Questions in Black and White

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When my husband was in seminary, I commuted to Dallas on the train for work. I had to leave the house at 5:50 every morning and spent about two hours riding to my office. Remember how I’m not a morning person? It was rough. I managed to get through it by chatting with interesting people, and one woman in particular has been on my mind of late.

I was a little late getting to the train and barely made it on. I ended up in a different car than usual, and eventually I found myself sitting around a table with an older black woman and a few other young white women about my age. We were all pretty quiet, watching the sun rise as the train sped toward Dallas, and one of the ladies was reading a paper. I noticed the front page headline:

60 percent of black children can’t swim

The sentence was mind-boggling to me. Everyone I knew could swim except one kid from church who was afraid of the water after a near-drowning. I couldn’t pull my eyes from the statistic, but when I finally did, they fell on the black woman sitting across from me.

Even I, the queen of social awkwardness, knew I shouldn’t ask. I argued with myself. I told myself to look it up when I got to the office. I imagined a large can of worms being dumped on the table between us.

But this is me. Curiosity won out.

“Ma’am,” I said, getting the woman’s attention, “I just saw that headline on the paper. Why don’t black kids know how to swim?”

There. I asked it, and I couldn’t take it back. I was ready for her to ignore me or growl at me or maybe something worse. The worms were about the hit the table. Instead she smiled.

“Honey, when I was growing up, we weren’t allowed to swim in your pools.”

I don’t what I expected, but it wasn’t that. The ugly fact was spoken with such a kind tone. My eyes dropped to the table, and I felt heat in my cheeks.

“I didn’t realize that was so recent. That’s…” I remember struggling for words and finally settling on “…messed up.”

“Yes, it wasn’t that long ago, but you’re too young to know.” She told me back then if you were black the only swimming options were lakes or creeks, and they were usually dirty and dangerous. Most black people her age just never learned.

“And if I don’t know how to swim, how am I gonna teach my kids?”

“That makes perfect sense. I feel dumb.”

“You’re not dumb. You just didn’t know.”

She told me more of her experiences growing up with segregated pools, water fountains, and schools. The other ladies at the table asked her more questions, and she answered every one. She was kind but blunt. She didn’t blame us, but she also didn’t spare our feelings. I have never been so grateful for someone giving me grace in my ignorance. I thanked her for talking to me and told her I wouldn’t forget it. She got up for her stop and told me she was happy to help.

“Thanks for asking.”

That conversation made me realize that sin has generational effects. Getting rid of Jim Crow laws didn’t heal hearts or even mend fences. The consequences of segregation were real and lasting, even if I was lucky enough not to feel them. I wondered what else I didn’t know.

Last week I remembered that black woman’s willingness to educate a young white woman on a train and wondered what if? What if we all were willing not only to listen but to ask? What if we started the conversation instead of waiting for the other side? I think I’m fairly normal in that I worry I’ll offend someone of a different race no matter how innocuous my comment or question might be. I debated with myself for two days about whether I should call the woman black or African American and finally settled on black because that’s what she called herself, but I’m still concerned someone will be upset with me. I have friends and family of different ethnicities whom I love and trust, and I know they would tell me anything I wanted to know from haircare to food to politics. The truth is it’s easier on me to not talk about it.

I realized after Charlottesville that it’s not about my comfort. I need to be willing to ask first like I did that sleep-deprived morning on the train. I am once again wondering what I don’t know because I’ve been too afraid to ask. If you are white, I invite you to enter into the awkwardness of talking about race. You’ll have red cheeks and sweaty palms. You’ll feel ashamed, confused, and ignorant. You might want to run away from the conversation. Don’t. Ask your black and brown brothers and sisters about their experiences. So many want to tell their stories if we are willing to listen.

If sin has generational effects so do love and compassion. Let’s start the conversation and change the future.

These little arms belong to a dear friend’s first baby and my youngest shortly after they were born last year.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” -Philippians 2:4

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The Lord’s Prayer As a Counter to White Supremacy

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Amen.

The Chief End

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Something to think about for those who would claim to represent Christ while at the same time holding to a Satanic ideology of white supremacy. When Jesus taught his followers to pray, he specifically told them to pray “Your kingdom come.”

In this model prayer Jesus tells his followers to look expectantly toward the coming Kingdom. The Kingdom that they were a part of and would be working to expand. That kingdom had it’s birth with a dark skinned Middle Eastern man and expanded, despite persecution, thanks to the missionary efforts of his disciples. These were also Middle Eastern men. Among his most faithful followers were Middle Eastern women who were often marginalized in their own society but people who Jesus elevated as equal co-heirs in his kingdom. There were tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, and murderers.

The people who made, make up, and will make up the Kingdom of God…

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Great Childrens Stories You May Have Never Heard Of

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As my oldest is getting to the age of learning to read and write, I am gleefully anticipating introducing different stories from my own childhood. Many of my friends had never heard of my favorites, so I decided to list a few here. One can always use a new title for the personal library, right? Most of them are older titles, so it might take some searching to find them. I’ve included a brief synopsis of each book along with my own memories and experiences with them. Enjoy!

Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White

Maria lives on the aging English manor of Malplaquet with a wicked governess who is plotting to steal her fortune. One day she notices a walnut shell with a baby inside. Yes, a baby small enough to fit into a walnut! She finds herself befriending a colony of exiled Lilliputians, the tiny people mentioned in Gulliver’s Travels, and that’s only the beginning of her adventures.

I loved this book as a little girl. I promptly forgot the name after I returned it to the library, and years later it took me hours of googling to find it. But find it I did, along with the discovery that Terry Pratchett loves it, too. I think that proves I have good taste when the creator of Disc World agrees with me! I still want my own spider-silk handkerchief, and I have a feeling my kids will, too.

The Sea Fairies by L. Frank Baum

A little girl named Trot wishes she could meet a mermaid, and the queen of the sea fairies grants that wish, giving her and her old sea mariner friend, Cap’n Bill, tails! They travel to the kingdom of Queen Aquarine and King Anko for a tour under the sea. When they are taken captive by sea devils, they must find a way to escape the clutches of a mysterious enemy.

I’ve never met a girl who didn’t want to be a mermaid at some point. This story was more than a little wish fulfillment for elementary-aged me. It’s an exciting adventure that I think even boys will enjoy, especially since Cap’n Bill is such fun. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the author is famous for The Wizard of Oz.

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

Chester Cricket falls asleep inside a picnic basket in Connecticut and ends up in the subway station under Times Square. After befriending a cat, a rat, and Milo, a little boy running his parents’ newspaper stand, Chester turns out to be quite the musician, copying the beautiful music he hears on the radio. That’s just the beginning of his new life in New York City.

My favorite image in this story is Chester bedding down in a cricket cage shaped like a miniature pagoda, stuffed to bursting with a dinner of mulberry leaves. I think any child will fall in love with Chester and his friends. I plan to look up some songs Chester plays so my children can better imagine the story.

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson

A tramp finds three children hiding under a bridge and discovers they and their mother are homeless. Normally very independent and loving his freedom, he feels compelled to help the little family, and they change his life drastically.

I remember loving the adventure of the story and how the tramp was friends with gypsies and other unusual people. It also made me want to go to France as the story is set in Paris. One other thing to note is the book I read growing up was illustrated by the same person who illustrated Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. I’m excited to see what my kids think of it.

The Grandma’s Attic Storybook by Arleta Richardson

A grandmother tells her granddaughter stories of her childhood growing up on a farm in Michigan. This book a series of vignettes rather than a continuous story, so each chapter was totally different. The book is a compilation of a larger library of Grandma’s Attic stories by Richardson, but I’ve only read this book.

I’ll never forget the story about the facial mask made with beeswax. It made me wary of DIY facials well into adulthood! I also never plotted revenge pranks on my sisters after reading how that backfired in one of the stories. My husband was raised on a farm, so I think he’ll like it, too. You may not be able to find this book (amazon had a few used ones, but that was it), so I’d recommend the Grandma’s Attic Treasury, especially if you have girls.

The Little Lame Prince by Miss Mulock

Young Prince Dolor, lamed shortly after birth from being dropped by a vain chambermaid, spends his days in an isolated tower while his evil uncle runs his kingdom into ruin. A fairy godmother gives him a magic traveling cloak that acts like a magic carpet, giving the prince the ability to see his kingdom and observe the people he should rightfully rule.

The fact that this story begins with a tragedy might make it difficult for some to enjoy, but I envied Prince Dolor his magic traveling cloak and other gifts from his fairy godmother. It’s a lovely story with a wonderful moral, and I think that children with disabilities or other limitations might find it encouraging.

Olga da Polga by Michael Bond

Did you know some guinea pigs are tremendously good storytellers with a flair for the dramatic? Olga da Polga the guinea pig comes to live with the Sawdust family, and life for them and for the neighborhood animals is never the same again.

If the author’s name sounds familiar, you’re probably a fan of Paddington Bear. We had some neighbors who had a guinea pig named Olga da Polga after this book, and it quickly became a new favorite in our house. I also had a guinea pig named Velvet, so I loved the silly stories Olga spins about how guinea pigs lost their tails and how the sky is falling. My children already love this book and want me to get the sequels. Once we arrive at our new home, they’ll be on order!

The Wingfeather Saga: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, North! or Be Eaten, The Monster in the Hollows, and The Warden and the Wolf King by A.S. Peterson

Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby live in the land of Skree which is ruled by the evil Fangs of Dang, ugly, brutal lizard-like beings with venomous bites and sharp claws. When Leeli kicks one of the Fangs in the shin to save her dog, Nugget, all three children end up in big trouble.

