Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tear Down That Wall-Part 2

By Linda Grupp Boutin

After posting Part 1 of this series, I started asking myself why I feel so strongly about the issue of assault weapons, guns and massacres. It took some self reflection before I remembered a day in my life. It amazes me how you can push a memory down and almost forget that it happened altogether. And yet those memories linger and color how we see the world.

On a hot July day just before my 30th birthday, a nurse called me and asked me to visit a patient in a hospital with digestive issues like mine. She asked me to give this person some encouragement because of our shared problems. I didn't really want to go, but remembered a special person who had visited me at UCLA 5 years earlier on the same mission.

We only had one car at the time, so after dropping my husband off at work I drove to the nearby hospital and spent a half hour reassuring another person that the therapy she required was liveable and she would still have a life after the hospital. Gary and I had considered stopping at the McDonald's near our house on the way in, but because we were running a bit late discarded the idea. Instead, we stopped in to check our post office box for mail and drove him straight to work. He would get some dinner when he got there. We had no idea at the time how pivotal this decision would become.

These hospital visits always left me emotionally exhausted and tired and when I saw a McDonald's between the hospital and freeway, I drove through the pick-up window and bought a chocolate shake. It tasted so good with the bright San Diego sun beaming down and heating up our car with no air conditioning. I drove to the freeway and started the half hour trip back home to San Ysidro.

Just as I passed San Diego's center city, I noticed a police car ripping down the freeway past me, lights flashing, but no siren. I stayed out of his way and before another couple of minutes passed, a second police vehicle went speeding past. Now I had made this trip dozens of times and rarely saw anything more than an occasional California Highway Patrol vehicle. Soon a whole parade of police cars rolled past with a windowless police van included, all displayed flashing lights with no sirens. I started counting them and was at 7 when I was diverted off one freeway to another one. I took a different route home and wondered to myself what in the world was going on.

Once home, I said hi to our dog and flipped on the TV. All the local channels had interrupted regular broadcasts with the news. A shooting was underway less than a mile away at the very McDonald's we had been right next door to at the post office, the one where we wanted to buy Gary's dinner. I've thought about it long and hard and probably we would have left that restaurant before the gunman started shooting. But it had been very close. Only after a 77-minute standoff did a police sniper kill the gunman with a shot from the roof of the very post office where we had picked up our mail.

It stuns you when you learn you've had a near brush with death. They never reopened that McDonald's where 21 people died and another 19 were shot. Instead shortly afterwards they bulldozed the building and rebuilt a new restaurant further down the boulevard. Years later after memories had faded a bit, the City of San Diego built a college extension of Southwest College on the site. It's strange because this is the college where I took my first writing for publication class. Sometimes the degrees of separation in your life are a little too close for comfort.

So yes, I feel strongly about assault weapons. The man who affected at least 40 families in his mass murder carried an Uzi semi-automatic, a shotgun and a pistol to his crime. He lived 3 blocks from the murder site, technically making him our neighbor. Our paths had probably crossed many times. Seeing an issue up close in your own life makes a difference in how you perceive a problem. I know it has in mine. So I raise up my voice after all these years. It is time to ban assault weapons. It is time to do complete background checks. It is time to tear down that wall keeping us as a society from taking a stand. It is time to STOP these mass murders.

Thanks to Wikipedia for helping me fact-check my memory! http://en.wikipedia.org

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tear Down This Wall-Part 1

By Linda Grupp Boutin

I have been considering George Washington this afternoon. How does someone develop an idea, totally new and different that defies the ostensible authority of the day? When he sat in Valley Forge, did he question what in the world he was doing? Or was the pain of freezing cold, inadequate supplies and overwhelming numbers against him what occupied his thoughts? I find it nearly impossible to put myself in Washington's boots. Intuitively I understand that this man thought audacious ideas and had the perseverance to see it through.

Washington spent long days of his youth surveying the countryside. A surveyor must study the landscape around them and then carefully measure and record what is seen. From his observations, he understood that the area that would become the United States was a huge place. Did he take solace in the fact that the entire Atlantic Ocean created a huge distance between the U.S. and England?

I must admit that it's pretty much impossible for me to wrap my head around how George took his audacious vision and turned it into reality for all of us. So let me talk a bit about a later president, one who I remember from my lifetime, Ronald Reagan, the 40th President. I had an awareness of Reagan long before he became my president. First I heard of him as an actor and not one with the very best of movie roles on his bio. He surprised me quite a bit when he landed the position of Governor of California and I began to pay a bit more attention. But really, an actor turned politician running for president? Sounds ridiculous to say the least.

