I’ve been reading the book of Psalms for the past few months, going through the reading plan in my Bible. It’s been amazing to look with fresh eyes the gut-wrenching prayers and the peace-filled, thankful praises of David. In chapters 77 and 78, which are what I’ve read yesterday and today, the author fervently reminds us of God’s faithfulness. How He rescued His people out of Egypt and led them through the wilderness, despite their whining and complaining, and even when they completely turned their backs on Him. Sure, God got angry, but he forgave his people and made a way for them come to the Promised Land at last. His love, grace, kindness, patience, and forgiveness is without limit. He is always pursuing our hearts, no matter what we’ve ever done or said.
You split the seas for me walls of foaming, angry water on each side. You beckon me to follow you providing me with a cloud by day and a flickering flame at night. You fill me with the bread of heaven and the water of life, Sprouting streams from stones abundant as the depths. Who am I that you hear my small, quiet prayer? That you consider me and my request; In your ever-gracious kindness, knowing how much it would mean. I will follow behind your unseen footprints with childlike faith and a grateful heart.
I’ve been teaching my daughters, ages nearly 3 and 4 1/2, about skin colors lately. My girls are curious and smart. I want them to ask questions. We’ve been reading, “God’s Very Good Idea,” by Trillia Newbell. It explains that God’s very good idea is to have lots of different people (different skin colors, different interests, different abilities…everything!) enjoying loving Him and loving each other. This morning, we decided that our skin is not white, but peach. We are big fans of Fancy Nancy in this house, mostly because my oldest daughter Noelle has wildly curly ginger hair just like Nancy. What I also love, is that Nancy’s best friend Bree, is a girl whose brown skin is the color of “hot cocoa,” according to Noelle. Half of my high school in Wilmington, NC was white, half was black, and I was surprised to notice that nobody really sat with anyone who didn’t look like them. I was Sophomore on my first day there, the day after Christmas/New Year break ended. My family and I had moved just before Christmas from northern VA. The two classroom buildings were connected by a breezeway, and the doors were not automatic. I can remember, with a jolt in my stomach, that a tall, dark-skinned girl slammed the door shut just before I could walk inside. I’d never experienced any kind of hostility against me before, and I can remember my eyes brimming while I yanked the door open and walked to my next class, wondering why she hated me without even knowing me.
My first job was at the fast-food restaurant directly across the street from my new school. On my first day , I was greeted by an older white manager named Pat, who introduced me to Tammy, an intimidatingly large girl with skin the color of milk chocolate, a few years older than me. Tammy toured me around and introduced me to the rest of the employees. The manager, Pat, and I were the only white staff that afternoon. It was an odd feeling for me to be in the minority, for me to be the one who looked different from everyone else. I wondered if this was how the small handful of non-white students I’d gone with to school and church in VA had felt; uneasy at first. But I worked there for nearly two years, and when I left, I dearly missed everyone. One of the cooks there was named Leon. He was a lanky older man with dark coffee-colored skin, a limp, and one of his front teeth was missing. He asked me one day about my Spanish sounding last name. “My dad is half French, half Hispanic,” I explained. He thought about that for a minute, then with his missing-tooth smile, he said, “You one of us, then.” A few months after I started, a new girl named “T” was hired. She and I went to the same school and were in the same grade, although we didn’t have any of the same classes. We quickly became friends, and would hug every day we got to work together. We never sat with each other at lunch at school, though. I’d stop by her table to say hi, but there was almost this unspoken rule that we couldn’t sit together. I would have invited her to my table, except I didn’t belong to one. One day at work, T out of the blue said to me, “You’re my best friend.” I was elated. I loved her too. A few months later, she told me that she was pregnant. “Are you going to finish high school?” I asked her anxiously, afraid that she was going to drop out. “Girl, this is the black way. Of course I’m gonna graduate,” she told me confidently. I’ve since wondered why that had to be the “black way.” When she found out her baby was a girl, she asked me to help her pick out a name. She invited me to her baby shower a few months later. A fellow coworker, Kelly, and I were the only two white faces inside T’s mother’s house that day. T did indeed graduate, but after graduation, we both changed jobs, and sadly, she and I never kept in touch after that. I saw Tammy about ten years ago working at the grocery store in the same shopping center when I went to visit my parents. We exchanged phone numbers, but we’ve never put them to use.
