What Does It Mean to Be Educated? A Guest Post by: Laura Wilder

image by Laura Wilder

image by Laura Wilder

As I’ve scrolled through Facebook these past couple of weeks, I've enjoyed seeing the photos of children as they head off to their first day of school. As with anything in the beginning there is so much potential, so much excitement, and perhaps some anxiety.

 “This is the year my child will learn to read. Just think what that will mean for him!” Or, “This is the year my child must learn to read. I can't help but think what it will mean for him if he doesn't.” 

 There is potential either way. There is seeming success and seeming failure. While I am not a state licensed educator, I am a person who has been educated via both a private school and a state school.

 I've been through our modern education system. I experienced failure and success, but was ultimately deemed an educated and successful product of the system upon my graduation. 

 But what does it mean to be educated? As children start back to school, how do we determine if they have been properly educated?

 Think for a moment, as a parent, what are your educational goals for your children this year? Learning to read? All A’s?  Obtaining a certain scholarship? Just passing to move on? 

Think for a moment, as an educator, what are your educational goals for your students this year? To be a safe place for them during the day? To help them learn basic life skills? To exceed the pass rate of standardized tests by a certain margin?  

 Whatever our goals, they reflect our philosophy regarding what it means to be educated. Perhaps we view education as knowing a certain set of facts and information. Maybe we take it a step further and define it as knowing a certain set of facts and information in order to develop original ideas. 

 Charlotte Mason, a great educator said, “The question is not, - how much does the youth know when he has finished his education- but how much does he care? And about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” 

We can agree there is no way to know everything. Google would not exist if we could know everything! Knowing a certain set of facts is not the determinate of being educated. 

The truly educated person has only had many doors of interest opened. He knows that life will not be long enough to follow everything fully.
— Susan Schaeffer Macaulay- For the Children's Sake

As a young girl I remember riding to school one morning complaining about having to learn. My dad tried to explain that learning is lifelong and a wonderful endeavor. But I wasn't buying it. I thought learning throughout my whole life sounded awful. “When would I just KNOW?”   

This was a long time ago, and my thinking has changed now, but how sad for a young person to feel tired of learning.

 My hope for my children, in regards to academia, is that they will always be curious, have an appetite for knowledge and not choose apathy. I am aware they will not love every subject. It’s not my desire that they do. They are individuals with unique personalities, interests, and gifts. 

My hope is to “spread the feast of a delectable education” before them in order that they keep their curiosity, grow a love for learning, and become the persons God made them to be, for his glory.

In my attempt to open many doors for them I plan to expose them to great works of art. I plan for us to listen to beautiful music by gifted composers. I plan to read, read, read! And not just read any thing but to read truly good books and poetry. I am selective in what we read even now as they are very young. 

Henry David Thoreau said, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” 

 I love being a mother for countless reasons but one thing I am enjoying most is learning with my children. I get to discover new books, see great works of art, and enjoy new music and poetry that I missed during the years of my formal education.

I get to really dive in to those subjects and ideas that may have just been touched on in my school days. My own children will have areas of interest that they will want to explore deeply as adults. Learning is an exciting facet of all of life. 

 As this new school year gets going, let’s consider what we want for our children and students. I agree, concrete goals can be good. Certainly aim for acquiring that new skill, aim for obtaining that scholarship. 

 But keep a higher ideal in mind, “The life of education has to include the whole of our humanness... His mind is the instrument of his education...his education does not produce his mind.” ­ Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

 Or as Miss Mason so strongly believed, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a LIFE.” May our children and students be truly educated this year. May they live life well and care. 

 

 

Your White Jesus Can't Touch Black Hearts

Why should we work to integrate the church? It seems like most believers, both black and white, are content to live and worship in separate communities. Why risk disrupting the peace of existing churches?

This is not a problem that can be solved easily or overnight. First we need to talk about why desegregation is necessary, and then how to move toward that goal. We must consider: why the church was segregated in the first place, why we are content to stay segregated, and what the segregated church says to the world.

How Did We Get Here?

In 1816 Richard Allen founded the first black denomination in the United States-- the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen was a freed slave who was allowed to purchase his freedom. After being freed he became a minister and was eventually employed by St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia as a pastor to its black members.

As the number of black church members increased, their presence in the church became troubling to the mostly white congregation. First the church forced the black members to leave their normal seats and sit around the wall.

Then one Sunday morning the black church members sat in the balcony above the area where they regularly sat.  As they knelt to pray the trustees of the church rushed toward them and telling them to get up because they "must not kneel here". 

After the prayer the black members left, never to return. In 1794, Richard Allen founded Bethel A.M.E. so that the black believers could worship freely. According to the AME church website, In order "to establish Bethel's independence from interfering white Methodists, Allen, a former Delaware slave, successfully sued in the Pennsylvania courts in 1807 and 1815 for the right of his congregation to exist as an independent institution." 

The AME church was the first of many black denominations founded by Christians unwilling to accept segregated seating and unequal treatment in the house of  God.  

 Why Are We Content to Stay Here?   

1. We Underestimate the Power of Our Inherited Baggage

Historically many denominations used the Bible to justify slavery. As a result the general public believed that black slaves were inferior and that the slave trade was doing them a favor by allowing them to serve in such a great nation.

Slaves were kept in their place by a Biblical interpretation that commanded absolute obedience on their part, while simultaneously giving their master's the divine right to view them as property to be bought and sold like common animals. 

The church's Biblical interpretation made it impossible for white Christians to accept black Christians as equals: especially inside the church. Not unlike today there were separate churches, separate neighborhoods, separate schools, and separate realities.

We are still paying the consequences for the misinterpretation of Biblical passages. We can't seem to shake the attitudes, actions, and in some cases the actual verses that aided the church in sin.    

2. Fear of Interracial Dating and Marriage

After the emancipation of the slaves there was an overwhelming fear that the races would intermarry-- particularly black men and white women. Black men were cast as rapist animals intent on forcing themselves upon white women. You can see it in movies of the time like the popular Birth of A Nation which was released in 1915. 

This fear fueled countless lynchings and unjust imprisonments during Reconstruction and in the time leading up to the Civil Rights movement. This view of African American men still haunts our church and our nation today.

Ida B. Wells, an African American journalist, anti-lynching advocate and women's suffragist who lived from 1862-1931, explained the situation in her famous pamphlet Southern Horrors: Lynch Law In All Its Phases .

"Ebenzer Fowler, the wealthiest colored man in Issaquena County, Miss., was shot down on the street in Mayersville, January 30, 1885, just before dark by an armed body of white men who filled his body with bullets. They charged him with writing a note to a white woman of the place, which they intercepted and which proved there was an intimacy existing between them. Hundreds of such cases might be cited, but enough have been given to prove the assertion that there are white women in the South who love the Afro-American's company even as there are white men notorious for their preference for Afro-American women. There is hardly a town in the South which has not an instance of the kind which is well known, and hence the assertion is reiterated that "nobody in the South believes the old thread bare lie that negro men rape white women." Hence there is a growing demand among Afro-Americans that the guilt or innocence of parties accused of rape be fully established."

Interracial dating and marriage are still touchy subjects within the church. Many believers tolerate interracial couples but would discourage their own children and grandchildren from marrying believers outside of their own race. 

