Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Heart Breaking

There are moments, as a parent, when your heart actually breaks.

Some kinds are the good breaking - the moment a child is born, the day one comes home with you, the first time he calls you mama. The kind of breaking that expands your heart to love more than you thought you ever could.

Then there are the other kinds. The kind of breaking that makes you sweat and scream and makes you cling harder and closer to the cross than you ever thought you'd need to. The kind that comes with loss and illness. The kind that comes when your child is wronged or hurt by another. The kind that you cannot prevent. The kind that makes it clear that you, ultimately, have no control.

There was a moment this week.

It was one I knew would happen at some point. I knew they were words he would hear. I didn't know how and when they would come and I readied myself for it the best I could.

But there is no way to truly be ready to hear your own child tell you that someone told him his skin is "ucky, ucky" and that it "looks like it has poopoo on it."

At the ripe old age of 3.5, my son now knows what it feels like to be othered because of the color of his skin. And not just othered, but othered in a negative way. Last I heard, describing someone as the color of poop was not a compliment.

And I know some people might read this and have one of the following reactions.

(1) It was a little kid. He or she didn't mean any harm.
(2) Your son might be making it up. Preschoolers aren't necessarily trustworthy.
(3) That's not prejudice, it's just a childish observation.

If you thought one or more of those things, I'm going to ask you to pause for a minute. To ask God why your first response was skepticism or dismissal.

And honestly? If your first response isn't sadness or shock or anger, I really hope that you and I can grab coffee soon. We can't hash out what's going on through facebook. Seriously, call, text or email now and let's chat.

Because here is the deal.

I sat on my son's bed with him. I asked him how his day at school was. And anyone who knows him, knows that he is exuberant. Lively. Spirited. Funny. That his normal reaction to anything that goes wrong in his day is anger and frustration.

He is almost never sad.

But this day? This day, he told me a story. THIS story. And I asked him how it made him feel. He said he didn't know. My child is not one to be without words. But his body language, friends. His shoulders were slumped. He had trouble meeting my eyes. I asked him every question I know to ask a preschooler to discern whether he is telling the truth or making up a story. (Particularly given some recent encounters with his holding the distinction between fantasy and reality fairly lightly.) He stuck to it. He used the same words every time. And he was sad. He laid on my chest and, friends, oh friends, he told me that he wants to be white so no one says that to him again.

And my heart broke into a million pieces.

As a transracial adoptive parent, I knew this would happen. I know that it's actually normal for children to want to look like their parents. I didn't panic. We will work through that part of it. Every day.

But I held him. I held him tight. I hurt with him in his pain. And I whispered words of love and beauty. I told him that this little friend was wrong. I didn't tell him that child didn't mean it. I am not going to lessen the impact of what he was feeling. I can't know the intention of why that little child said what he did. Even if I did, intention doesn't matter in this case. In this case, my son heard that he was different and that that difference is bad. That made an impact on him. And it won't be the only time hears it. Next time the words might be worse.

Please hear me loud and clear.

IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE.

What we teach our children from day one makes a difference. The books we read to them. The churches we go to. The ways we choose to give them language (or not) to understand that God's image resides beautifully in all backgrounds of people. When we teach them these things, we aren't teaching them to "see color" as so many people put it. Science has proven that from the tender age of six months, kids see it. It is our job as parents to help them understand it.

Why in the actual world would we leave them to make their own judgment call on this when the world around them has spent thousands of years making the wrong judgment calls on this? Why would we leave something that has the power to cause so much hurt up to a child to figure out? Why would we possibly trust them to get this right when generations of people have othered and murdered and stolen from others because they have gotten it wrong over and over and over again.

I don't know this child and I don't know his parents. I know my son's teacher and I am grateful that she was upset about this. That she was the opposite of dismissive. Grateful that she brought in pictures of her own children who don't look like her and showed them to my son and affirmed his beauty and worth. Grateful that she is the kind of teacher who recognizes it as part of her job to talk about this. Not all teachers would.

You want to know why I say what I do and write what I do and lead groups like I do to talk about this? You want to know why I am working with a friend to develop a PTA training for parents on how to talk to their children about race? You want to know why I cared about this long before I had two black sons who would experience it firsthand?

Because I had friends, close friends who told me the truth.

Because I saw my own biases and lamented and confessed and ask the Holy Spirit every day to keep rooting them out and changing me.

Because I learned to see that this was all over scripture, from day one, and that God's heart breaks for injustice more than I can ever understand.

