Author Archives for lizharrell3

Winter Lessons

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As ready as I am for spring (and ladies I am READY), I’ve seen a lot of beautiful things this winter. It’s been a swing back and forth, seeing all the glorious beauty of the country and city covered in snow, while also climbing the apartment walls and wishing for warm breezes. Jane’s general mood lately has been very “cash me outside” which I can only attribute to cabin fever, because surely 5 is too early for 13.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

This winter has been full of hard lessons, which I’ve noticed usually turn into teaching lessons, which then turn into grace lessons, which eventually become peace. More than anything else I’ve discovered that I want to LEARN. When I used to look at my life in total, I had a laundry list of wants and desires. Wow has that list ever grown small. Because while I still have goals and wishes, the forefront of my life’s intention is to learn. To not be stagnant in my mind, to not be high handed in my relationships, to not be so staunch that I have no room to flex or bend in life’s strong winds.

The truth is we never ever have it all figured out. Not about ourselves. Not about anyone else. To believe that is self delusion.  And MAN is there some serious beauty in that. This winter has taught me that my life isn’t a puzzle to be finished and snapped into place where perfection and the full picture is made clear. It’s always muddled, and there’s new enlightening things waiting just around the corner. I’m a living, breathing, changing, evolving spirit. And so is everyone else.

This winter taught me peace in the middle of uncertainty.

This winter taught me that uncertainty and learning can become peace.

Even when my kindergartner looks me dead in the eye and spills tiny pieces of boiled egg all over my clean floor while I’m simultaneously telling her not to do that thing.

Just kidding, I had zero peace in that moment.

All that philosophical stuff means this: it’s been a hard winter, it’s been a good winter, I’ve learned a lot, I am grateful, and now spring is coming. And that means I can put my kid outside to eat her boiled eggs and spread all the pieces she wants for the birds.

And I’ll watch and smile and ponder why she loves boiled eggs so much, and be so glad deep in my soul I won’t be scrubbing boiled yolk off my floor.

I’m ready for spring’s lessons now.

 

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The Post Where I Talk about White Christian Radicalized Racists and Lose a Lot of Readers But That’s Okay Because This is Getting Ridiculous, Ya’ll.

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Facebook.

Wow, huh?

Over the past several days I’ve watched friends post incredibly racist things about Muslims and scratched my head. Because I know if I say, “Um, excuse me guys. My husband was once a 2 year old little Muslim refugee” they would respond “Oh, well we don’t mean him, Fayez is great, it’s just those others…”

And that just doesn’t wash. Because that’s like someone saying, “You just can’t trust women, they all look the same and any one of them could be a real bitch, oh, but not you, Liz. You’re okay.”

No thank you.

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And then I saw a Christian friend post this. And something inside my head snapped. Like, literally I heard a snap like a rubber band popping or a twig breaking.

I’m watching a lot of white people become just as racist and close minded and in some cases, radicalized, as the Muslims they fear (*sidenote… they’ve likely never even spoken with a Muslim before). From the Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, S.C., and the 2012 attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, to the attack just this week on the mosque in Quebec City…it’s clear that something is going awry with the white folks.

And then I’m watching Christians who have heart attacks over whether the government is going to make them bake a cake for gay people make a million excuses for why those Syrian children don’t need to be here, or need to be screened for more than the already allotted two year vetting process (if my husband had had to wait for two years for safe place to live he might not be here today).

If this is the spirit of Christ I’ll eat my shoe.

I don’t know why this surprises me. This is a facet of life that African Americans have known about and experienced since, well, forever. As that old quote goes, “Racism isn’t an opinion, it’s an offense.” But I suppose I’m like most people, and sadly didn’t understand until this hit home on my own doorstep.

“But Liz, don’t you worry about your safety? Don’t you worry about 9-11 happening again?”

Of course. I live in New York City. I also worry about the skulking man at the end of the subway car being a serial rapist and following me home. I worry about an extremist white guy barging into my local movie theater with a ton of guns that he bought with very little effort or red tape. I worry about all the super-bugs that antibiotics can’t cure.

The bottom line is, yes, terrible crap can happen. And terrible crap will happen eventually. That is life. That is the cost of admission for living and breathing on this planet.

