Archive | haiti

in which I discover a super weapon against racism

While I’m voraciously reading about the Ferguson issue (and all the issues that have spawned from it,) Sam is reading To Kill a Mockingbird for school. The irony is a little much.

It’s his first time, so I try to warn him, but when he closes the book he says he still wasn’t prepared. And yet, he says it’s his favorite book he’s read for school so far. Considering the fact that he and three of our other siblings are black and my parents, four of our other siblings and I are white, race isn’t a topic that gets brought up too often at Eyrie Park. It’s become a bit of a nonissue because of the community we are a part of. When I say “school” I mean Classical Conversations, and our campus is about as diverse and accepting as they come. Our newest little sister would be “caucasian” on a census, but she comes from a country where she, as a Roma, was considered a racial minority among white people. As a matter of fact, Romas have been greatly discriminated against in Latvia and the “token” black person is usually met with a readymade fan base, they’re such a novelty!

My friend Diane is a white mom to black children. She recently shared a Youtube video with me of Jane Elliot’s “Angry Eyes” experiment conducted at a college. Basically, students are split into two groups, those with brown eyes and those with any other eye color. The brown-eyed students are instructed on how to treat the “blueys” when they enter the classroom. There is to be no respect toward them. They are to assume certain things about them and blame it on their eye color. The experiment is well worth watching (to the very end!) and left me with lots to think about. I found myself wondering how the experiment changed those particular students. Was that group more likely to marry outside of their race? Were they more understanding of others, even later in life?

Then I started thinking about my siblings and I. What sort of changes could we bring to the world based on our unique upbringing and family situation? Sam and I both get a little choked up talking about the last chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird. We feel mutual feelings about the ending. I get the sense we’re better prepared for a diverse world than the average teenager and twenty-something, but it’s not because of Harper Lee’s excellent novel. It’s not because we’ve had so many conversations about race. It’s because we live with each other, we’re used to each other and we love each other very much.

"love and diversity" two sisters walking to school

If we can be comfortable with each other in our own home, why couldn’t we be comfortable with…anyone?

I was recently in line for about four score and seven years at the utilities office. There were two ancient black ladies in line behind me and they shared their entire life stories with each other while they stood there. They never spoke to me and I never spoke to them. To be honest, we had little in common. They had both lost children to cancer. They went to the same church. They were about a hundred years older than me. And still, I had the urge to turn around and put my hands on their wrinkly arms and say, “Just so you know, I am not intimidated and I am not trying to intimidate you. I’m just a quiet person and I don’t need to butt into your conversation. But I’d be happy to talk to you. I actually love old black ladies.” You will all be happy to know that I did not say these things. There’s still a part of me that doesn’t want to be seen as a lunatic.

The only time I’ve lived in a place where I was the minority was in Haiti. Though white people were seen as important, rich and arrogant, we were definitely judged but the color of skin. It was like we had a special place at the top of the food chain in their eyes and yet they weren’t afraid to mock us. I was often referred to as “ti blanc” (“little white,”) and gawked at. However, we literally lived at the orphanage. I had about ninety black friends all of the sudden (and zero white friends.) Though we were “missionaries” and they were “orphans,” I still got to experience being the odd one out. I remember keenly a time when I was about eleven, sitting on the cement playing “jacks” with little pieces of chicken bones with a large group of Haitian girls, thinking, “Wait, wasn’t there something different about y’all when I first came?” I could recollect the uncomfortable feeling of stepping out of the van and being a white girl surrounded by black people, but the feeling had gone away. I will never teach kids to be colorblind. It’s a silly concept born from white privilege that indicates we need to overlook something about black people in order to accept them. However, when you’re a kid, colorblindness (even to yourself) can sometimes occur naturally. It might have helped that I had no mirror and literally did not see my own white face for months at a time!

I tell these two stories to admit one thing: I have been ignorant. Jane Elliot said,

“White people’s number one freedom in the USA is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white… And our number two freedom is to deny that we’re ignorant.”

