Lives that Matter

The Lives That Matter

(A good friend of mine has posted several articles and comments warning against the movement and organization called Black Lives Matter. I offered a different perspective.)

First, I believe this to be your third post since George Floyd’s murder that you’ve specifically come out against Black Lives Matter, as an organization (not the sentiment). I’ve read their website top to bottom, and do not see the extreme statements anywhere that you have mentioned. I do see references to disrupting the nuclear family, but in my understanding, the context is not at all similar to how you have portrayed it. Likewise I see the openness to, and support of queer relationships, and that they have chosen to center marginalized people in their movement. While you may have some biblical issues with the sexuality-identities, perhaps you can appreciate that they are working hard to look out for the citizens who have been most marginalized by our society. I believe kindness and love towards societies “castoffs” is central to Jesus’ theology.

Secondly, and I think more “big picture” of the two points I’m trying to offer you, is your focus seems to be on what is wrong with the movement, rather than what is right. While I’ve seen several of your posts strongly attacking the movement, I’ve seen no posts strongly, and solely, attacking the issue of systemic racism that sparked the movement. Now obviously, merely posting items on social media is not the “be all-end all” of our actions as citizens, to whatever our causes may be. I know you to be a person of substance, conviction, and good will. So please understand this is not a character attack because I know the story of your life is one of kindness, faith, loyalty and spirituality, to name a few of the many fruits of the spirit you embody and employ.

But good Christian men and women have historically been some of the greatest impediments to the cause of social justice. Whether the spiritual leaders of Jesus’ day, or the faith leaders during the Civil Rights Movement, many “strained a gnat and swallowed a camel”. Jesus’ methods were scrutinized, and in so doing, spiritual people missed the heart of his message. Dr. Martin Luther King was criticized because he was a philanderer, (a broken man like all the rest of us), or because he was “an agitator”, and men and women of otherwise good will missed the chance to address the much larger societal sins of bigotry, hatred, and misogyny that were and are pervasive in society.

So, even if the BLM movement has some core items in their mission statement (that I have not yet found), I still will ardently support their goal, of showing that the lives that were fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator, do indeed matter. I will march with them, I will sit with them, I will pray with them, I will eat with them, I will host them in my home, and visit their home. Because while the great doctrines of our nation profess “all men to be created equal”, the actions of our nation historically split our citizens into “we” and “them”. People who are ascribed inherent “superiority”, and people who are not. But I don’t think our Creator made “we” and “them”. I don’t think our national ideals split us into “we” and “them”. God made “us”. Our nation declared “out of many, one”. E Pluribus Unum.

The struggle of BLM is a struggle of all people, as people. It is the struggle of identifying us all, as one. It is not “their” struggle. It is all of ours.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The President gave a speech on the 4th of July, 2020. What did you hear?

A good friend of mine recently reflected on the president’s 4th of July speech. A speech some people claimed was the greatest speech Ever made by this president. Others who heard it felt it was dark. This was my reply to him.


Sam, I believe you to be a person of faith and good will. Normally, I would choose to avoid engaging in discussion on this post because it usually devolves into anything but discussion. But one of the great freedoms we have in our nation is to speak freely, and hopefully respectfully, even when we differ in opinion.


So with that I can tell you I came away from that speech with a very different feeling. First off, you asked us to not focus on the speaker, but instead focus on the words. Unfortunately, you cannot discount the speaker, because it is HIS message. While he likely didn’t pen much of it, these are his authorized sentiments. He has chosen to be such a polarizing force both in our nation and around the globe, so not only the words matter, but the speaker. When you hear words from a trusted source, you can focus more on the words, but when you hear words from a source who has consistently proven untrustworthy, and divisive, you have a hard time hearing the words alone. You have a context of past abuses of trust. You have a context mistreatment and ill will.


I’d be happy to go through line by line of the speech, highlighting both what was true and exemplary, and what was projection and purposeful disinformation. But since your comments did not parse each line of the speech, but instead summed your takeaways, I’ll address some of those.


