Propping My Ladder

You know that analogy about the ladder of success?  You don’t want to climb the ladder of success and reach the top only to discover that you’ve propped your ladder against the wrong tree.  That’s what I’m trying to discern this week.  Where am I propping my ladder and what, exactly, am I expecting to be waiting for me at the top?




It’s July.  Officially mid-year.  I had some goals that I set for myself with regard to my writing this year and at the midway point, I’ve come up short. I haven’t reached the milestones I had hoped to reach by this point in the year.  I’m disappointed.  Le sigh.

So I’m taking stock.  I think I need to figure out how to keep plugging away at this gig while somehow keeping my hopes and expectations in check. I also need to maintain a willingness to amend my goals as I go.  It’s hard to take the long view sometimes.

A friend of mine gave me Blueprint Your Bestseller a couple weeks ago and at first I was skeptical.  It looked like a book from the 80s or something but I read a chapter over the weekend and I was pleasantly surprised.  It challenges you to write 10,000 words a month.  I have no idea how many words a month I currently write but I like check lists and goals.   Blueprints!  I guess I like blueprints.  Who knew?

So that’s my goal for July.  10K words.  That’s it.  No grand hopes for readership or publishing or chapters.  So far I’ve got 896 words.  Only 9,104 to go.  Pshhh, no problem.


Wish me luck!

A Birthday (and some toxic scum)

Yesterday was my birthday.  It was ok.  No, it was better than ok, actually.  There were some great moments  — hanging with friends in the morning, getting homemade birthday cards from the boys and my nephews who are living with us, and eating a perfectly excellent cake, to name a few.  But Jason and I were just generally off our game and I think we were both happy to drop into bed and call it a day when it was all said and done.

We came out of the boxes strong in the morning and headed to Lake Sammamish State Park for a morning of swimming and paddle boarding with some friends.   It’s been horribly hot in Seattle this week and every last one of us was fully immersed in  the lake by 10am.

Lake Sammamish State Park

I know, I know, 90 degrees isn’t all that hot compared to other places in the world and we’re all wimps and whatever but here’s the thing:  Seattle typically has, like, maybe 5 hot days in an entire Summer.  5!   Nobody has air conditioning.   We don’t have backyard pools.  Some of us might have a fan stashed somewhere in the garage for those rare days of high heat but otherwise, nada.

We CAN NOT HANG with the heat, people.   And it’s supposed to be miserable, suck-your-life-away hot for at least another week.  That will make about 20 straight days of high heat and I’m starting to think we might not make it.   Yesterday we had to head home by 1pm because it was too hot.  Too hot at the lake where we were immersed in water.

And you know what else?  It’s so hot that our lakes in Seattle are in danger of algal bloom (aka toxic scum) which can, among other lovely things, kill you.   Mostly, if the bloom is present, you’ll just get parasites that burrow into your skin and then die there, leaving you to itch your freaking skin off, but sometimes, the outcome is even worse.  Isn’t that excellent?

Anyhow, back to my birthday.  We came home and languished in misery in our hot house for the afternoon.  Jason and I got into a petty argument because HOT but, of course, managed to make up without too much trouble because, well, BIRTHDAY.  Birthday trumps hot.  Mostly.

Dinner & dessert went off without a hitch.  I opened the aforementioned cards and my oldest nephew even drew me a picture of a birthday cake with the caption “whoa, that’s a lot of candles!”  A few of us were draped with ice packs during the meal but hey, we were hanging in there and I was thinking that maybe we had beat the heat after all.

But then, after dinner, Jason was hoping to make a cocktail and discovered that we were out of ice.  Oops.  The boys and I had used all the ice in our (admittedly small) ice maker that afternoon, for slow drip plant-watering and, you know, general cooling purposes.   But in my guilty frenzy to help dig around in the freezer for other options, guess what I did?

I dropped my birthday cake on the kitchen floor.

Face down.

And then, in his frenzy to help me salvage the cake, Jason broke his favorite cocktail glass.

It was good times.  Really.  But you know, I think I’m good with this birthday being in the bag and moving on to our next week of wretched temps and horrid swelter.  There are so many more dishes to break and fights to be had!  And hey, so long as I avoid the toxic scum, it might actually be a good year.


