Yes

I have the entire year planned out.  I have committed to a few things and totally cut other things out.  I am looking forward to all the things I have planned.  My list is impressive.  I stand back, cock my head and nod congratulating myself on a job well done.  A year of fearlessness is starting off just right.

Here it comes.  The wrench between my cogs.  The crack in the sidewalk that stubs my toe.  The skip in the music I was orchestrating.

An email.  A simple email reminding me.  No, not reminding, confirming.  They are coming.  Soon.

Get your paperwork in.  $8 for proof of a clean (enough) driving record, proof of vehicle insurance, and a signed job description before you can begin.

They are not coming from where we thought but their arrival is imminent.

I didn’t forget them did I?  In my well laid out plans for the year, in my self congratulatory fearlessness, did I forget to factor in this possibility?  In my new nonprofit position, have I excused myself from the commitment I made?  Was I quietly backing out of the room, lowering my raised hand and removing myself from the line up?

Here.  You take my number.  I have to be somewhere else.

My list seems stupid.  Vanity.  A striving after wind.

Refugees from Darfur will be here soon.  Most likely women and children.  Most likely traumatized.  Everything will be new for them.  Everything. They will need an education in things I haven’t thought about in years.  The hows and whys of our society, technology and language.

Maybe not.  Maybe they will be like my beloved Abubakar and be educated, motivated and inspirational.  One never knows.

I read the email on the way to a fancy, schmancy dinner with my husband.  I scrolled down the e-blasts from Amnesty Intl., Change.org and Shoedazzle to find the email from St. Vincent Catholic Charities.  I read it quickly and told my husband that they are coming.

I looked out of the window into the street filling slowly with layers of big, fat snowflakes wondering.

I looked at him and said that I will have to give something up.  A split second of furrowed brow selfishness past over my forehead.  I forgot myself.  I was then reminded. No, not reminded, confirmed.

It will not suffer much to say no to a few things planned.  

For I know the plans I have for you.   

He has.  No striving for the wind on his watch.  I just hope that with my open hand lifted up I can be a useful engine.  (Thomas the Train people.  Did I mention I have a toddler?)

It is our ability to say yes that makes life purposeful.  Meaningful. Wonderful.

Does anyone have $8 I can borrow?

***********
If you are interested in helping out let me know! You can help by being a mentor or just volunteering to drive for doctor’s appointments.  St. Vincent’s Catholic Charities has a lot of different job descriptions to choose from.  Or you can make a donation to the Michigan Darfur Coalition and help us assist by providing additional funding once their state assistance runs out.

5 Things I Learned on My Latest Bike Ride

Yesterday was the official “back to training day” after two weeks of vacationing and lethargy.  I found my capri sweats, tank top, helmet, iPhone and ear buds all more ready to go than I was.  I love the solitary provided by an evening bike ride and after a weekend of schlepping kids all over tarnation, the silence was my main motivation.  The added fear of trying to ride for 60 miles without training put a little pep in my step too.  All the children went for a walk with daddy and I was off.  I learned a few things on this trip that I thought I would share.

First, I want you to watch this video explaining in detail what the Ride for Refuge is and why I, and thousands of others, participate.



Now that we are all on the same page…Let the countdown begin….

5.  I still need to get bike shorts.  A Va-Jay-Jay does not get used to the bike seat.  Concessions need to be made.

4.  If your iPhone is set to shuffle when you shake it, every bump interrupts your song.  Although Lansing’s River Trail is darn near perfect, there are a lot of bumps.  It’s hard to get into a groove when your groove gets interrupted every 30 seconds or so.  After the settings were corrected I was able to sing along to Duffy’s Syrup and Honey http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=m0bdd-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B0018RBQPW&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrfor the enjoyment to the dismay of fellow walkers, roller bladers and bikers alike.

3.  After spending an afternoon with a man who has lost everything because of the genocide in Darfur, reflection and meditation are neccessary.  When he finished his story he said that because of the work I do, I am like his sister.  Then he said…”Don’t leave me.”  Heavy, deep, soul exhausting….all words that cannot begin to describe my heart in that moment.  I fought back tears and he never shed one.  Strength, fortitude, perseverance….all words that barely grasp the making of that man.