I do not have much experience with diversity or racism. Ninety percent of my friends are white. However, I have had the unique opportunity to grow up in a multi-racial family. Just as I wondered hopefully about those students in Jane Elliot’s experiment, I wonder about my siblings and I. Will we be the minority in the world by seeing everyone as truly equal? Will we be the ones who see color and don’t discriminate? You see, ending racism isn’t about stopping the hate (though that does indeed need to happen.) It’s very much about realizing how ignorant we are about other people and seeing ourselves as they see us. It’s very much about equal opportunity, not just to vote and work and run for offices, but to interact with folks of other races as we do with folks of our own race. For the white girl to sit next to the black girl at the dentist’s office. For the black guy to be able to ask the white girl out on a date without feeling like a joke. For children’s books featuring hispanic kids to not have to have their own section at the bookstore. For Asian actors to be the star in movies, not just a supporting role.

The reasons why many adopted kids are black and many adoptive parents are white are sad ones, which I won’t go into right now. But the power of this possibility is a strong one. As is the power of any other race combination, whether through adoption or marriage. The same power is possible for anyone who lives their day-to-day life with someone of another color. When we truly accept someone of another race without having to “overlook” our differences, but actually celebrate them, we create a super weapon against racism.

I used to think ignoring racism was the best way to snuff it out. There are definitely times when “disengagement” is the best policy. However, I’ve learned that racism isn’t a candle that merely needs the oxygen of conversation to live on. It’s a cancer that feeds on people’s minds. Now I realize that intentionality is necessary. I never thought I’d be quoting Chris Rock, but in a recent interview the comedian said something very poignant.

“But the thing is, we treat racism in this country like it’s a style that America went through. Like flared legs and lava lamps. Oh, that crazy thing we did. We were hanging black people. We treat it like a fad instead of a disease that eradicates millions of people. You’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down.”

Though I wouldn’t make Mr. Rock my role model, I agree with him on this point. Racism is an age-old problem, but that doesn’t make it “okay.” And his proposed solution isn’t a passive one. It cannot be passive because racism itself is not passive. It isn’t a fad. It’s not Kim Kardashian’s latest photo or Jennifer Lawrence’s latest tweet. It’s not something that will naturally blow over.

But with an unnatural intentionality, with a persistent effort, I believe in us. I believe we can do it. In your home, in your school, in your office. In your city, county, state and in the U.S.A. and then, perhaps, the world.

My newest little sister with the hazel eyes looks up at me and says, “If I marry a brown man, I gonna have brown babies?” I explain that her children would look a little like her and a little like him. “Oh, then I want to marry a brown man!” She exclaims. “I love it, brown people!”

 

3

how deep the father’s love

sisters forever

I have been trying to write this post for more than an hour, but I am continually interrupted. I keep finding myself singing the song “Little Girls” from Annie. Whenever I walk into my room, I either find small shoes spread across my room, or that my own shoes have been marched to a new location. Fuzzy ponytail holders and geography books and neon fake nails turn up everywhere. I’ve been invaded.

In the past hour, Jubilee and Meggie have been “sitting” on my bed squealing and talking about boys, diamond rings, marriage, babies with cheeks like squirrels, and how old everyone will be when everyone else reaches these milestones. Meggie is set on having at least one baby as brown as Jubilee. Jubilee wants “chocolate milk babies” (biracial!) and they both agree on the squirrel cheeks. Just now, from their room, I heard Meggie saying her prayers with my parents. She prayed I find a job and get a boyfriend soon, because I am so old. (Update—I did get a job! No news on a boyfriend, yet.)

It feels somewhat ethereal to have Meggie’s face so close to mine as I sit in my usual spot on the bed, laptop open and pillows strewn about. She is here, in moving, living action. She is Meggie and she is home. She is Meggie and she is ours. It’s like a little miracle every time she smiles.

When we lived in Haiti, there was a time I wanted us to all be home together so badly, it was like looking forward to heaven. I cannot help but relate adoption to our true homecoming once again. It feels as if all is right in the world when I see Jubilee and Meggie playing together and hear them giggling down the hall. It seems like this is the happily ever after, the climax, the victorious justice that triumphs over all the pain in her early life and in the long wait. There are rough moments, and the good moments are often the product of lots of hard, loving work, and yet it amazes me to see two girls adopted from opposite sides of the globe, mesh together in sisterly affection. That is the product of God’s grace!

