One shot, two shots,
Three shots, four…
Children screaming in terror,
Bodies hitting the floor.
Huddled and hiding
Under desks behind doors,
Wide-eyed and shaking,
Sweat flows through their pores.
Waiting and wondering,
Parents gasp out for air.
They are standing outside
But does anyone care?
Coaches and teachers
Shielding young lives …
They save just a few,
Then bleed out and die.
Text out goodbye,
Tuck knees under chins
And try not to cry.
Backpacks and sneakers
Among broken glass …
Puddles of blood
On the floor of the class.
Traumatized kids march
In lines with arms raised,
While lawmakers watch
And remain unfazed.
Pundits and Puppets
Argue about blame,
While children are shot …
Some killed, some maimed.
Phones ring unanswered
In classes and halls,
And parents keep hoping
Someone picks up their calls.
Candles and vigils
Light up on the lawn,
As families dread
The coming of dawn.
Limping back home
To shut bedroom doors,
Knowing their child
Won’t sleep there anymore.
We look on in horror;
Our hearts pound with fear.
We cry and we wonder,
Will it happen here?
Packing lunches and folders,
We drop off and pray …
God please let my babies
Come home today.
Kissing kids goodbye
In fear and trepidation,
We turn to fight madness
That has taken our nation.
While children lay dying,
Bodies broken and sore…
We ask God and Congress,
How many more?
How many will it take
To stand up and say,
No more children
Shot in school today?
When will we decide
To not live this way?
That rather than die,
Kids should learn and play?
Our children will ask us,
What did you do
To make sure I came
Back home to you?
How will we answer
When that day comes?
That day is today.
What have we done?
© Lauren Casper
In honor of Black History Month, I am giving away two books and two decals to one reader! (You can enter below.)
The first book is a new release from Vashti Harrison. It is her debut book and a New York Times Bestseller (for good reason!) … and one of Arsema’s current favorite reads. The illustrations are gorgeous and I have learned so much about these amazing women who have paved the way for little leaders like my own two kids. I highly recommend grabbing a few copies to give out to friends, neighbors, or a stranger on the metro!
Next up is one of my favorite reads of 2017, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. This award winning book is so educational and captivating, following the real life stories of three individuals who unwittingly participated in the “Great Migration” of approximately six million African-Americans from the Jim Crow South to the North and the West. My personal opinion is that this should be required reading for all Americans, which is why I’m giving a copy away!
Last, is two decals from my local community anti-racism education initiative. The MLK sticker was created for our 2nd annual MLK March and displays the theme, “We March for Love.” The second decal is one I picked up at my local coffee shop this morning, created by members of our CARE group as a gift to the community this month. I grabbed one for every member of my family and love that it comes in the same colors as the Ethiopian flag!
To enter, simply type in your email below and click “enter!” I’ll randomly select a winner at the end of next week and email you for shipping info. I’d like to leave you with these words from Karyn Parsons, and I hope we let them propel to looking deeper and beyond the stories we already know, to learn and grow and change. (The two books above should be a good launching point.)
“The problem with relegating black history to one really short month, the shortest month, is not only are we telling the same stories over and over again – which are amazing, George Washington Carver is incredible, there’s nobody like Frederick Douglass – but there are so many.”
I was trailing behind the kids as they sprinted down the hill toward the school playground at pickup when a voice calling my name stopped me. It was my son’s first grade teacher and she wanted to share something with me. “I don’t know what happened or what you guys are doing at home, but Mareto’s reading and writing has just exploded recently!” She went on to share specifics about his sentence structure and more. I was elated and proud, of course, and tried to think of things that may have caused this sudden explosion of learning and growth. And then it hit me… Dogman.
If you’re not familiar with Dav Pilkey and his children’s books and you have a young reader/emerging reader in your home, get thee to a bookery! The bottom line is that he just gets kids like my son, because he once was much like him. As a young boy with ADHD, he was often in trouble at school and had teachers that didn’t quite understand him or how to engage him. Drawing comics became his creative outlet, and though discouraged by his educators, it went on to become his career path – leading all the way to the New York Times Bestsellers lists and a major motion picture! And Mareto adores his books, particularly the Dogman comics.
