Because Black Lives Really Do Matter

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I understand white privilege. The term gives a label to what I discovered the first time I read Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. At the age of 12 I realized that my life, though by no means perfect, is privileged. I am white. My children are white. I will never have to worry about my son dying because of the colour of his skin. No one will fear for their life when he walks down the street.

I ought to find comfort in this fact. But I can not.

As someone committed to following Jesus, I must not rest in the comfort of injustice. Doing so makes a mockery of my faith. Psalm 45:6 says: Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.

Since I’ve been able to speak, I’ve recited the Lord’s prayer. With sincerity, I say “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10). But as long as I continue to benefit from an unjust system, my prayer is in vain. The kingdom of God comes with justice.

In a land that has long proclaimed His name, there is no justice. My facebook feed is saturated with calls to pray for the safety of police officers in response to the shootings in Dallas. There are videos and strong signs of solidarity. As you may have guessed, most of my friends are white. There weren’t any posts calling for prayer for young men walking home after the Trayvon Martin shooting in February 2012. It seemed no one really cared.

As Canadians, I suspect we are largely unaware of the situation in America. It crosses the path of our media outlets. But we don’t really understand the systems and structures in place.

Even in our ignorance, we can no longer dismiss the vast number of black lives being taken. Black lives do matter. That isn’t a statement meant to offend. It’s spoken in response to a nation’s actions that say otherwise. The reply that “all lives matter” is cruel. And should not be coming from the church.

We ought to be leading the way in dismantling injustice. Psalm 9:12 says: For He who avenges blood remembers; He does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.

It’s time for us to stop ignoring the cries of the afflicted.

As a teenager, I read every book available to me on American black history. Living in a pre-internet world, the selection was slim in the library of the Canadian city I grew up in. But I learned enough to know there is an on-going tragedy occurring in our midst. It’s part of the fabric of our Canadian culture. We’re inundated by American movies, television shows, news stations, music, celebrities, etc. We’re very much linked to America. With the mandate of Canada – to bring healing to nations – I challenge you to look at what’s happening. Really look. Look at the reality that black mothers and fathers live in fear that their sons will not come home from simple outings like going to the corner store.

Because it’s more than anyone can possibly bear, that burden of fear is sparking action.

More death is not the answer. But do you have one? The times we live in are spoken of in the Old Testament prophets. ….And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. (Isaiah 5:7)

When God looks at us, does He find justice? Does He see righteousness? Even if you don’t, He hears the cries of distress. If you’re unable to, I beg of you to open your ears.

I’m white, living in Canada. I’m safe. My children are safe. But this fight is mine. And it ought to be yours because no child is free until all are free. I do not want my children to be established on a foundation of injustice. Nor should you.

Let it no longer be true that: No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. Isaiah 59:4

It alarms me that our culture is so crippled by fear. The white men who are quick to take black lives claim they feared the loss of their own lives. Fear is not a lens through which any of us can see clearly. We can not let fear dictate our actions. We must disarm the fear that is derailing our culture.

For me, it’s been the fear of offending that’s kept me from speaking out before now. My voice is small and insignificant. But in not speaking, I run the risk of being counted among the masses who are satisfied with the continuation of white privilege. Please don’t count me in. These words I’ve written won’t change anything. But they’ve been burning inside of me and I had to get them out.

Beyond the words, I’m doing the only things I know to – teaching my children not to fear and praying.

Here’s what my prayers sound like:

Father God, forgive me for participating in a structure that evaluates the worth of individuals based on the colour of their skin. Forgive me for benefiting from a system that places me above my brothers and sisters. Remove from me the mindset that says this is alright. I recognize that we are all made in Your image. You intentionally created differences in appearance to fully capture who You are. Teach me to rejoice in the diversity while fully embracing those who don’t share my appearance.

Break off of me the belief that I am powerless to change things. I seek the scepter of Your justice in my life. Holy Spirit, I invite You to illuminate any wrong attitudes, racism, prejudice, or malice that exist in me. As You reveal these things, I am committed to removing them from my being.

