So here I am, writing about something I’ve never wanted to write about. I purposely avoid conflict. I can’t stand long pauses, awkward glances, or angry looks. The thought of someone being mad at me or offended by something I have said leaves me rattled for days. But here I am, because I can no longer shake the giant pit I have in my stomach. Just months ago, I stood before our church, looking into the eyes of parents, friends, and mentors accepting the job as the Preschool Minister with my main goal and calling being to help the preschoolers of Broadview build a spiritual foundation and help equip their parents to do that as well. I take this calling seriously and that is why, for the last few months, I have wrestled with the idea of keeping quiet or saying something.
The topic of race is one that is so hard to discuss. I never felt I should say something because I personally have never experienced my rights or privileges being questioned. I have never wanted to start the conversation in fear of saying something wrong or being misunderstood. I just sat back and let those around me who were braver, could write better, and spoke louder, take the lead. But as I look into the eyes of my children and into the eyes of your children, I feel I cannot truly share the heart of God with them without going there. I cannot sit back and allow other people to fight against the hatred for me. I cannot act like the awful acts of murder did not occur. We have to look our children in the eyes and tell them this is NOT the heart of God. That God created EVERYONE uniquely perfect. He created us DIFFERENT and that should be celebrated! His heart is for ALL OF US. The cross was for ALL OF US. And the second we decide that the way someone looks, sounds, or acts makes them less worthy of that cross, less worthy of our respect, less worthy of living, we have lost sight of the heart of God. We have to show them in what we say, what we do, and through Scripture that there is only one thing that can stop this darkness and that is letting the light of God invade every crack and crevice of our lives, and then taking that light and sharing it with every. single. person. we come in contact with!
Please know I am in no way saying I have the answers to solve all of these problems, nor do I think anyone does this side of Heaven. I just want to simply share two thoughts that have been going through my mind for months. These are things I keep telling myself as I am falling asleep. Things I am trying to convince myself to do more of each day. Things that I know I need to be better at. I just want to share them with you in case you too are teetering on the edge of staying quiet or standing up to the hatred.
1. The most awkward and hard conversations usually produce the most fruit. I previously taught 4th grade. I have to admit, I am completely convinced that 4th grade is the BEST grade to teach! They are in the perfect stage where they are old enough to blow their own noses, most of them have lost their baby teeth (yuck), but they are right before the 5th grade/middle school attitude kicks in. All the middle school mamas say, “Amen”. That being said, one thing that is not quite developed is a 4th grader’s filter. The filter that tells you what you’re about to say is going to produce a whole lot of awkward tension. For the most part it’s harmless and left me with hilarious stories to tell my husband when I got home. But from the more serious ones, I gained experience in taking awkward conversations and turning them into teachable moments. My son has also taught me a thing or two about this while shopping in grocery stores or walking around the mall. When a kid publicly points out a disability, a racial difference, or even a personality trait that they aren’t familiar with, they are showing there is a lack of filter, a lack of understanding, and a lack of boundaries. As parents, our most common reaction to this is to silence our child, to punish them for pointing it out, leave, and to bury it as deep as we can so the awkwardness doesn’t peek back out. If we do this, we have taught our kids nothing, we have created no boundary, created more misunderstanding, and we have essentially become part of the problem. We have once again created a wall between “us” and “them”. So the question is how do we approach this? How do we stop this? We have to decide that the teaching moment is more valuable than our comfort in the situation. We have to be willing to talk to our kids in the moment about the value of life and how that does not change based on our job, our house, our skin color, our physical abilities, or spoken language. We have to be willing to do this in front of other people. We have to be willing to apologize and invite others into a dialogue that may be uncomfortable. So what does this look like in real life?
Both of my children are involved in therapies at our local therapy center. The waiting room is shared by children with all ranges of physical and mental abilities as well as children of all races. One week we were sitting in the room waiting when a child came in who was in a wheelchair. I could tell Hunter noticed him and he quickly turned to me. Before I could say anything, he asked loudly, “Why is that boy in that chair with wheels?”. Every bone in my body wanted to put my hand over his mouth, look down the rest of the time, and say nothing more. But when I looked into the eyes of that boy and his mom, I knew I could not let that wall be built between us. So instead, I looked at Hunter and said, “He is in a wheelchair because it helps make his body stronger and helps him go places. Why don’t you go ask him his name. Look, he has a Toy Story shirt on! You should see which one is his favorite.” We spent the next few minutes having a shared conversation about Toy Story, light-up shoes, and construction trucks. I watched as both us moms relaxed and smiled at how quickly kids see past the surface when they are lead to go there. Now I know there is so much more I should have said. I replayed this conversation in my head a thousand times, but the idea is this: don’t hide from the differences, find the common ground, and show kindness. Later, in the car, we had a more detailed conversation about how God has created us all differently and our bodies work in different ways and God has given doctors the knowledge to make things like wheelchairs, walkers, and medicine. We talked about how we need to be thankful for this and continue to pray for God to help people through miracles, doctors, and ordinary people.
These same principles can be used with race. Let’s allow our children to see the differences and ask us about them. When they do, instead of shaming them or burying the embarrassment, let’s use that moment to teach them to celebrate those differences. Let’s teach them boundaries on what is kind and not kind. Let’s have the conversation of how hatred and sin have caused people to say and do awful things but we can make a difference by what we say and do. Let’s teach our kids to find a common ground with others, to show kindness by inviting them to play, and most of all, getting to know them for who they are, not simply what they look like.
These conversations take time and these conversations have to be had over and over again. I encourage you to read Scripture to your children about God’s heart and love for the world. Research and discover the countless resources available for teaching our kids about different cultures, races, and abilities
2. Parents set the stage, both in their words AND in their actions. Let us not forget that while having the conversations mentioned above is so crucial to seeing a difference take place, it is equally as important to be a living example of that difference. Let us take a good, hard look at what our actions, glances, hushed comments, and body language tell our children about how we view other people. Let us take a look at who we surround ourselves with. If everyone we are surrounded by looks like us, acts like us, talks like us, and lives like us, are we really teaching our children that differences should be celebrated or are we creating a double standard? Are we seeing the differences and choosing to find common ground and show kindness, or are we staying within our bubble and slowly building an invisible wall? Are our children hearing us have conversations about how what is happening in our world is wrong and deeply breaks the heart of God, or are they hearing us make excuses for their behavior, or not saying anything at all?
These are all questions that fill my mind each night. I know I am not doing what I should. I know that I could do better. For my kid’s sake, for your kid’s sake, I want to do better. Let this be a changing point for all of us. Let this be a time where we address differences of all kinds head on, embrace the awkwardness, and move forward knowing that we just removed one brick from the wall. I pray that you will join me in praying for each of the children represented in this ministry. Pray that they will be change-makers. Ultimately, pray that they will come to know the Lord as their Savior and that they will understand the heart of God, and that understanding will turn into a desire to share His love with ALL. Let us move forward standing up against racism and hatred and showing our children that it can be stopped, one brick at a time.