Letter To My Kids (Tatum)

Two years today, my love. Two years ago today, we looked into your eyes for the very first time. You came into our home with a small diaper bag, sparkly purple high top tennis shoes, a purple shirt that said, “Hugs & Pugs” and a new case worker. Someone you had never met put you in your car seat and drove you to our home in Texas. I wonder if she explained what was happening? I wonder if you understood? Then that stranger unbuckled you in front of a house you’d never seen and carried you and your bag through the front door. You were greeted by an earnest looking couple, two excited boys, a large dog, and a foster care case worker – all complete strangers to you. You stood in the entryway for a minute, standing close to the stranger you’d met thirty minutes before, but out of everyone in the room, she was the person you’d known the longest.

I look back at those photos, and in so many ways you seem like a completely different child, but in many ways you seem the exact same. You still study people, waiting to see if they can be trusted, waiting to see who they are. You still warm up to kids and women faster than men. You still love bananas, peanut butter, and sparkles. You still melt my heart with those insanely squishy cheeks and those deep pools of brown eyes. But oh, my darling. Two years of having consistent care and safety have given you the freedom to show us your personality. And what a personality it is. You, my girl, are a firecracker. A beautiful, breathtaking, feisty firecracker. Your legs have grown longer and your spirit has grown brighter. And that smile. Oh, how I love that smile.

You keep us on our toes, darling (remember the time you colored an entire “landscape” on your bedroom wall during nap time, or the time you got that bead stuck up your nose while I was driving?), and you keep us laughing (“Dat was just a joke, Mommy!”). You bring so much light, so much joy, and so much sweetness into our family.

I know that two years ago was not an easy day for you. You were unsure, scared, and couldn’t possibly have understood all that was going on. I know that two years ago wasn’t easy for us. We were unsure, nervous, and couldn’t possibly have understood the depths of journeying we would do with you. But I can tell you that God had been preparing my heart to be your Mama from the moment you were born. Honestly, He had been preparing me before your birth. And I can tell you that my heart belonged to you from the moment I saw you.

We celebrate today, not because the reasons for your placement in foster care are worthy of celebrating. We celebrate today because it’s the day our stories intertwined. It’s the day God wove together our lives and our family, it’s the day I got attached to my daughter, and it’s the day your Mommy got to hold you in her arms.

I’m yours, my Tater Tot. Forever and always, I’m your Mommy.

The Wounded Bird

The baby bird was meant to fly, to stretch her wings far and soar. Her little birdie heart thumped a rhythm, steady and true. A rhythm to dance with the wind, to twirl with the clouds, to spin with the trees. Nobody taught her to fly. She just jumped from the nest one day, spread her wings, and…fell. But for a second she danced with the wind, so despite her injuries, she kept trying. The bird taught herself how to fly and flew with unmeasured joy.

Until they told her she was flying too high. Or too low. Or too fast. Or too slow. She did it all wrong, couldn’t she see how differently she flew from everyone else? So she flew lower. Then higher. Then slower. Then faster. She studied the other birds, imitating their flight. She marveled at the beauty of other birds – all their colors, wing spans, soft feathers! All of a sudden, she wondered if she had always been so plain. She didn’t dip and flip in the sky like the other birds, she flew strong and fast, pausing to dace with the clouds and the trees. She wasn’t flying right. Not like all the other birds.

The tiny bird stayed in her nest, her tiny heart breaking. Her wings had mended from all those earnest attempts at learning to fly, but hearts are harder to mend than wings, and hers felt cracked. After many days, her tears stopped rolling, and she could hear the beat of her heart again. It was faint, but the longer she listened the stronger it got. Steady and true. Strong, loving, fierce.

She sat in silence for a while, not flying and not crying, just listening. What a rhythm God had given her, she thought. Not a rhythm that was wrong, misfitting, or unlovely. No, her rhythm was none of those things. Her rhythm was unique and a little quirky, but it was beautifully melodic. Steady. Fragile. True. After many days of listening, her wings started itching to move, to dance to the beat. With deep breaths and unsteady legs, she rose from the nest. Her heartbeat strumming loudly in her ears, she flew. Tentatively at first, hoping nobody saw her. But then stronger, focusing on the beats of her heart, she flew stronger. Faster. Wilder. She danced with the wind, twirled with the clouds, spun with the trees. Joy and contentedness bubbled up in her chest, and she sang a song of freedom to her Creator. It was for her Creator that she flew, that she sang, that she danced, that she was.