I know this is only the beginning of a new chapter for my family, but I’m so very happy in this moment that it’s hard to see beyond it. Watching Meggie interact with my dad has had me thinking about this especially. The love of a father is something every little girl should have, but the joy is still brand new for her. Their sweet relationship has taught me a lot about our heavenly father’s love for us. The Bible call us God’s adopted children and that analogy works in so many ways…

1. He chooses us

God the Father “chose us before the foundation of the world” and “predestined us for adoption” (Ephesians 1:4-5.) That means that before we were born, He had a plan and began reaching for us. It’s like a prospective parent waiting to hear from the agency. When the baby’s born, the parents are already putting the finishing touches on the nursery. He loved you before you knew Him. When parents are blessed with biological children, we somehow trust God to make the child turn out “alright” and expect him or her to fit into her family perfectly. When you adopt, you’re saying, “this child comes with baggage, pain, a sad story, but I’m choosing all of that, I’m choosing her.” That’s how God’s love works.

2. He seeks us and waits for us

When my parents adopted four of my siblings from Haiti, they spent three years working tirelessly on paperwork, traveling back and forth countless times, bonding and then having to part, and finally moving down there to run the orphanage and complete the adoptions by hand after everything had crumbled beneath our feet. That’s a passionate pursuit if I ever heard of one. I was so afraid the babies wouldn’t remember us when they finally came home, wouldn’t speak English anymore. I was afraid our love would never be reciprocated. God often has to wait for us with just as few reassuring gestures from us. The pain of our wait was severe. The stress and burden of the work was immense. The result was worthwhile.

3. He sacrifices for us

Do you know what an adoption costs? I cannot begin to fathom the amount of my dad’s earnings that have gone into adoption related travel, fees, paperwork, agencies and then the provision for the children once they come home. Adoption can be financially expensive, but the emotional expense is greater. Have you ever dropped of your own child at an orphanage when you would gladly care for them yourself? It’s not easy.  Have you ever received an email saying your little girl was crying herself to sleep every night and wondering if you’d ever come back? If waiting families ever feel alone in this, they can surely look to Jesus. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize” (Hebrews 4:15.) Did not God send His own son into a dangerous, hateful world to be abused and laughed at and murdered? Does He not see His children aimlessly wandering every day, like so many orphans? His arms are open so wide, and we run to other “parents.” He would do anything for you. He did everything for you. He paid the cost, He’s just waiting for us to come home.

4. He adores us

How deep the father’s love! Or grandfather’s, for that matter. I’m going to switch allegories for a moment and speak about my grandfather. This would definitely apply to my dad, who is head-over-heels for Meggie, but you probably knew that already. Did you know that my mom’s dad, Papa, is equally smitten? This man who was born in a time when adoption was almost unheard of and always shameful, when ethnicities were separated by peaceful but very defined lines, opened his heart up to my little siblings like almost no one else has. He loves my adoptive brothers and sisters just like he loves me, and that’s always been a lot. He inspires me by lying down the picture of his descendants he imagined long ago and embracing a new, colorful version of our family. I would imagine he had to swallow some pride in the beginning, but now he proudly shows photos of his “grand babies” to his brothers and buddies. Meggie and my other siblings couldn’t ask for more than a grandfather who shamelessly adores them. What a Godly example he is. “As the father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” John 15:19

5. He raises us

We get very focused on the homecoming of our new kiddos, and for good reason. That’s a huge moment, changing the trajectory of our lives forever. Poor Meggie, who is highly intuitive for her age, went through every emotion on the spectrum as she flew home, bawling and laughing in one moment. Homecomings are huge for adopted kids, but it’s really just the beginning. The “gotcha day” is Day One of their new life. We’ve made the orphan a son or daughter and now the real work begins, bringing them up to be healthy, strong adults. As for you and me? God will bring His good work in us to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6.)

6. He keeps us close

When we think of death, we think of taking last breaths and being buried, but when the Bible talks about death, it is referring to a tragic separation not from our bodies, but from our Father. When you take your last breath, you’re actually more alive than ever. You’re back to perfect harmony with God, closer than you have ever been. At last in your true home with your true family! God’s whole plan (yes–I mean the whole grand thing,) is about keeping YOU close to HIM. Everything He does or allows to be done in your life is for this purpose. Your creation and adoption, the pursuit and sacrifice–all of this is spurned on by a deep and passionate love of your Father. He can’t wait to right the wrongs and take you into His arms at last. Picture the emotional airport moment times a billion.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

I set my computer aside and peek into girls’ room. My parents are sitting on the edge of their beds, saying prayers. My dad gives Meggie a kiss and a squeeze and tucks the quilt around her shoulders. She’ll have no trouble drifting off to sleep, warm, safe and loved.

