Monday, July 5, 2010

Something New

By now, many of you have heard me talk about Reach Across Chicago. As I described in the last post, it's a culmination of a long process for me and others. It's beginning to really take off, and we're pretty excited about it.

One of the ways I'm going to be contributing is through blog posts on the site. So this blog will go back to being purely a creative outlet for whatever creative writing I do. I'll be doing some pretty regular posting on Reach Across Chicago, as I'm learning about community organizing, resources, and the most pressing needs in our city.

So please, if you're a follower here, follow me over to Reach Across Chicago and join me in this journey of learning and impacting our wonderful, amazing, desperate city.

Don't worry, though; I'm still a writer. I still need to create on a purely creative level. Hopefully this separation will help me have more space to do that. For now, thanks for sharing this process with me. Hang on to your keyboards; I think this is going to be a wild ride!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Who Knew?

I've lived in northeastern Illinois almost all my life. To simplify things, I've always told people I live in Chicago, which wasn't really true until about 5 years ago. I grew up in the far North suburbs (which could more aptly be called the Milwaukee suburbs), and lived all over the suburbs post-college. I had no idea what it meant to actually Live In Chicago.

Then, 5 years ago, due to a church change and various other circumstances, I crossed the line. I moved into the city limits. I was officially a city dweller. I didn't think it would matter much, one way or the other, where I lived. How wrong I was.

After about 6 months living with a family in Albany Park, I finally found an apartment in Logan Square. Though it's historically a Hispanic and Polish neighborhood, I found myself sharing an apartment with a Chinese woman and a series of other white women (we had a bit of a revolving door). I had African and Puerto Rican neighbors. And the place got into my blood.

I watched my community experience gentrification. I learned about systemic injustice as I watched it happen in front of me. I cried with my neighbor when her son was shot. Again. I sat on the back porch with my African neighbor while he smoked cigars and waxed philosophical about how and why our city is messed up. But somehow, I stayed an observer. I watched. I listened. And I thought about it some. But it largely didn't occur to me that I had the ability - or the responsibility - to take action. Something kept me separate, held me back.

Then, through a series of events, over the course of about a year, things inside my head began to change. My roommate was killed in a hit-and-run accident. A teenage girl was shot and killed a few blocks from my house, and two neighbors who had been nowhere near the scene were arrested for it, simply because of their skin color. I participated in a protest march to advocate for the rights of working moms who were going to lose their daycare subsidies. And slowly, I began to realize that it wasn't enough. Though I was learning about systemic injustice, learning more about how desperate our city is, attending a church that's walking the path of multiethnicity and social justice advocacy, and supporting people who were working for change, I was still a passive observer. And it just wasn't enough.

Now, of course, whatever we do to impact the pain and injustice we see around us, it's never enough. And it's more than we can understand. At the same time. Because we don't ever fully know the impact of our actions, and all we can do is our best. But I wasn't doing anything, except watching. And the only impact I was having was on myself -- becoming more disillusioned and bitter the longer I watched. Something needed to change.

I've since moved out of the apartment I mentioned above; I now live in a 2 flat walk up in East Garfield Park (a neighborhood that's 97% African-American). Most people hear where I live and have a strong reaction, to put it mildly. And to be honest, I didn't move here for some kind of immersion experience or for any self sacrificial reason. I moved here because I wanted to live with my current roommate -- who is white. However, being here has (of course) impacted me. In my former neighborhood, I could, if I chose, ignore some of the systemic injustice I saw around me. Here, that would be nearly impossible, even if I wanted to. And this contributed to my dissatisfaction, my restlessness, my need to attempt to do something, no matter what it might be.

