Raising Black in White

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Maybe you’ve seen me before? Maybe it was in the coffee shop helping my children decide between juice or chocolate milk, or maybe it was in the produce aisle asking them what they would like me to make for dinner? Could’ve been in the park swinging them until my arms ached, or pulling them by the hand into school when I was running late for work?

You’ve probably seen me around.

I’m the white mom raising the black and brown children. We have a way of standing out.

And perhaps you thought…
“Isn’t that sweet. They’re so lucky.”
Or, “She’s so trendy.”
Or, “What business does she have?”

Or, maybe, like me, you really thought nothing of it at all.

I really thought nothing at all about it when my husband and I diligently and prayerfully filled out the paperwork to adopt a child… When we checked off boxes to specify race and we checked them all.

I really thought nothing about it because when God fashioned me at birth, he left a hairline fracture in my heart that bled for the orphan. He placed a crevice of compassion and longing that only seemed to deepen and grow with time. It was a chronic condition that compelled only one response.

So, we checked off every box because “orphan” was so much bigger than any other identity. And when the social worker called us for the first time to share with us about an African-American baby girl in need of placement, all I heard was “Your child is coming home.”

But, there came a point when she was no longer an orphan. The papers had been signed. The judge had ruled. She was officially “daughter.” The gaping sever in my heart narrowed in this profound transfer from one reality to the next.

And in some divine way, we were both made more whole.

But, as the months and years passed the reality became that she wasn’t just my daughter.

It wasn’t that simple.

She was my black daughter. Or, perhaps even more significantly, her mother was white.

And guess what? It was a big deal.

Maybe it’s all true… Maybe, my children are lucky (though I would argue my luck far outweighs theirs)? Maybe, I’m trendy? Maybe, I really have no business raising children outside of their race?

I have my responses to these questions based on my experience, and maybe you do too.

But, one thing I know for sure to be true is that race is powerful. It’s powerful because we can’t control it. It’s powerful because it says something about who we are even if we’re not saying it. It’s powerful because it has a way of telling us where we fit and where we don’t. It’s powerful because it digs deep into history and our dealings with it have defined our way forward.

It’s an inescapable reality that we face. That every time you see my children in the coffee shop, or grocery store, or at school, or wherever you see us together, you will know that something about us doesn’t fit. And at that moment, it won’t be orphan, or gender, or anything else that speaks louder than race.

How could I have fully perceived the extent of its power until I became them and they became me?

My daughter has already figured it out. It goes with her everywhere we go together. Most days we don’t pay attention, but there are many days it hurts. It wages an inner conflict in her heart where there seems to be no winners. And I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed her in some way.

And don’t get me wrong… It’s not you. You can’t control it any more than we can.

But, in heated times… Times when the power of race reveals itself in the worst possible ways…

Would you remember us?

When you position and posture and point accusing fingers…

Remember us.

When you take out your chalk and draw your boundaries…

Remember us.

Because the reality is, while something breaks in the world around us, we are working hard everyday to be whole. While something goes very wrong, we are fighting to make it right even as we sit around the dinner table. While the ugliness of humanity rises to the surface, we are seeking to create something beautiful as we find our God-breathed identity in one another.

Because my children are so worth it. And they’re taking me by the hand and trusting me to guide them through all of this.

Yes, race is powerful.

But, there is something I have found that overwhelms its strength. It has the ability to bring the world to its knees in humble submission. And it is the one thing that has made my home a place where I pray things heal more than they break.

Grace.

It’s grace that makes the orphan right in their family just as it’s grace that makes us right in God’s family.

Grace takes the mismatched, incompatible, and ill-fitted and weaves something masterfully glorious. And when we wave this wondrous banner it casts its shadow on the over-heated and weary condition of our hearts. It speaks peace into the raging waters of our emotions… The sea of deepest threat and darkest fear.

My children are depending on me to hold grace high.

Because it’s the banner of true and lasting victory.

This entry was posted on July 8, 2016. 1 Comment

The one word every child needs to hear and say…

My heart is satiated when the world reflects back to my children the great worth I find in them…

Eyes widening with delight at the sight of their favorite home-cooked meal.

Little arms and legs finding warmth under thick blankets atop beds littered with their beloved stuffed animal friends.

Intuitive teachers taking notice of something little that they find special in them.

Like-minded friends loving their quirkiness and reflecting it back.

Or the way their little bodies relax and release when they walk inside the house after a long day.  Ahhhh… Home.

But, the most satisfying feeling of all is found in one powerful, little word…

It’s the one word that declares that we belong together.