But it’s the constant worry, and belligerent anger, and racism, and radicalism that results from fear that I categorically reject.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Timothy 1:7

Fear is not the spirit of God. Fear never produces a sound mind (or judgement). And apparently, fear makes angry white Christians post insanely racist memes on Facebook. Like. A lot. I will no longer make excuses for these people and say things like “they’re just stuck in their ways” or “they mean well” or “they have a good heart deep down.”

When people tell you who they are, you should believe them.

I reject the brand of Christian benevolence that only applies to American white folks.

My Jesus was a Middle Eastern man who came to flip the tables of the religious and have dinner with the tax collectors.

I am thankful that the UK and Canada provided a safe refuge and home to my husband and his family. I’m thankful that I married into their family so that I could experience a group of people who follow Islam and show love to those around them, and who accept me and my faith and my daughter without reservations.

I categorically reject the racism I see right now.

I categorically reject the fear that is floating so thickly in our ether.

I will put one foot in front of the other and call it out, and love my family, and smile at people who look differently than me. I will pray that God intervenes not only on the world stage, but also in the white-fueled anger polluting our churches and communities.

I’ve never been good at straddling fences. I see no reason to start now.

Because this is ridiculous, ya’ll.

 

Mustering a Happy Ending

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It’s hard to say this, because a lot of people are throwing around the words “special little snowflake” like they’re the most clever adjective inventors in history, but I’m very depressed about our country.

I used to be moderate about politics, somewhere in the middle seemed the most sane to me. But now it seems there’s no middle.

I’m so disillusioned with people who claim to be Christians supporting Trump. Making excuses for him. Saying things like, “But Hillary…” as if that makes him a viable alternative. It makes me feel physically ill. He is everything Christ was not, in almost every possible way. I could list the bible verses to back that up, but that would just end up being the entire new testament.

I deactivated Facebook. It was too much. I couldn’t stand the articles popping up in my news feed. I couldn’t stand seeing old friends berating other old friends online, with zero compassion or care in the way they spoke to each other.

 

This is not a happy-feely blog post. I don’t have a good ending or a positive spin to sum things up. I’m just disgusted and angry. And underneath it all is sadness, sadness that this is not the country I thought it was. So since I don’t have a better way to wrap up my feelings, I’ll discuss my favorite house of all time.

I took this picture in Vermont in a tiny town in the Green Mountains. The sun was going down and it was snowing.  My heart stopped a little. It was one of those moments where I saw it and thought, “Oh please let me live in a place that looks exactly like this at least once in my lifetime it’s like my dreams just came to life with framing and electricity.”

And I suppose if there’s any positive way to spin things, it’s that beyond the political and beyond this country and beyond angry people, we still have our dreams. My dream is a little Victorian house in the snow. Actually, my dream is really the life that could take place in a little Victorian house in the snow. The meals I could cook in it. The friends that could visit it. The books I could write in it. The evenings spent with open windows and breezes and bird sounds.

Your dream may be owning a yoga studio or becoming a dog trainer. And no matter how dark the landscape looks around us, we have to keep fixed on those dreams.

So you keep watching whatever you’re watching (cake making, baby raising, company running, money investing, yarn spinning) and I’ll keep my eye on this little purple house with a whole world inside it, just full of potential.

And if I have to write letters or make phone calls or march in the streets, I’ll do that too.

I guess I mustered a happy ending after all.

Good Days

 

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Today I took a long walk by the river, and saw purple and green streaks in the wood grain of the pier. My knee did not hurt. My body felt good.

Today I ate breakfast on a park bench and threw tiny pieces of food to the sparrows. They were little and big, different colored feathers, different size beaks, different personalities. The brave ones charged forward toward my feet and snapped up the food. The timid ones sat in a nearby bush and examined me, trying to decide of I was a predator. I sat with these tiny things and watched them and smiled.

Today I did four loads of laundry.

Today I lit a candle and worked on a upcoming article assignment.

Today I picked Jane up at school and the weather was good enough to go the park. The trees have no leaves. The landscape was gray. She ran around in her bright pink coat, pretending to be a secret spy superhero. I watched. She laughed. I laughed.

Today we took the train home, and I started dinner early.

