{This is the second post in my year-long D.C. Museums Tour during my Gap Year before I start law school at the age of 40. THIS.}

For my second museum, I chose the International Spy Museum on F Street in Downtown D.C. Now, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from it. I had in mind that it would appeal more to kids than to adults. But I was wrong. Actually, in my opinion, the Spy Museum caters more to adults than children. Why? Because it is heavily history-focused. Children under 12 would probably not understand or be interested in much of the exhibits, whereas adults—especially those who love spy movies—will find the real-life stories of spies and their tricks of the trade super fascinating. Also, this museum is not cheap ($21.95 +tax for adults; $14.95 for kids), so it’s only worth it if you are actually interested in learning about spies. I wouldn’t go just for the thrill of it.

In the beginning of the self-guided tour, you choose an identity—an alter ego—and memorize the details. After all, if you’re a real spy and get caught, you have to be able to quickly share information about your fake life. (Think: Jason Bourne.) Throughout the museum you answer questions on computers to test how much you remembered the details of your fake identity. So you better remember who you are. I’m Greta Schmidt. I’m 33 and an astronomer from Germany. And I aced this whole fake persona thing and could totally be an actual spy. OR MAYBE I ALREADY AM ONE. I’ll never tell.

My Post-Visit Recap & Response:

AND…

Other Rad Stuff in the Spy Museum:

  • James Bond exhibit (props, cars, costumes, etc). Cool trivia: Ian Fleming who wrote 14 James Bond novels was a British spy himself and modeled the title character after, well, himself. Apparently he also loved gorgeous women, fast cars, and gambling.
  • Dead Drops: You’ve seen this in movies. A spy walks by and drops an object to be picked up by another spy or passes it off discretely to another agent. This actual mailbox was used by Russian spies as a dead drop site just down the road from me here in D.C. RIGHT there in plain sight.
  • BUGS! A huge display of different ways rooms and people can be bugged. Did you know how often embassies and state departments get bugged by adversaries? Pretty often, apparently! And since I live right near Embassy Row and dozens of embassies, I am thinking that a lot secret intelligence is taking place all around me. YESSSSSSS.
  • Famous people who were famous for other things but who were actually spies on the side: Harriet Tubman, Julia Childs, and others
  • Spy gadgets, tools, weapons, technologies: This was SUPER cool. All the stuff you see in movies? Totally real. Lipstick pistol? Awesome. Umbrella rifle that shoots out poison? Yep.

    All of these gadgets are actually weapons that either shoot bullets or poison or eject a blade.

    The KGB killed a dissident back in the 1970s by shooting out a poison-filled pellet from a modified umbrella like this one. Say what???

    Um, yeah. This is a for real thing. You can read for yourself.

     

  • Artifacts from the actual Argo ordeal. Totally need to watch this movie again!
  • Valerie Plame Wilson and her blown cover. And now I need to read her book.
  • Pigeons! An entire room devoted to carrier pigeons. Who knew these flying rats (as my friend Emily calls them) were so über useful? Did you know that animals could win medals of honor? And that pigeons earned more medals of honor than any other animal? Yay, pigeons! You go, my feathered friends!
  • And THIS. We live just a mile up the road from the Russian Embassy. This house is on the street right behind it and apparently THERE’S A STORY THERE and no one is telling it. When the Russians were building their embassy on Wisconsin Avenue, the FBI bought this house right behind it and started building a tunnel so they could eavesdrop on Moscow. But Russian spy (and FBI agent…woops) Robert Hanssen let the Russians in on it and the tunnel-building was abandoned. Rumor now has it that this house is the location of the tunnel’s entrance. And I NEED TO KNOWWWWWW.
  • 21st Century threats. For example, what would happen if there were a cyber attack against our power grid, the mass chaos that would ensue, etc. Um, not encouraging. America has been given a D- for their readiness in infrastructure and cyber security.

So much to see and learn here.

I left this museum with a newfound appreciation of the complexities involved in protecting a nation both in times of peace and war, a realization that what we see in spy movies is pretty accurately reflective of reality (which, have I mentioned?, is WAY RAD), and a greater freaking suspicion of everyone I pass on the streets now. Here in D.C., it’s no exaggeration to say that there are countless SPIES AMONG US. In fact, my 2nd grader goes to school with diplomat kids and embassy workers’ children, which makes me think that he has classmates who are spy kids. BUT WE’D NEVER KNOW. Ooooooohhhh.