 "Show me one place in the world where interracial or interethnic marriage is frowned upon and yet the two groups still have equal respect and honor and opportunity. I don’t think it exists. It won’t happen. Why? Because the supposed specter of interracial marriage demands that barrier after barrier must be put up to keep young people from knowing each other and falling in love. They can’t fellowship in church youth groups. They can’t go to the same schools. They can’t belong to the same clubs. They can't live in the same neighborhoods. Everybody knows deep down what is at stake here. Intermarriage is at stake." - John Piper- Racial Harmony and Interracial Marriage

3. Failure to Address Racial Issues Within Local Congregations

I've attended white Southern evangelical churches my entire life-- churches pastored by intelligent white men. But in the first 32 years of my life, I never once heard a sermon from the pulpit addressing issues of race or racism. I thank God for pastors like John Piper who are willing to tackle the subject. 

As one of the only black members in those congregations, I've experienced many things that have convinced me that racism is still an acceptable sin within the white church. A sin that many white pastors either fail to see or refuse to address.   

These issues of race affect just about everything in the church: bias towards communities of affluence in our church planting, who we choose as our pastors, elders, and church leaders, what programs are offered, and which projects our churches take on.  

4. Our Churches Are Focused On Personal Piety

The churches I've attended and the Christian organizations I've been a part of have largely been focused on discipleship. I think discipleship is very valuable. Learning to read, study, meditate on, and memorize the Scriptures is a good thing. Taking advice from people you respect is a good thing. Applying scripture to personal issues is a good thing, but it's not the whole of Christianity. 

We subconsciously believe that the good works God has called us to can be easily summed up in a regimen of good behavior and sound theology. We believe that the Church should only tend to the spiritual needs of the people who come through her doors. But how does God define pure and undefiled religion? 

We are supposed to be disciples of Jesus. He came down from heaven. He became poor for our sakes. He set aside his own glory to become like us, so that He might save us. He healed the sick, and caused the lame to walk and the blind to see. He cared for tangible needs as well as spiritual needs.

We may not live in heaven but for someone who grows up in the ghetto or in a poor rural town, our suburban enclaves look pretty stinkin' close. It's too easy for us to turn a blind eye to the poverty and other types of neediness within our communities and offer people an ethereal heaven in the future but no real hope for their present situations.

 We wait for the world to come to us with its needs instead of searching out people in need.  We prefer to gather a following of likeminded believers who will pat us on the back for our theology to getting our hands dirty helping people whose problems are so big and complex that we find ourselves in need of God's help.

I believe that as Christ's followers band together in prayer and action aimed at a broken world that desperately needs good news, there is a unity that surpasses color and denomination. We are able to get over ourselves and our preferences and get on with the hard work of true religion--looking after orphans and widows in their distress and keeping ourselves unstained by the wealth, power, and cultural preferences that have long ensnared the church.    

  What The Segregated Church Says To The World

 Unfortunately, White Jesus only cares about people who look like him. White Jesus eagerly gives money to aid foreign missions but often fails to consider the ghetto downtown as an area worthy of his attentions. White Jesus forcefully points out the sawdust in his brother's eye while living blissfully unaware of the plank that blinds him. He says "Let those gang bangers in the city kill each other, I don't care as long as my children are protected." What White Jesus doesn't see and understand can't really exist.

His arrogance prompts voices from around the world to cry out in frustrated unison that our White Idol is no more than a figure of our collective American imaginations. 

The Most Segregated Hour In America

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither slave nor free, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.
Galatians 3:27-28
"The church is a whore, but she is my mother"- St. Augustine

I love the church. Growing up it was my home away from home and the place where I made many lifelong friendships. It has also been a place where I've felt the most awkward and out of place because of my race. 

As I mentioned in my previous post, Growing Up In Black and White, I grew up attending a Pentecostal church full of predominately white families. For the most part, I loved it, and I never heard a racist comment from the pulpit.

But I did become very fluent in the Biblical passages that pertained to race. Every couple of years, a Sunday school teacher or a peer would dust off the old curse of Ham passage (Genesis 9:20-27) and create an uncomfortable half an hour for me.

The last time I heard that Genesis 9 passage taught, I was 25 years old at a single staff retreat with a Christian organization I worked for at the time. My staff partner's mother and grandmother used it in their lesson to the single women. I was the only black person there, and no one seemed realize what they were saying. I said nothing.   

Now there is a general consensus that slavery was wrong and needed to be abolished as an institution. But the Biblical passages used to justify slavery are still deeply ingrained in the psyche of American Christianity. While the passages are no longer used to justify slavery, they are still used as justification for the "inferiority" of the formerly enslaved.

My husband and I spent the first few years of our marriage attending a PCA church in Montgomery, AL. Before we were married (I'm married to a white Southerner), a former pastor and a few of the elders advised him not to marry me. They did this before they had even met me because they learned that I was black. We were married in 2009.

Thankfully, there were also elders who encouraged him to openly defy any racist advice he received: regardless of the source. There were also many families whom we loved and who welcomed me into the church with open arms.    

The church ought to be a place where every man and woman regardless of their class or race can stand as an equal before their Maker. But the church has been polluted; it became polluted when Christians began to use the the Bible to justify slavery. This justification made it difficult for believers in Southern churches to support the civil rights movement of the 1960's, and it makes it hard for them to accept black people into their church communities today.

"The unfortunate reality isn't that evangelical theology in the South was muted when it came to racial justice, it's that it was actively used to undermine justice and to perpetuate a demonic system. And that's the cruelest historical irony of it all: those who loved the "old rugged cross" were often also those who torched crosses in protest of desegregation."- Michael J. Hall (Ph.D., University of Kentucky, dean of Boyce College)    

There is real animosity between the white community and the black community. At the bottom of it all, I don't think it's about culture or worship styles. I think it's about unresolved issues that no one wants to talk about.

Our culture desperately needs to see a place where repentance and forgiveness bring about real change. They need to see a place where groups who have long been at odds can find real justice and true reconciliation.

The Church in America has forfeited much of its place as an agent of social justice. In many instances, we are known not for championing the poor, the homeless, the addicted, the oppressed, and the physically and mentally disabled, but for using political clout to mandate morality and our "Christian" schools to protect our children.  

It is time for judgement to begin with the house of God. It will not be easy, but I believe it's time to intentionally desegregate our churches.   

 

 

 

It's Not About White Guilt

I can feel that something's not right
I can feel that someone's blasting me with hate
And bass
Sendin' dirty vibes my way
'Cause my great great great great Grandad
Made someones' great great great great Grandaddies slaves
It wasn't my idea
It wasn't my idea
Never was my idea"

- Ben Folds- Rockin' the Suburbs

The Sins of The Father

Most white people I know aren't conscious or deliberate in their prejudices. These things are passed down almost unconsciously from generation to generation.  

In my opinion, one of the biggest barriers we face in having honest conversations about race is the idea that if whites acknowledge any injustice against the black community, black people will try to hold them personally responsible for it. 

For the most part black people aren't fighting for retribution, they're fighting for equality. It's not about feeling guilty for being white, or feeling sorry for what you have.

It's about acknowledging that the system of laws and rule and the social hierarchy that has afforded you some measure of success has also actively and intentionally held African-Americans back.

It's about using your advantage to partner with black citizens to change racist systems so that they can have as much opportunity and freedom as white Americans.  

