Tag Archive for personal

An Open Letter to My Fellow Americans

U.S. Capitol BuildingThere is no doubt that we are in a mess.

Our government is shutting down. Those in Congress and the Senate cannot work out an agreement. People are refusing to speak to each other. Parks are getting closed (Some friends of mine were planning a trip to Yosemite next week—it has sadly been cancelled; some other friends were going camping this weekend at a park run by the Corps of Engineers, but the park is now closed and they cannot go). The National Zoo is closed. The Smithsonian is closed. Federal employees are being put on furlough—forced to stay home without pay—by no choice of their own. We are in a mess.

And the debate about this shutdown rages on. In the Capitol building. In the White House. In the media. On Facebook.

Most of you reading this blog know me personally—you are my friend (or acquaintance) and you know me. And so you know that I am the daughter of a member of Congress. This is my dad’s ninth year in Congress, his fifth term serving his district, his state, and his country.

For days, weeks, months, and years, I have read your posts about gun control, abortion, taxation, education, and other issues we care about. I have even made some of my own. Most recently, of course, your posts have centered on the government shutdown and the Affordable Care Act. Although I am not an insider—I am not in the government or in politics; and I have not read the 20,000 page ACA document (hopefully it is triple-spaced and includes lots of figures and images!!)—I do want to respond to a new trend in our public discourse that bothers me: the way we tend to generalize and characterize our government representatives—who they are, what they do, how they think, how smart they are, or even how patriotic they are.

I have read Facebook post after blog post after Twitter post that characterize these men and women in Congress and the Senate as “power-hungry blokes,” “idiots,” “greedy,” “immoral,” “egotistical schmucks,” “greatest hoaxes ever,” and other similar sensationalist, startling, vitriolic, and overall rude comments about these public servants.

As an American, as a citizen, and as the daughter of one of these people constantly attacked in the news and social media, I have to object.

Why are we spewing so much vitriol? Why do we harbor so much bitterness? Why are we so angry? And why do we use social media to call names, point fingers, and spread hostility?

Now I am not saying I have never done such a thing. I’m sure my words on Facebook have hurt someone or, perhaps unwittingly, made someone feel attacked. I apologize for that. It was not my intention. Yet, even still, I know that words can hurt.

So, over the years, I have become even more intentional about not defaming people in this manner—whether on a personal level or about a politician I don’t know. For one, I do it out of respect for my dad. He is a public figure and I do not want my views, my failures, or my mess-ups to impact his career in any way. But I also do it because I don’t want to hurt people. Attacking people—even public figures—is rude. It’s defamatory. It’s called “flaming.” And words hurt. We all know this. We were taught this before we started kindergarten.

Yet we seem to have lost sight of this important truth.

What’s so ironic about all of our public and online discussions of these men and women is that the people who represent us do not talk about each other like this; they do not view each other in such hateful ways. Sure, they have different personalities, different views, and different ideas of what government should do—and they fight hard and passionately and vehemently for their viewpoints—but, for the most part, they get along personally. They attend parties and dinners together; they attend prayer breakfasts together; they office next door to each other; they co-sponsor bills; they vacation together; they collaborate at fundraising events; they even stand together on the steps of the Capitol—unified—for the world to see.

I was able to witness some of this camaraderie this summer when my family spent a week in Washington DC. My husband Shane, a pulpit minister, was selected as the guest chaplain for one of these days and he got to go down on the House floor to lead the opening prayer. My daughter, Elizabeth, was able to sit on the floor watching him while he led the prayer and then watching her grandfather as he followed-up with a short speech. She also got to go down there another time with my dad when a vote was going on. While she was there, people from both parties went up to her and spoke to her kindly—about what it was like to be there and what it was like to have “Teddy” for a grandfather. People from both parties also interacted with my husband—joking with him, engaging him in conversation, assisting him with what he needed, and just being nice. There is a level of respect these people have for each other. They realize what many of us don’t—passionate debate and dialogue is possible when we critique the policy rather than the person. Though they have different opinions, they can still engage in passionate debate with each other. Even though they disagree—and do so adamantly in their speeches (just look at my dad!)—there is a level of respect for each other. At their best, they are debating American ideals; they are debating what they think is best for Americans; what is best for our world. They are not out there to get rich off Americans or to hurt people; they are serving our country in the best way they know how.

Yes, these people hold partisan views—they must run as part of political parties, no less. But they work together and collaborate with each other on multiple efforts, initiatives, bills, and committees. Over the years, I have witnessed my dad—a Republican—work with Democrats to co-sponsor important bills. Things like this rarely get reported. And my dad does important non-partisan work—human work—work on human trafficking, sexual crimes against women and children, victims’ rights, domestic violence, and the environment. Other representatives and senators do the same. But this stuff doesn’t get reported. It’s not flashy, sensational, or controversial enough, I guess. To use the word of my five-year-old son, it’s “boring.”

