Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: opinion (page 1 of 2)

Beyond a single story

Because I have no brothers, I have no means for comparison. Yet I was raised to believe that with enough hard work, passion and natural skill, there was little I could be turned away from in the world simply because I was born female. My parents never used any of these words; they raised me in a time and place where the common story was one where girls should and could have the same opportunity as the boys.

Even throughout my seminary years, studying in a predominantly white male world, I rarely came up against people who desired to put limitations on aspirations because of the way I was born. (Granted, I made it pretty easy by keeping aspirations low and quiet.) In fact, I came across two guys who legitimized and validated me beyond what was necessary, and I look back now with gratitude.  The primary voice in a place where I was in the minority was welcoming, validating my childhood story.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized the story my parents and my educators had told me about what I could and couldn’t do wasn’t the universal story. There was an incident where I was told, outright, my femaleness that took me out of the pool of opportunity. It was in a place that I wanted to help – I could help. I had the hard work, the passion and the gifts. But, apparently, my vagina was a tad intimidating.

The hurt I felt wasn’t only in the rejection. It was also the startling fact that my prior life story wasn’t the only option. Soon, thanks to the world wide web and gutsy bloggers, I found out that I wasn’t alone. There were parts of the world where the hurt I experienced was the norm. This was the life experience of many women. Their mamas and daddies told them different things about their future based on how they were born.

I was appalled.  My friend KLR and I literally said, “Wait. This is still a thing? An issue?”  I had been raised in a time and a place that said, “well, sure, it used to be this way. But we’re better than that now. We know better and we do better. You have nothing to worry about. Now go on and make yourself the best.” But as a country, as a society, I found out as an adult that we’re not better. For many people, it’s not “used to.” It’s “should.”

The people who had validated me all along were also appalled. They hurt for and with me. But I believe they were shaken to realize their efforts of making society better hadn’t reached their full potential.

There is no single story for any gender, race or orientation. Just because you have an uncle, best friend or college professor who shared his or her experience – and came out just fine – doesn’t mean that the rest of the world is giving the same opportunity. Just because you’ve lived a particular life doesn’t mean life happens the same way for people who share the box you check on registration forms. It is so very, very important to listen to people who are quietly and politely trying to explain that what we perceive as normal is not, indeed, standard protocol.

I’ve been silently watching the eruption of reactions to the recent brutalities against both black men and white cops. It’s all terrible. (Please, world, stop believing we need to choose sides.)

A have a variety of friends who are, or will be, raising black or brown babies. I hear the fear in their response to the obvious inequalities. They’re going to have a different conversation with their children than I will with my blond boys. I empathize and agree, it should not be this way. But another thing irks me: somehow these white women saying the same thing that black mamas have been crying for years suddenly validates this experience to the white world.

Why? Why can’t we believe the black mamas when they say, here’s what I’m teaching my kid about how to dress and respond to a traffic stop. Why is the horror and injustice much more palpable to white ears when said by someone who looks like them?

I feel like this is part of the problem. Somehow this illustrates exactly what those crying for racial equality are trying to say.

It shouldn’t take “one of our own” to convince us that the experience of race, gender and orientation may not be the only story. Perhaps it’s our hopeful optimism that keeps us from hearing that our progress hasn’t reached as far was we believe. We want to think that we’ve done better as a society in seeing the divine spark in all human beings. And when stories inform us that we’re a tad disillusioned, we don’t want to hear it. The gap between what we believe to be and what actually is can be hugely disappointing.

But we need to keep listening. We need to allow the differing experiences of others to be more than a possibility and instead admit we need to put our work boots back on.

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Hope from the Sidelines

Part of our reintegration process includes our family’s adaptation to the life of jr. high football. After spending many years away from coaching, JJ has been reunited with his first love, Todd, (who has been coaching here from the time before JJ began in 2003) and his favorite game. The daily practices and weekly games mean JJ puts in long days, which translates in my own experience of sole parenting for the bulk of the week. Needless to say, I’ve been watching for any signs of fatigue or frustration that I can capitalize on before he signs up for another year. Because I’m thoughtful and considerate and thinking of everyone’s best interests, of course.

So on Tuesday, following quite a debacle of a 7th grade jr. high game, we hosted the 3 coaches for pizza and films. I finally got an ear to their conversations. The outcome of the game was so frustrating it was nearly comical to the men in my kitchen. They watched the key points of the film and began talking strategy.

Unfortunately for the younger of the teams, they haven’t had a lot of wins this year. I heard the conversation begin to change focus on what would keep these boys continuing to come out for football in the future. The coaches verbalized a hope that the boys wouldn’t give up on the game, despite the losses.

