Love matters.

I don’t remember how old I was, six or seven perhaps, young enough to still be holding my mother’s hand as we crossed a street in northern Thailand. A small group of blind men crossed opposite us and I looked up at my mother and said, “Look, Mom, three blind mice.”  To this day, I cannot remember what she said in response. I don’t remember her face when she looked down upon me. But I do remember the intense emotion of disappointment and shame I felt with her response. Forty years later, as a woman who has grown so much since then, I am embarrassed to share this story, but I do so for one reason. It was a defining moment in my life. The moment that my mother taught me that under no circumstance, absolutely no circumstance at all, will you ever mock, demean, or disrespect another human being. Each and every person is created in the image of God and therefore shall be treated with utmost respect as if looking upon the face of Jesus himself. Forty years and counting, I try to hold to that teaching.

Sure, I get annoyed at people. Sure, I am snippy and rude sometimes (especially when driving). Sure, I have a temper that flares, particularly at the boys (just ask Super Tall Guy this morning). And I have made some very egregious mistakes in relationships. I am sorry for that. I realize that even as an adult I am still developing; still learning self-control and wisdom; still learning to take another’s perspective; still learning to be a better person. Still learning how to love my neighbor.

The key thing is that I’m learning because it matters to me. Love matters. loveRespect matters. I want to be better. I want to do better. Which means that I will also expect that out of others and I will stand in the gap whenever there is injustice and maltreatment of the innocent. And, I will expect my boys to be learning about love and kindness as well. I don’t expect them to be perfect. I know they will experiment with rudeness and meanness. I know they will tease others. I know they will say hurtful things without realizing it as well. But I expect them to reflect on those moments and learn from them with my guidance. I expect them to gradually get better. I expect them to learn the power they have in the choice of their words and actions. I expect them to value love. I expect them to respect others. I expect them to be a light into their world, to walk as a child of God. And I expect myself to model that for them and do the hard work of teaching them.

I’m not sure I have the power to change my sons’ perspectives in an instant as my mother  did so clearly years ago. And I know that I have not always lived up to her expectations nor emulated her Christ-like behavior and neither will my boys. But I know that we will keep on trying each and every day to make this world a better place. To stand in the gap. To be a light into the world. To be faithful and courageous.

Love matters.

Choose love.

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I would really like to trust you…

I really wanted to trust you. It’s my nature to start with trust. I’m not sure when my uneasiness began and the trust faded, but it finally started to bother my brain enough to make me jump in the pool shortly before the closing whistle to be nearer to my boys.

You had arrived just a bit earlier. I haven’t seen you at the community pool before though we’ve been there almost every sunny day. White man. Graying hair. Alone. No wedding band. As a single woman with hopes of someday changing that status, I pay attention to these things. You had a friendly smile. You noticed my middle child’s dive off the board and gave him a passing “Good job.” You swam. You were playful and went down the slide. You noticed the boys’ skill in swimming.

But then I noticed that you noticed my boys. poolSuddenly I noticed that I was noticing this notice. I peeled off my warm outer layer and jumped into the pool. We had a great time in the setting sun and the cooling evening. We splashed and raced each other around the pool. I caught the Little Guy over and over as he flew from the edge into my arms without his protective “floatie.” We played until the whistle blew and the pool closed. You said, “Thanks for sharing your pool with me” as you departed.

Leaving the pool, I tried to catch the manager but found him busy setting up for a private party. I made a note to call him later. I would like his help. I’d like him to remind his staff that the threat of human trafficking is real, even in this “safe” and seemingly small community. I’d like them to help me as a mother make sure that my boys never walk out of the pool area with anyone but me. I know they can’t keep track of everyone, but a gentle to reminder to keep an eye on kids and non-parental adults couldn’t hurt.

On the way home, I turned off the music in the van and asked for the boys’ attention. “Hey guys, I know that man we talked to seemed really nice today. And he may be a really nice guy. But we just met him and we don’t know him. So I need you to remember that you will never leave with someone or go to someone’s car unless you “Ask First” and I say it’s okay. Even if that man said to you, “Let’s go get a chocolate bar out of my car.” You would say, “I have to ask my Mom first.” Remember, you always Ask First.”

I really wanted to trust you. Maybe I can. Maybe we’ll see you around this summer. Maybe you’ll eventually become a friend. Maybe you’re actually a really nice guy. I hate that I have to become paranoid. But that’s the way it is, sir. This world seems a bit too crazy. My boys are way too precious to me. The thought of them caught up in abduction or trafficking makes my heart pause and my breath stop. They are my life, my joy and my responsibility.

Stay away from my boys.

Thank you.

 

 

 

Why getting to know each other matters (based on a horrific example)

There is such a sad story from my neighboring community this weekend – a 22-year-old mother was found dead on her bed and her 10-month-old baby dead nearby in the living room. Her cause of death is unknown and his is suspected to be a result of dehydration and starvation. The story is not yet complete and details are still unfolding, but the family and the neighborhood is reeling. And the neighbors who live in the same apartment building are wracked with guilt.

