Dear K-Rudd & Tony-Tone…

Dear Prime Minister Rudd and Tony Abbott,

I am writing as a foreigner (who came her legally and NOT on a boat, before anyone gets excited and books me a flight to PNG) living in this great land, Australia. I have made Australia my home for the past 9 years and I’m proudly a permanent resident who hopes to have Australian citizenship in the near future. I love Australia, I have made it my home and I and my husband are raising our young family in this blessed country. I hope one day to be able to vote here and teach my children about the privilege and responsibility it is. However as I look around and see the state of both main political parties, I can’t say I would vote for either party or its’ leader with confidence. The longer I am here, the more I see Australia turning into the country of my birth (the USA) and in all the wrong ways. I see both parties making deals and promises, “playing the game”, while those in need are having to pay more and more for basic needs and essential civil rights are treated as an afterthought.

One of the biggest issues I see reflecting poorly on the character and reputation of the Australian people, is the way we treat those who want to come into our country and have to do so by any means necessary. The latest decision by you Prime Minister Rudd, to have all people seeking asylum by boat, to be sent to PNG, is heartbreaking. Australia is fast becoming a country that is as racially diverse as some of our other western counterparts. With that diversity, you would assume it would mean our government is becoming more “in tune” with the different stories of struggle and desperation that have brought many to Australia. You would think that, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. Instead both the Liberals and Labour appear more concerned with protecting Australia’s assets and affluence, rather than digging deep and creating policies that have the priority of protection and care for all who seek to be here, regardless of how they are able to get into the country.

I was able to get into Australia by “waiting in line” and going through the visa process. Luckily I had the finances and all the time in the world to wait patiently for the paper-work to go through. While I waited, I had a supportive family, a paying job, food to eat and a stable government not sending soldiers to my home in the middle of the night to take me away for criticizing our government on any given day, while working at the coffee shop. I was safe; I did not live in fear. I looked forward to coming to Australia for a new beginning with my (then) new husband. I was not fleeing my homeland in terror because I had no other choice to survive, but to leave.
That is my story, but for most who would try to come to our country by boat or other “illegal” means, that is not their story. I have worked with students who literally had to flee their country of origin with only what they could carry. Some of them will wait for more than two years, while their family members languish in dangerous, despairing situations, waiting for paperwork to process and for someone to sign something that says they can now enter Australia. How can we as a nation, do this to our fellow man?

Prime Minister Rudd and Mr Abbott, I do not know what the solution is to protecting our boarders and ensuring the people coming into our country are not coming with ill-intent. I am pretty certain though, putting them in a detention centre in another country that does not have the best human rights record (to put it lightly), is not the answer. When protecting one’s wealth and prosperity means more to the leaders of a country than actual real lives, lives that might be lost if we get this wrong, then those leaders really need to examine what their motivation for being in power is.

As for me, I am waiting to see which one of you really has what it takes to do the right thing. I am waiting to see which one of you maybe even put your reputation and career at risk, to do the right thing by those who truly have you as their last hope of reaching freedom and safety.

Give me something that makes me proud to become an Australian. Do something that will make it easy for me to rush out and vote confidently for one of you, one day!

With Sceptical Hope,

Katie

What Trayvon Martin Taught Me About Perspective (Mine, Yours & Ours)

I have been watching and reading from afar about the case and verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. The story is so sad, so tragic and so divisive in what it represents to many and what it should represent to more.

It’s interesting that I first read about the verdict on Facebook. A couple of posts by some old friends/classmates from back in my days at Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, IL) who are now working in ministry and living amongst some of the “least of these” in Coconut Grove, Florida. The implication of their posts was of sadness and the feeling that justice was not served in the verdict of Zimmerman. The other posting I saw was from another former classmate of mine, from Moody who is African-American; he posted the crime scene picture of Trayvon as his profile pic followed by a strong statement of shock from Michael Moore regarding the obvious racially biased verdict. Then as I posted my support of these feelings, I received a few responses and noticed other posts, talking about how ridiculous it is to think the “not guilty” verdict was showing racial prejudiced or lamenting people who believed this whole issue had to do with race must be “ignorant of the facts”.