Today, just now, I sat down at this computer and thought, “What a great day.”

And then I thought, “What was so great about it?”

I’ve learned that good days are not exciting days. Good days are everyday days. Calm days. Days when nothing breaks down and nothing hurts in your soul or your body. Days when you get the privilege of your morning walk, the time to write a few words down, the energy to clean your apartment, the easy smile of just saying “hello” after a day apart with your loved ones.

Good days aren’t extreme highs of excitement.

They are somewhere in the middle.

They are like today.

I am thankful.

The Best December

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Busy. Good busy. But so busy.

We’ve been buying presents, reorganizing the apartment, running errands, walking back and forth to school, wearing coats and hats, decorating the tree, and making cookies. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a holiday season this much in a long time, and that probably has something to do with us all being at home this year. No traveling. No being apart. No rushing. No crazy schedules.

It could also have something to do with living in New York, where the smell of chestnuts is on every street corner. I think this city rivals the North Pole as the center of the Christmas universe.

I’m thankful for the best December in years.

I’m also thankful to be busy writing some online posts for my favorite hometown website. Oh my goodness how I’ve missed deadlines and work. It feels really good and productive. You can check them out here, here, here, here, and here.

Told you I was busy.

I hope you’ll take the time to check out the website in general, as there are some really great ways to donate or help good Arkansas based organizations over the holiday season.

In the mean time, happy Christmas you guys!

 

Warrior Fairy

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I’ve been thinking a lot about a certain word lately.

This word sprouted up in my head a few weeks ago like a very determined little weed through the crack in a concrete driveway. It was like an ear worm song. But not a song. Just a word. And I could not get rid of it.

It kept growing, and appearing, and sprouting through the concrete in my head. And instead of pulling it out and chucking it aside, I watched it for a while. That word, the word that wouldn’t leave me alone, was like a weed with bright purple flowers. And I thought to myself, “Huh, it’s too pretty to be a weed. Maybe it’s a flower? I’m gonna google it.”

You see, this word is a big one for me.

Ready for it?

Dis-empowered.

That little word cropped up one day while I was standing on a pier looking out over the East River. Sea gulls were calling, joggers were running past, the waves were lapping on the shoreline as a ferry churned past, and I was truthfully thinking about my current writing project. I was thinking about the three miles I had to walk home. I was thinking about laundry. I was thinking of how beautiful the river was, and how much I hope this pleasant weather holds out against the inevitable north east winter.

And all of a sudden, there it was. That word.

Dis-empowered.

The definition of dis-empowered is, “to deprive of power, authority, or influence :  make weak, ineffectual, or unimportant.”

So, dis-empowerment is basically the opposite of this drawing Jane gave me.

“She’s a warrior fairy. See her sword? She’s a tough girl,” she explained.

I stared at this little fairy drawing and frowned and thought, “I want to be a warrior fairy. But I am so not a warrior fairy. I’m the worn-out-worn-down fairy.”

I was attempting, in a fairly inarticulate manner, to explain this to my sister at Thanksgiving. She nodded thoughtfully, silently, while I burbled around this concept of dis-empowerment, and words having such huge power in our lives, and trying to figure out who I am and what I really want, and how I really hate it when I walk the piers by the East River and see a big pile of feathers and I know a sea gull got attacked by someone’s fancy bi-breed dog (schnoodles, shnorkies, corpugbulls… it’s all weird to me).

And when I was done burbling, she said, “You don’t know what kind of eggs you like.”

I knew instantly what she was referring to, because in our house growing up we didn’t have cable, so we consumed movies from the local video store, and basically any film made from 1989 to 2005 we can identify and quote. I’m not bragging really, but I am saying that if there is a movie trivial pursuit game going on, we’re the gals you want on your team.

My sister was referring to the movie Runaway Bride. There’s a scene where Julia Robert’s character talks about how she doesn’t know what kind of eggs she likes. Her preferences and life have revolved around doing what her fiancees wanted and liked. If her partner liked scrambled eggs, then she liked scrambled eggs. If her partner liked poached eggs, she liked poached eggs. So she goes on a quest to find out what kind of eggs she likes. What kind of life she wants. What kind of person she is.

“You’re right!” I yelled excitedly at my sister.

