the nest

the nest

Monday, December 14, 2015

December 14th

Today is a Monday like many others. Everyone in the house is up early. My husband and daughter are out the door and I have a short time to soak in the rays from my HappyLight, check in on Facebook and take a quick peek at my e-mail.
Today is December 14th. It makes this Monday different. Today people throughout CT (and elsewhere) remember Sandy Hook.  We remember the 26 souls taken from the world by a lost and sick young man.  20 children, 6 teachers. Their deaths began a new age in our world, one where we don't feel safe even in the "safest" places.

3 years ago our middle child was struggling with mental health issues. Our December was completely absorbed in keeping her safe and getting her help. 3 years later she is thriving in college. She had access to good mental health services and she DIDN'T have access to a gun. If she had, we could have easily been mourning her suicide. If the murderer of Sandy Hook had better mental health services he may not have done what it did. If he did not have easy access to his mother's guns he would not have done what he did.  No one could have magically made him "better," but we could have prevented his access to guns.

3 years ago we all said "never again." the horror of school children being murdered seemed like more than enough to wake up the country to look seriously at gun control and mental health. While progress has been made, Since Sandy Hook it's not enough.  The Federal Government has been unable to make any progress, so any semblance of sanity on the issue of gun control/gun safety has fallen to individual states. Any progress is good, but as long as individual states have widely disparate laws, too many guns will continue to be available to those who want them.

Here's the problem though. When a "mass" shooting happens there is a lot of activity - statistics are thrown around, social media is busy with people on both sides of the issue. In the meantime, those who could make significant change in this land, don't. What we hear are excuses.  "It's not about guns, it's about mental health." "If more good guys had guns, we could beat the bad guys." "The second amendment protects my right to protect myself and my family." "More gun control won't work, 'cause the bad guys will get the guns anyways." After a week or so, the flurry of activity slows, we move on with our lives and wait for the next time we hear in the news "Mass shooting at a......."
Here's the thing.

"Mass shootings get all the attention, but they are a small part of the overall problem," "On the same day as the Sandy Hook shooting, about 90 other people died as the result of a shooting."(quote from the above link)

The number of people killed as a result of gun violence in this country outside the sensational shootings is not acceptable. Domestic violence, suicide, homicide, accidental.  Just the number of people who are injured or killed when a TODDLER comes across a gun and accidentally fires it should be enough for the powers that be to make some common sense reforms regarding the gun laws of the United States.   

Good Mental Health services continue to be difficult to come by even if you have resources. While progress has been made, there is still more to do.  The work that needs to be done will NOT be done until we value people over things.  As long as those in power value the almighty dollar more than the life of a child nothing will change.  Even when changes are made and those who need it get help, it will still take time. 

In the meantime, common sense gun reform nationwide, could make a huge impact.  To deny the progress made by neighboring countries is foolish.  Fewer guns = fewer gun deaths.  Will it prevent all gun deaths? No. Will reducing the number of guns end all mass shootings? No. Will reducing the number of guns in the US and requiring common sense protections like "smart technology," training, safe storage etc. significantly reduce the number of deaths due to gun violence. The numbers and the experience of Australia, the UK and Japan would suggest YES.

While I am horrified each time there is a mass shooting and December 14th will always be a sad day, I want to see change for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who deaths don't make the news or social media. 

Today on December 14th, I'm going to remember the 26 souls lost at Sandy Hook School, but I'm also going remember the 554 children under age 12 who have died since Sandy Hook due to 
intentional or accidental gunshots. I'm going to remember the 33,599 people who died LAST YEAR in the US due to gun violence. I'm going to remember the 497,632 people who have died because of guns since 1999. 

 I'm also going to pray for the souls of those who stand by and do nothing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Gift of neighbors

Sunday was an awesome "re-set" day for me. I was wrapped up again in fretting and venting about things that are critically important, but out of my control. At least for now. I don't mean that I'm backing off on gun control, support for Planned Parenthood, or any of the other issues that are important to me right now, but sitting at my computer sharing everything I can find with mostly people who agree with me is not really a great use of my time!

