Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Voice - Part 2

Last week I wrote Voice- Part 1 to share a pivotal point in my own understanding of the importance of using our voices. This is my follow-up.


"I can remember heading south on a road trip with my family and seeing, for the first time, "colored" water fountains. I was so confused."

"I don't think I've ever heard a sermon on race. I don't think I've even heard the word used at church."

"I was raised in the colorblind generation - if we don't talk about it, it will go away. I don't know how to teach my kids differently."

I glance around my living room at faces ranging from 30 to 65. Women raised in the south and the northeast and midwest. Catholic, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, Baptist. Some with grown children and grandchildren, some with very young ones, some newly married, some divorced.

All asking questions. All talking, sharing their stories. All believing that racism is real, that our country and our churches are deeply divided and broken and all wanting to see change.

And also, all white. But we'll get back to that.

Just this past fall, I began to feel an itch. The election was ramping up, tempers were running high. I had been having more and more conversations with white parents who didn't know where to start in educating their children about race. And more and more conversations with black friends who were absolutely exhausted with the current state of affairs.

I took a risk and posted on Facebook asking if anyone local might want to get together to talk about it all.

I thought maybe I would get a private message from one or two people interested, but I got a crowd.

You never really know who is reading your posts, do you?

In the meantime, a good friend and I began talking about what it would look like to host these conversations together as God was moving similarly in her life. To invite both our sets of friends and see what happened. To pray and dream and hope together for what God might do.

So we set a date. I invited those interested. And most of them came. We talked, we laughed, we mourned, we prayed.

We agreed to do it again. Regularly.

And friends, it's been awesome. To be real, to talk about race and racism without wondering if the person to whom you're speaking is going to jump down your throat or tell you it's not real. To have a safe space to air frustrations. To be able to ask and answer questions. To share resources. I am coming to love these women.

But yes, we are an all white group right now. We've acknowledged it to one another. We know that it isn't ideal. And we know that we can only meet for so long and grow so much without that needing to change. We NEED the voices of our sisters of color. We need their lived experiences, their anger, their hurt, their hope, their honesty. We need to look us in the face and TELL US. And we need to be able to listen and really hear.

And we've invited some of our friends of color to come. Knowing that they might be too tired for this. Knowing that they don't know this group. And, therefore, not necessarily expecting them to feel that we are a safe enough space for them.

One of these women, a newer friend of mine, had the boldness to be honest when she said she wouldn't be joining us. And with her permission, I'm sharing her response.

"As an early thirties, stay-at-home mom (to six), wife (to one), ministry leader, friend, etc., I often find that in some spaces there is one distinguishing characteristic that sometimes trumps them all: black woman. I have found that in many spaces that say they are places of safety and for honest dialogue, my race and gender don’t give me the chance to be completely honest and true to how I feel. Sometimes my presence in majority white spaces is solicited to be the “representative”, “token of diversity”,“spokesperson”. My face is valued so long as I hide my story behind its blackness.

My struggle is always that I don't want to posture myself in a way that comes across as entitled to be angry and forcing others, especially my white friends, to see my point of view. Having attended a predominantly white church for the last three years, I've found that there's an unseen line that must not be crossed when it comes to race. I've felt either I'm supposed to be the spokesperson for the whole black race or everyone's "one black friend" but when there need to be conversations, I must not speak lest I come across as "angry black woman." - Cassandra A.

Hear her. Listen. Especially if you are a white woman in the Christian church. Listen, friends.

How do her words make you feel?

Her words break my heart. Because I know they are true. I know I have been a perpetrator. And I know that without repentance, listening and intentional change, our churches will never be safe spaces. They will always feel like this.

And here's the other thing: I couldn't assure her about our group. I know our intentions are good and safe...but I know that impact weighs much more heavily than intentions and until we could be together a little more regularly, I wouldn't truly know how safe we really are. What our impact might be. Whether microagressions might happen. Whether she'd need to code switch to be comfortable. All the things I'm sure weigh on her mind but are usually absent from us as white women.

I hope with a deep yearning that our group will grow in racial diversity. But I also know that for that to happen a friend will need to take a huge risk.

I hope my new friend might come some day, I really do. But I don't blame her for not coming now. I am grateful for her honesty. And I respect her choice.

In the meantime, we are going to keep talking and meeting and praying. We are going to ask the Lord to transform our own hearts. To show us the places where we have failed and send his Spirit to help us do better. To enable us to speak life and truth. To be change in our churches and schools and neighborhoods and circles of friends.