While it may be scary for some citizens to see protests and the tearing down of statues, for other citizens that is an expression that brings hope. America is not a finished product, but a wonderful, ongoing experiment. Protests are meant to demand further progress towards our stated ideals, outlined in the speech, that all men are created equal. We live in a nation that professes that, but has historically resisted its’ reality or manifestation. Women didn’t get the right to vote for 140 years. People of color didn’t get their right to vote for nearly 200 years, and that vote is still widely suppressed.


Statues are meant to honor people or events of historical accomplishment that align with our nation’s values. But when people see statues erected of people who perpetuated hatred, dominance and enslavement that were in direct contradiction to our national ideals, you can understand their disgust, and their distrust of their government, that is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people”.


But statues are not history. And none of our history is being “erased”. That is hyperbole designed to scare people. Our history always has been one of change, and resistance to that change. Granted, sometimes that change is scary, and does not always prove to be for the better. But much of our national story of change has been the relentless march towards our nations stated vision. We are not erasing history. We are making it.


You mentioned attacking businesses and people of faith. We can agree that those are destructive behaviors and do not forward our nation. Yet there is a greater attacking of people going on, not just of faith, but of all backgrounds. Especially our non-white brothers and sisters. This administration has heralded and dog-whistled all kinds of hatred for Asians, Blacks, and Spanish-speaking people. Of all faiths. As an educator who has a diverse classroom of children, it is heartbreaking to hear the personal stories of kids and their families being harassed simply for being who God created them to be – fearfully and wonderfully made.


A cancel culture refers to shaming people that we disagree with, and demanding that they change to our view or standards. I agree with you that this practice can be toxic. Again, you cannot take the speech away from the context of the speaker. Sadly, this president, more than any before him, has used his bully pulpit to harass and bully political rivals, private citizens, or businesses that don’t agree with him. If he feels the least bit slighted, he goes out of his way to drag his perceived foes through the mud. He foments a “cancel culture” at every opportunity, but decries it when it doesn’t serve his purpose.


China. What is happening there is frightening and despicable. There is religious genocide, that has been given the tacit approval by our president. The government has become more and more authoritarian, just as Russia, Turkey, and Syria continue to do. All without any real pushback from our president, who seems to have quite the admiration for autocrats. Much of his leadership style seems to resemble theirs.
You ask us to pay attention, because protests won’t be allowed if we stay on this path. But isn’t that exactly what our current president has attempted to do? The vast majority of our protests have been peaceful, and the vast majority of participants have been people seeking genuine change from their government, but Trump has tried to portray citizens exercising their first amendment rights through the lens of “looters and thugs”. He wants to “dominate them” with tear gas and overwhelming force. We’re worrying about the tightening grip of China because it has already been happening here in America under this very administration!


So back to the speech. Back to the words. Trump fills the airwaves and the internet with words daily. There is typically not much substance, but tons of bluster. His words often contradict themselves from one day to the next. But taken as a whole, his words and actions have left imprints and patterns. Tweets, conferences, interviews and speeches together tell a story. That story is interpreted by three distinct portions of our country. Some believe they hear a story of making America great again. Some hear a story of that is destroying America by tearing apart our citizens. Some have not yet decided what to make of this president and his words.


I do not see America being made great by this divisive administration, but I do see Americans trying to move America towards its promises and stated ideals. I see hope in the people filling the streets in peaceful protests. I see hope in the citizens willing to embrace the talents, ideas, and perspectives of people who have different races and cultures than they do. I see hope in the people who are willing to beat their swords of hate and resentment, into plowshares of cooperation and collaboration, working together to build the nation our builders envisioned.

Warrior in Training

Written by Kelsey Armamentos

Quarantine has been difficult, I miss you a lot. Having this abundance of quiet time has thrown me into a period of reflection. Looking back on what used to be and looking forward at what is to come. Much of the end of my childhood was foolishly spent longing and wishing I was older, more independent, more confident. All things that seemed so close, yet so far. As I moved through my younger years and onto a scary new phase of life: Young Adulthood.