Systemic Racism

Intellectually everyone knows that discrimination and bigotry are wrong. But all of us, myself included, carry around prejudices we are blind to.

 When prejudices are held by groups with power they become ingrained in institutions like the government, churches, and businesses.  Groups of people stay unemployed and poorly educated.  It becomes a system of racism: a system designed to make sure African American men and women don't get ahead.

Everyone wants to avoid angry black people. Why are they angry? They are angry because there has been no sustained justice in their struggle for equality.

They are angry because when they point out inequality in the educational system, the housing system, in job hiring practices, and in interpersonal interactions they are accused of talking about a make-believe problem.

From the Reconstruction Era until today, history is littered with half measures that gave the appearance of offering equality to black citizens but in reality did very little to help. From the Forty Acres and A Mule initially promised freed slaves, to the failures of Brown vs. the Board of Education, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 the problems of oppression and inequality have not been solved. We are still a nation of separate and unequal.

"Most of us do not share life space with other races or classes. And we do not own up to the often gaping inequality that results from this separation because, being physically removed from those who most suffer the costs of separatism, we cannot acknowledge what we do not see." - Sheryll Cashin, law professor at Georgetown University in The Failures of Integration

Resegregation

I find the inequality in educational opportunities particularly troubling. Many powerful people believe that the days of educational inequality are done and have moved to lift court orders that require integration.

In 1972, due to strong federal enforcement, only about 25 percent of black students in the South attended schools in which at least nine out of 10 students were racial minorities. In districts released from desegregation orders between 1990 and 2011, 53 percent of black students now attend such schools according to an analysis by ProRepublica - Nicole Hannah Jones, reporter for the New York Times Magazine in Segregation Now

If you want to know what happens in 2016 when black families try to secure a better education for their children in affluent school districts, I cannot recommend The Problem We All Live With highly enough. 

It's not so much that minority students need to be close to the white skin of their peers; they need the benefit of the opportunities, the experienced teachers, and the funding they don't receive in their inferior neighborhood schools.  

We are all in this together. The inequality and instability that have become the hallmark of black urban neighborhoods threaten the stability of our entire country. We must come together to find solutions to this pressing problem.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, feel free to comment below and check out my previous writing on this topic: Growing Up In Black and White and I Make No Apologies for Black Urban Culture.

I Make No Apologies for Black Urban Culture

 "It's not that I don't like black people. I just dislike the way they talk, dress, behave, and carry themselves."

Many white people I know are disgusted by urban black culture. They have an inordinate fear of black men and an assumption that black people are mostly lazy, loud, disrespectful, crude, entitled, unrefined, and culturally inferior in every way. 

Who Are These People In Our Streets?

A people of sorrows who are well acquainted with grief. The music and movies that depict life in the ghetto are gritty and full of profanity and lewd situations. From the outside they seem to glorify gang violence and drugs, but what if the music and movies are simply a stark reflection of what everyday life looks like for people who grow up in these forgotten places?  

In 1619, the first African slaves were sold to British colonists in Jamestown, Virginia. Forty-three years later, Virginia passed the Law of Heredity; it stated that any child born to a female slave inherited their mother's slave status. 

After 245 years of legal slavery here in North America ex-slaves found themselves no longer African but also barred from taking part in the America they had helped to build with their own hands. 

A People Without a Place

Many ex-slaves migrated to cities across the country in search of work; many were attempting to escape the clutches of Jim Crow. But the federal government stepped in and made sure they were unable to get ahead.

"The major reason we have ghettos in every metropolitan area in this country is because federal, state, and local governments purposefully created racial boundaries in these cities. It was not the unintended effect of benign policies. It was the explicit racially purposeful policy pursued at all levels of government, and that's the reason we have ghettos today. We are reaping the fruits of these policies."- Richard Rothstein (research associate at the Economic Policy Institute)

Public Housing under the New Deal

During the Great Depression, whites and blacks alike were in need of jobs and housing. The government provided segregated housing. Unfortunately much of this segregated housing was built in areas that were integrated, creating segregation where none existed before. 

Federal Housing Administration

Around the same time the Federal Housing Administration financed loans, with low interest rates, for builders who were mass producing homes in the suburbs. They attached clauses in the loans that kept black families from buying the homes. They also prevented white families from reselling their homes to black families in the future. 

The GI Bill and the Making of White Suburban Enclaves

After WWII, the GI bill allowed many lower class whites to purchase homes and secure jobs in the suburbs. Unfortunately blacks were prevented from both buying homes and securing jobs outside the city.

Black families were quarantined in ghettos, and because there were so many of them in such a small space, housing prices rose. They paid much higher rent than white families in comparable living conditions. There was also high unemployment because there were few job opportunities for blacks.

People living in the ghetto didn't have equal access to public services. The police department frequently ignored complaints of vandalism and robbery. The Sanitation Department often did not pick up trash. 

Fair Housing Act of 1968

In the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther KIng Jr. the federal government passed the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Making it illegal to discriminate "in the sale, rental or financing of dwellings based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin," according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

While the act was a great step forward, many blacks could no longer afford the appreciated homes in the suburbs. And those with the means to move out of the ghetto still had to deal with zoning laws, committees on segregation, neighborhood associations, and city governments who were working together to keep blacks out of white neighborhoods.   

For more information about housing discrimination please read:

The Making of Ferguson - By: Richard Rothstein

The Case for Reparations - By: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Redlining: Still A Thing - By: Emily Badger

Living In A Poor Neighborhood Changes Everything About Your Life - By: Alvin Chang

"If black people would just work harder and learn to speak maybe they could do better for themselves."

This attitude reflects a severe disconnect with the history of our country. We need to stop blaming teenagers with sagging pants for centers of urban poverty. Black people never chose to live in these conditions.

Many blacks feel like American society will never be willing to accept them as actual Americans. I've been corresponding with Jason Jett, my brother and one of funniest, and most intelligent black men I know about the issue of race. Here's some of what he had to say,

 "For example, when I was a teenager, one of the big topics was the confederate flag. Many of the people who I grew up with said it was a part of their heritage and not meant to be racial. Cut to last year when that kid murdered those black people in church and NOW everyone wants to cut their confederate ties because the world watched it happen. So which is it, heritage or hate? In my opinion, a lot of their heritage is hatred. 

One other example, our family goes back literally hundreds of years in the Louisiana. I was born in New Orleans, raised 30 miles north of Atlanta, and now I live in Florida.  My grandfather was one of the first 5-6 black attorneys in Louisiana and one of the first to have his own practice. My other grandfather fought in Europe during WW2 and served his country as a postman for almost 50 years in the South. Both of my parents graduated from Tulane University.  And yet no one would consider me to be Southern. Especially "Southerners".  It is also a label that I have never wanted and looked on with scorn. That's race in this country to me. It is not based on any form of reality.  

Now if I try to be honest with most white people about this or anything else that they don't understand or makes them uncomfortable, I become a troublemaker. Maybe I am. They ask me to ignore race and keep working hard. But race is what I am. It is the paradigm that I have been placed in by American society."

There is a pervasive myth in America, the myth that we live in a colorblind society where everyone has equal opportunities. That myth can only be perpetuated in affluent enclaves that teach a whitewashed version of history.

Don't like black culture? It may be because you are unwilling to face the truth about America. The truth is that this country and its wealth have built been through the enslavement and oppression of minorities.

