For Those Who Can’t Speak

I can’t stop crying.

There’s so much grief in this world right now.  I am praying for friends who have lost fathers and mothers and siblings during this time and cannot even be there with them in their last moments or attend a funeral to honor their lives.  My heart breaks for a family I don’t even know who has two teenage sons in the hospital with COVID.  All I can picture each time I pray is my own two boys.  How does a mom deal with that much uncertainty and sorrow at once? But one of the biggest things my heart has been hurting over is the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery.  Jogging, unarmed and unthreatening, but taken from this world simply because of the color of his skin.  I was agonizing at how far we still have to go when it comes to seeing everyone as an equal.  Then came Breonna Walker – shot eight times in her own house when police officers entered the wrong house.   And now another victim, George Floyd, has lost his life and we are mourning again the brokenness of a world where people can simply ignore a man saying, “I can’t breath.”

I hesitate to write this because I am a white woman – how can I speak to this?  I KNOW I have so much to learn.  I am thankful for my friends who have experienced this kind of racism first hand and are willing to listen to my ignorant questions and answer me in truthful ways.  I will never understand it by experience, but I can learn and empathize,  and speak the truth of it.  It is my responsibility to educate myself and learn these things – it is not the job of the black community to do this for me.

I will say this –  I didn’t understand white privilege was real until I moved to a place where I was the minority. Even then I experienced a tiny little glimpse of being singled out for my skin color, but often it opened doors and gave opportunities that the people I loved and served alongside didn’t have. I remember one situation in Malawi where a local family we worked with was in the public hospital.  My friend had gone in to have a baby.  The pregnancy had been complicated, but the baby was full term.  While she was in surgery because she was bleeding the baby was left in the nursery in care of the nurses.  He died because he choked on his own spit up.  He was healthy and doing well – but the lack of attention caused him to die before his mama even got to know him. The nurses denied it many times and then finally admitted to it but still said it wasn’t their fault because the mom should be watching the baby – even though she was in surgery.  Childless with no hope for a future child is a bleak place to be in that culture.   She went into severe depression.  Still the hospital refused to discharge her and kept charging money.  They wouldn’t get her the records so she could have them.  In despair her husband called and asked us to help.  I marched into the room, packed her things, went to the finance office to pay the bill but demanded the records first.  With a wad of cash in sight and an angry white American in front of them they handed the records over. I took her out of there and home where I tucked her into bed and wept with her.  She had missed the funeral of her son because they wouldn’t let her leave.  She didn’t even have a picture.

I did so many things that day I swore I would never do.  I played the “white card” to the full extent I knew how because I knew that my skin color and the money I carried meant power.  Though I “paid the bill” we all knew it was a bribe, so much more than the actual bill and especially under the circumstances.  Paying bribes was something I was fundamentally against, but I didn’t think twice about it in that situation.  I verbally ripped apart the people in charge and railed against the system in ways no missionary is supposed to do.  I demanded, yelled, threatened, and got my way. And I knew I would – I had the confidence to do it because I had the right skin color to get away with it.

Honestly, in that situation, I would do it again.

The truth is sometimes my skin color played against me in Africa, especially when it came to police corruption.  But in the current climate here I realize that even that was minimal.  I might have had to pay more for a bogus fine, but I was not worried about being physically harmed by the police.  Overall I started to really understand what the term “white privilege” meant.  I can’t tell you how many times I watched Kenyan friends get patted down and have to empty their bags while going through security at a mall, but I could give them a quick glance as I flashed open my bag and get a wave through. These things seem like little things – but it’s the compilation of these “little things” that chips away at a person’s dignity and honor.

As a woman I have experienced the feeling of being looked down upon – especially within the church around the world.  I’ve been told that the gifts and passions God has instilled in me should be toned down or somehow worked out through my husband. Isn’t is good enough to be the Pastor’s wife?  There have also been times in this world I felt powerless or threatened because of my gender.  When a catcall crosses lines or a man thinks he can comment on or touch your body without permission.  Every woman alive knows what it feels like to be made into an object somehow.   Again – very real and very wrong.  However, even this idea is changing in most developed countries.  Especially in America and in church, the thought has drastically changed from the idea that being a woman makes my life less valuable.  But what of the life of Breonna?  Does being a black woman mean you still need to fear for your safety no matter where you are or what time we are in?  Even in your own home?  How can we be so evolved in one sense, yet we still can’t see past color.