That's (partially) how Reach Across Chicago was born. (For those of you experiencing whiplash right now, hang with me. It will make sense in about 2 paragraphs.) My entree into "doing something" had a lot to do with friends who work for non-profit organizations. I was always commiserating with them about how difficult or frustrating their jobs can be - either due to not enough resources, or lack of funding, or too much of the wrong thing. A good friend of mine listened to me vent one night about how this non-profit had 18 people who they couldn't put to work, and that non-profit was desperate for volunteers for their soup kitchen. They're about 10 blocks apart, and had no idea that they could have gotten together and solved both of their problems in a heartbeat.

We began to speculate about what might happen if there were a way to connect them immediately, and based on the need. We talked about all the possibilities inherent in creating a network where there was citywide access to resources, volunteers, events, etc. We talked for a long time. And when I woke up the next day, suddenly our idea had begun to become reality.
(OK, I'm exaggerating. But only a little. He's a genius when it comes to technology.)

Creating something like this was never my vision, was definitely not what I imagined to be the result of me finally deciding to "do" something. But when God and my tech-genius friend set out
to accomplish a goal, the results are rarely what we expect. I have no idea where this will take us, or how far. All I know is that I love our very desperate and messed-up city, and I'm hopeful that RAC will begin to make an impact among the thousands of people already working for change.

If you haven't yet, take a look at Reach Across Chicago on Facebook, or Comment here to tell me what you think, and any ideas you might have. Thanks.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


This post has been a few weeks in the making. I've been processing these things in my head since the end of May, trying to understand them, trying to figure out how to communicate what I've been experiencing. This is my attempt, imperfect though it is.

I am white. I'm a woman. I grew up in privilege, and by nature of who I am, I haven't truly experienced much (if any) injustice in my life. I've attempted to learn, to understand, to see the injustice that happens to my friends and neighbors of color on a daily basis. And slowly, my eyes are being opened. Even though I know I won't ever completely "get it" on the level of daily experience, I hope I'm changing.

Recently, I experienced something that (I hope) is contributing to this process. I was fired from my job for a completely unfounded reason. I was accused of doing something I knew I didn't do. I'm pretty sure they knew I didn't do it, either. No matter what I said, or how I tried to stand up for myself (though I didn't try as hard as I should have - I was too surprised), I was going to lose that job.

And I have to wonder if at least one of God's purposes in allowing this to happen is to teach me, on a very small level, what it is to experience injustice. I've rarely been in an experience where I knew I had been wronged and yet knew I had no recourse (or very little) to fix what was wrong. I know it's nothing similar to the systemic injustice people around me experience every day. But as I've tried to process what happened and what I'm supposed to learn from it, that thought just keeps crossing my mind.

I'll never know what it is to daily experience the systemic injustice that those around me deal with on a conscious and subconscious level every single day of their lives. But I do hope that I'm able to walk away from this with at least a modicum of connection to it. And I'll try to let it drive me to work harder for change in our incredibly messed up world.

Please feel free to comment here -- with whatever responses you might have. Good, bad, ugly, "where do you get off", whatever. I'm interested in what you think. Thanks.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Remembering Mandy

Two years ago today, my sometime roommate and budding friend Amanda Annis was killed in a bike/car accident by a reckless driver. I miss her, but equally, I regret that I didn't get the chance to fully know her.

The grieving process is strange. It acts differently in every situation, in every person experiencing that situation, and even on every day of each person's experience. In this case, I wasn't able to fully feel the impact of missing Mandy until nearly a year had gone by. It just seemed so surreal. I had all the usual reactions: waiting for her to walk in the door, to hear her laugh, to smell the bread she used to bake. It took a good 6 months before it fully dawned on me that Mandy was gone.