Open my eyes to see as You see. Black lives matter to You. I choose to live in a manner that confirms this truth. Forgive us for arguing against this truth. Forgive us for wanting to ignore the breaking of Your heart. You weep over the blood that is being spilt. Let us not add to Your suffering by our response. We choose to break off apathy and ignorance that have prevented us from acting. We join our voice with Yours in calling for justice. We choose to no longer be content with freedom for some. We seek freedom for all. Let us no longer live in the poverty that separation brings. Let us know the rich blessing of unity.

I ask for wisdom and divine strategies. I don’t know how to solve this, but You do. Thank you for the opportunity to partner with You. Enable me to respond and serve in a manner that establishes Your kingdom. Let the justice of Your kingdom be established in me and enable me to bring it to the culture I’m a part of.  

Amen.

All Dressed Up with Nowhere to Go

Seems the word “party” is a huge trigger for our new foster child. Yesterday we went to my mom’s for lunch. Little J had a great time with my nephew, niece, sister, and mom.

And at first she was very excited to attend my mother’s graduation today. Then Raine and Athena started calling it a party – because there would be food after the ceremony. Getting ready, J became increasing anxious. Outside, she refused to get in the car.

I should have stopped then and there, but I really wanted to go to the graduation and it was too late to make arrangements for a babysitter. So, I forged forward. Got J in the car. Got her buckled. Traveled about a block before I had to pull over because J unbuckled. She was also screaming, kicking, and throwing things. We pulled over three times before getting on the highway. For some reason I thought we could make it. I wanted to make this happen.

After five minutes, I had to pull over to the side of the highway. J insisted that she was going to move immediately to a new home “that doesn’t go to stupid parties”. She kicked, screamed, and said if I took her to the graduation or my house she’d harm herself “and tell the social worker you did it, so that I don’t have to live with you anymore.”

We stayed parked on the side of the road for about 10 minutes. Raine, Athena, and I cried. We really wanted to go to the graduation. Mostly the kids wanted cake. I really wanted to be a normal, supportive daughter. But, having chosen this path, my life is not normal. I can’t always be the person I want to be. That’s just the way it is.

So I got off the highway and headed home.

J continued making threats. Her detailed plan of harming herself involved jumping off the dresser in her room. The only problem with that is that there’s no dresser in her room. When informed of this, J said she’d find something to jump off of and kill herself. Then I’d be sorry.

“Mom will loose her job if the foster kid is dead,” Raine pointed out.

At home, I sent Raine and Athena inside. J and I stayed in the car for a while. She didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. So I just started praying out loud.

Eventually we managed to move inside the house. J cried and cried. “It’s not my fault I’m in foster care. It’s my parents. I didn’t do anything wrong.” I agreed.

When she was ready to listen, I explained that even though it wasn’t her fault she has a choice about what her experience in foster care will be like.

“Mom’s seen kids act way worse than you,” Raine said. “This is what she does for her job. Screaming won’t get you moved.”

That caused J to shed the bravado she’d taken on since we left the house an hour ago. “I don’t really want to go,” she responded.

I explained that she would not be moving for outbursts like that. Her previous foster mom was a veteran with 25yrs experience in the field. It’s clear she did her best with J. But sometimes kids are unresponsive – especially when they first come into care. The decision for J to move was complicated and prompted by an outburst similar to the one we just experienced. After 5 months in that home, J told the emergency on-call social worker she wouldn’t stay any longer. And that’s how she ended up with me, after a few nights in a group home.

And so, here we are. The nearly 9yr old is under the impression that she can leave anytime. It’s a detrimental view because it will keep her from putting roots down anywhere. Though I don’t know how long she’ll be in care or how long she’ll be with us, it’s likely to be a while. Blocking herself from growing where she is, does J no good. As I prayed many times in the car with her, this is a season of growth. J has the opportunity to be a child and learn how to interact with the world in a new way.

I laughed at her attempts to frighten me with her screaming. I’m not scared. I’ve done this before. I may be all dressed up with no where to go, I may have mascara lining my cheeks, but I’m not scared. I know I can do this. And I know J can move out of anger and grown in peace and joy.