The beginning of my young adult life has been a whirlwind. I’m coming into my own. Discovering an independence and a tenacity I was previously unaware I possessed. This season of my life has brought along so many new experiences and emotions that I am so grateful to have you by my side to be a sounding board and confidant.

Recently I’ve spent a lot of time organizing photos and checking things off of my never ending to do list. Thanks to your email that has been flagged in my inbox for weeks, tonight I began my very very VERY late inquiry to the Chicago Marathon Staff about the photos I purchased. So I scoured my email for any trace of the link to get to my photos and I was lucky enough to find what I needed.

When I logged into the website and was presented with the photos, I was moved to tears. I was quite taken aback by my emotional response but once I sat and thought about it, my reaction didn’t seem so outlandish. The craziness that swirls around my head on a daily basis can sometimes glaze over important things, not giving the time to process and appreciate a moment. As embarrassed as I am to say it, right in this very moment I am finally processing the race I was able to win (in my own world, we both won), with you holding my hand each step of the way.

I know you’re going to tell me that I could have done it no matter what; But I’m here to tell you that on that cold October morning, as I squinted through my tears, pulling every ounce of strength I could find, I would have without a doubt quit without your support. My mantra I repeated in my head over and over again as each mile passed was, “this race we run, will be run together.”

I may not be smiling in all of the photos, in fact I remember quite vividly the excruciating pain I felt in the lower half of my body. I will never forget that feeling. But I will also never forget the sense of accomplishment. The sense of pride I felt seeing you cry as we crossed the finish line surpassed any emotion I’ve ever experienced.

I’m interested in hearing about the memories you have of when the shutter clicked.

For me, It was almost as if time stood still. Each moment that passed felt like a lifetime. As each mile passed I convinced myself more and more that it was to my detriment being able to feel each tendon seize as I attempted a stride. But looking back I’m able to appreciate experiencing those moments again through a beautiful collection of photos. Of course I hope that I’ll have these photos forever, but things happen and there is a chance someday I’ll have no tangible proof of these special moments. This moment in time doesn’t need tangible proof because it’s a milestone in my life I will remember forever. The moment I realized that my father hadn’t given me his strength to cross the finish line, he showed me how to find the strength within myself. That is a gift you’ve given me that as much as I’d like to, will never be able to repay you for.

Since that very day I have attacked life with a different tenacity.

I am stubborn, messy, and a bit silly sometimes, but by the grace of God i was placed with the two perfect parents who crafted me into the perfect mix of lady and warrior. You are my first, favorite, and forever partner in crime. No matter how many years go by or how many memories fade you will be my #1.

Worthy of Honor and Celebration

My teenaged daughter once made a cake to commemorate a friend’s 50th birthday. The theme was Texas Hold ‘Em, so the cake was adorned with playing cards and poker chips, all made from fondant. The partygoers happily consumed that cake, but still it is a cherished memory. The honoree indeed turned 50, the party indeed took place, and the cake indeed was made.


But it was consumed. Devoured. Erased.
Does that mean it didn’t happen?


When I was a youth, I once broke my right arm, earning a plaster cast and the scribbled signatures of friends and siblings. After weeks of running around in a sling and questionable odors emanating from within that cast, it was removed, and the signatures lost.
Does that mean the injury didn’t happen?


There is a lot of polarizing hyperbole in our national discourse regarding the removal of statues, the changing of flags or logos, or the renaming of prominent locations. The outcry is that such changes “erase history”. These moves supposedly “steal heritage”.


Really?


I’ve taught history in school for many years and never required a statue to do so. I’ve adapted lessons about Chicago and architecture to include the “Willis Tower”, even though for most of my lifetime I knew it, and visited it, as the “Sears Tower”. I’ve cheered on my favorite sports teams, despite many logo transformations or alterations. Despite their changes, even the garish designs, I’ve remained a fan.


