Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In Response to Michael Brown's Death

My name is Rachel.  I’m a St. Louisian.  I live in a middle class community that is safe, clean, and friendly. We have excellent schools, manicured lawns, and pristine parks.

But I’m still really scared.  And disturbed.  This bubble doesn’t protect my family members.  This bubble doesn’t exist. 

I’m a mom of three young children: two girls and a boy.  Right now, we are preparing the kids for the start of a new school year.  One is headed to kindergarten, the other to preschool.  

My life as a stay-at-home mom, wife, author, and freelance writer is busy. I run my kids to activities, I fold laundry and clean up spills, I prepare meals, I make appointments, I read to my kids and kiss their hurting places.

But right now, I’m really distracted.  I cannot easily focus on the tasks before me.  Because when I look at my children, I cannot stop thinking about Mike Brown.  I think about looting, about guns, about dark skin and light skin contrasting, about perception, about the media, about history, and about the future.

I’m white. My kids are black.  And we live just 24 miles from Ferguson. 

As my children meet their new teachers for the year and we begin a new session of gymnastics and swimming lessons, I keep thinking about people of authority and asking myself, “How can I teach my children to obey and respect authority when I don’t know if I can trust that the authority figure has my child’s best interests at heart?”

This isn’t a rant on the police.  This is about any person of authority who holds power and exercises that power over my three precious children and children who look like them.

Right now the news channels, Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, co-workers and the couple next to us at the restaurant, our hairstylist, our friends:  they are teaching us with their photos, their opinions, their lack of comments, their shares, their likes.    There seems to be many arguments that divide Americans on the death of Mike Brown, but one of the most prevalent is this: was the shooting about race? Overwhelmingly, people of color are saying yes while white people are saying no.

My children love the police and what they believe cops stand for. They love to put on police hats and “arrest” one another and their playdate friends with toy handcuffs.  They love to give out “tickets” for speeding and stealing stuffed animals. When we have the opportunity to speak with a police officer in our community, the cops offer my children sheriff’s badge stickers, high-fives, and even a quick viewing of the red and blue flashing car lights. 

Will these same officers who high-five my children today be arresting them, questioning them, following them, or even shooting them tomorrow?  What happens when my children are no longer living in my home, or when they are driving or walking somewhere with their teenage friends, or when they apply for a job with their white-sounding last name but show up as they are, people of color?

One day last winter, I overheard my children giggling in my son’s room.  I opened the door to see that the older girls had taken my son’s hooded shirt and pulled the hood over my son’s head.  My son was furiously nodding his head from side-to-side, laughing in delight at the feeling of the hood against his short hair while enjoying the attention of his sisters. There they sat, sunlight streaming in to the baby blue bedroom, happy and safe. And in that moment, I thought about Trayvon.  And then about my son.   I could barely breathe.

I worry what will happen when my middle child, a very dark skinned little girl, misbehaves in class.  Her high energy personality can certainly propel her to be driven in life, but it may also get her into trouble.  Will she be punished more frequently, more harshly because she is black?  The statistics say yes.  

I am very concerned that so many white people refuse to talk about race with their children and instead boast of colorblindness.  Newsflash: colorblindness doesn’t exist.  And not only does it not exist, but it dismisses people.  I’m reminded of the day my daughter started at a new preschool.  I was waiting outside after school to pick up my daughter.  One little boy rushed out and said to his mother, “There’s a brown kid in my class!” And the mom shushed him.  She was unaware that I was one of the brown kids’ moms. 

She shushed him.

Colorblindness does exactly what it seeks to avoid: ignorance.

And honestly, I feel that parents who preach colorblindness do so out of a lack of racial literacy, a lack of self-awareness, a lack of a diverse circle of friends, and/or a lack of willingness to look at personal biases.  They are scared.  Uncomfortable. Uneducated.  So they pass those things on to their kids, smiling, and saying, "We are all equal."  And, "There's only once race.  The human race."

My kids are black.  They will face issues that white kids won’t, and my whiteness can only protect my kids for so long.  They are growing up and they will be under increasingly more care by authority figures who aren’t their parents: teachers, coaches, other parents helping in their classrooms, friends’ parents at play dates and birthday parties.

I don’t know how I can tell my children to trust and respect authority, because even when they do everything right, everything we expect of them (be polite, stand up for truth, fight for justice, love Jesus, be kind, use their manners), they won’t necessarily be protected or respected by the imperfect humans who surround them. 

