Saturday, December 11, 2010

it came free with the soul

There's a phrase that has been circling my mind for some time.

"It came free with the soul."

I saved it somewhere safe, thinking one day a poem would come out.  Hasn't happened yet.

It came free with the soul.

Inspiration comes from God, I guess... only it seems that there are those who would seek to put God in a box, saying that He only looks like one thing... that He doesn't move around and within and between and above and below and "every other side to which we are exposed..."  Thus the times when I feel Spirit raining from the trees, shining from the sky, squishing between my toes, glittering before my eyes, fluttering in my heart, smiling from the face in front of me, I hope it's safe to call that God.  And that eye I see all that with?

It came free with the soul.

I was thinking yesterday that I have become almost nearly exactly what I always wanted to be.  I sleep alone but swaddled in the warmest colors I know, accompanied by dreams of swirling shapes and safe voices, and awakened to hot water which magically rains as I happily dance myself clean.  This happens nearly every morning.  I am no one's mother, but I am auntie to some of the loveliest little ones I have ever known and have been blessed to lay hands on some young people whose names I still breathe in prayer whenever they come before my inner eye.  From the tips of my toes to the ring in my nose to the hairs growing out of my head, this body turns out to be just what I needed for my run through this world.  All this.  So much that I am sometimes so full that it seems that the only rational response would be to run out into the street and explode.  I am blessed and richly favored, and it appears that

It came free with the soul.

I read where Baha'u'llah wrote, "My calamity is my providence.  Outwardly it is fire and vengence, but inwardly it is light and mercy..." but somehow when the moment is upon me I always find it hard to remember to knit together the fire I feel with the light of which He wrote... and although I have felt burned by vengence, it is never clear until later that it was mistaken mercy.  It took time to sense the Hand in which I was so tenderly held, but I really must remember that

It came free with the soul.

So although I still feel the burn of that last fire... and oh, I still have to keep it covered because that shit hurt... deeeeeeeep b r e a t h . . . I heard Spirit moving in words I heard sung this morning... "I hear the angels whisper that troubles don't have to last always.  I hear the angels whisper even the day after tomorrow will one day be yesterday.  I hear the angels whisper this, too, shall pass..." and remember that although sometimes I don't see where He is going with all of this, there is a path.  It happens that

It came free with the soul.

So... me?  The one with all the impatience?  The one screaming in the face of injustice?  The one who can't wait to get up and run?  Let it wash over you.  There is no way you could afford this.  Fortunately, this, too, is part of the deal.  It came free with the soul.

Friday, December 10, 2010

email sent to Senator Jim DeMint

South Carolina residents, please write your own emails ASAP.


Dear Senator DeMint,

On Dec. 3 Senate Resolution 694 (S. Res.694) was introduced to the US Senate by U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, condemning Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights. This resolution condemns the abuses of Baha'is, Christians, Jews, and Sufis in Iran. This resolution is currently pending before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, of which I understand that you are a member. I also understand that the Committee will be holding a hearing on the resolution this coming Tuesday, Dec. 14. I am writing to beg you to co-sponsor this resolution before it goes to committee.

I am deeply proud of being the citizen of a country that shows concern about the rights of people around the world to be free from oppression, violence, and terror. I have been proud to see my government pass resolution after resolution against the treatment of religious minorities in Iran.

I have never been to my mother's country, I do not know her language. I am deprived of everything having to do with my heritage on that side of my family because of the violent intolerance of my family's religious beliefs. My mother's family has literally been torn to shreds due to the fanatical perversion of the worship of God which happens there, and the situation over there continues to escalate. Members of the Baha'i Faith have been systematically persecuted since the beginning of this faith in 1844. I do not have to explain to you that South Carolinians care about their people. We care about our heritage. Sir, half of my heritage has been stolen from me.