Yesterday I started the day with some of my favorite people, leading the worship service at First Lutheran, followed by the fastest, most efficient committee meeting ever, followed by Christmas Caroling right in the neighborhood around our church building.  We have done Christmas Caroling in many ways over the years, sometimes going specifically to the homes of members of our congregation who can't get out anymore, or going to local nursing homes or assisted living facilities, but I can't remember ever going house to house in the neighborhood around our church.

Growing up, my family, along with many others, would go Caroling house to house. Many of you may remember similar experiences. We knew most if not all of our neighbors and knew they would welcome us. Somehow that seems less common.  To be honest, I was a little nervous. We had a number of very enthusiastic children with us and I didn't want them to get discouraged by closed doors. We've been members of First for 20+ years, but we don't know our "neighbors."

We quickly discovered there was nothing to fear!  While there were many neighbors who weren't home (it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon after all), those who were, welcomed us.  Several insisted on sending us away with treats and a few cars driving by stopped to listen.  We are not professional. We didn't rehearse.  We sometimes sang in a few different keys at the same time. No one cared!  We were sharing a gift with our neighbors and in their thanks, I was humbled. Holiday greetings were exchanged with great happiness.

There is so much emphasis on "not offending" anyone in our world today. What if we sing Christmas songs at the home of a Jewish family or a Muslim family? What if someone thinks we are trying to "convert" them? What if they don't like our singing? What if?

What happened to the idea of simply sharing our gifts with each other? When we work so hard to not offend, we build higher and higher walls between "us" and "them". The simple act of stepping off our church property and sharing our joy in the season with our neighbors was one of the most joyful things I've done in months! The smiles on the faces of our neighbors was a gift to us.

We cannot give in to a world that tries to tell us that we should fear our "neighbors." In a global society our neighbors are next door and around the world. Instead of fearing them, we must love them. When we assume the best in others, we are often rewarded with the best in return.

There will be times when a door will be shut, when a "neighbor" will disappoint. Doesn't this already happen though within our own families and communities?? We are all human and in our humanity we will fail and disappoint others. But, what if we lived our life assuming the best? What if instead of approaching strangers with the assumption that they should be feared, we approached them as a neighbor we haven't met yet?

We cannot control what happens out in the world, but we can control our reaction to it. If we react to terror with fear and hate, we do nothing to counteract it. If we respond with love and forgiveness we send a powerful message that those who perpetrate acts of terror or violence will not win.

I don't know about you, but I would much rather die with love and forgiveness in my heart than hate and fear.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The new normal ISN'T NORMAL.

I'm so disgusted right now. Over and over again it happens. Innocent people are slaughtered right here in the "land of the free". Those who we have elected offer "thoughts and prayers" to those in Colorado Springs, Savannah, San Bernadino, and then go back to business as usual.

Right now I want to be writing about the holidays with my almost adult children. Thanksgiving was a warm up to Christmas and it is an interesting time to be a parent when your children come "home" to visit. I don't want to be talking yet again about the incredible stupidity of the country I live in. WHEN DO WE LEARN?

Yesterday my 16 year old posted the following on her FB page, "I think one of the saddest parts of the San Bernadino shooting today is that I'm no longer surprised by this kind of violence. I shouldn't be used to hearing about shootings. So incredibly sad and WRONG."

This child has grown up in a post-Columbine world. She has been struggling with increasing anxiety since she was 10. On the surface she has little to be anxious about. She is loved, she is beautiful, she is smart, she is kind, she works hard, she lives in a "safe" town with good schools, she is blessed. She has also grown up in a world that seems to be increasingly scary and unpredictable. It is no longer "when is the next shooting going to occur", the question is "where is it going to be today?" Of my three children she has grown up with the most media exposure from a young age. It's everywhere. School is also increasingly stressful (for many reasons) and does not appear to be any safer than any place else.

The facts say that she is still safer in our small town and in her school that in many places. Logic should tell her that she has little to fear and everything to look forward to. Facts and logic mean nothing when you have been in a state of fear and worry throughout your formative years.  Brains developing while under constant state of "preparedness" cannot possibly be optimal. How much of the dramatic increase in depression and anxiety among our children has as much to do with the "marketing" of our dangerous world? When they are bombarded with images of violence over and over, in places that "they could be" why wouldn't they begin to fear for themselves? If the messages they get from the adults in their world be in family members or the talking heads, is that "there is nothing we can do about 'it'" why wouldn't they begin to experience feelings of hopelessness and despair. If you are perpetually in a state of "fight or flight," your adrenaline levels stay high.  They aren't supposed to do this. THIS ISN'T NORMAL. It isn't normal for us to be in a state of "preparedness" ready to react at the slightest threat.