If you are a student of politics or if you are knowledgeable about specific issues, such as human trafficking, higher education, transportation, or the environment, you know that people from all parties work together to resolve these issues. They co-sponsor legislation on a regular basis. They collaborate in committees. They dialogue and debate behind closed doors. Yet, the news media tends to only pay attention to and report on—dare I say—the partisan stances these men and women make, mostly ones that are controversial or that evoke intense emotion in viewers/readers. They put people on their shows to discuss hot-button issues. Why not, right? Their aim is for their story to be viewed, read, and shared. For many Americans, what “makes the news” is what we are informed about. And we are not getting the whole story.

These people—at least in my admittedly limited experience—are nice, good-hearted people who care about America and us, her people. I only know one member of Congress personally, but I know him really well. He serves as a good example to my point. Though he is passionate about certain subjects and holds views on all the issues he must vote on, he is serving this country in the best way he knows how. He is not greedy, power-hungry, or mean. He truly wants to serve this country and make a difference. I would guess that most people serving in government want this same thing. Just because these people hold different views than you does not make them bad people. We are always calling for bipartisanship—for some give and take from the people holding office. And yet we ourselves create straw men and straw women of them. We don’t see the good these people are doing in other realms.

And fail to realize (or remember) that these people representing us are individuals, too. Like you, they have families. They have sons and daughters. They have grandchildren. They have parents. They have friends. And they have feelings. Name-calling has hurt since kindergarten and it hurts as adults—no matter who you are or what  position you hold.

Talk about policy. Share your personal stories about how certain laws or policies are impacting you. But don’t enter into the flame wars that are hurting our society, our mental health, our relationships with each other, and individuals we do not know. If you have ever been flamed on Facebook, you know how much it hurts. It’s embarrassing. It’s humiliating. It’s frightening. But flaming says more about the people doing it than it does about the people it’s about.

Our public and private discourse would benefit from less cruelty, less divisiveness, and more understanding, compassion, and humility. More light, less darkness.

We are too angry on the Internet. It’s time to be nice, people.

MLKing Darkness Quote

A 10-Year Anniversary Photographic Journey

Our Wedding Day_6.15.2002

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the day I said, “I will,” to my husband Shane Peyton Alexander. Since that moment, we have lived in five different cities and eight different homes. We have earned three advanced degrees, worked with four churches, and made many new friends. We have had three children and gotten a dog. We have lost two grandparents. Our parents have started new careers, or retired from old ones. We have been able to travel by ourselves almost every year, thanks to the grandparents. We have had difficult times. We have had wonderful times. We still love to talk about baseball, take walks together, and laugh. We do not get to see near as many movies as we did or be by ourselves as much as we’d like, but we are happy. We are still stubborn, but we have learned to give in to each other. We are a good team (read Shane’s recent post about our marriage here). We are thankful for each other.

For today’s post, I decided to take a walk back through these 10 years by posting some pictures of us together (As the years have gone on, it was difficult to find pictures of just the two of us!). I’ve included the year and the city we were living in at the time.

Wedding Day: June 15, 2002.
We were living in Abilene, Texas, when we got married, where I was finishing up a Master’s degree in English at ACU. Shane had just graduated with his Master of Divinity a few weeks prior. We got married in the Houston church where I grew up. Five weeks after our wedding day, we were living in Louisville, Kentucky, and I was beginning my Ph.D.

Leaving the church

This was my first time to ride in a limo, which is surprising considering I used to want to own one when I was a young girl.

Year One (2002-2003). Louisville, KY.

Shane and Kara Poe Alexander in the snow 2012

Snow in Louisville…in November!

Shane and Kara Poe Alexander at UofL 2003

On UofL’s campus.We loved Louisville and the people we met while we were there.

Year Two (2004). Louisville, KY.

Shane and Kara Poe Alexander, 2004

This picture was taken at my sister Kellee’s rehearsal dinner. We always loved excuses to come back to Texas!

Year Three (2005). Gatesville, TX.

Shane and Kara Poe Alexander, 2005

Here I am, six months pregnant with our first child. We are on a “babymoon” trip to San Diego with some friends from college. I had finished my comprehensive exams and was writing my dissertation at the time.

Year Four (2006). Gatesville, TX.

Dr. Kara Poe Alexander and Family_2006

I graduated with my Ph.D in May 2006 and started working at Baylor in August 2006. I couldn’t find a picture of just me and Shane of that day, so here’s almost one-year-old Elizabeth with us.