He first found Dogman at the library and then we purchased him his own copy at the school book fair. Mareto carried it around with him daily, included taking it to school with him. He dissolved into devastated tears when he thought he lost it on the playground (later to be found in his backpack) and we read from it just about every night. That’s how Mareto works – he finds something he loves and then he does it repeatedly for an extended period of time. Before Dogman, it was Mo Willems ( and still is on occasion) and we had to read those books over and over and over until we all had them memorized.
And that’s how Mareto is learning to read. He’s found books he loves and we read them together over and over and over. He draws pictures of the characters and copies sentences from the pages. He makes up his own stories surrounding his favorite characters and he actually wants to read himself.
Now, when we settle in to read together each night, he stops me often to ask about a word he doesn’t recognize or to have me point out a certain word I just read so he can see it himself. Watching him learn a knew skill is never not exciting and amazing to me.
The same method has remained true for every new step he takes, skill he masters, challenge he overcomes: find a way for him to connect with the task at hand by finding something he loves and is interested in. For reading, it is books he chooses and loves.
And the extra fun thing is that we get to do this all over again now with our daughter, who also has very strong opinions about what books we read. So, here are my kids’ current favorites…
Clark the Shark
I’m a Frog! (and all the other Mo Willems books!)
Pete the Cat: Sir Pete the Brave
National Geographics Angry Birds Playground
Fancy Nancy (really any Fancy Nancy Book)
Thelma the Unicorn
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (this one is new and we seriously can’t get enough of it!)
Peppa Pig 5 minute Stories
What’s on your child’s bookshelf?
Here we are again, it’s MLK Day quotes are flying around the internet. Things like, “I’ve decided to stick with love, hate is too great a burden to bear.” and “I have a dream that one day man will be judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.” These quotes are beautiful and true, but removed from their context they are also stripped of some of their power. I’m learning more and more that they are what Bernice King (his daughter) calls, “MLK lite.” And she’s asking us to wean ourselves of this. To instead read the entirety of the speeches and letters that these quotes are pulled from. I’m a big fan of reading things in context in order to uncover greater meaning and deeper understand. So with that in mind, here is some recommended reading not just for this holiday, and not just for when we get to Black History Month, but for all year long.
Martin Luther King Jr. Speeches and Letter
+Letter from a Birmingham Jail
+The entire I Have a Dream speech
+The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
+Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson
+The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
+Collected Essays of James Baldwin
+I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
+The writings of W.E.B. Du Bois
This is obviously just a start, but an important one. Ignorance gives the flames of hate and prejudice a place to grow – education helps stomp them out. Today our family marched for love. True love. The kind of love that is a choice to serve others and fight for them and listen to them. MLK’s legacy of love wasn’t one of complacency and compliance, but one of active resistance to hate and intolerance. May we strive to honor that legacy by joining him.
What would you add to the list?
Tomorrow morning, homes will start to stir with coffee makers brewing, children impatiently waiting, dogs scratching at the backdoor, parents readying cameras, and families gathering near the tree. For some, the day will begin with excitement and expectation. For others it might begin with loneliness and perhaps a bit of dread. For all of us, wherever we find ourselves, I pray we find these things waiting…
Hope … no matter what life is throwing our way right now, I want hope for tomorrow and each day beyond. Perhaps it’s only a flicker in the dark, or maybe it’s a beaming star in the night sky, but I pray we see it and believe it. In any situation, any heartbreak, any darkness… there is still hope. May we grasp it and cling tightly to it. May we let it carry us through rough waters.
Comfort … for the grieving, heartbroken, and wounded ones. May we find comfort and rest in the midst of the bustle of the day. May we be comforters, reaching out our arms and hearts to those around us. Pausing to notice the hurting among us and acknowledging their pain.