2.  When given the opportunity to keep pace with a stanger whose calves look like he rides 60 miles a day, do it.  It’s a great way to pick up your pace and to improve your faith in yourself.  See…I can almost see him through those trees…I’m not really THAT slow. 

1.  Once I arrived home, I whipped out my BikeTracker and saw that I did 10 miles in 1 hour.  Do you know what that means?  That means that it is possible.  That I may be able to do all 60 miles in the 6 hours of the event.  I will spend the next two weeks picking up the pace.  (Which loosely translates to less Erykah Badu and more Fergie on my playlist)  I look forward to crossing that finish line with my arms up in the air….well, I can’t actually do that without losing my balance…but in my head that’s what I’ll look like. :)
If you would like to join my team or make a donation click here
Where your money will go….
In memory of Chuck Breen, for his dedication and tireless efforts for the people of Sudan, MDC has established the “Charlton Breen Refugee Assistance Program Fund (CBRAPF).” In August of 2009, the Michigan Darfur Coalition launched CBRAPF to assist refugees from Sudan who are living in Michigan. Our goal is to help them become self-reliant. Assistance is provided on the basis of the refugee’s long term goals and our determination of how we can best help.


We Belong

This morning I rolled over to an empty bed and my children being corralled downstairs by their father.  Although, I wasn’t tired enough to go back to sleep, I did what any self respecting mother of three would do.  I stayed in bed anyway.  I pulled the covers up under my arms, grabbed my iPhone and found my New York Times App.  I love my Scrabble app, my Facebook app and my recipe apps but the New York Times has my heart.

I began to read about our Nation’s latest political drama.  Tea Baggers (*snicker* seriously, that name brings to many foul images of a prank to mind.), corporate contributions to the charities of politicians and Glen Beck’s awkward awakening rally.  These are strange days folks.  The article that caught my eye was entitled American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?

If you answered that question with a quick no, I would like to direct you to the upper right hand corner.  Go ahead and click that little red “x” because you are not going to enjoy this post.

I only have a few Muslim friends.  They are all refugees and struggling with that very question in a myriad of ways.  I called my BMF (Best Muslim Friend) Abubakar to ask him what he thought about this article.  I first had to ask him if he was indeed Muslim.  I had never thought to ask him before.  To be honest, I never thought about it but now I needed to know.  
Earlier Conversations
The reason I wanted Abubakar’s opinion was because of conversations we have had about encouraging the world to seek peace.  He has said to me that he imagines a perfect city where we are not governed by the law and military.  He imagines a day when we are guided by our own character.  He calls this the Perfect City.  I love this idea.  Oooh, ooh, pick me to live in Utopia, please! 

I love this idea because it is so different from the extremists we hear in the media and yet, it’s so very radical.

I am like a soldier of peace.  I belong to peace.  If we, Muslims, Christians and Jews, follow the God who loves peace then we will find peace. We need to educate others about the Muslim faith in a peaceful way.

This is why I love Jesus.  He was a revolutionary that stuck it to the man who at that time was the Roman Empire.  In a day when the Roman boot was on the neck of the people to coerce them to join Rome or die, Jesus beckoned them to live a life of peace and love.  I love when I clearly see those traits in others.  Yes, even in a Muslim man.

Stop the Wind 
Abubakar began to discuss the building of a Mosque near the site of Ground Zero and his answers surprised me.  I believe that we have certain inalienable rights as citizens of the United States of America. In order to have those rights many, many people have died.  The Muslim people deserve, by law to build that Mosque.  
As Americans, we should never be willing to take away the rights of other Americans based on the fact that they may, possibly, some day, could, maybe be related to a terrorist.  This is a scary slippery slope.  We will have to balance the practical safety of our citizens while avoiding the mistakes we have made in the past because of fear. (See Japanese Internment Camps)

If the wind blows through your window, close it.  I would not build near Ground Zero.  It is not wrong but it is an unneccesary measure that will inhibit the healing of so many still suffering from the trauma of 9/11.  A Mosque is built to worship God.  I can worship anywhere.  People should not be hurt by the building of a Mosque. 