My soul aches since hearing the news. I fall asleep thinking of a little boy crawling around on the floor searching….searching for food….searching for water…searching for his mother….crying out for someone to help him. And though his cries were heard, the incredible weight of them, the life and death significance of them were not known until too late.

“If I took the time to get to know her I probably could have helped her” said a tenant in the same building as quoted in the newspaper story.

His remorse hit me. We have gone too far. We have let too much distance exist between us. When parents are afraid to reach out for help, we are letting them down and we are putting children at risk. When people worry that their neighbor will “call child protective services” against them, we are pitting family against family. When we lose a sense of community and of watching out for one another, we become isolated and lonely and we cannot thrive.

We need to change. We need to reach out to each other. We need to carry each other’s burdens. We need to take the time to get to know each other.

I am parenting three young boys. I’ve made a point of meeting my neighbors. I let a nearby friend know that she’s number one back-up call in emergencies since she’s the one closest to us. I’ve talked to my children about what to do if x, y or z. I sincerely thank friends who offer help whenever needed and I reciprocate the offer, pausing to look them in the eye to solidify our agreement. I frequently think about the community that surrounds my family and whether I’ve built up enough of a buffer base for my children.

Last week, my middle son turned six years old. His birthday party was attended by three

Cupcakes decorated to match my son's typical drawings.

Birthday cupcakes decorated to match my son’s typical drawings.

boys from his day care center, one boy who used to attend day care with him, two boys from his prior kindergarten class, one boy from his new kindergarten class, one boy from the neighborhood, and two boys from friends of the family. I looked around the room with a smile as they sang Happy Birthday To You, off-key. My son’s net is wide. There are many connections. There need to be for him to know that he is loved, that the world is full of good people, and that there are people who will come if he cries.

Every child needs love and protection and a wide, wide net.

Take the time to get to know one another. It just might matter.

 

 

 

 

From Heavy Boots to Hope for my Biracial Boys

Years ago I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” set in the time of 9/11 from the perspective of a 9-year-old boy who lost his father. It was such a powerful book and one that I was glad to read, despite the tears. I have always remembered little Oskar and the way he described his intensely sad emotions as “heavy boots.” That phrase rings in my heart on many different occasions.

This week has been one of heavy boots – from the Middle East to the Ebola outbreak to the death of another African American teen and the tension that followed. I am faced with the reality of how fragile life is and how one can get comfortable expecting a “tomorrow” when there really is no guarantee of one.

There’s no tomorrow for Michael Brown. I will not pretend to know all the facts and realities of what happened in that scenario. But I will say that it cuts to my core – in sadness for parents who suddenly lost their precious son and in heightened worry in my heart….for my boys are brown. Heavy boots upon my soul.

This is one of those posts that I’m not really sure how to write. My brain still swirls around this subject. I’ve read posts from an African American women pleading with her white friends to do more. I’ve read posts from a white mother acknowledging the white privilege her children have. I sit and ponder – where am I fitting in? – a white woman raising biracial boys.

The year I adopted Super Tall Guy was the year Barack Obama became president. I’ve often thought that rather than celebrating our “First African American President,” we should be celebrating our “First Biracial President.” We should celebrate the fact that families can unite. There can be peace and harmony.

Yet often there isn’t. A discord simmers below the surface until the spark and then it blasts wide open with an ugly face. We’re shocked. Outraged. It’s too ugly and we want the lid back on. Cover it, and yet it’s not over. It’s not over until we deal with the truth in turmoil beneath.

I don’t know how to do this fully, but I’m seeking. I’m seeking ways to help my sons understand that the color of their skin will actually influence the way people look at them and respond to them. We’re just in the early stages of the boys recognizing a difference. This summer at the pool, 5-yr-old Mr. Ornery looked around and said, “Mom, there’s not too many brown skin people here.” True. And sometimes we put our arms side by side and Super Tall Guy says, “Look how white Mommy’s skin is. Why do you get freckles?”???????????????????????????????

Two years ago, Super Tall Guy learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. in kindergarten. We bounced down the staircase of the school talking about the day and all he had learned. I asked him in the course of many questions, “So, Super Tall, are you black or white?” “White,” he responded as he jumped the last two steps to the landing.

You see, though his skin is browner than mine, he is growing up in a “white world.” That’s my world and that of my family. Yet I am conscious of the fact that he is biracial – all three are despite how light or dark their skin is – and that matters. I look for diversity for the boys – in their school, in their neighborhood, in our church. Yet I know that I need to do more for deep in my heart, I worry about what they will face in this world. Heavy boots.

I need to learn more. I need to talk to others more. And I need to talk to my sons. I havet yet to say, “Son, because of your skin, people are going to judge you and make assumptions about you and treat you differently…..and they won’t do the same to Mr. Trouble because he’s white.”  Hard.