If you’ve lost a letter jacket, a wedding ring, or a handmade work of art from a loved one, it may feel like a terrible loss, but it didn’t erase the accomplishments, or relationships, or memories. It didn’t overthrow your history or your heritage. It just hurt.


And history itself has subjective elements. The writers of history have historically glorified their national narratives, while omitting or downplaying their collective sins. Certain events or persons are deified, while others are demonized or marginalized.


In fact, isn’t human history reflective of the human will to grow, change, and mature? Along that maturation process, if society decides that certain persons or events should no longer be honored with statues or emblems because their inextricable contributions or connections to the disenfranchisement or destruction of members of the society, that decision is further evidence of human progress.


Those people and events that divided or demeaned us in the past are not worthy of honor or celebration. Their stories and histories will still be remembered, much like the fractures or diseases we have eventually overcome. We didn’t celebrate the injury, we celebrated the recovery, and the renewal. As we remove societal casts, slings, and other structures that have hindered our collective movement, we can proceed forward towards an equitable society worthy of celebration.

Inured to Injustice

I grew up

a few homes from the tracks.

Tracks loud with hustle

and bustle

And movement.

Tracks that delineated

And divided

Here from there

Us from them.


Noisy tracks

Kickin’ up dirt

Racing and marching

Screaming and screeching

Striving to move forward

While I barely noticed.


Unfazed on this side

My side

Among my own

My neighbors

My friends

So much the same.


Same boundaries

Same perceptions

Same faces

Same colors

Same us

Away

From the same

Them.


Safe.

Sound.


The tracks rumbled on

Loud with movement

Racing onward


Most of my life

Spent on this side

Defaulting to sameness

Blissfully unaware

Of life

Over there.


Their side…

When we had need

to venture over

Felt awkward

uncomfortable

Lacking the safety

Of sameness.


Over there

I was on alert

Standing out

Uncovered

Eager to hurry back

To the safety

Of our side

To the comfort

Of being unfazed

Unburdened

Inconspicuous.


Year after year

Generation after generation

Those noisy tracks

Rumbled on

Racing forward

And I grew

Without growing


Sheltered

In sameness

Unfazed by the noise

Unaware of inequity

Unburdened by race

Insulated

And

inured.


Those in-between moments

When the train wasn’t marching

And the tracks weren’t rumbling

The noise from the other side

Drifted over

From them.

Sometimes filled with laughter

Sometimes filled with song

Sometimes loud and angry

Shouts and cries

Bouncing off the walls

Mostly unheard

Here.


All the noise

Became background

Redundant

Rather than responsibility

Just the way things were

You learned to accept it

Expect it

To not name it

To not rock it

Lest you lose it

And the comfort of sameness

Fills with suspicion

Corroded with judgment

And fear of mixing

Us

With

Them.


That was the bubble

I grew up in

Like many of us

In the good old days

But I’ve grown to realize

That I hadn’t grown at all

And those good ol’ days

Weren’t so great

After all

For all.


I’ve grown to see

Those tracks were designed

To deliver cargo

Of entitlement

And privilege

To one side

And to deliver freight

Of suppression

And mislabeled inferiority

To the other.


The tracks were designed

As an intricate system

To divide

And delineate

And distribute

According the deliberate will

And benefit

of the builders

To build more wealth

And more tracks

And more walls.


I’m learning to question

Rather than remain

Clueless

Inured to their injury.


I’m learning to listen

Rather than remain

Deaf

Inured to the injustice.


I’m learning to look

Rather than remain

Blind

Inured to institutionalized privilege.


They want what I have,

But why do I have it

Automatically?


Why do they have to ask for it?

Beg for it?

Kneel for it?

March for it?

Cry for it?

Die for it?


The train is in motion

Gathering forces

from both sides

Marching

Together for justice


The tracks have been overrun

by a movement

Moving beyond monuments

Organizing

Demanding

Creating a new system

That delivers on the ideals

We professed long ago

A system of liberty

And justice

for all.