Why do we naturally gravitate towards people who look like us? Why do we stick to what is familiar and stay away from what is unknown or different? Perhaps it is fear of the unknown, or maybe we have experienced negative interactions with other races. Maybe we simply like comfort and familiarity, and don’t want to step outside that bubble. We buy albums only if we know at least one of the songs. We go to places that are based on others’ recommendations. We even buy books whose characters are like us or our children. But what if we actively searched for friends/music/books/businesses that are not like ourselves? I am so thankful for churches actively trying to be more diverse, not for the sake of keeping up with the current culture or to look like they’re trying to embrace diversity in motto only. The Bible, particularly the New Testament, is adamant that all believers are ONE.
There is no distinction between Jew or Greek, because the same Lord of all richly blesses all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.Romans 10:12-13
For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free…since you are all one in Christ Jesus.Galations 3:27-28
For He is our peace, who made both groups (Jews & Gentiles) one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, he made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace…So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household.Ephesians 2:14-15, 19
In Acts 8, one of the first recorded converts to Christianity is an Ethiopian man in charge of the treasury for Queen of Ethiopia. Philip led that man to Jesus, and baptized him. When both men came up out of the water, Philip disappeared, and the Ethiopian man “went on his way, rejoicing!” How’s that for an overt message that everyone is welcomed into God’s family? Before Jesus, the Jews and Gentiles did not intermix. The Gentiles were anyone not Jewish, and were considered “unclean.” But because of Jesus, everyone has forgiveness. No human, who believes Jesus died for their sins and acknowledges that Jesus is Lord and Savior, is considered unclean. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven after rising from the dead, the last thing he told his disciples in Jerusalem was this: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) It was because of the disciples’ obedience that the name of Jesus has been and is declared around the world. Every human from every race is welcomed into God’s family. We as Americans are so blessed that we have the freedom to worship, churches are everywhere, and that Bibles are so easily obtainable. We may take that freedom for granted, even assume the title of “Christian” simply because we were born here. Christianity did not originate here, but in Israel, in the Middle East. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and lived in Jerusalem. Jesus was most certainly not a white man, nor were his disciples.
Whether Jew or Gentile, black or white or brown, no matter your ancestry or heritage, none of that differentiation matters because of Jesus. Identity politics seeks to ram a wedge between everyone, simply so that some can claim higher moral ground or so that others can claim most adversity; and that does nothing but drive us farther apart, cause justified anger and resentment, and cause those of mixed races feel like they have to choose a side, and/or that they don’t belong. We are all God’s children. Jesus provides us all the credentials we need to become family. He is our identity. God designed everything in creation to be awe-inspiring. He created various shades of skin to show off his creativity, not for some man-made hierarchy. We must act like followers of Jesus in showing love and respect, kindness and compassion to everyone. I’m so thankful for my non-white friendships, but I pray for opportunities to meet more women who don’t look like me. I want my girls to do the same. We could all learn so much from each other. This pandemic has really hindered us from being social and even from going to church in-person, but I pray that those I surround myself start to look how everyone in Heaven is going to look; colorful.
My girls and I were looking at our family’s photo albums this morning, when I decided to dig out photos my paternal grandma had given me years ago. There were photos of her as a child, photos of my dad as a baby, a picture of me on my first day of Kindergarden, and a photo of my grandma and my biological grandfather on their wedding day. I’m basically a carbon-copy of my grandmother and my dad. As genetics would have it, my dad only takes after his mom in appearance.
