The Unabridged FamiLee Holiday Letter

Dear Fam,

We cheaped out on the Christmas holiday letter, reserving only a few lines on the glamour card for an update, so I thought I would harness the economy of this world wide interweb for the purpose of updating you on the FamiLee goings-on here at fiscal year-end. Do you like how I just referred to our family unit like it’s a limited liability corporation? Do you think we should probably get a tax cut? Do you think I can write off my blog for these purposes? I have questions.

But before Kanye grabs the mic from me, I want to first say very emphatically that the best album of the year was Lady Gaga’s Joanne (Deluxe)” Buy. Listen. Love. For best books, I’m putting Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body and We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy as my favorites. The latter I have not yet read but I ninja-dropped it into my dad’s basket when he was buying Christmas gifts, so I’m sure I’ll love it. For movies, pssh. I paid to see “The Emoji Movie” so you should for no reason be taking film notes from me.

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Now that we’ve got that out of the way, the news.

In the early part of the summer, we joined John’s family in Vancouver to see his grandma who is 90 years young. If you want the curated version, see my Instagram feed. If you want what really happened, you can consult my Google searches during that time. They include:

“MY+KOREAN+IN-LAWS+ARE+DISAPPOINTED+MY+KID+WON’T+EAT+RICE+AND+WHAT+TO+DO+ABOUT+IT.”

“I+JUST+REALIZED+I’M+A+DIVA+IN+CANADA+I’M+SAD+NEAREST+SUPPORT+GROUP.”

“DIRECT+FLIGHTS+VANCOUVER+TO+CHATTANOOGA+THIS+AFTERNOON.”

After we returned to Tennessee from the trip, the kids spent two weeks at their grandparents’ homes in Ohio. It was epic! We missed them terribly but are so grateful for Grandparents Camp because it allowed John and me to pack up our earthly possessions for the big move.

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That is probably the biggest news bulletin–not in the world obviously because North Korea is up to somethin’ and obviously Chip and Joanna Gaines are in their last season so the world might actually end any second now–but in our world, moving back to Boston has been the biggest news.

Especially since it doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense. Why would we leave Tennessee where we both had great jobs that we loved, where the kids were in a great school, and where we didn’t even need to own a snow shovel? Well, my friends. Like Al Gore gesticulating the ebbing of global climate change, the Lord moves in mysterious ways. We moved back to the same street we used to live on, not far from the house we had to short-sell because we thought we were going to be in Tennessee until the Lord returned or until “Fixer Upper” stopped releasing new episodes. So here we are back in a city that we adore, where we get to show the kids things we’ve already done with them, of which they have no memory of doing the first time. It’s like that part in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” where they keep circling Big Ben except our kids are legitimately impressed to see Big Ben again. We found an apartment in the Athleisure Capital of the World. Even the yoga pants are fancy here. It is exciting to go from renting in ruralburbia to renting an apartment just steps away from Dunkin’ Donuts. John’s working as a counselor at a boarding academy for which people seem really interested to know the tuition. I guess that is more important than whether or not he’s happy. Ohh! Burrrrn! The answer to tuition and happiness, though, is the same. A Lot. I’m doing the freelance thing. Mostly putting the “free” into freelance but having fun as I write with my calligraphy pens or this here laptop.

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As for the kids, they are mostly amazing and teaching us about resilience through this transition. We lost a hamster just as school started, and the kids showed us that we had not failed entirely as parents, so we were grateful for that outcome even if we the kids miss Doris something fierce. RIP Dodo.

Madigan, 9, is still the delightful optimist you remember, now with tween mood swings! She has not had an easy adjustment to school. Going from a small Christian school where she knew everyone to a much larger public school has been overwhelming at times. We think this to be true, but obviously, she is a tween so she only answers in one-word answers like “cool”and “good” and “maybe.” We are proud of the way she is staying on top of her studies and making kind friends, too. She started guitar lessons this past fall and she has better musical timing than I could hope to have. Again, I paid to see “The Emoji Movie” so my artistic opinion is null and void but really, she is good.

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Tatum, 7, is still the goofball you recall, now with a whole suite of fresh dance moves. He is crushing the first grade and is taking karate. He has a vast knowledge of YouTube Gamers, so if you were ever wondering what kind of hypothetical Minecraft moves you could make over the course of the next seven lifetimes, just give our boy a call.

