I grew up in a relatively small town in the South. It was big enough to have traffic lights but small enough that you should check out a person’s family tree before dating. (If you think that’s just a joke, I can tell you a story about two people who found out they were cousins AFTER they made out at a party.)
My family lived just outside of town, close enough that it didn’t take us long to drive anywhere, but far enough that we had space around our house – a big yard and lots of trees so we could play outside. This makes me laugh as an adult, because I was afraid of pretty much everything that outside had to offer me. That hasn’t changed very much over the years.
Life was simple, at least from my perspective as a child. We had a routine of school, homework, dinner, baths, bedtime. When I washed my hair, I would crawl up onto my mom’s bed, and she would dry it for me. It took so long that I often fell asleep sitting up. I wore Keds and jelly shoes and Jams and slap bracelets. I liked Saturday morning cartoons and slumber parties. Debbie Gibson and New Kids on the Block played constantly on my pink cassette player. We made regular trips to the corner store so I could purchase (with my parents’ money) cigarettes for my mom and a brown bag full of Airheads for the family. (It was a small town in the 80s.) I spent lots of time with my grandparents, and one of my best friends was my cousin. I went to church every time the doors were open, even sometimes when they weren’t (the perks of having family members on staff).
Most places I went, the overwhelming majority of people – if not all of them – were the same skin color as me. When I was with family, everyone was white. At church, everyone was white. In my extracurricular activities as a kid, pretty much everyone was white. With the exception of The Cosby Show and Sesame Street, most of the TV characters I saw were white. Most of the books I read were about white people. People I saw in magazines and on advertisements were white.
I’m not sure when I noticed that God created people with different skin colors. My earliest memories of people who weren’t white are from elementary school. I remember having a few black classmates and several black teachers.
Ms. M. was my fifth grade teacher, and I remember her more vividly than almost any teacher I’ve ever had. We had similar first names, so I felt a kinship with her from the start. She loved to cook, and she brought that love into her classroom. We made peanut butter balls to learn fractions, and, for Halloween, she made a ghost cake that had eyes she lit on fire. Coolest cake ever! She was the first person I told that I started my period, so I’m pretty sure that bonded us for life. She had a beautiful smile and a full laugh, and she led us in prayer before we walked to lunch each day. (Again, small town in the 80s.) And I will never, ever forget the look on her face when I called one of my classmates the “n” word.
I don’t remember his name. I don’t know why I slurred such a terrible insult at him. I just remember wanting to crawl into a hole where no one could see me. As soon as I saw Ms. M.’s face, I was filled with regret. I wanted so badly to take back what I had said, but she assured me I couldn’t.
I don’t know where exactly I learned the “n” word, likely from many places. I knew enough about it, though, to know that it was a powerful punch, a quick, easy blow to my opponent, much like kicking a boy between the legs. It would be easy to plead ignorance or shout, “I was only 10!”, but I still cringe thinking about that moment in my fifth grade classroom.
I didn’t have many black friends as a child, but I remember one of my closest friends in fifth grade was black. I loved so many things about T. She had twisty braids with beads at the ends of them, a huge smile, and a contagious laugh that was uniquely hers. She had a big personality, a big voice, and big opinions. Much like Ms. M., my friend T. was one of the first people to know I started my period. I can still picture her looking into my little purse my first day back at school. She inventoried my stash of feminine products and let out a big belly laugh. I was equal parts embarrassed and delighted. She was also one of the ones who tried to teach me to Double Dutch. Bless her heart and mine. I was not born with the coordination for jumping two ropes at once! I’m also pretty sure she thought I was a little bit crazy, but she was friends with me anyway.
All of my memories of T. are bound within the property lines of my elementary and middle schools. That was where our friendship lived, never beyond there. We weren’t in Girl Scouts together. We didn’t go to church together. She wasn’t invited to my birthday parties. I think it was through my friendship with T. that I realized skin color mattered to some people.
Outside of school, I knew Mr. H. He was our church’s custodian, so I saw him a lot when I was there during the week with Grandmama Helen. I remember asking Grandmama why Mr. H. cleaned the building but wasn’t allowed to attend our all white church. She assured me that he was allowed, but he had a church of his own. I wanted to believe her words, but I was definitely a skeptic.