It’s the one word that tells our children that our relationship to them is unbreakable and will follow us all to our deaths.

It’s the one word that provides the foundation for the family to be established and secured.

And I believe it’s the one word that every child needs to hear and say…

Whose child is this?
Mine.

Whose kid painted that picture?
Mine.

Whose mom is picking us up?
Mine.

Whose parents are coming to the game?
Mine.

Mine.  A declaration of utter, unconditional belonging.

Mine.  A simple word used in so many ways, for so many reasons– Possibly many of us hardly even notice it when we hear it.

But, I do.

Because, I’ve held nobody’s child in my arms before.

I’ve watched them wander down lonely hallways… Sit in bleak governmental offices… Go from bed to bed.

I’ve heard their sorrowful cries.

Nobody’s child.

No one to make your favorite meal, tuck you under those blankets, and wrap that one thing you’ve been desperately wanting.

Nobody’s child.

No one to claim you and no one to claim as: Mine.

Nobody’s child.

In California alone, there are over 13,000 of them.

Check out your state and see how many children don’t hear or say: Mine.

I want to take up the cause of nobody’s children.

I want the world to reflect back to them their infinite worth.

Not all of us can adopt children.   But, we can all do something to make them ours.

This being said, I invite you to say, “MINE!” by supporting this project:

www.youcaring.com/glendoradcfsreno

This is one small way that I, along with my church family, am reflecting back to nobody’s child that they are not forgotten.

Please join us!

Just Like Hers

I have to remind myself that the human capacity to love is universal.

That the depths to which the heart ignites and burns is a shared, God-breathed condition.

Because when I see the pictures

the pictures of those breathless babes

        lain upon dirt and rock
        washed upon shore
        cradled in tears
        bloodied by hate

the pictures that casually appear amidst coffee and Pandora

on a day that if you saw me, I would lament about the September heat

I want to tell myself that the extent to which I feel pain is my birthright.

        I am not calloused by violence
        I am not desensitized to death…
        Not like they are.

This is what I want to tell myself.

Because I want the coffee to go down smooth

        the song that plays to mean what I want it to
        the heat of the day to be a justifiable imposition.

I see those pictures of hate and helplessness

And I have to remind myself that my hands are no different than hers.

Her hands held him with fear and promise at first breath

        Just like mine.

Her eyes watched her chest rise and fall with overwhelming thankfulness

        Just like mine.

Her heart broke with skinned knees and tears that streamed

        Just like mine.

I am no different.

So I ask God to break my heart with what breaks his.

To put the coffee down and turn the music off.

To make the things that matter most, matter most.

Yes, God, I want a heart shattered into bits and bits

        to fall to my knees in desperation
        scrambling to put the pieces back together again.

I don’t want a heart persuaded by borders and language and 4-dollar lattes.

Persuade me, oh God, with the extent to which my heart can be broken

        my mother’s hands can ache like hers
        my mother’s eyes can sting like hers.

Because it is here I will find your heart, your hands, your eyes.

It is here we will wrap our arms around each other and grieve yet another loss.

And it is here where I will get to join you in your work

        where Shalom gets to work.

Shalom that seeps down into the finest cracks of the human condition

        good and evil
        abundance and lack
        laughter and tears.

Shalom that never turns away from how vile and gross and disgusting we can be.

Shalom that pounds on the door of what is hardened as vigilantly as it soothes the cry of desperation.

Shalom that dances in the light and searches in the darkness.

Shalom that knows no bounds.

Shalom that restores the broken hearts

        Just like mine.

Love Her First

My daughter told me plainly that she loved me, but that she could not be in my family.

“I don’t look like you.” The warmth of her hand tightly grasped mine in the cool of night.

“You have peach skin. I have brown skin.” We crossed the busy city street.

“You can’t be my mom.” Nighttime’s nightlife competed with her sacred thoughts needing to be heard.

My fingers wrapped around hers a bit stronger than before. My heart loosened as I asked God to give me words that would heal…

          “Please God, healing words.” As cars ignite and music booms from open storefronts.
          “Healing words, God.” As lovers hold tight and homeless extend empty cups.
          “Healing words.” As we walk hand-in-hand in brokenness.

“But the color of our skin isn’t what makes us family…” I needed to say something. “…Our love for one another is what makes us family.” Maybe that’s what I needed to hear?

Even in the midst of night’s clamor, neon signs reflecting off of her perfectly positioned cheekbones, I could hear her impatient sigh.

She wasn’t buying it.

Not this time at least.