I sat back and here is what I noticed quickly; those expressing sadness and anger towards the verdict were either African American themselves, were deeply invested in the African American community specifically or were very involved in the social services/social justice side of society. Those expressing resentment and indignation against the audacity of those to cry “racial injustice”, were Caucasians who all “work and play” in the comfortable middle class of America and probably have had very little exposure to people “like Trayvon Martin”. Now before everyone goes nuts at my generalization, I appreciate that it IS a generalization, but this is what I saw in the immediate aftermath of the verdict and I do think it speaks volumes.

Those who walk in the shoes and live side by side with people of other races and socio-economic backgrounds, usually have a much broader perspective and empathetic heart. When something happens like what did to Trayvon, they are less likely to say things like “Well, he did drugs anyway and did you SEE his Twitter account?? He was obviously looking for trouble…but of course it’s a sad loss.” I’ve read a lot of “It’s a tragic story, but….” As if talking about the failures or shortcomings of Trayvon, meant what happened to him was justified. As if pointing out that he DID fit the description of other people responsible for break-ins in the neighbourhood, which meant Zimmerman was obviously defending himself against the possibility of “another” black male causing harm.

My friends that live and work and love and serve endlessly alongside people “like Trayvon” I imagine, are more concerned with the big picture and the bottom line, that a young man died because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time…A life that was seemingly being lived in teenage rebellion, was cut short before he even had time to grow out of it or meet someone who could encourage him in another way….An African-American boy was shot and killed and rather than taking responsibility and accepting the consequences of such an action, against what ended up being an innocent boy walking home, excuses are made and a perpetrator walks free…A mother, who was trying to remove her son from the situation of drugs and bad influences so sent her son away for a time, will now live her life with a heavy heart and certainly some regret and a lot of motherly guilt. She was trying and someone who didn’t care about her son as a whole person came in and took him away.

I imagine people that are saying this case was certainly not racially motivated aren’t looking at the big picture. I imagine most aren’t living beside so many who have been brought up and have such a different picture of life and a totally different perspective of justice…so many who really believe that justice does not exist for them as a community and if any of “us” took the time to really listen and ask why, we might understand and not be so quick to make excuses. Our perspective might suddenly become foolish, ignorant, one that only has credibility if you live with a certain amount of denial.

The real issue is not what Zimmerman’s intentions were that night because none of us will ever know. The real issue is that, he acted impulsively and had his own history that would very possibly make him “prone” to wanting to “be a hero” and prove himself as a man. He was told to stay in his car and at that point, when he didn’t listen, I believe he became fully responsible for everything that took place after that. People point to his condition when the police arrived, bloody nose and a bashed head as proof that he was defending himself. However, I think the simple question to ask is “What lead to that?” How would you or I respond to someone following us, stalking us??? How would a young, black male who is probably/possibly used to being “profiled” and assumed the worst of, respond to a heavy set man, following him in the dark??? What parent would not have advised their child that in THAT situation, you fight back, maybe even get the first punch in so you can survive?? Instead, because Zimmerman had injuries and it was a young, black youth who apparently caused them, then obviously he was defending himself and unfortunately that kid got what he deserved in that unfortunate moment. The message being sent is, that it probably shouldn’t have happened and sure Zimmerman made mistakes, but it’s just another black boy who appeared to be a “thug” anyway, killed. No need for any consequences, compensation or justice.

When I heard this story and kept reading about it and saw the different comments, blogs and posts, I flashed back to my time at Moody. While I was there, I remember some of our young men getting into big trouble because (and my memory is shaky on the details so forgive me), they had made a fake weapon of sorts…a stick or something out of cardboard and paper…and on it they wrote “Nigger Beater”. They then proceeded to hit people with it and I believe they started with an African American student….thinking it was funny….a game. I am not sure who said what, but someone went to the Dean over it and it became a very big deal. I remember the buzz around campus and I remember most of the white student’s attitudes were “They messed up, but they didn’t mean it! Where is the Christian love and forgiveness…?” I was torn, because I knew the guys involved who had made and used the stick and from memory, they were good and decent guys and I doubt in their hearts they were true racists (whatever that even means, because I don’t understand to this day why they thought what they were doing was appropriate). I remember going to the dorm room of one of my RA’s, an African-American girl and there were 2-3 other African-American girls there. I came in and my heart was breaking because I could see they were so upset…sad and angry over what had happened and the school’s hesitancy to pass down firm consequences (I believe at this time, no one knew what the punishment for the boys would be). I walked in and I started asking them to explain it to me…I wanted them to tell me why this hurt so much that they couldn’t “let it go”….that they couldn’t just “forgive and forget”….I remember my heart truly crying out to understand the depth of their pain. And my friends did explain it to me and the more they shared, the more I “got it”…the more I felt true empathy.