So there you have it. The International Spy Museum. Worth the visit. Quite intriguing. Allow yourself a couple hours. And then…Eat at Shake Shack right next door afterwards. Just be careful. WE’RE WATCHING YOU.

{This is the first post in my year-long D.C. Museums Tour during my Gap Year before I start law school at the age of 40. THIS.}

I left this morning ready to embark on my year-long quest to visit every single museum in D.C., and for my first stop, I chose the African American Civil War Museum. I wanted to start this tour of museums with a history museum, but one that I hadn’t visited before and one that would tell me something I didn’t know.

And from the moment I stepped off the Metro escalator at U Street and faced the African American Civil War Memorial in front of me, I realized how much I never knew. Why? Because history as it’s written and taught doesn’t teach us the whole truth, or oftentimes any of it at all. And it made me mad. Immediately.Because if you read the inscription at the base of the statue, you’ll see that 209,145 African Americans fought in the Civil War, and I bet you never knew that. I didn’t.

See this wall? It’s like the Vietnam Memorial. But smaller. And not on the National Mall. And on it are the names of every single one of those soldiers who fought for the Union. Literally, they saved our nation. And no one told us that in history class.

You’ll have to watch my post-visit response video (scroll to the bottom of this post) to learn more about all the ways we’ve been lied to when it comes to African Americans, Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil War (spoiler alert: I’m mad) and what that means for us Americans here in 2017, but here are some highlights:

  • 10% of the Northern Army were of African descent
  • 25% of the Navy was black
  • 25 Black soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor
  • George Washington signed a law forbidding blacks from enlisting, even though they actually accompanied him across the dang Delaware. #earlywhiteprivilege
  • Abraham Lincoln never mentioned a moral obligation to free slaves in any of his drafts or discussions of the Emancipation Proclamation. He insisted on “military necessity” as the compelling reason for the freeing of slaves. In other words, freed slaves = more soldiers in the Union Army = saved Union.
  • The Emancipation Proclamation did not free slaves in the entire nation. Only slaves in the 10 rebel slave states were freed (and those states ignored the proclamation). The EP did not apply to the five additional slave states who were NOT part of the rebellion. (Yeah, things we were never told, right?)
  • Because the Union needed more soldiers to win the war, the Union itself would not have been saved without freed slaves. (Hence the need for the Emancipation Proclamation…It’s all coming together now, huh.)
  • At the end of the Civil War, it was the 25th Army Corps—black troops—who captured Richmond. They literally saved the Union and freed themselves. WHAT?!? Yes.
  • Oh, and to put to rest those who claim that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery? Wrong. Their very secession documents clearly delineated that as the reason for leaving the Union. Woops.

And this is just a sampling, you guys. It isn’t a large museum at all, but I spent 2.5 hours in there, reading every word and watching every video. Because SO much was information I was never, ever taught.

Go. Visit this museum. And like the narrator kept repeating in the museum film today, the stories you will learn about are truly the best kept secret in American history. A shamefully kept secret, but the best kept as well.

 

My Post-Visit Response Video.

I might have ranted. I might have preached. I might have been a little mad.

Until next time, friends…

So a thing happened this year…

We moved. Far away. From suburban Tennessee to Washington, D.C.

AND WE COULDN’T BE HAPPIER.

Awesome long story short, on the National Day of Mourning (November 9th, 2016), my husband was out-of-the-blue recruited for a job at an international non-profit here in D.C. WE JUMPED ON IT.

Fast-forward after a semester of me single parenting nine kids and studying for the LSAT and packing up our house in Tennessee, we loaded up the truck and headed to our new home in our nation’s capital and rejoined the husband/dad so this woman could have her sanity back.

Me and my baby on the 4th of July in our new hometown.

 

We belong here. City-living. Metropolitan life. International city. Walking distance to everything we could ever want. Museums. Monuments. Action. Diversity. Super rad photo opps. We love it. Absolutely love it.

And then another thing happened…

The seven kids still living at home (two 10th graders, an 8th grader, two 7th graders, a 6th grader, and a 2nd grader) all went to public school. All. Of. Them. For the first time in almost a decade, no child is home during the day. Which means for the first time in my entire life EVER, I am home alone. Sans children. All day long.

But I mentioned the LSAT. Because while the kids are in school, I’m working on law school applications for Fall 2018 admission. But it’s only Fall 2017 right now. So you get what I’m getting at, right?