Until about fifteen years ago, my dad was 18 years old the last time he saw his father. I was born four years later, when my dad was nearly 22. I can remember being maybe five or six, being on the phone with a man with a Spanish accent my dad told me to call him Ernie. Both my parents were sitting on the floor with me smiling as I said hello. He asked me if I had a boyfriend yet. I laughed at him and said, “No way!” and that’s all I remember about the man who was my dad’s dad until I graduated from college. I guess as a child, you don’t pick up on those kinds of conversations, or maybe they didn’t happen when I was around. But, my grandma filled me in once I was old enough to understand heartbreak. My grandfather had been in the US Army when he was deployed to France over 65 years ago. He met a gorgeous blue-eyed blond who spoke French and Spanish and fell in love. They married and had my dad in Bordeaux, followed by two more sons. They were stationed in Germany for a few years, and then ultimately, to Virginia in the US. He got called to to Vietnam and there he remained for a full term. After he returned from Vietnam, his relationship with my grandma was different. Abruptly, he told her that he had orders to go back. My grandma, shocked and angry, marched to his direct officer’s office and demanded why he was being sent back after he had just finished his tour. “Ma’am, he volunteered,” the officer told her hesitantly. He had met someone else. So, he left his family in Virginia and started a new family in California, and a son just a few years before I was born. That was kind of it. No looking back. No birthday cards. No visits. I’m not sure if there were any big goodbyes or even how my dad and his brothers reacted. I’m sure they felt abandoned. Stunned? Angry? Guilty? Bitter? Most likely yes to all of the above.
One of my college roommates, Carmen, moved to Los Angeles for her first job after graduation. She invited me to come out to visit her, so I decided that if I was going to fly across the country, I should officially meet my dad’s father who lived nearby. I called up my dad to ask him his thoughts. He was so excited that I wanted to meet his dad, he even called his dad after years of silence. He wanted to make sure his father would be willing to meet me in person. The conversation was positive. He agreed to meet me. Carmen, along with our other roommate from college, Sunita, and I piled into Carmen’s car and followed the route to my grandfather’s home address. We pulled in front of his house, and all of a sudden, years of emotions spilled out of me. I cried, overwhelmed at never having met the man who was the father to my father. I was the same age my dad was the last time he saw the man I was about to meet. Carmen and Sunita soothed and encouraged me, told me they’d be with me the whole time. So, I pulled myself together, wiped off the tears from my face, and stepped out of the car. My friends bolstered me up on each side as I rang the doorbell. The door opened, and a man with beautiful light brown skin, a wide nose, brown eyes, and white hair (that used to be jet-black) pulled into a low ponytail opened the door. The first thing he did was laugh and say to me, “You look just like your father.” He welcomed us in and introduced us to his wife. The five of us sat around the kitchen table and talked for hours until dinnertime threatened to break up the conversation. It was clear he wasn’t ready for us to leave, so he invited to take all of us out to a restaurant and they treated the three of us to dinner. It was difficult to say goodbye that night. I didn’t know when, or even if, I would see him again. I was thankful that I had gotten to meet this man, and that somehow, maybe that if he had felt remorse over leaving his family so long ago, he would know that it was all in the past now.
When I write during my daughters’ nap time, my computer sits on the dining table with the cord plugged into the wall behind me. It’s fine while I’m sitting alone, but once my little girls come downstairs, I have to put away my laptop. Otherwise, without fail, at least one of them will trip over the cord or kick it out of the magnetic connection by walking through it; no matter how many times I remind them that the cord is there! As exasperating as it is, I do the same thing. I’ve plowed through others’ feelings because I was so concerned with carrying my own. I’m certainly guilty of being so distracted by my phone that I’m barely listening to what my husband is saying. Only to hear him later ask me in frustration, “Do you ever listen to me?” I’m often so busy with making dinner or cleaning up my house, that I ignore my girls who just want some one-on-one time with their mama. Lord, please give me the eyes to see and ears to listen to what’s really important. Help me to be an observant participant in this life you’ve given me.