Yet Reagan gained the title of The Great Communicator and possibly all that time studying scripts and learning dialog helped him understand how to reach an audience. There was a whole lot more to this actor turned governor and eventually president than I had given him credit for. And like so many of the other strong voices in my lifetime, just 69 days after his inauguration he too took a bullet for his country. Another assassination attempt in my memory, I happened to be watching the news as it broke.

Just like with JFK, the Secret Service rushed Reagan to the hospital and once again we waited hours on end to see if this president would survive his wound. I've heard it said that had that bullet pierced Reagan's chest just one inch further over, his heart would have been destroyed. But this was a man with a very strong heart and will to live. After Reagan survived his too-close shave with death, in 1987 he gave a speech at the Brandenburg Gate. He shared the audacious spirit of our first president when he challenged the leader of the now defunct USSR, "Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Do you remember or did you learn about it in history class? Reagan dared his adversary to tear down the Berlin wall that had stood since 1961 while the USSR controlled East Berlin. It still amazes me that our president had the strength of character to directly challenge a wrong that had lasted over 25 years. His audacious and bold thought led to an eventual destruction of an arbitrary wall separating a city for decades. Reagan abhorred communism and did his best to correct the injustice he saw in the world. He was not a perfect president, no frail human can ever reach perfection. But for those families living in Berlin and trying to just visit family, he made a difference with his words. Just a couple of years after Reagan's speech, I rejoiced with the rest of the world when the Berliners tore that wall down brick by brick. He returned to Berlin in 1990 and took a couple of symbolic swings with a hammer to the remnants of this wall himself.

So how about you? Do you dare to dream an audacious dream? Have you raised your voice with concern about a problem you see? A friend of mine is working on a special project. She admires those who have helped others through adoption. She has conceived an idea to share this information on the internet with video clips. It's a tough assignment she's undertaken. And whether she brings it to fruition or not, I must admire her for trying. For raising her voice to speak about something she believes in and helping others find the resources they need to try adoption for their family.

For me, I am taking baby steps forward. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, I saw many people in their own ways trying to find some way to help this situation. After a lifetime spent punctuated with shooting after shooting, assassination after assassination, I have called my Representative and Senators to pledge my solidarity in an assault weapon ban. The only persons justified in carrying guns that can shoot 30-100 bullets at a time are soldiers fighting for our freedom. I don't care what the NRA yells about Second Amendment rights. I don't want to hear about any more first and second graders being dismembered in their classrooms by someone with a gun that can fire dozens of shots before reloading. A law may not stop the next gunman who steps out of the shadows to take another's life, but it surely is a place to start as a society to say that, "We are just not going to take it anymore! Stop the shooting and stop the killing!"

Thanks to Wikipedia for helping me fact-check my memory! http://en.wikipedia.org

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Finding a Voice

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Have you heard the story of Gabby Giffords? Talk about a person celebrating her voice and making the most of a tough situation...

I have watched many politicians in my life. One of my first memories, certainly of a political nature, was the assassination of my president, John F. Kennedy. In just the third grade, for the first time the principal called us onto the playground for an announcement. The president had been shot and we didn't know if he would survive. He did not and many days were lost to mourning his death, ending up with the state funeral where we saw his son, John-John, salute his father's coffin on the way to Arlington National Cemetery.

For me, I learned at this young age that using your voice, as JFK had, can be hazardous. Not everyone will agree with you. Some might even break the law in trying to silence you. Still his famous words ring loudly in my ears, "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." It does not matter what your political affiliations might be, this is the sentiment our Founding Fathers adopted when overthrowing the shackles of being held as a British colony.

So what does all this have to do with Celebrating Your Voice? Gabby Giffords believes in the United States. On January 8, 2011, she held a "Congress on the Corner" meeting in a grocery store parking lot for her Arizona constituents. She represented them in the U.S. House of Representatives. During this event a gunman opened fire wounding her in the head, hitting 19 people with gunfire, and killing 6. 

Although her condition was grave, she kept amazing all around her as she rallied from this wound. There are many physical problems a politician can work around. Many have served in Congress from wheelchairs, with artificial limbs, through cancer and a host of other challenges. But the one thing a politician cannot function without is a voice. They convince, cajole and consent with their words. Yet Gabby had taken that bullet to the area of the brain affecting speech.

Some demanded that because of her absence and grave injuries that she resign her post in Congress. But as the months passed her condition improved and by eight months later she appeared on the floor of the House to cast a vote. She has since resigned her seat, but has received much encouragement from others in Congress facing the same hazard she faced that Saturday morning from a gunman. To express your voice in the United States can be dangerous to your health.