Love … for each and every one of us. Love for our families, our friends, and our neighbors. I hope we find ourselves overflowing with God’s love for others and God’s love for us. In a world that often seems lacking in this area, may we make up the difference.
Peace … when chaos and uncertainty surrounds us, may we take a deep breath and remember that the baby born in the manger is called the Prince of Peace. May it fill our hearts and minds. Let’s move a little slower through the day, pausing to take in whatever the moment brings – laughter or frustration, warm coffee or burnt turkey. Let’s not let the events of the day own us, but be mindful of the gifts we have.
Joy … for all of us. And not the joy that gets confused with “happy,” but the deep abiding joy of those who have known hard things. The type of joy that looks around with tired eyes at torn paper, crying kids, burnt pie crust, and says, it is well with my soul.
Instead of expecting a perfect day complete with moments fit for a Hallmark card (something sure to set us up for disappointment), let’s expect hope, comfort, love, peace, and joy. They are the free gifts offered to all, curtesy of that baby who grew to be a man and defeated death for you and me.
Merry Christmas, friends…
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas sung the Judy Garland way is my favorite Christmas carol of all time. Watch her performance in my favorite Christmas movie, Meet Me in St Louis. She isn’t singing with a smile, she’s singing with a broken heart. Her lips tremble with the vibrato of her voice. You can just feel the pain she’s expressing through that song. There is hope, courage, and grief all wrapped up into fourteen lines.
I get it. I know what it’s like to be heartbroken at Christmas. To look around and see happy faces beaming with the Christmas Spirit and feel like you just don’t belong. I know what it’s like to wake up Christmas morning and want to pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep until the new year. I’ve stood in candlelit services and sung the carols with a lump in my throat and sob in my soul. I know.
For many amazing seasons, Christmas has been wonderful and full of anticipation and joy and wonder and excitement. My parents worked hard to create meaningful family traditions and fun memories. My childhood was full of warm, protected, cozy Christmas mornings. And then life happened. Infertility, loss, illness, job uncertainty, fractured relationships, broken hearts and broken dreams…
I hear voices sing about a weary world rejoicing and I wonder how? How did the whole world rejoice when they didn’t even know what happened in Bethlehem or what was coming in Jerusalem? I’m so grateful for the birth of Christ, but I can far more easily relate the Jesus of Good Friday than a serene mother holding a quiet baby.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the way things are supposed to be. We think Christmas is supposed to be magical, joy-filled, and a time of cozy contentment, rest, and peace. But what if you’re utterly heartbroken at Christmas? And all you can think is, it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Maybe that’s what Christmas is all about after all. Nothing about the world was the way it was supposed to be. Heartbreak was reflected in the whole of humanity – hopes were destroyed by it. So, in the quiet of night a child was born to right all the wrongs and make things the way they are supposed to be.
But it was a long, hard walk from Bethlehem to Calvary to Resurrection. It wasn’t neat and tidy and full of blissful, cozy moments by the fireplace. It was raw and gritty and painful. Lives and souls were laid bare. Expectations went unmet and dreams died. It looked a lot like heartbreak.
Just like Israel didn’t recognize the Messiah when he came – born in a barn and humble in every way – maybe we don’t recognize him coming into our own lives. We look longingly to the mountain tops, the Norman Rockwell Christmas images, the “victories” … and miss that he’s arriving right here in the ugly shambles of our lives. He’s entered into the open wounds of our tattered stories. That’s where he can be found. Not in a bright and shining castle on a hill, but in the broken seasons of life we weren’t expecting.
Christmas is for us, too – the sad and lonely and scared ones. The weary ones who are struggling to grasp that thrill of hope – reaching for it, all the while knowing it just might be a long, hard journey to get there. Christmas is for the ones waiting for it to get better. And the comfort of Christmas is this: as I crawl toward hope, I know who crawls with me. Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
Each year my mom purchases stuffed animals for my children from the World Wildlife Fund. Not only dothey get a cute new snuggle buddy, but they also learn about their animal, and my mom’s purchase goes toward protection that animal and it’s habitat. It’s a favorite gift each year (as you can see from the sweet photos above, taken two Christmases ago) and so far we’ve collected the Red Panda, Slow Loris, Koala, African Elephant, Orangutan, and Ocelot.