As I progressed in school, there were more black students, but I started noticing a sort of segregation, particularly in high school. I was in honors classes, and each of those classes had an average of 2-3 black students out of 20 or more students in the class. I would walk down the halls and see black students in the “regular” classes, but they were almost completely missing in the honors classes. At the time, I didn’t know to shout, “This is a problem! Why is this happening?” I just thought it was weird. I didn’t realize then, but that segregation was affecting how I viewed my black peers. Over the years, I viewed them less and less as peers. I developed a mindset that white students were smart and well behaved, and black students weren’t smart and caused all of the trouble. I was so incredibly wrong!
I need to pause and tell you that my heart aches confessing my thoughts to you. I wish I didn’t have these memories, those feelings and opinions as a teenager. I wish I could tell you that I’ve always seen everyone as equal in the eyes of God, as people created in the image of God and with equal worth. But I can’t, and that breaks my heart. Instead, I can confess with humility and a repentant heart that I was judgmental and a racist.
I didn’t realize I was a racist, but it was evident in certain statements or actions. I would see an attractive man and say, “He’s really cute – for a black guy.” (My dear friend C.L. called me out on that one! Thanks for your courage, friend!) If a black man walked by while I was sitting in my car, I locked the doors. I made assumptions about black people being on welfare. (CRINGE!) I made a whole lot of assumptions in general about black people – and people who were different from me in other ways, for that matter.
Over the last decade and a half, I’ve spent time in the Word, and I’ve been fortunate to sit under the teaching of many godly men and women. I’ve learned more about God and the people He created in His image. He has taught me that every single one of us has inherent worth, because we are His image bearers. That means that racism is a sin, a direct offense against Him.
My heart and my thoughts needed to change. That started in prayer and by taking every thought captive (see 2 Corinthians 10:5). When I saw an attractive black man and thought, “He’s really cute – for a black guy,” I changed my thought. “No, wait, he’s cute. Period.” When I caught myself locking my car doors, I asked myself WHY I thought I needed to lock the doors. Was the person walking by doing something that made me uncomfortable, or did the color of his/her skin make me uncomfortable? If it was the latter, I needed to repent. When I made assumptions about black people, I took those thoughts captive and asked God WHY I assumed certain things. I asked Him to help me get to the root of the problem and change the way I thought. This has been an ongoing process for years, and I know it may take many more years for God to change my heart completely in this area. It makes me so thankful that the One who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it (see Philippians 1:6).
I’m sharing all of this with you because of everything going on in my country. People lost loved ones this week, both black and white, and social media is a bit of a mad house right now. Every day, I read post after post, comment after comment. People are hurting, scared, angry, sad, and everything in between. I’ve seen people engaging in healthy dialogue, and I’ve seen people insisting there’s nothing to talk about – all of this “racism stuff” is a fabrication of the media. I’ve seen people standing with one another, and I’ve seen people spewing forth hate.
Tonight, I was reading through comments regarding a local protest. Some of the comments were supportive. Some were respectful but thought there may be better ways to protest. Some of the comments made me sick to my stomach. Person after person said things along the lines of, “If I come across any protesters in the road, I will HIT THEM WITH MY CAR.”
I was shocked. It was bad enough when I read one person’s comment along those lines, but comment after comment agreed. They thought they were brilliant! And justified!
And they think the media is the problem, that racism doesn’t exist.
I may not know how to respond to the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, or Michael Smith, but I know I need to acknowledge there is a problem, and I need to ask how I may be contributing to that problem.
Since being married, I’ve had to learn a lot about conflict management and peacemaking. One of the things I’ve learned is that people feel the way they feel, whether we think they should feel that way or not, whether we think our actions or words should have caused those feelings or not. So, when someone shares how he/she feels, that’s the beginning of a dialogue. First, we need to acknowledge how the person feels, and then we can ask questions such as, “What made you feel that way?” or “What could I have done differently?” If we jump in and start saying things like, “That wasn’t what I meant, so you shouldn’t feel that way!” or “You’re wrong to feel that way!”, we invalidate the person who is hurting, and that damages relationships.
So, when my black friends say that racism is a problem, I want to acknowledge their hurt and start a dialogue with them. “I hear what you’re saying. I see your pain. Can we talk more about that?” (That’s something I still need to do. I’m, sadly, just coming to this realization after processing for a few days.) I can acknowledge the pain of police officers as well and enter into a dialogue there also.