My only hope as a mom is that God protects my children, because I cannot always shield them with my white privilege or my motherly protection.  They will meet police officers without me by their sides.  They will be in classrooms without me by their side.  They will be in swim class and gymnastics without me by their side.  They will be at a friend’s house without me by their side.

Our family has and always will live in a sort of racial purgatory.  We love first and teach that our value comes from being redeemed by Jesus.  But we do not, we do not, ignore race, racial injustices, or racial triumphs. And we know that we have this blend of blackness and whiteness that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  

My heart aches for this young man and his family. My heart aches because I’m a mom and that teenage boy who died shares the same brown skin my boy has.

I know this post is a jumbled mess.  I don’t know how to bring it to order. I can’t make sense of this tragedy.

What happened to Mike Brown brings out a lot of things that white people normally don’t have to confront.  But when confronted, as I’ve seen on social media, a lot of ugliness comes out. And the looting of local business, that’s just a complete distraction from the real problems and the tragedy.   Two wrongs do not make a right. There’s a disturbing lack of empathy.  

Let me be clear.  I believe every life has value.  I believe that Jesus died for every person and wants to see each of us redeemed by saying yes to His gift of salvation.  And in the meantime, we’re going to live in a world that overwhelmingly worships sin: pain, gossip, injustice, thievery, disillusion.

There is only one hope for redemption.  The only justice is in Him. 

When we see people the way Christ sees them, everything changes.  When we carry the burden of another, we are loving like Jesus.

But in order to get there, we have to push past every distraction, every roadblock, every temptation which so easily ensnares us.  And that’s hard to do.  In fact, we cannot do it on our own.  We can only do “all things” through Christ who gives us strength.
There is so much noise right now.  The television, the computer, the conversations (and the lack of conversations, which speak volumes).  I just want to make like a little kid, put my fingers in my ears, and hide under my bed.

Every time I have found myself teary eyed, heavy-hearted, and disgusted, angry, and confused, God has whispered Romans 12:2 (NIV) to me:

 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

God, place divine protection on my children, particularly right now as we start a new season of our lives. Help us as a family to be discerning, empathetic, and strong. Keep us from succumbing to the temptation to believe that the world will ever satisfy. Renew our minds and calibrate our hearts. We are yours. Let everything we do point to You. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Flashcards for Black Kids: ABC ME!

I was on Facebook last week when a friend of mine posted about a new set of flashcards for black kids. Immediately intrigued (and quite excited!), I clicked on the link and within minutes, I had an e-mail out to the creator applauding her idea and product.

I have been a long-time advocate of products for black children, and I'm thrilled to see so many fabulous products being created in recent months. 

Meet my new friend Leilani Brooks, co-owner of ABC ME flashcards. And please find the company on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California immersed in diversity. Diverse friends, diverse schools, you name it. As I became an adult I saw that our country wasn't so diverse in their thinking or treatment of others. Namely the minorities. I began to worry for my children who are African American and how they will be treated in a world that tells them that greatness comes in the form of being a platinum rap artist, or a reality star with a raging temper. And so while homeshooling my son I came across a deck of flashcards depicting our nation's Presidents. The final card being President Barack Obama. The pride I felt looking at that card is really what birthed this project. I wanted to see a whole pack of US. Not just one here or there. I thought how powerful for a child to see themselves reflected on every card. To see the possibilities. I wanted it for my son and daughter. Then I wanted it for everyone's son or daughter. I chatted the idea up with a good friend and historian Stevi Meredith who agreed to come on board, and we sat on the idea for a few months. Then the Trayvon Martin verdict came in. It was with that verdict that I realized that while we can't change the way others choose to see us, we can choose the way we see ourselves. And when our kids see themselves as leaders, entrepreneurs, Olympiads, writers, then we begin to change and shape what society thinks. They will learn their history and it will in turn inspire them to do great things. That is my hope with ABC Me Flashcards. That the cards will inspire kids to Live to Learn, and Learn to Lead. Other cultures will follow. 


Friday, August 8, 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

Happy World Breastfeeding Week!

I hope you'll take a few minutes to read my post from last year, which is among my most popular blog posts of all time.

And for more information on breastfeeding an adopted child, please click on the Huffington Post Live link on the left.   

Friday, August 1, 2014

Good Reading!

Happy (almost) weekend, readers!

Here are a few articles that have caught my attention over the past week. 