I didn't get to know Mandy the way so many people in her life did. I regret that. But I cherish what I did know of her. Mandy was, more than almost anyone I've known, fully alive. Never hesitating to share her heart, her thoughts, her frustrations. Not holding back from telling you what you needed to hear. Never afraid to try something new (the science experiments that took place in our kitchen were...adventurous, to say the least). She left it all on the field. And more than anything, as I've come to terms with her death, I've been grateful for the abundance she brought to my life, even for a little while. I don't want to be maudlin, just to celebrate the 24 years of "life more abundantly" that Mandy lived.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Trust as a concept is something I can discuss pretty freely. I'd consider myself a fairly trusting person, having grown up where, when and how I did. I haven't had lots of reasons not to trust people. Generally, I'd even say that I trust someone until they give me reason not to. Sure, I've been hurt. I've had my trust broken. I've broken others' trust. It's a reality of human existence that we will let each other down. I've come to terms with that, on most levels, and learned how to handle it. I'm not quite as quick to trust as I was; I'm more likely to ask questions and hold back a bit until I know a person or situation a little.


When it comes to the concept and function of trusting God, who is by His character more trustworthy than any human I'll ever meet, I seem to function on the concept of not trusting until I'm given a reason to. Here's what brought this home to me, again.

The last few months have been ones of new experience. Of risk. Of attempting a few things that I didn't already know would succeed. Of allowing new people and experiences into my life in a way that I haven't for quite a few years. I got a significant promotion. I trained for and ran a 10-mile race. I reconnected with a few old friends and began to make some new ones. And for obvious reasons, this relational piece has been the most significant.

What it caused me to realize is that I "trust" easily because I don't take many risks. Therefore, I don't have to rely on God for much. I can handle my life, the way I've set it up, pretty much on my own.

As I've begun to risk with the new friendships in my life, I'm recognizing the impact of this. I don't trust God to be what I need. I don't trust Him to supply my need for intimacy, for relationship, for connection, for that unerring sense that someone will be there for you, no matter what. I don't have any real idea how one experiences that with God. I'm not even sure that's the point of our relationship with Him. Instead, I go looking for humans to provide that, to be that for me. And when I do, by definition, get let down, it's convenient to blame God.

When this happens, I get scared. I get I pull an Elijah and hide in the wilderness. I'm angry at Him because He hasn't provided what I think I need. And I really struggle to believe that He has my best in mind. That I matter to Him. That He wants good things for me. And perhaps the hardest thing: that His best for me may not align with what I see as best. In short, my world starts to revolve around my navel. (Nice contortionist picture, isn't it?)

There are no guarantees in this that I will ever "feel better", or differently. That it will get easier to trust God. That in doing so, I will ever achieve or receive the things that I hunger for. There aren't even any guarantees that my trust will deepen. But I know that what I'm doing now isn't working. And I don't plan to live my life by the definition of insanity (doing the same thing and expecting a different result). So I again attempt to come out of hiding. To take the next risk. To recognize that my human perspective is painfully limited. And to attempt to trust that it does, actually, matter to Him how I respond, and live, and choose.

I don't know that these attempts will change anything. But I do know that He takes our most pitiful attempts to glorify Him and uses them. I was challenged in a huge way by this post on a friend's blog. His experience right now dwarfs anything I might struggle with, and it definitely took my head out of my navel. So for now, I'll hold on to that. And try to trust that it will be enough.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Why am I surprised?

In the last few weeks, some pretty amazing things have happened in my life, and in the lives of my friends. One had a WWIII-grade conflict resolve into amazing harmony, inside a painful situation. Another had their 5 year old son come through a difficult surgery with flying colors. A third had her developmentally-delayed daughter show some amazing developmental promise. In my world, I'm finding the strength and vision to change some things about my life that have been needing attention for years. I'm seeing results I never thought I would see, not the least of which is that I ran farther than I've ever run in my life a few days ago. All of this is incredible, and I find myself surprised by these things.

And in terms of amazing experiences, something I got to be part of this weekend capped it. Friday evening, I picked up my 9 year old niece for Good Friday service. She doesn't normally sit through a full service, ever, and asked a few times how long it would be. But she did an admirable job of sitting still, and (I think) actually paying attention. The pastor who was preaching that night called all the kids up front to sit around a huge wooden cross lying on the floor, and proceeded to explain Jesus' death and resurrection in some powerfully simple language.

