Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dear Governor Rauner

Dear Governor Rauner,

Since taking office in January 2015 you have faced many challenges. Governing a state as large and diverse as Illinois cannot be easy. You don't make decisions alone--that's not how government works--but you've tried to get things done. Though I don't consider myself a Republican, I appreciate you using your administrative gifts to help turn around Illinois.

I was born and raised in Michigan, but I've lived in Illinois for most of my married life. I've lived in the western suburbs of Chicago where I was an elementary teacher in Cicero. I've lived in central Illinois, within reach of the city while enjoying a slower and quieter pace. And I currently reside in rural southern Illinois with my husband and three daughters as we serve two United Methodist churches. There is much beauty here, but also struggle. My work in ministry has opened my eyes to how decisions made in Springfield affect real people.  

Fiscal responsibility is important, and let's face it, Illinois is in no position to waste precious money or time right now. I get that. But I'm concerned that the budget crisis, particularly cuts to higher education and social services , are beyond troubling--they're dangerous.

Take, for example, the school system in my small town of Neoga. Because of a property tax issue that occurred several years back, the school system was forced to refund money to Reliant Energy, being promised by the state that the district would be reimbursed. That money never came, and coupled with a decrease in state funding, the school system fell into dire financial straits. An attempt at a referendum failed last spring. The school board was forced to make dramatic cuts to remain open. The deepest of those cuts are devastating: no more elementary physical education teacher, no more art teacher, decreased bus service, and school dismissal at 2PM instead of 3PM.

The most serious of those cuts is the shortened school day. Most working families, which make up the majority of our town, cannot be home to welcome a child off the school bus at 2PM. This leads families to make tough decisions--who will care for my child when I'm not there? Can I leave my child home alone for a few hours until I get home from work? There are very few child care options in our town, an no latch-key program to speak of.

That's where church steps in, as it should. The church my husband and I serve partnered with another church in our town and began a low cost after school program to serve the needs of our community's families, and I'm happy to report that it's thriving. It's a large undertaking and requires enormous volunteer support. The children are fed, helped with homework, and given recreation time by church members who have been background checked. But not all families can afford it, and many parents work far later than the program is available. That means many children are still unattended at home, and it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt, or worse.

That brings me to the decision made recently to freeze funding for the Child Care Assistance Program.This program benefits many families in our community, as they are working to find and hold low wage jobs while also struggling to find quality child care. Freezing this subsidy makes it difficult for families to place their children with safe caregivers. The consequence is that many hard-working families rely on neighbors, family, or friends to care for their children.

This week in Neoga, a one year-old child died in one of these unlicensed and unregulated child care situations. Two families are devastated, casualties in the war against "entitlements" that you and those in your party are so quick to cut. As Maria Whelan, director of Illinois Action for Children said in a recent Chicago Tribune article: "We have literally pulled the rug out from under these parents, who are doing exactly what we told them to do — go to work."

Governor Rauner, please reconsider your cuts to programs that help to raise up low-income working families. These cuts keep women out of the workforce and create dangerous conditions for children. Lives are being lost. Hope is wearing thin. Time is running out.

Christina Krost


Friday, August 28, 2015

Something's missing

A few weeks back I read an article from Brain, Child Magazine that mirrors my feelings about having three daughters. I'm often asked at church, in the grocery check out line, or in the pediatrician's waiting room if we will be "trying for a boy" next, as I still (gratefully) look young enough to bear more children. I often wonder how my girls feel when well-meaning people ask that question in front of them. Is having a boy somehow valued more than having three intelligent, beautiful, empathetic girls? Is my parenting experience incomplete until I've raised a son? Is something is missing--are my girls are not enough?

The truth is that I'm happy to have three daughters, and I don't feel like I'm missing out by not raising a son. We put a lot of effort into breaking down gender stereotypes, nurturing our girls' natural talents, and encouraging them to try not-as-natural activities. If we had sons, I'd like to think we'd parent the same way. I can't speak for my husband, but I think we've both accepted that raising our daughters into strong women is our life's work and highest calling.

But don't get me wrong: I'm not without worry. Three daughters means three times the emotion, hormones, and hair ties. Sometimes it feels like we're drowning over here. #SOMUCHGLITTER. 

But the whole not-being-enough thing scares me. The idea that girls are worth less than boys is ingrained in our social and, unfortunately, religious institutions. This inequality has played out through the news of Josh Duggar's molestation of underage girls and most recently his marital infidelity.

When I heard the news of the molestation accusations, I was troubled to hear how focused people were on Josh. We heard very little about his victims (and I'm sure there's a reason for that--I'm not judging how the survivors handled the situation, just making an observation). As someone who has experienced the confusion and shame from such an experience, I can tell you it will always lurk in the back of your mind, reminding you you're not good or pure enough, ever. And if your religious foundation already limits your acceptable roles to homemaking and child-bearing, I suppose you might feel like you don't have much left to contribute. Like you're trapped. I was wrecked for the survivors, who were likely compelled to show their abuser total forgiveness, even if they weren't quite ready to do so, in the name of family and Christian unity.