I am certain that you have been acquainted with the situation in Iran, but allow me to add a detail or two of the millions out there. My great-grandmother's grave and the graves of many other Baha'is were bull-dozed and covered with a parking lot a few years ago. I have a close friend who had recently returned from Bolivia where he visited with his sister whom he had not seen in 38 years and finally heard the whole story of how her husband was taken in the night from her home and how how she and her 9-year-old son visited with him for 30 minutes every other week until he was, without warning, brutally killed. The guards once hit the boy in the head just for sport when he ran to his father on one of those visits. Another friend had to be given away at her wedding by her uncle since her father's visa was denied in the weeks before her wedding, depriving her of having her father walk her down the aisle. There are Baha'is in prison there for running a non-religious tutoring program teaching children in the ghetto to read. There are Baha'is in prison there for attempting to help Baha'i college students who have been kicked out of the university for being Baha'is to progress in their studies. This treatment is not unlike the treatment meted out in that country to any other religious minority, including Iranian Christians, Jews, and Sufis. I do not have to remind you that prison there does not look like prison here. These things are unacceptable by any standard of human rights known to man.

The Baha'i International Community recently wrote an open letter to the Head of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The final paragraph of that letter asks: "With our hearts filled with love for Iran and our earnest hopes for the exaltation and glory of that land, we urge you, in your capacity as the Head of the Judiciary, to release the former members of the Yaran from prison and, along with them, all the Bahá’ís who are incarcerated across the country. These include Miss Haleh Rouhi, Miss Raha Sabet, and Mr. Sasan Taqva, the three young Bahá’ís who have now entered the fourth year of imprisonment in Shiraz for the crime of helping impoverished children to learn how to read and write. We likewise request that the Bahá’ís in that country be granted their full rights of citizenship, in order that they may be able to fulfill their heartfelt aspiration to contribute, alongside their fellow citizens, to the advancement of their nation. This, indeed, is no more than what you rightfully ask for Muslim minorities who reside in other lands. Bahá’ís merely seek the same treatment from you."

I am the daughter of a chiropractor who wishes that he spent more time hunting and a counselor who works with substance addicts and AIDS victims in the Upstate. I graduated from West-Oak High School in Westminster, SC, the University of South Carolina, and am now attending graduate school also at USC studying to become a marriage and family counselor. I have worked with foster children. My granddaddy, a chiropractor from Easley, South Carolina, used to remind me to remember where I come from. I never every forget, and to say that I am sad that I know almost nothing about the Iranian side of the family is an understatement of massive proportions.

Please co-sponsor of this resolution.  Sir, I cannot watch my home state, the only place I have ever known to be home, not stand up and speak about the rights of my people across the ocean.  I cannot read about what is happening to my people in Iran, knowing what horrible pain every member of my mother's family here continues to suffer, and know that my own government has not done everything that it can to speak out about the suffering and injustice happening in Iran.

I have always been proud to be from South Carolina. I don't ask for much, but I am determined to do everything I can to serve the people of my home state. I may not always agree with every decision that is ever made here, but I can proudly say that I am a citizen of a state that stands up and speaks its mind.  I love that about us.  We are not afraid to speak our truth.

Please, sir. I'm begging you.  Those are my people in Iran being torn to shreds.  Let this be something about which we speak.


letter from the Baha'i International Community to Ayatollah Muhammad Sadeq Larijani

7 December 2010

Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq Larijani
Head of the Judiciary
Islamic Republic of Iran

Your Honor,

You are undoubtedly aware of the outcome of the trial and the subsequent appeal of Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm the seven individuals who before their arrest were responsible, as the members of the group known as the Yaran, for administering the social and spiritual affairs of the Bahá’í community in Iran.

The lives of these seven Bahá’ís typify not only the lives of the Bahá’ís of Iran but also those of high-minded and noble-hearted Iranians of every creed and class. They are true citizens of that nation who have striven to dedicate hemselves to its service. Their birthplaces span the entire country from its capital city, to Sangsar, Yazd, Abadan, Ardestan, Mashhad, and Urumiyih. Their ages range from thirty-seven to seventy-seven. Some of them have aging parents; all of them have children, the youngest one of whom was only nine when his father was arrested. Their professional occupations are also varied and include developmental psychologist, founder of the first automated brick factory in Iran, manager of a textile factory, agricultural engineer, school principal, social worker, and optician. Alongside their professional pursuits and family duties, they have rendered, on a purely voluntary basis, distinguished service to the people of that land, as, for example, in the advancement of women, in the promotion of literacy among the country’s general population, and in the provision of the means of education for the thousands of Bahá’í youth who have been denied admission to Iranian universities since the inception of the Islamic Revolution.