This is, after all, not just about talking over coffee. This is about learning to find our voices and refusing to stay silent.

And you know what else? This is not about politics, friends. This is at the very heart of the gospel, a gospel where God himself reconciles us to him and breaks down the walls of division in our lives and our communities.

Maybe you think sitting around and talking about this and praying together with intention to act doesn't accomplish anything?

I disagree.

If something changes in just one of us, if even one church becomes a safer place, if one less white kid is raised as a racist...well, then, we'll have done something. And because I believe in a God who is exceedingly more passionate about all this than I can ever be, I also believe He is showing up and wants to do big things.

I will leave you with one last sentence from my friend to all of us to ponder:

"My dear sisters, please hear my heart. When you are tempted to ask, “Why is it always about race?” or “Can’t we just get past this?” please remember that your black friends don’t have the choice for it not to be about race. As much as we would like to move forward, we hit roadblocks time and time again when we turn on the news, when we scroll through social media, when we think we can have honest dialogue in predominantly white places, especially in our communities of faith. We want to think that the next time will be different, we want to be hopeful that our seat at the table will be one of welcoming and an opportunity for transparency. Just please know that for every step of progress that gives glimmers of hope we see our country, our friends, our church family regress decades in the past.

Please know, dear sisters and friends, we are hopeful and we will not quit, but we are tired. We need allies to shoulder our burdens, to weep when we weep, to speak when we have no words or when we have been silenced. We need you and in this journey of solidarity, you will learn that you need us too."

Amen, may it be so.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Voice - Part 1

I remember the first day I truly began to hear.

A dear, patient friend of mine looked me in the eye and said "You look in the mirror and see a woman. I look in the mirror and see a black woman."

We had been friends for awhile. I had been asking questions, trying to listen, but, when you've grown up with one perspective on life, an entirely middle class white perspective, opening yourself to another is no easy feat. It takes work, intentionality...and it takes willing to be wrong, to repent and to try again. And again. And again.

No one likes feeling wrong. No one likes seeing the truly ugly parts of oneself revealed. The biases, the failures. It hurts. No one likes admitting a whole society could possibly be so off track. No one.

Her words stopped me in my tracks. She knew that all her interactions during her day would be colored by the truth in that mirror. That though we were sisters, our experiences were vastly different. Could I understand sexism? Sure. Could I understand, truly feel the pain of, racism? No. Not a chance. And there was no way I could understand the particular ways in which racism and sexism collide for a black woman.

It hurt. It made me sad. And angry. And helpless. And it would have been easy that day, in my privilege, to defend myself. To shed white tears and plead for comfort and absolution. Or tell her she was imagining things. Or choose to step off the journey because I have that choice, unlike my friends of color. I can walk away if it gets too hard.

But you know what? Hurt is worth it, my friends. Not if we just stay there, no. Tears, prolonged and self-pitying, are ineffectual. But tears of true lament? Tears that cause us to say enough is enough and then seek to change? Those God can use.

To lament the history of our country. To grieve the lives lost through enslavement and genocide and white supremacy. To weep for those ostracized from the church. To mourn the brokenness of our justice system. To look at ourselves as individuals, root out our own biases, and replace them with a passion for justice rooted in God's good news.

That is the work of a disciple.

And friends, let me make something clear, I have not arrived. No one has. I know more than I did 10 years ago. God willing, I will know more tomorrow than I do today. Because I am making the choice to stay in it.

Some days, I truly wish I were still ignorant. It was way more comfortable.

Being comfortable, though, is not really part of the call to follow God.

And that same friend, during a difficult discussion said one other thing that is always, always in the back of my mind.

I was angry because I felt it unfair that her voice didn't carry as much weight as mine in convincing white people of racism. I was raging. I was guilt-ridden. I didn't want to believe in injustice.

She looked me in the eye and said "Use your voice. Use it. And maybe someday your voice won't be more powerful than mine anymore."

Dang.

Friends, every time I have wanted to back down from a debate on Facebook, every time I have witnessed a racist event and wanted to keep my mouth shut, every time I have wanted to avoid the truth, I have heard her voice in my head.

Use your voice. Use it.

It's a privilege to stay quiet. And so I speak.

What about you?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dear Skeptics

Dear Skeptics of all things allergic and sensitive,

I get it. I really do. I once was you. Irritated that I had to pack a nut-free snack and lunch. Feeling like the whole movement is one big overreaction. How in the world could this many kids have so many food-related issues?

And then.