I’ve talked with a close friend about what it means to raise a young black male in this day and age, and I was so appalled to learn the things she understood she needed to teach her son – things I would not think twice about.  She lovingly yet firmly rebuked my initial, “That can’t be true” remark, and as I remembered she was a person who always spoke hard truth, I apologized and tried to reset my thought process.   As we talked more I asked, “How can I teach my children when it comes to this issue of race?  How can I raise them to be a part of the solution rather than feed into it more?”  The biggest answers were awareness, education, acknowledgment, and action.  Aware that their skin color brings them a privilege that others do not have.  Being educated in the things happening around them and speaking into that rather than putting their head in the sand because they don’t fully understand it or are nervous to speak to it. Acknowledgement that it is not fair, but that it is real.  Action to use their own voices and resources to stand with their friends who cannot do this without fear of retribution.  I’m proud of the kids I have raised as I watch them navigate this in a way of passion and boldness I never even understood needed to be there when I was their age.  I hear them stand up for friends and speak against the comments and actions of people that are suppose to be “harmless” because they understand that words are powerful and actions sometimes speak louder than words when it comes to shaping the way a person thinks and acts.

But we all still have a long, long way to go.

Church – what are we doing?  We should be leading the forefront of this battle – we have had the ultimate reconciliation with God! We should be truth-bearers of reconciliation with each other! But I fear that out of ignorance, unbelief, or our own selfish hearts that lean towards racism we are just fueling the flame.  I don’t have the answers.  But we need to start pleading for wisdom to the One who does.  We cannot bury our heads and ignore it because it “didn’t happen here” or “what can I do” or “who would listen to me?”  We can’t be afraid of finding those friends who HAVE experienced this and who are willing to let us ask them the hard questions.   We cannot shy away from the rebuke we may need as we start to have our eyes opened to the realities for so many.  As a church, and as brothers and sisters who love Jesus, we should be a safe place for all people – race, gender, age, sex, culture, economic status, immigration status.  We need to understand that when we see #blacklivesmatter it doesn’t go without saying and we downplay this message by adding anything else to that hashtag.  If we really think all lives matter, we should ask ourselves why the phrase “black lives matter” is such a trigger for us.  Pro-life is just as important after a person is born.

I don’t know the answers.  I am sure that even in these few paragraphs I have gotten something wrong.  I’ll be honest – I started this blog right after the news of Ahmaud broke, but then let it sit.  After a couple weeks I kept thinking, “I will say the wrong thing, there’s no point in bringing it up again.”  Then Breonna was killed.  Then George.  I can’t keep silent for fear of of saying it wrong or backlash. Well, I COULD – that’s my privilege within the skin I was born, as unfair as that is.  It is also a big part of the problem.  You’ve probably seen the quote by Benjamin Franklin that says, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are just as outraged as those who are.”   Though I’ve been sad, angry, even appalled, I’ve stayed quiet.  But I will not any longer, because my heart, my conscience, my soul will not allow it. Because I love many people who do not look like me.  Because it is my calling as a follower of Jesus.  It’s time.

“A scared world needs a fearless church.”  AW Tozer.  It’s time to be fearless.

 

 

The Wisdom of Anne with an E.

“It’s red, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s red,” she said resignedly. “Now you see why I can’t be perfectly happy. Nobody could who has red hair. I don’t mind the other things so much–the freckles and the green eyes and my skinniness. I can imagine them away. I can imagine that I have a beautiful rose-leaf complexion and lovely starry violet eyes. But I cannot imagine that red hair away. I do my best. I think to myself, `Now my hair is a glorious black, black as the raven’s wing.’ But all the time I know it is just plain red and it breaks my heart. It will be my lifelong sorrow.” 

Oh, Anne.  I have loved Anne of Green Gables since I read it the first time.  She’s a firecracker who uses big words, is passionate and loyal about her relationships, verbally processes, and (of course) has red hair.  As a child I use to hate my red hair.  I remember clearly people calling me carrot top among other not-so-nice things, being told I was a redheaded rooster, and hearing a few adults I looked up to saying (when they didn’t think I was listening) that they hoped their children didn’t have red hair. It’s hard not to take that personally.  As Anne says, you can’t wish it away no matter how hard you try.

When I became a teenager and into adulthood I decided having red hair wasn’t so bad.  People remembered me, I stood out.  I’ve never been one to want to blend into the shadows completely, so having something that made me different became a benefit rather than a hinderance.  But then adulthood ran into getting into middle age, and suddenly my bright, copper-red hair started looking a bit less vibrant and a lot more washed out.  I felt like I was losing my identity as my hair changed color so  I started dying it regularly to a coppery color.  But since most of the time it was a cheap box from Walmart I now cringe when I see pictures of me with that harsh hair color!