As we settle in to Boston Life the Remix, we miss our Tennessee church most of all. We are a part of a body here in Boston and we are trying to find on-ramps for involvement, but it is not the same. We are grateful for the experience we had as part of a healthy church family and are using that experience to help us believe better things are to come. I think this is a sound reminder of the way our Savior came to earth: vulnerable and with parents in transition, cloaked in beauty and filling us with hope. We remember Jesus who came and saw and loved and conquered and we are encouraged to do the same.

Wherever this holiday finds you, in a place of landing or a season of transition, we pray that peace will reside within you, and wish an abundance cookies, covfefe and good cheer to you and yours.

Love,
Kendra…and John, Madigan, and Tatum

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An open letter to the white supremacist

Dear White Supremacist:

You are not faceless or voiceless or nameless–but on this last account, you are most certainly wrongly named. Chief among reasons, I am compelled to write you to suggest a better category under which to file yourself.

***
When I was in my early 20s, I worked with young people at a community center.  Timmy was one of the youths who came to the center every day. It’s immaterial to discuss Timmy’s family, his race, his hopes, the grades he earned in school. What you need to know is that Timmy was an average size for a boy in the ninth grade who had not yet hit his growth spurt. He had noodle arms and walked with a forward tilt to his feet. He was not, at first glance, a fearsome presence. But when he played basketball, he told himself that he was the best. He wouldn’t let anyone get inside his head. Timmy could not dunk. He was not the most legendary of ball-handlers. He wasn’t in danger of being drafted out of seventh grade to the NBA. But he played as though he were. He would stick one, resolute, pointer finger in the air when he made a basket. He was Number One and could not have been convinced otherwise.

Timmy, delusional or not, inspired me. He threw his whole body into a game and played with all of his soul, and told the haters where to go.

***

The difference between Timmy and you, a so-called white supremacist, is that your delusion is in vain. Where Timmy threw up a pointer finger, you carry a tiki torch aflame. Timmy’s torch was more powerful because it sprang forth from a confidence that he was, indeed, supreme at being Timmy on a basketball court. Whereas your torch, carried under darkness of night when it is hard to ascertain your supposed supremacy, is merely the implement of a coward.

I know so little about you, and yet I know what I need to know in order to decide how wrongly you’ve been categorized, White Supremacist. I don’t know if you care for an ailing parent, if you’ve served in the armed forces, if you are a vegetarian. Given your affiliation, though, I know that you are hellbent on the eradication of any whose skin’s melanin exceeds your own.

Given that you are human, I know you didn’t enter into the world this way.

Instead, I know you entered into this beautiful, fractured world with all the wholeness and wellness your birth afforded you. You arrived uncloaked and tethered only to a life source. You came not yet having learned the words of hatred and violence; you were not hard-wired to delight in scourge and plunder.

You could show me the topographic map of your life from your innocence to your decision to adorn the proverbial or actual hood of cowardice. There, I might ascertain the peaks and valleys that delivered you to this plateau where you identify as a White Supremacist. But your geography is still disoriented, inscrutable. For your cause, your aim is not, in my view, White Supremacy.

It is rather Bald-Faced Inferiority.

Whereas Timmy with his noodle arms and tilted gait suppressed no one while asserting his own superiority, he became a supreme noodle-armed being dribbling a basketball.

But your animus as a so-called White Supremacists is born of your own inferiority complex. For if you, as a crusader, were truly convinced of you own supremacy, you would recognize your privilege is already guaranteed by the star under which you were born. You are effectively cloaked (no hood required) by the countless privileges afforded your white-skinnedness. You need not be threatened by the perceived encroachment of other populations, of seemingly unmerited opportunities of said populations, of the removal of the so-called emblems of your supremacy. Supreme beings are secure in their supremacy. Supremacy is found within, not in contrast to others. Supremely satisfied within themselves such that they enjoy the good that comes to others who are not just like they. Supremely secure in their position such that they enjoy helping others who are not just alike.

I myself have reached no such supreme nirvana. I am no Timmy on the basketball court. I waver, I doubt, I am a chaotic place. What I am certain about, what I believe to be the supremacy I’m striving for, is recognizing the Imago Dei in all of humanity: the stamp of divinity in each person created by God. In this way, my finger is pointed up in the manner of Timmy. Pointed toward the Truly Supreme who breathed life into each one of us, born whole, innocent, tethered only to a life source.