I've got more to say, so I'll be back again next week to talk about race. I've been overwhelmed by the emails and messages I've received in response to this series on race. I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions. This is an an issue that affects us all.     

 

 

Growing Up in Black and White

Race is something I’ve done my best to ignore for the greater part of my life.  I've always wanted to keep my head down, work hard, and be above using the "race card."

So why I am I talking about race now? Slavery was abolished 151 years ago. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960's helped to bring down legalized segregation. Can't we put this topic of discussion down to rest?

No, not when school districts across the country are being released from their desegregation orders and 53% of black students attend schools where at least 9 out of 10 students are minorities according to a study by ProPublica .  

A big part of the problem lies in the denial that there is a problem.

"I'd hate to be black", "You're the whitest black girl, I've ever met", "We always laugh and call you Hilary Banks." These are a small sampling of the remarks I heard from friends and teachers growing up. It was these off-handed comments that first made me think something was wrong with me.   

My parents grew up in a black neighborhood in New Orleans, but they moved to the predominantly white suburbs outside of Atlanta, Ga when I was a baby.

They are both professionals-- an engineer and a speech pathologist: a fact that always seemed to amaze and sometimes offend the parents of my friends. They have always been hardworking and frugal, so my siblings and I were well provided for.

I only ever knew a handful of black families besides my own. We lived, worked, worshiped, and received our educations in a community filled with white families. And I’m not complaining: I thoroughly enjoyed my childhood.

I never felt like I fit the mold of the white culture around me, and I didn’t really see myself in the stereotypes of African American, urban culture either. However, I was always fortunate enough to find people to love and people who loved me.

The issue of race became more pronounced as I entered middle school and high school. People started coupling off, and I was pretty boy crazy. I never met a set of parents who were happy when their southern white son brought me home. 

 "I can’t believe you like white guys," I heard it more times than I can count.

I would have dated a black guy but, unfortunately there were about four black guys in our school and one of them was my brother.  Why would anyone care-- unless of course they viewed one group as superior and the other as inferior? 

I grew up being the "exception" to many people, and as such I was able to get to know and love many people who are racists (everyone has their issues). In many cases I became a sounding board for them to air their grievances and frustrations about the black people they work with and the blacks in and around their communities.   

My friend’s parents loved telling me how different I was from the other black people they knew-- thinking they were paying me a compliment. They didn’t realize that by telling me how great I was they were telling me that they didn’t think my people were worth anything.

The only people who think that race is no longer an issue are the people who are benefitting (even if they don't realize it) from the oppression of minorities. The good old days were only good for the people in power: the oppressors. I've heard it said that, "privilege gained from oppression feels like discrimination when it’s taken away."  

The animosity between white and black communities is as commonplace as breathing here in the US. It's one of the many ways that our society is broken. Many would say that we should leave the issue alone and leave the communities to live segregated. But without seeking to fix this problem, we will never experience real peace.

I'll be writing about race again next week. Do you think true integration can work in the US? What do you think are the biggest barriers? 

 

 

 

Reaching Across the Divide

Anyone living here in the United States will tell you, there are mounting tensions playing in the background of our lives. As politicians gear up for another election year their claims, promises, and perceptions of life are driving an already fractured country apart along lines of socioeconomic class, religion, gender, and race.  

 It has become clear that ordinary people have little say in what goes on in Washington. Voters are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the polarized 2 party system. According to the Gallup Polls in 2015, 42% of Americans identify as independents while 26% identify as Republicans, and 29% identify themselves as Democrats. 

The current political landscape is ripe with fear mongering and power plays. Politicians are winning votes by keeping voters distracted and discontent.

So what are we to do? What should we fight for? I am certainly not here to tell you who to vote for, but above it all, I believe we should be fighting for understanding and openness within our local communities and within our country. 

Love and Kindness are Radical Forces

We are one nation. If we want to stay united the only way forward is together.

The talking heads are trying to get us to place blame. They want us to blame the other side (whoever that may be) for all the ills of society. 

For several years our nation has lived with a political system that views the inability to compromise as a strength. If you will not compromise then you must believe that you are 100% right. No one in their right mind can make that claim.

We are All Wrong

We all have much to learn. In one way or another we all have blind spots. We all come to the table with unique life experiences and perspectives. It's impossible to see the bigger picture of what's really going on in our nation without each other.

Fight the Power

While our "leaders" are doing their best to tear us apart, we must refuse to hate our supposed enemies. Instead we should resolve to try and understand them.

Start small. We must seek out people with viewpoints that offend us and befriend them.

Listen. We should delight in listening to their funny stories, their hopes and dreams for the future, and the places where they have been wounded and hurt. Revel in our shared humanity. Only then can we engage in friendly conversation and debate. Be open to learn.

Fight. We have to fight to love our neighbors. Fight against the very human tendency to think we're better than the people we demonize. 

Let's let our love be bigger than our outrage and fear

 

 

 

This is my mom

Becoming a mother has made me appreciate my own mother in a new and beautiful way. Mostly, I've realized how much I've taken her care, love, and support for granted. 

The sleep she lost when I was sick, the time she spent driving me and sometimes my friends around from activity to activity, the cleaning of my poopy diapers, and the time spent listening to me talk incessantly about middle school drama, then eventually highschool drama, college drama, and now motherhood drama: these things I haven't thought twice about are things that were costly for her. 

When I think back on my childhood and growing up years I can't help but notice that my life bears the deep marks of my mother's presence. 

I remember her voice. I can't remember a day of my life when she wasn't reading to me. She's always had a way with words. She was always making up little songs and playing word games.

She loves to talk. I spent half of my childhood waiting for her to finish conversations in church parking lots, backstage at my dance recitals, and in school hallways.

Eavesdropping on her conversations became a hobby of mine, and what I learned mostly was how to empathize with and encourage other people. 

I remember coming home from school in the second or third grade curious about a new batch of words I'd heard from some friends. She was ironing shirts in the kitchen while I rattled off the four or five cuss words I knew. She matter of factly told me exactly what the words meant and kept the conversation moving, no nonsense, no judgement just honesty. 

I remember her small hands and the way her thick gold wedding band looked against the pigment of her brown skin: and her well manicured fingernails . Her hands were never very still. They were washing dishes, cooking meals, mopping the floor, cleaning bathrooms, and writing in her journal. She was either a flurry of activity or fast asleep.

She wasn't perfect . At times she yelled and got frustrated, at times she misunderstood and misinterpreted. But so did I. We didn't always see eye to eye but she was always there. 

Now living thousands of miles away from my mother I can see how much of my life has been shaped by all the quiet hours I spent at home with her: working beside her, telling her all of my troubles and fears.

It's easy to get anxious about whether or not I'm doing enough for my children, but thinking back the thing I needed most from my mother was her presence and that is what she gave me.       

I love you mom!

A Letter To Myself (Postpartum)


Dear Renee,

You had a baby two months ago, don't expect to look like a supermodel today. Stop cringing when you catch your reflection in the huge full length mirror in your apartment's lobby. Stop checking skinny women out and pining for their flat stomachs and thin thighs. That's just not where you are today.

Self loathing isn't sexy or productive. It usually just drives you to down a pint of ice cream or way too much chocolate...and the cycle continues. You're not getting much sleep, and you're living on the fumes of sugar and caffeine. 

