Monday, January 24, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tabitha House

We entered Guatemala and checked into a hotel with wi-fi. Thank God. Finally, a chance to reconnect with civilization. I hadn't been on Facebook in three days; I only checked my email for a few minutes on a friend's computer I borrowed. My phone had no service.

I snuggled under the down comforter on one of two queen sized beds in my room. Fourteen pillows for one person seemed excessive, but as I was the only woman on the trip, I didn't have to share!

The next day we would wake up, go visit a ministry of a woman who helped organize the trip and then off to Antigua to sight-see.

Truth be told, I wasn't too hip on going to visit the Tabitha House. We'd been conferencing with pastors in Guatemala for two days straight. Hours upon hours of church talk. I was exhausted, the other pastor's seemed to be wearing down too and quite frankly too much God-talk can make one resent God. Or at least the one talking.

But Carol was nice and I wanted to seem supportive of her (she was the only other actively ministering woman on the trip - i.e. she ran her own ministry instead of being the wife of someone in the ministry).

Edwin, our driver, picked us up at the hotel (30 minutes late, of course), and we began the drive to the Tabitha House. "There's the aqua duct that the Mayans built. Of course, we don't use it now."

"Of course, right." The boys had let me have the front seat either out of chivalry or because I get carsick. Their motives could have been mixed.

"And there's the zoo."

"Aw man! I could have gone to the zoo today?!" I lamented not having received this information earlier so I could have taxied to the zoo and return by the half-an-hour later leave time we had scheduled.

And then the traffic died down and the streets got smaller and we turned onto roads more like alleys than anything. Lined with vendors selling fruits and deodorant and scarves. All things colorful and Guatemalan. And then we approached the dump. It had a huge fence around it. And there were areas of the fence that were black where they'd been burning things. Then outside lining the walls of the dump or across the street were vendors who had recovered things from the dump and were reselling them. There were trucks, like good Texans drive, except twenty years older and white with rust on them piled high with bags of trash or recycling. Like in America, where we save our coke cans to give to the janitor of the church where we're employed, if you can dig through the trash and pick out the right things, you can make a little extra money.

Except for these people it's their only income.

They live across from the dump and you could see the shanties were just scraps of metal leaned up against each other like card house only not as precise or angular.

The dump is situated on top of a marsh. Unstable ground. It's fine for an adult. But for the women and men who go out there with their infants or kids, it can be a dangerous place. Trash piles shift, grounds are sludge, and children, well, they sink.

And that's just one reason why Tabitha House exists.

We walked up to the conspicuous un-labeled door and Edwin knocked. The silent woman slid back the peep box and upon seeing us, opened the door. About twenty kids were seated around small kid tables. "Bienvenidos!" They said in unison. We must have been a sight to behold. I affectionately called our group, "Three Giants and a Ginger." The three men I travelled with were all over six feet tall and this in a county where I at five foot one towered over the people. As we further ventured into the room, the teacher (was she the teacher?) didn't say anything, but sat in a chair next to a bookshelf of papers and crayons. One child got up and came to me, throwing his arms around my legs. At that, several of the kids lept to their feet and began hugging and jumping on the men I was with. They were live living jungle gyms to these kids who I discovered didn't leave this 10x40 foot room. One child next to me had already unzipped my purse and pulled out my camera. Wow. Okay sweetheart, give it back! We left Esteban, our translator, with the children on that floor and ventured upstairs. I felt cramped on the cement staircase. And while I didn't have to turn my shoulders to get up it, I could have. It was very narrow. At the top of the stairs we found another room, much smaller, with two tables and about 10 two and three year olds sitting silently at it. One child ran into the bathroom behind it upon seeing us (children here are taught to fear photographers as they often kidnap children). We doted over them briefly while they stared at us and then went up another staircase to the four and five year old room. These little darlings demanded to be held and studied my bracelets and earrings (I had overdressed for this part of the day) as their snotty noses dripped tangled in my hair.