Convinced that they had committed no wrong, and as there existed no proof whatsoever to support the accusations leveled against them, they had every hope that the judicial proceedings would exonerate them. Sadly, however, their hopes have thus far been frustrated, and the treatment they have received has unjustly violated every legal norm and every standard of fairness and equity. As history bears witness, whenever innocent citizens are brought before show trials, it is the judicial system itself and those who wield authority within it that are on trial before the public gaze. The case of these seven individuals, which from the outset has been watched with growing interest by Iranians and non-Iranians alike, has been marked by such egregious violations of the law at every turn as to call into question the adherence to the principle of justice by a system that claims to uphold Islamic values.

The blatant injustice of a sentence to ten years’ imprisonment handed down to such honest and law-abiding citizens impels us, as the representatives at the United Nations of one hundred and eighty-six national Bahá’í communities, to ask you to rectify this grave failure and accord the defendants the justice they have been denied. This request comes not only from their coreligionists throughout the world but from the United Nations, from governments and parliamentarians across the globe, from agencies of civil society, and from humanitarians and social thinkers, all of whom join their voices to ours in calling for the immediate release of these wronged individuals.

The officials of the Ministry of Intelligence, resorting to many reprehensible measures illegal detention, denial of proper access to legal representation, interrogation methods that contravene standards of civilized behavior and aim to extract false confessions all of which transgress even the current law of the land, exerted every effort to build a case against them. Despite this, the prosecutors were ultimately unable to present any credible evidence in support of their claims. Instead, what was exposed was the nefarious schemes of certain officials, as well as the inhumane conduct and sinister motives of the interrogators. Indeed, what is now starkly visible to all is the willingness of the authorities to trample the very standards of justice they are mandated to uphold on behalf of the people of Iran.

The trial itself was so devoid of the impartiality that must characterize judicial proceedings as to render the process a complete mockery. The defendants, certain of their own innocence and having nothing to hide, had asked for an open hearing. What then, one might ask, was the reason for the judge to have declared the proceedings to be “open and public” and yet refuse requests for attendance from observers, including representatives of diplomatic missions? Why was it made so difficult for the families of the defendants to attend the trial? Why were journalists excluded, while government cameramen were allowed an active presence? What was the reason for permitting the menacing presence of the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence throughout the trial? How was it that the verdict issued by the judges could refer to the religion of the defendants as a “misguided sect”? Is this not a clear sign that the court has violated the legal principle of neutrality? The obvious conclusion is that such actions have been motivated by blind prejudice and hatred against the Bahá'í community for its religious beliefs. How can a just society, or a just world, be built on a foundation of irrational oppression and the systematic denial of basic human rights to any minority? Everything your country overtly professes to seek on the world stage is contradicted by your treatment of your own people at home.

The 12 September 2010 ruling issued by the court of appeal overturned the verdict of the lower court in relation to the charges of espionage, collaboration with the State of Israel, and provision of classified documents to foreign nationals with the intention of undermining state security. The lower court itself had already found the defendants not guilty of the charge of “tarnishing the reputation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the international arena” and of “spreading corruption on earth”. What remained of the case, therefore, were those charges that pertained to the activities undertaken by these seven individuals in administering the social and spiritual affairs of the Iranian Bahá’í community. Meanwhile, the judges, well aware that there were no grounds whatsoever for the charge of acting against the interests of Iran and its citizens, were under pressure from officials bent upon a finding of guilt. Consequently, the judiciary chose in essence to distort and present as illegal the religious beliefs of the defendants and their service to the Bahá’í community a selfless service which their fellow Iranian Bahá’ís warmly acknowledged and appreciated. Thus, the seven were each sentenced to ten years in prison. This sentence has been strongly denounced not only by the defendants themselves, their families, and the Bahá’í International Community but by advocates of justice in Iran and the world over.