It would be easy to fall into one of two camps. You could become super obsessed with the way you look: count every calorie and become an exercise Nazi. Sure the weight would probably fall right off, but would it be sustainable weight loss? 

 Or, you could throw in the towel and quit caring altogether. You could trade all your cute outfits for shapeless clothing and forget about ever getting made up again: because who even sees you these days besides your kids (right!?).

There is another way, and it is simple but not easy. Eat healthy whole foods in proper portions and get plenty of exercise. Everyday. Don't get over zealous and cut out every food you enjoy. Enjoy sweets and treats in moderation. 

You'll have bad days. Your kids will all be screaming in some kind of chaotic disonate symphony, and you will eat your entire chocolate stash in one sitting.  Your husband will persuade you to order and eat pizza with him late at night. It's ok, just don't give up.

The truth is that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, and gluttony coupled with inactivity will kill you. 

It's ok to want to get back into your skinny jeans-- that's not vain. Don't worry about it. Try to be faithful and be a good steward of the body you've been given. Let that be enough.

Keep it simple; you've got other things to deal with,

Renee 


  

This Pregnancy Thing

I have finally hit the sweatpants, yoga pants, and all things jersey knit portion of my pregnancy. Being a stay at home mom, I usually like to dress cute. It makes me feel good, and I'm always more productive when I don't feel like I'm wearing my pj's.

 Pregnancy is a different bird. I have had round ligament pain, back pain, or sciatica during all four of my pregnancies. By the time I'm feeling as big as a house, I have to seek comfort where I can find it--be it in yoga pants or key lime pie.

This pregnancy has been a difficult one for me mentally. After giving birth to our third son, we knew our family wasn't complete, but I had decided to take a year or two off from the baby-making because I was feeling a bit rundown.

Constantly being pregnant or nursing for three and a half years can really take it out of you, and my body was feeling it. But being the Fertile Myrtle that I am, we ended up pregnant again VERY much on accident.

I'm incredibly happy to have this sweet baby girl, but I must admit that the first couple of months I felt trapped. It's not that I didn't want the baby, I just didn't want to be pregnant. My reluctance to suffer through the initial pregnancy nausea and exhaustion only amplified my discomfort.

I was kicking against the goads: fighting the inevitable and losing every step of the way. I didn't have an epiphany or a turning point that changed everything. I've struggled off and on with every change and pain my body has endured. Pregnancy is just not easy.

I enjoyed my first pregnancy immensely--partly because everything was new and exciting. But each subsequent pregnancy has felt harder and harder in part because I've had more little ones to care for and less time to relax.

All that being said, pregnancy is a perfect prelude to holding that bundle of preciousness in your arms. Pain and joy seem to be inseparably intertwined in the mystery that is motherhood.

In my experience, there has been no growth or maturity in my children without discomfort on my part. This is true of both physical growth in pregnancy and their general growth outside of the womb. Sleep training, potty training, the "terrible" 2's or 3's, and training my babies to obey: each stage and milestone is difficult to achieve, but there is so much joy on the other side of the pain.

Once that baby has been conceived, (in most cases) there is no turning back. I remember standing in the bathroom with my husband the night we found out we were pregnant with our oldest son. He was ecstatic, and I was just standing there in shock thinking: "This baby is inside of me right now, and there is only one exit ramp."

The weight of being someone's mother is something that no one can ever fully prepare you for: the worry, the responsibility, all the mixed emotions, the mommy guilt, the mommy comparison trap, the attachment, the love, and the pride.

 I took my two oldest sons to the playground one day when I was pregnant with our third son. Owen, our oldest, ran up to a group of kids who were running around together and tried to strike up a conversation.

The other children tried to ignore him, but when he didn't get the picture they started running away from him. He had no idea what was going on, so he proceeded to chase them. Finally one of the older kids said, "Everyone can play except you." Then he pointed at my son.

I quickly grabbed him and told him that we were leaving the park. I packed my babies into the stroller and headed home. While I was sprinting away, I heard the bully's mom put the smack down on him (thank goodness). She even yelled an apology to us, but I was booking it because I didn't want anyone to see me sobbing.

After everything, it never really registered with my three year old that the kids at the park had rejected him. I couldn't help but think about all the rejection he will inevitably face in his lifetime without me there to shield him from it. I hate that my children are growing up in a world where they will experience hurt at the hands of others.  And where they will inevitably also turn their hands to hurt.

Things that I would simply ignore and gloss over if they happened in my own life take on fresh meaning and significance when they happen to one of my children. 

So when they delight in a new friend, blow bubbles, or wrestle with their daddy, I am as elated in their delight as I would be if it were my own experience. 

Its like my babies are attached to me with an invisible emotional umbilical cord that no one will ever be able to sever.

In the same way that  pregnancy softens my body, every stage of raising my children has softened my heart. Dealing with all of their needs, joys, issues, and hurts has opened my heart to more love than I can contain at times. 

Trying to understand my little people has given me a greater understanding of myself and other people along with a wider capacity for compassion. 

Swimming Lessons

Now that summer has wound down for all intents and purposes, I've been reflecting a bit about what we did and learned. One of the more harrowing summer events for both me and my oldest son was swimming lessons.

 There's a great indoor pool within walking distance of our house that offered swimming lessons all summer long for $30 a session. The price could not be beat! So I signed poor Owen up since he was the only one of our children who fit within the age requirements.

 I knew it would be bad, we had him in lessons this winter and he cried and complained the whole time. I braced myself for the worst, but even I didn't realize just how bad it would be this time around.

The thing is, our son just wasn't comfortable going all the way under water. In the classes he took a few months ago they were more gradual with the whole process. They blew bubbles in the water, kicked, started to learn some basic floating; then the very last skill they practiced was jumping in the water. When they jumped in, the teacher would let them go under for a brief second before catching them.

Because of our travel schedule this summer, I was only able to sign him up for the final session of lessons: so maybe they were a bit more gradual in the first weeks. His teachers started every class off by making each child bob under water 3 times. This sent my boy into hysterics! He screamed his head off and refused to do it--so his teacher did it with him. Afterwards he continued to scream, cry, and refuse to do anything his teacher asked of him.

Owen became very skilled in the art of stalling. Once we got to the pool he would immediately request to go to the bathroom (which confused me because he always went before we left the house). One morning, I decided to be all tough love on him, and I told him "NO". He then promptly proceeded to poop in his pants.

I was humiliated. I considered just giving up on the lessons, but what kind of lesson would that teach my child. "Son, when things get hard, when you feel like you're in over your head, and you feel out of control, just give up." I knew this experience wouldn't kill him (maybe just scar him a little), so I decided we'd soldier on.

The first person I had to deal with was myself. Of course I wanted my boy to succeed in swimming, but mostly I just wanted him to stop screaming, crying, and causing a general ruckus in the middle of the aquatic center. I was embarrassed. I was annoyed. I was angry. How had I failed in my mothering and nurturing of him to such an extent that he was afraid of the water?

Whoa now Renee! This whole thing is not about you and your real or imagined failures. Stop thinking about what all the other moms with the adventurous and fearless little tykes think of your parenting chops, and start actually helping your son.

Well, telling him to stop crying over and over again was NOT helping. I tried assuring him that he wouldn't drown since mommy and his teacher were both watching him like a hawk. We talked about being brave at home and prayed on our walk to the pool every morning, but fear still had him  paralyzed.