The Tabitha House houses only sixty children (used to hold 80, but they were low on funding and had to cut back) whose mothers are prostitutes, drug-addicts or just plain poor. While the mothers go out to look for work, or dig in the dump (remember the children can be lost in the dump), Four or five women oversee sixty children who often haven't eaten since the last time they were at Tabitha house.

Most of the children are sexually abused by strung out parents or guardians. Carol describes changing diapers and finding blood everywhere. The abuser often holds glue to the child's nose so they don't know what's happening and, high themselves, neither do they realize what they are doing. One little boy (oddly enough, named Jesus) attached three of the four men with us, boxing them in the groin before climbing onto their backs. "It's his only defense against men," Carol explained. "He expects men to hurt him so he keeps them away pre-emptively. And he's actually much better now. When we first got him, he was uncontrollable." Jesus now lives with a couple who care for eleven children... six of their own and five foster. When Jesus arrived at Tabitha house, they found a hole in his skull where he'd been beaten. They got him medical treatment, but his relatives (guardians) were selling the medicine for money. Jesus never got better and after figuring out why, Tabitha House got him in with the amazing couple that now cares for him and ten other children they call their own.

When "Maria" (I don't know her real name) arrived at Tabitha House, Carol discovered her toes had been eaten off by rats. In the shanties, the rats are huge and children and adults often have to fight the rats for food. When they took her to the doctor, they said she'd never walk. She now runs.

Tabitha House has limited resources, but it uses them well. One or two of the women who watch the children in the house are mothers who originally dropped their kids off at Tabitha House, but have now broken the cycle of poverty, drugs and abuse and are on their way out, or at least up. You see, Tabitha House works with the mothers too - getting them proper documentation for themselves and their children, so they can apply for jobs, have rights. They teach the women life skills - how to cook and sew. And now, the garments the women make are sold for a profit that goes into Tabitha House funds.

And many of the women are changed. They get out of prostitution, off drugs. "But we don't save them," Carol is careful to note. "Only God can change them."

As we pried our legs and arms free from the children (we had returned to the first floor to find Esteban covered in kids), we returned to the car and I longed to wash my hands. Leave it to me to see all that poverty and abuse and wants to wash my hands of it. But the disease the children are exposed to... it is awful. Where they live there are no bathrooms, no showers.

We spent three hours that night after returning from an afternoon of shopping, eating and cathedral-ruin-visiting in Antigua speaking with Carol about Tabitha House. Her fiance and son were with her. And with wide eyes her husband, a neurologist, confessed, "She's a powerful woman. I just watch."

And she is. Imagine what she is up against. Not only the poverty and violence of the streets, but even "missionaries" who have come to help have used her. She spoke of three "missionaries" who raised funds among parishioners in American churches for "the work they were doing at the Tabitha House," but when someone came to visit them and see their ministry Carol had to reply, "I don't know who you're talking about. They don't work here!" And within her denomination (Baptist) they've already had to make cut-backs. They used to feed and help over 80 kids. So many children need help, but to the ones she is given, Carol applies the most gentle care. She uses the resources she has to provide for the children, help the mothers, and allows God to do the rest. "Only God can change people, I cannot," she shakes her head and raises her eyebrows at the misery of the world and the mystery of God.

I raise my eyebrows at her.


I've found a new place to give my tithe during my time off from the local church right now. And if you want to give to Tabitha House as well (and ensure that the funds arrive there!), I can make that happen. You have my word. And so do Jesus and Maria. Two of the pastors I travelled with will be returning next money. Money can be donated through their organizations (tax-deductible) and will go straight to the hands of Carol at Tabitha House. Last time, they brought shoes for the children as well, which was a huge help. But money can go straight to the budget which Carol can use for snacks, supplies, sewing materials, whatever.

Thanks be to God for Carol and for Tabitha House. And may I never take for granted a hotel room or a shower or food in a fridge again.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Up to the Mountain (the MLK song)

Happy MLK Day?