We’re Still in the Classroom Together

At the end of each year, we’d clean our desks off with shaving cream, recalling lessons learned while preparing for the future year ahead.

Some of the greatest moments of my life were the ones spent together with you. I remember your faces, your smiles, your independent projects, your Wordmasters hats, making tie-dye shirts, cleaning our desks with shaving cream, and your emergent handwriting that at times required advanced deciphering skills. I remember your playful comments, your amazing insights into classroom read alouds, and your kindness and generosity displayed to the world around you. Teaching is not a lucrative endeavor in terms of financial compensation, but you made me wealthy beyond measure.


When you left my doors for the last time, I tried to equip you with many lessons. Sure we covered the state-mandated curriculum, but there were the life lessons that we explored in the stories, experiences and moments that we shared. You learned equivalent fractions, but you also learned the equivalence of human dignity. You learned synonyms and antonyms, but you also discovered nuance, and how to compose and articulate meaning. You learned about the courage of Ruby Bridges, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and the Little Rock Nine, as well as those that would oppose them like Bull Connor or Orval Faubus. You learned about the uniqueness and diversity of our national regions, but also the uniqueness and diversity of our people, and how all people deserve to be honored, respected and celebrated.


When you left my doors for the last time, I gave you a letter, and reminded you that life itself is a classroom. It is an open, mysterious, wonderful daily adventure in learning. I reminded you of some of the lessons we learned from Eben McCallister (The Seven Wonders of Sassafrass Springs), The Potter Children (The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles), Edward Tulane (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane), or Jeremy Fink & Lizzy Muldoun (Jeremy Fink & the Meaning of Life). These characters learned much from the world around them, but most importantly, they learned about themselves. They learned to cherish the people in their lives.


When you left, I signed your letter “Always your teacher; always your friend” because you are indeed my friends. Over the past few years, many of you have returned to the classroom to say hello and visit my current students who occupy the very desks you sat in not long ago. Many of you have also connected with me through social media, whether on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. And I’ve crossed paths with many of you in the community. You are in high school, college, graduate school, or have already begun your careers. I couldn’t be more proud of you.


Wherever you are in your personal journey, I still have hopes and dreams for you. And I still want to remind you that life is indeed a wonderful classroom. It is filled with characters and stories that populate the your school’s seats and hallways; your places of work; and your communities, as well as the homes that are located perhaps a few towns away from yours. As humans, we tend to default to the known, the similar, and the comfortable when it comes to our social interactions. We understand the richness that comes from traveling to new and unique destinations, and we’ve experienced the growth that comes from tackling goals or challenges that stretch our boundaries, but when it comes to our social circles, we often default to comfort.


So one of my hopes and dreams for you is to reach out and stretch yourselves to experience the richness that comes from developing diverse social experiences. Try cuisines that are unfamiliar. Go into the homes of people that have a different culture than your own. Deliberately discover the stories and experiences of people that are dissimilar to you. Older. Younger. Darker. Lighter. Different religions. Different partner preferences. Different personal pronouns. Different perspectives.


I know it sounds cliche to say that you are the future, but let’s face it, the reins are being passed. The torch is changing hands. The phrase ‘2020 vision’ typically refers to normal visual acuity. But I hope the future that you build is not the normal one that you inherited. I hope you remember to ‘dare greatly’ as you construct it. I hope it is one that reflects your kindness, your dreams, your principles and your creativity. I hope it is inclusive, equitable, and just.


We’re still together in this classroom called life, but you are now beginning to write the lessons. You are beginning to lead the conversations. You are writing the next chapters. I couldn’t be more proud of each of you.


Always your teacher, always your friend,


Mr. A.

Hear Their Voices. Hear Their Stories.

-Steps to Becoming Anti-Racist

Sparked by the callous murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, hundreds of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets daily over the past two weeks, protesting the systemic racism in America. The problem of racial injustice has been constructed and woven into the fabric of our government, our economy, and our culture for the past 400 years, and will require massive, sustained, and focused efforts to dismantle.