Given that for the past twenty years the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been fully aware of the work of these individuals in managing the affairs of the Bahá’í community, to accuse them now of illegal activities is as baseless and unjust as it is inexplicable. Our open letter dated 4 March 2009 to the Prosecutor General of the Islamic Republic of Iran established in detail the spurious character of the charges leveled against the Yaran and we commend it to your attention. An unbiased reading of that letter will confirm that there are no grounds whatsoever on which the Islamic Republic could assert that the Bahá’ís of Iran, including these seven individuals, represent the least threat to public order or to the common weal in that land.

There is not a shred of evidence to support the accusation that these Bahá’ís were seeking to compromise national security, participating in subversive activities, or engaging in propaganda against the regime, charges which the defendants themselves have categorically denied. Such accusations are entirely inconsistent with the outstanding record of the Bahá’ís in Iran and around the world, who regard service to one’s homeland and to humankind as an inescapable moral obligation. Nor do they accord in any way with the Bahá’í teachings, which assert that “in every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty, and truthfulness.” The approach adopted by the judiciary and the accusations leveled against these individuals constitute again a patent violation of the freedom of conscience and belief of Iranian citizens, and are a brazen contravention of Article 14 of the Iranian Constitution, which stipulates: “In accordance with the sacred verse, ‘God doth not forbid you to deal with kindness and fairness towards those who have not made war upon you on account of your religion, or driven you forth from your homes’ [60:8], the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and all Muslims are duty-bound to treat non-Muslims kindly and in accordance with the principles of Islamic justice and equity, and to respect their human rights.”

Now in their third year of what is shamelessly still termed a “temporary” detention, these seven prisoners have been subjected to every manner of indignity and violation of their fundamental rights. Their high resolve and their gracious character amidst the hardships they have been made to endure stand in sharp contrast to the brutality of their oppressors and attest their forbearance and purity of motive. This is a truth to which the noble people of Iran can now bear witness. The accounts we have received indicate that fellow inmates admire their conduct and demeanor, see them as beacons of hope and sources of consolation and comfort, seek strength from their wisdom, and regard them as the symbols of the free spirit and sincere heart that are characteristics of the people of Iran.

Your honor, we ask you, what purpose is served by seeking to extinguish such moral attributes and spiritual qualities? Are such acts of oppression faithful to the high principles extolled by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him)? In Gohardasht Prison, there are surely other innocent inmates. How can you allow any soul to be subjected to that prison’s appalling state of filth, pestilence, disease, and the privation of facilities for basic personal hygiene? Such an odious and degrading environment is unworthy of even the most dangerous criminals. Does the government of Iran believe the principles of Islamic compassion and justice to be consistent with the imposition of such conditions on citizens? Why are the prisoners’ pressing needs for medical care and treatment ignored? Who will be called to account if the health of any of these seven further deteriorates? Why are these innocent individuals not given adequate food, and why are they confined to prison cells of such insufficient space as to make it difficult for them to lie down or even to perform their daily prayers? Why has the judiciary callously deprived them of their right to compassionate leave? Are not all of these privations intended to break their spirits and those of the other Bahá’ís of Iran? Consider how the members of the Bahá’í community are continually forced to withstand the slander of their beliefs and the distortion of their history in government-supported mass media; to endure provocations in the streets, from the pulpits, and with the support of certain officials, that incite hatred against them; to suffer illegal imprisonment; to see themselves denied access to higher education and to the means of earning a livelihood; to have their children suffer abuse and vilification in schools; and to witness their properties destroyed and their cemeteries desecrated with the support and approval of government authorities. Yet, what results have such efforts yielded? The response of the Bahá’ís of Iran to the persecution they have suffered in recent decades has made them, in the eyes of the Iranian population, embodiments of unyielding attachment to spiritual principle and of constructive resistance to oppression. What is more, it has brought about a heightened desire among that population to become acquainted with the verities of their Faith.

