Yes, Love Wins—But it May Require Overtime

“Nobody said it would be easy.”

My father always used to say this to me whenever we’d be talking on the phone about the difficult stuff of life; the obstacles and heartache and gut-punches we regularly log here during our time as citizens of the planet. It was invariably the period on the closing sentence of so many of our conversations. At the time it often seemed like such a throwaway line, but the further I walk the more gravity it possesses. 

Most of us imagine that life should be easy; that we should be able to go through our days without discomfort or turbulence of any kind, and we are usually genuinely surprised when they show up. We look around and see all manner of emotional disasters befalling people, but the truth is—we rarely believe those days should or will come to us.

But life is not at all easy these days for those of us still straining to believe that love wins. If there’s ever been a season where such an idea has been more stretched to its breaking point—it is this one. We see the attrition of our friendships, the disconnection in our families, the acrimony of strangers, the fractures out there in the world, and it all feels fairly hopeless at times. We feel resistance to love and mistake it for our failure.

But this pushback to goodness should neither surprise or dissuade us and it should not be mistaken for defeat. Love has never won because it’s gone unopposed. It’s won because it is a persistent, stubborn son of bitch who believes that people are worth fighting for, bleeding for, waiting for, sacrificing for. Love is not proven only in passion, but in time as well—in the perseverance of its work within, around, and through us.

When I look in the rear view mirror of my days, love’s character is so very clear:

When love has won in my marriage, it’s won because in the face of some very dark days when leaving would be far easier—it chose to stay.

When love has won in my family, it’s won because it’s decided to endure the deep flaws that only show themselves at close proximity.

When love has won in my parenting, it’s won when I pushed through fatigue and selfishness and distraction, to be fully present for one more storybook. 

When love has won in my heart toward others, it’s won because it has resisted my most ingrained and fortified places of greed and vanity and fear.

When love has won in our nation, it’s won when a few brave people have stepped directly into the path of an ugly popular momentum, to begin a new beautiful countermovement.

So yes, I do still believe that love wins, because ultimately love is an act of defiant persistence; of staying, enduring, waiting, and continuing—when they all feel counterintuitive. Love wins in the choice we make to have one last conversation, make one more plea, give one more day, make one final stand. It wins when we pass through a night of hell, and in the morning still manage to somehow greet the sun with expectancy. Love wins in the open hand we extend, that would much rather be a closed fist.

And so in the relationships you’re grieving over and the world you’re lamenting and the internal change within you that feels impossible, keep going. Because there, in your steadfast refusal to let the separation and bitterness and apparent defeat have the final word, is where love does its real winning. This is the work the people of love have always done and it’s the work they’ll need to do today.

And no—nobody said it would be easy.

 

 

 

Why You Need to Learn to Say More Than “No”

This week Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and the rest of this Administration reminded us of an important lesson, one that transcends politics: saying “no” is a really easy trap to fall into—and once you’re there, getting out can be nearly impossible.

For the past 8 years (in almost all interactions with President Obama, but particularly with regard to healthcare), GOP leaders have grown accustomed to simply resisting; content to do nothing but identify problems, shoot down ideas, and shut down conversation. Over the course of his tenure they became fluent in the language of opposition and gradually lost the ability to do anything else—seemingly forgetting that they might one day be required to provide an actual response that was more substantial than simply their objection.

The GOP frittered away nearly two Presidential terms complaining about and dismissing the Affordable Care Act, content to play the role of steadfast naysayers. As a result they grew intellectually lazy, atrophied creatively, and recently found themselves with no substantive plan for our nation’s healthcare; frantically trying to instantly cobble together an alternative to the ACA, the way a middle schooler would try to do 2 month’s worth of work overnight. Only this was a whole lot bigger than shoeboxes, pipe cleaners, and hot glue guns—and they failed miserably. The American people weren’t having it.

After the healthcare bill was pulled, Ryan was quoted as saying “Doing big things is hard.” Well actually Paul, doing things at all is hard, which is the point. Being creative and digging into details and solving problems and crafting compromise and anticipating pitfalls is required to do almost anything worth doing, and yes those things are almost always difficult. Everyone from engineers to teacher to artists to athletes to mutual fund managers understands that doing stuff requires work—usually a heck of a lot more work than people who criticize that work ever realize. 

But this is the seductive power of the drug called “no,” because it is so readily available to us and offers such a cheap high. We get to feel superior, to be brazenly judgmental, and to shun any personal responsibility in the process. And avoiding the emotional stimulant of the putdown is made more difficult by a culture of social media contrarianism. We’re conditioned to see something, read something, hear something—and to offer immediate critique as a knee-jerk response, usually with little regard to all the time and sacrifice the authors and architects of these things have invested. We can troll mightily with zero accountability—but we pay dearly for the privilege.  

A couple of weeks ago, when the President was likely becoming aware of the political quagmire he and his team had gotten themselves into, he fired off a preemptive caveat to the coming proposal: “No one knew how complicated healthcare was.”

Actually lots of people knew, Mr. President: Barack Obama. Joe Biden. Nancy Pelosi. Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders. Members of the Senate and House who spent nearly a decade of their lives addressing it. They all knew it was complicated because they’ve done the work for months and months in the boring, uncomfortable trenches of minutia, nuance, statistics, numbers, and complicated ideas. That is the price of doing things of consequence and it’s a heck of a lot less costly than standing at a distance and holding your nose and throwing stones, which is what Paul Ryan and company have made their bread and butter.