At the end of the day, I grew up white, and I will always be white. I am a couple of shades darker than my childhood porcelain doll collection, and that will not change. I don’t know how my classmate felt when I called him the “n” word in fifth grade. I don’t know Ms. M. felt when she heard me hurting one of her students that way. I don’t know how it felt for T. not to be invited to my slumber parties (I acknowledge she may not have wanted to come to my slumber parties; my goal isn’t to sound like a snob). I don’t know what it feels like to be scared for my life when being pulled over for a traffic violation. Nervous about getting a ticket? Sure. Scared for my life? Never. I don’t know what it’s like for people to see the color of my skin and assume the worst about me over and over and over again.
I don’t know how it feels to be black.
I also don’t know what it feels like to be a police officer. The last time I wore a uniform on a regular basis was in Girl Scouts, and I never had to earn a badge for putting my life on the line for someone else.
When I look at my son, I acknowledge that he will not grow up white. He will have different experiences than his dad or I have had. I want him to be able to talk to us about those experiences. I want to be able to prepare him the best I can for his future. I don’t want to turn a blind eye to the issues and pretend everything will be fine for him. I pray he doesn’t encounter racism, and I pray I will listen and stand with him if he ever tells me he does.
There is so, so much more that could be discussed, but this post is already lengthy, and I feel ill equipped to have these discussions in a blog format. I was hesitant to write this post at all. I don’t want to add to the noise. I just had this overwhelming sense of people dismissing other people’s feelings or people projecting their own feelings onto other people, and that has been frustrating to watch. Also, I knew I had to begin with self-examination and change in my own life before I could step out and encourage change in our nation. I hope my post encourages other people to do the same, and I pray my post doesn’t cause harm.
“For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).
Let’s remember that we are ALL God’s workmanship, regardless of skin color or career choice, and let’s walk in the good works God prepared for us. Maybe we’ll see change in ourselves, and then we can encourage change in others. Because of Christ, we have hope that both types of change can happen.
Often, there are things in life we really want to do. We pray and ask God to give us opportunities. Then, sometimes, we watch him give those opportunities to other people. We are then left with a choice of how to respond. Check out my latest video to see the example David left for us in supporting someone else’s calling.
Happy 4th of July, everyone! Today is a special day for celebrating the freedoms we have as a country, but, lately, I’ve also been pondering my freedom in Christ.
For years, I’ve felt weighed down by hurtful, damaging words that were said to me by a loved one, by her actions that tore me down rather than building me up. I allowed myself to find my identity in those words and actions, rather than finding my identity in Christ. Rather than living the abundant life I could have in Christ (see John 10:10), I lived in bondage. Rather than looking to what God says about me, I looked to what this person said about me.
I want that to change!
I want freedom in Christ!
As I was thinking and praying about this over the weekend, I remembered a list in the book Victory Over the Darkness by Neil T. Anderson. His list focuses on who we are in Christ, and it is great truth to speak over yourself and others.
In fact, it’s so great that I decided to finally create my first vlog for you and speak that truth over you, my kind readers. I’m also including the list in a PDF below that you can open and print so you’ll have it handy to remind yourself of who you are in Christ.
Click the link below to download the PDF.
I hope you found this truth encouraging today, and please pass it along to anyone you know who may need a reminder of his/her identity in Christ.
The other day, I did something I didn’t like, and I chose to apologize to my son for it.
Over the past few weeks, my adorable, sweet, smiley baby has become a ferocious hair puller. OK, slight exaggeration, but he does take joy in grabbing a handful of my long, straight, brown locks and pulling hard, like he’s hoping for a similar result as when he pulls the chain to turn on the light in the den.
I say, “No.” I say, “Stop.” I say, “Soft hands.” I say, “Hair is for admiring, not for pulling,” in a sweet sing-songy voice. I say, “Ow! That hurts Mama. You don’t want to hurt Mama, do you?”
The other day, he had pulled my hair countless times, and the last time really hurt. In a moment of pain, anger, and exasperation, I popped his hand.
Instantly, I felt remorse. This wasn’t a planned method of discipline, thought out and discussed with my husband for the longterm benefit of our child. This was a lack of self-control, and I owed my son an apology.
So, I apologized to my six-month-old. The hand pop didn’t hurt him (he smiled at me when I did it), and he didn’t understand the apology, but it was still important. We want to create a culture of confession and forgiveness in our home, and this was a step in laying that foundation.
Why is a culture of confession and forgiveness in our home important?
- As believers, we are a forgiven people, and people who have been forgiven much respond to that forgiveness by forgiving others. Paul told the Ephesians to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32, ESV). Christ is the perfect model of forgiveness, and we can follow his example to model forgiveness to our children.