I remember when I heard my first discriminatory joke. Or rather, I remember the first time I was old enough to hear a racist joke and be able to discern it as such. I can remember whose house I was at, in whose kitchen, who told the joke and the knot in my stomach when I knew it was time to decide, do I laugh or not laugh?

I must have been an early adolescent. I remember it was a boy who told the joke and I desperately wanted him to approve of me. I also remember later being in another group of friends who were telling jokes and wondering whether or not it would be appropriate for me to share the one I'd heard from the boy. Get the laugh instead of being laughed at? The reverse in prospects were inviting.

I don't actually remember how I responded in either situation. I mostly just remember the feeling. Usually with boys, I would laugh and reprimand them, thrilled they even noticed me. At some point in college though, I quit laughing, and would explain to the men around me that racist jokes, sexist jokes, weren't funny. And that laughing only contributed to the problem. "How can things get better if we continue to condone underlying assumptions about race and gender by laughing them off?" I was the femi-nazi of William Jewell College and I moved straight from there to Truett Seminary.

"When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative."

At some point over the last few years I quit trying so hard. My spirit of equality for all got tired I suppose (as spirits tend to do), and battles had to be picked instead of fought. I quit telling people to stop making sexist jokes because they weren't funny. Whereas in college, I demanded utmost respect for women of the men I was with, and in seminary, I would offer the most feminist perspective I could muster just so people would hear me and maybe concede a little towards a happy medium, over the past few years I returned to my more adolescent coping mechanisms. Flirtatious affirmation, I explain it to my therapist. "Cut it out," I now tease back. "You don't believe that." It's the same reason I have trouble turning men down if they ask me out on a date even if I know it won't work. "I don't want them to feel bad about themselves," I tell my therapist.

"Their self-esteem isn't your problem," she responds.



As an adult, I felt again the feeling of anxiety in the pit of my stomach when I heard one of my black neighbors speaking poorly of Hispanics in our city. "Um, can you say that, cause... you know you're black right?" I wanted to remind him. In other words, you of all people should know that discrimination doesn't get us anywhere. I didn't say that. And unlike the racist joke told in childhood, I do remember how I responded: in silence, with a head nod, as his verbal putdown was quickly passed on by the next topic, the next discussion to come rattling out of his mouth. Truthfully, I spend most of my time just nodding my head at him, as the conversations fly by so fast I sometimes wonder if I was even a part of them.

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
My friend Julie, author of One Hand Clapping, wrote a post today wondering if she should bring an awareness to her child's life of the difference between race. Her kindergarten daughter doesn't yet see difference between skin color yet because she has been raised in a very diverse environment. So trying to explain MLK and what he did doesn't make a lot of sense to her because racism isn't yet a part of her worldview.

I responded to her blog with some of my thoughts about sexism. While I did manage to grab that racism existed even in middle America by the time I hit middle school, I didn't understand that sexism was just as prevalent until College. College.

I didn't actually realize that "women jokes" weren't on par with "blond jokes," i.e. that people really believed women were inferior or couldn't do the same things as men or (fill in the blank). College. My mother says she "may have pushed the women thing a little too far" with me, but I say, who cares? For 18 years I thought I had the same rights and opportunities as men. I thought that women jokes were dumb, like joke about the blond who threw all the W's out of the M&M factory. A stupid way to make a silly joke at some other group's expense. I was always being made fun of growing up. If a boy says something mean about you, then he likes you (omg, wait for the post I'm now writing in my head about how that condolence screwed me up). Seriously though, teasing someone during High School, they called that flirting. Blond jokes were told to blonds to get them to laugh and be defensive and maybe slap the boy on the arm who told the joke. Same thing with women jokes. Fill in the blank. Substitute brunette for blond or ginger for brunette. I didn't know those jokes were rooted in a deeper anxiety, a deeper hatred, a deeper ism (I'm now speaking of women jokes, not blond jokes) in people's lives.

