Friday, January 30, 2015

Heckling Muslim schoolchildren? Faith is NOT supposed to be synonymous with hate!

I was saddened (and angered) to read this disturbing news: that recently a group of approximately 20 "Christian" Texans called the "Patriot Defense Foundation, Inc" decided to harass another group of Texans who are Muslim.  The Muslim group traveled to the Texas capitol (Austin) for a Texas Muslim Capitol Day legislative advocacy event coordinated by the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Many different groups host similar events; there are advocacy days sponsored by several different groups nearly every week during the Texas legislative session. This particular group consisted of a number of university students as well as families with young children and faith leaders.

It is hurtful to rehash the events that occurred that day, as they were cruel, bigoted, and completely unprovoked. The highlights include comparing the Muslim participants to Nazis, insulting the group during prayer, and uttering loud shouts and insults to interrupt a group of children who were singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" (the US National Anthem)!

While I'm sure that any Christian - any HUMAN - reading this is as horrified about this as I am, apparently at least one notable person seemingly agrees with this hate group masquerading as a Christian patriotic group...none other than Texas Representative Molly White. The Republican official left a message on her Facebook page that though she would not be in attendance at the protest, she intended to “leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

I am glad that the Texas Speaker of the House and the Texas Governor voiced their support for ALL Texans and condemned the protesters. But that is not enough. Representative White's words and actions were unacceptable and need to be formally addressed and corrected through the proper channels built into our system. There is no room for anti-Islamic views in our state leadership, none.  I am a woman of color; I know what it's like to be discriminated against.  I will not implicitly support someone else doing the same. And I believe that she needs to publicly apologize to the group for her remarks as well, as she was very insulting and discriminatory.

But beyond that, it is not just Representative White who has a responsibility to right these wrongs. I am calling on my fellow Christian brothers and sisters too. We cannot be silent while such loathsome hate is committed under the name of "Christianity." That crap is NOT Christianity. Silence = acceptance; that's how it is perceived even if that is not what you feel about it.  In the spirit of 1 Thessalonians 4:1 we need to act. We need to reach out and correct this wrong.  And now.

I am providing the contact info for CAIR Texas, which is based in Houston. They organized the trip and would know how to forward messages to the attendees. Let's show these individuals - our fellow Texans - some REAL Christian fellowship and support. Send a brief message of encouragement and some words demonstrating solidarity with them, and support. Denounce the hateful acts of the protesters. Help to heal the wound that they created. It only takes a moment to send an email! (Of course, you could send a snail mail letter too; that would be nice. But an email will suffice!)

The email address is:

The address is:

Council on American-Islamic Relations
Texas Chapter, Houston Office
5445 Almeda Rd, Suite 301
Houston, TX 77004

And if you're on FB, you can leave a message of goodwill on the CAIR Texas page here.

I'm about to draft a short message of support now, before I drift off to sleep. You can do the same! Please give it a thought (or several thoughts); it's the loving, ethical, and Christian thing to do!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Gratitude/Update (#NoGroupHome)

Not too long ago, I sent out a desperate plea for help. My family was (is) faced with one of the most difficult situations we'd ever encountered, and we did not have the means to handle it alone. (Many of you might be familiar with the situation; but for those who are not, this link will be active for a few days and explains it.) It has been devastating to all of us emotionally, physically, spiritually, and financially. I cannot measure the amount of tears that have been shed nor the number of prayers that have been uttered since all of this became our unfortunate and unwanted reality. It has been very, very hard.

But out of this awful situation I have seen so much beauty, and that beauty is all of you. Throughout this nightmare, our family has been showered by so much love, so much support, so much help. And though I typically express myself fairly well in writing, I continuously find myself failing to be able to find adequate words to describe how all of this makes me feel and what it has meant to me and to my entire family. I can't find the proper way to describe it because - well, I guess because I've never experienced something like this before. But I will do my best.

I have had people I know and people that I don't know go well out of their way to help us. I have had people sharing words of encouragement. Praying for us. Sending positive thoughts and well-wishes. People have provided extensive, free legal advice. People have called in favors with organizations and individuals who could possibly offer help. People have shared resources that we could look into for assistance. People have tweeted about our situation, have shared it on Facebook, Tumblr, and other places. People have written blog posts about what we are experiencing. They've shared our fundraising page far and wide. People gave up birthday and Christmas gifts, asking for those funds to be donated instead to us. People have offered to help babysit, run errands, contact public officials and/or media. People have talked with their family, friends, co-workers, and others about us. People have put us on prayer request lists. People have lifted me up with affirming remarks when things have been dismal.