Her mom had given her the option of taking communion or not, because Mom wouldn't be there to go with her. When it was time, I asked my niece if she wanted to go, and if she knew why we were doing this; I wanted to know what her understanding was of the whole rather overwhelming concept. And she took my hand, and looked straight at me, saying "because Jesus did what we can't do for ourselves. He died for us." And then, still holding my hand, led the way to the table. And I just lost it. (Thankfully, I managed to be discreet. She didn't notice -- I think it might have freaked her out a little if she had.) Somehow, there was something so powerful, so simple, and so real about hearing it in those terms, after years of hearing adults try to say it originally or analyze it or otherwise unintentionally dilute the concept. I was surprised by how much it moved me.

I find myself wondering why I'm so surprised when God shows up. When He does powerful, often miraculous things that only He can do. (I'm hesitant to use the word miraculous; it's so often used flippantly or even callously. But I don't know how else to describe some of these things.) He is very clear that He is involved in our lives - that we matter to Him, that He is present and working and more aware than we are of all that is at work within us and around us.

So why am I surprised? The awe and wonder, the reminder of His character and His love for me is never a bad thing. But shouldn't I somehow expect that He will move in big ways? Shouldn't I be looking for evidence of Him in the way things play out?

I don't know. Should is a dangerous word. It can lead to some pretty black & white thinking. All I know is I was surprised, and I'm hoping I can keep growing this relationship to the point where I am awed, and thankful, but maybe not surprised when God shows up. And does exactly as He's promised - to will and to act according to His good purpose, according to the power that is at work within us.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Catching up on a little Hepker

So, I know it's been a little while (OK, a LONG time) since you've seen anything from me on here. Blogging is a picture of life, for me -- I start off with such great intentions (to blog 3x a week, to use this to inspire my writing, to develop some discipline SOMEWHERE), and then a little thing called Life comes along, and I allow it to get in the way. Pretty soon, it's been 3 months since I've even looked at this page, let alone posted anything, and y'all have nearly given up on checking.

Making perfectionistic promises always gets in my way, so this is my declaration that I won't make any more declarations -- to myself, to the world, to anyone (except maybe God). :) I'll simply do my best to keep you all in the loop of my mind, and sometimes my heart.

For today, here's where both of those are residing:

Thinking a lot about how God calls us to get out of the way so that He can fill us with Himself. With His spirit. With the essence of something so much deeper and bigger than anything I'm capable of knowing or understanding. Three poems seem to best describe what's fermenting in my mind on this topic. (I know, big surprise.) The first is by Sir Thomas Browne, a 16th century theologian who didn't write much poetry, but who seems to have nailed it with this one. The second is my own response to that poem, and the third is by Madeleine L'Engle, also in response to Sir Thomas.

I'm not sure where God may take me on this subject. I just know it's important to me to pay attention to it.

Here's the poems:

If thou could'st empty all thyself of self
like to a shell dishabited
then might He find thee
on some ocean shelf and say
"this is not dead"
and fill thee with Himself instead

But thou art all replete with very thou
and hast such shrewd activity
that when He comes He says
"this is enough
unto itself -- 'twere better let it be
it is so small and full
there is no room for Me.

If I could keep blank and clean
the parchment of myself
in anticipation of thee
Then might You find me on some lonely shelf
and inscribe me with your love (and make me free)

Then, purely written,
could I unroll before men
that they might view Your love
without the blotted inky stain of my sin,
and so sighting, be blank'd themselves
ready for inscription

If thou couldst empty self of selfishness
And then with love reach out in wide embrace
Then might God come this purer self to bless;
So might thou feel the wisdom of His Grace,
And see, thereby, the radiance of His face.

But selfishness turns inwards, miry, black,
Refuses stars, sees only clouded night,
Too full, too dark, cannot confess a lack,
Turns from God's face, blest, holy, bright,
Is blinded by the presence of the Light.