Monthly Archives: December 2014

Legacy

10553457_10203555680266926_7844022657271927776_nMy husband’s grandfather passed away this week. He lived half a country away. We only saw him once every few years. My husband didn’t “grow up” seeing him very often either. But still, he was the kind of man who left a lasting impression on you from the moment you met him.

I began dating my husband when we were both 16, and I met his grandparents that same year when they came to visit. Sweet people. Politely happy to meet me, the teenage girlfriend desperate to spend all her time with her boyfriend and his family. . a family who was so accepting and loving of “outsiders” that it seemed they just loved everybody.

You can’t begin a relationship at the end of childhood without feeling like you “grew up” in that relationship. . .and that is what happened for me. Hubby and I married at the ripe old age of 20, and Grandpa and Grandma were at the wedding, after flying across the country to be there. And so continued my journey and my grafting into this marvelous family. Four years in, I already felt like I belonged most of the time. And my new husband showed great resemblance to this grandfather, which has only become more evident as time has passed and he has grown more “distinguished” as men do.

Grandpa had a certain familiar build about him, passed on to my husband almost exactly. No male pattern baldness to be seen. With a full mane of hair into his 80’s, just like the thick locks I affectionately refer to as “needing a good sheering” when hubby has stretched the limits of his haircut intervals. And I see many of these characteristics passed on into my son. And I think this adds to the sadness I feel right now, at the loss of a good man.

Grandpa always had a twinkle in his eye. And always a kind word on his lips. Our little family drove 2 1/2 hours each way for a visit with him that was half that long this summer. We knew his health was declining. He went back and forth from hospital to nursing home several times before he left us. He suffered from some dementia and didn’t really know the names of our children, but he touched my heart when my husband and I entered his hospital room this summer. His face lit up when he saw us. And recognized us. Both of us. And called us by our names. He remembered MY name. The granddaughter who was not born into his family, but rather grafted in through his grandson. And that meant something to me. It meant that he really did claim me as his own granddaughter. And that knowledge brought tears to my eyes.

As we hugged and kissed him goodbye for what would be the last time, even through the obvious fatigue and world-weariness in his eyes, there was that twinkle. Almost like he knew a little joke he wasn’t telling. We wished him well. We declared our love. And we went back to our normal lives, half a country away.

He wasn’t a perfect man. I’m sure those closer to him could attest to that better than I. But I admired his kindness, his sense of humor and a streak of stubborn tenacity that peaked out from underneath the twinkle that in my position as a once a year visitor, I never really got a chance to know well.

So Grandpa, you will be missed. You were well-loved. And I look forward to someday getting to know you better in heaven. Because one day, when time no longer matters and we both walk in the Garden in the cool of the day, I will learn more about the man behind the twinkling eyes. But for now, I will enjoy the similar twinkle in the eyes of my own true love. I will be thankful for strong genes passed on and seen in the broad shoulders of my own beloved son. Thank you, Grandpa, for living and loving and passing on part of who you are. My life is richer for it.

Love, Me

What CAN We Do?

1551555_10204463132632668_3473623281409716198_nDear Jubilee,

A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with your preschool teacher. I learned that you are referred to affectionately in class as the “class outreach minister,” and I have to say that makes me so happy to call you mine. :) You reach out to other kids who are feeling out of place or sad and try to make them feel included and special. Ever since I learned this about you, I’ve been on the lookout for evidence of this characteristic here at home.

Yesterday, we were on our way home from school and we stopped at the light near our house. There was a homeless man standing there holding a sign asking for help. You noticed him and began to ask questions:

J: “Mama, why is that man standing there in the cold holding a sign?”

M: “The sign says he doesn’t have a place to live and he’s asking for help.”

J: “You mean he doesn’t have a place to sleep? He doesn’t have a family? Where does he go when it gets dark?!” You were very upset by this notion.

M: “I don’t know if he has any family. Hopefully he has a place he can go to sleep that is warm when it gets dark. His sign says he is hungry and needs some food.”

J: “And we can’t take him home with us, right? Because we don’t have any extra beds or extra rooms, right?”

I could tell you were trying to make sense of all this. I let you know that it would not be safe to invite a stranger to sleep at our house. You went through all the reasons why that was true. You hoped someone else would have room at their house. And I will admit, the whole conversation made me sad that you had to see that side of life and I was relieved when you dropped it.

This morning, while we were playing in your room, you were in charge of our pretend play and you told me that I would be a person with no place to sleep. You then invited me to come home with you and share your room. I could tell you were trying to work out your feelings about the homeless man from yesterday and so I asked if you had any ideas about how we COULD help him, since letting him sleep at our house was not safe for us.

Your first suggestion was that we make him a nice, warm place to sleep. We talked about how that could happen and decided it was probably not practical.

We came to the conclusion that we could make him a bag of food. We talked about the possible contents of the bag. We settled on a granola bar, an apple (which you made sure was pre-washed) and a small bottle of water. Then you suggested that we make 2 bags, just in case we saw two hungry people. You didn’t think they should have to share.

And so, as depicted in the snapshot above, we pulled out two paper bags. I wrote the message, “We hope this helps a little. . .” on each bag and you decorated them with crayons. They are now packed and waiting by the back door for the next time we go out. And I sit here amazed. Amazed that a 5 year old would be so touched by the plight of a stranger. Amazed at the compassion you feel for someone you have never met. And amazingly touched by the gift of mercy that I see budding in your little heart.

I am challenged by your heart today, little one. Oh, that I could see the lost and the broken through your sweet, compassionate eyes. I am blessed to be your mama. And I hope we are able to share these little care packages sometime soon. Thank you for pushing me to be a noticer of people. Thank you for being an example of the love of Jesus. I love you so much.

