Friday, February 16, 2018

A Plea to My Fellow Christians as We Respond to Mass Shootings

Another mass shooting has come to pass. More parents are at home without their children under their roof. In the presence of such tragedy, our smallness as individuals becomes too evident. Because we are not capable of processing so many tragedies coming after so many tragedies, we become numb, and in our numbed disbelief and fear, we try to offer an easy answer that will make it all less horrifying.

It is time to call mass shootings what they are: an epidemic. It is not so unlike smallpox or polio or AIDS. It is a scourge that spreads fear, threatens our ability to pursue life and happiness, and, most importantly, endangers our children. Humanity has faced many plagues before, and we have responded heroically at times and counter-productively at others. Watching the responses play out on social media each time over the years since Sandy Hook, I am fatigued by the rounds of faulty logic and tired arguments I keep reading. However, I’m writing this to specifically address my brothers and sisters in Christ who keep posting a certain argument that I fear pours salt in wounds, misrepresents the mission of our Lord, and damages our very faith.

Before I dive into specifics, though, let me tell you a story. In the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic hit America with a terrifying fury. And of course, the gay community was ravaged by the mysterious and brutal disease. In the face of that suffering and death, what did the Christian community do? They looked at their dying neighbor and said they deserved what they were getting. Many said that it was punishment directly from God for their sins. They perpetuated this message blatantly and by their inaction. In the process, they led families to forsake their dying sons and brothers, to leave the suffering to suffer alone as they walked through the valley of the shadow of death. By persuading public opinion in the Republican party, they contributed to the paltry budget allocated by the Reagan administration for AIDS research despite the fact that our countrymen where dying by the thousands. The Christian community neglected sufferers out of their own fear and hatred of people they did not understand, and they hindered the progress towards effective treatment and a cure. The AIDS epidemic is a shameful chapter in the history of Christianity.*

Fast forward to today. For the past two days, I’ve seen countless posts saying that the epidemic of mass shootings in our country are the result of prayer being taken out of school. Of the Ten Commandments no longer hanging on the walls of our public institutions. Of the moral depravity of our citizenry. Once again, Christians are blaming the victims in the midst of a horrifying plague. Once again, we are representing our loving, merciful God as a petty tyrant.

There is a very obvious flaw to this argument. America has a staggering amount of deaths resulting from gun violence as compared tomostl other developed countries. Yet, if you go to Australia or Canada, for example, you will not find a citizenry of saints. You will not find government or institutions promoting Christian prayers. You will not find the Ten Commandments pasted to school walls. The difference between America and our peers is not the content of our character: the difference is the laws of our lands.

I am a millennial and a mother to four beautiful children, all of whom will receive their k-12 education in public schools. I am terrified for the safety of my children. I am not alone. My generation grew up in the midst of Columbine, and as parents, we hear our children talk about drills at school for “if a bad guy comes.” Please, my fellow Christians, hear me when I say that your arguments for how to address this situation that our devoid of factual evidence and your thoughts and prayers that are devoid of action feel not only empty as I wrestle with my fears for my children’s safety: they feel insulting. Please, please, please stop telling me that my God is hateful and that my children’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are less important than your right to bare an AR-15.

If I sound combative or if I am insulting you, I am sorry, but as a minister’s wife, I see daily the damage Christians are doing to our religion with these kinds of arguments. We are losing a generation of Americans because of the flawed ways we keep engaging in these conversations. Our God is a God of mercy and a God of facts. It is long past time to retire our empty piety and start engaging in helpful conversations that might lead to a cure for the insidious fear we all live with after so many years of breaking news that yet another shooter has taken away more of our children, our neighbors, our countrymen.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thoughts on Charlottesville

I am the great-great-granddaughter of a Confederate soldier. My great-grandmother was not permitted to wear blue dresses because her father hated the color of the Union army and did not want his daughters clad in its hue in his presence.