Other Birthday Posts

Birthdays Make Me Sad
On the occasion of your 3rd birthday, the bombings in Boston and other awful things
Do Both
They Say It’s Your Birthday


Why Do I Care?

A few months ago I attended our church’s Faith & Race seminar and during the small group time, one of the women in my group said this:


“I don’t get why White people come to a class like this.
Seriously, what are you doing here?  Why do you even care?”


 As the only White person in our group at the time I just stared back at her for a beat.  Who me?  I managed some semblance of an answer at the time but I’ve been thinking about her question ever since.  Why do I care?


The Progression

For me, the process went something like this:

  1. I don’t care.  I don’t even know that this is a conversation people are having.
  2. Ok, people are having this conversation.  They should stop.  It’s only making things worse.  COLORBLIND, people!  We’re supposed to be colorblind.
  3. Fine, it’s possible that some people are, like, kinda sorta racist but not me.  Definitely not me.  And mostly it’s all good.
  4. I have some friends who are not White and they tell me that they are affected by race on a daily basis.  I’m skeptical but these are my people.  This is my crew.  I’m not sure I buy it but I’ll try to care more.

That was the beginning for me.  That was the moment of a seismic shifting in my life.

Putting on Glasses

When I was 10 I got glasses for the first time. And like many folks who need glasses long before they actually get them, I was astonished when I walked out of the optometrist’s office. I remember staring out the window in silent wonder on our drive home and when we turned down our tree-lined street I actually gasped out loud.

“Is this what it always looks like?” I asked my mom. “Does everybody see it like this?”


There were individual leaves on the trees. And the flowers!  They had individual petals. I had never seen them before. To me they had always just been blurs of green and pink and purple and red.  Could it be that the world had always looked this way and I had never known it?

When my friends told me that they experienced life in a starkly different way than I experienced it based on their race, it was like putting on those glasses when I was a kid.  Things that had previously been a blur or barely a blip on my radar gradually came into sharper focus.  It was a painful and slow process and certainly some of the scales that had so clouded my vision continue to fall even today.


What’s God Got to Do with It?

As a person of faith, I also care because I believe that humans, collectively, are the Imago Dei.  Together, we are the image of God, and we cannot understand the complexity of God if we do not understand the complexity of God’s people.  I don’t care about race because I’ve “turned liberal” or joined the so-called “race-baiters.”  I care about race because I want to explore the mysteries of God.

I grew up imagining a God who looked like me.   I imagined a God whose skin was white.  I imagined a God eating my food and participating in my customs and my rituals and my traditions.  But as my vision slowly re-calibrated I could see the laughable limitations of a God who ate Taco Bell burritos and wore blue jeans like my dad.  God is so much bigger than my constricted imagination and if I want to know God, I need to know God’s people.

The Church is supposed to be an agitator in the world.  The Church is supposed to be agitating for shalom; for the world as God intended it to be.  And we are told that the world as God intended it to be includes “a great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”

We are supposed to be modeling this vision and leavening the world with it.  But how can we do that if we continue to uphold theologies that have sustained racial hierarchies and perpetuated injustice?  How can we do it if we don’t care about race?


Relationships are the Glasses

pinckneyI think the only reason I was able to move from a place of unawareness and ignorance to actually caring about race was because of relationships with actual people.  Without relationships, the best I could hope for was an intellectual assent to a set a ideas or beliefs about race but not much else.  I might have cared but only in theory.

The reason why we were so universally stricken by the news of Sandyhook in 2012 is because every single one of us could immediately relate on some level.  No matter who we are or what our creed, we all know and love a child somewhere or in some capacity so it was easy to imagine how we would feel.  We could imagine the child that we love, the child with whom we have an actual relationship being caught in Adam Lanza’s crossfire and it brought us to our knees.

We couldn’t relate in the same way to the mass murder at Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston because we lack the richness and the diversity in relationships that God intended for us.  We’ve filled our churches with homogeneity and we worship a God who looks just like us. We’ve bankrupted ourselves by not embracing the gift that God gave us.

