It is so strange to be passing another decade mark on the calendar. Nothing could have prepared me for the last ten years, and to be honest, I am glad I wasn’t prepared. Those years brought me to the point where I had to confront my deepest fears, address the deep seeded sin in my life, and rely on God in a way I could have never imagined. The past ten years have brought: life and peace; heartbreak and loss, joy and friendships; and humility and promise.
At the start of 2010, I was teaching for the fourth year in the school that would become my home for just about the entire decade. To be honest, the 2009/2010 school year was one of the worst of my teaching career. I was completely in over my head, doing a job I was never trained to do as the special education Language Arts teacher. Little did anyone else know that I was flying by the seat of my pants on a regular basis. The course of the decade brought me another teacher certification area and changing what I was teaching almost as often as I changed classrooms. Over the course of the decade I taught: special education Language Arts, 9th grade Language Arts, American Government, The Holocaust, and Modern American History.
My husband Scott went through a major transformation over the decade. He went from a young man lacking self confidence to a man of God who is the sole financial provider for our family. He was fired from a job that provided well for our family. Scott lost his confidence in himself and got a job that humbled and humiliated him on a regular basis. He learned how to start at the bottom and respect those who have what others may view as menial jobs. Scott learned his new home city by driving it in the night delivering newspapers. He made connections with people and gained confidence in who he was as a person. Scott used his natural curiosity to learn a new skill set that brought him into a brand new career field. That field landed him a job that values his skills and provides financially for our family.
Our family changed forever in 2011. We were looking for a new house because a new little boy was going to be added to the family in June. While waiting for our little one to arrive, the unexpected happened. The Joplin Tornado of May 22, 2011, changed everything. It was my greatest fear coming true. All during my childhood and teenage years, I had this vivid, terrifying, reoccurring dream about being in a tornado. I would wake up from the dream drenched in sweat and trembling because of how real it had been. At around 5:45pm on May 22, 2011, I walked out of my damaged home to see the vivid dream, only it was real this time.
I had Isaiah ten days later in a different hospital and with a different OBGYN. We lived with friends for a little over a month and bought a new house and car. The next few years, we just lived. I cannot tell you how much peace can come from the normal routines of life after life has been turned upside down on you.
In the process of living, we still had major changes. For me, God used the tornado to expose some of the darkest places in my heart. It exposed my anger I had excused as just an inherited temper and the pride that was hidden in the dark corners of my life. These came out in some pretty ugly situations, but sometimes God has to let you see the ugliness of your sin before you repent and change your life. That was definitely the case for me.
The aftermath of the tornado also brought us to a new church. How could we have ever imagined in the aftermath of a natural disaster that God would bring us to a church that would become a family to us? We went from regular attendees, to members, to college ministry leaders, to leading a new family care ministry and starting a community garden. God gave us amazing friends through Journey Church in this past decade. You know it has been good, when you think that the past eight years have gone in a blink of an eye.
Another huge thing that happened in the 2010s has to do with friendships. I learned a lesson that God will take away everything and everyone in your life that seeks to take His place in your life. I had to be completely alone to realize that God is all I will ever need. Some of our closest friends moved away from us this decade. It seemed like every time we made a good friend, the person moved. We also learned that sometimes friends are for a season in your life. Seasons can be short, but that doesn’t make the friendship any less than what it is. You can have a person leave without losing your care and affection for the person.
I also learned that some friendships are worth the work it takes to keep them. Investing your time in another person builds both of you. I was blessed this decade with a friend who has become so very dear to me. Even though we only had one summer to get to know one another our letters, texts, and occasional visits have been a lifeline for me. Still other friends have been physically closer and have been worth pursing to make a strong friendship.
One thing I can say, is that a decade ago I was surer of myself and beliefs than I am now. I really thought I knew so much and had a grasp on life, religion, politics, and society. I thought my worldview was wide and my experiences were vast enough to have a strong opinion on many things. Now, I am not so sure about any of those things. I still have passionate opinions about things, but they are not the same opinions I had at the start of the decade.
The biggest change came from the most unusual situation. We were eating dinner at the table one night and my oldest asked why people were upset about someone kneeling during the National Anthem at a football game. At this time, my husband and I were furious that Colin Kaepernick would be so disrespectful to the flag and our country. However, I wanted my son to know the full story. I was thinking that if I explained the situation, he would just naturally follow in our belief. When I explained that the player was protesting because police were treating people of color differently or being cruel to them, I was floored when this little eight-year-old said “then I would kneel too” and kept eating his dinner.