Then, our family was subjected to 1.5 years of nonstop screaming, meltdowns, constant diarrhea and, generally, the most challenging behavior I have ever witnessed firsthand in a child. Behavior that affected every corner of our family, our marriage and our life.

We eliminated dairy. And nuts. And preservatives, dyes and sugars.

We had behavioral evaluations done. We read books. We scoured the internet. We asked friends for wisdom. We cried and despaired of ever seeing change.

Ultimately, we had him tested for leaky gut and food sensitivities and allergies.

The result? On top of what we'd already taken out, we nixed gluten, coconut, lettuce, tomatoes, lemons, oranges, apricots, cucumbers, celery, corn, grapes and eggs.

And yes, if you are wondering if it's hard to create food for a ravenous food-loving child with none of the above ingredients, you would be right. It is of great irony to me that my child who loves food the most and eats more food than even I can consume has the most restrictive diet.

People questioned the severity of it. Food sensitivities are controversial, they said. Get more opinions. It's probably just his personality and he'll be fine when he's no longer a toddler.

They might be right.

BUT.

We were willing to try anything to see change. To come up for air from what felt like an impossible lifestyle.

A month into the drastic diet change, after weeks of even more intense behavior as these foods left his body, things shifted. He was calmer. His meltdowns were shorter. His happy lasted longer. His speech dramatically improved. He started to learn strategies to self-calm. His bowel movements radically improved. His trigger wasn't as quick.

And our family began to take a deep breath. Maybe, just maybe, we could have good days. Days that didn't find me with earplugs in and tears running down my face by the time my husband got home. Days where my youngest child wasn't in physical danger from his older brother's rage. Days where my oldest son wanted to spend time with his brother.

And we did. We had lots of them.

But here's the thing.

People don't always get the food insensitivity thing. Or the allergy thing. We have school and parties and Sunday School at church. When we get flyers home saying "Superbowl party with fun snacks!" I cringe. Maybe we'll skip that church day. He won't be able to eat one thing on that table. And he will feel, as always, left out. Or, knowing him, he'll covertly sneak some of it and we'll have a big setback.  Birthday party invitations are basically unwelcome. People offer to bring us dinner? Sure, but here's a list of 1000 things you can't cook for us, so have fun. (And add in the soy allergy for my youngest and it's really a big party around here.) Seriously. Soy is in everything.

Two weeks ago, there was a new teacher in my son's Sunday School classroom. He wears a tag every week that says "Allergies! Only give food from his bag!" This teacher didn't read the tag. She didn't look for his snacks. She handed him microwave popcorn slathered in butter. (And, probably preservatives, let's be honest.) She gave him goldfish crackers. (Gluten, dairy, corn and sugar.) And that child was happy. Man.

And then she noticed the tag. And panicked.

The nursery director came to find us. Is he going to be sick? Is he going to be ok? We're so sorry.

Yes, we sighed. He won't need to go to the hospital. He's not anaphylactic. BUT.

Since that day, 9 days ago, our life has been on pause. Our child went from happy and his version of calm to completely unhinged within 12 hours of consuming that food. And it hasn't let up.

Meltdowns, violence, screaming, defiance. And every corner of our life revolves around trying to keep him regulated. Again.

8 months of hard work undone by a 5 minute snack.

So, please.

If someone tells you not to give a kid something, please listen. My son doesn't have a medical reaction. Many kids do. Many kids can actually end up hospitalized or dead if exposed to something. We are grateful he isn't one.

Believe me, we are not trying to make your lives more difficult. Everything we do, every decision we make in our lives revolves around making sure we have access to the right foods. Road trips, parties, church. We leave with lunches and snacks packed everywhere we go. There is no safe restaurant. The decision to put him on this diet affects all of us every day.

But you know who is hit the hardest?

My 3 year old. Who cannot have ice cream and cookies. Who can't go to chick-fil-a or to birthday parties or enjoy the same snack as his buddies at church. Who constantly asks for food he cannot have and has to deal with disappointment.

When you don't listen and don't take it seriously, he is the one hurt the most. As difficult as the last 8 days have been for us, I can only imagine what his little body must feel like to be reacting like this.

So, dear skeptics, please believe us. Believe us when we tell you our kids can't have sugar or eggs or gluten. Don't quote an article that says the gluten thing is overblown or tell me I should have given him nuts at 6 months old. It's not helpful and it doesn't change the fact that these things affect him much more than they do most other children we know.

We don't know why. But we know they do. That should be enough.

Sincerely,

Recovering Skeptic Whose Son Needs You to Trust Her