To make amends with Raine and Athena, J let them play with her toy sticky feet she got from the doctor’s. J apologized with sincerity and regretted her decision to keep us from the party. While she recovered in her room, Raine and Athena played – all dressed up with no where to go.

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Fulfillment

This time last year, in a moment of reflection, the word that landed in my heart for 2014 was fulfillment. Today 2014 draws to a close, I’m pausing to reflect. It has indeed been a year of fulfillment.

For me, adopting is something God put in my heart as a child. It came to pass in a rather difficult manner that left me feeling doubtful. Having already been with me a year and a half, the finality of adoption sent Raine into a tailwind of grief. As she came to grips with the reality of loosing her birth family and the last name she was born with, I became the target for all her anger. There were times Raine actually accused me of stealing her from her birth mother. We reviewed the reality of how she came to me many times. It’s a sad story to accept – parents unable to care for you properly. Her grief was real and complex.
I never regretted my choice to adopt her, but questioned my ability to parent her. Maybe the couple the adoption worker had wanted to place her with could do this better – with more grace, more patience, more joy. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s useless to ponder because I challenged the adoption worker’s decision and won. On dark days, I would reread the final verdict from the review panel. They were sure I was the right parent for Raine and Athena. So often I needed an infusion of certainty.
This past year Raine has settled in – accepting her fate with joy. She’s now at peace most of the time. Overall, our encounters are positive. Homeschooling is often fun instead of a daily struggle.
“Your girls are so peaceful,” a friend recently remarked. She knows it wasn’t always that way. After being away most of 2014, my friend is experiencing the final product after seeing us at our worst in the midst of 2013.
This is the reality of adoption. Change is possible. Healing can happen. But coming together as a family is a process – especially when we’re starting from a place of brokenness.
Growing up with the dream of adopting, the Lord often called me to a place of prayer. As a teen and young adult I would spend hours praying into the children who would one day be mine. Often I read the story of John the Baptist’s birth in Luke 1. I’ve always loved John’s determination. He went against the flow – a direction I often find myself going in.

And the child grew and became strong in spirit….
(Luke 1:80) I often prayed over the children who would come. That seemed to be the key – being strong in spirit. I knew then and know now that in myself, I can’t fix the many issues. I can’t take away the real pain of loss. I can’t wipe away rejection. There are things I can do to help. I can be a place of comfort, encouragement, and stability. There are things I can do and try to do consistently to ease the discomfort. But in the end, it’s the God of all creation who can bring healing. Knowing that, I prayed fervently for the day that I live in now.
As a teen and young adult, I could pray for hours at a time. I could delve into the Scriptures and discover His plans. Now as a single mom, I don’t have that kind of time. But I’m reaping the benefits of those prayers.
Not long ago, I was reading the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke. Raine kept trying to interrupt. I wouldn’t let her speak until we’d completed the section on John the Baptist’s birth – ending with the verse about growing and becoming strong in spirit.
“When I turn 10 we’re going to celebrate by taking a break from eating for three days. We’ll just pray all day and maybe all night. You and me, and Athena if she wants to do it,” Raine announced what was burning in her heart while I read to hear about John the Baptist. Her idea came from her spirit and she didn’t even have the word for it – fasting. That discipline has not been part of my life since Raine and Athena entered it. Nor is it something I’ve explained. All of a sudden, I remembered the years of prayer.
In those times of prayer, the Lord showed me my children following Him passionately in every stage of life. Raine embraces the things of God with fervency. She longs to understand more and more. Her spirit is strong and growing everyday.
DSC_8033This past year has been one of fulfillment. The daily battles, the discouragement, and the exertion of effort has given way to peace and joy. The dream I had of being a mom was technically fulfilled in 2012. But only in this past year have I reaped the joy of that relationship. There have been highs and lows, but in 2014 I’ve been able to enjoy my calling as a mom more often than not.
The theme for my church has been the year of the harvest. I am now seeing the harvest of the prayers I planted so very long ago. And I am reaping the rewards of the investment I made in Raine from the beginning. Even in the darkest times (after regrouping), I chose to return to her with love.
“It took so long because God knew Athena and I needed to be with you. He made sure you waited for us,” Raine said when I explained how long I’d waited to become a mom.
He knew. He knew how difficult it would be. He knew the joy on the other side. He knew I would be too tired and discouraged in the midst of our family’s formation to really pull on heaven. He knew. Existing outside of time, He held those prayers – releasing their fulfillment at the appointed times.
 
