Tuesday, June 2, 2020

My thoughts on racial equality

It's been nearly 11 years since we brought our daughter home from Ethiopia. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I had no idea what racism really looked like until she was ours. I naively thought that everyone who loved us would love her, or at the very least that everyone who accepted us without question would do the same for her. She had been with us for less than a month when we encountered our first episode of racism. A little girl in the grocery store called her a monkey, to which her dad responded, "That's not a monkey, that's a n*****, and we don't even look at those". I was appalled, to say the least. I'll admit that I didn't say a lot other than "Don't ever say that. This is my daughter". I didn't know what else to say. I was not prepared. I failed.

Fast forward a few years, and an older man spit on her in a store. When I approached him, he said "I don't like her kind". I won't go into that story here further for the sake of time. But just let yourself for a moment go there: A grown man spitting on the back on a child.

There were kids at school who told others not to play with her because she was black, kids who said they didn't want to be friends with a black girl. There have been adults who've questioned "Why would you go get a black kid from another country when there are plenty of white kids here in the USA who need a home?" We've heard it all.

Two years ago when we made the move to our current city, we were excited to be in a place with more diversity. Until then, Ellie had been one of just a few black kids in her school or church. We wanted her to be surrounded by more people who looked like her. Our church here is full of people of all ethnicities, and that's been great for our family, Ellie in particular. Her school here was a rainbow of colors of children, and we were excited. Again, I was naive in thinking that we'd maybe not see as much racism in a place as diverse as we are now. I was wrong again.

I got a call one day from her principal telling me that there had been an "incident" where a kid had posted a mean picture of Ellie on Instagram with her face "X'd" out. Ellie's friends had seen it and told parents or adults (Ellie didn't have a phone at the time, so she hadn't even seen it herself). The principal said it had been done on a school account and they were taking care of it. When we picked her up that afternoon, it was obvious that this was so much more. We walked inside to talk to the principal after Ellie burst into tears as soon as she got into the car. What we discovered was that someone had hacked into a friend's account (we had evidence of that) and posted not only pictures of Ellie with her face marked out, but had made some gross racial and sexual remarks about her, then ended with a threat to end her life. This was way more than simple girl drama. This was criminal. Reading the screenshots that the principal had that day made me sick to my stomach. The thought that someone had made a threat of violence against my daughter simply because of her skin tone was something I could not grasp.

Law enforcement was called, both within the school and by us personally. The officer quickly was able to question some students that he knew personally and knew the child who was responsible, but the school's attorney blocked the police's ability to get information because it had all happened on school accounts. It's a long story that I won't go into here, but I can't help but wonder if things would have been different if my daughter were a white child that had been threatened by a black child. Where was the justice for my daughter in this? The officer was wonderful to work with and expressed his grief over the fact that his hands were tied. Thankfully the student moved away, and we were able to at least know that Ellie was safe.

In all of this, Ellie's response was simple: "I wonder how bad her life must be to want to hurt someone she doesn't even really know. That just doesn't make sense".

Y'all, I don't have adequate words to express how my then 12 year old daughter's words changed my heart. Not even a teenager, she had already learned something a lot of us could use today. She had learned the gift of empathy. You see, while she was not AT ALL condoning the wrong done to her, she was able to see a different side. She was trying to understand a perspective different than her own. Ellie was practicing empathy.


Lately, my social media feed is filled with posts and articles about the looting and rioting happening in our world. I get it. Seriously. I don't agree with violence of any sort. I am pro-life from womb to the tomb, so I can't get behind the violence happening. However, it is my own opinion that posts like this are taking away from the heart that started the protests to begin with.

Just like Ellie was able to see that a kid had likely had so much trauma in her life that she'd respond in a way that was hurtful and unacceptable, maybe we need to give space for some understanding that our brothers and sisters who are black have gone through so much pain and trauma that they too are crying out now. And sometimes that crying out may not look exactly like you and I would do it. It may not sound the same.