She was meant to fly. To stretch her wings and soar. Her heart thumped a rhythm,  and it was to that rhythm that she flew. Steady and true, little bird. Steady and true.

christmas offenses

This time of year can get a little dicey for Christians in America. If my Facebook feed is representative of American Christians (and honestly, I suspect it’s not), it would appear that we get offended like it’s our job at Christmastime. Remember the great Starbucks red cup offense of 2015?  Christians were offended that the cups of Starbucks were no longer adorned with snowflakes and Christmas trees, but were instead plain red. Boycotts were organized, blog posts were written, Facebook stories were shared, it was a whole thing. Christians were mad, offended, and taking action.

Never mind that Starbucks continued to sell one of my favorites – Christmas Blend, and never claimed to be a Christian or even religious company. Why on earth we’d be upset about a non-religious coffee company using plain red cups for their coffee that we are in no way obligated to buy or enjoy is beyond me.

Many of my fellow believers also get pretty offended by what they view as the generalization of Christmas into “holiday.” Store clerks no longer say a cheerful, “Merry Christmas,” but instead use, “Happy Holidays!” to greet customers. Or the utmost of offenses, people sometimes shorten “Merry Christmas” to “Merry X-Mas.” Taking Christ out of the whole dang thing.

Never mind that the use of “Happy Holidays” began because the Christmas season slowly encroached on Thanksgiving and New Year’s. You could consider a greeting of Happy Holidays to mean, “Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year’s,” but what’s the fun in that? Or you could enjoy the friendliness being offered and understand that we all have free will and live in a free country, so forcing someone to say, “Merry Christmas” will not change culture, hearts, policies, or minds. However, a forceful and grumpy (or even passive aggressively cheerful), “Merry CHRISTmas!” could very well change hearts and minds. Just probably not the way you’d hoped.

And never mind that “X” is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ, and is used as an abbreviation for Christ. Nobody is taking the Christ out of Christmas when they write, “Merry X-Mas.” That’s not a thing. Christians made it a thing, evidently without doing their research first, and now Christians all over America get offended when they see it. Have you noticed that you never really hear anyone saying, “Merry X-Mas,” it’s almost always written? That’s because Christmas is a long word, guys. When I’m adding Christmas concerts, Christmas parties, Christmas decorating, and Christmas plays to my calendar in December, you can bet I abbreviate the mess out of the word. And as it turns out, Jesus Christ is still firmly planted right at the center of every single one of my X-Mas celebrations. 

I have to believe that most of us don’t choose to be offended by these things for the sake of being offended. I’m choosing to believe that we just really love Christ, and we really love that He came to earth as a baby, and we really want everyone around us to know how great, incredible, intimate, sacrificial, and astounding that act was. I’m choosing to believe that about believers, because the alternative is pretty sad.

So if our offenses really are because we are so joyful about the Christ child and want others to understand and share in that joy, can I offer a different approach?

First of all, let’s make sure Christ really is at the center of our celebrations. Andy Stanley wrote, “Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.” It’s difficult – even for Christians – to keep our focus on Christ’s birth in this season. There are presents to wrap, trees to decorate, White Christmas to watch, cookies to make, Santa to visit, an elf to move every night, lights to see, snow to hope for, stockings to stuff, and hot cocoa to drink. Before you admonish others for not keeping the Christ in Christmas, work hard to make sure your focus is on Him and your children have consistent reminders to refocus their hearts, too. That’s how we change culture, and that’s the most direct impact we can have on the future of the kingdom of God.

Second of all, let’s interact with love. If we lived in a world where every corporation celebrated with religious symbols, where every person we encountered said, “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” and where every family had a manger scene on their lawn, that would mean one of two things. Either we would live under a government wherein Christianity is mandated, or every person on earth became a believer and Jesus can finally come back. We can’t (and perhaps, more importantly – shouldn’t) force anyone to believe in Christ or to celebrate the way we deem acceptable. And since Jesus hasn’t come back yet, that means we still have work to do. Work that involves being the hands and feet of Jesus and making evident the joy and the hope that you have in Christ. We get to share the news of Christ’s birth and all that means for mankind, and the differences in how we go about celebrating and enjoying our Christmas season presents perfect opportunities to have those discussions about our joy and hope.