Because I have a deep hope that if we can change the conversation in this next generation, that maybe, finally, we can start to see some change.

And because of those things, I speak. I speak to children and to adults about what I believe to be true - that God intended our differences to be beautiful, to reveal the vastness of his character, but that the world uses them to divide. I hold my own kids tight and attempt to undo the messages the world is sending them. And not just to undo them, but to replace them. To replace them with the truth that they are beautiful and precious and loved in His sight. That their color is on purpose. That my white son with his blond hair and blue eyes is beautiful and made in God's image. That my black sons with their curly dark hair and brown eyes are beautiful and made in God's image.

God doesn't make mistakes. So many people think that colorblindness is the Christian way to respond but I haven't found a single scripture to support it.

The world is not colorblind, my friends, and neither is God.

So friends, let's wake up and listen. Let's tell our kids the truth when we hold them tight.

And then watch them change the world.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On Boxes and Murder in the Church

Just a few days ago, a good friend of mine called me out. In that, "I-kinda-wanna-crawl-under-a-rock-and-lick-my-wounds-but-I-know-she's-right" kind of way.

We had been talking about a news item and I said something uncharitable about the protagonist of the story. Something rude. Something I have no business saying as a follower of Jesus.

She wrote back to me and said this: "There is more than meets the eye to most people."

She's right.

But oh, do I prefer to put people en masse into boxes. Groups. To places I can easily dismiss or self-righteously join.

I saw a man with whom I disagreed and easily vilified him.

I chose not to see him as made in the image of God. And because of that, I sinned against him.

Shame on me. And, to be honest, shame on many of us.

Instead of being light and salt to a broken, messy world, so many of us sit around name-calling and whining like we are stuck in some never-ending middle school recess of a nightmare. Facebook looks like a war zone. Between Christians, no less.

My heart, this week, has brought me back to a verse from college that changed my life.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, , 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.  
Matthew 5:21-24
Perhaps you were expecting some inspirational verse about trust or faith or hope or love. Seems a little morbid to ruminate on a verse about murder. But I remember the moment this verse became a way to live my life. I had been at a retreat with my InterVarsity group and our staff worker had made us really, truly think about what this was asking of us as followers of Jesus. 

It was saying that if we are coming to worship our God and realize that someone is angry with us (and, it seems likely to add, someone with whom we are angry), to stop. Ask for forgiveness. Apologize. Forgive. Do whatever it takes. But be reconciled to your brother or sister BEFORE you have the audacity to come before God in worship. It was saying that our unwillingness to do so, our holding on to unhealthy or judgmental anger, our calling others "fool" is actually just like murdering them.

That's pretty serious, guys.

That night, we were able to go around the room, look people in the eye and create space for forgiveness and reconciliation. Since then, I have tried to live my life in a way that doesn't let resentment fester, that confronts and repents and changes when disagreements or hurts happen.

But I haven't done a very good job of it recently.

You know what's easy? Complaining and cynicism and blame and name-calling.

You know what's not? Actually following Jesus into the hardest, most broken, dark places and letting him develop empathy and lament and hope and self-awareness and forgiveness and action that seeks to reconcile. THAT is the hard work of living out the gospel.

A few months ago one of my pastor's charged us with this: Until "we love we"(meaning Christians being able to truly love one another), no one is going to give a rip about what else we have to say and one way to love is to stop, listen and learn. (Paraphrased)

But what do I see instead of "we loving we?" What do I see (yes, in myself) instead of stopping, listening, learning and therefore seeing each other as beautiful people made in God's images?

I see Christians hurling epithets at one another. Calling each other liberals and snowflakes and conservatives(and never in a descriptive way, but a disdainful way), boxing each other up, taping it shut and then finding like-minded believers to mock and laugh and smugly pat each other on the back.

Brothers and sisters, this is not what it's supposed to look like. What in the world are we doing? Becoming?

As I have been pondering this post, I finally sat down and made a list of all the people in my feed that have made me angry. That post things that make me feel like I have been placed in a box. And I asked God to help me forgive them.

But you know what else I did? I made a list of people who I know have not always liked what I had to say. Who likely have something against me. And I asked God's forgiveness for ways that I have "othered," ways that I have "boxed," ways that I have spewed hate in my heart, instead of offering grace across discord.

Look, Facebook is complicated. It's not "face to face" like people used to be able to argue. I can't get everyone in my feed in a room and walk around and offer apologies and hugs.

But I can get my own act together.

