Dear Tom Sawyer

He had a question he'd been holding in. Two nights before he asked it, I was prompted by the Lord that it was there. So, at the end of day, just before lights go out and 7th grade brains are put on pause, I asked if he needed to ask me anything. He simply said, "Yes, what's the "N" word mean?"

Internally I was knocked back a few feet and left gasping for air. Externally, I stayed, laying on the foot of his bed, stilled and silent, reaching for Heaven's explanation. His English class is reading Tom Sawyer. Thank you Mark Twain 😔 for your classic rendition of what now is a massive need for conversation and correctness.  


I shouldn't have to do this should I, in 2017? Have we not grown up yet as adults that we can't move past the past and shovel hope into our souls instead of hesitancy and judgment? We are here staring racism in the face and I am mad laying on the foot of my sweet, pure-hearted kid's bed.  I am holding back tears and forced to talk deep talk to fortify protective walls, as I choke on the honest truth of what being black means for him. What I really want is to go back to talking about puberty and girls and make him swear to wear deodorant before he leaves the house again. I can't. There are too many serious conversations to have that muck up the normal ones. This is our new normal. I hate it. I know it will produce wisdom and value but I hate it. 

I remember when he was 5, someone asked if he was mine and I began to talk as if I had birthed him. I realized that I had. My heart had conceived him as a child and I had been longing for him until I saw his new wet and sticky face, 10 seconds after delivery. Adoption is that for me. It was not mercy trying to showcase itself or my want for a baby. It was me loving the voice of God so deeply that when He told me about a child he loved and asked that I partner with Him in raising it, I was all in! I was asked to love and embrace and I did. I invested every ounce and was fully undone. 

Now, I'm on the foot of this boy’s bed and he's asking me what the "N" word means.  "The word itself means the color black," I say. “It was used by the Spanish and the Portuguese for the African people or dark-skinned people.”  You see, I refuse to give him American terms and because he's learning Latin, we go for the root. This is what the word means. Not what people did to use the word in a negative context to persecute others they didn't like. I know we will end up there but I will take the slow, scenic route, (thank you very much) and make sure he gets the real check before the world one.  

I remember what I felt, for the first time, from the sting of others opinions. I had adopted a child who needed a mother and I had this notion that angels would sing as we strolled into a room and people would crowd around and gasp in the same wonder I was caught up in.  Yeah, no, that didn’t happen.  I had just brought Justice home from the hospital.  He was 7lbs of dark beautiful wonder and I was scared half out of my mind with how to be his mom.  My sweet housecleaner arrived to clean our home. She wanted to see this baby I had talked so much about adopting.  I brought her to the bassinet, where he lay sleeping, and she looked in pulling back quickly gasping, “Oh myyyy, are you sure you’re gonna be okay?”  She said in her thick southern drawl.  I assured her I was and asked why she was concerned.  Her reply struck me, stung me, and felt like a dagger to my heart. “Well, you know, them kind can give you lots of trouble.”  Them kind? You have got to be kidding!  That is the day I knew I might spend the rest of my life living fully awake and prepared for hard conversations. 

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It has not been easy to face the looks of disapproval and question from people. The constant ritual at airport security when Justice and I walk in together and I hand off our tickets to the TSA agent as they look him over and ask for his name and say, “Where’s your mother, son?”  I am standing there dumbfounded, right in front of them, holding his ticket and I watch as my kid points at me and then I look at the agent with the “Seriously dude?” face.  I snatch our tickets back and move on.

It is not constant but it’s always there.  I hate it, but it is our reality, and until people decide to parent their children, to think love and not regret, and until we become a nation known for its freedom and we stop walking around in our bondage, we will always struggle.  What is in front of me is the “how to” do this the God way, which is the best way and the only way to secure a hope for our future. 

I want to write a letter to Tom Sawyer and fill him in on what life looks like today. I know he is just a character in someone’s novel, but who he is shaped how people believed.  I am not the activist that throws out the beauty of a classic because of the struggle of an era.  I simply want us to learn in that era so we don’t keep repeating mistakes and leaving our sons and daughters with the clean-up. Our cleaning lady was dear to me and I knew her response was simply because she had grown up, like Tom, never having been taught anything different.  Just before we made a state move from that house she cleaned, she told me that watching us together had changed her beliefs.  She was teary eyed as she said how she would miss watching him grow up.  Love can change opinion.   

There is so much more to say but I wanted to say this out-loud perhaps, first.  I am a mother of a gorgeous human being whose skin color just happens to be like that of deep milk chocolate.  I find that stunning.  I find it exciting and Godly.  I see it as unifying and bridge-building.  It’s family and it’s sacred.  


So I lay there, on the foot of my son’s bed, and we talk and it's deep and it's real and he survives it and I survive it and I maneuver my way back to my room and sit for a long while staring at the wall. I am white, Caucasian, and I will never have to endure what my lovely young hero will. It's not a God problem, it's a people problem, It's a history problem. It's a change problem. And yes, it's a church problem too.  Because I'm linked in love with this pain we can't seem to get past, I have understanding for taking a knee and holding up the signs. I get it because I live on my knees as a mother trying to weave her black son into adulthood and crush every stereotype and pull-off every label pressing down on him. What may be the difference is that my faith in God keeps me rowing solidly toward wholeness, and I keep hearing His voice say, "This boy of ours is going to change the world." 