At that point, I knew I was loosing a battle for the 3-5 p.m. time slot in August through October. I’m doomed to become a football widow forever and ever, amen.

None of the men in my living room eating pizza and laughing at big hits of the night could necessarily see it, but I did. I could sense the presence of hope living in these jocks.

I asked JJ later, just to confirm my theory, why they wanted kids to keep coming out for the team, even if perhaps the boys aren’t that good. Why even worry about those on the bench? Why the big push to keep a love of the game? (I may have been asking with a slight devil’s advocate prerogative.)

IMG_2427Of course, the coaches love the game of football. Of course, they have some allegiance to their alma mater. Of course they want to see a better program at the higher level. And of course they enjoy the kids and want them to have an experience that makes them better players and instills a passion for the game. Of course. By definition, that’s what coaches do.

If you dig around in the hearts of coaches – at least, the three in my living room – I believe there’s something bigger at play. (I believe there always is.) Something that keeps them on the field at all hours and in extreme temperatures. Something that makes it worth enduring parental phone calls and school politics. Something that keeps them from wives and children during prime hours of the day. And let me tell you from experience, it’s not the money.

I have a hunch that these men want to create a positive football experience for all these kids because deep down they know these kids aren’t done yet. The kids haven’t reached the fullest expression of their potential – both on and off the field.  The coaches know there’s more inside each kid. The eight games of 7th grade football cannot be the barometer of which these boys forecast their lives. 

And where does such hope come from? How do we reach the understanding that no one is finished at 13?  For at least one of the coaches, I believe it comes from understanding God is never done with us. It comes paired with an experience that God hasn’t given up despite some lackluster performances. And no matter the score, God wants us to continue showing up and getting better.

God’s not done with you, so please, please, young guy, don’t be done with you. Don’t measure your worth on this one experience. Give yourself the gift of another chance. And another. And another.

So we, in this house, will give you the gift of a guy who believes you’re worth it. He believes that every player has something to offer, not just on the field but to the world. And not just today but tomorrow as well. I guess, as a family, we’re just as invested in this thing called Hope.

Go Rams.

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Crayons and fires

My third-born developed a pattern: when she’s lonely, she’s destructive. The moments that we we want her to go and play like a nice little girl, she shoves herself back into our line of vision, sometimes with a crayon on our wall. She can’t contain her emotions and will react to small frustrations with bites upon her older siblings. Usually, she’s asking for something (a nap or a cuddle most often) but she uses the wrong words. The wrong means.

As a mother, especially of many, sometimes I don’t want to have to give that to her. I might prefer reprimand and get angry that she took her aggressive feelings out on other things and people. It’s inconvenient to sit and listen and hold, especially when I cannot identify with her feelings of frustration that come with broken crayons or a brother that won’t do as he’s told. These seem like pretty insignificant ordeals in my world, but to her corner of the universe, they matter. On my Good Mom Days, if they matter to her, they matter to me. That’s how things like empathy, kindness and love take root in a heart and grow us into beings that recognize the holiness in all things and people.

I chose not to learn a darn thing about Ferguson (chastise me later). I don’t know the names, the actions, the anything. I know there’s a police side and a black side and a whole lot of feelings. For a second just join me over here and set your opinion aside. I want you to hear me clearly. I’m not talking about agreeing or disagreeing with a grand jury right now. I don’t know who or what to agree or disagree with, and knowing my track record, I probably agree with everyone.

Right now there is a population of people who is so angry, they feel the need to burn things in order to get our attention. We might want to yell and discipline, but if we’re good humans, we should stop and question why riots have to happen in order to get our country to talk about race.

We have brothers and sisters in this country trying to say something. They’re telling us about a hurt, something so outside our immediate context that we have difficulty identifying with them. We want to blow it off, tell them to stop the current behavior and believe we’ve fixed a problem. Hear me: I’m not justifying behavior. I don’t like crayons on my walls nor fire in my streets. It’s not okay. But behavior modification will not fix this problem – it’s a symptom of a larger issue.

My three-year-old has taught me about human nature in her action. She has also shined a light on my propensity to gloss over her very real hurt with my reaction. Finally, in the third year of raising the third kid, when we see these behaviors I have come to ask myself, “does she need something from me that I’m not giving her?” The answer is nearly always, yes. She needs my attention. She needs me to hear. She needs me to try to imagine her world and what this is like. When I give her those basic internal needs, she exhibits the kind and loving behavior we seek from her. Her behavior has a direct correlation with her sense of security and place in our family dynamic.

What we lack in understanding, may we make up for in a willingness to listen to the real request of these behaviors.

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