But when we are in relationships with people who do not look like us or experience the world the way that we do, we are grieved beyond measure when we see an 18-year-old boy lying dead in the street because we can see instead our 18-year-old neighbor who babysits our kids.  We can watch a video of a new dad getting shot in the back in a Wal-Mart and readily see in his place our friend who just had a baby of his own.   We can see the picture of Clementa Pinckney’s family at his funeral procession and cry out in anguish as we imagine all the families in our lives that look like theirs.

And it’s when we are in relationships that the answer to the question becomes quite obvious.  Why do we care?

How can we not?


Don’t Call it White Supremacy


A friend of mine commented on Facebook today that “white supremacy kills.”  I agree.  It does.  But I don’t think we should call what happened in South Carolina at the AME Church an act of White Supremacy.

Here’s why…

We can’t call it that because it lets too many White people off the hook.  The average White person (AWP) in America will look at the headlines, recoil at the sickening
 pictures and deplorable details circulating about Dylann Roof and then declare, “Wow, is he crazy or what?”

Here’s what happens next for the AWP:

  1. We acknowledge that he is obviously a White Supremacist.
  2. We denounce his actions.
  3. We put him in the category that is reserved for the rare few who would actually bomb a church or shoot people in cold blood.
  4. Then we distance ourselves.   We wash our hands of it and declare, “Can’t judge the rest of us based on this one delusional nutcase.  I would never!” and then walk away with our consciences clear.   Once again we chalk it up to one bad apple in an otherwise healthy bushel.

This will get us nowhere.

Until we are able to acknowledge the system that allows these acts to flourish, we will get nowhere.  Dylann Roof is not just one bad apple.  He was reared in a country that systematically depletes Black lives at every conceivable turn.  He was reared in a country that puts people who look like him at the front of the pack and then bolsters them at every possible turn.  He was reared in a state that still flies the confederate flag.

This isn’t a case of White Supremacy because the AWP reserves that term for the one-in-200-million who would actually shoot up a Church of people praying.   It’s not White Supremacy that enabled Dylann Roof to kill 9 people yesterday.

It’s just Whiteness.



“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace”

Jeremiah 6:14


Reverend. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Reverend Clementa Pinckney
Cynthia Hurd
Tywanza Sanders
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Daniel L. Simmons
Depayne Middleton
Susie Jackson

Feed Yourself


Weekend Worthy

brought to you by Cheryl Strayed…


I re-read this quote today by Cheryl Strayed in Tiny Beautiful Things.  I read the book earlier this year and it’s one of the quotes I’ve returned to on several occasions already.   Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of her advice columns from when she was writing anonymously as Dear Sugar over on The Rumpus.

The quote comes from a column she wrote about advice she would give to her younger self:


“There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round.  Feed yourself.”


This morning I kept seeing that ad about how to reduce belly fat with this “one weird trick.”   Have you all seen those?  And then this afternoon I saw an ad when I was flipping through a magazine declaring that it was time to RISE UP AGAINST HAIR THINNING with this amazing shampoo (really?  That’s what we’re rising up against?  Not justice or poverty or human trafficking?).

I think secretly I want to be crazy beautiful while simultaneously not caring at all about being beautiful.  Wouldn’t that be nice!?  Anyhow, it’s good to remind myself from time to time and I’m going to be ruminating on this over the weekend.   And if that doesn’t work, I’ll go with this one instead, also by Strayed:


Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a sh*%?



Other Posts On Gender

On Women & Scarcity
Boys Will Be Boys?
Giving Up Makeup
Low Visibility Ahead

Was Race a Factor?


Have you all seen the video from the pool party in McKinney, Texas this weekend?   I wasn’t online yesterday so I missed the initial reports.  If you haven’t heard about it yet, here’s a quick summary as far as I understand it…

The Rundown of Events

  • Some teenagers were at a community pool celebrating a birthday party
  • Neighbors called the police citing multiple juveniles in the area who did not live in the neighborhood and refused to leave
  • Cops showed up.
  • The cops were unsuccessful in breaking up the party — there may or may not have been fighting among the teenagers
  • 9 additional units were called in
  • The rest is in the video below.  Remember, these are high school kids.