At one point when we were talking about forgiveness and loving the boys who did this one of my friends said, “God loved Adam and Eve all the way out of the Garden of Eden!” Hearing that made it “click”….these girls did not wish harm to their white classmates or feel malice, they wanted justice, they wanted a wrong to be righted and they wanted their hurt to be validated. And I understood….I felt like my eyes were opened to why racial prejudice is still so serious and something those who follow Christ especially, need to strive to understand more and bring justice to. I left that room and knew what “side” I fell on. I cared about those boys and wished them no harm, but in order for their fellow African-American classmates to feel valued and like they were just as important to the school as their white counterparts, the leadership could not hesitate in handing out true justice….justice that would make a statement that what happened was not okay and it hurt people’s souls. It ended up that the boys were suspended for I believe the rest of the year, pending possible expulsion. I don’t remember what happened after that, but I do remember that whenever it came up, I remembered what my African-American friends relayed to me and I shared it in my response to why I think justice needed to be done and it had been.

What happened in the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent “not guilty” verdict for the man who caused his death makes the statement that Trayvon didn’t matter. The justice system has succeeded in handing out a verdict that shows a total lack of respect and empathy to a whole community of people who have been wounded by the event of that fateful evening. This is not the first time that the death of a black youth has been trivialized and justified away….and the “not guilty” verdict, makes sure most definitely it will not be the last. This is not the first time that the white community which is SO big on people taking responsibility and facing consequences for their actions (you know, like limiting welfare to mothers who keep having babies, regardless of THEIR intent), suddenly lose all sense of true justice, simply because many have never cared enough to “get it” or even try to. Many have never even bothered to sit down with a person of color and ask them, their perspective on life in general but especially their thoughts and feelings when a young man is killed and no one is expected to face consequences. I am not saying that our response should be one of hate or vengeance towards George Zimmerman, but feel the white community needs to rise up and call this what it is and it is INJUSTICE.

I am not an expert on empathy nor do I claim to not face my own prejudices that fly into my head, assumptions I make based on what someone looks like, where they are from, who their parents are, etc. Heck, I work at a high school so I pretty much “profile” daily. It doesn’t make it okay though and it certainly isn’t right when it keeps you, me, us from digging deeper. I have worked with a lot of kids that would be considered “marginalized”…that would be viewed in the same light that Trayvon has been, ever since his Twitter account was dissected and examined to find his every flaw (as if he’s the only teenager smoking pot and running out for a snack!). It is SO easy to look at anyone going through something you have not or who was born into a different skin (literally and figuratively) than you and talk about what YOU would do differently to make their life better and make every mistake they have made, not happen. What’s harder is to look at people who are living a totally different existence to you or have been brought up to do so and ask them the real questions…the tough ones that you sit back and think you know the answers to, but you have no freaking idea.

Right before my husband and I started dating again and headed towards marriage, I had an 18+ month relationship with an African-American guy from North East, Washington D.C. If you want to imagine what his life was like, just imagine an after school special, with every single stereotype of the inner city black community, mixed into one show and THAT was his life. He was/is a single dad and was part of a family that was caught up with drugs and violence. It is a very long, complicated story (with many lessons) and not one I share often, because it was a tough part of my life where many mistakes were made. However, I think today is a good time to share some of it….

