Archive | hope

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!”

 

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when God the Father seems overly protective

Though I sometimes suspect I’m turning into A Morning Person, I have to admit to a life-long hatred of alarm clocks. The sound my phone makes across the room when it’s time to get up for work is one of my least-favorite ditties ever to exist. In that inevitable moment, I forget that I am the one who told the alarm precisely when to go off and that, after all, it is just a piece of technology, not some demon set on ruining my life. I always give myself time for one “snooze” as I dive back under my comforter and appraise the day for nine minutes.

After forgiving God for allowing this injustice to happen so early in the morning, I begin to pray in short, sleepy spurts. What shall I do today, for The Kingdom? What are His plans for me? How can I glorify Him?

These prayers may sound quite pious for 6:30 AM, but I assure you they are merely the product of sleepy habit and a lot of grace. I cannot even say that my heart is necessarily “in it” at this point in the day (as is sometimes evidenced by my grouchy behavior once I leave my bedroom,) but it’s definitely a good way to start the day. I often look back on these little prayers around noon and think, “Well? Have I begun? Am I doing His work, or not?”

But do you know what irks me about these prayers? It’s the calm, consistent answer they so often receive. I can almost hear the smug tone in God’s voice at 6:33. There is no special assignment. There is no exciting task. It’s almost as if He replies with a small smile and a, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Day after day after boring day.

I hold my palms out in reverent prayer. WHATEVER you might want me to do, Lord, I’ll do. I’m available to you. I am willing.

“Okay,” He replies with that little smile. “Just keep doing what you’re doing for now.”

So, I know I’m being a bit sacrilegious by characterizing God the Father this way. After all, smugness isn’t exactly a fruit of His spirit. But this is the way I feel, sometimes. Like God is not using me. Instead, He’s just keeping me on a shelf, safe and still. I can almost see the dust collecting around my feet.

The truth is, at eighteen I thought I was ready. Everyone thought I was mature for my age. They applauded my wisdom and discretion. I wanted to be married, to adopt kids, to go back to Haiti do mission work. I wanted to be on the New York Times Bestseller’s list with a riveting scrutiny of society. It wasn’t that I wasn’t afraid at times, or that I never felt unqualified, but those feelings never really go away. Big things will always make little people nervous. Why not just start now?

And God gave me that little smile. I think it was the first time I’d seen it. And he patted me on my little head and tucked me into my little bed and told me to grow up. And, like all little children do, I told Him I wasn’t sleepy and I didn’t want to go to bed! I wanted to stay up with the grown-ups and do grown-up things and have fun! And He chuckled a little as He turned out the light and pulled the door, as if to say. “That’s nice, Deary.”

So I pitched the riveting manuscript and was rejected. The guy who would’ve married me got turned down. The tickets to Haiti were never purchased. The alarm clock continued going off at the same time every morning and I continued to lie in bed, nine minutes at a time, wondering what the heck my purpose was.

Now I’m twenty-two and, I’ll admit, a bit weary of God’s overly protective tendency’s at times. I get the feeling He’s holding out on good things for me because He just wants me to be near all the time. To get to know Him better. To spend my hours with Him and talk with Him. Where’s the adventure? Where’s the launch? Where’s the applause from society that comes with great accomplishments? Where’s the fodder for my blog, for Pete’s sake? Nothing every happens to me! I shriek (and throw myself onto my bed with the grace of a prepubescent brat.)

God gives me that look like I don’t know best or something, and leaves me to my pouting.

Other girls get married. Other girls have babies. Other girls travel. Other girls get published. I was never jealous of the girls who had phones before me, cars before me, pierced ears before me…but this? Are they really more qualified? Why can’t I be an early bloomer? (Stomps Mary-janes indignantly.)

This may be an exaggerated description of my relationship with God. I would like to think there’s a little more mutual respect between us, and less whining. But the truth is, I do complain a lot, about my lot. Elisabeth Elliot says of Psalm 16:5, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup and have made my lot secure.”

