In the latest picture of our son, Isaiah, he is lying on his crib mattress in an Ethiopian orphanage with no sheet on his bed. The mattress is old and cracked with pieces of the white protective covering peeling off to reveal the yellow foam core underneath. He has a skin infection that is being treated right now so I’m hoping that’s why his mattress has no sheet. I’m hoping it’s because his nannies were laundering them and not that they didn’t have enough clean linens to go around.
But really, I have no way of knowing.
And the worst of what I have seen the last few weeks floods my mind as I look at his innocent face, small and serious.
My little professor.
And I wonder.
Are we doing the right thing by him?
Is bringing him to a country that is not his native home the best thing? Because in Ethiopia his skin color will not be a focal point of who he is. He won’t stand out there and feel different.
He will belong.
But here, here that will not always be so. And learning that nine black worshipers were massacred in the one place they should have been safe rocks me to my core. Seeing their churches burnt to the ground like it is 1965 in Alabama reinforces that I cannot always protect my son.
My tears are not enough to put out this fire of fear; it bubbles in my stomach and makes my fingers go numb.
This fear is different than any I have ever known. I have never felt this kind of fear for my other three children and the plain truth is, it’s because they are white. The realization of this truth rips through me and I cannot breathe for the weight of it. I have forever taken for granted that people will protect them, accept them, respect them, and perhaps come to love them. But now I see that Isaiah will not always benefit from this easy acceptance into every corner of our country that he chooses to wander through. Will people pretend to be accepting in front of us but really have no use for him? Will he be safe as long as he is their friend and our son but doesn’t try to date their sister or daughter? When he is with us, his white family, will he be received differently than if he were alone? After the last year of violence, I feel certain he will.
And that scares the Hell out of me.
For the first time I realize that I do not know how to navigate the seemingly impossible terrain of race relations mixed with child rearing. I do not know how to talk about what people do to each other because of the underlying racial beliefs that have been woven into their hearts so purposefully that they can then casually disregard the people God made in His image. I do not know how to teach him to always love and forgive others in spite of their words and actions. I do not know how to teach him forgiveness like that because I have not had to forgive like that.
I thought I knew, I thought I had few ideas, but I was wrong.
And I am going to mess it up. I can guarantee I will mess it up on more occasions than I want to consider because I will forget and try to do this on my own. I will fall when I try to stand without letting God get the glory for my lessons in forgiveness and reconciliation. My pride will be the sharp stone that reveals my weakness.
But I am willing, I am teachable.
I am willing to keep kneeling at the feet of the Savior knowing that the ideas and beliefs of who I am as a race and who my son is as a race are so deep seeded that I cannot recognize them all on my own. I see now that only God can untangle, uproot, and expose the most hidden of sins to the light. Only he can teach me what it means to, “…live as children of light.” 1
And I will drag my blind uncircumcised heart there over and over again asking God to do the work that he does best, the redeeming and transforming of who I believe myself to be.
It will take me days, weeks, and years. It will take the rest of my life because Christ is never through making me into himself. And I know it will be painful, often brutal work because sin that disguised won’t give way easily but I will never stop showing up to the Savior with open hands.
I will continue to ask for help from my black sisters and brothers. I will not flinch when they tell their stories and I will listen more than I talk as they expose their wounds and scars. I will respect what Isaiah is going to face and I will not deny the pain that comes with being a black son to a white mother in a country that has lost its way. I will never quit trying to become the mom and sister in Christ he needs me to be by steadfastly continuing, “putting to death, therefore, whatever belongs to my earthly nature,” and “embracing love above all things, which binds us together in unity.” 2
I will get out of God’s way as he knits our hearts into the family He is stitching together with the chords of flesh He alone chose to sacrifice.
And I will speak with boldness about the kingdom that God designed; the one where we are, “no longer foreigners or strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of the household.”3 The kingdom he’s building with all of us together as a place where the Spirit of God lives. Do you know the kingdom I am speaking about? It’s the one Christ gave his life for and I won’t be complacent any longer about how we are mistreating one another. I will not be quiet while folks draw dividing lines with their silence or their actions.
I cannot dishonor the sacrifice of the Savior just because His Kingdom vision makes someone uncomfortable in the pew next to mine.
And in the end, my actions will not be enough because I am only one momma, one daughter of the King. Are you willing to see the pain among His people and hear the cry of the overlooked and forgotten? Is it possible that you too are carrying around a heart not completely devoted to His work? Can you identify the seed of separation that Satan is cunningly adept at planting within our hearts, even our Christian hearts? Can you stand before the King you claim to love and know He will see no deceit around your beliefs about other races and people? Can you submit when your heart is not willing but you know that it is still what He asks? Can you trust Him to make you new without considering your portion?
Then do it friend.
Join me with the soul deep work of building His Kingdom by placing your heart and your will at His feet and taking up the grace He offers as He tears down the walls of your world to build the one where He alone is the cornerstone of the holy temple.4
1) Ephesians 5:8
2) Colossians 3:5,14
3) Ephesians 2:19,223
4) Ephesians 2:20, 21