Our family marched in a peaceful protest this past weekend. It was awkward, and admittedly uncomfortable for me. I had never marched before. The chanting felt awkward, not like me. But I think I was SUPPOSED to feel awkward and uncomfortable. My life has been easy; I haven't had to worry if it's safe for me to run in the neighborhood or walk out of a store or get pulled over for a traffic stop.

But my daughter will grow up with those concerns.

She will have to worry that even though she may be the best candidate for the job, her skin color may keep her from being hired. She will have to concern herself with the fact that the white boy she has a crush on has parents who won't "allow" him to like a black girl or ask her to the dance. She will have to worry about being followed in a store by employees who think the black kid is probably trying to shoplift when her white friends won't have that same kind of scrutiny. She will have to worry about a speeding ticket turning into a fight for her life.

So, I'm trying to have some empathy today and in my life overall, for people who are hurting in ways that I can't begin to understand. I'm trying to remember that it's not about me or how comfortable I feel in this situation. I'm trying to remember that we don't have to agree on every single thing to still stand on the same side of justice and liberty for ALL. I'm trying to remember that this is a new fight for many of my white friends who have never experienced racism personally. I'm trying to remember that people all around me are hurting, and I want to be an agent of change for them and for this world. I believe that as a follower of Jesus, that is what I'm called to do.

A few days ago, I reached out to some of my black friends and asked if I could just listen to their hearts in this. I asked what it is that they would love to see from me. And I've had a few of my white friends reach out to me and ask "what is it that you need as a mom of a black child?". Let me share some ways we might grow our empathy for our black friends, how we can join together with them in unity.

1. Listen. Try to empathize and understand a perspective that isn't your own. Don't try to change the narrative. Let people say "Black lives matter" without changing it to "all lives matter".  I heard it said that if your house was on fire, you wouldn't want the fire truck to come to all houses on your street but to yours. Think about that. Let's put the emphasis where the need is right now. Saying Black Lives Matter does not take away from anyone else at all. It never has. Listen to that narrative.

2. Have hard discussions. If you see racism, call it out. And call it out immediately. That doesn't mean posting on social media. It means one on one talks with the people in our lives.

3. If you have kids who are friends with black children (please please if your kids are friends with my girl!!), tell them to watch out for their black friends. If they hear other kids saying racist things, tell them to speak up to an adult. If they see racist posts on social media, tell them to get a screen shot immediately then tell the parents or teachers. This one act likely saved our daughter from more immense hurt, and possibly even a dangerous threat to her safety.

4. If you are a follower of Jesus, make racial unity a matter of prayerI. Prayer does change things.

5. Look for ways to get involved. March with your black brothers and sisters. Do it peacefully. But do it. Give to organizations that are trying to make a difference. If you need ideas for that, contact me.

I believe in a world where my daughter and all those who look like her will be accepted because of who they are. I have to believe in that. And I will fight for that day to come. She is worth it. All people of color are worth it. Because Black lives DO matter.

Friday, April 24, 2020

30 years

Thirty years is a long time. No doubt about that. It's true that it really does fly by, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's still a long time. 

Thirty years

Thirty years ago this weekend, I was raped. Most days it feels like 30 years, and it honestly never crosses my mind. I'm thankful for that grace. But the truth is that if I do stop and think about it, I can still recall every single moment of that event. I can still smell the smells and hear the words and recall the fear. Our minds are crazy like that. We are hard-wired to remember. It's how we are created. 

But remembering does not equal experiencing. That's important. I can remember and not be taken back to the hurt. I can remember and yet not be a victim anymore. I can remember and not be defeated. In fact, it's in the remembering that I have found the most victory. 

Remembering increases my gratitude for the fact that I not only survived, but I have thrived. Remembering makes me more compassionate toward others who have experienced trauma. Remembering makes me more aware of the dangers of this world, but also makes me more aware of the beauty. Remembering makes me real, authentic. 