My “lot” is what happens to me-my share of that which comes by the will of the Power that rules my destiny. My lot includes the circumstances of my birth, my upbringing, my job, my hardships, the people I work with, my marital status, hindrances, obstacles, accidents, and opportunities. Everything constitutes my lot. Nothing excepted. (Be Still My Heart, pg. 35)

Can I accept the fact that My Good Father secured the lot that is my singleness? That He designed me this way and set me on this path? Can I accept the fact that He ordained for my book to be rejected? That I’d have to break someone’s heart? That I’d have to learn from mistakes? That my friends would move on and move away without me?

One of my favorite stories from the Bible is about Mary and Martha. I think I love it because it’s about women, and sisters no less! And it takes place in their home and shows their personalities and, let’s face it, tells a story all women have experienced. Martha is cooking and cleaning because they have guests and she is ticked that Mary isn’t helping. She’s just sitting there, hanging out with Jesus. Hello! I  can imagine Martha thinking while she gives Mary a wide-eyed glanced over Jesus’ shoulder. A little help here?!

But Jesus is sort of related to the God I’ve been describing here. He has a way of snuffing out our self-righteous plans with a look or a word.

“Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 The VOICE.)

So what if I have an extended adolescence? So what if my life looks boring to other people? So what if I’ll never get to prove how good of a wife/mother/author/missionary I could’ve been at nineteen? God hasn’t been smug with me. He’s been patient. He’s given me years of chances to “choose that one thing” that cannot be taken away from me. I wanted to be Martha, working and doing big things for Jesus. I wanted to show the world how dedicated I was to Him. But it turns out He really doesn’t give a darn about what the world sees me do. He cares about my heart. If I cannot sing a serenade to Him, why do I think a solo concert in front of a big audience will bring Him glory?

I have a  feeling there is a Mother Theresa out there right now who hasn’t been discovered by the media and never will. An Elisabeth Elliot who doesn’t land a book deal. A Gladys Aylward who still hasn’t made it to China, despite her efforts.

God’s ways are not my ways. He actually does know better. So maybe I’m a slow learner, a late bloomer. Maybe I did need a little more time on my Papa’s lap, as my friend Jessiqua would say, before chasing my dreams. Maybe He’s preparing me for a greater work than I’ve ever cooked up on my own. And maybe it won’t win me fame or esteem. But maybe it will matter.

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when you have a whole box of matches (and none of them will light)

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It was a pink, glowing morning. I slid the key into the lock and slipped through the front door of the office, flipped the lights on and opened the blinds before plopping into my spinning chair. The day before, I had found a small box of matches in the office kitchen and I was excited to finally light the candle I had cleverly brought to work and moronically been unable to light. I pushed the box open and saw five small matches. Perfect! I thought. This will last me through the week!

I selected a match and struck it against the rough edge of the box. Nothing. It had been a while since I’d used a match. We have completely succumbed to fancy candle lighter sticks at my house. I scooted my chair out, stood over my desk and ran the match across the box again. Nothing.

I probably wasn’t using enough pressure. I struck the match again and it immediately snapped in half in my grip. I dropped the two pieces onto my desk, grabbed another match out of the box and quickly it across the scaly package. It too snapped in half! I gingerly selected my third attempt and held my breath as I rubbed it along the box. Nothing. I rubbed it again, quickly but gently. And again, and again. Finally I realized I had rubbed off all the ignition, turning my match into a useless little stick.

I carefully selected my next victim and scratched it across the rough strip on the side of the box. It lit! I held the match to the candlewick, singeing my fingers a bit in the process. Ouch! I had forgotten how quickly matches burn up. I panicked a little and blew the match out with some unwarranted vigor. There! I smiled at my candle…only to realize I had extinguished that too. 

I know it sounds dramatic, but standing there in the haze of another failed match, I couldn’t help but relate this to my love life (or lack thereof.) It seemed that for every hope, there was always some grand disappointment. There were the matches that snapped in two as soon as we began, the matches that never lit at all, much to my chagrin. There were the matches that I accidentally extinguished and the matches that left me feeling burned and dejected. And there weren’t all that many matches in the box to begin with!

Sometimes I blamed it on myself. I am too shy, he’ll never notice me. I was to forward, I turned him off. I got scared and ruined everything. 