This young man was caught up in his family’s very own version of “a thug life” and I watched him fight hard to stay out of the drug trade that many of his family members were in. I watched him hold down two minimum wage jobs (no health insurance provided of course) while trying to raise his young son. I looked on as once he had to decide to spend money to take his boy to the doctor and get antibiotics for an ear infection OR use the money to buy groceries. And I saw how quickly white society will cast judgement, when one night, along with two of his brothers, he was the victim of a shooting. He had done nothing wrong and it was determined the shooting was in retaliation of a “drug deal gone bad” with his younger brother earlier in the day. Nothing he was a part of, but he got caught up in it just by being at the wrong place at the wrong time and nearly paid with his life. Ten minutes earlier and I would have been there too; it was even speculated later that the shooters might have waited ‘til I left so as not to bring on more police interest or “heat” by having a “white girl” injured in the attack. How sad, that those young men knew from experience that if a white, suburban girl was hurt, justice would be sought, but if it was just a couple of black dudes from “the ghetto”, very little would be done. And they were right, no one was ever charged. I also remember hearing people tell me that I was my boyfriend’s “meal ticket”…that of course he loved me and wanted me because I could be his “way out”. I remember being asked why he didn’t do more to get out of the situation he was in, because apparently working two jobs full time and raising his son, after having gotten a miserable and totally inadequate education in the D.C. school system, wasn’t enough…didn’t prove he had what it takes to be welcome or sucessful in white, middle-class society.

I say all this not because it makes me an expert on the black community or what they are going through now, but because that experience, gave me the most solid dose of true empathy and the most enlightening perspective of a different way of life, that I had ever had then and even up to this point. The black community is still struggling and fighting hard and in many ways they are doing it on their own. They are being told that they do nothing to help themselves and bring violence upon them, while not many outside of their race, are really willing to do the hard yards with them. I truly believe you can never really have a clear understanding of someone else’s perspective until you have willingly put yourself in the shoes of that person or made them your neighbour, so you end up seeing their life unfold before you. We need to be talking about Trayvon Martin and why so many people have been hurt by the verdict. We need to talk and listen until the community that has been hurt, says it is enough. We need to be asking God to take away this need to justify and protect a man who killed an unarmed youth, simply because we feel indignant that the fact the boy was black, has even come up! We need to be looking for African-American neighbours, co-workers and friends to sit down and talk with them and ask them “Why did the Zimmerman verdict hurt you so bad? What has been your experience?” We need to ask because we think we know…but we have no idea!

The “Brutiful” Truth of Being a Military Wife

This past week, my husband returned after being away for a couple of weeks with his Defence job.  Don’t ask me what number trip this was because I lost count long ago.  The truth is, we have been married 9 years this July and we have probably spent about 2 years of that apart all up (I may or may not be being conservative).  Our youngest turns 3 in August and so far Andre has probably missed about 1/3 of his life and one of his birthdays.  Our oldest has had her daddy miss three if not four of her actual birthdays and about 18 months+ of her entire life.  This is our reality, this is my life.

I feel like lately I have been getting asked questions like “Is he gone again??  For how long this time?”  To me the question comes across at times more as an accusation of my husband, as if I have come home at different times in our marriage and he has just left me a note to tell me he’s taking off for some indefinite amount of time to party.  I feel like there are still many who don’t really understand or “get it”…they don’t get my husband’s motivation or my support of him as his wife.  Maybe even wondering if I am locked into this arrangement against my will and someone who should be pitied or encouraged to get my husband to change careers.  Some will even read that opening paragraph and possibly wonder how my children could possibly feel any love or stability with the life we have chosen for them and us…again, as if we just sorta walked into it ignorant and continue to just stumble along.

I want to just lay it all out there and possibly clear up some misconceptions of what it is like for me as a military wife and hopefully give a more realistic perspective of what it’s like.  The truth is, the life of a military is damn hard but the “calling” many feel to serve in the Defence Force can be one of the most intense and convicting and it is because of that “calling” that many families set-out to be military families.  It is why many families work hard at “sticking it out”.