Love, Mama

The Answer

Dear Kids,

After a night of fear and violence in our community very, very close to our home, you awoke one morning last week with questions.

Why are we all staying inside today?

Why are the people lighting things on fire?

Why are they stealing and breaking windows in our town?

Are the protesters the bad guys?

Are the police the good guys?

Are we safe?

And as I stood there making breakfast, I was overwhelmed by my own lack of an answer. I wanted you to feel safe. I wanted you to be shielded. I wanted to wrap my arms around you and shut out the world. Pretend like none of this was happening. But the main reason those questions are hard to answer is because I don’t know all the answers myself.  And for more than a week, I’ve been thinking and praying and trying to answer these questions in my own heart. But there are no simple answers here. The reasons are many. The answers are not easily boxed and delivered. And they are not easily understood.

I have not raised you to see race. I have raised you to see people. And so, this thing of racism and fear and hate does not make sense to you. And I really thought, REALLY THOUGHT, that that view was more the rule than the exception in 2014. I was wrong. And the grief that brings me was a bit hard to see through in the immediate aftermath of the “burning of Ferguson.” Because in watching all of this unfold, you are forming conclusions whether you mean to or not. And in my own search for wisdom, I haven’t felt like I understood it enough myself to guide your conclusions to the balance I pray you grow up with.

I have written this letter numerous times over the past week. And deleted and revised and re-written. Because honestly, I didn’t feel like I had an answer. Every answer I could muster felt jaded. One-sided. Shallow. And like a deeper grief was brewing beneath the surface.

And so after a few days of trying to make sense of this myself, I began to seek out other perspectives. I am white and surrounded by white people. We do have friends who are black, but not as many as I’d like to have. I read perspectives online from wise leaders in the national black community. I read about the epidemic of fatherlessness and poverty among African-Americans. I read about sin and racism and justice and hate. I prayed for an open mind and an open heart. To look past the fear and anger that came from watching our community burn. To hear the heart of the message that those still protesting this whole thing are trying to get across. And I started to get it.

I don’t agree with all of it, but I can respect it. I was raised to believe that the justice system in this country works. That it will defend me if I need it to. And so, every time something like this happens, I spring from the basic perspective that our justice system is fair. And that it is designed to protect its citizens. But many in the black community grew up seeing a totally different perspective. They saw men accused of crimes based on the color of their skin. They saw the benefit of the doubt go to the police because of stereotypes in their community that I can’t even begin to understand. They grew up seeing men and women of color treated differently by authority figures simply because they were men and women of color. And so their basic perspective grew from these roots. And they do NOT believe in our justice system as easily as I do.

I read one Facebook comment from a woman who explained her perspective on the grand jury deliberations regarding the Mike Brown/Darren Wilson case. She explained that in a jury trial, all evidence is presented to the jury, by prosecution AND defense. In a grand jury review, only the evidence deemed “credible” by the prosecutor is presented. And if the person of interest (in this case, Wilson) testifies, they do so of their own volition and are not cross-examined by any defense counsel. And this is why she viewed the way this case was handled as unfair. And while I’m not sure I agree, I see her point.

Even after I began to understand WHY the remaining protesters felt they had a case to protest about, I still struggled to understand the violence that took place in the immediate aftermath of the announcement. And I maintain that there is no EXCUSE for that violence. Those were criminal acts and deserve to be punished accordingly. But that does not mean there was not a REASON behind them. A reason is not an excuse, but it helps to understand the reasons behind something if we hope to be a part of the solution. A part of the greater movement who moves toward change so that something this devastating doesn’t happen again.

And so, I agree with the many wise black men whose writings I have recently read who say we need black leaders within the black community to call for and initiate change from within. We need strong black leaders to stand up for what is right, to call their youth out of poverty by offering real initiatives and solutions, to challenge black fathers to step up and parent their kids. All of those things are true.

But passing the buck and saying it’s “their” problem to solve and pretending that because I don’t hate black people, racism doesn’t exist is simply insanity. Because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. And while I don’t pretend to know (yet) what practical steps I personally need to take to be a part of the positive change that needs to happen, I will not throw up my hands and say I can do nothing.

I seek to know more, to understand more. And as I have pondered the violence, I started to understand some things. At the root of all violence, you will find a sense of powerlessness. Whether real or perceived, it whispers there beneath the anger. And when a person feels powerless, it leads to anger and attempts to gain power in any way you can think of. We have heard of outside gang influences in Ferguson, inciting some of the violence. But gangs at their core are formed out of powerlessness, too. Out of a sense of displacement. Needing a place to belong and be cared for. So they are as much a symptom of this thing as anything else.

So I believe the situation in Ferguson boils down to this: Powerlessness begets powerlessness. A son feels powerless to win the love or attention of his father and he becomes angry. He acts out in anger, trying to feel like he is in control of some little piece of his life. And after time has passed, if no constructive intervention has taken place, he takes the power back by not being available to his own son, and the cycle is perpetuated. And when you look at the balance of power in our government entities, it makes sense that black people feel underrepresented. Because they ARE. We need more black police officers. More black elected officials making a difference. More black judges, more black prosecuting attorneys. . .because no one should EVER be convicted for. . . or tried for, or exonerated for. . .a crime just because of the color of their skin. And as long as we white people continue to view discussions of racism as a personal insult to our own race, we will never be open minded enough to be a part of the change that is needed.

And so, my three loves, LISTEN to other perspectives, no matter who they come from. OPEN your heart to change from within. LOVE your neighbor as yourself. Don’t form an opinion about another race just because of all you’ve seen in this last week. Get to know PEOPLE. On an individual level. Seek out wise people and talk to them. Because change will only happen if we are willing to stop perpetuating the illusion that racism does not exist and it’s not our problem.  or as one old saying goes, “BE the change you want to see in the world.”

Love, Mama