Sometimes I blamed it on him. It would’ve worked if he hadn’t done that, if he had given me a chance, if he wasn’t already interested in someone else.

Sometimes, without admitting it, I blamed it on God. Was I even given a chance?

And that’s when the “chances are’s” begin. Chances are, I’ll never meet anyone. I say to myself as I wind down after another discouraging day. Chances are, if I do meet someone, he won’t be interested. Chances are, if he’s interested, I’ll mess things up somehow. Chances are, I’ll wind up brokenhearted and alone. Chances are, I’ll be in this same situation when I’m 25, 30, 35…

But the sun rises every 24 hours and, blinking in the light of dawn I remember that things are never so grim as they seem when you’re waiting for the shower at 12:30 in the morning. I smile to think that even if “chances are,” my life is not up to chance. My life is up to someone who loves me more than I deserve, knows me intimately and has a good plan for me. Whether that plan includes marriage or not, is not for me to know. I just have to trust that, whatever the journey is, the destination is the same.

I eyed the matchbox with the look a pitcher gives a batter before throwing a fast one. This ends now. I gingerly picked up the last match and struck it against the box with faith and determination. Much to my surprise, it lit on the first try! I calmly held it to the wick. Much to my surprise, the candle began to glow! I cupped my hand around the match and gently blew out the flame. Much to my surprise, it diffused without my burning my fingers in the process. The candle was lit at last!

I grinned and looked around, but there was no one there to celebrate with me. I didn’t mind. I dropped back into my chair, took a deep whiff of the lovely aroma and turned my computer on. Work was allowed to begin now.

a shift to september

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photo credit: jeweliet.com

Well! After a long wait, change has finally graced us with her presence. As the first flurries of snow fall on the stone streets of Riga, beauty berries appear on the cusp of our woods here at Eyrie Park. A new semester begins and college students flood back into town, children pose for back-to-school photos for Instagram and teachers gird up their loins for another year of backbreaking, rewarding toil.

This morning, my parents and Jeweliet settled into their new apartment and unpacked their month’s worth of necessities. They’re asleep right now, as I type in this sunny bedroom filled with the sound of dinner being prepared. In a couple of days, they’ll appear before court and received custody of Meggie and see her and squeeze her and start to love her in a way we love things we’re never going to lose.

Meanwhile, my oldest brother heads back to Dallas where he’s recently moved in hopes of starting a business with some friends, and brothers #2 and #3 drop their duffle bags in Mema and Papa’s south Houston living room and make themselves comfortable. If you’re counting, that leaves me with the married sister, the brother-in-law and the loud and lovely Jubilee, age eleven. This has got to be the weirdest September ever.

But it’s also wonderful, because things are actually progressing. We’re following a bend in the river, hopeful and trusting and a bit afraid.

I always feel a deep sadness when I realize Summer is slipping through my grasp, because I can never feel I’ve had enough of sunshine, freckles, jumping into the deep end, cicada songs and the leisure of long, long days. Summer in Texas is so hot, many people don’t believe they could stand it and even I complain about the heat from time to time, and yet I adore it. It’s homey and it makes me feel alive and adventurous to squint and breathe in fresh steam.

I always mourn Summer, and yet September has her own magic. September is like a grandmother you’ve always known, but didn’t know was an undefeated basketball champion in 1944. Around here, September is much like Summer. Hot, humid and still as a gargoyle, but it isn’t quite. It is quite anything. Not Summer, not Autumn, just it’s own, mysterious middle-month. September helps ease into the end of the year, whispering, “Don’t forget, Christmas is coming! And–before you know it? A new year.”

September is the mother who holds your hand on the sidewalk all the way up to the big door and tells you to obey your teacher and have fun. It’s a transitional month, a gentle month, an important month.

The sun dangles golden in my windowpane, Jubilee’s voice reverberating through my sliding door with calls for the wandering pup. The married couple works culinary magic and makes plans for their third anniversary. Brothers work and play and text and call and somewhere in Eastern Europe, Meggie lies her head not far from her new “mama” and “tētis” and her wait is nearly over.

Thank you, God, for good changes.

We are a bit excited...

We are a bit excited…

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