We have several photos and memories of our young children dressing up in “big people’s clothes.” They especially loved to wear my husband’s combat boots. He’d get home in the evening, sit in a chair and take his boots off. Inevitably, one of the kids would be seen a few minutes later attempting to walk around in his huge boots. They never made it far, but were always up for the challenge. Occasionally, they’d try on his whole uniform. Oh, how they wanted to be like their daddy. (Apparently, from the photo, so did I?)
Our youngest daughter, Britain, was well-known among my friends as an early lover of high-heels. She especially loved to visit our friend, Lee, in Norway, who would grant Britain access to her well-stocked closet of fashionable heels and boots. The boots were longer than her legs, yet she would strut around the house until she’d fall down, her feet and ankles weary from the strain of wearing shoes that didn’t fit. At age four, she was intent on becoming a fashion statement, just like Ms. Lee. (Katie, pictured below, also loved high-heels!)
Recently reading in 1 Samuel, I came to the well-known story of David and Goliath. David, a small shepherd boy, young and inexperienced, as Saul notes, volunteers to come against the giant Goliath. I can imagine Saul muttering, “Seems rather foolish,” under his breath. Nevertheless, he agrees to this absurd move, and begins to prepare David for the unequal match.
Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So, he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine. (NIV, 1 Samuel 17:38-40)
And you know the rest of the story. Not even trusting in his five smooth stones, rather trusting in “the name of the Lord Almighty,” David defeated Goliath.
How many times do we think we need someone else’s accessories or attributes in order to accomplish a task? If I had her platform, if I looked more polished and put-together like her, if I only had her education, or her resources.
But God, rich in mercy, has given us everything we need to complete the tasks He’s given us. No need to borrow another’s armor; God has equipped us with our own battle gear, and it’s a perfect fit.
One month ago the upheaval of racial injustice once again invaded our masked, distant and socially deprived nation.
In the days and weeks following, I continue to sit and listen to God, asking Him to determine my next steps.
In my devotional this morning, I came across these thoughts from Mother Theresa, “I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look only at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one. You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other.”
One person at a time.
When I see the masses, I am easily discouraged. What can I do to alleviate the problem? It seems so huge and I am so small. A tiny drop in a massive ocean.
I tend to be mathematically challenged. Equations, constants and coefficients never made much sense to me. Sometimes the way God uses math doesn’t make much sense in human terms, but He makes up for it exponentially in eternal dividends.
I love one person at a time. Because they have been loved, they in turn, love another. And they another. And they another. All the tiny drops collectively begin to make a little wave. And God moves among the small waves and joins them with others to make larger waves that crash against fear and hate and self-righteousness. And all the ugliness. And the injustice. And the divisiveness.
I owe many of my friends an apology. Sitting down to write them a letter, my thoughts go something like this:
Dear Friends of Color, (That sounds a bit odd as I usually don’t differentiate between my friends of color and the others. Technically, all my friends have color. At any rate, it seems like today this is an appropriate distinction.)
I want to tell you first and foremost how sorry I am that I haven’t said something before now. You may have been waiting, or maybe not. I have reasons but they’re not valid excuses. They may help explain my poor choice of actions, but I’m aware they don’t excuse them.
I’ve been silent because honestly, I haven’t known what to say. I struggle with whether I need to apologize on behalf of my race, on behalf of my church, or just on behalf of me. I’m pretty sure the latter is the only one that matters.
I’ve been silent because, to be completely honest, I thought I’d been doing a pretty good job in the area of race relations. And I thought we (you and I) were good with where we were relationally.
Growing up in the military, I thought racial tension was at bay. I watched people of every color work together, serve together, live together and play together. I naively assumed this is how the rest of the world operated. I realize not everyone saw the military through the same eyes. Please forgive my ignorance.
My first college roommate was black. The only difference I really noticed was the type of music we listened to. I had not been privy to much of Michael Jackson and Prince in my limited knowledge of music genres. Her color of skin didn’t phase me.