And then when I heard the reports about infidelity, I was even more troubled. Anna Duggar, Josh Duggar's wife, was raised to do one thing and one thing only--be a wife and mother. It is the hardest job on the planet, and even more so if you're told that you're commanded by scripture to be a perfect Proverbs 31 woman. Anna Duggar did nothing wrong. As far as we can tell, she did her part and excelled in her role. But it still wasn't enough. She is likely sitting in her broken home right now nursing her newest baby, born just over a month ago, wondering what the hell happened. My heart breaks for her and for her children. Her life has been shattered, and very publicly. She may even be being pressured to stand by him by her family and pastor, regardless of what she thinks and feels.

Her husband failed her. You might even argue that her parents failed her. Josh will pay the consequences of his actions, I'm sure. There are reports that he's in rehab right now. But he won't come out of this as "ruined" as she will. Why is that? Am I missing something?

Because if all you're ever expected to be is a housewife (a noble profession) and your marriage fails, or your husband dies, or he loses his job, you're going to need something to fall back on. Anna Duggar has skills, no doubt. But she lacks a degree and work experience outside the home. She joins millions of women just like herself who are unprepared for the work force. If she didn't have a family support system, what would she do?  How would she support her family?  It's an unsettling thought how close any of us could be to the edge of disaster.

What's missing here?

It's time we start valuing women, starting when they're girls. Raise them up to be self-sufficient, capable, and confident not in spite of their sex but because of it. Educate them. Foster their curiosity. Buy them Barbies and building blocks. Take them to dance class and karate. Do this for your sons, too. Do not let a narrow reading of the Bible lead you to adopt rigid gender roles, because we do not live in the same society that the writers of those verses lived in long ago.

It's not an issue of either/or. Let's embrace the both/and. We can raise strong boys AND girls. We can serve one another through marriage AND still be equal. We can BOTH work AND care for children. Every situation will be different, and every family will have to find what works best for them. But let's stop with the biblical directives that women are only good for making and raising babies. Is it possible that the patriarchal systems we've lived by for so long aren't working? And even more than that, are doing harm?

What's missing? Maybe mutual respect? Equality? I think it's even simpler than that: gratitude.

God has gifted us all differently. We're a mixed soup of colors, genders, and talents. Why must we try to fit ourselves into tiny boxes? I'm not saying it's always easy to be who you are in society: our race and gender are subject to conscious and unconscious bias before we're even old enough to speak. But if we could just claim our identity as a beloved child of God and recognize it in one another, regardless of our differences, maybe we'd stop comparing and losing our joy. We'd see our value.

Maybe that's what's missing.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

For the Love...thank you notes and a giveaway!

"For the love of God, stop touching your sister."
"For the love of Moses, get your shoes on."
"For the love of everything holy, please pick up your wet bathing suit from the carpeted floor."

Sound familiar to anyone? I use the phrase "for the love" as a stand in for "good grief" or "I can't believe I'm saying this again." It's better than cussing, but just barely.

This phrase was the inspiration for Jen Hatmaker's new book For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards. Jen is one of my favorite writers (I've written about her books here and here). 

simply cannot imagine where I'd be in my Christian walk without her guidance along the way. She has helped me let go of so much guilt and anxiety about trying to be the perfect mom, the perfect pastor's wife, and the perfect Christian woman and has replaced it with grace, wisdom, and gratitude. And I'll be checking her off my famous-people-I-want-to-see-in-real-life bucket list in September when she speaks at MomCon, the yearly Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) convention in Indianapolis. 

In the introduction of For the Love Jen writes: ..."As this book started taking shape and I discovered it's contents, the title became instantly clear: For the Love. This is why we live and breathe: for the love of Jesus, for the love of our own souls, for the love of our families and people, for the love of our neighbors and this world. This is all that will last...Because as Paul basically said: We can have our junk together in a thousand areas, but if we don't have love, we are totally bankrupt. Get this right and everything else follows. Get it wrong, and life becomes bitter, fear-based, and lonely."

Amen, sister. Isn't that all we're really trying to do here: love our people, and the people around us, as best as we can? 

I pre-ordered my copy of as soon as I heard it was available. And then something awesome happened: I got another copy as a freebie when Jen Hatmaker partnered with Noonday Collection to help launch her book and Noonday's new fall collection. It was a perk to hold a trunk show, which I would have done anyway. Win, win!

Dear readers: I want this book in your hands, not on my shelf. If you're running on the hamster wheel of marriage, motherhood, work, and church and are terrified that you're not doing any of it well, this book is for you. 

Here's how to enter:
Comment on this post (not on Facebook or Twitter) by midnight on Thursday, August 27. I'll choose a comment at random and will contact the winner by email. You may enter as many times as you like!

Here's how to comment:
Jen Hatmaker dedicates a few chapters in For the Love to thank you notes (a la Jimmy Fallon). To enter, comment below with your own version of a thank you note. Here's an example:

Get it? I can't wait to see your comments! And good luck!