After a rough few days, H was showing signs of her normal, happy, goofy self. She made it through the school day without a text or a call home or a visit to the nurses office. The early part of the afternoon she was a joy. As the day progressed and she saw bits of news, scrolled through Facebook, watch a video on Syrian refugees and followed news reports on the events of San Bernadino, she began to wilt. Her stomach began to hurt, her fears of getting sick increased, her anxiety began to climb through the roof.

Strategies to calm her didn't work and finally her dad ended up sleeping in her room so she would feel safe. This morning despite a night of sleep she was still feeling miserable and stayed in bed. Another day of school will be missed.  How do I know this isn't just some virus? Because it happens with increasing frequency and we have explored all the possible "medical" explanations.  She is dealing with anxiety and physical illness is how it is expressed in her body. THIS ISN'T NORMAL.

At 16 her worries should be few - school, driving, boys, maybe thinking about college, what to wear. She should be spending increasing amounts of time with her friends, moving away from the "nest." Instead she is spending more and more time at home. She doesn't like to be alone at night. She worries about her own safety and the safety of her siblings who have left home. She worries about Syrian children who have nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat. She worries about other vulnerable populations who are bullied and abused. I might be projecting my own worries on her, but she worries about the world she is going to be responsible for. The world that will exist when she is "grown-up."

Right now it is too scary. She doesn't want to grow up. My smart, funny, talented, compassionate child is doing everything she can to not grow up. To not have to "leave the nest." I can't say I blame her. She is coming of age in a world full of hate and violence. A world where money and wealth appears to be valued over people. A world that doesn't seem to care about children or others who need our care.

It would be easy to say it's time to limit her media exposure. Tell her to stop watching the news. Tell her to stay off social media for a while. I want to protect her and surround her in a bubble of Christmas music and cookie baking.  I want to hide her from the world.

While we will have this conversation, I can't protect her from the world she lives in. Social media is a big part of that world and she needs to learn how to navigate through it.  Like her mom, she needs to learn when to "turn it off." We will continue to work with the different professionals in our life who are helping us develop strategies to deal with anxiety. We will breathe, journal, add yoga to our routine, continue to eat as healthfully as we can, find ways to serve others, and try to keep some perspective.

This is all a part of parenting for sure, and I know I have pretty tremendous kids. They all have a strong sense of responsibility to make the world a better place and I know they will. I just wish the world they were inheriting wasn't so f'ed up.

I am angry that instead of the fire drills and tornado drills of my childhood in MN, schools now have "active shooter" drills. THIS ISN'T NORMAL. I am angry that those in a position to learn from other countries who have successfully addressed these very issues, like Australia, insist on spouting the rhetoric of personal "rights" without taking responsibility for the safety of the community. I'm tired that the "rights" of the individual to own whatever gun they want, trumps the rights of my child (and yours) to have a childhood and to feel safe. I'm angry that everything comes back to the almighty dollar and whoever has the most money get's their way.

Like my daughter, I can so easily get overwhelmed by the horror and tragedy. As a grown-up I have to keep perspective. I have to model balance in my life and in my use of and access to Social media. I have to acknowledge that I can't fix everything. I need to take one small step at a time. There is so much good in the world and so many good people doing that good.  We need to see them and be them.  We need to shine a light on those doing good and also shine our own light.

In the Christian calendar we have just begun the season of Advent. A season of waiting and anticipating. We wait for the birth of Christ. The Light of the World. Here's the thing.  The light is already here - it's us. We can't just wait while we share our "thoughts and prayers." WE ARE THE LIGHT. When we accept responsibility for a broken world and dedicate ourselves to loving and healing it, then we welcome the Light. Only then will we truly welcome the Christ Child. Those who hate and condemn and judge seek to put the light out. While we wait in the darkness, we must shine a light.