I keep hearing from the Charlottesville protesters on the news, our president, and various friends and family on social media that the events of the past weekend were about preserving heritage. The Confederacy is in fact a part of my heritage, so I have as much right as anyone to cling to the monuments that pay homage to that heritage. However, I fervently believe that they should each be removed from their places of honor. Here’s why.

The men honored in Confederate memorials are not patriots of our country (like George Washington). In fact, they fought our country and were enemies of the United States in the deadliest war of our history. And although I’ve heard it argued my whole life that their cause was about more than just slavery, the fact that slavery was any part of their cause makes it completely unjustifiable. They were a nation and a military fighting to maintain a lifestyle made possible by the hard work of the humans they owned.

When I think of the Confederate veteran in my family tree, I don’t feel pride. Instead, I feel mostly sad, sad that my family was shaped by and perpetuated a culture that devalued humans so severely and sad that this fact led my ancestor to fight for such a lousy cause.  

And while this sadness is plenty of reason for me to want to see these memorials disappear from our capitals and college campuses, it is far more important they be removed out of respect for our Black countrymen and women. If the men memorialized in these statues had won their war, the great-great grandfathers of my Black peers would not have been emancipated from slavery. How can we possibly continue to place the Confederacy on a pedestal and still look our Black neighbors in the eyes?

Counter-protesting white supremacists and Nazis who are protesting the removal of these monuments is not “alt-left.” The tag “alt” suggests fringe movements. In a country where all people are created equal, there is nothing fringe about calling out racism and bigotry.  

My family history in the Confederacy is in many ways a burden. I must bear the fact that I come from people who chose the wrong side when they were faced with their generation’s battle between good and evil. I do not want my descendants to feel burdened by my actions today. That is why, despite not wanting to jump into these conversations, I find myself writing this post. By speaking out against racism today, those of us whose ancestors fought to preserve slavery can participate in God's work of redemption in this horribly broken world.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Lydia Turns 5

The first year of Lydia's life, her ears stuck out so far that I could put my index fingers behind each one, and with the slightest movement, make them dance to goofy songs I'd sing to her. We spent hours doing that.

When she was one, Lydia went through her goth phase, during which she would dismiss anyone who tried to make her smile  or laugh with an exaggerated, disappointed sigh. She was both a preacher's kid and the world's meanest baby, a combination that was comic gold for me and BJ.

Three weeks after Lydia turned two, Violet was born. Lydia fell in love, put away her sighs, and became a miraculously happy child.

At three, Lydia introduced us to her imaginary friend, Jimmy. He has become a permanent and ever-present fixture in our family, so much so that when I asked Violet what we should name the new baby when I was pregnant with Finn, she confidently said, "Jimmy!"

 At four, Lydia fell in love with Luke Skywalker after obsessively watching THIS Bad Lip Reading video a thousand times. Thankfully, Luke Skywalker and Jimmy became good friends, so it kept the drama to a minimum.

With Lydia in our family, we are constantly either totally exasperated or laughing uncontrollably. She is the energy around which we all revolve. No one has ever made me laugh more, and we all know that in her, the enormous personality of BJ Gensic has finally met it's match. I can't wait to see what our little spit-fire does at the age of five!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Finn's Story

Today, Finn Ignatius Gensic turns a month old. I can’t decide if the month flew by or if it crawled. I don’t know if I’m exhilarated or completely drained. All I know is that it has been quite a month.

During the second week of May, I went to my 36 week prenatal visit for this pregnancy that up to that point had been relatively uneventful. The doctor mentioned that my fundal height was a little low, so he scheduled me for a growth scan the following Monday, May 15.

During the ultrasound, I made small talk with the tech, but I could tell that something wasn’t right. There was a tension on the tech’s face that I couldn’t ignore. I was taken to a room for a private consultation with the doctor. Private consultations are never something you hope for in a pregnancy. He told me that the baby was 5 weeks behind in growth, and they didn’t know why. At a follow-up scan the next day, the tech told me that she estimated the baby was only 3 pounds. I was scheduled for an appointment with a high-risk pregnancy doctor in Norman on the 17th.

