Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How I Learned to be an American (or Remembering Mr. Warmack)

"I can't wait until you come back here 20 years from now and tell me that you're a Republican!"

Mr. Warmack, my high school U.S. History and Government teacher, stared at me through his tinted, square metal framed glasses and cackled his unforgettable laugh.  He rocked back and forth on the heels of his worn cowboy boots as he leaned in the plastic chair he sat on as he supervised the lunch hour of my one and only day of in-school suspension.  (That's another story for another day).

It was the spring of 1990 and a few days before my high school graduation.  Even then, I had developed a reputation for being a peace-loving, tree-hugging, granola-eating hippie.  I had a lot of adolescent ideals about the way the world ought to work, and even though I was fairly terrified of Mr. Warmack, I was also quite fond of him.

Mr. Warmack was a cowboy with a twangy accent from I don't know where, exactly. He was the type who was temperamental, generally boisterous and known to throw things--like chalk, erasers and occasionally chairs. He was a tough grader and not known for giving out A's. These were the things I'd heard about him before stepping into his classroom.

Once in his class, I found all those things to be true. But I also found a man who was passionate about helping kids understand the systems of government and what it meant to be an American citizen. He was also funny, animated...and conservative. He would often go on passionate rants, flinging his wiry frame back and forth in front of the green chalkboard, rubbing his hands through his sandy hair, as if a tousled head would help us get his point.

Through two years of "Warmack," as we affectionately referred to him, I'd learned all kinds of things about the American Revolution, the system of three-part government, the order of the presidency, and the disgrace of "kids these days." But I hadn't learned to give up my point of view.

And so we sat, Mr. Warmack & I, on one of the last of my days under his wing. He was sure I'd eventually let go of my youthful, rose-colored glasses; I was sure I never would.

I didn't ever make it back to visit Mr. Warmack as an adult.  My visits to my hometown are infrequent and, sadly, Mr. Warmack passed away a couple years ago after a tragic accident.  I never got to have round two of that discussion, where I smiled into those spirited eyes and told him that I'm still a peace-loving, tree-hugging, granola-eating, earthy-crunchy liberal, but that he was still one of the best teachers I ever had.

Today, as I stood in line to vote, I remembered Mr. Warmack and the most important lesson he taught me.  As an American, it is not simply my right to vote; it is my responsibility.  It is my privilege and honor and brave men and women have fought and died to secure this right for me.  Our country may be divided; it may be a mess.  We may have a lot of work to do, but we must do it together.  Thank you, Mr. Warmack, for teaching me what it means to be an American.

Friday, November 2, 2012

With LOVE for New York and New Jersey

I remember dropping my chopsticks into my takeout container of garlicky vegetables and starting to sob.

We were watching CNN a couple days after Hurricane Katrina, when the stories of devastation had started to emerge.  The destruction was so massive and so unbelievable to my innocent eyes.

I saw mothers pleading into the camera, asking for diapers and formula, as they held cranky, wiggly babies.  I watched my own baby, 10 months old, as she scooted around on our warm, dry living room floor, chattering to herself.

How could I eat Chinese food at a time like this?

I was heartbroken and overwhelmed just looking at the pictures on my TV screen.  I could hardly bear the thought of how many people were actually living it.

I felt the same way last night, watching Anderson Cooper report from Manhattan and other CNN correspondents bring sad stories into my living room.  This time I cuddled with the same daughter, now almost eight.  I wondered aloud what kinds of things she will witness in her lifetime, what other devastating storms she will see as climate change continues to unfold in the coming years.  I prayed a prayer for mercy for my children’s generation.

I feel the same way today as I listen to stories on NPR, the words “New York” and “New Jersey” repeated over and over.  My heart aches with grief and disbelief.

I want to scoop up everyone affected by this storm, gather them into a big circle, give every one of them a hug and a bottle of water to drink, and look each of them in the eye, and promise that everything is going to be all right.

But, I know, for some people—a lot of people—it’s not going to be all right.  Somebody lost a father, somebody lost their children, somebody’s dream home—the one they worked hard for all their life—was torn in two, someone lost all they had, including their dignity.  Some businesses will never recover.  Some people will lose their jobs.  Marriages will suffer.  Relationships will be strained.  For so many people, things may never be “all right” ever again.

I know how one bad day can change your life forever.

I also know about the tenacity of LOVE and the resiliency of human hearts.  I know that the God who embodied LOVE displays Himself through the hands of His people.  I know in the days (and months and years) to come, I will also hear stories of how human beings put LOVE into action and gave of their time, talents, and resources to go about bringing stability and redemption to this tragic situation.

My question for you is: how will you contribute to bringing hope to this dark experience? 
  • Do you have $5?  Or more?  Donate it to relief efforts with WorldVision or the Red Cross
  • Do you have some blood that you don’t mind parting with?  Head over to your local Red Cross to donate a pint
  • Maybe you can take a few days off and show up in person.  Samaritan’s Purse is recruiting hands-on volunteers. 
  • Do you pray?  Take some time to specifically pray for those affected by the storm and anything else related that God brings to your heart. 

Do what you can…for the apostle John instructed us: Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions” (1 John 3:18).  We all have some way of making LOVE a reality in this tragic situation.

To the people of New York and New Jersey—you are deeply LOVED.