Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I'm considering running away to join the circus

My kids were especially loud this morning and then I went and dropped them off at school. And sat quietly in the hallway and cut out ears for the paper teddy bear headbands that the kids are going to wear for their Valentine's Day party. I kind of love sitting quietly in the hallway at school and mindlessly cutting things out. Makes me feel productive, unlike the endless piles of laundry and constantly dirty floors at home. And then I went and helped out in Vivian's not-at-all-quiet classroom and the kids were especially loud in there too. I blame the weather. It's been unseasonably warm here and we're all getting spring fever. Unfortunately, it's only January.

I got an email from Ethan's teacher and special ed teacher yesterday, giving me a heads up about more problems that they are having with him in class. I had to wait a while to reply because what I really wanted to write was "sorry my kid is such an absolute pain-in-the-butt lately", but that seemed like a poor parenting choice. But he kind of is.  He has the memory span of a forgetful gnat and feels that he needs to be helped with everything. Unfortunately, even though we try to get him to be independent and do things for himself, he's got Vivian convinced to do most things for him at home, and then that translates to helplessness at school. So we have to add that to the LONG list of things we're working on with him.  He's a sweet kid. I wish that everything in life wasn't such an uphill battle for him.

And today in V's class, I noticed that she's one of the lowest readers in the class. Nothing problematic, but I feel I could be doing more with her, but I'm totally burned out after I deal with Ethan and his stuff. She's doing fine though, and she is one of the youngest in the class and I need to not stress out. I don't typically struggle with mom guilt, but it's been rearing its ugly head lately.

I love my kids and I enjoy spending time with them and seeing how their brains work and laughing at the funny things they come up with. But they've been challenging lately and I'm tired.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Insane football games and whiny children

I think the stress of the Seahawks/Packers game somehow broke Ethan. He's in fine form with the whining and the crying today. Despite a playroom full of toys and a bedroom full of stuffed animals, he has declared that he has absolutely nothing to do other than wrestle with his (80 year old and rather fragile) grandfather. We opted to not let him do that, so he's whining and crying.

Seriously, that football game yesterday? I finally ended up hiding in the living room while the rest of my family watched in the family room.  So I missed all of the crazy plays and had to watch the recap later on in the evening. Couldn't take the stress of it all. And apparently, me leaving was some sort of sign for the Seahawks to play well, since they started scoring as soon as I left the room. You're welcome, Hawks fans.

Thankfully, my 13-month old niece (she's not actually my niece, but she's as close as I'm going to get) also had no interest in football, so we had a blast playing in the living room. She actually cried when I left after the game was done. I'm relatively certain that she likes me better than my own children do. 

Last night was Vivian's turn for a total meltdown after our long day. She declared that she couldn't sleep alone in her bed and accused me of loving Daddy more than I love her when I opted to sleep in my own bed with him instead of on the floor on her twin mattress with her. Did I mention that my in-laws are here for all of this fabulous kid behavior?

In totally random news, I served avocado slices as a side dish last night. My mother-in-law wasn't sure what she was looking at, and when we translated it for her, she mentioned that she'd never eaten one before. She gamely tried it and even took a second helping. Cross cultural education through food! Being a part of a mixed culture family definitely has its entertaining moments- you never know when something so basic to you will be a total novelty for someone else!

Why I personally do not believe the death penalty is right or backed up by the Bible

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It's a day when we remember a great man who stood up for his beliefs and all of the people who sacrificed greatly to change the status quo in the United States. It's a day to remember their fight for justice and equality. As we all know, there's still a long way to go in our country, but at least some progress has been made.

My friend Jimmy is on my mind today.  He's celebrating MLK Day from behind bars on death row in Alabama. He's an African-American man who made mistakes, but who likely got sent to death row because of false witness of someone who had a lot to lose himself.

Last week when a Georgia death row inmate was getting ready to be executed, I heard an official use the typical response to justify the execution. He quoted Leviticus 24:20 "eye for eye, tooth for tooth". There are some problems with this argument though, as I see it.

1) God did command the Israelites to put to death those who took the life of someone else.  He also made a lot of other commandments in the laws set forth in the book of Leviticus. Have you read through the book of Leviticus lately? There are laws covering food, sex, health, farming... you name it. And Christians follow almost none of those rules.  I grew up in a Judeo-Christian church and we followed the dietary laws of Leviticus. But even we didn't follow all of the other laws. Because they were laws given by God to a certain group of people in a certain time period.