However, on the evening of the 16th, I went in to the labor and delivery unit here in Ardmore because I was spotting. I informed the nurses that it was probably nothing, but I was a nervous wreck, and could they please check me out. I expected to be home within the hour.

I was hooked up to the monitors that are standard during labor and delivery. As I was lying there, I kept having Braxton Hicks contractions, and after some of the contractions, Finn’s heart would decelerate. Out of concern, they sent me for another ultrasound in the emergency room. Through that midnight ultrasound, we were finally able to determine that my placenta was giving out on Finn.

During the whole night, I was terrified. I could hear Finn’s heart beat, and the decelerations were agony to listen to. By the next morning, BJ and I with the guidance of a warm and reassuring nurse had decided that we wanted a c-section, and we wanted it soon. When my doctor came in, he had reached the same conclusion. He said that it would take him about an hour to get his surgical “A-team” together. He wanted to have the best because of the high-risk nature of this delivery, so we agreed to wait an hour. He then asked BJ if he would like to go on the helicopter with Finn if he had to be flown out. In that moment, I realized how much danger Finn was in.

An hour later, the nurse who had been with me all morning put an arm around my shoulder and walked me to the OR. An incredibly kind anesthesiologist explained to me the process of the epidural since I had never had one, and then he did a wonderful job of prepping me. Soon after, our pediatrician, my doctor, and BJ arrived for the operation.

As I laid on the operating table, I kept silently mouthing three words to God: “David and Goliath.” I didn’t know how to pray eloquently in that moment of incredible fear, but I knew that David was small like my Finn, and I knew he had faced a seemingly insurmountable challenge with God’s support. I figured that if I couldn’t come up with my own words on Finn’s behalf, I would just pray that story for him.

Within minutes of the operation starting, the doctor pulled Finn out, and it only took a few moments for him to belt out a loud, beautiful scream. Our pediatrician gave him high Apgar scores, and said that the helicopter would be able to return without Finn. He only weighed 3 lbs. and 10 oz., but he was in good shape.

The next eight days, Finn and I spent in the hospital here in Ardmore. He couldn’t be discharged until he reached 4 pounds. It was a difficult week for me. BJ couldn’t spend much time with us because he had laryngitis that he didn’t want to expose Finn to. And I was devastated by the idea that my body had failed Finn. He was so small, it was difficult to feel anything but fear and bewilderment: how could this have happened to our baby?

On the day that Finn reached 4 pounds and we were going to get discharged, a nurse came to get him for his assessment. Normally, assessments took only about 10 minutes, but 45 minutes went by when our pediatrician walked into the room. He said that Finn had looked dusky to the nurse, so she had checked Finn’s oxygen and heart rate, and he was showing signs of distress. They had no idea what was wrong with Finn, but our pediatrician wanted to have him flown to Cook’s Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth so that we could get answers fast.

I was so shocked at first, that I couldn’t cry. Numb, I called BJ to tell him. He said that we had been feeling better that morning, and he had been about to leave for the hospital so that he could hold Finn for the first time. At this point, I was able to cry.

BJ arrived soon after I called, and we waited in the hospital room for more information. We were unable to be with Finn while we waited for the flight crew and while he was assessed. About 2 hours after we initially learned everything, there was a knock on our door. It was the flight crew with Finn in an enormous incubator on a stretcher. Finn had multiple tubes already connected to him. I don’t know how to put into words what that moment felt like without leaning on clich├ęs. I’ll just say that my heart broke.

The flight crew gave me a “lovey”, a cloth toy to touch and keep in my shirt so that it would smell like me and so that Finn would have it in the hospital. They explained to us where we needed to go, and told us to drive carefully because speeding wouldn’t help anyone. I was quietly weeping as I stood next to Finn. Pushing the stretcher was a man with a mustache who looked like my dad. As we said our goodbyes to Finn, the man whispered to me repeatedly that Finn would be okay. I decided that since he looked so much like my dad, I would try my hardest to believe him.