So, no worries Mark Twain. You started a conversation that God will have the last say in. 🙌🏻

Speaking Creativity

I have been in a season of feeling this growing hunger to know and be more aware of the spirit of creativity.  I want to glean from this God Creator, who speaks a language of sheer poetry through what He creates.  He has been saying some deep things in some amazing creative ways and I wonder if there are not more like me who have been listening. The one language we together understand as spectators, is Artistry.  We are all entertained by movies, ballets, concerts, art galleries, etc.  We all love a good book and a great DIY/HGTV episode.  Most of us actually crave creative insight.  We want to be able to remodel our kitchens even if we don't own a screw driver!  It is in us to want to transform and be transformed. You see, I believe we have entered a greater season of creative expression both in and outside the church.  The unfortunate thing is that church culture can sometimes see creativity as something the younger generation has or a department in our building’s, as opposed to what it really is.  It's a language we all should be speaking.  It’s a stretch though for many to see it as a language. Especially if you have never believed you could speak it.

 

In Genesis 1, God does not set up a canvas and squeeze paints on a board and begin to paint the universe.  He does not use construction paper to make a model and try to sell it to heaven as a “great idea.”  He uses His voice.  He simply uses His voice to create.  He speaks creation, into existence. There is paragraph after paragraph where it reads, “And God said,” over and over.  So, if the voice of God can speak literal creation into existence then the epicenter for all creativity, I believe, is like language.  Have you ever heard anyone say, “I do not have a creative bone in my body?”  I myself, have uttered those horrific words before.  If we see in others, something that we doubt we could ever accomplish ourselves, we begin limiting our creative intake.  We have checked the "no" box and opt out of believing we have what others seem to easily come by.  It might just be that those "others" spent less time doubting and more time creating and that is why it comes to them easier. Just because we do not have an ability to sing, play an instrument or decorate cookies at Christmas time, is not an excuse to curse our creativity with phrases that seem harmless, but can create a deep thread of unbelief in us.

 

You see, If God spoke the ground we walk on into existence and yet, it is man He came to redeem and have relationship with, what does man have that draws God the most?  The trees can stand tall and powerful providing us oxygen, the ocean can be vast and mighty, but neither of them can evangelize a soul and invite it into communion with God. Man, however can.  So, God speaks, using His voice to create and then reaches down with His hands to do the same in the making of man and woman.  He gives them dominion over His creation. How then have we not been put here to mimic God and bring Him glory? How is God Himself creative after He creates?  He parts a massive Red Sea.  He has manna fall from the sky. He brings fire upon the alter. It goes on and on and on.  His son Jesus takes over and has His own creative show of gifts in the New Testament. 

 

I believe that God wants us to speak His language.  He wants us to begin speaking life and belief over our ability's so He can fan the fire and use us for greater things.  We cannot cage creativity and box it in corners of what we think is creative.  What burns in your heart?  If it is being a homeschooling mother, how then can you ask God to show you creative ways to parent and raise your kids?  If you want to sing, draw, dance, pastor, evangelize,  how are you speaking over your life a belief for those things to cultivate and expand?  We cannot bind creative expression to a cultural system of what we deem creative.  Most creative vocations can be taught, or learned, but a desire for it has to fuel the fire.  One definition in the dictionary describes creativity as “The state or quality of being.”  The way a pastor teaches or the way a doctor operates and saves a life is creative to his or her potential just as much as a songwriter writing a song. Honoring how each of us speaks our language is key.   

 

God is stirring the waters of creative expression.  He is moving on the arts and calling people to rise up and speak life into what they do.  Be careful how you speak the doubts over your abilities. Turn the music up. Dream without a ceiling. Color your life with words of hope and not words of death and doubt.  The Creator is stirring hearts to speak a language He himself designed. He is up to something wonderful.

Straw Hat Lady

Recently, I was in line to board a flight out of the Northwest, headed back into the great state of Texas. I was waiting for the gate agent to call me up for a hopeful miracle upgrade (which on American Airlines would really be a miracle). A woman was sitting next to where I was standing, and I noticed her because she had on a straw hat and was dressed in all black.  She had her ticket clutched in her hand, and I glanced down to see that her seat was the aisle seat on the row to my window seat. There was one person waiting on the list ahead of me, and it didn’t take long to realize that Straw Hat Lady was that person. The gate agent announced that first class was full, and we began boarding the flight. Straw Hat Lady pushed her way ahead of me, seemingly annoyed.  As we rounded the corner of the aircraft to walk through first class, she stalled and eyed every vacant seat  and turned around and headed back out to the gate. Ten minutes later Straw Hat Lady flumped down in her aisle seat in my row clearly upset.  The steward walking up the aisle was her first victim. In a loud voice she began to tell him that she could not remember when she had ever sat in coach! What were they going to do about compensating her, she’d asked. What amount of free things were they going to offer her because of such negligence?  