Here are five more gifts that give back to worthy causes:
Sevenly gifted me this Love Completes the Puzzle shirt and I adore it. Not only is the message one I believe with my whole heart, but the design is pretty and $7 from every shirt purchase goes to providing advancement resources through the Autism Society. With 1 in 68 children being identified as one the autism spectrum, odds are you know someone who will love this shirt.
Sevenly offers pieces that represent a number of different causes, so you can choose which you’d like to support: cancer, the environment, refugee care, women’s achievement, human trafficking, anti-bullying, education, clean water, and more!
The Created Co. sells these mugs with a message from one of my favorite hymns (I have it hanging on my wall!) and then donates a portion of the profits to fund clean water with charity: water. I also really love the his and hers motivational mug set.
These Desta animals from Parker Clay have a special place in my heart for a few reasons. First, they’re made in Ethiopia and are similar to some of the toys we purchased there for our kids. Not only that, but co-founder Brittany is a sweet friend of mine. She and her family moved to Ethiopia after adopting their daughter through the same agency we used to bring home Mareto. While there, they saw first hand how many vulnerable women and children ended up turning to a life of prostitution or sold into human trafficking. They founded Parker Clay because of these women – to help empower them through skill development and job creation.
As a mother, the thought of not being able to feed my children is unbearable to me. Knowing there was a time when their bellies were hungry and I couldn’t be there to fill them is a pain I will carry forever. That’s why I love the work done by Cuddle & Kind. Each print gives five meals to children in need. They also sell adorable dolls, and each doll sold gives ten meals.
Sudara is the company that created punjammies and helps women rescued from sex trafficking in India build a new life for themselves and their families. I love their work and I love these xo bracelets!
What are some of your favorite gifts that give back?
It was the week before Christmas, and Mareto was three years old. His Awana class was building gingerbread houses, a project intended to be very easy for the children.
A small cardboard house was given to each of the kids, along with
their supplies: graham crackers,
frosting, a plastic knife, and various
bowls of candy. All they had to do
was spread some frosting on the cardboard house, place the crackers over that, spread more frosting around, and plop candy on top. Easy. Well . . . easy for everyone else.
I knelt by Mareto’s chair and whispered the first step to him: “Let’s spread some frosting on the house, buddy!”
He looked at me, confused but interested, as I scooped some frosting out of the can with his knife. I handed it to him, but he didn’t know what to do with it. So I did what comes naturally for us as a team: I placed my hand over his and manually guided him through the task. A little while later the goopy frosting was dripping from the house.
We went through each step until we got to the last one. I encouraged him enthusiastically, “This is the best part, Mareto! You can stick candy anywhere on this house! Go crazy!”
He grinned and reached for some gumdrops. A minute later he sat back, satisfied. There were about twelve red gumdrops all on one side of the roof. I gushed over his house, telling him how beautiful it looked and how he’d done a great job. He was proud, and it was a sweet little Christmas memory shared by the two of us.
Until the little girl across the table spoke up. “Why is he so dumb?”
The words hung in the air over the table as I stared back, trying to process what this little blonde-haired three- year-old girl had just asked me. Somehow I stammered out, “Ww-what?”
“Why is he so dumb?” she repeated, giving Mareto a look that I can only describe as a mixture of pity and disgust. I was stunned.
I finally stammered out that he simply made his house the way he liked it, and that certain tasks are harder for him than they are for other children—but that he is not dumb at all.
She grew tired of the conversation and went back to rearranging the candies on her roof.
When I looked down at Mareto, there was a golf ball– sized lump in my throat—but he was smiling across the table at the little girl who had just called him dumb. He looked at her little gingerbread house, then back up at her, and said, “Pretty!”
She smiled back and said, “Thanks! I like yours too.”