I HAVE A WHOLE YEAR OF DOING WHATEVER THE HEAVEN I WANT TO, PEOPLE. HEAVEN. Yes. All the Heaven of it.

So I don’t care if I’m not 19. This is my Gap Year. My year off before I hit the ground running as a first-year law student at the age of 40. (Rule-following is apparently overrated.)

Which means it’s my Sabbath Year. MY year. Because the last decade? Adoptions and homeschooling and attachment disorders and therapists and SO.MANY.HARD.THINGS and I’m tired. I’m worn. And I am in recovery mode. A year of rest and relaxing and intentional peace. I’m almost 40 (October, baby). So I’m screwing the guilt and taking care of ME and doing all the things *I* want to do. Because I’m almost 40, dammit. Did you hear? And no one can tell me what to do.

So I am doing what I want this year. My Gap Year. My Sabbath.

I joined a gym. Orange Theory Fitness, anyone? I’M OBSESSED. Because, again, Almost 40 And Want My Body Back. I can and I will.

Headed to OTF just a few blocks away. I. LOVE. MY. CITY.

And like a proper teenager-almost-40-year-old, I hung a bulletin board in my bedroom corridor, complete with fashion tips, Oprah-esque quotes, photos, and other such magazine-cut-out inspirations. Because, again, Almost 40 And Doing Whatever Makes Me Happy.

Living my best life, you guys. Because my bulletin board tells me so.

 

And I’m doing something totally RAD to take advantage of this WHOLE YEAR OFF:

I’m visiting every single museum in D.C.

Every. Single. One.

Last count, there were 70. That’s 2-3 per week during my kids’ school year. So I’m doing it. All of them. Cool, right? TOTALLY. Yay, museums! My true love! Woo hoo!

And because I want to document my Gap Year D.C. Tour of Museums 2017-2018, I’m blogging them. I’m videoing and taking notes and pictures and I’m blogging.

So I’m going to stop talking now, because today was Museum #1. Which means I have a blog to write and a recap-response video to upload to the universe.

Oh, Gap Year. I so deserve you. And I’m gonna own you so good.

 

Dear Beautiful Human Beings in the LGBT Community,

I am at a loss as to how to begin. I have written and rewritten this in my head dozens of times since Sunday morning when we woke up to hear that over one hundred members of your community were slain and slaughtered. One hundred beautiful fellow human beings. I’ve wrestled and wept and prayed and questioned whether I had the right to even write this at all, and I truly don’t even know where to begin now that I need to translate those thoughts into words on my screen. But here goes…

I’m sitting here in my closet. Weeping. My bathroom hand towel (my regular go-to tear absorber whenever my heart is overwhelmed) is drenched, my stomach is sharply twisting in knots, and my tired eyes are puffy and red from the sobs. My heart is raw. My chest is heavy. I can hardly eat and can barely speak. I’m curled up on the stained carpet in my darkened walk-in closet. Alone. Accompanied only by my tears and my pleas and my prayers.

In my closet. My closet. Alone. The irony isn’t lost on me. I know it’s a place familiar to you, because it’s where we’ve relegated you. We as a society. As a community. And worst of all, as a church. You’ve been forced to hide there. To cry there. To be alone there. Accompanied only by your tears and your pleas and your prayers. And while my own tears are genuine and my heart pain is real and my thoughts are heavy and almost too much for actual written words, I know—please hear me—I know that they are no match for the volume of tears you’ve shed and the heart-wrenching pain you’ve curled up in while lying on the floor of your own metaphorical and literal closet.

So I’m here now with my laptop open, my 38-year-old Christian, suburban, white, straight, married self and mother of eleven (that’s a whole other story), writing to you. I hope you will hear me. I haven’t earned the place, I don’t deserve your ear, and you have no obligation to listen or even take me seriously. I get that. I give you that. No, scratch that. I can’t give what is already rightfully yours to deny. But I hope in your mercy you will allow me anyway to give this a go. (The injustice that I should expect you to give me mercy. I almost can’t even. Deep breath. Jesus.)

But this letter isn’t about me. I’m not the point. So I am coming to you with my hands extended—”just as I am,” as we like to traditionally sing, humbly asking you to accept my apology. My sincerest apology.

I’m so, so sorry. Not in the triteness of a 5-year-old’s forced apology for taking what didn’t belong to him or calling a friend a mean name, but a genuine, Oh-my-God-what-have-we-done, Father-forgive-us-we-know-not-what-we-do apology.