 

I rolled my eyes and watched as she rubbed her finger over the printed words on her ticket stub, muttering that she should be in first class and American Airlines was going to hear about this!  Honestly, my first thought was to take notes from her bad behavior as I have remembered the countless times late planes, ridiculous delays, and seemingly “mystery like weather” had canceled flights I was booked on.  I actually felt embarrassed at the chance that in any of those cases I could have sounded like Straw Hat Lady.  

 

What everyone in our radius on that flight knew most about her was that she needed her wine.  When, she had asked, would they be giving her free wine!   A small, precious older man from India sat in the middle seat between us, and she leaned over telling him her “first class” story.  As the flight got underway, I asked the passing steward for head phones, and Straw Hat Lady leaned over and said to me, “Honey, don’t pay a dime for those horrible headphones they offer. I have hundreds of them you can have! She opened her bag to reveal a pile of airline headsets!  I laughed and took her handout, saving myself the five bucks. The four-hour flight was harder for our neighbor in the middle seat. Curiosity had me with one ear bud out the entire way listening to her reveal to him the details of her life.

 

She had never married and NEVER wanted children.  She thought children were disrespectful, rude, and ungrateful.  Her father had raised her to work hard and not expect a break.  She used some colorful language to describe her father’s personality but then defended his behavior because she was now an adult who learned from all those “good” lessons he had taught--the bitterness in her voice rising. She had a home in two different states, and she had traveled the world. When she was home, she basically lived in a curtain- drawn room alone, in the dark.  She liked it like that she had said--no one to talk to or to mess up her day. She felt she was well rounded.  It was hard for me not to find the exchange between her and our middle seat neighbor comical.  Our neighbor tried telling her about his life in India, his wife, and three children. Every so often she would ask him a question only to brush through his answers to talk about herself, or to put herself in his country seemingly knowing more about it than he did.

 

Several glasses of wine later, she detailed her recent travel adventures, and our sweet neighbor asked her what she did to have the luck to go so many places.  Her answer was, “I don’t do anything now. I just travel to sleep!  If I can’t sleep where I live, I get on a plane and travel to exotic locations. I find a hotel, some good food, and sleep!” Her life played out in my head as she told her story.  This wasn’t a woman who actually paid for first class tickets, but one who had earned a status in travel that gave her upgrades.  She wasn’t the kind of rich person who lavished herself with fancy hotels and rich foods. In fact, she said she would find the cheapest hotel room as close to the airport where she’d landed. She talked about the food they offered as if it were cooked by a chef at a five-star location!

 

Listening to her talk for four hours, I realized that she didn’t come with a major trust fund. She was indeed smart and had worked hard at a job that had her earning privileges in frequent flyer status. She didn’t wear fancy makeup and, outside her handbag, really didn’t look like she lived the life assumed of one in her position. What I could tell, though, was that she was broken.  She was in pieces, but she didn’t stay focused on it long enough to deal with it.  She lived on the run.  She had emotional baggage in the cities where she had residences, but when she got bored or pressed with pain that stole her sleep, she fled to another city to sleep off the memory of her un-dealt-with emotional baggage.   I asked the Lord where the break began in her life, and I heard Him simply say, When bitterness marinates in the soul, it breeds un-forgiveness, and from there it breaks the heart into pieces. The more pieces it breaks into, the harder the come back.

 

I felt that that wasn’t the moment to evangelize her.  She was, at that point, highly intoxicated and could not remember the last sentence she’d formed.  I sat there undone for Straw Hat Lady.  I wished I had known her years ago. I wished I had sat next to her perhaps fifteen years prior on one of those flights that built her status. Maybe she would have needed less wine to drink.  In many ways, as I prayed for her, I sensed deeply that sometimes God sets people in our path for us to simply intercede for them.  Maybe she wore that hat that day so I would remember her.  There is still a chance for Straw Hat Lady.  I was never more convinced of it than I was that day.  God could still draw open her shades and let the light in. Jesus could give her peace and the sleep she couldn’t find in random cities. She could stop running from the broken pieces and run towards God.  She had made a reference briefly about the church and about God in a negative tone, and it was enough to cause me to speculate that those who were to be the hands and feet of Jesus perhaps missed at conveying Him well.  Maybe prayer would have her meeting up with provision.  Maybe it would have her finding a path to take her away from bitter waters and resentment.

 

The flight ended, and she maneuvered her way up the jet way to find her next flight.  I watched her walk down the hall, her steps fluent with the effects of her drinking, and I prayed she would find her way home safely.  Her face stayed with me and I think it always will.  As I shut the light out that night, exhausted from travel, I was provoked to remember when I traded my own bitterness for forgiveness and laid down my own resentment for humility.  How close would I have been to becoming a Straw Hat Lady had I refused to let go of pain and hold on to Jesus?  Possibly closer than I could imagine.  Sometimes the lost show us where we could have or would have been if we had not held on to truth. I am grateful for the chance to pray for her, but I am also grateful that she is a reminder, as well, of freedom and what it can look like. We all are broken pieces trying to be whole. I am undone over and over at the revelation that I know the One who can put every piece back together.