Monday, December 5, 2016

Angels

Just a few weeks ago, my middle child pulled out a book that had been in storage since last Christmas. Last year, he wasn't quite ready for it. It had a lot of words that required the art of sitting still for more than roughly 4 seconds at a time. Not his jive just yet.

This year he can, just occasionally, enjoy a good book. And as we read through it for the first time, his eyes got big. He pointed and asked questions. And every day he asks to read it again.

The book?

An Angel Just Like Me by Mary Hoffman

It's the story of a young black boy during Advent who wonders why all the angels he sees are blonde girls. Who wonders if it's possible that an angel could look any differently. Who goes looking in store after store to find an angel just like him.

Ultimately, he can't find one. And a family friend, an artist, comes to the rescue and makes him one. He opens it Christmas Day in wonder...and then asks if his artist friend can make more for all his other friends that wonder if there are angels just like them.

It's a beautiful story. My son's very favorite.

And when we get to the end, my son always points to the black boy angel and says "Just like Nate?"

Yes, buddy. He looks just like you.

Maybe the concept of angels not all being white is new to you. Maybe the concept that people in heaven will not be some weird pale ghostly representation of humans is surprising. But God makes it clear in the scriptures that he has made us all in his image. And that when we share that heavenly feast some day we will not actually look all that different from how we do now. Because how we look now is beautiful and purposeful and good.

My son has noticed his skin is brown from before he could really articulate it. He would point to black characters in books and then to his own skin. He would run to black men on the playground and yell "Daddy!" (Yes, that was painful for most involved.) He thinks he is handsome with his dark skin and black curls and brown eyes. And he's right. He's pretty dang handsome.

But a lot of what he sees around him, in stores, on billboards, in the toys at school or the nursery? A lot of those things are white. White people playing. White people speaking. White characters in books.

And because he has white parents and a brother, he sees a lot of white at home, too.

And friends, it's ok. White isn't bad. God made me this way. And my husband. And my firstborn.

But if white is all he ever sees, he can unconsciously believe it's better. That it's more desirable. That it's somehow more important.

And that is the last thing we want him to believe about us or himself.

So when we read a book like that? And he relates to the character?

Well, Mama starts combing the stores. Where can I find an angel just like him? And one that he can touch and hold (read, not breakable) and doesn't cost more than I can afford?

Well, almost nowhere, to be honest.

I had just put on my list for this week to get to a craft store, buy an angel and paint it black. Because I wanted him to have that angel he so desperately wanted. And when you can't find what you need, you make it, right?

This morning, I posted a picture on my facebook page of a Santa canvas that I had painted for him a year ago. Well, really, I painted it for all my boys. I don't want my white son to grow up in a white-washed world any more than I want that for my black sons or for me. Culture and differences are rich. I want us to bask in them around here.

I posted that Santa picture and shared a story about how much it meant to him to have a black santa in our house.

And just a few hours later, I was out walking my youngest. A neighbor of ours, one I am just getting to know, ran out of her house with a gift for us. She smiled, walked up to me and handed me a black angel. A black boy angel. That happened to look a LOT like my boys.




I was almost speechless. I assumed she had seen my post this morning and was so grateful.

But no. She had seen me coming down the street. She had owned this angel for years and she just knew, in that moment, that it was for my sons.

Ya'll.

I picked up my son from preschool, brought him home and handed him that angel.

Pure. Joy.

"It's me?? It's me!!! I'm an angel!"

Yes, baby. You are.