Then one morning my neighborhood mom friend randomly came over and talked to Owen while he was having one of his mini panic attacks. Instead of telling him to calm down and assuring him that everything was going to be ok, she asked him to tell her the names of his classmates. Then she showed him how to cheer for them and encourage them while he was waiting to get in the water. Genius I tell you!

Immediately he calmed way down. He watched his classmates, and he got to know a few of them. It was like a giant light bulb went off in his head--there are other people in my class besides me and they are going through the same thing I am. That realization was enough to break through his shell of self-pity and fear.

I'm not going to say that everyday after that was rainbows and roses, but it was a start. Finally I knew where to start. Helping him to get his eyes off of himself, and onto others was the first step in overcoming his fear. By the end of his sessions, he hadn't mastered every skill, but he had been able to attempt to do everything his teachers asked of him calmly; that was HUGE! 

Motherhood is a Team Sport

Mother's Day was a couple of months ago, and while everyone was praising the incredible feats of all the moms they know, I was thinking about how if I've learned anything in my four years of motherhood, I've learned that I can't be everything for my children.

I am the mother of three little ones with a  fourth on the way. I am by no means an expert on parenting, motherhood, or discipline. I just love them as best I can, apologize a whole lot and pray that I'm covering the right bases. One of the of the biggest things I see on a daily basis is my own limitations.

I think I've felt this weird pressure as a stay-at-home mom to wear every hat under the sun, and to give my kids every experience and viewpoint. In this age of do it yourself everything, I'm realizing just how essential a strong community is to child-rearing.

So many of us have become lone-ranger moms, but Hillary Clinton was right when she quoted that old African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child."

 We recently moved several hours away from family, and it would be all too easy for me to simply get through my days without interacting with anyone outside of my immediate family (and trust me I have days like that). But, making and meeting up with other friends in my stage of life is not only good for my sanity, it's good for my children.

I want to be a constant in my children's lives--a source of unconditional love and support--,but I cannot be EVERYTHING to and for them. Raising them within a vibrant and rich community will teach them how much they need the love and support of other people.

It also discourages autonomy: the belief that they live outside the authority of others. In order to be truly productive members of society, our children must learn to submit to the authority of teachers, policemen, future bosses as well as civil and governmental authorities.

 I'll admit it, trusting other people with my children is scary. Hiring a babysitter for the first time was a HUGE deal for me. We're talking background check, references, the works. But, I'm talking less about dropping your kids off at someone else's house and more about just making and maintaining friendships with good people that your kids can learn from organically.

When I think back on my own childhood, I can remember so many of the wonderful things I learned from adults that weren't my parents. My mom actually met my best friend's mom when they were teaching our toddlers Sunday school class at church. They hit it off and ended up encouraging our friendship outside the walls and halls of the church building.  I spent a lot of time at my best friend's house growing up. Without knowing it and without really trying, her mom became a second mother to me.

My mom is an incredible, well-educated, eloquent, and quick witted woman. She passed down her love of reading and thinking to me. Watching Mrs. Leonard taught me about beauty, presentation, and hospitality. Walking into the Leonard's home was like walking into the pages of Country Living magazine. Spending time in their home taught me to love so many truly southern things like sweet tea and tasteful antiques.

We cannot do this thing called motherhood alone!

I'll admit it, striking up genuine adult friendships is no easy task. I've found that limited time and lack of shared history often derail potential friendships and keep conversation shallow. Even if I do strike gold and hit it off with another actual adult, its often more comfortable for me to sit back and wait for them to initiate a deeper friendship than to be proactive.

 I don't have the whole community thing figured out, but I know that I need it and my family needs it. All I can tell you is that half of the time I'm resolved to initiate, text, call, and invite people into our home. I'm resolved to pray and put in the effort to make friendships work. The other half of the time I'm laying on the couch eating ice-cream and watching movies.

There's this Abundant Mama Mantra floating around Pinterest saying simply, "I am enough."

Well I'll tell you that I am simply not enough.

Thank God for fathers, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, influential adults, teachers, pastors, neighbors, babysitters and friends. And thank God for their many and varied gifts, abilities, and weaknesses because each will make a deep and enriching impression on the minds and hearts of my little ones.

The weight of responsibility for the lives of my babies weighs heavily upon me every day, and I am held up, in part, by the strength of my team. Keep building your team ladies, and I'll try to keep building mine.

Summer Centers: The Beans Edition


All I can say is that its HOT here in Charleston! I have some little boys who love to play outside, but during the heat of the day even they don't want to venture out. I was just letting them run around the house and play after lunch time, but the screaming, the gigantic mess, and general chaos started getting to me.

I'm not super crafty or anything, but I thought maybe I could come up with something to keep them occupied and learning something constructive. So, with the help of Pinterest, I've been coming up with four learning centers we can work on everyday for a week before I change them out.  I try to gather all necessary materials on Sunday night. During the week, I get my boys to clean them up before nap time everyday so that the whole thing isn't too labor intensive for me. 

They love it! This week our theme was beans (kinda weird I know). Our first center was a bean sorting station. I filled a jar halfway full with beans of different colors. I got out a muffin tin and let the boys sort the beans together. By the end of the week they knew the names of all our beans-- kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, and white beans.


Our second center was a craft where they spelled one letter of their names each day with cardboard, glue, and beans. We do a good deal of our grocery shopping at Costco, so I cut up some boxes we had hanging around to make a good sturdy base for the letters. We're planning to hang those on the wall in their bedroom when they are finished.


 Our third center was a sensory bucket filled with beans. I added some measuring cups and spoons and let them go to town. I was surprised by how much the boys loved this station. They loved running their fingers through the beans and pretending to cook meals for one another.


Our fourth and final center was buttoning and zipping station. I let them dress up in some of Daddy's clothes while they learn to zip and button. I figure if we can learn these little practical lessons soon enough Mama won't have to help them get dressed!


 Getting through all the centers takes about 30 minutes to an hour each day depending on how 'into it' they are. I thought maybe by the end of the week, I could let them rotate independently while I did laundry or cleaned house but that never worked out. My four year old could probably work through them independently, but my two year old definitely needs me there to keep him on task. They also just enjoy spending the time doing an activity with me. Even if both my older boys are engaged in their activities, my baby boy is crawling around on the floor trying to eat fallen beans. I was constantly scooping him up to prevent death by choking. 

The challenge for me is to find activities that both of my boys can enjoy while also being able to modify them for their different skill levels. Do you have any fun ideas for Summer Centers? I'd love to hear about them!! 

Maturity

One Sunday afternoon a month or two ago, we had some friends over for lunch. They began asking us about life lately which, inevitably for me, ended at children and motherhood. Our friends are married but don't have any kids.

The wife admitted to me that the way she had heard mothers complain about their kids didn't exactly make her want to go out and get pregnant. Her comment got my wheels turning.

Then a few weeks ago I saw

this video

circulating on Facebook. While it is humorous, it encourages couples to consider not having children in order to avoid anxiety and stress in their lives.

I'll be the first to tell you that caring for children can sometimes entail quite a bit of anxiety and stress. Motherhood is not for the squeamish.

I deal with body fluids, tantrums, midnight demands, and sickness on a very regular basis. It's just not glamorous. Motherhood is a discipline.