More power to your daughter, I wrote Julie. Let her reality be spoiled when she's old enough to afford the therapy it'll take to recover her innocence, but not too old that she won't have a job or health insurance to be able to afford the therapy. It's a fine line.

So happy MLK day, I guess. Happy MLK day to those whose children don't yet understand that black "means" different or brown "means" inferior. Congrats. You've got some bubbles to burst, but your kids are lucky.

Happy MLK day to those who are stuck where I once was: hearing the "harmless" racism that the world shares with one another in polite circles at parties and has to decide: to laugh or not to laugh.

Happy MLK day to those who are black, who have achieved some level of equality and power in America, and now get to choose whether or not to oppress the new minority... Hispanics.

Happy MLK day to all those who are oppressed for whatever reason: the color of their skin, the accent on their tongue, the anatomy of their genitalia, the money in their wallets, the gender of the person with whom they fell in love.

Happy MLK day to all of us who live in a really imperfect would and who would love to live life, even for just a day, seeing the world through Julie's daughter's eyes. Who would love to take a stand all the time against injustice in this world, but my god, who has the time. Happy MLK day to those who have time only to pick their battles (may they pick good ones), and may they continue to believe that "unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality."

MLK writes, "Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true."

And cancer always starts small.

So be aware. Burst your kids bubbles or break your kids of their hate. Be militant. Or just choose your battles. I don't know. But "nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." So let's let love "release... harmonize... and illuminate life."

Happy MLK day.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


Today starts a new decade. This affords us an opportunity to reflect not only on the end of the year of twenty-ten, but on the whole first decade ushered in ten years ago by Y2K and all the chaos of a new millennium.

Here's some of what I remember...

In 2000, I graduated from College, turned down a marriage proposal, moved home to hang out with my youngest sister who was in high school, substitute taught, and drove a van-full of stuff to Waco, Texas, where my mother left me with a kiss and a cry.

2001 began my seminary career. I flew to Hawaii for Spring Break (priceline had just been invented) and met up with my aunt and grandparents. With my new friends Lynnette ad Cat, I began attending UBC Waco where I preached my first Sunday morning sermon. I worked at Applebee's for three months and then took a job at Buzzard Billy's. I joined my family in St. Jo again for the summer and joined the chorus of Camelot, the show my dad was directing. Cat and I moved in together on Bagby. 9-11 started off my second semester in seminary, and flying was never the same again.

2002, both my grandparents died within a week of each other. I played Mary Magdalene in Waco Civic Theater's Jesus Christ Superstar. My seminary got a new dean, and i almost quit. Instead I travelled the world with a Missions class and visited England, Morocco, Turkey, Thailand, India and China. I moved in with the Eades that summer. I began dating a drummer that fall and my sister got married in October. I had my first wreck: in Oklahoma, driving back to Texas from a friend's wedding in Missouri. I starred as Anna in The King and I and adopted my first cat, Radley.

2003 I attended my first Emergent Convention and the Dove Awards. I turned 25 and moved home again for the summer to play The Witch in Robidoux Resident Theater's production of Into the Woods. I adopted (or rather, inherited - thanks Jen!) my second cat, Zorba. One of my best friends, Big Phil, moved to Austin and began working at Mosaic which introduced me to both that city and church. The drummer and I broke up, and I bought a new (to me) car.

2004 I graduated from seminary, moved to Austin for a couple months where I volunteered at Mosaic and substitute taught, then moved to St. Joseph, Missouri to be an English/Drama teacher at Savannah High School.

2005 I moved back to Austin, was a permanent substitute at Johnston High School, volunteered again at Mosaic, dated a tattoo-covered republican, moved back to Waco (and back to my old job at the Buzz), dated a bartender, and then moved back again to Austin where I took a job as Pastoral Resident/University Minister at FBC Austin through a CBF Lily Grant. My sister got divorced, my friend and pastor, Kyle Lake, died, and my cat Radley died.