Leaders are supposed to be wise.  They are supposed to weigh the consequences of such actions.  The politicians and the religious leaders have shown themselves to be unworthy to bring about peace.  They only seem to bring about more discrimination. I blame both of them.

American Woman
At this point in our conversation, a light bulb came on. For me.  I’m sure Abubakar’s light was on when we started our little chat. As an American woman born in 1980, I am used to having rights.  Even as a woman of a multi-cultural back ground, I can vote, buy birth control and protest.  The Muslim American’s share those rights and all those not mentioned.  And they know it.

When an American feels like their rights are being challenged we dig our heels in.  We don’t sit peacefully in our parlors to await the final decision.  We lobby. We write our congressman. We complain. We contribute financially. We let our meager weight be known individually and we gather others to make it heavier.  That’s how we roll.  I don’t think the building of the Mosque near Ground Zero is a wise or thoughtful decision.  However, I understand the need to assert themselves in a country constantly questioning their citizenship.  

I feel like the Muslims want to show their muscles and claim their rights.  This is not the way.  We need to start considering each other with empathy and compassion.  We need to start feeling about each other the way we feel for ourselves.  We all want the same things.  We want a good life, a bright future.  We are all worth it.  All Muslims, Jews and Christians that work for peace should be working together to stop all of the violence and bigotry.  We should be working on the same team.

I love that Abubakar is way more diplomatic than I am.  Huh, go figure.

5 Reasons to Ride for Refuge

On October 2nd, 2010, I will be participating in the Ride for Refuge.  This event is a 60 mile bike ride to spread awareness and raise funds for the vulnerable, displaced and the exploited people all over the world.  I started training last week riding 5 miles for the first time ever.  Unfortunately, a seminar coming up in our dump of a almost renovated new office threw my training schedule out the window.  I will be back at it tomorrow morning.
Currently, I have joined fellow Michigan Darfur Coalition board member Ginny Mitchell, Mary Breen and hustled encouraged my sister in law Leah to share in this event with me.  As of today, I have raised $0.  We all have to start somewhere.  Today I want to focus on why you should join our team.  
Don’t freak out.  You can ride as little or as much as you want.  There are courses mapped out for 5, 15, 30 or 60 miles.  
So let’s count these puppies down David Letterman style…without the celebrity (unless you count me, which most don’t).

5. There are millions of people suffering all over the world.  They struggle to find food, adequate medical care and a safe place to rest.  This is one day of discomfort (minus months of training…but whose counting, right?) that will remind you of just how cushy your life is now.  The money you raise for our team will help refugees new Americans from Darfur, Sudan that live in Grand Rapids. 

You probably thought this would be number one.  Sucker.  I am way more original than that.

4.. I am a mother of three boys that have lived inside of and totally ruined my body.  I have never exercised to do more than allow myself to eat whatever I want. Exercise is all about making that ooey gooey pizza at 10pm justifiable.  I do, however, expect that my ass will be as tight as a toddlers’ race to the toilet by October.  It will be a short lived victory but I’m okay with that.  I am already wondering where we should go for drinks after the ride of a lifetime.

3. Cool points.  Stand around the water cooler and tell your office peeps that you are training for a 60 mile bike ride.  It doesn’t matter if you make it the entire way.  The important thing is that look of WTF! awe in their eyes.  After they pick their chins up off the floor, drop the whole charity thing on them and they will be nominating you for sainthood by September.  Boo-yah! Instant karma.

2. Training sounds really awful unless you are a triathlon crazy person dedicated to healthy living.  If you happen to be a mother of young children, do you know what the word “training” means? Hours of solitude. You, your bike, a helmet and your favorite playlist or podcast on your iPod.  You will have time to plan your day, listen to a sermon or just sing along to your favorite Alicia Keys song.  

Here’s a link to our team page.  I should have you convinced by now.  If not, then number one should do it.