Shane and Kara Poe Alexander, 2006Before I started working at Baylor, Shane and I took a trip to see my dad in Washington D.C. He gave us a tour of the U.S. Capitol, and here we are at the very top of the rotunda, after taking hundreds and hundreds of steps to get to the top. We did not feel very safe standing here, and the people looked like little bugs down below. I wrote this blog post about our trip. Whew. I’m feeling anxious just remembering the height!

Year Five (2007). Gatesville, TX.

This picture was taken during our 10-day trip to Italy, our gift to ourselves for me graduating with my Ph.D. in 2006 and him being so supportive, flexible, and encouraging during this time.

Year Six (2008). Waco, TX.

2008_Shane and Kara Poe Alexander

This picture was taken on our actual anniversary. Peyton, our second baby, was born three months prior. We went out to dinner at a nice restaurant in town.

Year Seven (2009). Waco, TX.

Port Aransas 2009

We like going to the beach during the summer, especially with the kids. I grew up going to South Padre Island every year because my grandmother only lived 30 minutes away. This picture was taken during our trip to Port Aransas with Shane’s family.

Year Eight (2010). Mexia, TX.

At Fenway Park

Here we are in Boston at Fenway Park. The Texas Rangers were playing the Red Sox the night we were there. We’ve been to four other parks together where we’ve seen the Astros (my favorite team) play (Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Arlington, and Houston). Hopefully, we’ll get to go to many more baseball parks together!

Year Nine (2011). Mexia, TX.

2011_Shane and Kara Poe Alexander

Here I am eight months pregnant with Levi and at the beach with the family. This picture was taken at Galveston.

Year Ten (2012). Mexia, TX.

Kara Poe Alexander and Shane Alexander_2012

Here is the most recent picture taken of us together back in March.

Here’s to many more wonderful years together.

We Were Swinging

Some family visited us this weekend. City folks. My mom and younger sister Kellee and her adorable daughter Olivia.

Olivia at 17 months

Sweet Olivia

My mom is from Houston and my sister is from Dallas. We live about halfway in between the two cities, so they met in the middle at my house for the weekend. We enjoyed ourselves. We didn’t “do” much–not as much as we would have had we gone to one of their homes, or to my other sister Kim’s house in Austin. There, we probably would have taken the kids somewhere to do some activity (i.e., a museum, a splash pad, a well-known park, a great restaurant, the movies, shopping). The activity would have been a lot of fun, but it would probably have cost a lot of money and we would have been on-the-go the whole time.

In this small town, we don’t have as much access to these kinds of experiences. Sure, we could have driven to Waco, which is about an hour away, but Kellee’s house is only an hour and fifteen minutes away. Why would we do that? And our small town does have some enticing places to eat as well as a wonderful state park just a few miles away.

But, they didn’t really come here to spend more time in the car. They came here knowing we probably wouldn’t do very much. They came to rest. To relax. To take things slow. To get away. To enjoy the slow pace.

And it was the simplicity of our weekend that they seemed to enjoy the most. This says a lot coming from my mom who likes to be busy and “doing” things. She is constantly on the go and likes it that way. But not this weekend. She was the one who kept insisting that we just take things slow.

Friday night, we did have one event. We went to Elizabeth’s t-ball game. She played the best game of her (3-year!) career, and it was a lot of fun.

Elizabeth at t-ball game

My mom with Levi

Nana with Levi

Saturday morning, we watched the kids swim in the kiddie pool and play on the jungle gym.

My mom, Kellee, and I sat in one of our porch swings for much of the day, drinking our Sonic drinks and talking.

Kellee and Olivia

My sister Kellee and niece OliviaLevi (9 months) playing in the pool

Swinging awaySaturday afternoon we walked over to our church to attend a Fish Fry. None of us really knew what to expect and, to be honest, we were a bit skeptical of how the food would taste or what it would be like.

I guess some people from my church are reading my blog because one woman was very surprised that I had never attended one before because “it isn’t a country thing; it’s a lake thing.” My family went camping two to three times a year when I was younger, and we would fish. We caught perch and catfish, but we always threw it back. Even if we were to catch something worth eating, my dad didn’t have the supplies to clean and fry the fish, so we always threw it back.

But there’s just something about fresh fish. It is scrumptious. The fish we ate was breaded with flour and coated with a delicious mix of spices. It was flaky, yet crispy and so very tasty. We also ate our fill of hushpuppies (which Peyton kept calling “cheese balls” because they were so soft in the middle), cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, and all kinds of desserts. I hope I can attend many more fish fries while I’m in the country (And it was really nice not to have to cook it but to enjoy someone else cooking for me for a change!).