- We are our children’s first impressions and experiences with God’s character. When we were waiting for our son’s birth, a dear friend and mother of three adult children spoke words to me that I think of nearly every day: “You are that baby’s first impression of the Father’s love.” That statement is one of the reasons we’ve parented the way we have in these early months. We have been quick to console and show compassion, generous with the snuggles, and effusive with loving words and songs, because we’ve been establishing trust, faith, confidence, and love with our son. We are giving him a glimpse of the Father. (A glimpse that, yes, includes more and more discipline as it’s age appropriate.) We are now giving our son a glimpse of God’s forgiving nature, hopefully softening his heart and preparing him to receive the Gospel (we pray regularly for that!).
- If I want my children to have a relationship with the Lord where they confess their sins to him and accept his forgiveness, I need to model that for them and give them opportunities to practice it with me. The more opportunities we give them, the more natural this process will feel to them. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).
- If my children learn that their parents who still struggle with sin and temptation are capable of forgiving them, they will, hopefully, begin to understand that God keeps His word and will forgive them. And when we’re not very good at forgiving, we can point them to a loving, forgiving God who so far surpasses Mama and Daddy! “But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love …” (Nehemiah 9:17, ESV).
- The more I confess/apologize for my sin, whether to my children, to others, or to God, the more sensitive I become to the sin in my life, not in a condemning way but a sanctifying way. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, ESV). When I embrace the fact that I’m not under condemnation, there is freedom! I am more likely to recognize my sin, confess it, accept God’s forgiveness, and walk in step with the Holy Spirit toward freedom from a particular sin. Instead of living with a sense of fear and the weight of judgement, I can call sin “sin” and engage in the process of sanctification. I want to model that for my children and engage in the process with them. I want to help them with their struggles, not condemn them for them. That starts with me modeling confession and forgiveness. (This is definitely going to be a lifetime of learning. I am not there yet!)
Later that day, I apologized to my husband for popping Asher’s hand in anger, and I asked for his forgiveness. I love that he is always quick to forgive. He’s a great model for me! I also confessed my sin to the Lord and asked for his forgiveness. I’m thankful He is a loving, forgiving God who keeps his promises.
So, what does a culture of confession and forgiveness look like in your home and your relationships? Share your stories and what works for your family!
As I burrowed into Squishy Pillow Thursday night, I grew teary-eyed thinking of the day. Asher wasn’t any more my son than he was when we woke up, but there was a new layer of peace and joy after we made it official in court.
It was a lot like when I married Joseph. The morning of our wedding, I was crazy in love with him. My eyes danced when I looked at him, and my stomach was still filled with butterflies. After our wedding? I felt the same way! Only, we had entered into a covenant relationship with one another. Somehow, that made our love deeper, filled with confidence and peace. And so much joy!
Just like I entered into a covenant relationship with Joseph on our wedding day, we entered into a covenant relationship with our son on Thursday. Before a judge and over a dozen of our friends and family, we promised to love, care, and provide for our boy just as though I had given birth to him. We promised to kiss boo-boos, give giant bear hugs, accept weeds as flowers, stay up all night, chase away closet monsters, plan birthday parties, play Hide-and-Seek, sing silly songs, help with science fair projects, rent a tuxedo for the school prom, and cheer him on as he accepts his diploma, all as though he had our DNA. We promised to be his parents, his mama and daddy. Forever. An unconditional covenant.
And it was beautiful!
Sure, it was a little stuffy and formal, and the hearing only lasted a few minutes, but those were some of the most beautiful minutes of my life.
And I could hear God whispering, “I made those promises to you.”
God sent His Boy, His cried-when-He-was-hungry, crawled-before-He-walked, skinned-His-knees, loved-His-mama, Son of God Boy, to take my place so I could be adopted by my Father. So I could be a joint heir with Christ. So I could be a daughter loved unconditionally by her Daddy.
And when we receive Asher’s new birth certificate, the one with our names on it, the one that will declare on a piece of paper that he is our son, just as though I had literally given birth to him in a hospital in Charleston, I’ll hear His voice whisper again, “You’re My child, and you bear My name.”
No one has helped me see the Gospel with as much clarity as my own son. No one has taught me more about the love of my Father than my son. No one has made me want to be more like Christ than my son.
Adoption has changed my life twice – once by my Savior and once by my son. I’m eternally grateful for both.