In almost all cases, destroying stuff is a lot easier than building it, and saying “no” is a pretty effective wrecking ball. But as the Trump Administration showed us once again, wrecking balls aren’t very good at construction. Eventually they aren’t enough. That’s the transcendent lesson from the failure of the GOP healthcare bill: be very carefully about becoming a full-time critic, because sooner or later you will be called upon to do something other than object.

In matters of career, faith, relationships, politics, and every other arena of life, instead of spending all your time trying to tear someone else’s efforts down—learn to be a builder.

Learn to do more than say “no.”

 

 

 

 

The Death of Trumpcare and the Exhale of 24 Million People

Yesterday I heard a beautiful sound. It was the sound of 24 million people exhaling.

24 million people of every political affiliation,
from every blue and red state,
from every religious tradition,
of every pigmentation,
of every age,

of every orientation.

24 million people who had been holding their breath through a terrifying, protracted waiting, breaking the silence together with a noise that sounded like life. It was relief and hope and possibility; a much-needed measure of peace in a season marked by so little of it. For a moment there was a welcome pause to breathe deeply together.

And not only the 24 million—but those who love them, live with them, rely on them, find joy and purpose in their presence, those who have co-written their stories, those they lose sleep over. They too exhaled fully, knowing that the road will be a bit less fraught with terrible things than it might have been, the path a little more straight and level than it could have become.

And they were joined by a nonpartisan multitude of strangers whose names the 24 million will never know, but who believe their lives are worth fighting for; that they and their spouses and children and fathers and grandkids all deserve to breathe easier. Their chests contracted and they too exhaled fully because this is what empathy does: it recognizes kinship, it grieves with another’s grief, rejoices with their rejoicing—it breathes with their breathing. 

This is why the death of legislation that would have meant suffering for so many, should be cause for celebration for us all—because ultimately these are not political battles, they are not about platform and talking points and party lines. This is not about who gets to claim credit or affix their names to laws or who gets to be the hero. Those things are all far too small, they are not deserving of our efforts here, they are a wasteful distraction born out of the lie that we are all in competition.

No, this death is an affirmation of our shared humanity, the unflinching declaration that another’s life is worth as much as my life, that another’s child is as precious as mine, that everyone is doing the very best they can here, that we have no idea how another’s shoes fit. It is the acknowledgement that we all share this same space and this same air, and that when I speak on behalf of another I am making the greatest use of the breath within my lungs. This compassionate response to the sick and the vulnerable is the beautiful, beating heart of the Golden Rule—that I strive to afford another the blessing and goodness and mercy I would desire for myself. And so we breath deeply together. 

This is not the end. We all know the difficult work ahead, but that work is worthy of our time and our discord and fatigue, and so we will do it together. But right now we rest in this moment, we hold gratitude for those who are feeling reassured in their circumstance, we celebrate on behalf of people we love and those we’ll never meet who should be celebrated because they are living.

And together, in the face of a fear that can tend to take your very breath away—we all exhale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If Missing Black Girls Were White House Tweets

10 black girls have reportedly gone missing in the past week in Washington, DC, with 38 open cases in the area involving young women of color—but it’s only now through the #missingdcgirls Twitter campaign that any of this news has reached the national consciousness. Most news organizations seem to have missed the story completely, and so have many of us who call this country home. Not surprisingly we’ve all been too busy here (among other things carefully monitoring and reporting on the social media ramblings of our current President) to pay much attention. The mainstream media, knowing both our appetites and our attention spans, has been giving us exactly what it believes we want and can handle: short, colorful cartoons consisting of empty calories. Donald Trump is a fount of such disposable diversion.

As a result, instead of hearing about the individual girls who’ve gone missing, the local community gatherings held in response, or stories about the rise of sex trafficking in the nation’s capitol—we’re given regular coverage of the inane nonsense continually pouring from Trump’s Twitter account: about his daughter’s business, his celebrity detractors, his wild conspiracy theories about wiretaps. While distraught families of color not far from the White House are waiting for the rest of the country to pay attention to the crisis they’re walking though, we’re being distracted by the perpetual folly of our Court Jester-in-Chief. 

And while I can’t comprehend the anger this must instill in the loved ones of these girls, I suppose to the black community such apathy and indifference is commonplace. I imagine the alarming disparity in media coverage and national interest is nothing new to parents of children of color. The disappearance of their daughters and the shootings of their sons don’t seem to move the needle unless they are accompanied by looting or violence or bombast; something sexy to steal our precious bandwidth. They don’t draw the attention of white politicians or clergy unless there are chips to be cashed-in, soap boxes to be stepped upon, fears to be leveraged. The slowness of our national attention to this story feels like another symptom of our inability to show with any consistency, that black lives really do matter.

Over the past 24 hours there have reports that these disappearances are being exaggerated or incorrectly categorized, with some possibly being runaways—but that isn’t the heart of the issue. Whether or not the situation in DC turns out to be as extraordinary as it appears with regard to the sheer number of cases of missing girls of color, this is a fresh reminder that when it comes to what generates buzz or breaks our collective hearts—all lives are still not created equal.

I certainly wish we in America cared more about news that was truly news, and that we paid attention to many things they way we do to Donald Trump’s Tweets. But more than that, I wish what is happening in DC would naturally merit our shared urgency, our mutual outrage, our corporate burden. I wish we as a nation could find affinity in the universal love all families have for their children, and that we could fully embrace the inherent worth of black daughters who go missing and black sons who get shot.

This is the America I’m praying we become.