After the fish fry, we went back home, put the kids to bed and sat in the backyard on the swing for the rest of the evening. The breeze rustled the trees. The birds tweeted and chirped. Our dog Shiloh ran around and licked our feet (they did not like that). It was even cool enough that my mom wore a lightweight jacket. We enjoyed the smell of the night air and the cooler weather, knowing it would not last much longer. Summer heat and humidity would be coming soon.

And we kept swinging. Even long after it got dark. We were swinging, back and forth. Enjoying the quiet of the country.

This was a relaxing weekend for us all. It was peaceful, restful, and simple. If you were to ask us what we did all weekend, I would say, “We were swinging.” I was glad that my family got to experience a little bit of my life, to see why this city girl likes the country.


Inventing a Winning Machine

Earlier this week, I was looking through my 1st grade daughter’s backpack and found a piece of paper from school with Elizabeth’s writing. Elizabeth wrote the following:

“My invention is the mushen that can make you win evry game. I invented the mushen that can make you win evry game.”

Children Racing Black and White

Image courtesy State Library by New South Wales. Flickr's Creative Commons License.

Two sentences. Two sentences that reveal a lot about my daughter. Elizabeth likes to win. She doesn’t like to lose. When given the opportunity to imagine a machine to invent that would make life better, easier, she chose a technology that would make winning at everything possible. (Of course, there are problems with such a tool, because someone has to lose, right?)

(Funny note: One of my friends told me that her invention already exists; it’s called “The Bribe.” Ha!)

Elizabeth comes by this desire honestly (just like she does her stubbornness, independence, and strong-willedness). She gets it from me. I like to win. But if I could invent such a machine, I would want the opposite of her; I would want something that would never allow me to lose. Because, yes, I like to win, but even more than that, I don’t like to lose.

When Shane and I first moved to Louisville, Kentucky (we had probably been married 4 months), my dad was making a speech in Indianapolis and we drove up to see him. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive to the city. We picked him up at the airport and walked around downtown for a while, visiting the statues, parks, and other outdoor sights. Indianapolis has such a lovely feel. We ate dinner and then were heading back to the car (after several hours of walking around).

On the way back to the car, Shane was arguing with me about the route we were taking back to the car. He said the car was the other way; I said it was not, that we were headed in the right direction. This was ten years ago, well before GPS and Smart Phones. Shane kept insisting that we were going the complete wrong way. He decided to ask my dad what he thought.

My dad told him that he thought we were headed in the wrong direction (my way) and that he thought Shane was right and that we had come from the other direction.

Then my dad paused and said, “But I’m going to just keep following her. I learned a long time ago that you don’t argue with Kara. Even when I disagree with her about stuff like this, I have learned to go with it. Why? Because Kara is never wrong. Really, she is always right. But, if she IS wrong, then we can give her a hard time.”

We all burst out into laughter. It was a lesson from the father-in-law to the son-in-law. My daughter/your wife is right.

At this point, I started second-guessing myself. I kept walking the way I thought was the way to the car, and, voila, I WAS RIGHT. We found the car, and, whew, I wasn’t wrong.

I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like to lose. It comes from liking to play games, just like Elizabeth does. Card games. Board games. Sports games. I’m competitive. I don’t like to lose.

When I win, I don’t gloat. I don’t celebrate. I don’t “rejoice” (this is the term I use for athletes when they start gallivanting down the court after making a basket or a touchdown, especially when they’re on the OTHER team, and I don’t want to see such celebration!). Instead, I act like I’ve been there before.

Because I have. I have won lots of things. Small things. Big things. Things that matter. Things that don’t. Things that had major consequences for me in terms of scholarships, prestige, fame, and recognition.

[L]losing draws on my insecurities of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Losing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

[One sidenote: It is interesting when I play games with other people, which I love to do, they ALWAYS strive to beat me. They gang up on me so that I will lose. They target me (in Hearts, Double-9 dominoes, Monopoly, etc.) so that I will lose first. Then, they make big shows of it when they win. They rub it in. They jump up and down. They celebrate. They “rejoice.” I guess that’s what I get for being competitive and winning a lot. I can take it. It’s just a game, right?]

But winning isn’t what motivates me; what motivates me is NOT losing. I’m sure there’s a lot of complexities going on in this statement, but let me just say that losing draws on my insecurities of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Losing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

When an article I’ve written gets rejected.

When I don’t get a grant or sabbatical for which I’ve applied.

When I don’t get a position for which I’ve applied.

When I receive a set of negative teacher evaluations.

When someone says something negative about me.

When I compare myself to other moms. 

When my children misbehave and disobey me.

When I fail as a Christian.

My identity is wrapped up in NOT losing. And when I do lose, it hurts. So, if Elizabeth could invent that machine, I would buy it. But I don’t think it would be enough to confront the underlying insecurities of losing.