The next 12 days in the NICU were a steady stream of terrifying test that our little Finn had to endure. Through it all, he ate and put on weight like a champ. The NICU has a funny way of turning the most laid back mothers and fathers into quintessential helicopter parents, and BJ and I were certainly no exception. We hovered over Finn, and rarely put him down. In the end, it was determined that the growth restriction he had suffered in my womb had put more stress on his body that originally thought, and he just needed more time to put on weight and stabilize.

Twenty days after his dramatic appearance, we were blessed to bring our Finn home. The adrenaline from the experience has not entirely subsided, but we are starting to feel more normal. Finn weighed 5 lbs. 14 oz. at his check this week, so he is doing what he is supposed to be doing. One of the most trying parts of the experience was being separated from Shepherd, Lydia, and Violet, so their crazy chaos is a welcomed presence these days.

The emotions from the past month are still raw. I can’t think about telling Finn goodbye before he was flown to Cooks without crying. His lovey is in our room, and I feel mostly anxiety when I look at it because of the associated memories. But I refuse to throw it away because I know that a day will come when I will smile at those memories.

I have thought a lot this past month about what I will tell Finn about his origin story. I prayed constantly throughout this pregnancy from the moment I knew Finn existed for his health and safety. However, I don’t look at what happened and think God answered “no” to those prayers. I don’t believe God smited us with inter-uterine growth restriction (IUGR) to teach us some lesson or test us in some way. I think the IUGR happened because crap happens sometimes. That is just the way the world is.

What I see when I look at Finn’s story isn’t an unanswered prayer. Rather, what I see is that when my son got dealt a lousy hand by life circumstances, God played for Finn’s team. I see a thousand different ways God protected and shaped Finn despite a sorry excuse for a placenta. Finn’s story is a story of what God can do for the little guy even when the odds are stacked against him. It is a David and Goliath story.

During our twenty days in the hospital and NICU, I often felt like I couldn’t see God. It was as if I was cloaked in the darkest of fogs, a fog built entirely of fear and pain. I told myself that he was present in the nightmare I was going through because he had been present at so many other times in my life, but I couldn’t feel him there. The final night we were in the NICU, BJ and I ran to Target to get a few things we needed for Finn’s expected discharge the next morning. On the way, Fort Worth was adorned by the thickest and most brilliant rainbow I have ever witnessed. Perhaps this is far-fetched, but indulge me for a moment. When I saw that rainbow, a symbol of God’s relationship with humanity, I knew without a doubt that God had been with us the whole time, even when I had felt completely isolated.   

As the pictures below shows, Finn has come a long way in a month. We could not be more proud of all he has already accomplished in his little life, and I feel so deeply blessed to be his mom.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Lydia turns 4

Before I get started, let me say that I realize I've only done one post this year. As it turns out, being the mom of a 5, 3, and 1 year old while also trying to occasionally write for our local newspaper, support BJ's final stretch to his doctorate, and keep up a house is all a lot more time-consuming than I thought it would be. Who would have thought? But I miss writing here terribly, and so for Lydia's birthday, why not?

I'm going to keep it simple and write the 5 coolest things about Lydia at this stage:

1. She makes us laugh. A lot. All the time. She is constantly saying things we don't expect and that border on the profane. A recent favorite quote on the topic of her soon-to-be-born cousin: "Uncle Bro doesn't even have a single boob to feed his baby. Not a single boob."

2. Her imaginary friend, Jimmy, totally rocks. He's been with us for over a year now, and oh boy, is he busy. Throughout this year, he has hung out with monkeys in our oak trees, married Lydia at a plethora of weddings, worked with BJ at church, and been chased by a green monster while he was trying to grocery shop. Thankfully, the green monster left footprints, so Lydia was able to track him down.