Sincerely,
Kendra

 

 

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The most expensive T-shirt I own

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I didn’t buy this t-shirt nor did it come with a price tag affixed. But I know that it’s the most expensive piece of clothing I own.

I don’t treat it as such. I don’t handle it gingerly, afraid that it might tear at the seams or unravel at the edges. I don’t wash it irregularly so that its painted letters don’t quickly fade. In fact, I wear it often and with pride because, as I mentioned, it is the most valuable piece of clothing I own.

When I was a youth worker for the City of Boston, I served every day at a community center in a neighborhood I had never been to before, not even driven through once. I didn’t know anyone who lived there, in the patchwork of tidy triple-deckers and eateries that ranged from Salvadorean pupusa shops to Italian eateries to Chinese restaurants to Vietnamese pho houses. The neighborhood comprised effectively an island and most of the kids who grew up there knew one another. They confessed they didn’t bother skipping school because someone would see them on the corner and call their mother.

Most of the youth I worked with lived in a housing development complex. I had never visited a housing development, never walked through the block after block of unimaginatively designed structures and marveled at how there was no green space, how there were so many children living throughout the complex and yet there was no space for them to play that was not concrete.

So the kids came to the community center where I was based, where I did a job for which I received no training, in a place I wasn’t so much as even acquainted with, with a population of kids whose lives were unfathomably different than anything I had known. In my arrogance, I thought that I was the good thing that had come their way. A college graduate, a creative program person, a self-proclaimed lover of kids.

I did everything wrong. I presumed when I should have asked. I got angry when I should have laughed. I muscled through on my own when I should have sought help. Most of the programs I ran were a bust. The boys humored me, the girls came and asked me questions about sex. I thought I had what they needed, if I could just organize a better program of activities. If only they would come every day, I could meet their needs. My bosslady was so patient with me. She would say, “The only problem with you is that yaw not from heeyah.” I laughed and only sort of knew what she meant. I started asking a music shop if they would let me take their leftover sample CDs to give away as prizes. The kids started looking at me like a prize dispenser, popping them out like Pez. I made $22,000 a year before taxes. I still thought it was about me.

During an outdoor program I organized, there were a ton of water balloons which, since these were teenagers, became a ton of water buckets filled and thrown. I didn’t have a change of clothes. Someone handed me this Mayor’s Cup t-shirt, one from a stack that were just hanging around in the closet.

By the time I was a year into the job, I knew that I would be getting married, that I would be moving on. I took the LSAT with my co-worker Kamau. We knew we couldn’t stay making the money we were making. We wanted to do the most good.

After I got back from my honeymoon, I started interviewing for other jobs. I had deferred law school but I still wanted get home earlier in the day to spend time with my hew husband. I soon found 9-5 administrative job that I could walk to from our apartment.

On my last day working at the community center, I had not wanted to make a big deal about my departure. I wasn’t sad that I was leaving, but I was sad that I wouldn’t see how the kids would grow. I wouldn’t know who went to college and who had a growth spurt over the summer. I wouldn’t hear their voices change and watch their girlfriends change and offer to drive them home when they didn’t have enough change for the bus fare.

On my last day, only one kid came back to say good-bye. He had been by far one of the hardest kids to reach. He hated school and just wanted to play basketball. He seemed to break one girl’s heart on Monday and have found a new one to break by Tuesday. I didn’t understand his goals; I didn’t understand how I could help him.

But he came back to say good-bye. He sat with me in the office, his pristine baseball hat with the manufacturer’s silver sticker still on the underside of the wide brim. He looked up from under that wide brim and asked me about my plans. I told him I thought I’d probably go back to school so that I could eventually teach. He nodded and bounced a basketball under the table. We hugged it out and he went to go shoot hoops.

Whenever I wear my Mayor’s Cup t-shirt, I think of what it represents. I think how it was handed to me when I had nothing else to wear because I was a pilgrim. I remember how hard it was to earn respect as a pilgrim. I think how I’d never had to learn how to love kids who were hard to love before. I remember how after nearly two years, they returned that love to me. At least one did. He handed it to me like it was a free t-shirt. One that I would be so grateful to receive, one that still makes me feel so privileged and proud, not only because I got to love but was loved well in the end.

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