But somewhere in the midst of all the things you force yourself to do as a parent, this beautiful trust and camaraderie forms between you and your child. They come to realize that there is no storm you will not weather with them

. Your arms and your shoulders become their place of safety and rest. The end of the discipline is delight. I wouldn't trade a lifetime of amazing sleep for that.

All of these things have been making me think quite a bit about the aim of adulthood in our society. It seems like the current anthem of our culture is, "follow your heart," "do what you love", and "follow your arrow".

I think there's something wonderful and liberating about doing what you love, but only an affluent and relatively peaceful people have that kind of luxury.

 Being an adult is not about finally being able to do exactly what you want to do all the time.  Sometimes you've got to get over yourself and do the things that you need to do but don't want to do.

Your heart will not lead you to clean puke off of your child's carpet and sheets. Your arrow won't point you in the direction of toddler's out of control temper tantrum.

Living a life that avoids all discomfort will make you a shallow and immature human being.

I think part of maturity is knowing when to put aside personal ambition, pride, and even your own likes and dislikes because someone needs you. I've experienced this a great deal in motherhood because my babies are always here and always making their needs known.

I'm not saying parenthood equals maturity.  Plenty of immature people ignore their children and choose to focus the bulk of their energy and passion on their careers, or their looks, or in pursuit of power or status of some kind. And I know plenty of childless folk who are very mature.

I would argue that the pinnacle of adult maturity does not lie in achieving our dreams. Our dreams, motives, and ambitions need to be critically examined because most of our deepest desires concern only ourselves.

We're good at networking: at using other people to get what we want. We're good at controlling the perceptions of those around us. We end up using each other as twisted mirrors to examine and measure ourselves.

"To the immature, other people are not real"- Harry Overstreet

 We are terrible at just being interested and open to other people without giving a thought about what they are thinking about us.

Friendship is an arena where I definitely struggle to love this way. It's easier to keep people at an arms length, to share only the good, or at least just the minor and already resolved struggles (the ones that don't make me look completely insane).

I think this is one reason why I experience loneliness. Needy people are awkward and they make other people uncomfortable.

They can be seen and experienced as a burden: except by those who truly love them.  This is why I find myself so often fighting to appear capable and strong, but I'm learning that keeping up appearances is what keeps me isolated.

Maybe maturity is more than just meeting needs but also being willing to identify myself as one in need: to be a comrade and a brother to all who walk the earth, standing in solidarity as a humanity riddled with weakness.

Lessons from my Husband: A Reflection on our First 5 Years

How can I sum up our first five years of marriage? It feels like 5 minutes ago and 500 years ago all at once.  4 houses, 2 states, 3 children... I've changed; we've changed.

 When we got married, we were madly in love. Don't get me wrong, we're still in love, but much of the madness has faded. Now we are able to see each other and our life together through more realistic spectacles. 

In the early days we were much more focused on adoring one another. These days, we're more focused on laughing about our babies, remembering what God has done in our lives, and enjoying good food, wine, conversation, and experiences.

We are painfully normal. We go through ups and downs. Like any other couple, there are times when we disagree, we take each other for granted, we don't feel connected, and we miss out on opportunities to spend time together.

But, being a front row participant in my husband's life has taught me so much. Listening to his struggles, following his (sometimes complicated) thought processes, and experiencing life's joys and pain with him has been an education.

In honor of our fifth anniversary, I'll share five things I've learned while living with and loving Jonathan Henson.

1. Be reasonable

My husband loves to talk, and he can talk to anyone. He especially loves to talk to people who hold beliefs that differ from his. He doesn't engage these people because he believes that he can crush their arguments. He enjoys these conversations because he believes that he has as much to learn as he has to share.

 On more occasions than I can count I've sat listening to him talk to people in our dining room, in local bars and restaurants, and wherever he happens to strike up conversation. People always leave him feeling challenged but loved.

 It's easy to demonize people who are different: to laugh at their "ignorance", to assume their simple stupidity.  We forget that every person is made in the image of God and therefore reflects that image in some way. There is much that we can learn, see the good, challenge the evil.

2. Fire and Motion

It's a catchphrase around our house that was inspired by this article written by Joel Spolsky-- who is one of my husband's software engineering heroes. It means: don't expect to be wildly productive everyday, but keep moving forward. Fire at your enemy and keep moving. Gain a little ground everyday and one day the battle will be won.

3. Never stop learning

When we first got married Jonathan was focused on going to seminary.  Then he landed a job in software development and the rest is history. He fell in love. So with the same vigor he used to plumb the depths of weighty theological issues, he threw himself into C, C++, Java, MySQL, and plenty of other things I still don't understand.

The man solves math problems and writes programs for fun in his free time. He loves to learn and expand his mental capacities, and I love to eat chips and watch movies. He has inspired me to read more, think more, and stop squandering my gifts.

4. His name is Jonathan not Jesus

This is a lesson I seem to learn over and over again. In my mind our relationship should always feel deeply connected and wildly passionate. I want to stay up till 3am every night having amazing conversations. I want to know every detail of his day. I want him to text me funny stories about his co-workers all day and pictures of what he ate for lunch.

 The reality is that we are two deeply flawed people who work hard all day and have three young children. We work beside each other and don't always have time or energy. I cannot look to my husband to fill every need I have for love, validation, or even companionship. If I do this I will suck him dry.

Jonathan sent me a sweet letter with this Bob Dylan quote enclosed while we were dating. It was after our first fight about my not feeling connected. I wish I could say this conflict doesn't come up anymore, but it does. The last line he added himself.

 Go ’way from my window

Leave at your own chosen speed

I’m not the one you want, babe

I’m not the one you need

You say you’re lookin’ for someone

Never weak but always strong

To protect you an’ defend you

Whether you are right or wrong

Someone to open each and every door

But it ain’t me, babe

No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe

It ain’t me you’re lookin’ for, babe

....It's Jesus

5. Embrace your limitations

This is a lesson we've been learning together over the past 5 years. We're learning that God honors our faithfulness more than our ambition. We want to do so much, change so much, and we think we have good ideas.

But we're finding that we only have time to do our jobs, care for our children, love our neighbors, pray to our God, and fall into bed so we have the strength to do it again the next day. This is my husband's favorite quote from The Hobbit and it just about sums it up:

 Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? I don't know. Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage. -- Gandalf, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

In Life There Are No Static Characters

I had a good Thanksgiving! It took us six hours to arrive at the family feast. Normally I don't mind a road trip, but now that we have three baby boys I can't help but cringe at the thought of extended car rides.

Surprisingly, it was by far the most pleasant car trip we've taken in a while-- thanks in part to the steady stream of cartoons my hubbs kept rolling on his laptop. Who says technology doesn't have its advantages?

I love my family, but family gatherings can be a source of anxiety for me. My goal for this trip was to be as pleasant as possible. I didn't want to be overly sensitive to the remarks of others or knowingly pick any fights. Honestly, I didn't completely succeed, but that's another story for another day.

After a great conversation with a family member that I don't always see eye to eye with, I realized something. When I think about my life, I am the dynamic character: always changing, growing and learning. But aside from those in my inner circle, I unconsciously think of everyone else as a static character. They're all destined to be defined in my mind by some past behavior, impression, or attitude.

Thinking this way, especially about family members, creates an odd sense of stability. I know where everyone stands, and no matter what they do I can mentally keep them in their assigned categories. It makes loved ones one dimensional and easy to define and stereotype.