Once I turn 16, I can drive.
Once I graduate, I’ll move to where I want to live.
Once I have a real job, I can buy a house.
Once my acne clears up, I’ll wear expensive makeup.
Once I meet the right guy, I won’t be alone anymore.
Once we start dating, he’ll fall in love and give me a diamond ring.
Once we get married, we can have a baby.
Once my baby stops nursing, I’ll get my body back.
Once this kid is potty trained, life will be so much easier.
Once she starts going to school, I’ll have more time for myself.
Once I get my blog together, I’ll feel like a writer.
Once I get a book published, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something.
“Once this, then that” can take up our entire lives. How selfish these statements sound all piled up together. Can I ever just be content with what I have, with circumstances as they are? We all want something better, easier, newer, and complete. But it all takes time and effort. Nothing of value is immediate. Today, I read Romans 12:12 to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in affliction, be persistent in prayer.” Once I learn to be content and find joy in all circumstances, that’s when I can enjoy the process of life. Once that occurs, life also will become less about me, and more about God.
My oldest daughter, Noelle, was wearing her Captain America cape, my youngest was in her pink Anna cloak, both of them dressed their Elsa gowns (it’s all about Frozen in this house) on New Year’s Eve. “Come on, Autumn! Let’s go save the world!” my oldest called to her sister trailing behind her, as they scrambled down the stairs. Just a few days later, a horrifying display of hostility, anger, vindictiveness, and destruction ensued in our nation’s capital. On top of the countless other acts of violence and hate in recent memory, my heart has been so heavy for my girls, aware that this is the world they have been born into. But, I cannot remain in that head and heart space. I cannot be buried in my phone with that awful “smiley face above my nose,” (as my oldest calls my furrowed brow) while I ignore my girls and get sucked into reading the latest atrocious headline. As the mother to my girls, I am called to read God’s Word and pray. Oh, pray, dear Mamas.
We made the difficult, but prudent decision to keep our girls home with me as their teacher this year due to the pandemic and my husband’s job. It’s so easy to allow fear to decide that I will homeschool my girls all the way through college. But, God didn’t bring these babies into the world just for my benefit, or for my husband’s pride, or for our amusement, and certainly not to hide away from the world. I think back to how Jesus’ mother Mary must have felt when Jesus was a toddler. He was so innocent, so loving, so happy, and the world was everything the opposite, as it is now. When Jesus was a tween, she and Joseph nearly lost their minds after looking all over for him. They finally found Jesus in the temple, where he was teaching and asking questions beyond his age. She must have felt both proud and terrified, that her baby boy, the son whom she could not keep hidden forever safe from harm, would soon be grown up and on his own. He had his own calling on his life. He would not follow in his earthly father’s (albeit step-father’s) footsteps and be a carpenter all his days. Mary was faithful to teach Jesus the Scriptures and then let him out into the world when it was time. Even to the point he was crucified in front of her, murdered by a senseless, angry mob. How her heart must have shattered when she heard Jesus cry out, “Father, forgive them! They don’t know what they’re doing!” She, his own mother, could not yet understand the depth or the significance of his sacrifice until later.