Last but certainly not least, this fabulous series was discovered by my husband. He’s a fan of Andrew Peterson’s music, and Peterson is at least as good a writer as he is a musician. He has been reading this series aloud to our kids each evening, and it’s a hit. “Not my totatoes!” is a regular war cry about the house, and my oldest is fond of recruiting me to shoot Fangs with a laser gun. I particularly like the character Pete the Sock Man.

I hope this list gives you some ideas for your next bookstore trip or Amazon wish list.

True Tales of Unbelievable Social Awkwardness: I Don’t Do Mornings

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I am a notorious night owl. I put the night security guards to shame in college, regularly staying up until 3 on school nights and pulling all-nighters at least twice a semester. I felt (and still feel) most awake from about six in the evening until midnight or 1am. But all those late nights meant I was a zombie first thing in the morning.

I know most of you are thinking, “Oh, that’s me before coffee.” Hold that thought.

When I enrolled for my first semester of college, I found myself stuck taking philosophy at 8am because it was the only section that fit my schedule. (Exactly who is a philosopher at 8 in the morning, I’d like to know? Crazy people and academics, that’s who.) I figured it was one semester. I could do it. I totally could! Right?

As I suspected, it was terrible idea. The class is a black hole in my memory. I have legible notes as evidence that I did indeed listen to the lecture, but I don’t remember a single day of class. I wasn’t about to change my night owl ways, so I looked for every possible way to sleep in until the last second. About two weeks in I discovered that if I ran my hardest, I could get from my dorm room to the classroom in less than five minutes. I also discovered that the clock in the classroom was slightly slow, and my clock was slightly fast. This meant that if I left my dorm room at 7:55, I would get to philosophy class with roughly one minute to spare. Even better, the professor kept the lights off most of class so we could see his notes on the projector, so I started coming to class in my pajama pants. Anything to give me ten more seconds with my pillow. I still don’t remember a single moment of class.

What I do remember is braiding my hair while running out the door at 7:56 and nearly wiping out on the stairs and choking myself with my own braid in a desperate frenzy to get to class because while other people would simply skip and get notes from a classmate, I believed perfect attendance was next to godliness. Still think this is you before coffee?

The professor taught two sections of the course, and he gave us a choice of taking our final with either group. The final was later in the day, so I was actually awake when I arrived. I walked into the bright sunlit classroom that I still barely recognized after four months and saw one of the girls from my hall. Behind her was another hallmate. And another. And another. And another. I stopped in front of them, deeply confused.

“Hey, are you taking the final early instead of with your class?” I asked the girl in front.

She stared at me open-mouthed for a moment. “Laura, I’m in this class with you. I’ve sat in front of you all semester!”

“Oh.”

I never took an eight o’clock class again.

One more important note: if I had ever actually observed my surroundings in that corner room of Montgomery Hall, I might have noticed a certain handsome blond who occasionally wore camo. Caleb was always several minutes early to philosophy. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t remember me either. Pajama pants and braids wasn’t my best look.

Tips for Surviving a Military Move

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We’ve begun the process for our next big military move, so I thought I would give you a few tips for how to enjoy random strangers handling your underwear and antique china while you eat pizza off of a Frisbee because you accidentally packed the paper plates while wondering when the government is going to patent the cloak of invisibility it loaned your husband. (Hint: they call the cloak “out-processing.”)

The sarcasm is strong, folks.

You’ll be tempted to complain about the fact that a power of attorney is the Holy Grail of paperwork while that fancy marriage certificate might as well be TP in the latrines. Allow me to teach you a mantra: “This is the military. Logic does not apply.” Repeat as necessary or until comatose.

Sort through and organize all your stuff because the packers will appreciate how much easier it will be to find your throw pillows to pack with your Chinese wok and your husband’s old work boots.

Cull your children’s toys to sell at the garage sale because we all know there’s nothing better for a kid whose life is being turned upside-down than getting rid of that “most favorite of all” broken McDonalds toy that said child hasn’t played with in two years.

Yell “Why do we have so much stuff?!?” every half hour throughout the packing process. It’s the military wife version of the primal scream. It also keeps your packers slightly terrified which is a good mental state for packing ceramics and glass.

Expose your children to as many friends and public places as possible as you say goodbye to your home to insure they’ll be good and sick when the move happens, preferably with different illnesses to pass between themselves during leave.

Buy an industrial-sized box of toothbrushes from Sam’s Club with which to clean your garbage can according to the housing management company’s standards. 

Pin every possible restaurant, museum, and recreational facility near your new post on Pinterest because you’ll want to document how many things you never try to do. 

Schedule a haircut, a dental visit, chiropractic adjustment, oil change, date night, and that visit from the Mormons you’ve been putting off all on the same day because you’re moving and you’re not looking for a new stylist, dentist, chiropractor, mechanic, babysitter, or religion for at least two months after you get to the new post.

Eat chocolate and drink coffee. I personally don’t like coffee, but I make an exception for packing household goods. Java chip frappuccinos are my drug of choice until someone invents a portable caffeine IV drip. Get thee to a Starbucks.

And most of all, keep your sense of humor. Preferably dark humor. It’s the best kind.