Despite the trouble she has saying a simple sentence, Gabby with her husband Mark Kelly, former Space Shuttle astronaut, are leading the way in the fight against assault weapons. It was such a weapon that wounded her and took the lives of 6 others that Saturday morning near Tucson. When you hear Gabby speak, the effort required of her to put those words together is only overshadowed by the obvious strength of spirit and belief she courageously displays. She exemplifies what we all must do to make a difference in this world. She considers a problem, takes a stand to try and correct it, and uses her voice to convince us of the justice of her cause.

Many people try to define heroes as sports figures who achieve amazing feats or famous singers, actors and actresses who dazzle us with their performances, but what is it that we truly value in our heroes. For me, Gabby Giffords sums it up. She has taken adversity in her life and turned it to the good. You can agree or disagree with her political positions, but you can take nothing from the unvarnished courage she displays when advocating with a broken, but undefeated voice that she celebrates.

Thanks to Wikipedia for helping me fact-check my memory! http://en.wikipedia.org

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Roadblock

By Linda Grupp Boutin

The week started on such a high note with one of my closest friends sharing her story at CoffeeBreak, our church's special ministry for women. Every month this is a fun night of desserts, games, camaraderie, tips, worship, and finally one of our congregation sharing her story. I had worked with this friend for several months helping her to prepare her presentation. This month was movie night with a short clip from "The Wizard of Oz" and comfy pajamas and slippers for our attire.

This special ministry that I call the CoffeeBreak Prep Team has become a wonderful way for me to share special times with our speakers. Inevitably the process of writing out their story raises many issues and painful times. By the end of the half hour speaking, our speakers have turned the story around and talk about how the Lord provided the things they needed to confront and overcome whatever trials they have lived through. I have been doing this for 3 years now and I look forward to what the stories will bring next year.

What are you writing about?
But to get back to this week, by Tuesday I realized a cold had settled into my chest. Still trying to ignore it, I went to the Aspiring Writers' Forum Wednesday night. My voice croaked and cracked and generally wasn't anything like my normal tone. Coleene said to one of the members, "Bet she can't help but talk tonight." And of course, her prediction came true. Then Thursday I met with my co-leader Traci, and our next two speakers to help them tune up their stories for presentation. Three hours later I finally admitted to myself that this was more than a cold, now my temperature showed this had grown into the flu and now I was losing my voice altogether.

And this was not the worst this flu had to dish out, sleepless nights led to listless days, no voice at all to speak with much less celebrate. But the spirit springs within. Friends rallied and understood my absences. Some mornings I awoke thinking, "Aha, I've shaken this." Only to have the chest rattling spasms wrack my body again. It's amazing how the body keeps striving for wellness, trying to find that happy equilibrium that we call health.

So though I may not be dancing in celebration, within my gratitude overflows for a life filled with friends, fellowship and fulfillment provided with plentiful sprinklings of blessings from above. Happy St. Patrick's Day to one and all. Be sure to count your blessings along with any coins dropping from the pot of gold above.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Commitment

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Writing hurts. Sharing a difficult truth takes courage. Reading your words aloud requires faith in your listeners. Honest self expression amazes. All of these need commitment. It has been my honor over the last four years to walk beside some special women and men who have made that amazing commitment, to express themselves with truth, skill and courage. This blog commits to showing you, the readers, the value in Celebrating Your Voice.

Do you remember all those school days when people hushed you? No talking, be quiet, you have nothing to say! Programmed for over a decade, we learn, we learn to hide our voice, keep quiet, and never share those innermost thoughts. It is dangerous, put on that happy face, all is fine, YOU know the line and the lie.

We get so good at concealing our true selves that many of us spend most of our lives trying to simply find ourselves. Some secret self so buried under tons of rubbish that sometimes we can never liberate that voice within, much less celebrate it.

A terrifying and liberating step led me to finding and ever so slowly learning to celebrate my voice. Not easily, not quickly, in no way painlessly, step by step I spoke my way out of the abyss of silence. With a baby step, I asked a friend about an inspiration. "Let's start a writers' group at church," I whispered. "Would you like to co-lead it with me." I could not even contemplate doing this alone. Thankfully she agreed and we started to grow a dream.
Coleene and Linda at Aspiring Writers' Forum

Like the smallest of mustard seeds, we started growing. A tender shoot arose and we took turns watering and fertilizing it. The subject of endless discussion and prayer between us, I so thank Coleene VanTilburg for daring to dream with me, together, united. And that miniscule little plant began to grow and we were so amazed. 

I brought the idea to our church leadership, AND they said YES. Now we really were committed, but would anyone want to join us? We hoped that maybe one of two might, daring not to even think there would be more than a few of us to fill the six seats around the table reserved for us in the church library. The first steps of learning to celebrate our voices had begun.