Because ya’ll, I get that. Because I spent a huge chunk of life being the woman other people thought I should be. Being dis-empowered, even with the small things. Even with eggs. And it sucked.

I was not a warrior fairy. I was the dis-empowered, depressed, resentful, dying-inside fairy.

So here I am, at 36 years old, trying out metaphorical eggs. And hats. And clothes. And hobbies. And food. And opinions. Here I am, trying to scratch out my identity from underneath the rubble of other’s expectations and demands.

And it is glorious.

I’m at the center of the perfect storm for all this. I’m living in a city that thrives on not conforming. I’m blessed with the time to write and create things I’ve spent years waiting to do. I’m blessed with a husband and daughter who like and accept my un-curated real self.

And I feel like magic is happening.

Not Disney magic. Real life changing signs and universe-messages.

Because now I can know what kind of eggs I like (boiled, thank you very much). I know what kind of books I like (non-fiction, but give me all the fantasy books too). I know what kind of people I want to spend my time with (authentic, balls-to-the-wall honesty or nothing at all). I know what kind of mother I want to be, and what I want to teach Jane (confidence baby, confidence).

This week I threw out 2/3 of my closet because I was looking at my clothes the other day and thought, “I bought almost all of this to project an image of myself that’s not even real.” They looked like costumes to me. So out they went. They didn’t fit me anymore. Some literally, but a lot figuratively. They felt bad on my skin.

I simply could not wear them anymore.

And all of these things that have happened? All of this magic (because I think the word miracle has been so watered down that magic is a better substitute)? It’s the opposite of dis-empowered. It’s the beginning of my romance with a new word.

Empowered.

I used to roll my eyes at that word. That was a word for nutty women who were selfish. Those women were crack pots who ran off to join cults and do yoga on cliffs over an ocean. Those were loud and obnoxious people who talked over everyone else and believed their opinions were the best and brightest and only ones.

But you guys, I was wrong.

Because at the end of the day, being empowered is about being comfortable in your own skin.

Being empowered is being able to hold up your hand when someone is hurting you and saying, “You are hurting me. I am important. You should not hurt me.” And then not letting them talk you out of it.

Being empowered is not wearing clothes you don’t like.

Being empowered is not believing something that seems wrong to your soul, despite a church or loud person or anyone else insisting that you should silence your inner compass and believe it anyway.

Being empowered is knowing what kind of eggs you like, and never letting anyone else convince you otherwise.

Jane’s warrior fairy is empowered. She’s totally herself with her striped tutu and fancy eyelashes (clearly she’s a fan of cosmetics), while carrying her sword with confidence and ain’t nobody going to talk her out of that intimidating crown she’s wearing.

I’m so thankful that God led me to that word. I’m so thankful that all the hard stuff in my life led me to that pier, at that time, to learn that thing.

I firmly believe that once you are able to put your finger on that pulse, that one word, you are on your way to magic. Once you are able to name the word, to yourself, to the world, and out loud, you are on your way out of the hole and on to better things. Whether it’s dis-empowered, or depressed, or scarred, or scared, or confused, or betrayed… those words want us to find them. And know them. And understand them. And point to them, say them out loud, and begin to heal.

That’s when the clothes get thrown out.

That’s when we begin the journey to find ourselves.

That’s when we pick our favorite kind of eggs.

That’s when the magic happens.

That’s when we become real-life warrior fairies.

To Church or Not To Church

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I initially thought about setting up a trigger warning for this post, but then thought, “How in the world would that even read?”

Like: Trigger warning for anyone who ever choked on communion mid-service and nearly passed out trying to get out of the sanctuary before cough-exploding in the vestibule in a manner that caused Niagara-tears to gush from your eyes and caused a church-inappropriate-Alice-Cooper-raccoon-eye-look that incited gossip over whether or not you and your husband might be getting a divorce.

Or: Trigger warning for anyone who ever attended a non-denomination church where they began to strobe pink lighting during the prayer, and you thought “this is it, this is where I’m gonna get a seizure” so you sat down and put your head in your hands and the little old lady behind you patted your back and said, “Honey, do you need me to go forward with you? Cause we all sin.”