3. She is a budding fashionista. Seriously, she changes her clothes about 10 times a day, and she packs multiple outfits into every bag she can find so that she can carry clothes around with her all the time. It's serious.

4. She continues to be the girly-est girl around. Think babies, bunnies, princesses, teacup puppies, ballet, makeup, and more babies. She loves it all!

5. It is quite possible that of the entire Pierce family, Lydia is the most excited person about the approaching arrival of her cousin. I am including the baby's parents in this statement.

I could list so much more, but that is a brief snapshot of what a special little girl we have!

Friday, February 19, 2016

A New Cousin

Here is a little gem: Shepherd and Lydia finding out they're going to be a cousin.

Just for the record, I think the most important thing for everyone to remember is that I'm going to be an aunt. Yep, that is really the point :)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

On Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, my husband and I will awaken our three children a few hours after we have put them to bed. We will wrap them in fleece blankets, buckle them into their car seats, and drive to the First Christian Church on Maxwell Street.

There, our 5 year-old son will promptly fall back to sleep on the meager cushion of a cold, hard church pew, our 3 year-old daughter will vibrate with the excitement and novelty of this strange night-time adventure, and our 15 month-old daughter will doggedly try to escape my grasp so that she can run up and down the red, thickly-carpeted aisles because it is a general rule of thumb that if she is awake, she is moving.

After settling into the semi-darkness of our towering, candle-lit sanctuary, a guitar will start gently strumming and the voices of dozens of people will join in Christmas carols. In between the songs, we will read from the sacred texts of Matthew and Luke, the story of our God taking on human flesh, becoming the fragile infant Jesus in our broken and dangerous world.

About ten minutes before midnight, all of the congregants will line up in the center aisle and slowly move forward to take their turn receiving the bread that is the body of Christ broken for us and the wine that is the blood of Christ spilled for us.

Once filled, each sleepy worshipper will receive a candle in a small plastic cup whose humble job it is to protect our lush carpet from drops of wax. With our candles in hand, we will line the edges of our sanctuary, and my husband, the minister, will take the largest candle on our Advent table, the Christ candle. He will use the Christ candle to light a person’s candle on each side of the church. Those of us on the edges will share that flame until our sanctuary is surrounded with the light of Christ. And then, with the delicate glow of candlelight flickering across our faces, we will sing “Silent Night.” As the last note fades, we will blow out our candles, re-bundle the children, and drive back to our beds.  

Over 2000 years ago, humanity was going about its business with its long-established rhythm. People were born, they grew up, they worked and struggled, they had families of their own, they died. Nations rose, they warred, they ruled, they fell. And then a baby was born, and he interrupted everything. He changed the way we do and think about the menial parts of our lives because we suddenly knew that God himself had lived a human life; he reframed the very concept of power by showing that greater power can lie within an infant than in a nation; and he gave life in a world filled with death.

Christmas Eve is a busy day. It is filled with good things: gift wrapping, last-minute shopping, cooking, spending time with family. But I would encourage everyone in the spirit of the great interruption that was the birth of Christ to interrupt your Christmas Eve with one of the many Christmas Eve services held in churches all over Ardmore. The First Christian Church holds ours at 11:00 in the evening, but several others are held earlier in the day.

If you do attend, you will likely be stunned with the impact of the event captured in the nativity scene in your living room. While you hear the Scriptures read, look at the infants held in the arms of the mothers around you; our God was once that vulnerable. While you sing the sacred songs, look at all the ordinary people whose voices are filling the church; God entrusted mere humans to raise the once-infant Jesus into adulthood. And when you go to take communion, look at the trembling hands of the elderly people taking their portions; Jesus was born so that death would not be the end of their stories.

Allow all of the significance of the Christmas Eve service to emanate into your Christmas day. Let it enrich the gift giving, the gift receiving, the fellowship with family and friends, the rich food and the even richer traditions. And with this deepened perspective, may you have a blessed and merry Christmas.