3

how to truly end waste

spanish moss

This post is part of a series. Part One, Part Two.

I am hesitant to sign up to host an angel, because I’m not always a perfect hostess. What if I’m in a bad mood and fail to make conversation or I burn the casserole and forget to buy butter? And yet, when scripture says some of us will “entertain angels unawares” we are being warned not to neglect showing hospitality to strangers. Do we not think that human strangers also report to God? That He is not watching them just as closely as He watches His angels? We are to be hospitable to everyone (never knowing if they are an angel or “merely” a child of God.)

I think we tend to keep our planet and it’s animals, eco-system and human life very separate from the spiritual realm. Stories of miracles and angels interacting with mortality are like quick visions of meteors streaming across our view of the milky way. If you believe in them at all, you think they happen once in a blue moon and never guess that you yourself might be looking up when such a thing occurs.

That is probably why it has taken me so long to write this series. I had a lot of thoughts on waste, but they all seemed disconnected. There was the truth that kept sinking deeper into my mind that God wastes nothing in our lives, not even pain or loss. And then there was the ordinary type of waste. Actual trash we put in our dumpsters and time we spend worrying about our crooked mouth and un-plucked (or as I like to call them, “free range”) eyebrows.

I do believe in meteors and I believe that sometimes they crash into planets or other things in space before they burn out, like a miraculous meeting of two kindred spirits (only a little more explosive.) That’s the way this series was born. Suddenly I realized that my thoughts were connected. All waste is the same. Everything comes from God. God wastes nothing. We waste everything.

Material waste is a huge, huge issue in our world. Not only is it greatly hurting the planet itself, it is hurting people directly. I recently read that 1.3 billion tons of food produced world wide is wasted or lost each year. (That’s 1/3 of the annual production.) While some of this food is lost or wasted in production, most of it is wasted by consumers, particularly in the United States. In 2010, an estimated 33 million tons of food waste went into U.S. landfills and incinerators.

How is this hurting people? A billion people are malnourished today.

While I was whining about what was on my plate and wishing I could throw my stir-fry to the dog, my baby brother was being born in Port-Au-Prince and growing a huge, bloated belly. Waste hurts people because they need what we are throwing away.

Do you know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? Do you know why God had to burn the whole county down with fire from heaven?

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49, emphasis mine.)

And that’s when I realized how to truly end waste. Waste has a natural enemy, and it’s not recycling. The natural enemy of waste is gratitude.

compost

You never, ever throw away something you are truly grateful for. I was not grateful for the ice left in my cup after drinking a glass of water, but the children at the orphanage would clobber for the sink to grab it from the drain, grateful (if not also a little greedy.) We throw away food and clothing and time and relationships because we simply don’t appreciate them. We do not bow our faces to the floor and thank God for the things we scrape off of our plates.

When you cultivate a heart of gratitude, you cease to waste. And when you see the gift and the beauty and grace in everything that comes your way, you never think of throwing it out. You keep it, you use it, you share it, but you don’t waste it.

If the people of Sodom had taken their excess of food and used it to aid the poor and needy, we would’ve know they were not proud. They would’ve been a grateful, humble people, probably honored in scripture rather than held up as an example of despicableness. That’s the irony of the holiday season. We want more, grab more, covet more and waste more during this season than any other. Why can’t we see that we have more to be grateful for than we have to complain about? Why don’t we see that we are filthy, filthy, filthy rich?

In her wonderful book, Discipline: The Glad SurrenderElisabeth Elliot writes:

“The goodness and love of God choose the gifts, and we say thank you, acknowledging the Thought Behind as well as the thing itself. Covetousness involves suspicion about the goodness and love of God, and even His justice. He has not given me what He gave somebody else. He doesn’t notice my need. He doesn’t love me as much as He loves him. He isn’t fair.

Faith looks up with open hands. “You are giving me this, Lord? Thank you. It is good and acceptable and perfect.” Pg. 108

So back up a bit, look at the big picture. The sky is full of meteors and you’ve been given eyes to see.

6

embracing brown

Note: This is a post from my heart, full of honesty. It’s not all a bed of roses, but I hope it doesn’t hurt any feelings. If you take an issue with something I’ve written here, leave a comment and let’s talk about it. No mulling it over, getting angry, please. Thank you.

 

embracing brown

The black man is my brother.