In less than a month's time, I have truly seen miracles happen. You all have been my miracle. My children were supposed to be removed from my home for good and forcibly placed into a group home on December 26, 2014; today is January 4, 2015 and they are STILL AT HOME. The persistent efforts of wonderful friends advocating on our behalf has bought us some time. And that time has not been squandered; during this time frame because of all of YOU our fundraiser has surpassed its goal. We have every single dime needed to pay the legal team we have retained, who were kind enough to begin their work with only a partial payment while we attempted to acquire the rest of the money needed for their services. The full balance is due on or before January 10, 2015; we will be rendering payment in full to them tomorrow, ahead of schedule! This is all due to you. Whether you donated $5, $500, or did not donate financially but helped in other ways, you helped make this happen. I cannot thank you all enough for what you have done for my family. That is a LOT of money; even typing it is daunting. It was scary to think of how we would come up with such a huge amount of money. But together, we did it. Without you all, this would not have been possible. This success is a victory for all of us, not just for my family. Thank you.

The next few days are very significant as there are some important actions underway; our legal team is hard at work and we are waiting anxiously to learn what will happen next. Though there are no guarantees, we have hope. Our children belong at home with family; #NoGroupHome is needed for them. There is no reason for any person, child or adult, to be deprived of their autonomy and of their right to reside in the community of their choosing. Having a disability is not a crime. Being a refugee is not a crime. It is not acceptable for them to be taken away, and we will not give up the fight and will not rest until this is over and they are finally safe. They are worth it, and they deserve it. There is no outcome that I can envision or accept other than for our children to remain at home and for their future to be legally secured.

Please know that we have read every message you all have sent (many times) and we stand on the strength and support of so many wonderful communities who have rallied together for us: the autistic community, the HIV community, the adoptive community, the cross-disability community, my church, various aspects of faith, skeptic, PoC, and advocacy communities, and my cherished friends and family in person and online. Thank you, from all of us. Thank you.

I want you all to know that I have decided that when this is all over and I can exhale, I am going to try my best to find a meaningful, effective way to help other disabled families who are going through this type of horror. I don't know how I will do it exactly - if it means becoming a CASA, becoming some sort of court liaison/appointed family advocate, considering the possibility of going to law school to fight on the good side, raising money for others' legal fees, finding more widespread ways to raise awareness about this and seek solutions, a combination of these, or something I haven't yet considered. But I'm not going to just go off into the night once this is done. Whether I'm successful in my battle or whether I lose my precious children, the fight in me is ignited. I will do what I can to spare another family from this horrific, unnecessary pain.

 Too many times powerful entities choose to exploit the "little people" of this world for their own gain, and I want to try to do my part to help counter that. If not for the generosity of all of you, we would not have the ability to be able to afford the legal support needed to effectively fight against this injustice. I want to do my part to help people who need, but cannot afford, legal help - just as I was helped.

Too many people end up having their rights unfairly stripped from them and they feel powerless. There are too many Neli Latsons in this world; there are too many "faceless" and "voiceless" people denied justice for the "crime" of being a refugee, or an immigrant, or disabled, or HIV+, or a person of color, or trans, or whatever. I am an advocate (a "born advocate" is what my mother says); that will not change. This will just be another way that I can try to offer my help to others as I have been graciously helped.

Does the world need another volunteer, or CASA, or advocate crying for adoption and foster care reform? Does the world need another position statement about how disabled parents and disabled children, particularly those of color, have the rights denied regularly by ableist, bigoted, unjust systems and policies? Does the world need another prospective pro-bono human rights/disability rights/family law attorney or advocate right now? I hope it does, because I am going to use my research skills, my tenacity, and the knowledge that I gain to pay it forward. I don't ever want another person to feel the way I have felt these last few months; I pray I can save as many people as I can from the fate that has been planned for my children (or a worse fate). And God willing, I will.

As January 10th was the deadline for our fundraiser, I don't know if I will be able to send any more mass emails through the fundraiser page with updates on our situation. (Prayerfully you will only hear from me about this one last time; the date that I can say that we have won!) I will attempt to edit the fundraiser page's date to allow me to still be able to contact everyone with a final update though no more donations for our legal fees are needed. (No one needs to feel compelled to give anything at all at this point as we have what we need for this purpose; but if you feel led you are welcome. As we have met our goal, any money we happen to receive over our total is going in a bank account for the kids.)

I will definitely share an update here on my blog too.

Thank you once again; please know how much you have blessed my family. We will never forget what has been done for us; never.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Why I don't like all of those "get off social media and into the real world" posts

By now we've all seen them. The videos, articles, posts, etc that declare how "fake" social media is and stating how important it is to interact with "real people" in the "real world." Since we're still in the middle of the "new year, new you" period, such posts are plentiful right now, but you can see them any time of year.

And I'm not saying there isn't some merit to some of what they are saying. When possible and desired, it can be very rewarding to have face to face interactions with people. I'm not saying that social media should totally replace hanging out with people nor am I denying that sometimes it can be refreshing to take social media breaks or reduce the amount of time one is online.