Because I’m. So. Sorry.

Now I know you’ve heard it before and it probably has never held much weight. And I don’t blame you at all. But maybe, just maybe, this apology can somehow by some prayer by some miracle of God’s love hold a little heavier in your heart than a pitiful, patronizing “you poor thing” spurred only by tragedy. Maybe, just maybe, you can receive this from me. From us.

I’ve been in the Christian “world” my entire life. My parents were ministers, I’ve always loved Jesus, and since I was a little kid have read the Bible with a passion to truly understand love, redemption, and what it looks like to live as humans loved by our Creator. I grew up in a left-leaning home politically (no pigeonholing us!), and one that embraced those on the fringe in society. I never learned to hate you, to fear you, to push you away. So when the church began to, I truly didn’t understand. I couldn’t fathom it or reconcile it with the Jesus I know. It has always, always made me angry.

But that’s irrelevant. Because not only am I making this about me again (why do we tend to do that in our apologies?!), but because I belong to a much larger family—the family of God—that does exactly what Jesus didn’t do, that has learned to hate you, fear you, push you away. My family, Christians, have by and large rejected you. And I am so, so sorry.

As I was pouring out my weeping heart to my husband earlier this evening (I tend to do this), I told him that I don’t know what God is doing in me, why I am so broken and torn over this tragedy in Orlando more than any other, why I have been experiencing for the last several months such acute sadness and sheer sorrow for the treatment of transgendered persons and the ostracization of the entire LGBT community, why I feel so convicted and remorseful, why I am grieving so deeply for an entire people group. But I believe that maybe it’s God crying his tears through my eyes on behalf of all Christians, because I’m feeling a physical pain that won’t subside and an overwhelming need to ask you to forgive us. It’s like a fire in my bones, and I can’t keep silent. Perhaps God has been stirring this in me so that I could write this today to post for you as you weep even now in this moment in history. Perhaps it is “for such a time as this.”

I can’t believe what we’ve done to you. I can’t believe we’ve left you out. I can’t believe we’ve told you NO. I can’t believe we’ve okayed that. But we have. And I can’t believe that even though I never set out to intentionally hurt you and never spoke a word directly against you and never overtly told you you aren’t welcome in my family, in my church, in God’s Kingdom, I’ve sinned against you by omission. I’ve left you out. I never grabbed you by the hand and brought you in. I never went out of my way to say directly to your face that YOU ARE WELCOME HERE. You belong. Because if I belong, so do you. And I haven’t placed the priority on that to let you know. I haven’t made it a priority to let you know you matter. So I’m here to say I’m so, so, sorry.

I wish I would have known sooner. I wish I would have seen. And to be clear, my own blindness is not your fault. You have been letting us know for decades. And it’s not that we didn’t know you were there. Or that you didn’t get our attention in appropriate ways. We were simply too self-focused to pay attention, and when we did, we didn’t care. We were too self-righteous to accept you. So we dismissed you. We feared you. We turned you away in disgust. And so I’m here to speak for us all and apologize.

I think it’s just like this. I have eleven kids. (Like I said, that’s a whole other story.) We live in a neighborhood with a ton of kids, kids who are always playing together outside, in a field, at our house, on our driveway, and at each other’s homes. If one day I found out that my kids had been excluding a boy down the street, that they had told him he can’t come to our house, that he can’t play here, that he isn’t allowed in our home while all the other neighborhood kids were welcome, that he can’t play with our family, as a member of this family (and especially as the mom), I would be livid. Absolutely livid at my family. And I would ache for that sweet little boy, for the rejection he’s experienced and pain he’s been living with, pain brought on my members of my own family. I would ache so deep an ache that I wouldn’t stop there—I couldn’t.

As soon as I made this discovery, as soon as my eyes were opened to this injustice and hurt, I would do two things: First, I would go to my kids and tell them how awful it is what they’ve done; how they’ve hurt an innocent boy who just wanted to be their friend, who just wanted to play, who just wanted to be treated as any other, who just wanted to belong. I would scold them and correct them and make it very clear to them how awful and unacceptable their treatment of this child is. That no one deserves that kind of rejection. That he has just as much right to our home and family as any other neighborhood kid. And that I don’t care how different they think he is.