And finally, fellow Christians, let’s get offended. Let’s get really offended. Let’s get so offended that we start taking action and making a difference. Let’s not get distracted by complaining about cups and x’s. That’s low hanging fruit. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. And then with a singular focus on Him, let’s look around at our world, the weary world that rejoiced and felt a thrill of hope at the new and glorious morn that broke when Christ was born. Because if we’re looking to be offended, the options before us are endless. Let’s get offended that children are being exploited in cybersex trafficking, often for an American audience. Or we could be offended that 415,129 children are in the foster care system with 107,918 of them waiting to be adopted. We could also be offended by the reality of this child’s life, and the bombing of the hospital soon after. THESE are the things that deserve our offense, our outrage, our boycotts, our action

Let’s show the world the hope and joy that we profess, the hope and joy that came from heaven, humbling Himself to lay in scratchy hay, because He adores His children. You. Me. Them. And then, let’s act out of that hope and joy. Let’s treat others with whom we disagree or don’t understand as if that person is indeed an image bearer of God. Let’s fight for those who can’t fight for themselves because that’s what God does for us. Let’s speak up and take action when we see injustice because those are fellow children of God, and dang it, if they’re important enough for Christ to die for them, then they’re important enough for me to fight for them. Guys, we can change the world. We can change our culture. Who cares if people say, “Merry Christmas?” I care that people come to know and love the Jesus who has so drastically changed everything. I care that people in my world – in your world – are hurting, aching, being abused, being killed, being marginalized, and that I have the ways and means to change that in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord.

This Christmas, fellow believers, let’s change the world. Let’s see to it that we share a “Merry Christmas.” Let’s get offended.

Letters To My Kids (Cohen)

My sweet boy,

Man, do I love being your Mommy. Your smile (which is down another tooth, bottom right) gets me every single time, stops me in my tracks and makes me remember what a blessing my role as a Mother really is. For being such a ninja-loving, brother-tackling, vengeance-seeking six year old boy, you have the most incredibly tender of hearts and softest of spirits. You see the world with eyes that are looking to help, to make better, and to stand up for righteousness. I love that about you. I love that your heart beats not only as a warrior – fierce, passionate, and capable, but also as a rescuer – compassionate, gentle, and loving. I see you striving hard to have a heart after God’s own heart and to fight for righteousness. Cohen, God has used you to convict and challenge my heart on several occasions. You love God’s word. You love God’s word maybe even more than you love mac ‘n cheese, and we both know you do not take your mac ‘n cheese love lightly. You love His word, you love discovering more about God’s heart and His ways, the things He has done and the things He’s said are yet to come. And when you read something in God’s word that shows you the things you’re doing aren’t in obedience to Him, you don’t ignore it. You don’t justify it away, and you don’t just decide that it doesn’t matter. You, my six year old little Christ follower, you change. You say, “Oh, I didn’t realize I shouldn’t be doing that (or should be doing that).” Then you just up and change your actions. Sometimes it takes a few days, sometimes a few weeks, sometimes it’s instantaneous. But you work at it until it’s changed, because just the knowledge of God’s ways and the desire to be close to Him is enough for you. Kiddo, there are middle aged Christians who struggle with that very thing. Sometimes I struggle with that very thing. I love your heart, I love your spirit, I love how passionately and purposefully you pursue God.

You make my day brighter and my heart lighter, Cohen. I love you.

Love,

Mommy

on white privilege

Dear White People,

I know by addressing this post based on your color, I might have already offended you. I’ve considered how to address you with less offensive words, but anything else feels patronizing or even more offensive, so I hope you don’t mind if I stick with it for now.

We need to talk. My heart is heavy. I’d like to collectively meet you all for coffee (one-on-one preferably, because… introvert) and share my heart on this with you. I truly wish I could. I’ve been thinking and processing about this for a while now, and I hope you take what I’m saying as I’m meaning it – with humility, gentleness, and compassion.

I’m worried that we might have interpreted the idea of “white privilege” wrongly, skewed it so that we get riled up and feel like someone is trying to take something away from us that they’re not. I would wager that many things come to your mind when you consider the idea, not the least of which is that you feel like your life hasn’t been all that privileged – white or not. Listen, I’m certain that you’re a hard working person. I’m certain that your life has not been easy, and that you have met many challenges in your life. I will not take that away from you, and I applaud you for doing the best you can with what you have.

But that’s not what white privilege is.

Can I tell you my story, by way of example? Our stories are different, of course. But mine is the only story I’ve got, so it’s where I’ll start.