One of the first steps I can take, as a citizen who has benefited from this system, is to reject my defensive impulses, and listen to the voices of people of color. Hear their stories.


Yesterday, at a protest held in our local community, a score of people courageously came up to share their personal experiences of being oppressed or harassed due to the color of their skin. I was impressed by their willingness to share their stories, when their lifelong experience has been one of living in a society that treated them as unequals.


One after another, they came to the microphone, nervous but resolved, and lifted their voices. Each poignant story uniquely touched hearts, and I requested permission to share this specific story from a woman named Julia.


“I keep my head down.

I keep my mouth shut.

I am a sociable person. I am a friendly person. I will chat with anyone and everyone. I am pleasant and I smile and I participate. I have grown to love you and your kids. But I keep my head down and my mouth shut when something you “innocently” say offends me. I don’t want to rock the boat. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I, myself, don’t want to be uncomfortable. I pick and choose my words. I don’t want to ruin our friendship. I don’t want our relationship to become strained. I live here. We are friends. I need you. I can’t mess this up by treading on your toes.

So I keep my head down. I keep my mouth shut.

I don’t tell you about the conversations that I have with my girls before they leave the house. I won’t tell you that they have been prepped to KNOW that in a group of their peers, they will stand out to a cop. They KNOW that even if they are doing the same thing as everyone else, THEY will be seen as the “troublesome” one. They KNOW that they will be suspected first. They KNOW that in a group of their peers, their friends will let them take the blame (because teenagers are teenagers) and they KNOW that cops and teachers will believe others over them.

They also know that their mother would tell them, “keep your head down. Keep your mouth shut. Smile. Don’t take offense. These are good people. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Don’t rock the boat”.

When I feel unheard,

When you tell me that this cause is not worth fighting for,

When you dismiss my pain and concerns,

When I tell you my life matters,

When I tell you that my kids lives matter,

When I tell you that Black lives matter, and you reply with “all lives matter”…

You are telling me to keep my head down.

You are telling me to keep my mouth shut.

You are telling me to remain invisible.

So the situations here, in Mount Prospect, may not be as extreme as in other places, but the root cause is the same: SYSTEMIC RACISM. A systemic problem that has taken root in our community. A systemic problem that touches our personal relationships as well as our schools and our police force. A systemic problem that we ALL should be held accountable for and that we ALL should actively seek to change.

And I’m starting. I’m starting with MYSELF. I’m asking you to stand in the gap for me, my kids and people who look like me. Speak up for us. Help us be heard. Confront your friends and family when you hear something that is racist, or judgmental, or unfair. Talk with your children about racism. Correct them when they make a mistake (we all do). I will do my part. I will hold my head up. I will make my voice heard. I will stand up for what is right. And I’m starting NOW…WITH YOU. We are learning and growing together.”

Julia’s story held the seeds of our path to becoming anti-racist. “Help us be heard. Speak up for us. Stand up for what is right.” Let’s give the people who’ve been oppressed by racial injustice a safe space to lift their voices. Let’s give them an ally who encourages them to no longer live “head down, mouth shut” but heads up, voices lifted. As we work together as one, with our heads, our voices, and our spirits lifted.

Right Road or Wrong Road? Perhaps the One Less Traveled.

One of the best pieces of wisdom I’ve ever heard was given in the form of the question: “Would you rather be right, or righteous?”