I cried later that night after I tucked Mareto into bed, but somehow I knew he was going to be okay. The world might not always be kind to him, but he would be kind to the world . . . and teach everyone what love looks like.
I want to be more like Mareto.
My first instinct in the face of meanness isn’t love; it’s self-defense. And sometimes self-defense looks a bit like hurting someone else the way they’ve hurt us, doesn’t it? The process always entails someone hurting me, me hurting them, and both of us walking away angry, resentful, bitter, and maybe a bit ashamed. Hurt keeps on filtering through everyone until someone stops it.
Someone has to be brave enough, or innocent enough, to swallow his or her pride and respond in love. Love changes the trajectory of life.We don’t have to know someone’s story to love them well. It should be enough to remember that they have a story, just as we do.
Hurt people hurt people. And we’re all hurting. There’s only one answer that can break the cycle: love. Love holds us together, heals wounds, restores relationships, and changes things. The whole world hinges on us responding in love.
+ This post was excerpted from my book, It’s Okay About It: Lessons from a Remarkable Five-Year-Old About Living Life Wide Open. You can find it significantly marked down on amazon and it arrives before Christmas. Consider a copy for a loved one or grab a few for stocking stuffers!
Wrapping gifts is almost as much fun for me as shopping for them. There is something very satisfying for my organization-loving heart to have things neatly packaged and labeled. And when things can be both organized and pretty? Even better! Here are a few of my favorite ideas for gift wrap this year:
+ Yarn Pom Embellishments
I love the pop of color coupled with the black and white (or kraft) wrapping paper. A few years back I wrapped all our gifts in plain white paper and embellished them with mustard yellow yarn moms. This is a bright and cheery option! You can purchase the kit at kira kids or make your own using this tutorial.
+ Twists on Kraft Wrapping Paper
Make your own triangle trees with paint and a sharpie! Pick any color combo and then stick a coordinating yarn pom on top to finish it off! (from Splash of Something)
Paint some sweet wintery scenes on your gift wrap. Better yet, get the kids involved and let them do the painting! This would be perfect for teachers, grandparents, and aunts & uncles. (from craftberry bush)
If you’re looking for a super simple option, just paint your bows right onto the gift wrap! You could even do this with a sharpie if you are short on time, but I really love the brush stroke look. (from cakies)
+Black Paper Packages
Grab a chalk pen and create unique and festive scene on black kraft paper. You can personalize each gift to fit the person who will be receiving it. (from issu)
Use twine and a gold pen for a simple but magical look. My kids would love drawing these little stars all over the black packages. A nativity scene would also be sweet and special on the black paper… if you have the artistic skills. (from Ashley Hacksaw)
+ Washi Tape Gift Wrap
I made the mistake of introducing my daughter to washi tape and now I can never seem to keep it on hand… she steals it for all her little projects. This DIY gift wrap would be really fun to do with her! Just grab a roll of white wrapping paper and a couple rolls of washi tape and have fun making your own designs. (from almost makes perfect)
+Vintage Cards & Photographs
I love the idea of cutting out the holiday scenes on old greeting cards and adhering them to the top of brown paper packages. This is a great way to recycle last year’s left over Christmas cards, or to repurpose all those cards you receive in the mail and aren’t sure what to do with. (from hallmark)
Another simple option would be to stick photos on the tops of your gifts. Black and white images on plain white or black paper would have a bold effect. Or color photos on kraft paper would be sweet and classic. (from homey oh my)
+ Pick a Color Scheme
I love this gold and blush color scheme from the Liz Marie Blog. It’s as easy as buying a few rolls of paper in coordinating colors and finishing them off with a complimenting tie like this natural yarn and string. This year I was thinking of pale pink and navy, but of course that all depends on finding pretty paper that matches.
What about you? Do you love gift wrapping as much as I do? Or do you let them wrap your gifts at the store? Or are you more like my brother, who somehow manages to use half a roll of scotch tape on an average sized gift as he just sort of smashes the paper around it? There’s no wrong way!
