This has been the summer I fully embraced the community of my church family. The one where I attend services and the one that has connected me with some life-long friends and acquaintances. It has been a summer of gathering together socially and spiritually. Mostly, it has been the best time I have had in years and I am beyond grateful.
Please forgive me if my language is clumsy or inadequate. I am a work in progress and happily take your suggestions on how to improve.
I grew up in a military environment that was pretty well integrated. My best friends as a kid were African American and Jewish. I learned the best parts of their heritage and was shielded from the bias against them. As a teen, two of my best friends were of Asian descent. I never saw any hate directed toward them, or if there was any, they didn’t tell me. I dated people from many backgrounds and races, yet my parents made it clear that these were unacceptable long-term relationships. I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith and because my dad’s best friends were Jewish, we learned to respect their faith. In spite of all that, there were still derogatory terms used by adults around me: the N-word, the f-g word, the S-word (you get the gist) that was perfectly acceptable to them. There was an undertone that as alike as we were, we were still superior in some way because we were white and Catholic/Christian.
These are concepts that are hard for me to reconcile today. How could I grow up with such welcomed diversity and acceptance and yet still a sense that I was “better than” because of my skin color or faith? How could I have been so blind to the prejudice and hate my friends likely experienced on a regular basis? I have had to search my heart and soul to ask when I have, even in some small way, passed on that negative heritage to my daughter. How have I taken the subtle superiority of my parent’s generation and filtered relationships- personal and professional- through that negative lens?
As someone who believes we are ALL created in the image of God, we are all loved by him and we all have value and worth in his eyes; how do I reconcile those derogatory tapes in my past against the backdrop that my own family today includes Asians, African-Americans, LGBTQ+ people whom I dearly love? How do I do a better job of loving and caring for people who are not like me?
I start with asking forgiveness for my naivety and ignorance. I ask the Lord to break the chains to any past behaviors and thought patterns. I start the conversation with friends and family and seek to learn more about walking in their shoes. And I walk more closely with them.
I have to be responsible for taking off my blinders and my disbelief that prejudice and hate exist. I need be more deliberate in standing for my friends and family- asking them how best to do that. It isn’t about what I think they need and want- it is about asking them what I can do and standing with them. That’s how we break our own bias and preconceived notions. I will seek to be more informed and more engaged and more respectful of others.
Lord, forgive me when I have closed my eyes to the inequality toward your people. Forgive me for my own pride and superior attitude. Lord, open my eyes and ears and use me as an instrument of your change. Father, guide our nation to be welcoming and change our hearts to see each other as valuable, regardless of color, culture, religion, or life-style. Start with me father.
Photo: Getty images
My life today is nothing compared to what it was even five years ago, let alone 30 years ago when I began my Christian journey. God planted a seed of change; however, it took almost 20 years to stop living according to my rules and listen to his desires for me.
I am a parent, who like you has dreams that my child will find love and happiness in life. I may also be a parent like you whose child or grandchild is part of the LGBTQ community. My love for her and my joy for her hasn’t changed. I have taken this to the Lord for many days and nights and I am trusting that He is with her, as he has been all her life.
It’s time for some of us to stop talking and start listening and hearing. Whites have had the floor for a long time now. We have had the upper hand and have misused our privilege. Intentionally or unintentionally, people have been suppressed, held down, beaten, taken advantage of, and disregarded as members of our society.
Change starts with me, with my thinking and my actions. My childhood memories include people close to me using the “N-word’ and making disparaging comments about people of color while bragging that they have black friends so that shows they aren’t prejudice. I remember fear and concern from my parents when I dated black men or my sister and brother married people from other cultures. We were crossing a line they would never have dreamed of doing.
I grew up with the civil rights movement. It was difficult for our elders. They learned to adjust to a new way of living. It was, however, always veiled in a element of fear. A fear they passed on to the next generation as we pushed for equality. We opened our neighborhoods to people who didn’t look like us and we became friends with people our parents might never have had an opportunity to meet in an equal setting. It was a small beginning that seemed radical and unsettling for them.
I like to think that my generation raised a new generation with less prejudice and that we have done a better job at inclusion and equality. The truth that we haven’t done enough is evident in recent events that have led to wide-spread protests. As a child I watched the demonstrations for civil rights. I watched the demonstrations to end the war. They were violent at times. Those voices were heard. Steps were taken in the right direction because of those brave souls. Today’s generation has picked up the ball we dropped and are again pushing it up the hill of change. It is time we helped them with this fight.