The question comes into focus in the midst of the inevitable conflict that any relationship experiences, whether it be between friends, family, colleagues, or the six degrees of separation we all encounter on social media. Inherently, we’re predisposed to believe we’re right. Even when we’re not. It is our natural bias.
That bias is all the more reinforced by the circles we swim in, and the echo chambers we inhabit. We’re often so “right”, we can’t even hear other view points. Rather than consider them, or at least respect that another person’s viewpoints or experiences might hold some merit, we often quickly arm ourselves with more ammunition to prove our fixed position.
In fact we might go so far as to seek out posts of others who disagree with us, so we can “educate them” in the proper beliefs. If we meet resistance, we can increase our volume, amplify the rhetoric, and question their motives, their sources, and their integrity. We can spike a few labels in there to boot. “Leftist.” “Putin’s puppet.” “Misinformed.”
This mindset of being hell-bent to prove ourselves right, is not righteous. It is by definition, inherently divisive. Consistently seeking opportunities to prove that our viewpoints are right by hopping into conversations where others believe differently, is inherently divisive. Using pejorative terminology to label those who disagree with us, is by definition divisive.
You may feel right, but the behavior is oh so wrong, regardless of the underlying beliefs in question. 
So what is righteous? I wish I knew.
Since conflict is inevitable in all human relationships, we must navigate those moments in a manner that is respectful, preserving the relationship, even when we disagree with the perspectives. Especially in such a polarized era, where much of our society is quickly labeled “red” or “blue”, and those that try to be independent are maligned if they vocalize beliefs that tend towards either end of the spectrum. It doesn’t matter that your voting record is predominantly purple, if you disagree with someone on their sacred issue(s), they feel free to demonize you. Even if you are a friend, brother, or sister.
If someone takes that road, be it a low one or not, perhaps it is best to walk away from the topic. If they are merely a social media contact, there is no great loss for either. If they are a friend or family member, perhaps navigate a way to agree to disagree. Choose righteousness by loving them, but avoid topics that they can only see themselves as right, and by definition, you as wrong. Take the other road. It may be less travelled because of the incline, but difficult paths are usually worthwhile in the end. 

Beyond the Wall

You’re deep into your training. Muscles ache. The schedule is packed. The race-day starting line is getting close, but feels so far away. You’re staving off exhaustion, mentally and physically.

Somedays you feel like crap.

I’m with you.

Over the past few weeks there have been some crappy training runs, a couple knee injections, and a trip to the cryotherapy chamber in an attempt to help my aching body recover. My runs haven’t been pretty, but I’m still trudging along, to the eventual race day starting line, ready to run the streets of Chicago with my 21 year old daughter.

And you.

Yes, race day will be here soon. With its indescribable excitement and nerves. Embrace it all and savor each magnificent moment. They are treasures to cherish over the miles of life.

The race day mile markers will slowly accrue. The jubilation of the fans and the excitement will carry you early, before the legs start to grumble and groan.

Somewhere around mile 20 you round a corner and enter the belly of what sounds like a turbo jet engine. The crowds are deafening. The excitement is palpable. People in beautiful attire shower you with encouragement, refreshments, and if the weather is warm, a few rejuvenating sprinklers. You’ve come to Pilsen, perhaps the apex of the race.

The euphoria carries you through the next mile, and soon you’re crossing beneath the archway of Chinatown and nearing mile 21.

And suddenly, it feels eerily quiet by comparison.

This deep in the race, just as it was in the final weeks of training, your muscles ache relentlessly. The streets are packed, but the finish line feels so far away. You again find yourself staving off exhaustion, both mentally and physically.

Feeling like crap, you wonder how you can find the stamina to finish what seems to be the longest 5 miles ever. Calves are cramping, feet are screaming and you are

Just.

Plain.

Done.

It’s the proverbial wall, and you’ve hit it, full on. Oh you might not see it, but you feel it, like an immovable obstacle trying to derail your dreams. It is shouting at you, echoing the negative voices, attempting to sow seeds of doubt, hopelessness, and failure.

But what you also don’t see is another wall, just behind you, to your left. And while this wall sits silently, its’ truth rings clear.

Three simple words, that if you let their honesty settle in, remind you that you’re a badass. You have dared greatly, and summoned the courage to attempt this awesome feat. That truth defines you, more than the temporary aches in your body. That truth signifies who you are at your core – resilient, undaunted, and resplendent.

“You are Beautiful”

You may be sore. You may ache. You may be filled with fears and doubts. And when you pass that sign you will be a sweaty mess. But your dreams are beautiful.