…You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.
Joshuah 23:14
The Lord promised me a family full of love and joy. This year I saw the fulfillment of that promise. It’s been hard but He’s been faithful. Though many times I fall short as a parent, He has not failed.
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photos courtesy of Shannon Guiler

Time for School

All summer long I debated what to do about school this year. I knew for sure I wouldIMG_20140909_122125 continue homeschooling Raine. But what about Athena? Her teacher was very honest in the final Junior Kindergarten report card. Things weren’t going well for her at school. Athena was withdrawn and eerily quiet. Generally when teachers or children spoke to her she either ignored them or walked away. It was impossible to assess what she’d learned because Athena would not interact with the instructors.

In March of last year the dentist informed me that Athena’s habit of skewing her jaw was creating lasting effects. Her mouth was beginning to grow incorrectly. At that point it was correctable. I started keeping her home from school most days and we worked on putting her mouth the right way among other things.

Based on those two factors I was planning to homeschool Athena this year. Still, as the summer wore on, I wasn’t sure. Her primary interest became making her sister scream. Raine’s come a long way in her ability to interact with other kids. It took a great deal of effort to get her upset. But Athena devoted herself to honing that skill. Our days were filled with lots of angry shouting from Raine followed by riotous laughter from Athena. I was not amused.

Then there was the actual school part. We kept working a bit over the summer. I would give Athena a task to complete – for example a page of the letter K. After writing one she would shout, “I’m done!” My request that she wait a minute fell on deaf ears. She’d continue shouting, “I’m done!” until I looked at her sheet.

“You’ve only written one letter. You still have lots more to do there.”

“I know,” she’d answer with a smirk. “I just wanted to tell you I was done one.”

After the next one the scene would repeat.

So……I decided to send her to school. It wasn’t my proudest moment. As a mom, I like to think I can make every decision based on what’s best for my child. This choice was in favour of what was best for me and Raine. Based on last year, I had no reason to expect school to be good for Athena. It was with a heavy heart, I got her ready to go on September 2nd.

Excited for Senior Kindergarten.

Excited for Senior Kindergarten.

Surprisingly, Athena was eager to pose for pictures. Normally she refuses to and hardly ever smiles while I’m snapping shots. This morning she was beaming. She walked to school carrying her backpack. And ran into the fenced kindergarten yard without a second look at Raine and I.

When I picked her up, Athena was happy. Last year she was always miserable at the end of school. Never did I know what was going on because she’d angrily tell me, “What I do at school is not your business.” This year, she chatted all evening long with story after story of what went on.

Her good mood and eagerness to share have continued. Even her teacher has noticed a marked difference, commenting that, “Athena is a completely different child. She’s talkative and interacting with the kids.” The teacher and a few friends have asked what changed over the summer. Nothing that I’ve noticed. She’s remained herself – a little more bothersome at times.

With Athena my focus has been confidence. She arrived very insecure and fearful. Time and prayer have brought her to a better place. I didn’t expect going back to school to increase her confidence. Honestly, I expected her to be shy and withdrawn like last year. Instead she’s confident and self-assured.

The information I had while making the decision didn’t indicate such a positive outcome. Yet, sending her to school felt right. Guiltily, I thought it was only going to be right for Raine and I. We would get some much needed quiet. Maybe if I’d taken the time to listen a little more to Holy Spirit, I wouldn’t have picked up that guilt. He knew going to school would be the best thing for Athena. Glad I at least listened to that nudging.

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1st day of school