This past year I was exposed to some studies and engaged in some conversations about inequality from those who live it. I have begun to understand the concept of white privilege as I realize the daily fears people of color live with that I will never experience. The inequality I have experienced in the work place as a white woman is nothing compared to the challenges of an African American women. My fears when I am pulled over for a traffic violation is nothing compared to a man of color who fears for his life in the same situation. I have experienced wolf calls or sick comments from sexist men and still it doesn’t compare to what non-white people in this country hear on a nearly daily basis.
…we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything – and I do mean everything – connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life – a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. Ephesians 4:22-24
The oppressed need to be heard. The advantages need to be leveled. The reaction needs to improve. The thinking needs to change. We need to stand and hold up those who have grown weary of holding themselves up. We need to change the character of ourselves and call out others to do the same. We need to stop turning a blind eye to inequality, step down from our pedestals, and ask “how do I help?”
I admit I have more questions than I have answers. That makes me sad. I pray from my home and write as God moves me to write. I am talking more with friends and family. I can’t be silent out of fear some will disregard me because the fear that nothing will change is greater. I will keep taking the steps I can until God moves me in a new direction.
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31
I’ve been reading a lot more during this time home alone. Mostly I have been reading about the way God can completely change who we are, if we are willing to open that door. I know he has changed my heart, my thinking, and my desires in many unexpected ways. I know God has forgiven me in ways people never have. I know I have found peace in that forgiveness and a greater willingness to offer that same mercy and grace to others. It all started with God moving in my life when I opened myself to his ways over my ways.
I have heard it said that the way a person decorates their home is a reflection of the things that are most important to them. For the past year my walls have been bare except for some sports memorabilia and a few crosses hung in my office area. The only thing I hung in my bedroom was a gift from a friend who lives on the other side of the world. Our furnishings too have been sparse. My home has been a true reflection of the empty slate of my life. It is a reflection of the somewhat aimlessness state of my being as I have prayed and sought God’s desires for my life in these post-retirement years.
This time last year I was homeless. I had packed up the belongings I felt I needed or those few things that I wanted to hold onto out of sentiment. I had given family, friends and neighbors who were in the process of resettling some of the things they needed for their homes. I threw away gobs of unnecessary clutter. And I gave everything else to charity. And then I packed my bag and left for the sunny skies of California to contemplate my future. I had no idea if I would return home to Virginia and even if I did, I wasn’t sure I would find a place to live that I could afford. It was unsettling to have no place to call home and no idea what I was going to do with my life.
I search for you,
In the rooms I enter,
In the quiet of my fear;
I look for you.
Are you really there?
Do you see me?
Do you really love me?
Is it me, or is it you?
I am weak.
I am unsure.
I am alone.
And yet, I feel you near.
Fill my heart.
Fill my mind.
Change my heart.
Change my life.
Out of the shadows I come,
Into your light I run
Into your presence I sit
Here you are real
Here I believe.
Here I thirst.
In the light I find hope.
In this corner I grow.
Forever Finding You
It is easy to get stuck in the past and to carry the heavy load of our hurts, our failures, and our struggles with us into the new day. They can become like old familiar friends that, in our minds, define who we are and how we live. We can even become dependent on these burdens we carry to see us through. Some become our addictions and our excuses for not moving forward. I can’t lose weight. Drinking makes me feel better. You don’t know what happened to me. No one understands what I have been through and why my life is so hard.
Have you said those things? Are these the things that are keeping you from experiencing joy today? Are you afraid of what your life might look like if you don’t’ have those friends with you anymore?
Did you know that you are God’s masterpiece? I used to scoff at that notion given my lifestyle. But Paul said that all of us screw up at some point in our lives and God still wants us in his life and he wants to give us a fresh start that will allow us to live lives of purposes. (Ephesians 2: 1-10) Even as God is calling us to walk with him and to change; we must be seeking him to escape from our past (Laminations 3). He is there, waiting for us to build a life-long relationship with him, one in which we will receive his gift of love and forgiveness and new empowerment to change. We can find our true selves in God’s love.
I do believe that a relationship with God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit is the “silver bullet” to healing. I know from personal experience that I needed the help of a gifted treatment program and gifted counselors to make the breakthroughs in my transformation. I also know that it was not until I was willing to see God smack dab in the middle of my life, that I found healing. I know that he wants a renewed life for me to live. I know that he has plans for my life. I know that I have purpose in sharing what he has done in my life. I know that I am no longer alone or abandoned—my relationship with Jesus brings me a sense of belonging and wholeness I never found in any man or woman.
What is keeping you stuck where you are today? What is keeping you from feeling joy? What first step can you take today that will bring you out of your pain and start you on a path of purpose? What is keeping you from saying, “yes” to freedom and new life? What is stopping you from first asking God to walk with you?
“You turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.” Psalm 30 New Living Translation
Painting by: https://donnalynyates.wordpress.com/