The Video












I saw an interview with a former McKinney police officer this morning and the news anchor asked him if he thought race was a factor.  He responded by saying that yes, the video seemed to indicate that it was.

Was Race a Factor?

Why do we keep asking that question?   We hear it after every incident involving White cops and Black victims and I’m starting to think that we are all really daft.   It’s not the right question.

No.  Race wasn’t a “factor.”

We don’t “factor” race into things.   We don’t “factor” it in because it’s already there.  It’s a given.  It’s part of our culture.

Culture as a Tree

When I was at the beach a few weeks ago I saw a tree that had been felled.  It was up on the shore and at first glance it looked like any other piece of driftwood.  But when I walked to the other side of it I discovered that a section of it’s root system was still sort of in tact and the roots that were left were tangled around a large rock.


Let’s think of that tree as our culture.  Culture is the knowledge, values and beliefs shared by members of a particular society and it is nurtured and perpetuated by the traditions, language, literature, art, music, and systems of said society.

In this case, instead of driving its roots deeper into the soil where vitality and health would be found, this tree had wrapped its roots around something that could not nourish it.  By the time it washed up on the shore, that rock had become an inextricable part of the tree and the likely cause of its demise.

Race, like the rock in that tree, has become an inextricable part of our culture and our story in the U.S.   We’ve wrapped our roots around it and most of us don’t even seem to know that the rock is there.

So we keep scratching our heads and saying,

“Huh, that’s WEIRD.  How on earth did our tree turn out this way?  Why isn’t it thriving the way that it should?

We grab at individual blossoms and declare, “Aha!  I’ve found the source!” when in fact the entire system is deficient and damaged.

Ask better questions

We can’t keep asking questions like, “Gee whiz, is that cop, like, a racist or what?”  We can’t just pluck the pesky buds and hope for the best.  When there is a bound or faulty root system, drastic measures have to be taken if there is any hope of saving the tree.  So we need to ask instead what stories we are telling ourselves.  What is feeding our culture?  What traditions, what literature, what art, what music?

Those are the questions we should be asking.  Those are the questions that will help us to start loosing what is bound.  And those are the questions that will enable us to see the established systems that allowed us to wrap our roots around a rock in the first place.


Other posts on Race

White Privilege Awareness Series
Misplaced Imagining
Fury in #Ferguson
Can I Get An Amen… from the Awkward White Lady?
A Song Of Lament
The (Not So) Subtle Racism of the Gilmore Girls

Sanitizing the Ghetto

Weekend Worthy


“Ohmygosh, that’s so ghetto.”

We usually refer to something as “ghetto” when we mean to imply that it’s a little rough around the edges, poor, trashy or otherwise beneath us.  I know I’ve used it that way.  But, similar to throwing around the word “Nazi” as a joke to reference someone who is militant or even just a tad controlling, it’s not the best choice if we believe that words matter.


It’s not cool to use the word “nazi” because it’s a weighted word and bears with it untold anguish for a significant number of people.  So, too, with the word ghetto, though most of us don’t know it.  It’s a weighted word, steeped over-long in racist laws & policies, segregated housing, blockbusting and isolating slums.

We’ve forgotten our history, according to Richard Rothstein.  Ghettos didn’t just happen.  We made them.  On purpose.  And now we are reaping some of the fruit of what we ourselves made.  I knew about the racist policies of the Federal Housing Administration back in the 30s, 40s and 50s, but there was a lot in this podcast that I didn’t know.  Check it out — curious to hear what you all think!



Other posts on Race

Misplaced Imagining
Fury in #Ferguson
Can I Get An Amen… from the Awkward White Lady?
A Song Of Lament
The (Not So) Subtle Racism of the Gilmore Girls
White Privilege Awareness Series


“Blacks actually don’t WANT it to be race.
They would rather not have racist shit happen.
So maybe when they say something is about race,
it’s maybe because it actually is.”


I recently led a Faith & Race book group at our church and I chose the book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Emphasis is more on race than faith, I suppose, but if you’re looking for a book that explores issues of race in modern day America that also happens to be an enjoyable story in its own right, this is the one for you.