In January 2010, the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá’í Faith, noted in a message addressed to the Bahá’ís in Iran that, when those in authority conspire against innocent citizens, their actions ultimately vitiate their own credibility. In a similar vein, in our 4 March 2009 letter to the Prosecutor General of the Islamic Republic, we pointed out that the decisions of the Iranian judiciary with respect to the Bahá’ís will have implications well beyond the Bahá’í community in that land and will extend to the very freedom of conscience of all its citizens. Our hope was that, for the sake of the honor and reputation of Iran, the judiciary would seek to be fair in their judgment.

The Bahá’ís are not “others” in your country: they are an inseparable part of the Iranian nation. The injustices meted out to them are a reflection of the terrible oppression that has engulfed the nation. Your respect now for the rights of the Iranian Bahá’ís would signal a willingness to respect the rights of all the citizens of your country. Redressing the wrongs suffered by the Bahá’ís would bring hope to the hearts of all Iranians that you are ready to ensure justice for everyone. Our call, then, is in reality a call for respect of the rights of all the Iranian people.

With our hearts filled with love for Iran and our earnest hopes for the exaltation and glory of that land, we urge you, in your capacity as the Head of the Judiciary, to release the former members of the Yaran from prison and, along with them, all the Bahá’ís who are incarcerated across the country. These include Miss Haleh Rouhi, Miss Raha Sabet, and Mr. Sasan Taqva, the three young Bahá’ís who have now entered the fourth year of imprisonment in Shiraz for the crime of helping impoverished children to learn how to read and write. We likewise request that the Bahá’ís in that country be granted their full rights of citizenship, in order that they may be able to fulfill their heartfelt aspiration to contribute, alongside their fellow citizens, to the advancement of their nation. This, indeed, is no more than what you rightfully ask for Muslim minorities who reside in other lands. Bahá’ís merely seek the same treatment from you.

Bahá’í International Community

cc: Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations

Monday, December 6, 2010

joining you

dear darlin'
your mom, my friend,
left a message on my machine she was frantic
saying you were talking crazy
that you wanted to do away with yourself
I guess she thought I'd be a perfect resort
because we've had this inexplicable connection since our youth
and yes they're in shock
they are panicked
you and your chronic
them and their drama
you this embarrassment
us in the middle of this delusion
if we were our bodies
if we were our futures
if we were our defenses, I'd be joining you
if we were our culture
if we were our leaders
if we were our denials, I'd be joining you
I remember vividly a day years ago
we were camping you knew more than you thought you should know
you said "I don't want ever to be brainwashed"
and you were mindboggling
you were intense
you were uncomfortable in your own skin
you were thirsty, but mostly you were beautiful
if we were our nametags
if we were our rejections
if we were our outcomes, I'd be joining you
if we were our indignities
if we were our successes
if we were our emotions, I'd be joining you
you and i, we're like four year olds
we want to know why and how come about everything
we want to reveal ourselves at will and speak out minds
and never talk small and be intuitive
and question mightily and find God
my tortured beacon, we need to find like-minded companions
if we were their condemnations
if we were their projections
if we were our paranoias, I'd be joining you
if we were our incomes
if we were our obsessions
if we were our afflictions, I'd be joining you
we need reflection
we need a really good memory
feel free to call me a little more often

-- Alanis Morissette, Joining You


This was a really hard weekend, but then I got back to my email and one of my aunties had written to me about how a young person she knew had attempted to commit suicide.  Phew... life can be really very dark, and it is important to remember that we are, first and foremost, souls.  We are indeed not our bodies, futures, defenses, culture, leaders, denials, nametags, rejections, outcomes, indignities, successes, emotions, condemnations, projections, paranoias, incomes, obsessions, afflictions, or anything else by which the word defines us... or we define ourselves either.

Talk of souls is interesting to me.  While I believe strongly that we each have a right to express our spirituality in whatever way feels most authentic to us, I also feel that there are times when things are labeled as soul which are perhaps only constructs of our minds or something else.  I believe that the soul is a mysterious thing... that it is not really possible to fully access it with our finite human minds, minds which have only experienced this world and can only really think in terms of our physical existance.