Three years ago, in December of 2014, my life took an unexpected turn when a repurposed blog post from two years earlier suddenly went viral. What started as sharing a sweet story for a newish website that discusses disability turned into weeks and months of media coverage. I was totally unprepared for the impact “going viral” would have on my blog, my heart, and my writing. A week after the post took off I found myself googling what to do when you go viral. I found a lot of information about what it means to go viral or how to make a post go viral – but nothing I was actually looking for. I started emailing a few bloggers who had been through this and seemed to handle it well, but they’re sort of famous now so they didn’t respond because I was likely one of a hundred people emailing that day. I was looking for guidance and reassurance, but I had to figure it out myself.
With that in mind, and the settling perspective of time passed, I want to share some things I learned from my experience.
+ You don’t have to respond to every email, or answer personal questions. My inbox quickly filled with emails from reporters, producers, and others individuals. I was overwhelmed by the number of people trying to contact me and felt I needed to respond to everyone. Some readers who contacted me often asked very personal questions about our family or our children. One man sent me a private facebook message wondering if I was infertile, because what else would possess me to adopt? (His words not mine.) I wish I had known it was okay to press delete and not feel guilty about it.
+ Choose what your eyes see and your heart takes in. People got cruel quickly. What started out as a fun little whirlwind of a week (I still remember texting my mom, THE TODAY SHOW EMAILED!!) turned ugly and racist and mean. Large adoption facebook groups with thousands of members started discussions about my post – not realizing that I was a member and could see the comments written about me. My parenting was dissected and false assumptions about me and my children were spouted off as truth. It was deeply painful. I learned to disengage from those groups and to refuse to read any comments on other platforms. If the Huffington Post publishes an article of mine I don’t read the comments. Same for the Today Show and any other place my work appears. I only read comments on my Facebook page and Instagram account. After deleting and blocking a torrent of atrociously racists comments, I turned the comment option off on my website completely. I intended it to be temporary, but have been much happier with them off so it became permanent.
+ It’s okay to say no to “big” and “exciting” opportunities. There were so many crazy phone calls I fielded in the first month of our story going viral. One producer wanted us to consider a reality show about our family and day to day life. (We said no thanks.) Another wanted us to appear on the Rachael Ray Show. (We did!) Every day a new opportunity presented itself, but it quickly stopped being exciting and fun, and instead became exhausting and overwhelming. Everyone wanted a piece of us, but I was still mom first and had a four-year-old and a two-year-old to protect and love. Saying no became very freeing.
+ Step away from the screens. I worried that if I stepped away and shut off all my devices for a few days it wouldn’t be manageable when I came back. So, I didn’t take that break for months – I should have done it much sooner. It wasn’t good for my emotional well-being and I put way too much pressure on myself to keep churning out content and make the most of the experience. A healthier option would have been to take some space and not worry about the results.
+ Figure out what you want. My dream was to be a published author and as it turns out, this viral post did eventually grow my platform to the point that I was able to get an agent, and eventually a publisher, to notice my writing and take a leap of faith on me. When things got too overwhelming, it helped to have a goal in mind. I was passionate about writing a book, so I worked toward that. When filtered through that lens, it helped to say no to things that wouldn’t get me closer to publishing a book and yes to the things that would.
+ Decide now what you’re okay with the whole world seeing. The was a day when my post was the #3 trending topic online. I knew there were extra eyes on my blog and social media accounts. Thankfully I’d already taken steps to ensure our safety and privacy (I never shared our address or phone number or where my kids attended school, etc.), but I did eventually make a handful of blog posts private.
+ Spend a lot of time with your friends and family who know and love you. Remember this is temporary and the internet has a short attention span. Get out of the house and off the computer.
I’ve had several posts since the Trader Joe’s story go viral, though none have been quite as big as that first time. And it’s been helpful for me to remember the lessons I learned the first time around: This will pass and fade away, I don’t have to jump on every single opportunity presented, the delete button is there for a reason, I will protect myself by not reading the comments and instead going out for coffee with my friends and reading a book or building legos with my kids. And always, get back to writing as if only one person is reading – you.