But next? I would go to him. I would go so fast to him and tell him how so very sorry I am that members of my own family hurt him so deeply. I would listen to his pain and see his tears and offer my apology. I wouldn’t blame him for not fitting in; I wouldn’t tell him to change; I wouldn’t try to explain away the injury. I would apologize. Genuinely and deeply apologize.

So to you, beautiful people in the LGBT community, I am here as a member of God’s family, extending my heartfelt apology to you, our neighbors, asking you to forgive us, begging you to give us the mercy our family has failed to give you.

I’m so, so sorry.

I’m sorry our sorrys ring hollow.

I’m sorry it’s taken a tragedy to wake us up from our self-induced slumber.

I’m sorry we’ve shut the doors to the church to you because in our arrogance we’ve thought you less than us.

I’m sorry that it’s been “us vs. them.” Versus you.

I’m sorry that we haven’t called you to the shared table.

I’m sorry we’ve offered condemnation which contradicts any messages of love.

I’m sorry that we’ve pointed out what we see as flaws in you when really we just don’t want anyone to see the flaws in us.

I’m sorry we’ve been the worst of hyprocrites.

I’m sorry we’ve blamed you for our failed marriages as if your civil rights somehow impact our own.

I’m sorry we’ve charged you with the moral decay of society.

I’m sorry we’ve made a part of who you are reason to reject you in your entirety.

I’m sorry we don’t make sense.

I’m sorry we’ve told you that you have to change before God will accept you, when Lord knows most of us are quite comfortable not changing at all.

I’m sorry we’ve denied you the right to worship at the altar of God when we know it’s only by grace that we are there in the first place.

Izzy beach

I’m sorry that we sing about “wave after wave” of God’s love sweeping over us while leaving you watching from the shoreline.beach

I’m sorry that we couldn’t have cared less.

I’m sorry that we have been selfish with God’s mercy. That we want all the forgiveness in the universe from God but ask for none from you.

I’m sorry that we haven’t been sorry.

I’m sorry that you’ve had to convince yourself that life is worth living.

I’m sorry that we’ve played God by shutting the door to the Kingdom of Heaven in your face and making it hell for you on earth.

I’m so, so sorry.

I’m sorry that we claim to love you but ignore you when you say you don’t feel it.

I’m sorry that we’ve made you hide in dark places and seek God on your own to the point that you question if God is even there and if he is if he really loves you or thinks you’re worth anything.

I’m sorry that we have treated you less than human.

I’m sorry you’ve had to be brave when you only wanted to be yourself.

I’m sorry that we have cared more about rules and interpretations and behaviors than actually really caring.

I’m sorry that you don’t feel safe.

I’m sorry that you live in fear.

I’m sorry that we’ve turned our churches into clubs.

I’m sorry the name of Jesus has been used to exclude you while we sing about the name of Jesus, oh the name of Jesus, being the sweetest name we know.

I’m sorry our often pitiful behavior has made you want nothing of the Jesus we claim to follow.

I’m sorry.

I’m so, so sorry. Please forgive us. Often, as Jesus pointed out, we just do not know what we do.

And I know it’s never enough to make up for the pain for the hurt for the loss for the fear for the rejection for the confusion and doubt and depression and anger and loneliness. It’s not enough.

But I’m sorry nonetheless.

There’s nothing you need to say in return. Nothing that you owe us. Nothing we are expecting you to do. But I hope you can receive this, and in even the smallest way, I pray it starts to heal a place deep inside of you.

And let me speak on behalf of the family of God and all of my brothers and sisters, most especially when they’ve we’ve not represented the family well, I hope that you know just how much I truly care and want you in. I want you in the door. We want you in. WE WANT YOU ALL IN. EVERY. LAST. ONE. OF. YOUR. VALUABLE. PRECIOUS. BEAUTIFUL. SELVES.

And I hope, finally, that the truths in this song penetrate to the very core of who you are, that you know (as my 14-year-old daughter and regular and vocal advocate for you sang from our church stage tonight) that God’s love is a wave crashing over you, that he is for you and not against you, and that he makes you brave. The “champion of Heaven” has “made a way for ALL to enter in.”

Thank you for listening. Thank you for not giving up on us. And thank you for being you.

kidsbeach

Come on out and come on in. Come join us in the waves. Because nobody—NOBODY—belongs in a closet.

And, you are so truly loved. Out there on the shore and way out here deep in the waters. You are loved.

❤❤❤

-heidi, a follower of Jesus trying her best in Tennessee