Your courage is radiant. Each and every mile you’ve raced, or trudged, is a testament to your character and audacity. You’re a certifiable inspiration to so many around you and we couldn’t be prouder of who you are, and all you’ve done.

You. Are. Beautiful.

I Pledge Allegiance

Loyalty. Allegiance. Fidelity. Unwavering support.

We pledge it as children. We salute, sing and honor it with our anthems. We drape ourselves in it with our patriotic attire. We adorn our homes paying homage with patriotic decor.

Our loyalty comes in many forms. Loyalty to our families. Loyalty to our cultures. Loyalty to our companies, our teams, or our regions. Many of us are raised with a deep sense of fidelity to our religions, denominations, synagogues, mosques, temples or churches. We wear our rabid allegiance to our schools, colleges or universities in colors and logos.

Loyalty, by its very nature, is tested. It is easy to be loyal to a team that never loses. It doesn’t strain our sensibilities to support a school that consistently demonstrates academic integrity and excellence. It isn’t difficult to proudly wear a family name that has a legacy of leadership, service, and character.

But what about when our side goes astray? How do we remain loyal to a company that has mistreated people, a team that cheats, or an institution that has proven to be corrupt? Do we feel pressured to remain a “team player”? Would we want an abused spouse or child to remain in their situation purely out of a sense of loyalty?

The bigger question is where is our loyalty tethered? Is it to religions, political parties, institutions or organizations, or is it to the principles and values we believe they stand for?

In our highly polarized society, our loyalty is being pushed to the limit. We are being cajoled and coerced to take sides. To choose red or blue. Black or white. Conservative or liberal. And whatever side we choose, we are expected to be “team players”. To be loyal. To wear the colors. To chant the tag lines. To rile the opposition. To support our team.

Many of our leaders and opinion-driven media outlets try to divide us, using fear, hate, and falsehoods to demonize segments of our society, and to strengthen our loyalty. They are drawing lines and asking you to choose. Us vs. them. Good vs. evil. Dark vs. light.

But if we pledge our loyalty within these frameworks, we often have to give up our loyalty to greater principles. We forsake unity, in the name of uniformity. And there is a lot of darkness in uniformity.

If the church I’m apart of begins to consistently treat people in a way that is inconsistent with the gospel, I face a dilemma. Is my loyalty really to the church, or the principles it was built on? If leaders within my political party (thankfully I don’t subscribe to one) begin to treat citizens in a way that opposes our core American values, do I continue to support those leaders? Or is my allegiance to the core values that the party was supposed to adhere to?

We’re a nation built on loyalty, but that loyalty is girded by the principles of freedom, liberty and justice for all our citizens. That loyalty is founded on the right to question our leaders, and to work for a more perfect union, acknowledging that this grand experiment is still a work in progress. When leaders call for the silencing of citizens who question them, they are stealing the rights of us all. When leaders try to paint those who disagree with them as disloyal, or those who have different opinions as “hating” our country, they are not operating within a democracy, but forging an autocracy.

E Pluribus Unum – “Out of many, one” is the creed of our nation. Unity from diversity. Diverse voices, ideas, cultures and beliefs work laboriously together to make America greater. To make America One. It is a difficult process, with strife, disagreement and compromise, but it is what makes us great. Uniformity drowns out creativity. Uniformity silences debate. Uniformity stifles the ideas that are forged from multiple perspectives coming together.

Our national heritage is one of many stars, and many stripes. It is a kaleidoscope of colors, cultures, beliefs, and perspectives. Our loyalty must be to the principles that all of these are equal. As citizens, we should wear the flag proudly, but also call out injustice whenever and wherever it rises, whether on our soil or abroad. We need to stand against injustice whether in our political party or the other. Uniformity comes from a small-minded loyalty, to parties, churches, schools, or institutions. Unity, that beautiful expression of “out of many, one” comes from a greater loyalty, one that rises to our core principles of freedom, liberty and justice for all.