Maybe I’m hoping that one day I won’t have to say it. Maybe I’m hoping that someday it won’t make a difference to anyone. Maybe I’m hoping my boys can keep growing up in the Mommy-cocoon of protection. It sure would be nice, but I also know this world is not going to change enough in the next year or five years or even ten years to spare me the difficult talk. And it’s not going to change enough to spare my boys some very painful experiences. I ache already for them.

Yet part of that world change has to begin with me. And you. And everyone. Together.

A change in the way we look at each other, whatever our differences. A change in the way we respond based on our judgments.

So when you see me out with my kids, don’t assume the “Black Baby Daddy” is at home. Talk to me and learn about this single woman who has adopted a set of brothers.

And don’t look at my sister’s African American kid and assume the poor little guy lost his Mommy when in fact he is standing right beside the woman who loves him more than the moon. Ask and learn about The Flipper’s challenging beginning and how far he’s come and his hopes for the future. He is amazing. My sister is amazing.

Please….don’t assume. Don’t judge. Begin the conversation. Open up. Be real. Invite others into your home and into your life. Share the fears, the heartaches, the pain. See beyond the surface and honor the person within. Lift each other up. Love. For we all need to be about the business of changing the world. There’s no sitting around hoping.

I don’t have all the answers, but it matters to me.

Lift the heavy boots.

Losing the Art of Interpersonal Connection

I read a wonderfully written commentary the other night about violence and mental health and anger. I agreed with Laura Hayes – violence is not a product of a mental illness, violence is a product of anger and the inability to control one’s anger. She asserts that the US is “a culture awash in anger”….and I wondered “how did we get here? When did we lose our ability to handle anger? When did we lose our ability to communicate?”

We stand in line at Starbucks and can barely tear ourselves away from the phone to give a drink order before rapidly returning to the distraction. Head down we wait, sometimes unaware that we’ve stopped right in the middle of the aisle blocking others. We are not “available” for a smile or a comment about the weather or the hometown team. We are “busy.”

We walk down the street weaving through streams of silent stares and budded ears. They are within their own cocoon. We are within ours. We are not “available” and we bump and jostle along the way.

We stare blankly on the public transit, the music in our ears filling our minds. We do not need conversation. We do not need the “other” over there. They clearly don’t need us.

We send text messages that communicate some of our deepest feelings….words punctuated by an emoticon. Yet, the “feeling” is subject to a variety of interpretations depending on the “receiver’s” state of mind, level of attentiveness, time at which they finally saw the text. We hit “send” in the attempt to connect, but have no control over whether we did at that moment or whether we even “connected” at all.

Even more than this vague attempt at connecting for ourselves, we are often unaware of the response of the person reading the text. We are not aware that we might have interrupted a very personal or intimate moment the person was having….now lost forever because of a beep. We do not know that they might have turned away from the windshield to look at the phone and swung the car into a pole. We do not know that they might have looked down from their toddler and missed the catch as the body dropped from the high bar. We cannot begin to fathom the effect of our “message” on its receiver…..because we are not actually connected.

We laugh at the “auto-corrects” and how information became twisted, but we forget the fact that someone’s stomach twisted, someone’s heart dropped, someone’s breath got caught in their throat when they read the text….until the correction came through and they sighed.

We sit across the table from each other in a restaurant, lost in the virtual world of a flat screen, neglecting the three-dimensional breathing, speaking, vivid person in front of our own eyes. We interrupt our conversations with a “let me check this” or “oh, it could be…” – as if the information coming in was more important than the person we chose to be with at the time.

We are isolating ourselves and isolating each other all in the name of being “connected” by our technology.

More importantly we are isolating our external communication from our own inner emotion. We are becoming more and more distant from our feelings and from understanding the feelings of others.

When we feel happy, we try to text our joy….or “Facebook” our excitement….but the response can never match our euphoria. We want someone to hug us in excitement. We want someone to jump up and down and do the happy dance with us. We want someone to feel the excitement and increase it by their shared joy. The text goes off into space….. “yay” is the empty reply…. We are deflated.

When we feel hurt, we spew out angry words into space….We want someone to acknowledge us, to validate us. We want someone to say, “I know. It stinks.” We need reassurance that our emotion is “correct” and “normal” and will pass. But we cannot find that in the two-dimensional space….the silence that follows the “whoosh” of the sent.

When we lose touch with our emotions…. when we lose the ability to share those emotions with others….we lose the nature of our own personhood and we lose others. Then we have no qualms about walking through a high school hallway wielding deadly knives. Then we hurt someone who “bothered” us that moment. Then we engage in violence because that “someone” is just a faceless, empty digital someone. We have lost our connection.

  • Today…. we need to connect.
  • Today we need to feel.
  • Today we need to label our emotions and share them deeply and meaningfully with someone else.
  • Today we need to be able to cry with someone.
  • Today we need to hold someone.
  • Today we need to help our children sit in the moment of their emotions and name them and feel them and know that it is real.
  • Today we need to visit someone or call them and hear their voice.
  • Today we need to put the phone in our pocket and read a book or giggle at the splasher in the bathtub.
  • Today we need to remember that we are a human, created to be in relationship with other humans.
  • Today we need to and can change.

Today we must.