I was born in Cincinnati – in a very rough part of town. My biological father chose to abdicate his role around the time of my infanthood, and I only heard from him again when I tracked him down in my twenties. Another story for another day, but the assumptions made about me during my childhood because of that would have been different had my skin been a different color. Because the Cincinnati suburbs were too expensive for our family, we moved out of Cincinnati, across the Indiana state line, and settled into a tiny, sleepy town (with an- unknown to us – active KKK clan). The town was “safe,” the schools were good, the class sizes were small, and the lady at the video store knew my exact taste in movies and would hold my favorites for me every week. The privilege of growing up in this particular small, safe town with small class sizes is a privilege that would not have been given to my family if we had been African American. Most of the small, affordable towns outside of Cincinnati (and many other major cities at the time) had a quiet but terrifying KKK presence. Had my family not been white, we likely would have stayed in Cincinnati, in an area of town where my classes would have been significantly more crowded and severely underfunded. Per capita, inner city schools are the most underfunded, least resourced schools in our country. I had access to computers in my school, to tutoring when I was struggling with long division (which still gets me), and to media that showed people who looked like me succeeding every day. My parents didn’t pay any more or less taxes than other parents across the country, and I didn’t do anything to earn the education I received.

I won’t attempt to tell parts of this story that are not mine to tell, but please trust me when I say that my family was not well off. We struggled for many reasons, and I worked hard in the cornfields, as a dishwasher, and as a babysitter to afford “luxuries” like lunch and field trips. In 3rd grade I was tested for and placed into a gifted and talented class. Being in that class was an incredible experience, and set me on a trajectory for academic success and eventually, college. I was placed in mostly advance classes in high school, and generally did well. Counselors, teachers, and others assumed my plan was for college, and my discussions were not if I would go to college, but where I would attend. Do you know the likelihood of an African American male being placed in a gifted and talented class? In 2002 (a full ten years after I was placed), it was 3.1%.

I’m offended by that. I’m offended that some child in another city – who was every bit as bright and eager to learn as I was – was not even considered as a candidate for the school’s gifted program (if funding even allowed that program to exist) because of his or her skin color. I believe we’d agree on the fact that color has no bearing on intelligence or aptitude, correct? And if we agree on that, then we should be able to agree that 3.1% is clearly under representative of those students who should be and should have been placed in some kind of advanced or challenging classes. And if we can agree on that, then we can agree that I was given a privilege in 1990 that was also earned by others, but not given – because of skin color and stereotypes. A privilege that changed the course of my life and set me on the course toward earning a degree in Counseling/Psychology and Biblical Studies. I’m well aware that a woman of color who shares the same socioeconomic status as me likely worked significantly harder than I did to get there, and probably did it while hearing racial slurs. African American women are the second most educated and qualified people group in the workforce, but are the MOST underpaid, and are regularly passed up for job candidates who are less qualified. That is literally having to work harder to get to the same place as a person not of color.

This doesn’t take away from the fact that I worked hard, experienced setbacks, and faced challenges. But can you see how much more significant and widespread my challenges would have been had I not been white? Could you please take a minute to consider how your skin color may have affected the trajectory of your life? No matter your skill set, your aptitude, your education, you experienced life differently because of the color of your skin. The difference may have been barely noticeable, or it may have been glaring. Most likely you were unaware, as I was. And to be frank, the luxury of believing racism and racial inequality was no longer relevant was a luxury not afforded to many people in our country. I know your life hasn’t been a cake walk, and I respect your journey. But imagine that same journey also being filled with people hating you on sight, or thinking you were not a capable person before letting your work speak for itself – at best.

That’s the past,” you say. “It’s 2016, people who yell about white privilege are playing the role of a victim and need to move on.” Yes, that is the past. But it’s your past. It’s their past. It’s my past. We’re not talking about our great grandparents, our grandparents, or even our parents’ experiences (though we are foolish to ignore or gloss over that history), we’re talking about men and women who have grown up in America in the 80’s, 90’s, and yes…even now… as a minority, and have not had access to the same privileges that I did.

But for the sake of argument, let’s put the past behind us for now and think about the present. I have three children, and not one of them have ever been called a racist name. None of them have ever been threatened or ignored because of their skin color. I have never been followed in a store. I have never feared for my life when I’ve been pulled over by an officer, and I even get all nervous and do a lot of fumbling for paperwork that could easily be misconstrued as looking for a gun. I’m not worried about telling my sons how to behave in a way that is least likely to get them killed when they get pulled over. I don’t have to worry about my sons wearing hoodies when they’re older. People don’t act surprised by how “articulate” I am. Nobody has thought I was a terrorist, or spoken nonsense words to my children in an attempt to make fun of their native language. Nobody has ever refused to sit by me or my children because of the color of our skin.

You guys. White privilege means that I get to be angry about this without people telling me I’m playing a victim. My voice is heard more loudly because of the color of my skin.