Because, she’s old enough now. She’s old enough to know that sweet sayings and “love” speeches don’t satisfy the deep disconnects of the heart and flesh.

I inhaled her sigh deep into the place where my insecurity sits and waits for me. I told it that I would be back later.

I guided her along the crowded sidewalk. We stopped and shared an ice cream sundae. And for a moment, the brokenness rested dormant beneath sticky hot fudge and whipped cream.

For a moment, I was just a mother eating ice cream with her children.

          But, I laid awake in bed that night.

You know, when your eyes are almost too scared to close? Too scared because they weren’t able to fix everything they saw in the daylight? Too scared to take the brokenness into the next day?

I couldn’t force them shut as questions with no answers took their place in line.

What could I have said differently? Was it something I had done that caused her to have those thoughts? Was there another book I should read? What if she never fully connects to me? I can’t force her to want me… to choose me… to love me… What if she never loves me back the way I love her?

My eyes grew wider and wider as I lay blanketed by fear and doubt.

I exhaled out all of the insecurity that I had breathed in and together we stared in the stillness.

         Until, a gentle interjection sat down beside me…

“I loved you first too…”

          And??

“And see how you love me?”

          My eyelids began to loosen their grip…

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

He first loved.

He sought me out.

He pursued me.

He drew me in.

He made it right.

He changed my name.

He did it all first.

And there came this point when I chose him back. I loved him back.

“So, love her first.” He said.

Tell me how to fix this… “Love her first.”

Tell me what I need to change… “Love her first.”

Tell me how to be a good mom… “Love her first.”

Tell me where to go from here… “Love her first.”

So, I agreed to make the exchange he offered to me laying in bed that night– What I can’t control with his love.

Because, I can’t soothe every broken thought of my daughter. I can’t make us match. I can’t package our story in a better way that will make it all right.

But, in the morning, as darkness turns to light, I can be the first beat of love to her. I can pursue her heart. I can be the hand to hold her tighter and draw her nearer even when her hand loosens its grip.

I can love her first.

I can do this because He’s shown me how. I can love because he first loved me.

This entry was posted on April 9, 2015. 3 Comments

An open poem on behalf of moms and dads who wait…

After a long week filled with long conversations with foster-to-adopt moms and dads who are longing for adoption day, I wrote this. It’s a window into the bedtime routine of a parent who waits.

While You Are Sleeping

While you are sleeping
Steady breaths fill the air
I stop and pause and wait a moment
So thankful you are there.

While you are sleeping
Cheeks blanketed by light
I gaze at you and smile at you
So blessed you’re in my sight.

While you are sleeping
I can’t believe this gift
I kiss your face, I breathe you in
My joy you sure do lift.

While you are sleeping
This aching strikes my heart
How could this love I feel so deep
Be ever pulled apart?

While you are sleeping
My breath begins to shake
I find myself on my knees
Crying desperate for your sake.

While you are sleeping
My prayers begin to burst
Oh God, my God, draw near to me now
It’s for this child I thirst.

While you are sleeping
My strength is broken down
Everything I’ve held together
Now pieces on the ground.

While you are sleeping
My fear it starts to win
Because it’s true, I’m terrified
Of the day you won’t be in.

While you are sleeping
I imagine you aren’t there
Empty arms, empty heart
No longer in my care.

While you are sleeping
I wonder why this way
Why this tender mama’s heart
Has to wait and long and pray.

While you are sleeping
I ask for Jesus to take my hand
Guide me through these burdened waters
Please strengthen me to stand.

While you are sleeping
I am choosing to believe
That every blessing that comes from Heaven
We one day will receive.

And in the morning when you wake
I will shelter you in grace
I will give to you all I have
In this home you have a place.

We’ll laugh together and cry together
And all will be just fine
Nothing is allowed to harm you
Because right now, you’re mine.

So as I kiss you one last time
Resting head to head
I say goodnight and thank my God
It was to you that I was led.

Journey On

I breathed with that baby.

I breathed with her right out of my womb.

Months to days and days to hours and hours to minutes and minutes to seconds.  Life growing and giving in unison.

Life’s rhythm took me by the hand.  It guided me through.  Branches.  Leaves.  Thorns.

Sweat beaten brow.  Body aching, wrenching, clenching.  White knuckle grasping.

Breathe with her, rhythm said.

Come thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.

Wrapped in waiting.  Clothed in longing.  That baby came.  Inner hope emerging to touchable truth.

Streams of mercy never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.

Pain’s process yielding shouts of Divine joy.

…Oh, I see, breathing with life means breathing with pain.