My husband and I didn’t know how to respond. I was raised with an uncle who was the sheriff of Dade County, Missouri for sixteen years. My uncle was a well loved and well-respected lawman. He treated everyone with respect and was as close to an Andy Taylor as you could get. In my experience (mainly family and watching C.O.P.S), if someone was rough handled by the police, then they did something to deserve it.
Here in my dining room, I was confronted with a child who didn’t have my experiences. He just had a life filled with us teaching about right and wrong. We demonstrated how to love people and sought to teach justice in our family. Only having that as a background, my son implied that it was better to kneel to the flag than to put up with injustice and I was floored. I was raised with family members who were service members. People I knew were serving for our country and for what our country stood for as a nation. Still I was taken aback. Looking through the eyes of my child, I began to see for the first time what it means to be an American who cares about justice. To be able to hold in one hand my love of country and in the other hand love my country enough to not want injustice to be there for anyone.
That one dinner in 2016 started a path for me. A path to seek out new voices and views to see what I wasn’t able to see in my own experiences. No matter if I agreed with it or not. I began by reading Benjamin Watson’s book Under Our Skin. I was challenged to look at social issues not just from my limited worldview, but from others’ perspectives as well. What I began to see changed me and began to put me at odds with what I had always been raised to believe.
We watched documentaries about systematic racism in the United States through the use of the red lines in city planning. I read books and articles about racism and the many different forms of it still in the United States. I knew from being raised in a very poor rural white community that poverty brings crime with the promise of easy money. I knew that some of the roots of poverty are caused by a lack of access to a good education, affordable healthcare, and affordable childcare. Crime and drugs magnify these problems and make solutions more difficult to bring to life. What I knew about rural poverty was just as true about urban poverty. It was just that rural white poor didn’t have the negative stereotypes imprinted on them by society like poor urban blacks or Hispanic people did. I was able to begin to see the distinctions and connections between racism and classism in the United States.
As I began to work through these things, I began to see a change in my political beliefs as well. I was raised to believe in the value of all life. I still do believe that all life is precious and that life is a gift of God. I was also raised to believe that a person in political office needs to be held to a moral standard if the person claims to be a Christian. I am a Christian and there are standards for my behavior because they are for my good. Me living a moral life, a life that demonstrates the love and compassion of Christ, will also draw people to Christ.
The election of President Trump in 2016 was a turning point for me. Because of a plurality, Mr. Trump had won the Republican nomination, not because he was the top pick in the crowded Republican field. Then he was running against Hillary Clinton. The election of 2016 wasn’t an election of who you were voting for, but more of the who you were voting against. There were many (I’m assuming thousands) Republicans who voted for President Trump for two reasons 1. He would bring in pro-life judges and 2. If/when President Trump messes up enough, Mike Pence will be President.
What I didn’t see coming was the whole hearted devotion of many major names in the Evangelical community for President Trump. Somehow there was a merger of political beliefs and religious beliefs. People’s nationalism got wedded to their Christianity. What could have just been a preference for a political policy/leader became a showdown on people’s faith. If you opposed a politician then you were opposed to God. How did that happen? What happened to saying “I really like what so-and-so is doing for our country, but I don’t think he/she is a good person”? As a history teacher for many years, I could list a series of leaders who would fit that very statement. Yet, as the decade continued to progress, that moderate voice has seemed to be removed from our political discourse.
Once so sure of my beliefs and confident in my worldview, now to feel politically homeless and at odds with the people and party you used to align with has been difficult. Somehow to be pro-life (cradle to the grave);for helping the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant; believing in the rule of law (where no one is above the law); seeing your 6th amendment rights are protected (even for illegal immigrants); for bringing about racial reconciliation and calling out wrong on all sides; wanting a common sense economic system where people find their worth in their work; addressing the astronomical profit margin pharmaceutical companies make off hurting people; providing educational opportunities for all students; and being a decent human being make for an impossible place to be right now. I have joked with those closest to me that I need to write a post on Twitter making sure people know how to spell my name correctly when they go to the polls for the primaries, because the 2010s have been such a bizarre political scene.
There have been many times in my life when I wanted God to give me some kind of heads up about what was going to happen in my life. I kept thinking that if I had that kind of knowledge, when I would be better prepared for the future. Now looking back over the past decade, I am not sure if I want to know what is coming in the next 10 years. The times that tried me the most have brought about the most joy for me. The sorrow and stress that did come were never there without the peace of God. Things that made no sense, now do. Giving up something I thought was what I was supposed to have, brought about something far better. Seeing a new perspective helped me to have greater compassion. The not knowing has brought the growth in my faith. There is hope for the future, even if I have no idea what that future may be.