It makes it easy to give up on family relationships and think, "That's just the way they are." It makes it easy to stop praying and believing that change is possible. This mindset leaves no room for empathy or understanding another person's unfolding story.

Thankfully real life is far more complex, intricate, and nuanced than the novels I love so much. Everyone is living out this rich tapestry of thought, experience, work and worship. Together, side by side, we are changing and growing day upon day upon day.

When changes take longer than I think they ought, I'm quick to give up hope and pronounce the tree dead. Instead, I'm learning that sometimes the roots grow deep before a bud pops out onto the surface.
 



The Hair

I started chemically straightening my hair in 5th grade. I can remember begging my mom to do it. I grew up in the white suburbs outside of Atlanta, and I really wanted to my hair to hang like everyone else.

I wanted that pony tail that blew in the wind.

Up until that point, I wore my hair in braids everyday except for special occasions when my mom would flat iron my hair.

It took me years to get my hair to look just the way I wanted. Many women who relax their hair complain that the chemicals give them paper thin hair. My mane is super thick so the thinning actually took out just the right amount of volume.

During college, I toyed with the idea of cutting my hair off and wearing it curly several times. But the problem was that I wasn't sure what to do with it after I cut it, so it just didn't seem like a feasible option for me. One night during my senior year, I mentioned wanting to cut my hair off while I was out on a date. My date told me that I needed to do it and that I had till the end of the week to make it happen. I couldn't do it so I never returned any of his phone calls.

My sister actually ended up telling me about the Kinky Curl product line a few months after I gave birth to our oldest son. She was using them, and her hair looked nice so I decided to give it a go (neither of us actually use those hair products anymore). So from that point on I stopped relaxing my hair.

 About a year later, when I was seriously pregnant with our second son, I decided to chop off all my straightened ends. In the natural hair community, we call this a big chop-- and it was a HUGE chop. Let me just give you a little piece of advice. NEVER cut your hair super short when you're pregnant.

It was not cute. I don't have the kind of face you need to rock a short style and being 6 months pregnant did not help matters. Plus, I wasn't quite sure how to style it, so it took me a long while to figure out how to make it look decent.

Going natural for me wasn't about making a statement about my heritage or cultural identity. I didn't do it to feel more empowered as a black woman. I did it because it seemed more practical and less expensive than continuing to relax my hair every few months.

I was also just plain curious.

It had been years since I'd seen my curls, and I'd always been under the impression that my hair was going to be crazy and unmanageable if I kept it curly. That wasn't the case.

For some reason, I felt particularly inspired one night and with my husband's encouragement, I cut it all off. I'm a cautious person, so cutting my hair was a big deal. Of all the nights I could've chosen to do it, I cut it the night before we were going to Mississippi for my husband's cousin's wedding. 

Not only would I be the only black girl at the wedding, I was rockin' a little 80's she-mullet fro and a ginormous baby belly -- gotta love awkward social situations.

 No one wanted to be rude, so no one mentioned it.

Little did I know that there was a huge natural hair movement taking place within the black community. Youtube is filled with curly haired girls who happily told me how to take care of my newly acquired curls. My very favorite vlogger is 

Naptural85

. Check out her youtube channels for hair, fashion, beauty and lifestyle tips. I also frequented

Curly Nikki's website

for hair inspiration and tips. These women kept me going when I wanted to throw in the towel.

Though it was a bit dramatic, I don't regret my decision to big chop at all. I will admit that in the beginning I felt pretty unattractive.

My new look took a lot of getting used to, but as my hair grew out I learned to do more with it.

 Straight hair made me look more traditionally feminine and put together. For me, the curly hair is more wild, untamed, and edgy.

I've already stated I didn't set out on this journey with the expectation of being empowered in any way, but I was in the sense that I became more comfortable in my own skin. I was born with this hair, and learning how to take care of it feels like learning to be more of who I was created to be.

It has been a blast and with three boys three years old and under, I honestly don't spend as much time as I'd like to on my hair. I'm still learning how to take care of it. Just like everyone else, some days I'm in love with it, and some days I could do without it.

 

Book Review: Lessons from Madame Chic

If you're wondering what I was doing this weekend besides --of course-- cooking, cleaning, going to a birthday party, the beach, and our favorite burger joint...I was reading. This book was THAT good. I made time during an extra busy weekend to blow through it and I enjoyed every... single... moment. This book was fun!! I randomly picked it up at the library on Thursday morning during the 5 minutes I have to peruse the non-children's books before my two year old's gleeful screams get us thrown out of there. The name caught my attention Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris. Admittedly, I'm a bit of a Francophile. My family is from New Orleans: a city with a strong French influence. Also, I took French language classes from the sixth grade all the way through my junior year of college. Needless to say, I'm pretty intrigued by French culture. As a stay at home mother of three, I could seriously use some style secrets.

What I loved the most about this book was its emphasis on simplicity and finding the beauty in everyday, ordinary occurrences. I was kind of expecting it to encourage a sort of lifestyle that would not be practical for me to attain, but the advice shared in this little gem could be practiced by any woman at any stage of life with any income.The book is broken up into three parts. Part one covers diet and exercise; part two covers style and beauty, and part 3 covers how to live well. The chapters are small and easy to digest. The brand of femininity that the author proposes is refreshing and inspiring. I left the book with a deeper resolve to find and bring beauty into every area of my home and life.

To give you just a glimpse of what you'll find in Lessons from Madame Chic, I'll share two of the chapters that inspired me the most. First let's talk about Chapter 4, "Liberate Yourself with the Ten-Item Wardrobe." While the author, Jennifer L. Scott, was living in France, she noticed that most of the French rely on a ten-item wardrobe and wear, " the same clothes in heavy rotation -- unapologetically and with great panache." They concentrate not on quantity but on quality, and not on trendy items but on classic pieces that will last more than one season. They aim to not have just a bunch of clothes they like but a few items that they love. After I finished the book, I headed over to the author's blog, and I found that she had posted a video of her ten-item fall/winter wardrobe. It's seriously inspiring. Her clothes are stylish, classic, and modest in the best way. Right now I'm in a bit of an awkward stage. I'm somewhere in between my pregnancy and pre-pregnancy weight so only half of my clothes fit. After looking critically at some of my clothing, I'm realizing that in some ways I still dress like a college student (all those post-college years I spent working in college ministry probably have something to do with it), and I could use a more mature look. After all, I am 31 years old. I can't wait to try out the ten-item wardrobe.

Another chapter that I found particularly interesting was chapter 15: "Practice the Art of Entertaining." In this chapter, Ms. Scott notes that, "France is truly a dinner party culture." The families she spent time with threw elaborate dinner parties at least once a week. My husband and I have found that really the only way to make friends as adults is to invite people into our home. The French start their dinner parties and even just their everyday meals with family with appetizers and drinks. This aperitif is usually served in the living room and used to break the ice and whet the appetite. This is something I hope to incorporate into our family's dinner party ritual. I'm usually the kind of hostess that has dinner ready to go when the guests arrive and I'm bustling around making sure everything is just right instead of relaxing and putting my guests at ease. I think the apertif could help calm me down and enjoy my guests.

There's so much more that I could say about this book. I enjoyed every chapter and will be incorporating so much of what I learned into my everyday life. Check it out!