My prayer for my girls is that God would act as baleen, filtering out the negative, impatient, distracted words or actions against them, and that only the positive, true, life-giving things feed their souls. I pray that they never lose that sparkle in their eyes or the magic in their imaginations. That they would always believe that every person, no matter what they look like, will respond to a wave and a smile, and has a story worth sharing. That their childlike faith would grow deep roots, giving their souls, hearts, and minds an anchor to cling to, when it seems that everyone and everything has failed them. May they believe it down to their toes that God is with them always. I pray that silence and stillness would be a comfort to them, particularly in this ever-distracted age, because only in that space does God make his voice heard. May they never succumb to earthly, temporary temptations that slink around and claw at them for attention. I pray that they keep their minds fixed on that which is true and right, extraordinary, pure, and beautiful. I pray that God sets angels to keep charge over them all the days of their long lives. As their mother, I would love for them to not have to experience pain, or heartache, or sickness, or financial hardship. But I don’t want them to live comfortable, easy lives, either. I want them to be brave and be bold, to take risks and stand up for what is right, and let their lights shine so brightly that everyone who meets them will see that they’re different. A kind of different that draws others in. A kind of different that doesn’t spotlight themselves, but the kind that declares the love of Jesus inside them. And my prayer for myself is that I would trust God with my girls. I realize they will inevitably make decisions that don’t make sense to me, circumstances will not always comply with my wishes, but I will trust that God has plans for each of them, plans for their good, and plans that will change their generation for good.
I got the call last Saturday morning that my 97 year old gramma Betty had a heart attack. On Tuesday, January 26, 2021, Gramma decided that it was time to leave this world. Blessedly, my mom and her siblings all got to say goodbye in person. My daughters and I said “We love you” in a Marco Polo video that my aunt played for my gramma just before she closed her eyes forever.
Last week, grief washed over me in waves. On Wednesday, I read my two little girls Miss Rumphius, and I could barely squeak out the words as I was overcome with heartache. As a little girl, I remember sitting in the middle of the couch in Gramma’s family room with three books, Miss Rumphius, Goodnight Moon, and Blueberries for Sal in my lap, and Banjo, their black lab, at my feet. Poppy would be sitting to the left of me, closest to the bay window where the sun streamed inside, reading the newspaper with his long legs crossed, and Gramma would be buzzing around the kitchen preparing dinner. Gramma always made sure that books I could read were visible on the sewing table in front of the bay window, and she knew those books were my favorite. Miss Rumphius, Goodnight Moon, and Blueberries for Sal were the first books I bought when I found out I was pregnant with my first baby, Noelle. As I read Miss Rumphius to my little girls, I imagined Gramma encouraging me to make the world more beautiful, just as little Alice Rumphius’ grandfather had told her to do, and to pass that guideline on to my girls.
For the past several years, Noelle and Gramma had corresponded through hand-written, “snail-mail” letters. I would tuck my own note inside the envelope, along with Noelle’s letter, which was essentially a pretty card on which she had practiced writing random letters, and Gramma would respond to my letter starting with “Dear Noelle.” My hand-written notes to Gramma were all written from Noelle’s perspective so that Gramma could get to know her great-grandchild, despite seeing her just once or twice a year. I looked forward to sharing with Gramma how well Noelle was doing in preschool and that her baby sister, Autumn, had taken her first steps. Then as time went on, I wrote that Noelle and Autumn were learning to swim, to which Gramma replied that she was happy they were learning so young, since she herself had only just learned in her late-eighties. I wrote to her that Noelle had started gymnastics and that she loved it, and is incredibly strong. Gramma wrote back that she used to be a gymnast too, and that she had a picture of herself (probably among other boxes of photos too high for her to reach) when she was about 10 years old, balancing on her arms, with her feet touching her head. Noelle and I read that and laughed together, trying to imagine that scene. As my aunts and uncles were cleaning out Gramma’s home, that very picture was discovered. I immediately showed it to Noelle, who broke out into a grin, and then she tried contorting herself in the same way. She can get her feet to her head, but by laying on her belly, not her forearms. “Maybe when I’m ten, I can do that too!” Noelle told me. Yesterday I received an invitation for Noelle to join the year-round pre-team program since she is showing such promise in her regular gymnastics class. I grabbed my computer and was about to proudly announce the news to Gramma, only crumpling with the realization that she wouldn’t be on the other end of that email.