The hardest part of being a military wife is the separation.  They can be long and/or frequent.  I’ve already given you a run-down of how often my husband has been separated from me and our children.  I thought that as the kids got older, it would get easier, but the reverse has proven to be true for our family.  As they get older, they are more aware of daddy being gone and more expressive of their feelings.  At the best of times kids are learning how to control their emotions and express them in a healthy way; so you can imagine how stressful it can be for a young child dealing with a parent being gone for long periods of time, coming home and leaving again at some point…and REPEAT!  Not to mention the upheaval it causes mommy…oh wait, that’s me ;0).  And yes, it is extremely difficult helping your kids manage their emotions while you cope with your own.  I think this will always be the toughest part. 

Adding to that, is me knowing that my husband misses our kids a lot…a whole lot…and hearing him express his feelings about being away from them…knowing the separation is also hurting him often weighs on me.

When he is away and near war or right in it, the fear and anxiety can come in waves.  You hear about other soldiers dying or being hurt and you catch your breath.  You remember being told, “Babe, if it makes the news, then families have been told and it’s not me, so don’t stress, I will call when the phones are back up.”  You remember and you sigh in relief and then think how crazy it is that you even had to have “that conversation” with your husband before he left, but you are so glad in that moment that you did, because you can stop worrying and start feeling sadness for the family that is getting the dreaded news.   You shield your children from the news during these times because you don’t want them to worry and whenever your oldest, more perceptive child asks “Is daddy anywhere really dangerous?”  You smile and lie….”No sweetie, he’s fine…”, because you really don’t know either.   I have become a mastermind at dodging emotional minefields and sensitive questions from my daughter, protecting her from the worry that I often carry, while trying to live in some realm of denial so I don’t end up turning into a non-productive worrying, crazy person myself!

So why does he stay in this job??  Why do we keep going through this as a family??  Why don’t I “put my foot down” and say “Listen here buddy, I didn’t sign up to be no single mama!!”  Well basically for two primary reasons at this point.  One, my husband feels a conviction to serve his country and as his wife I support that fully.  And two, the job security is pretty great…pretty…well, secure.  Being in Defence is not a bad career usually as far as longevity.  It has enabled my husband to provide well for our family and has given him some great opportunities on the job and as a family, great opportunities in life.  Do we ever question or second guess if this is the right path for him…for us?  Of course, all the time, almost before, during and after every trip he takes away.  We ask the tough questions all the time, we have to.   And here’s the thing, the main reason I can support my husband so fully and completely is because I know…I KNOW without a doubt that if ever I told him one day “Honey, I’m done, I just can’t do this life anymore, let’s do something different, please!”  He would be on the computer that night looking for other jobs and he would have another plan worked out before I could sleep on it and change my mind in the morning.  I am able to support my husband because I trust and believe that me and our kids come first and as soon as the job is not good for all of us in the
long run, he would pack it up and be done.  It’s that simple.

Another reason I/we are able to continue on in this crazy life of being in the grips of the military (and at times it does feel like a death grip!), is because we make the most of our family time.  My husband is amazing at coming home from his trip(s) and being “all present” to our kids.  He misses them when he’s away and knows that they long for their daddy, so when he gets home, he is home and ready to jump back into their lives.  I know many families in and out of the military who have husbands or partners that really struggle with this.  The job is literally everything to them and their family has come a very obvious 2nd or 3rd…or even 4th.   We witnessed many marriages of Defence members, crumble and one of the big reasons would be that the job took over and there was not a balance within the family unit.  Putting your family 1st in Defence is something you have to fight hard and often for, because if you don’t, your superiors most certainly won’t and that is how the job can become all consuming, so fast.  I am blessed to have a husband who has always fought for us.  It is very hard to support your husband or even want him to have success in his career if you know or believe that if forced to choose, he would choose the job over you and your children.  Unfortunately we saw scenarios like this a lot in military families and it was heartbreaking.  You of course see this kind of thing in the civilian world too; men who are just workaholics and their wife and kids are nearly an afterthought or something else they have to put in their day planner.  I know of many fathers who are physically around their kids but are never as “present” as my husband is whenever he has time with his babies.  Because of this, no matter how hard it is when he goes away, I know me and the kids are his priority, so I can kiss him, send him on his way and start counting the days to have him back with us, spending quality family time to make up for the lost time.