I have always found myself trying to pick my way through a blackberry thicket of judgements about spirituality.  I am the child of two people who experience their spirituality in two very different ways, and I always struggled with finding peace with my own expression.  I have never been terribly saintly.  I laugh at questionable humor, I curse when I feel like it, and I like men a lot.  Growing up, worshipping God always looked a little more like fighting for equality in all of my classes and papers, singing where no one could hear me, and taking care of everyone around me.  As I moved away from home, I still faught the pressure to make myself smaller, pray quietly, be calmer, learn to meditate... conform to some kind of standard of demurity which I could and can never reach.  Later someone told me that all of the indecision I experienced in picking a career path was about finding a way to God and me and nobody else is allowed.  That rings true.  I felt and still sometimes feel drowned out by the voices of others, and it took me a long time to become comfortable with the warmth I feel in my chest when I know that things are right on the inside, despite the fact that certain parties will always find a way to disapprove.

I have been studying the 8th book in the Ruhi Institute series of study circle materials.  It's called The Covenant.  In its most basic definition, a "covenant" is a promise.  As a person who finds herself most at home in my belief in Baha'u'llah, this word has a little more meaning.  The covenant I make as a Baha'i means that my beleif in Baha'u'llah dictates that I heed the guidance of 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi with unswerving loyalty.  It means that I am obedient to the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the Baha'is of the world, and to the rest of the administrative structure of the Faith as it exists.  It means that I consult this guidance before I do anything else and that I do not go out and start my own Baha'i Faith when I don't like what I am hearing here.

I want to be clear.  This makes me feel safer, not less safe.  This makes me feel guided and protected, not stifled.  I can ask all of the questions I want, and I have the free will to walk out if I ever find that this does not feed my soul.  I cannot deny, however, that this Faith frees me to be more of myself than I ever thought possible... that learning more makes me feel that this is more right, not less...

So now we come back to Book 8.  There are a couple of things which have been driven home to me in the course of this process:
1.  Service looks like many things, and there is room for everyone.  The examples of some early Baha'is who were chosen by Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha, and Shoghi Effendi to serve the Faith in special capacities known as Hands of the Cause are good illustrations of the diversity of acceptable paths available.  Among these individuals who were hand-picked because of their faithfulness and purity of heart, there were artists, scholars, business people, public speakers, lawyers, the more mystical-minded, more practical thinkers, and everything in between.  With such diversity held up as an example, clearly there is room for me, too.  Spirituality has many modes of expression.
2.  On-going guidance is important.  It's pretty cool that this body of believers is given instructions periodically, places to take our questions, and the direction towards consultation as a tool for figuring out the rest of this.
3.  God forgive me, but I cannot sit quietly with the idea that spirituality is meant to find its only expression in oneself.  I believe that the power latent in all of this soul thing is supposed to overhaul the world.  I believe that I am not the only one entitled to freedom and safety and the joy of being able to choose what I want my life to look like.  I believe that it is my responsibility to strive to share this and to make our world and our communities better places.  The time for monks and nuns is over.  The world needs work.  It's not enough to sit alone by yourself and think.  You have to come out and help the rest of us find our insides, too.  This is another thing I love about this Faith.  At this point in history, there are all of these really amazing community building tools we are learning to use, and much good is resulting, both within the Baha'i community and in the communities served.