 

I ask God for seeds of new life to be planted.  Ministry.  Home.  Self.

I ask for the birth of Divine joy.

He holds out his hand to me and assures me he will take me there.

But, you have to go through the thicket, he says…

Sometimes the sun doesn’t break through the canopy of trees in the thicket. 

Sometimes you will feel lost.  You won’t know where it is I am taking you.  It won’t be obvious. 

Sometimes everything will look the same.  It might appear that you are being led in circles.

Sometimes the day will go to night and as you sit in the darkness, you will wonder when you will feel warm again.

Sometimes you will get worn.  You won’t want to go another step.

Sometimes I will need to lead you through rough terrain to get to where I am taking you.  You will wonder if there were a better way.  An easier way.  You will question the pain.

But notice…

Your hand will never be empty.  Mine will always be in it.

Always I will know where I am taking you and how to get you there.

Always I will clothe you in my warmth and protection.  Your soul will not perish.

Always I will strengthen your feet and sturdy your steps when you call upon me for help.  Trust me to replace your shoes.

I won’t promise that you won’t get hurt.  The thicket is dangerous.

But, always, I will heal your wounds.  Always I will be faithful to restore you.

And anything you lose along the way… I will always replace it.  Sometimes my replacement will be so much better than what you lost.

Months to days and days to hours and hours to minutes and minutes to seconds…

I will
Never
Leave you.

Your journey will be that of letting go, but please know my child, that mine will be one of holding on.

Are you ready?

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come.
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

This entry was posted on August 16, 2014. 3 Comments

Love Until it Hurts

Love hurts.

At least real, true love does.

Relentless, selfless, overpowering love does.

Fierce, unstoppable, fall-to-your-knees-and-beg love does.

Have you felt the sting of this love?  Has your body ached from head to toe as it has been ravaged and consumed by this love?

I feel it… Love that hurts.  Deep breaths burning as love inhales.

I love my children.  My heart bleeds for them.  The day I sent my oldest off to Kindergarten I feared I might never breathe again.  And then the moment when my youngest was taking longer in the O.R. than expected– One hour longer than expected– With each passing minute I felt a strangling grip around my neck growing tighter and tighter.  Or, the day I loosened my arms from my baby boy to return to his birth family… Inexplicable emptiness.

Yes, love, so passionate and pure, it hurts.

And sometimes I wonder why this is the life we live?  Why the best feeling can be the impetus for the worst?  Why hope and joy can propel us to the deepest despair?

Sometimes I feel trapped.  If loving is part of living, then why must so be suffering?

But, if I were honest– If I dissected those tears that streamed from behind my sunglasses when I told my oldest I would miss her, or the ones that seemed to freeze in my eyes in fear as I waited for the doctor to appear with my youngest, or the ones that glued my cheek to my pillow after saying goodbye to my baby boy– I would find that mixed with those hurting love tears were drops of wondrous perfection.

Drops reminding me that I only hurt so much because I love so much.  Drops reminding me that I’m fully alive.  Drops reminding me that I’m closer to the heart of Jesus than I’ll ever be.

I’ll never be able to fully understand the love of God this side of Heaven.  I’ll never fully get all that was going on in Jesus’ mind as he made his way to Calvary.  But, there’s something in the pain of love that helps me understand God’s heart the most… That a perfect God would be personified as love.  That a perfect God would hurt for us.

Why would a perfect God hurt for us?

If there’s any emotion I want to escape and avoid, it’s hurt.  And yet, love and hurt are inseparable.  Love and hurt drive compassion.

God embraces this.

My sweet baby boy returned to me 7 weeks ago.  An unexpected phone call on an unsuspecting day.  Something so dead in me was abruptly, suddenly brought back to life.  And once again love pushed me into pain.  Confusion.  Ambiguity.  Uncertainty.  Vulnerability.  Smelling that precious gift once again.

Foster parents know what it’s like to take the fullest, coolest drink and for their thirst not to be quenched.  Foster parents know what it’s like to savor every moment with joy and trepidation not knowing when it will be their last.  They know what it’s like to love and hurt in the same laugh.  It all swirls together.  It doesn’t make sense to do what foster parents do.  It’s so unnatural.  But, I believe most foster parents would say that love compels them… The heart of God compels them.

So with precious baby held tightly in arms, I pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” realizing that even in the hurt, Heaven and Earth are colliding.  Jesus teaches me not just to love, but to love until it hurts.  That’s what he did.  And his grace wins.  Every time.

Love recklessly.

Love ferociously.

Love painfully.

This entry was posted on March 4, 2014. 4 Comments