One last thing I struggle with, that I’m not sure many people would think of unless they have been the spouse of a Defence member, is that being a military wife narrows down greatly,  my own job prospects.   Whatever job I have, it has to be very flexible, because when my husband goes away, I am “it” for the kids.  Thankfully I have my in-laws nearby who help me a lot with childcare on certain days, but if I have a night time meeting or an early start…OR if one of the kids is sick on a day that I must be at work, I feel like I am single-handedly negotiating a major UN deal, just to make sure everyone is taken care of and I can still get to work on time.  This aspect often causes me stress, because without fail my husband will be gone during a conference, that has weird hours or whatever, so I’m forced to decide if I should let the kids sleepover at the grandparents on a school night or just be late to my appointment.  So yeah, trying to work while being married to a military man who comes and goes can really give your organizational skills a test.  However it is something my husband is very aware of and when he is home, he does everything he can to work his schedule around mine, so I can make my meetings or early starts and don’t have to send the kids to school in their PJ’s and with cold toast for breakfast in order to make it happen.

I just want people to know that any suffering or hardship I face because of our rather unique and intense life as a military family, I face with my husband.  He joined the military with my full support and every decision he has had to make about his career since the day he joined, he consults me, prays with me and always lets me know that if something is too hard for me or we see it hurting our kids, then a change will be made.   We make it work because we give each other mutual respect and support along with a lot of appreciation and love at any given time =0).   I also have a lot of pride in what my husband does and we have been blessed in different and unique ways through his job in Defence.  It is tough, but it is not all bad and definitely an intense growing experience that is always teaching us both a lot.

Our biggest worry and concern at the moment is our children.  Our oldest is in school and really seems to struggle with change, so obviously what happens with my husband’s career and how it will affect this specific child particularly, weighs heavy on our hearts and minds.  We are constantly re-evaluating the kids and how we think they are coping…or not.  The fact is, life is hard whether you are part of a military family or not.  All marriages face intense challenges, really dark times, followed by really good, renewing times, followed by a struggle, etc., etc.  Children in all families have to learn to cope with whatever is going on in their family and hopefully build their resilience through the support of their parents and loved-ones.  Being married to a Defence member does bring with it distinctive and often exceptional circumstances that no one really gets, who hasn’t lived through it themselves.  If anything, we are lucky (?!) in a way because once you get into it, the stress we feel and experience does follow a pattern and often we can prepare for what is coming.  It is hard, it is demanding and sacrifices are made by everyone in the family.  However, we are not to be pitied or have our love and commitment for our children or each other questioned.    It is because we love so firmly and are both so determined to make it work because of the conviction held for the job, that we are able to do this. 

I am not cocky…I am not arrogant….I do not think that it is not possible that we could become a Defence statistic by becoming another marriage that has fallen apart under the pressure.   Those in Defence whose marriages have not lasted, often have underlying circumstances that the pressure of being in the military does nothing to improve.  We have been sad for many friends and of course when we hear about friends getting divorced, it breaks our hearts and makes us pause.  We do know the statistics and know we are in a risky environment for our marriage and family.  It’s with this knowledge that we work really hard at “making it work”.  My husband is determined and I am stronger than I ever thought I was when we got on this ride almost 9 years ago.   If people want to know how we are, I pray they ask with the motivation to encourage us to keep pressing on, not to encourage us to look for something else because it’s too demanding on our family.  Only we can ever truly know what these demands do to our family and we will continue to weigh the pros and cons with great care.  We do believe God has a plan for us and that we are in the military on His time.  If and when that is meant to change, we trust fully that He will move in both of our hearts to let us know.  In the mean-time, we will carry on with confidence and faith!  Do pray for us….Pray for all military families…Pray for personal understanding and empathy for what they/we go through…Pray that our conviction, motives and perseverance are honoured and appreciated, rather than questioned or trivialized….Pray we can always be eachother’s biggest fans!

 

Below is one of me and my husband’s favorite songs…I think in a marriage you go through phases where different songs could be “our song”.  As a couple that is wading through the murky waters of Defence life…this song represents a lot of our feelings…it’s our truth….it’s “our song”…