1. I am going to fall off of my bike.  It is going to happen.  Maybe not today. Maybe not in two weeks, but someday.  Where do you want to be when that happens?  Do you want to be at home reading about in my blog three days later?  Or do you want to be standing over me with your iPhone capturing an embarrasing moment to share with all of your Facebook friends?  You and I both know the answer to this one.

Again, here is the link. 

If I still haven’t convinced you to ride, consider making a little (or super duper big) donation to help support my peeps from Darfur by visiting our team page.  To read more about how the MDC helps refugees new Americans from Darfur, in the United States and Africa, check out our website.

You should also check out the Ride For Refuge Blog for more information about whose lives they intend to change by organizing this event all over the world year after year.

Simple


At the stroke of midnight I will officially have entered my thirties.  I wonder if my breasts will automatically fall a millimeter.  I already have two random hairs that grow on my chin that I beat back with tweezers weekly.  Will I become a more reasonable dresser and shuck my toe cramp inducing high heels for sensible loafers?  Will I finally learn to check the weather before I leave wearing shorts on a day calling for 40 degrees and rain?

Is it all that simple? 

Inside my heart a tiny smile erupts at all of these ideas. I am still the little girl that tied the loose cord from a lawn mower around the belly of a frog to walk him down the street.  I am still the high school cheerleader that was voted most talented.  I am also the same girl that slipped in a mud puddle while cheering for the Mighty Matadors in front of our crowded home stadium.  Think Slip n’ Slide. (I think the voting may have been rigged!)
I will almost always stray from comfort for beauty.  My laugh is the loudest in the movie theater and my opinions freely shared.  I know that love is the most important commandment and the most difficult to practice.  I get lost on the way home because I am singing the song on the radio to my listening audience, my poor children.  I still think that cheesecake, unlike cleanliness, is next to Godliness. 

My friends know they can call me for an honest opinion and some have even called me wise.  My husband needs me because I calmly find the stillness in the storm.  I need him because sometimes I am the storm. My children giggle when I mistakenly accuse them of something, realize my mistake and then berate them in a silly voice.  They know I can accept my failings as their mother.  
Tonight is the night.  The cake has been ordered, the invitations sent out and I have a great birthday dress. Some of my dearest friends and family will be meeting me to honor a dear friend, support a great cause and celebrate my birthday. My birthday wish is that I continue to enjoy who God made me to be without shame.  All the while, holding on to all the things that make me who I am.  
Nothing is ever simple when it comes to me.
Time and Tide wait for no man, but time always stands still for a woman of thirty. – Robert Frost 











Offering Entitlement

 Every month an amount of money is withdrawn from our account for our tithe.  In May, the post office can pick up a bag of food from my porch for their Stamp Out Hunger Campaign.  I have shoveled my neighbor’s drive in a snow storm because they are older and fighting cancer.  I have trained the security guards at the post office to smile and say good morning to me because I always greet them with the same salutation.  Truly.  It sometimes catches me off guard when I am sleepy or distracted. 

I make an effort.  I try.  

In today’s world, my effort could teach me that I am entitled to only good things.  Many churches, not one that I attend, would say that my tithe will grant me blessings for my stewardship.  Smile and the whole world smiles with you.  Give and you shall receive. If only it were all that simple.

I had a small window of awfulness in my childhood.  I often, feel like Sade when she sings, “I feel like I have paid for all of my future sins.”  Even though the majority of my life has been good, I too fight feelings of entitlement.

I have a friend who spends most of his time serving refugees.  He has worked with agencies, greeted them at airports and advocated for them within the Michigan Darfur Coalition.  He has kept pulling me back into the advocacy work even when I am convinced I can’t do anymore.  When he is not watching Tigers games he is sending emails to get us organized for our next conference call or reminding me to write that thing I forgot about.

I have a friend who just died of cancer today.

Chuck has been battling cancer for a while now but I have been avoiding the issue.  It’s cancer.  I mean, he’ll get treatment and I will see him at our next meeting.  Last week he went into hospice and  even the most unrealistic person would have to accept the reality of the situation.  I am full of sorrow.  He was the inspiration for seeking and posting great causes on my fan page.