Be forewarned, though, this book is not for the RUFOH (racially-unaware-faint-of-heart)*.   If you are of the “it’s all good / we’re post-racial / check out our President” persuasion, this book will be a bitter pill to swallow.  But if you are interested in pressing into issues like immigration, race, class, and privilege, and doing so via a well-told story, you won’t be disappointed.



Here are 7 things that our book group discussed and some of the corresponding context & quotes that informed our discussion:


How White folks are unaware of their own culture

“The problem is you think everyone is like you.  You think you’re the norm but you’re not” (pg 112).


Africa as a country rather than Africa as a continent

Americans seeing Africa as some sort of homogenous exotic land of half-starved sun-baked people (p 13, 160, 163, 173).



Unawareness of history and context by the dominant (ie White) culture in the US

“Maybe when the African American’s father was not allowed to vote because he was Black, the Ugandan’s father was running for parliament or studying at Oxford… I just think it’s a simplistic comparison to make.  You need to understand a bit more history…” (pg 208).



Dangers of being colorblind

  • People aren’t seen.

“ ‘Dike is just like one of us, we don’t see him as different at all.’ What kind of pretending is that?  …my son sticks out, so how can you tell me that you don’t see any difference” (pg 212)?

  • In a misguided attempt to make up for the fact that people are NOT colorblind; that they do, in fact, see our skin color, Ifemelu changes the way that she speaks so that at least she will sound like a White American.  But again, the problem is still that she isn’t actually seen.

“Only after she hung up did she begin to feel the stain of a burgeoning shame spreading all over her, for thanking him, for crafting his words “You sound American” into a garland that she hung around her own neck.  Why was it a compliment, an accomplishment, to sound American? She had won; Cristina Tomas, pallid-faced Cristina Tomas under whose gaze she had shrunk like a small, defeated animal, would speak to her normally now.  She had won, indeed, but her triumph was full of air.  Her fleeting victory had left in its wake a vast, echoing space, because she had taken on, for too long, a pitch of voice and a way of being that was not hers” (pg 216).



The invisibility of Black women and Asian Men

“You see, in American pop culture, beautiful dark women are invisible.  (The other group just as invisible is Asian men.  But at least they get to be super smart.)  In movies, dark black women get to be the fat nice mammy or the strong, sassy, sometimes scary sidekick standing by supportively.  They get to dish out wisdom and attitude while the White woman finds love” (pg 266).



Where Have All the Racists Gone?

“In America, racism exists but racists are all gone”  (pg 390).

“Don’t preface your response with “One of my best friends is black” because it makes no difference and nobody cares and you can have a black best friend and still do racist shit” (pg 404)



White Privilege

“How can I be privileged?  I grew up fucking poor in West Virginia.  I’m an Appalachian hick.  My family is on welfare.’  Right.  But privilege is always relative to something else.  Now imagine someone like him, as poor and as fucked up, and then make that person black… The Appalachian hick guy is fucked up, which is not cool, but if he were black, he’d be fucked up plus… Appalachian hick guy doesn’t have class privilege but he sure as hell has race privilege” (pg 429).



Have you read Americanah?  What did you think?  Would enjoy hearing your thoughts!


*I make up my own acronyms sometimes.


Let Them Be Empty

“Quietude, which some men cannot abide
because it reveals their inward poverty,
is as a palace of cedar to the wise,
for along its hallowed courts
the King in his beauty deigns to walk.”

-Charles Spurgeon


We went camping over the holiday weekend and as I sat in our campsite on Friday night I felt agitated.  A little edgy.  We had arrived mid-afternoon, taken a long walk, had a leisurely dinner and the requisite s’mores, settled the boys in the tent for the night and then… there was nothing to do.

The dishes were done, my cell had no service, I was miles from my laptop and laundry and ‘to do’ lists and I found myself irritable and mildly cranky.  All this empty space stretched wide before me and I felt panicky in the face of it.  What, pray tell, was I supposed to do with all this free time?!



View from our campground in the Northern Cascades

View from our campground in the Northern Cascades

Busy!  Busy!  Busy?