... because I keep coming back over and over again to the idea that alone really isn't healthy.  I agree with Alanis on this one... "we need reflection/ we need a really good memory/ feel free to call a little more often."  At the very least, we need people to call.  I went through hell this weekend, and I don't know that I could have kept it together without the knowledge that I had back-up, both spiritual and, had push come to shove, physically.  I am blessed with people who have gotten into cars before to help when things were real.  In a world where things happen... dark things happen... can we really find peace in the idea that inward is all that matters?  Can we really confine spirituality to that place?  My insides are definately a touch-stone, but I cannot presume to assert that the rest of those things are not soul... that the love between people is not soul... that the speech shared between people is not souls... that the time we spend taking care of each other is not soul.  I have seen people grow back from horrible things through the simple knowledge that if they call, someone will answer.  Tell me that's not soul...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

response to a thank you letter

You know, I wasn't that good at my job... you know, that one where I worked with those boys in that foster home. Things were not always done on time, not always done right, not always done as efficiently and effectively as possible. I did not always speak when I should have, and sometimes I spoke when I oughtn't. I didn't know everything about everything. Sometimes I was impatient. Sometimes I slipped, and sometimes I feel flat on my face. I was not infallible. I did, however, win trust. It was trust that I had to go to war and fight for, but it was, more often than not, won. It means something to be the first person to hear about something that would normally not be spoken aloud.

The thing that I did well was to create a safe space. I prayed, and then I listened really hard. I spoke truth when I felt it moving in my soul, sometimes straight into angry, pained faces... sometimes into tears... sometimes into masks fooling all the world but me. I laid a hand on a shoulder, and when that shoulder startled, I laid another hand. I expected honesty. I gave opportunities to be honest. My purse was left in plain sight, unlocked and ready to be picked up at any moment. I walked unafraid into spaces where fists were flying and tempers were hot. I was not afraid. I celebrated successes and spoke openly about failures. I demanded to see all of the cards. I looked into faces with love and never with fear.

I really feel that we are programming our youth, especially our young men, to destroy themselves and others. When we treat them with suspicion, expecting for them to be suspicious or to harm us in some way, more often than not we find our expectations met. I watched the stares of others who couldn't see past their big clothes, hard faces, and tryna-be-a-big-man struts. I watched people fumble and bumble what could have been productive encounters in which those kids could have learned more self-respect by feeling respect coming from others. I watched teachers assume that they couldn't read, couldn't pay attention, couldn't learn. I have seen reaction after reaction where the situation called for response. I have seen deep, seething hurt mistaken for anger and met with anger. If you expect them to steal, they will likely take your stuff.

If you expect greatness, it shows up more often than not. It can take a long time, and there are inevitable disappointments, but I have seen success that still takes my breath away. I have seen young men learn to speak truth in situations in which it was extra topping on the cake. I have seen God touch people in ways I didn't even know were possible.

People who have been mistreated and disregarded have not yet learned how to not make others feel that way. it is important to remember that fear looks a lot like aggression. Sometimes you just have to take one for the team, and sometimes you have to let the storm die down before you address the need for growth, but people are not born knowing how to feel safe and let down the guard. It is a skill we are taught when our mothers and fathers hold us close, smell the tops of our heads, and kiss our fingers. When not everyone gets enough of that, not everyone knows in their bones what it is to be human... to share air and space... to feel trust and give that trust in return... to feel safe and make others feel that way... to befriend and not compete... to build up and not tear down. These are skills. It is my belief that they can be taught through loud, strong, tough, persistent love. They can be taught by saying,"Yeah, you screwed that one up. I'm still here though. I can see your insides, and they are good. I expect greatness from you. I'm not kidding, I'm not scared, and I'm not stupid. Greatness."

Honestly, it isn't the active stuff we do that makes people feel supported. It's the passive stuff. It's listening while they speak. It's looking them in the eye. It's letting them simply sit in your presence without having to try so hard. You know how to non-verbally communicate welcome, ease, and approval. Why not try that next time one of them walks in? Don't react to their stares. Respond. They only look that way because they have had to defend themselves for as long as they could make sounds. Shake it up. Smile. Joke. Relax. You might be surprised, and you never know how deep that stuff goes or how long that impact lasts.

I had no idea what kind of love for God they would ignite in my heart. I had no idea what trusting them would teach me. I walked in the presence of some power. They just hadn't quite figured out their nature yet, but you could see it if you looked with His eyes...

So, kiddo, don't thank me. I don't want your praise. I want to dance at your wedding. I want to hold your children. I want to see you conquer yourself and fight for others. You are miraculous, I want the world to witness your greatness.