Later in the book of Numbers, when the Israelites were living in cities, a new system was set up with cities of refuge for people to flee to if they had killed someone. These were set up to ensure that the person got a fair trial and the circumstances in which the death had occurred could be sure to get a trial before the assembly.  This book even mentions that no one should be put to death based on the testimony of one witness.

And in the book of Matthew, Jesus pointed out that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  The old covenant, with its rules and regulations was fulfilled or completed with Jesus's death on the cross.  We no longer live under that covenant. 

2) When the death penalty was put forth in the old covenant law, the system consisted of God to Moses to the instruction being carried out by the people.  In our current system, you have police and lawyers and juries and judges. You have people who have their jobs to defend by successfully arguing legal cases.  You have people who are put on the stand to testify who may have ulterior motives for what they say.

Back when I was working as a toxicologist, I did a lot of work that was related to expert testimonies in legal cases. And I can tell you, our main goal was to prove our side of the story. The other side's job was to prove their side of the story. We didn't swap information and weigh the decision. We worked to prove our point and win.  Same thing is true in criminal cases. Even if someone's life is on the line. The popularity of the recent podcast, Serial, has been a great example of that. A man was sentenced to life in prison (Maryland abolished the death penalty in 2013 and commuted the sentence of the 4 death row inmates at the end of 2014, so even if he had been sentenced to death, it would no longer apply). And now that a popular podcast has brought new information to light, there are doubts about his guilt. Because our justice system is terribly broken.

As Christians, we are called to love and serve one another.  We are called to seek justice. When someone is put to death by their government, that's final. There's no chance for them to be witnessed to anymore. There's no chance for them to witness to others, if they have become Christians. It's final. There's no going back, even if new information comes to light later on and the sentence is found to have been a mistake. We're putting people to death who have mental issues while serial killers can admit guilt and plea bargain their way to a lesser sentence.  This is not justice.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More stuff about the death penalty that's weighing on my heart

First off, I'd like to say that I really don't want to be thinking or writing about the death penalty. But it's so heavy on my heart these days and I do have this small platform and I feel strongly that God is calling me to say something.

Yesterday on Facebook, I saw an article about a Saudi blogger who had been sentenced to receive 1000 lashes for what was reportedly cyber crime and ridiculing Islamic figures. He had received the first of the 50 lashes and there was a lot of outrage about this punishment, as it has a good chance of killing him.  When I read the story, I was felt sick to my stomach and almost threw up.  This man is being punished in such a barbaric way. How could a government do that to its citizens?

And then I turned on the radio later that day to hear about the state of Georgia preparing to execute a man who had been convicted of murder. The murder was videotaped by the victim's (a county trooper) dashboard cam, so there was no doubt of his guilt. However, this man also apparently suffered from mental issues and there was doubt that the proper testimony regarding his issues was heard at the sentencing trial. He was executed yesterday, by the state.

We in the United States hold ourselves up as citizens of a progressive country with a great justice system. But the truth is that our justice system is complicated and full of lots of people who are out to seek after their own political or career gain.  And sometimes that means that innocent people or people who are mentally ill are sentenced to death and even executed. Often with untested drugs that cause suffering, something that we should be beyond here in an enlightened country (and trust me, the other methods of execution that have been used in the US are equally barbaric when you look at the details of what goes on). There's no going back after someone is put to death by their government. And while this is all going on in our own country, we get upset at news stories of innocent people in other countries being sentenced to death by their governments and we sign petitions and pray for their release.

In addition to the facts about life on death row, I spent a lot of time last year learning about what life is like for those sentenced to life in prison. And from what I read and learned about in class, it's an incredibly awful punishment as well. Sentencing a person to life in prison is not letting them get off lightly for their crimes. It's a disgusting, terrible, awful way to live.

I don't know what I'm supposed to do with the things I've learned over the past year. I'm a middle class white woman living in the suburbs. This isn't an issue that ever touched my life until I took that class last year in grad school. But now I'm upset and angry and I just don't think the way that many states in the United States are acting is right. I'm proud of my own governor for suspending the death penalty last year.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

January, so far

On Tuesday morning, I wrangled the kids out of bed at dark o'clock and headed to the school for an early morning IEP meeting with Ethan's teachers and therapists and assistant principal and I have no idea who else because 1) it was the second day back after break and 2) I was not really awake yet. And we sat and went over the 18 pages of assessments and goals and then I dropped the kids off at their classes and went home and hid in my bed for the rest of the day. And then Wednesday morning I put on my gym clothes and then took the kids to school and then came home and hid in my bed for the rest of the day.