We are weird people. No matter how old we get or how much we mature, we struggle with how we look and we allow that to define who we think we are and what our worth is.  I’ve noticed recently that I’ve had a lot of anxiety about what I’m eating (or not eating.)  At college I struggled a lot with an eating disorder.  It continued for many years into adulthood, as I would go out at night and binge on what ever I wanted, then throw it up before I went home.  It wasn’t really about losing weight.  I knew that I wasn’t going to get skinny in this pattern.  It certainly wasn’t about being healthy – that was really the last thing on my mind.  I understand now that it was my way of grabbing control of my shame that I felt.

I would feel shame about everything at that time.  Shame that I wasn’t a better parent, a better wife, a better sister and daughter.  Shame that I was continually gaining weight and couldn’t seem to stop.  Shame that I wasn’t where I thought I should be as a Christian or an adult.  Shame about past mistakes and anxiety about future ones.  And shame about the way I looked and how I wished with my whole heart that I was not the way I was.  People around me have been talking about dieting and weight my whole life.  I know very few women who don’t talk about almost every day, so I don’t think I am an oddball about this.

Fast forward to this stage of life.  Last year we started doing keto and I dropped 60 pounds over the course of the year.  But I found out something about myself – I exchanged the idol of food (I can eat whatever I want) for the idol of fear (I don’t dare eat that.  Or – I can’t believe I ate that, what a wretched person I am!)   If I had a bad day where I would eat too many carbs, my whole mood and attitude was affected.  I felt anxiety about every little thing going into my body.  While I was healthier in many ways, emotionally I was still going through a lot of the same cycles.

I found myself sitting on the floor in the bathroom one afternoon weighing in on whether the shame of having just eaten bread would be bigger than the shame I knew would come if I made myself throw up.  Then I broke down and cried, wondering how I had gotten back to this point.

This is not a story I want to share.  I love telling those stories where there is complete victory.  I would love to say that I threw up one day two decades ago, had a revelation about who I am and who I want to be, and stopped right then and there.  But the truth is this temptation has been there much more than I ever imagined it would be.  While it’s been years since I hung my head over the toilet regularly, the idea still creeps in every once in a while.

But there is hope.

Because here’s another truth – I have not spent every day of the last couple decades living in shame and fear.  There are periods of time that these things try to creep in.  And sometimes I forget the truth of who I really am and I let these lies settle in.  Sometimes it’s from conversations happening around me or circumstances that pop up, but other times it’s simply my own insecurities showing their faces when I am not expecting them, so I am not ready to fight.  I have learned some practical things (and I keep learning more and more) about how I cannot be extreme when it comes to food issues.  I know I need to be disciplined and eat in healthy ways, but I keep coming to a better understanding of what that means for me and my family.  I have learned to love walking and pushing myself in exercise and the feeling of pride I get when I make wise choices about these things – but I also know how slippery that slope can be for me with my obsessive tendencies and how fast I give into shame.

However, more than anything, I continue to learn despite the fact I fail often, and no matter how I feel in the moment, none of that really defines me or changes my worth.  As I have fallen deeper and deeper in love with Jesus, I realize better and better the depth of his love for me.  I understand that my salvation is not just about heaven someday, but the ability to live here on this earth in a supernatural freedom from anxiety.  Over the last month we have talked about advent and the different things that we looked at were hope, peace, joy, and love.  I have emphasized as I taught and wrote on it that these things are not things of this world.  We are not talking about a hope in temporal things or peace and joy that comes from everything around us being just as we think it should and we “feel” good.  Love is an overflowing of the Spirit from us that we can have because He first loved us.  These things come from a dying to myself and surrendering my life to Him.

The same is true about these other things.  Even if I have a day where I ate a box of Little Debbies, this doesn’t change my worth.  If I have a day where my parenting is less than stellar and I have have to humbly apologize to my kids, my worth is still the same.  On the flip side, if I eat exactly 20 carbs, walk 10,000 steps, kiss my husband every time I see him, cook a healthy meal at night, and tuck my children into bed without having once lost my temper with them, my worth has not changed.  It can’t.  I have already been purchased at the ultimate cost- so I am now priceless. He loves me me with a perfect love that was so incomprehensible he died for me while I was still a broken, bratty child kicking and screaming insults at him.  Even then my worth was known to him.

As I go into 2020 I have no illusions that this year will be easy.  I am starting a new job, learning how to balance that with still having kids at home who are doing online school, a college student, and a young adult.  I am still in my first year in a new place where I am getting to know people and figuring out who my people are.  We have parents whom we love that we need to be able to care for better.  And I continue to fight my way through this love/hate relationship with food to a better place for me both physically and emotionally.  But I am determined to go into this year with the reminder of who I am and I will dream up big, God-sized dreams that cannot happen without Him – one of those dreams being a healthier me who stands steadfastly in what I know to be true about me and about Jesus.  Because, as Anne says, “When you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.”

Join me?