But I am saying that these types of articles are written from a very biased, very neuro-typical point of view, and what they are implying about some of us is quite ableist and quite unfair.

Lemme break it down for y'all a bit.

Cue the 80's and 90's music. Before social media there was a little brown girl. As no teacher seemed to be able to pronounce "Morénike," she was known widely as "Nikky" (which all my old friends still call me, which is totally cool). Even as a little girl, she was better at writing than speaking. She got in trouble quite a lot from elementary school up through high school because she would write and pass notes to friends. The note-passing was not to be insubordinate, but it was her only true way of getting her real thoughts out. The thoughts that didn't come freely when she was speaking because speaking was so much mental effort, even though everyone considered her a pretty good orator, especially when it came to debate.  Her best ideas always came when she had a pen and paper in her hand. The same was true for academics, not just social interactions; her written reports were always far better than her oral reports. An undiagnosed autistic who was also hyperlexic and gifted, especially in verbal reasoning, she considered, and sometimes stated, that writing was her true "first language."

She didn't hate "being with people." She actually loved people. But it wasn't easy. She was both introverted and very social at the same time. No one knew the secret inner panic she felt about crowds, or parties, or groups of people. She hid it well. But sometimes it still came out, both in childhood/adolescence and in adulthood. In her late teens/early twenties, for example, it was not uncommon after a night at the club with friends (and/or after hours of socializing in big crowds) for her to become emotional, get into a disagreement with someone over something seemingly trivial in the car on the way home, and literally jump out of the vehicle and attempt to walk home. Her friends didn't understand these outbursts, though they tried to support her through them. She didn't understand them either. But she knew that she felt "caged" and that getting out of the car and walking was the only way she knew to regain control, to clear her mind, to get some breathing space away from everyone. Even though these were the people she loved best in the world, it was too much sometimes.

Might sound odd, but it was - is me. Fast forward lots of years ahead, and there are many such scenarios like that. Perhaps not as dramatic as exiting a vehicle at 3 am in the morning and trying to walk home in high heels and short shorts in the dark, but the same theme emerges.  Requesting, and paying extra for a single room in college to have some space. Working through lunch breaks at work to avoid having to socialize with co-workers. Declining the invitation to a party or other outing out of fatigue. Etc, etc. Not even really conscious of how or why at the time, I've always needed to build in "space" and "breaks" for myself to be able to function. Socializing takes a lot out of me. I enjoy it, but I have to be prepared before it, and I have to be able to "come down" after it.

But not all social interaction is built equally. I don't feel the same, nor act the same, in all settings. My special interests are learning, advocacy, and social justice, and I shine in social interactions where those areas are involved. Whether having a one-on-one conversation or presenting on a stage in front of a crowd of hundreds, once I get past the first few moments of jitters, I'm totally cool. I'm in my zone when I'm talking about and doing things that I am passionate about. When I am advocating and educating, the social anxiety can't reach me because I'm much too high. In those moments, my "deficits" - perseveration, intense focus, preoccupation with details, verbosity, atypical prosody, heightened sense of feeling and memory, etc - in those moments, those things aren't weaknesses. They're strengths; they're gifts. They're me. And they're freakin' beautiful, and real, and right.

However, this same woman (me), who can speak effectively and without fear in front of the world's leading researchers, or in front of government officials, or in front of celebrities...this same woman has to spend fifteen minutes in the car praying and doing deep breathing before volunteering at my children's schools (oh, the small talk!) or before calling up an old friend (texting is so much nicer), etc. These are people I LIKE, and yet it's hard for me. It is exponentially harder in forced interactions with people I don't know or don't like.

With writing, though, none of this applies. I'm so free. This whole post, for example, would have been very hard to convey if I had to "tell" it to you aloud. When my fingers are on a keyboard, or screen, or writing utensil, the real me emerges so readily. I'm free. Not that the "me" that is there when I'm in person isn't real; it is. But just less certain, less meaningfully communicative, Kind of like a person speaking a foreign language. You can live in a country for 20 years and the language of that land is now very familiar to you. You now speak that language quite well, but it will never come with the ease and natural comfort of your native tongue. In your second language you might be "good,' but in your native tongue you are almost "great."

However, social interaction is a part of life, and cannot be entirely avoided (nor should it be). Those of us who aren't the best at it still have to engage in it. And I have done so for years and did okay. Some years better than others, but still sorta okay. But then something happened that changed the dynamic quite a bit. If it was a book title, I'd call it "Six Kids in Six Years: The Accidental Family."  My family has grown exponentially in a short period of time, and it was the best "accident" I could have even been blessed with. Once, in what seems almost like another life, I was facing the prospect of not knowing if I'd ever be able to be a parent; now my "cup runneth over." I have a large, loud, loving, neurodiverse family, and I wouldn't have it any other way. They are my world, and they have my heart.