I was a summer missionary one year in the inner city of Buffalo. My roommate was black as was the pastor’s family and most of the congregation. I was comfortable and felt at home. Several nights we walked to apartment buildings where some of the church members lived. They called them the projects. (Ironically, my husband lived in the projects when he was growing up, as well. I just thought they were more affordable apartments for people struggling to make ends meet.) We would walk down the sidewalks and through the yards, people turning to notice us as it was summertime and kids and adults alike were outside playing and visiting until late at night. When we reached the apartment of a lady from the church, we would sit on her steps and eat and visit with her and her neighbors. At some point, I noticed I was the only white person in the vicinity. Yes, there were men who whistled and made comments, but I shrugged them off because when we were with our friend, I felt safe.
Fresh out of seminary, my husband pastored a church in a small town in north Florida. We lived in the parsonage and drove a mile down the main road and onto a side road to get to the church. Once on the side road we passed a row of small brick houses referred to as “the quarters.” In the first house lived a lady named Mary Jewel, one of the best cooks in town. We came to know and love Mary Jewel as she was the housekeeper for one of our elderly widowers.
Everyone was friendly enough to say hello to her but she knew her place; she understood the unspoken (and sadly, sometimes spoken) rules that accompanied living in a small town in the south. On the Sundays we had “dinner on the grounds” she would show up at the back door of the fellowship hall with her chicken and dumplings and pound cake. I kept asking her to come on in; little did I know her bounty of delicious home-cooked food was welcome past the threshold, but she was not. I thought that was so sad. So, I tried to show her a different way; I tried to show her I was her friend. Forgive me for not voicing my confusion at this injustice and taking more of a stand.
A short time later we joined the military and moved to South Carolina. One Sunday we went with another chaplain and his wife to a restaurant in a little town not far from the base. My husband and our friend had both preached in different services. Having given their all, they were tired and hungry. We seated ourselves and waited for what seemed forever until we were finally served. Chalk it up once again to my naivety, but I had no clue we weren’t being served because our friends were black. It never crossed my mind. I thought we’d bridged that gap back in the 60s. Please forgive my ignorance.
My husband pastored gospel services where we were the minority family. The real difference in my mind was how our brothers and sisters of color seemed much freer in their expression of praise and worship. I longed to be like them. They welcomed us and made us feel at home. I was unaware this was not everyone else’s experience.
When we moved to Virginia, we divinely ended up renting a home where we were the only white people on the street. Two years later we moved into Washington, D.C. and once again, had next door neighbors of color and many other friends of color in our apartment building. We were in the middle of a historically black but gentrified neighborhood. We listened to stories of injustice experienced by our friends who grew up in the area.
We longed to be known as that “white couple” who loved and cared for all the residents of our building – race, gender preference and religion aside. Could we have done more? Sure. But we tried to make a difference in our tiny part of the world. My heart and mind were finally opening to the reality that racial injustice was still preeminent in many areas of the country and we set out to be part of the change to our neighbors and friends.
As I’ve struggled to define my response and responsibility during these trying times, I’ve been spending more time asking God what a white girl like me should being doing.
A few things I’ve heard Him say is to become more educated about the issue of racism. I need to be informed. But a trusted friend told me I also need to be wise in who I’m listening to these days. There are a lot of people who want to educate others in their own ways and agendas. I need to be discerning in who I’m listening to.
I’m learning there is a corporate response for those in my shoes, but really, a personal response is where the Lord is calling me. Many of my friends agree with my response; some don’t. I’ve experienced division and anger and self-righteous pride in discussing my views with some of my friends. Oh, Lord, may grace abound.
The most important responsibility the Lord has called me to is to show up for my friends of color. The ones I love who are most affected. The ones whose stories I haven’t had the privilege of hearing because I thought we were all good.
My sisters of color, I want you to know I see you. I love you. And I want to know your stories. I want to enter into your pain and grief and sit with my arms wrapped around you. I want to acknowledge your loss, the death of dreams, the fear for your children and their children.`
I want to be here for you.
And I long for the day when injustice bows to Jesus.
We’re tired of being isolated. We miss being part of a community. We need something to look forward to. We need a reason to celebrate.
I gathered this week with 35 of my daughter’s friends to celebrate the upcoming birth of our first granddaughter. It wasn’t the same getting together on Zoom; we couldn’t enjoy a decadent cake and other treats reserved for special occasions. There were no decorations and balloons worthy of a photo on Pinterest.