I've heard many people over the years tell me "I just want to forget" when talking about trauma or hurtful things they've experienced. I get that. Truly I do. I felt that myself for a long time. And yet, trying to forget is futile. It's not possible. We can stuff it down and ignore it for a season, but eventually everything is going to come out. And usually, when we've tried stuffing our memories and feelings, the way it comes out is not healthy. But when we embrace the memories and sit with them, we can start to see that they have no hold over us anymore. And more importantly than that, we can start to see where the Lord can actually bring good from our deepest hurts. 

Yes, I said good. What good can come from rape, you ask? Well, let me tell you. My rape has led to plenty of good in my life. For one, it's given me a platform to relate to a world that is hurting. No, not everyone is hurting because they've been raped or assaulted, but everyone hurts in some way. And because I've walked through some serious hurt, I can relate. 

It's also led to some incredible friendships with people. When you have similar stories, you can really relate in a special way. I have so many deep friendships because of the shared experience of sexual trauma. I'm eternally grateful for those ladies in my life. I'm not sure I'd have the full healing I have if it weren't for some of you. 

Rape has made me brave. Seriously. If I can get through this, I can get through anything. Sometimes I look in the mirror when I'm walking through a difficult season or even just a bad day, and I think, "you survived a rape. This day has nothing on you". But it's also made me more brave to put myself out there and tell my story. One thing is certain: I am not alone in this journey. Statistics will tell you that 1 out of every 4 women have experienced sexual abuse or assault in the US. So, I'm not walking this road alone. And yet, when you're walking it, that's just how you feel. Alone. 

Sexual trauma has a way of cloaking you in shame. You can say to yourself all you want, "I'd never feel ashamed over something I didn't do", but until you've walked it, you'd be wrong in assuming that. Shame is a natural response to rape, and I wore it like a prized possession for longer than I ever want to recall. It ate away at my very soul, trying to destroy me completely. 

But God....

God took what was shattered and made it my mission. He took was what broken and made it whole again. He took what I thought could never be redeemed and gave me a ministry to other ladies who've walked this journey. He took the scars that I have and made them memories of how far He's brought me, how much He has restored. He took what was meant to harm me and made it for good (Genesis 50:20). 

Let me say this, on this 30th anniversary of my assault. There was a time when I thought this thing would beat me, would be the reason I chose not to continue living, the reason I'd never be worthy of a husband, the reason I'd never have children, the reason I'd never have joy again. There was a time when I let rape define ALL of who I was. There was a time when I chose to walk around in that cloak of shame as if I had no other option. 

But that time is no more. Today, I can remember and rejoice- not because I was raped, but because I LIVE. I can rejoice not because I felt shame, but because I now FEEL FREEDOM. I can rejoice not because I experienced the bondage of refusing to forgive, but because I now feel the HOPE of letting go and letting God fight that battle for me. I can rejoice, not because I'm defined as a rape victim but as a CHILD OF GOD, fearfully and wonderfully made and loved wholly. 

Friend, if your story involves sexual trauma (abuse, rape, assault, violence, or anything else!), let me assure you that healing is possible, and it's for you too. I remember today, and I may even grieve a little over what I lost that day long ago. But I'll also remember what I've gained, and I'll celebrate that forever. 

If you need help dealing with trauma, please reach out. If you need help getting connected to a counselor, please contact me! If you just need a friend to walk the journey with you, I'd be honored to be that friend! 

Peace and joy to you! 
Happy 30 years to me! 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

It's real. It's really real

I went to a nail salon today. It's not a typical thing for me, but I had a free morning so I thought I'd take the opportunity. I really like this salon. The Vietnamese girl who owns the place is so sweet and always provides great conversation. Today was no different. We chatted about a recent trip to Vietnam she had made and about different news stories that were playing on television as she worked. An older lady came in and sat next to me, starting up a cheerful conversation as well. 