I’m heavy-hearted that Autumn, my youngest, will not have the opportunity to write letters to Gramma, or really remember her in person. I’m so sorry that I won’t be able to update Gramma on Noelle’s progress with this new and exciting gymnastics adventure. Since the start of the pandemic, I have been homeschooling my girls. Since my Gramma specialized in teaching children to read, I asked her to share with me all she knew so that I could teach my girls to read. She sent me a bookmark with helpful tips and a list of the most common words children should know. I’ve started making flashcards and, incredibly, my girls are absorbing what I’m teaching them! I want to teach my girls to read and love books, just like how Gramma taught me. Most of all, I hope they somehow make the world more beautiful, like Miss Rumphius and my gramma both did, and that my girls figure out what that means for each of them.
Today before I put my girls down for a nap, we settled in to the oversized upholstered rocker in my youngest’s room. Me in the middle, with my 4 year old on my left and my 2 year old on my right, the Illustrated Storybook Bible in my lap. While reading the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead through their young, innocent eyes, it gave me a fresh perspective of Jesus. Jesus knew that Lazarus was ill, and yet he decided to stay an extra two days where he was before making his way to see Lazarus. By the time he arrived at Lazarus’ house, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Stank dead. Jesus was great friends with Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. But still he made them wait. He knew that God’s glory would be displayed to an even greater degree if he waited. Martha met Jesus as he came into town, and she understandably was upset. “Why didn’t you come when we first told you he was sick?” I can hear her asking with her hands in the air. Jesus didn’t get upset then. He calmly told her that Lazarus would rise again. Then, Jesus saw Mary. This is the same Mary who would anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume, and wipe them off with her hair. She was heartsick over losing her brother. She asks Jesus the same question Mary asked him. “Where were you?” with tears running down her face. And Jesus breaks. He cries. He can feel their pain and sorrow. He knows they think he brushed them off, he feels their rejection. He feels their desperation. Even knowing he was about to perform an incredible miracle, Jesus still cried. Maybe he knew he would be feeling these same things in a matter of weeks, when he would be carrying his cross.
this was written in (a little over) five minutes for Five Minute Friday. Also, I know it isn’t Friday. But as long as it’s in the same week, it counts! To read other works on this same topic of FRESH, click here.
Since the start of the pandemic, my little girls, aged 2 and 4 have been at home with me. Every. Day. Some days are great fun, especially if they have “good listening” days and we can get some homeschool in, which is me coming up with ways to make teaching letters and numbers and counting fun. We’ll also do projects with glue and glitter, or paint, or play dough. Most recently, I’ve figured out a “sensory bin,” which is simply a deep container that I’ll fill with dried beans or lentils and I got them some cute wooden scoops and little wooden jars with lids and wooden tweezers to work on fine motor skills. I will also read them LOTS of books and Bible stories on the couch with blankets over us. Along with keeping the house from looking like two tornadoes swept through it and making meals, that doesn’t leave a ton of time for me. Some days, I can handle it better than others. When the girls go to their rooms for naps, that time is absolutely precious to me. My youngest still takes naps, but the oldest simply reads or plays quietly in her room. If she comes downstairs before it’s time, I will freak out inside, almost angry that my quiet respite has been interrupted. My alone time is the time for me to reset. I’ll read my Bible, journal prayers and thoughts, and maybe sneak in some time to write. Once the girls go to bed after dinner, it’s “Mama and Daddy time” so that I can intentionally spend time with my husband. That afternoon nap time is the only alone time I get. I think back to last January, when I was so excited that both girls would be in preschool this year, and that I was going to have two whole mornings free each week. HA! God clearly had different plans for us. I really am thankful for the time I get to soak up my girls when they’re this young, even on the hard days or days where my alone time is cut short. Their hugs and kisses, and “I love you’s” and faith in Jesus makes it all worth every second.
This was written in about 5 minutes based on the word TIME this week for Five Minute Friday, a group of encouraging writers. To read others’ posts on the word TIME, click here.