They have needs. A lot of them. They need support. Encouragement. Nurturing. Guidance. Care. Love. They need a lot from me, and I am here to give it. But that means I don't have a lot of me left for other people sometimes. Not in a bad way; I care deeply for others, and try my best to be there for them. But my family comes first, last, and always before anyone and anything. Kid gets sick on the night of my high school reunion? Y'all have fun; I'm staying home. AIDS Walk falls during an important international conference? I'm leaving the conference; flying home early to walk with my people. Got an invite to a cool concert, but my kid starts having meltdowns/panic attacks/seizures before I'm supposed to leave? I ask another friend to go in my place. I don't mean for it to be the case, but life happens...and when you have a family as big as mine, life happens a lot. And without regret or hesitation when life happens to my family I know exactly where I want to be and where I choose to be - with my family.

And then sometimes life doesn't happen. There are days that things are pretty calm (our version of calm anyway). When things aren't super busy and nothing chaotic or catastrophic is going on. A lot of days are happy, and fun, and filled with memories. Thank God, more days are good than bad. But even on those days, my emotional capacity, my mental and physical energy, my socializing quota...all of those things are finite even on my best day. And you might find that even on the days when the sky is not falling and my face has been full of smiles, I still may not be able to socialize face to face. Because on good days I still have to drive four hours or more roundtrip getting the kids to and from school; I still might have to host a conference call; I still likely have to deal with things that require some of my "spoons."   So even on a good day, when that phone call is coming in I might (not even "might;" probably "will") have to let it go to voicemail (which I almost never check).  On a good day I still might have to let a little time go by before I check emails or texts. Because I just may not be able to handle communication at that moment...just because. I have a limited amount of "spoons" to expend each day, and most of them are going to be reserved for my family. Whatever I have left is for everyone and everything else.

So...that doesn't exactly make for a hopping social life in the "real world." In fact, about a month or so after my sons first joined our family a few years ago, one of them asked me, "Mom, do you have friends? Hardly anyone comes over here." Lol!

Then something pretty incredible happened. Three something incredibles even.

1. My available time for socializing and advocating increased because my children all went to school (even the little ones, thanks to the public preschool for children with disabilities, which enrolls eligible children as young as three years old).

2. We switched to a cell phone plan with a HUGE amount of data.

3. One of my very good friends sweetly convinced me to get with the 21st century and give social media, which I had been purposefully avoiding for years, a try.

And life changed.

My advocacy efforts expanded, because now I didn't have to do so much of it face to face. I gained access to a lot of exciting information and opportunities, and people. And I got a chance to socialize online instead of solely in person. I found that socializing, which was once a challenge, became practically painless. Now it was controlled, safe, and not tied to knowing when to look up, how loud or soft to make one's voice, when to laugh and when not to, when to gesture and when not to, whether or not to make eye contact, whether I was stimming or hiding it, etc. And when I was getting overstimulated, or if I needed to go do something or attend to something or someone? I just logged off and went to take care of my business; no worries.  It. was. awesome!

I found that my in-person socializing actually improved as well, because now I was less stressed out about it. My life in general became a lot less stressful.

I have met AMAZING people who I care for deeply on this "fake" social media. People I'd fight for. People who are fighting for me. People I will happily support if they need me, and who are doing the same for me. People I would have likely never met "IRL" (in "real life") for various reasons. And this same "fake" social media has allowed me to see a different side of people that I DO know in person, and has often helped me to actually like them more and feel like I can better interact with them socially in person as a result of our interactions online.

I admit it's not all rainbows and butterflies. I've seen the drama. I've seen the bullying. I've seen the unpleasant. Just like "IRL," there is good and bad to social media. I'm not pretending it's all wonderful.

But just because there are some bad elements of something, that doesn't make it altogether bad. Or fake. Or weird. I am MYSELF online. I don't create a fake persona of someone who is perfect or gorgeous or rich or super-important. I'm just me.

All of those "be with REAL people; get offline" posts are insulting. I am a REAL person. For various reasons, being with "REAL" people in person frequently is not possible nor desirable for me; being online gives me access to people and places that are difficult for me to navigate. To insinuate that people like me are shallow, fake, or depriving ourselves because our preferred mode of socialization differs from others is unfair.

I socialize more easily this way because I am autistic, I am busy, I am a mom with a large family of which many of its members have disabilities and require extensive time and support, and because it is less stress-inducing. Some people socialize better online because they have geographic constraints, because of physical/mental/emotional disabilities, and/or for other reasons.

We respect people's right to small talk, being around people all the time, and socializing the way that works best for them. Please respect the right of people like me to socialize the way that works best for us.

Thanks bunches for understanding.  See ya on Twitter!

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