Part of the sorrow is the entitlement.  This is not fair.  Chuck is the last person, the very last, to deserve this.  So many have benefited from his care and his hard work.  His mother raised a wonderful son.  We were all gifted a wonderful friend.
I am an adult and any ideas of entitlement that may have taken shape have been slowly sloughed away by reality.  Life is not going to be perfect, blessed or highly favored because you give.  There will be some of that but life will be hard, full of loss and sadness too.   Maybe we were all entitled to a few years with Chuck.  That was our gift for our service and I, for one, will never forget him.

The Michigan Darfur Coalition, where Chuck worked as the Communications and West Michigan Coordinator, has renamed the fund he established.  It is now called the Charlton Breen Refugee Assistance Program Fund (RAPF).  Before Chuck passed away he was told that this is the way that we would honor him and that we would continue to work to help the New Americans that come to us.  Stop by and read about it. If compelled, make a donation.  You are entitled to share in Chucks’ love for the people of Darfur. I hope you can recognize his great effort and are inspired and changed by it.

This is how we beat back the sorrow and the feelings of unfairness.  We honor.
Peace and Grace


Human Efforts

I am a dream big kind of girl.  I am also an unrealistic one.  Give me five minutes and I try to turn it into an hour.  The closer a destination is to my house the later I am arriving.  If I am planning an event I want it to be bigger than Oprah’s 50th birthday party with a budget closer to my grocery bill.  I have no sense of reality at all! I do have the ability to stretch what is possible out farther than what most people will even try because of my disconnect with reality. 

It’s a gift to be unrealistic sometimes.

I have been working within the Save Darfur movement for nearly four years now.  My role has included working with a team of people to organize a screening of Hotel Rwanda, flying in Mark Brecke to share his documentary They Turned Our Desert Into Fire with the people of Lansing and going door to door to collect pop cans to raise money for the Civilian Protection Program of the Genocide Intervention Network.  I have organized volunteers, delivered post card and called churches.  I have been astonished by the giving of people with little and the disinterest of those who have more.


This journey has built a different understanding of what Jesus meant when he said to protect the orphans and the widows.  My fear of the common man has probably grown because of the evil perpetrated on others.  However, my hopefulness and respect has grown for individuals who have suffered, survived and begun healing from the tragedies I cannot even comprehend.

I have guilt though.  I spend too much money on things I do not need.  I don’t spend enough time helping outside of my emails and behind the scene motivating of other’s to help.  I hate that I don’t have more time to give.  I feel like Oskar Schindler, wondering if I could do a bit more and what kind of difference it would make. Forgive the exaggeration, he obviously has done more for humanity than me but I suppose you get my drift.

A few years ago I had a great conversation with a friend from GI-Net that was my helper and mentor through the beginning of my advocacy days.  He told me that we must all remain humble in what we are able to accomplish in this world. Our passion for change can become a weapon of guilt in our lives because we can all only do so much.  I am constantly reminding myself that I am human and therefore only capable of so much.

And what of my family?  I am responsible for three amazing boys who will grow up and go out into the world with the lessons I am able teach them.  If I spend my time ignoring their needs because of my need to serve others what will that teach them?  What will that do to their self esteem. My husband, my family and my dear friends all deserve to have the best of my love and loyalty.


I will continue to ask others to do more even when I cannot.  Otherwise we will never make the ends meet. We will all toil in our disjointed efforts to feed the hungry, heal the sick and help the newcomers in a foreign land.  Separately, we will become exhausted and our humanity will tell us that we should give up.

The Mother Flippin’ Bar Crawl is scheduled for May 22nd, 2010 from 6pm to 10pm.  I have designed t-shirts and they are available for purchase.  I have spoken to several local bars and they are happy to have us come out.  I am turning 30 and I want nothing more than to convince others to do a bit more.  My goals are to raise awareness, raise funds and have a beer for the cause.

I don’t think that is too much to ask! :)