No, seriously. He’s my brother. Sam will be fifteen this year and he’s getting taller, and broader, all the time. People would never guess we’re siblings. I am skinny with dirty blond hair and dark blue eyes. I have long fingers, a bridged nose and creamy skin. Sam is stocky and strong with deep brown eyes, black bristly hair and little tiny ears we always tease him about. But we are. We’re siblings.

I am very thankful that we both grew up where we did. A little while in Haiti and most of the years here in this college town where Koreans and Egyptians and Ugandans walk our streets and stand in line behind us at Starbucks. The homeschool co-op is an adoptive-family’s dream. Kids of every shade eating lunch together and pointing to their homeland on the map and not even thinking about judging one another.

And yet, as much as I’d like to be blissfully ignorant, I know that racism isn’t gone or even far away. I know that the judges sit in every seat at the DPS office and the doctor’s waiting room and barber shop. I know that, despite all of the beautiful, tremendous progress our nation has made toward racial equality, this is still not a black man’s world.

It sticks in my throat a bit to say that because, like you maybe, I’ve often said that we need to stop talking about racism so much because that’s what creates it. But it really depends on what we’re saying, doesn’t it? Guarding our mouths may help raise up a generation of accepting, loving people, but ignoring the issue doesn’t undo the issue. Ignoring the brown doesn’t wash it way.

And sometimes I think I try to do that. I like whiteness. Not the actual color. Heaven knows white people love brown skin and black hair-dos. But I love the white culture. It’s my culture. I like European literature and history and accents. I fight the genes and try to make Sam a writer when he’s a football player. Not that a black man cannot write or a white man cannot punt, but there’s something in Sam’s blood that makes him understand sports, excel in sports and love sports. He was born in the mountains. Grew up running their steep streets. He’s not a writer like Joey, and that’s okay.

Recent events in the news have brought up conversations about race and racial profiling. (I recommend this news piece, though the most appalling part to me, was with the woman, not the black man.) Many people claim to be “colorblind”. Why be blind when we can see and enjoy?

I’d rather there be no racism to see than teach a child to see no race. We celebrate our colors in this house, mostly by way of jokes and compliments. Sam likes to make black jokes about himself, not to be degrading, but to set his white friends at ease. Once he’s cracked a joke, they know that he’s not defensive about the color of his skin and they don’t need to be walking on eggshells for fear of offending him.

In many ways my “brown” siblings are tokens in their social circles. Other kids think they’re cool. Sam plays football. Jubilee has neat braids and runs like an African Olympian. Not sure if Willin has noticed he’s black yet, but that’s a topic for another day. However, this novelty will not go out with them. It will not go with them to their first job interview. It will not go with them on a blind date. It will not go with them to college or the bank or the polling boxes. These places we have to trust to God. We have to trust Him to send people who value humanity over society.

I’m not just having to come to terms with the fact that my little brother is becoming a man, but that he’s becoming a black man. As much as I’d like to say otherwise, that does make a difference.

embracing brown 2

Sam is a gentle giant. He’s sweet and quiet and sensitive. He loves little girls. He wants to be a dad to little girls someday. Little girls love him. He watches The Waltons. He cried when we read Little Britches. He gives good hugs. But they don’t know that. They don’t know him. And that’s the whole problem.

Alone, in a convenient store, he looks like a thug. Alone in an airport he looks like a runaway. Alone in a church? That’s normal, because this whole Christianity thing is mostly for white people, isn’t it?

If anyone ever treats my little brother the way I know innocent black men are treated in my own town, I will throw all racial stereotypes aside and this sweet, polite white girl will turn into a racist’s worst nightmare.

It’s time for racism to die. Everyone reading this blog agrees with that. But it’s also time to cure colorblindness and turn our eyes to the issue. Just because you’re not looking at something doesn’t mean it’s not there.

I’ve noticed that most racists don’t realize that they’re racist. They’d never hurt someone based on their race. They’d never use the n-word. They’d hire a person of another race. They’d be their friend.

But they blame them for the crime. And they hesitate to adopt them. And they don’t even think about marrying one.

That’s racism too. A child could tell you that.

embracing brown 3

14

“just words”

“And maybe those names don’t matter. Maybe they’re “just words”, but try telling that to me when I’m lying awake in bed at three o’clock in the morning wondering how I can feel so very alone in such a full house. Try telling that to anyone who has ever lived, for words are not “just” anything. They are sharp and tenacious and heavy.”

(read the whole post at Kindred Grace today.)

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