First, here's an awesome article from The Huffington Post on race and kids

There's a fairly new page called Brown Boy Genius that is a must-"like."

And if you haven't been over to lately, please stop by.  Back-to-school advice, adoption-themed must-read books, and the things adoptive and foster parents hear over and over again.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wonderfully Complex?: It's In the Bible, Yo

This summer, our deemed, slow summer, we've done well.  We've been homeschooling consistently, hosting and attending playdates, enjoying minimal scheduled activities (just Miss E's gymnastics which is only an hour a week), and spending lots of time swimming (vitamin D!). 

But one thing I've really neglected is Bible verse memorizing.

Now, I'm not your average Jesus-girl.  And I'm guessing most of us Jesus-girls really aren't the "average" that we read about in good Christian girl books.  You know, the mom who gets up at 5 a.m. just to light a candle, sip herbal tea, and curl up in a floral armchair in the corner of her bedroom. She has a Bible on her lap and a box of facial tissues nearby for lots and lots of good Christian girl crying while she confesses all her sins, prays profusely for her husband and kids and all sixty of her family members and dear friends (and don't forget kids' future spouses!), and asks for strength and wisdom for the coming day. 

Not me.

Here's the real me:  I don't like long sermons.  They bore me.  I don't like slow, whiny worship songs.  They make me cringe. I don't like prayers that seem to have six sequels.  I don't like crying.  I don't like surrender, submission, or blubbering confessions.  I don't like corny lines or Christian brush-offs.  I don't like when people say, "I'm blessed!  How are you?"  I don't like Bible studies based on books written by women who wear a lot of lipstick and have perfectly-shaped hair.  I don't trust those women.  I don't like fluff. 

I like concise.  I like honest. I like people who aren't afraid to blurt out a curse word when it's appropriate for the situation and they are truly feeling really, really crappy about what's going on in their lives!  I like persistence.  I like being uplifted.  I like worship songs that make you dance and think, God is really, really great and big and all-knowing and powerful. I like people who talk about hard stuff but don't wallow in self-pity.  I like seeing God made bigger through people pointing up, not at one another.  I like Christians with cool tats that symbolize their faith.  I like real, authentic Christianity that is messy, yet simple, and unapologetic. 

But I am, of course, a contradiction. 

I spend a silly portion of my day thinking about the ways I've failed myself and others. I compare myself to others, mostly those I follow/friend on Facebook.  I then feel guilty reading anything on FB when instead, the good Jesus girl should be praying or confessing or working on her selfishness, lack of empathy, or unkind thoughts. 

And in my desperate moments, when everything possible has been spilled, when we are running late or the goals for the day have not been met, when my kids have watched too much TV, when the kitchen is a disaster and I have yet to make dinner, when my blood sugar is skyrocketing or plummeting AGAIN (ain't nobody got time for that!), when each child has (what they believe to be) an immediate need---all at the exact same time, and when my husband calls to cheerfully ask, "How is your day going?"...

When those things are happening, it's when I utter once sentence to Jesus:

"Lord, give me strength."

It's sometimes all I can muster.

So tonight, as I type this, my husband is at a men's church event, all three of my children are sleeping peacefully in their beds, and I'm sitting on the screened in porch with a glass of red wine, I'm looking up Bible verses to help my kids memorize.

Because I know, I know, how important Scripture memorization is.

You see, I used to memorize Scripture for purely selfish reasons. Like at church camp.  Campers had to memorize 7 camp-themed Bible verses in order to earn our camp t-shirt.  You HAD to have a camp t-shirt.  It was a shirt with a horrid design (usually a sword or shield that symbolized spiritual battles...or something like that).  And on the last night of camp, you ran around at dusk, permanent marker in hand, letting your new best friends sign your shirt (yes, like a cast or a yearbook). It was a BIG deal.

I used to, like all my fellow campers, memorize those verses as quickly as possible to score a shirt and move on.  We didn't acknowledge, appreciate, or even grasp the significant of Scripture memorization.

But as an adult, I get it.

Bible verses have whispered their way through my soul in some very dark and very wonderful times. These were often times it had been weeks, even months, since I'd cracked open my Bible.

I hid the words in my heart, even though I didn't realize it, all those years ago. 

And these words have tremendously benefited me.  Nourished me.  Reminded me.  Convicted me.

I spend too much time feeling guilty about what I'm not doing instead of praising God for what I have and am able to do through Him---His grace, His timing, His love, His blessing.