I realized as I sat by the water and tried to get a freaking grip on myself that I’m used to filling every single spare space in my life with something.  Most days I feel like I’m checking things off of a non-stop, ongoing, ever-growing list of things that need to be done.  Work, writing, meals, laundry, school drop off, school pick up, community group prep, library runs, grocery shopping, volunteering at the school, you get the idea.

Here’s the thing, though.  I’m not actually all that busy.  Not really.  It’s just that in between all these things, when I get a spare minute, I’m really quick to fill it with something.   When Jason puts the boys to bed, I clean up the kitchen but I also try to catch a snippet of a show or a podcast while I’m at it.  Or last week, when I had ten minutes before I had to pick up Isaiah from preschool, I queued up an episode of Grey’s Anatomy on my phone and did a speed clean of the guest bathroom before running out the door.  Gotta get while the gettin’s good, right?   And c’mon, when else will I get to watch Grey’s Anatomy?  I mean, really.   Some things are important.

So as we settled into the woods for the weekend and I was faced with this endless expanse of spare minutes, I didn’t know what to do with them.  I was restless and uneasy because I was without my usual props and distractions.   I had gotten out of the practice of filling my spare moments with… nothing.  This weekend was a crash course in (re)learning how to let them be empty.

Always On Call

It was harder than I thought it would be.  I thought I had a handle on how to rest.  And we’re the Rusts!  Camping is our thing!  But it’s actually been awhile since we’ve been out there and I realized this weekend that one day a week of mostly shutting things down and kinda sorta resting isn’t actually enough.   I need to practice more.

I’ve been re-reading Simplicity Parenting this month and the author, Kim John Payne, says that it used to be that only physicians and a few select others knew what it was like to be “on-call” from time to time.  But now, with our smart phones and high-speed wifi at all times and in all places, we are all  “on-call” all of the time.  This, he says, means that “most of us are in a slightly anxious, arrested state most of the time.”   Getting a phone call while we’re driving or feeling the buzz of a text message during dinner means we are constantly vacillating physiologically between a moderate and a hyper-aroused state and it can be difficult to calm our minds down.

Palace of Cedar

So what did I do with all that spare time this weekend?   I drank tea by the river one evening.  I sat quietly in the afternoons and looked out at the trees and the mountains.  I read books.  I wrote an entry in my “giving thanks” journal which now has exactly 2 entries.  I had a really good conversation with Jason as we lingered by the campfire on our last night.  I even used Isaiah’s water colors one afternoon and tried my hand at painting.    In short, not much.  But I felt an unfurling of sorts; an unclenching of fists and a freedom from my usual frenetic pace.  I also felt a nearness of God that I don’t normally feel.

I’m hoping that I will be more intentional now that we’re home and push into those spaces of quiet more often; that I will let the spare moments in my day be empty instead of constantly and frantically filling them to capacity.  I want to work on quietude.  It’s going to take some effort, though.  Today when I picked Gryffin up from school I was a few minutes earlier than usual and I immediately turned on Grey’s Anatomy.    Ah well, I’m a work in progress and it had been three whole days.


More pictures from the weekend…


View from Phelps Creek Trail


Taking a breather during one of our hikes


More from Phelps Creek Trail


Jason had to carry the boys across the rushing water a few times. This is the spot where I voted to turn back.   Jason: 1, Nance: 0. When he was carrying Isaiah, Jason could hear him whispering, “Please don’t let me die, please don’t let me die.”


Mornings around the campfire


We camped at Shaefer Creek near the Chiwawa River – about 20 miles from Lake Wenatchee. Probably our favorite spot in Washington yet.


The boys practiced and perfected this move on our last morning. Gryffin could hold him like this for about 20 seconds. An impressive feat considering the weight ratio!

Is Racism Over Yet?

Weekend Worthy

We’re heading out of town tomorrow for a semi-impromptu camping trip and I thought I’d leave this for you all to enjoy this weekend.  She packs a lot of info into 6 minutes and she has a long list of links after the video over on youtube.




Other posts on Race

Misplaced Imagining
Fury in #Ferguson
Can I Get An Amen… from the Awkward White Lady?
A Song Of Lament
The (Not So) Subtle Racism of the Gilmore Girls
Complete White Privilege Awareness Series