I always have this weird reaction to Ethan's IEP and also to his medical appointments. I don't feel bad about them at the time necessarily, but then I spend two days barely functional, just completely worn out and only able to do the bare necessities of life. I'm always surprised by this reaction- the IEP meetings are largely a positive thing- I get to interact with the big team of people who is working to help Ethan and see their goals for the next year. But it's still 18 pages of reminders that my kid has problems and so many challenges. Not that he seems to know that, Ethan is a "glass completely full" kind of person. But still.

Today is better and I put on my gym clothes this morning and actually went to the gym. And did laundry and started cleaning the bathroom before getting distracted by something on Facebook. And the sun is shining and all is well again in my head. At least to the level that things are ever well in my head.

In other news, on Sunday night I made all of Vivian's cheese sandwiches for the week and washed and bagged up all of the grapes for both of their lunches and cooked all of the chicken nuggets that I had left for Ethan's lunches. I estimate that it's saving me less than 2 minutes per day, but it's amazing the difference it makes in my evening routine, to just have one less thing to deal with. Definitely a win for me.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What happens when you spend a year corresponding with a death row prisoner

As those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know, I recently spent two years back in grad school, this time deviating far from my previous education in the sciences, studying law and public policy.  The classes had a varying amount of effect on me and some were more challenging than others.

Last January, I started a class that, for 16 weeks, dealt with two issues that definitely fell into my avoidance category- abortion and the death penalty. We had 16 weeks of discussions and arguments and reading and I despised it at the time. I didn't want to think about the tough issues. It was much more comfortable to continue on my life as a upper middle class white woman living in my affluent neighborhood with my cute children and gainfully employed husband. I did not want to step out of the bubble. Unfortunately, I had a 4.0 GPA going into the class and I had no intention of letting that slip. So avoidance was not an option this time.

One of the assignments for my class was to pick three death row inmates and correspond with them weekly for the entire 16 weeks of the class. Writing to a death row inmate is more challenging than you would think. Every state has different rules for correspondence and they are often buried deep on the state's website. Eventually I did strike up several correspondences- one with a man in Alabama named Jimmy and one with a man here in Washington State named Robert.  Both really impacted me, but writing to Jimmy was a life-changing experience.

Since this post is already getting long, I wont explain all of Jimmy's case, but will link to a 1994 NY Times article about it. Basically, a five day! trial, a death sentence and doubts about whether the right man was even arrested in the first place.

I've been writing to Jimmy for a year, weekly for the duration of my class and about twice per month since then. Every single letter from Jimmy is basically the same- a list of praises for the wonderful things that have happened to him that week, encouragement to me to spend more time praying, discussion of Bible verses that he's been reading, questions about my family and effusive thanks for my letters. You see, ending up on death row changed Jimmy's life. He grew up the only boy in a family raised by a single mom. He only met his father briefly. He did commit petty crimes before being sent to death row.  And I believe, based on what I've read, that Jimmy is innocent of the crime that sent him to death row. But he never talks about that. He's alluded to false testimony that sent him to death row and has talked about how he has forgiven that man and prays for him. But he never focuses on that. He knows that he is where God has sent him to be. He prays with his jailers and other inmates and counsels his family through letters and phone calls.

I hate that my friend is on death row, but I believe as he does that he is where God wants him to be. For now. Corresponding with Jimmy has given me a front row seat to the amazing effects of Jesus's sacrifice on the life of a sinner.

But death row. Do you know that there is not really any rhyme or reason for how someone gets sentenced to death row? Numbers of inmates on death row and the cases that sent them there vary widely from state to state. Here in Washington, the worst serial killer in US history is NOT on death row. And, as has been discussed on the news a lot lately, many states are using untested drugs to put people to death in ways that are sometimes incredibly painful. Do you know why? Because many of the drugs that used to be used were supplied by European companies. And most countries around the world, including those where the drug companies are located, view the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment. They hoped that, by refusing to supply the drugs, the death penalty would stop being used in the US. They did not succeed.

In  my class, we spent a lot of time talking about Imago Dei or the image of God. And how all people are made in his image and we, as Christians, are called to protect it. Which we're pretty good at doing when it comes to unborn babies. But we stand by and say nothing  when our government takes the life of a man. Even though some of these men are later found to probably not be guilty of their crimes.

I know this is an issue on which there are Biblical arguments on both sides of the issue. I'm not expecting to change anyone's mind. But I think that we need to be informed before we have an opinion. My friend's life deserves defending.