I can remember that while there is space in my following of Jesus for righteous anger, for conviction, for passion, that if I worship my cause more than my God, I will most likely end up being an agent of hate.

So, today, I ask us all to pause. To look at what we've written and what we've pondered in our hearts towards people over these last few crazy years.

Is it the fruit of rage and fear and murderous hearts or is it the fruit of following Jesus into the hard places?

One thing I plan to do is this: before I say anything, I am going to pause, try to hear what that person is saying, remind myself that he or she is just as precious in God's sight as those with whom I agree and then figure out if what I have to say is helpful to the conversation. If it is a truth that points them to a God who loves them and pursues justice and reconciliation. If it's not, I'm going to keep quiet.

As my pastor put it this past Sunday, I am going to do my best to set more tables, not make more labels.

Who is with me?  

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

To the Mama and Papa Warriors

I see you limping towards the finish line of the summer. 

I know as you watch other people post pictures of kids on the first day of school, that you might not have had a happy picture to post or that you might not even try to snap a picture of your own kid, knowing that getting to her school on that first day with clothes on is about all you can do. Or that you are already dreading the battles and the tears and the meltdowns that come with any fresh season, knowing that September is usually just a survival month. 

Maybe the summer went better than you expected. 

Or maybe it was absolutely impossible, a child who was functioning well, suddenly sent off the rails because of a "vacation" or a bullying incident or, in the case of my own sweet boy, a stomach bug that drastically altered our lives for an entire month, sending three of us out of town so he could be an only child and have full parental attention for 8 days in the hopes of healing finally happening.

Maybe you were fighting back tears by 10 am this morning like me because even the anticipation of the changes coming has sent your household into a tailspin.

I see you. 

I've done what I can to keep my family together this summer and it hasn't been easy. So many of us are finishing the summer exhausted. 

Going into the fall brings a strange mix of anticipation, hope, fear and dread. Will his teachers be as compassionate as last year's bunch? Will they see him for the beautiful child he is or consider him a threat to the classroom? Will they see his exuberance and joy as an asset or misinterpret his energy as dangerous? Will they offer him theri-putty and a trampoline when he's spiraling? Or send him to a corner in punishment and call me early to pick him up? 

Will they work with us or against us? 

Will it be a fight or a partnership? 

Oh, warrior friends, I see you. I know about the IEP's. I know about the times you actually hope for some kind of new diagnosis that might come with strategies that might really work this time. I know that it's possible your child isn't functioning because you bought him the wrong pair of socks for the first day of school or because she knows enough to expect that there will be unkind words from peers who don't have the empathy or language to process differences as good. I know about the long lists of allergies and sensitivities you have to hand to that teacher and the skepticism with which you might be met. I know that people might take your rigidity is a parenting fault, but that you know it to be the only way your family can function. You don't mess with naps or schedules or diets or plans. 

If it's on the visual calendar, it's happening. There's no such thing as "let's just be flexible" because anytime you have tried, the costs have far outweighed the benefits.

I see it.

And because I see it, you know what else I see? 

I see the fierce. I see the fight. I see the hope. It's there. Even on the days when you are seventeen kinds of done before 9 am - the hope is there because we are in this together and there is a God who loves our kids more fiercely than we can. On the days when you don't have anything left, there is another warrior who is fighting hard beside you. Who can listen to you vent, cheer you on, hold you up. And you can do the same on the days when she is all out of strength. 

People don't fight wars alone, friends. 

This is YOUR child, but you are not the only one who loves him, who wants good for him. He or she is beautiful. And precious. And perfect in so many, many ways. And so you wake up and you fight, sometimes from a good place and sometimes not, but you do not fight in vain.

Because love is powerful. And even with all the exhaustion and the frustration and, yes, sometimes the hopelessness, you will fight for that kid to within an in of your life just like God fights for you.

I see you. I’m with you.

The next month is going to be rough. It just will. If you need to scream, let it out. If you need to vent, I will listen. Seriously. I GET IT.

But please, if there is one thing I don’t want you to do, it is to buy into the lie that you are fighting alone. 

God loves my son more than I can imagine. HE wants good for him. HE wants him to thrive and to dance and to laugh and to function. And HE is fighting right alongside us. We are not warriors because we are strong in ourselves. We are warriors because we accept that we need grace, forgiveness, creativity and hope every second of every day to be the kind of parents our children need.

So, friends, take a deep breath. If you are trying to do this alone, call someone fast. Invite him or her to fight and pray alongside you during this transitional time of year. Do it for you and do it for your kids. 

We've got this. Together. One hour at a time.