers is worse than mine.  Pain is pain and comparison doesn’t help anyone process or heal. I do think, though, that some pain is more tangled and messy and delicate – not just the loss of something good but grieving that the “something good” never materialized.  Grieving that the love that was supposed to be there wasn’t, and the pain that comes with that.

One of my favorite family stories is how when my mom was pregnant with me, and they found out I was a girl, my dad – my football loving, superstar athlete, good ole southern boy dad – came to my mom with excitement and said “I just realized – this is the best!  We can do everything with a girl!  She can wear dresses and play sports!”  I’m not sure I lived up to the sports part (does reading count as a sport?) but the do anything part – I always felt like I could, because both of my parents made it clear they believed in me, no matter what.  The older I get and the more stories I hear, the more I realize that kind of parenting, that kind of Dad-ing – of unconditional love and support – is a rare and beautiful and precious thing.  That it’s not the norm, it’s the exception – and I feel deep and breathtaking gratitude that I was given that gift.  Because even though my dad isn’t physically present in my life anymore, his love and belief in me still is.

Yesterday at church our pastor John was telling a story about how he was surfing, and this precocious, darling eight-year-old kid named Shane started surfing near him.  Shane was engaged and friendly and fearless in the water, talking to John like they were old friends, surfing on his own, no adults in sight.  John was impressed that this kid was so fearless, and asked him who taught him to surf.  “My dad!” he replied proudly, waving to a man standing on the shore.

John had a lightbulb moment – Shane could be brave because his dad was right there, watching from the beach, cheering him on.  He could be brave because he knew his father was close – supporting him, championing him, on his side.  He could take risks and fail and let a wave knock him down because of the love and trust between him and his dad.  

Shane could be brave because he knew who his father was.

I sat in church with tears in my eyes and that phrase echoing in my head “I can be brave because I know who my Father is.”

I don’t remember much of what I said at my dad’s funeral, but I remember saying this: that the greatest gift my dad gave me was that his love for me – even in all it’s human imperfection – so accurately modeled for me the love of my Heavenly Father  – sacrificial, unconditional, kind, patient, delighting in me not because of what I accomplished but because of who I am.

I know who my Father is.

I can be hit by grief and pain and loss that feels like ice water – shocking, freezing my ability to breathe, think, see – and know deep in the marrow of my bones that I am ok, I am held, that this too shall pass.

I can feel stuck and scared that things will never change, that this is all my life will ever be and sit in the despair and helplessness that brings – like screaming in a crowd and no one can hear you – and trust that God knows the plans He has for me, to bring me Hope and a future.

I can feel pummeled by the relentless assault of bad news and senseless loss of life – Brussels, Paris, Orlando, Istanbul, Baghdad – and take a deep breath, face the waves and ask “What can I do? How can I help? Who can I love?”

I can be brave because no matter what waves crash down, I know who my Father is.

My dad gave me the gift of his love, and I know where he got it from – that he could be brave and loving and cheer me on because he also knew who his Father was.

Sometimes being brave means asking for forgiveness, or standing up for what’s right, or staying the course when it’s hard.  I don’t know what the next eight years will bring and what being brave will look like in the seasons to come, but I am reminding myself that I can face whatever waves life brings.

I can be brave, because I know who my Father is.