I spend too much time thinking, "I'll be happy when..." or stressing about what is on the schedule this week, this month, or even this year. When God says worry about today, not tomorrow.  Today is enough.

I spend too much time listening to voices that do not matter. God wants me to have discernment.  To focus on Him.  Seek first His kingdom, His righteousness, His plan.  All else will fall into place.

I spend too much time seeking the next opportunity.  Instead, God tells me He knows His plans for me.  Those plans involve a future and hope.

Sometimes there are wonderful things surrounding me.  And God taps me on the shoulder and shows me the most vibrant, colorful sunset.  See that?  "That's Me," He says.  He allows a stranger, a friend, or even one of my own crew (husband or kids) to say the perfect thing at the perfect time, and He says, "That's me, too."  He brings me new friends, new experiences, new chances.  That's Him.

So tonight, as I looked up Bible verses to memorize with my kids, I was fiddling with a website that allows the user to choose which Bible version the verse appears in.  I was trying to find versions I was more familiar with.  I typed in Psalm 139:14, which I'm most familiar with as this:

Psalm 139:14  (NKJV)
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.

But then I decided to try a few other versions, and God surprised me with this: 

Psalm 139:14 New Living Translation (NLT)
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
Thanking God for my complexity?  And doing so while, in the same verse, admiring God's workmanship (in creating me)? 
That's wonderful? 
Messy me?
I so easily forget the point of salvation.  The gift that it is.
It's for messiness.  Not perfection.
It's for sin. Not purity.
It's for ugliness. Not prettiness.
It's for sorting out.  Not having it all together.
It's for conviction and guilt and shame.  Not for carefreeness and innocence and confidence.
I think I've taken so long to get this Bible memory stuff underway with my kids because I've been carrying too much of my own "stuff" to think we are worthy of the endeavor of digging a little deeper.  Teaching Miss E addition, subtraction, reading...these things are easy.  Teaching Baby E how to write her name, how to recognize her numbers and count, how to draw her shapes...easy. 
But to teach truth.  That's heavy.
Until we jump in headfirst and just do it, the heaviness will prevail.
And that's not what God wants for us. 
The thing is, I feel incredibly unprepared to teach my kids anything about or in the Bible. 
But if I think about it, I am prepared.  I've been getting prepared my entire life. 
God doesn't need perfect.  Not even close-to. 
He's the perfection.
I'm ready. 
Let's do this. 
And let's start with the truth (which sets me free). 
I'm wonderfully complex.
So are you.
And that's...
well, He said it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

5 Questions for Children's Book Author Blake Washington

I'm excited to introduce my readers to Blake Washington, author of a fabulous new children's book called Hooray for HeliumWhat I loved most about her book is that it focuses on science, and she uses racially diverse characters.  The best part? She's just getting started!

Rachel: Tell me about yourself, personally and professionally.

Blake: I graduated in 2009 with a degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and work full time at a food manufacturing facility.  When I'm not at work, I'm typically with family and friends or taking a long walk around my neighborhood.  I have a big family with lots of siblings (including a twin sister) and hope to one day have a big family of my own.  Right now it's just me and my turtle, Phillip, but give me a few years and I'm sure my family will grow!  We adopted my little brother when he was four, and I plan on adopting two children myself.
Rachel: What inspired you to write Hooray for Helium?

Blake: My niece and nephew were my inspiration.  They are also the two main characters in the book. My nephew in particular inspired me as he said that he wants to write and publish a children's book of his own.  He is 9 years old and I couldn't be more proud!

Rachel: Your book features characters of different races. Was this intentional?  Why?

Blake: Absolutely.  I am mixed myself, black and hispanic, and I wanted an educational book targeting all races.  Every child should see a character that looks like them either on the cover or in the book.  We are a nation of so many colors and it is important to me that we uplift them all.

Rachel: Many books for young kids are about superheroes, princesses, pirates, and villains. Why create a book that focuses on science?

Blake: I volunteer as a tutor and noticed the students typically had a knowledge gap in math and science. I try to make learning fun and thought that a fun rhyme scheme paired with hands-on experiments could help close this gap. My goal was to encourage children to ask questions and explore the world around them. 

Rachel: What are you working on now?  Can we expect more books about science in the future?

Blake: I am currently focusing on setting up book signings and classroom presentations for Hooray for Helium, but I am also working on the second book in the series!  I have a few more pages to write before I complete the first draft.  This book introduces children to a different element of the Periodic Table.