But it was a celebration.
The silver lining was we were able to include friends from five countries and ten states, which wouldn’t have happened minus COVID-19.
My youngest daughter graduated from university today. It wasn’t the fanfare she’d anticipated with all her classmates and there was no inspirational message from a well-known Moody Bible Institute grad. Instead, she was celebrated by people who happen to live in her sister’s neighborhood, where she moved when her school closed down due to COVID-19.
They had known her less than a month, but when they found out she was graduating, they got busy planning a surprise party for her. The text went out the night before for anyone who wanted to help decorate the special chair to show up at Judy’s house at 8pm. The next morning, they showered her with cards, gifts, flowers and balloons. An especially introverted gentleman in his mid-70s, who rarely interacts with the other neighbors, literally lit up with a huge smile on his face as he handed her a sweet card with a gift card tucked inside.
Big or small, we’re all looking for a reason to celebrate.
We said farewell to a friend this week with a parade of 15 cars decorated with balloons, posters and honking horns. She stood on the sidewalk and cried the entire time. (Some of us did, too.)
Today we welcomed home a fellow airman who’d been gone six weeks longer than his six-month deployment was supposed to be.
We’ve been physically and socially separated for many months. We crave community and are desperately looking for ways to stay connected.
Reasons to celebrate are all around us. Some are more obvious than others. Regardless, let’s take a peek into others’ worlds to see how we can help them celebrate.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice.“ (NIV, Romans 12:15).
Reveille sounded at 6:00 am this morning, calling the troops to “rise and shine.” This has been a tradition I came to treasure early in life since living on many military installations. I remember being about seven years old and upon hearing it every morning, I would sit up and sing along, “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the morning.”
Because the weather is beginning to warm up, our bedroom window was open. When the bugle sounded this morning, I sang those words in my head, but then heard another voice. In my spirit, I heard the Lord say, “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up this morning. I have a word for you and I need for you to get up.”
I second-guessed the stirring in my heart and reluctantly decided I should rise and go down to my chair with my Bible and journal and spend some time with the Lord. I tiptoed out of bed and quietly closed the door so as not to wake my husband and dog. In the kitchen, I made my morning tea and then headed to my chair. So far, so good.
Suddenly, I heard my husband call from the second floor, “Hey Meg (what he calls me), what are you doing? Are you coming back up?” I tried to whisper to him, “I’m getting up. I felt like the Lord was telling me to get up, that he had something for me.” Hoping I’d satisfied him, I went back to the living room and he shut the bedroom door.
I settled in with my tea and Bible and began to pray and ask God to speak to me, that I was listening. I prayed against any distractions or noises as I felt this was a time to be silent and listen and I’m so easily distracted. The millisecond I said Amen, I heard the bedroom door open; the dog came running down the stairs, the cat began meowing incessantly and my husband then bounded down the stairs. (I think he was doing jumping jacks on each step.) He went into the kitchen where he proceeded to bang pots and clank dishes and noisily pour cat food into her dish.
I was so irritated. I muttered under my breath, “You have got to be kidding me, Lord. I thought you had something for me? Do you think I can concentrate and listen to You when the circus is performing in the next room?”
Thankfully, I heard Him reply. “I’ve ordained this time together. And I’ll redeem our time together. Your job was to show up and listen. Thank you for being obedient.”
I quietly sat for the next 30 minutes (blocking out the heavy sighing coming from the dog lying next to me, and my husband singing his favorite song over and over) and just listened. I reflected on God’s indescribable love for me, I recounted His faithfulness in the past, but mostly I just sat still and listened. This was a discipline I’d been used to practicing most mornings. However, with the extra traveling I’d been doing and the COVID-19 upheaval, I’d not taken time to sit in silence and solitude in several months, so it felt good to “just show up.”
As I concluded my time in silence, I was drawn to a book on my side table, Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton. I’d finished reading it several months earlier but was compelled to open it and reread the last chapter entitled, “For the Sake of Others.” And there was my treasure He had waiting for me.
Several paragraphs in that chapter spoke directly to a relational situation I’ve been struggling with. He gave me insight and the next steps I needed to take. I closed my time in a prayer of gratitude for the wake-up call and for God’s clear message, despite the interruptions.