The thing is, I haven’t found a church “home” since getting a divorce. I’ve wandered about, first in Little Rock and then here in New York, visiting churches now and again. Sitting in the back pew and inspecting, hoping, waiting, and sometimes crying. It has felt like a quest to find home again, when “home” was burned to the ground in a pile of ashes. I have wandered and visited hoping to find something that might restore my faith to what it once was.

I could dive down that rabbit hole of the why’s and the what-happened, but, I won’t for many reasons, but mostly because I’m past all the bitter “can’t hardly swallow it down” feelings that accompanied the whole experience. But, it left me in a strange place once that bitterness passed. It left me in a place where I was afraid to go to church again.

Actually, it left me in a place where I didn’t WANT to go to church again.

The entire experience, a childhood spent in one of the strictest denominations in the southern Protestant community, college years spent at a conservative Christian university, my twenties spent attending and investing myself into a church community with deep conversations, Sundays in the pew, baby showers, hugs… I felt… had utterly let me down.

I felt that the safety nets I believed in had snapped. I began to believe that all the people who had proclaimed love for me over the years, and then turned their backs and gossiped, might have been lying. I believed that a life spent doing all the right things, spending Sundays in church, giving money to church, surrounding myself with Christian friends, doing all those things I was told would make me okay, make my life okay, had utterly failed me.

There are those that argue that when someone feels that church has failed them, they just don’t have the right kind of faith. They were either attending the wrong church, or they didn’t have a close enough relationship with God. And to that I say, uh, no.

Noooooo.

People who believe that have had the vast luxury of insulation.

Insulation from how truly awful and betraying Christians can be to each other. Insulation from bad things happening in their lives, so terrible, that on a good day they question whether God can hear them, and on a bad day they question whether he’s even real in the first place. Insulation in the form of self denial, because believing that churches can cause someone to lose faith, or hard times can cause someone to lose faith, are things too scary to think about.

Or perhaps, in the words of all southern Grandmas, no one ever taught them how to act.

But in the middle of my church and faith crisis, and after peering behind the curtain and catching the Wizard of Oz manipulating the controls, I found something different.

I found that all those years believing that without a church family, and without services and preachers you couldn’t know God, weren’t exactly true.

I found that in absence of a church, I turned to prayer time by the East River. I found that sitting next to the water, and watching the sea gulls perch and call, and breathing in the air, and telling God how I felt were some of the truest prayers of my life.

I found that in absence of a preacher, I turned to books and podcasts. I walked the streets of Queens and New York listening to wisdom in my ears.

I found that bedtime prayers and reading with Jane and our conversations about God and what happens when we die and my personal favorite “baptismos” (Jane informed me she was sorely not in favor of water going up her nose), are some of the best moments I’ve ever had with my daughter. I didn’t depend on a Sunday school class to teach her these things. I’ve had the privilege of teaching her those things.

I found that in absence of church friends, I had real family and friends who were ready to talk and email about God and what it all means. I had real friends and family who told me it would all be okay, who supported me, or just held my hand when they didn’t know what else to do.

I found that in absence of all those “church” things, I questioned more. I read more. I sought more. I grew more. My certainty of “all the things” grew less, and my ability to say “I don’t know” grew greater. I felt less need to preach and indoctrinate those I encountered, and more need to connect and know and just become a friend. I felt less smug, and far more humbled by the vast sea of things I have yet to know or encounter.

And I firmly believe that sometimes stepping away from the things we hold onto so tightly, so fearfully, is the only way to peel back the layers and discover what we’re actually doing with our lives. What we actually believe.

God. This one word is the greatest mystery of this life, and I am certain I will never figure it all out. I am certain I will never figure 1/10 of it out. I am certain that no matter whether I am churched or not churched, my relationship with God will grow and change.

And now I find myself dipping my toe back into the church water again. Tentatively attending. Tentatively shaking hands. Tentatively taking my daughter to Sunday School. Tentatively taking communion. I am doing this thing again, hoping that spiritual butterfly stitches hold together some of my deep wounds. Hoping that this time around will be different.

But.

But.

If it isn’t different, this time around will still be different. Because I believe the Lord is faithful to all of us, those who are sitting in pews, and to those who are huddled on a bench by the East River.