2006 I dated a 19 year old and a 48 year old one right after the other this Spring (neither lasted long). I bought my first house in East Austin. I played Job's Wife in J.B. at church. I dated a lawyer who lived in DC and made my first visit to our nation's capitol. I was ordained by FBC, and officiated my first wedding.

2007 I got a dog. I took a vacation with two friends in West Texas, I produced Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at FBC. My residency ended. The church voted to keep me on as their new Minister to Young Adults and of Creative Discipleship. My car died on the way home for Christmas with my boyfriend that year and I bought a new one to get back to Austin before New Year's.

2008 I oversaw the creation of a Black Box Theater on the 4th floor of FBC and directed my first play (a one-act), Aria Da Capo under the new troupe: Trinity Street Players. Things at church were challenging this year and I went back to therapy. I dated a guy in the Peace Corps and recorded a CD of hymns. My father had a heart attack a few weeks before The Diaries of Adam & Eve opened in which I played Eve. I turned 30.

2009 I led worship at the CBF's Current Retreat and visited Walt Disney World with Julie Merritt and some other pastoral friends. I attended my first JoPa convention and got to speak with Jurgen Moltmann on a panel in Chicago (where I also visited my sister, Amy). I organized a Mission trip to Chile for my college students at church. I played Shelby in Steel Magnolias that summer. I dated a guy who lived in LA and flew out there for vacation that year. I watched two babies being born (both "natural" births) that year, and on Fridays, I babysat Chris & Michelle's daughter, Laurel.

2010 I directed my second show, You Can't Take It With You. My neighbor and adopted "mom" died. I played Luisa in The Fantasticks during the summer. I also attended the Baptist World Alliance in Hawaii, and stayed an extra week to vacation there with my parents, aunt and great-aunt. I quit my job, ran a half-marathon relay at Disney World, and began nannying part time for my friend Bethany who got cancer. I dated one of the other actors who had been in The Fantasticks. I began auditioning for shows all over Austin and was cast as Eva Peron in Evita at the Georgetown Palace.

Most of my life's recap consists of men I dated, pets I mothered, places I vacationed, roles I played, and conferences I attended. I don't know, I guess that's what my life is.

If you want to know how many funerals I attended in the last decade, I can promise you it's more than the average 32 year old could claim. Kyle Lake (my friend), Chip Conyers (my professor), Ruth Ann Foster (my professor), Mike Rudd (my ex-boyfriend), Tommie & Nicey Bedford (my neighbors), Jonathan Norman (my student), and the list goes on and on... Same for weddings. Singing, officiating or being a bridesmaid in an average of probably 5 weddings a year... And the babies that showed up starting in 2009? Well, quite frankly, I lost track. But those are all things that go on other people's lists. Not mine. Not my death, not my wedding, not my baby.

I've not written down how many sermons I've preached, or shelters I've volunteered at, or worship services I led, or people I counseled. This isn't my resume, it's a list of experiences... of seasons in my life. You won't find the movies I watched, or the books I read, the shows I saw, or the wine I drank because there isn't enough time or space, and really who cares? Reflecting is a time for highlighting. Singling out. Seeing patterns. And breaking molds.

The cast of Rent asks "the question" of us and offers some of the nineties' (remember that decade leading up to Y2K?) suggestions on how we measure life...

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In truths that she learned,
Or in times that he cried.
In bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life
Of a woman or a man?

How about love? Measure in love
Seasons of love. Seasons of love

And while I don't measure life in cups of coffee (I don't even drink coffee), neither do I measure it in beer bottles, slimfast or cartons of fat free milk. I do think it's measured in love. Love of people and love of what you do, coupled with love of God and loving yourself, whom God created. There's no time (and you've no interest) to hear the in depth version of my last decade, so listen instead to this beautiful song and reflect on the seasons in your life... and of course Happy New Year. Happy 2011 and good luck with your next decade...