The news aired a story that shook me. In Las Vegas, a kindergartner came home to tell her mom of a new "game" her teacher had played with the class. She said it was "kind of like duck duck goose, but different". The game was called "Hunter Chase the Slave" and the little girl went on to say that you could have a gun or dogs or whips if you catch your slave. I was appalled. In the story, the little girl's mother, a black woman herself, was interviewed and explained her horror at this being played with children at her school. She met with the school principal who immediately took action (the teacher was removed from the classroom pending a full investigation). 

In the salon, we talked about the story. I'll admit I didn't say anything for a moment, as I was trying to hold back tears at the thought of such a horrific thing. My nail tech said, "What was that teacher thinking?" The lady beside me then sighed heavily and said, "Well, here we go again. Another story of a black lady just wanting people to feel sorry for her so she can get something for free or her five minutes of fame". She went on to say "It's crazy that people actually try to get us to believe that racism is still real. This is not slave days anymore. Do they think we're stupid?". I was completely shocked at that point, and stated, "I disagree. Racism is real. I'm looking at it and hearing it right in front of my face in this very moment". 

She was defiant and angry at that. How dare I suggest that she was racist? And so I told her that I was the mom of a beautiful black daughter who had endured racism personally. I explained to her that I knew it was real because we had experienced it. My voice faltered a little as I spoke, and she chuckled that I was "actually convinced this was real". 

Last year, while a 6th grader, our daughter was victimized via social media. Another student, using an account at the school, posted pictures of our daughter with her face "X"'ed out and statements about how ugly she was. They also posted vile and graphic statements, both racial and sexual in nature about her, and finally they ended with a statement about how they wanted her dead. Not everything that was said about her was racial in content, but enough of it was. And it was so hurtful. Thankfully, Ellie did not have social media at the time and thus did not see all of the posts. Some of her friends saw and reported it to their parents and teachers (Thank you students for handling that so beautifully!). 

I won't go into details about the case, but law enforcement had to be involved as a threat was made to her life via a school account. And I'll tell you that the school swept it under the rug and caused a great difficulty for law enforcement to even investigate fully. In the end though, we were sure of who the culprit was, and that student has moved out of state. But the hurt remains. 

In all of this (as in instances in previous years), Ellie remained loving, graceful, compassionate, forgiving, and altogether heroic. I wanted to rip someone's eyes out of their head, if I'm blatantly honest. I was angry. But Ellie simply said, "How bad must someone's life be to want to hurt me like that, mom?". Geez. Talk about putting me in my place! Ellie taught me in that moment a couple of things. 1. We can't fight injustice with just anger. Love must be our weapon. And y'all, that girl is FILLED with love. It oozes from her. 2. My being angry didn't change things; My actions could. Jeff and I worked with law enforcement, and when given the opportunity, we were able to speak to the principal about our disappointment in how things were handled on her part and how she could do it differently in the future. BECAUSE IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN. That's a guarantee. 

I've looked for where I'm supposed to speak into these issues. I am convinced that we've walked through this experience and others in previous years for a purpose. We have a voice. And today, that voice was needed to speak TRUTH to a lady in a lofty position of whiteness and arrogance and ignorance that racism is still very real. It hurts and destroys and maligns, and if left unanswered it spreads like a cancer. 

I have come to believe that a big part of what's wrong in this world is that we refuse to acknowledge and believe each other's stories. If that lady today had been willing to just listen to our story, maybe she could have seen something different than her current belief. And don't get me wrong: I've been guilty too of not hearing people out. But y'all, when we take the time to really listen, we hear the heart of a person. And that's where change happens The people in my life who are the least like me are so very dear to me because we've taken the time to hear one another's hearts. That changes things. 

So, who do you need to listen to today? What is it you've been refusing to acknowledge as truth because you haven't experienced it yourself? How can you make a change in the direction of understanding and empathy today? Perhaps if we each take one small step toward each other every day, we can truly come together eventually.