Acknowledging that I have been privileged as a white person in this country in no way takes away my accomplishments, struggles, or hard work – and it takes nothing away from you, either. What it does do is compel us to fight for those who have not received those same privileges. I’m not ashamed that my kids haven’t been called racist names, that I’m not afraid for my life when I’m pulled over, or that I had access to the tools I needed to get into college. That is as it should be. For everyone. Acknowledging my white privilege doesn’t mean I have to feel shame or scorn for that, but for me – it does mean that other men, women, and children deserve those same privileges. Fighting for that in no way invalidates my hard work or own personal struggles, it just insists that we all be treated equally and others be given the same opportunities that I was given.

In the end, white privilege is about compassion. It’s about understanding that minorities in this country experience every day things completely differently than you do, and much of that is unjust. It’s about realizing that your life and experiences  are not the definitive American experience, and that you have a voice to make sure others have access to the same opportunities and treatment that you have. That changes nothing about your own struggles or accomplishments. What it changes is your heart.

With sincere love,

Jenny

 

 

Letters To My Kids (Jude)

Oh man, kid. I started writing these letters to you just days after you were born, the idea of you some day reading them a far off dream, eons away. And now, kiddo. The little sack of cheeks and cranky that you were as a baby grew up into a little man of muscle, curiosity, tenderness, and compassion when I wasn’t looking. Seriously, I feel like I looked away for a single millisecond, and you suddenly shot up to be my shoulder height. I tell you all the time that I love you, Judeabug, and I hope you feel that down to your bones. There’s something else I want to make sure you know though, because it’s deeply true. I like you. In fact, the older you get, the more I like you. You are truly fun to be around, you’re so quietly and unassumingly thoughtful, and when you lay your head on my shoulder and scoot close, all is right in my world. I’m amazed by your sense of self and sense of confidence. You carry with you such a sense of being comfortable with who you are and how God made you. It’s inspiring, my sweet boy. And you’re funny. You don’t clamor for attention in your sense of humor, you just see the world through eyes of amusement and wonder, and you give me such a great gift in allowing me to see that, too.

You know what happened just the other day that actually perfectly illustrates your humor and self-confidence? I was picking you up from school, and as is usually the case in our daily life right now, all three of you were jumping, bouncing, and chatting like little Tasmanian devils around me. You stopped jumping for a second and said, “Mommy?”

Jude, you get this look in your eyes that I love. Your pearly blue eyes twinkle and start to crinkle up, and you slightly smile sideways, barely able to hold in the amusement you’re sharing. My world stops for a second when you do that, holding its breath to hear whatever curiosity awaits. You continued, “Do you know something that I thought only happens in cartoons, but actually happened to me? In real life?!” You proceeded to tell me that when you were at recess that day, you bent down to get something and the seam of your pants went, “riiiiiip!” My eyes widened for a second, fearful of how embarrassed you must have been. Of what the other kids said. Of how you went through the rest of the day with a giant hole in your pants. And do you know what you said? You said, with gleaming eyes and a giant, toothy grin, “It was the most hilarious thing to happen to me EVER! It’s like I was in a cartoon, I told everyone about it!” Jude, you seriously thought you were the luckiest kid alive to have experienced something so singularly hilarious in your school day. And you know, because you thought it was so hilarious, you circumvented any teasing that might have happened. I can just picture you telling the story to the other kids, your infectious laughter and joy convincing them that you were, indeed, quite lucky to have ripped your pants with so many friends around to witness the hilarity.

My favorite part of motherhood is watching you come alive in your gifts and who God made you to be. I expect that I’ll always love seeing how His plans and purposes for you unfold, what an honor I have to walk with you in those discoveries. This past year I have been seeing blooms of creativity sprouting up in you. You have no less than five journals at any given time (and dude, you leave them everywhere), and we regularly find you hunched over one of them with pencil in hand, writing and drawing the world around you. I see you making sense of things, ordering your ideas and thoughts, and expressing your feelings, fears, and dreams through your creativity. More and more, you’re asking if you could have some time by yourself. Time to read, to write, to dream, to tinker, to draw. When people see you, they tend to see your mind first. You’re smart, you’re highly verbal, you’re logical, and your curiosity about the world around you drives you to have an insatiable thirst for all things scientific. But there’s an emerging side of you with which I see you experimenting. I see that you’re sensitive – you deeply feel the hurts, worries, and pain of others. I see that you’re creative – you express yourself with a unique and interesting perspective through writing and drawing. I see that your heart is tender, that you’re loyal, and that you would do just about anything to fix the injustices of the world.
You’re eight years old, buddy. God is doing big things in your life, and He is preparing you even now for His purpose. I like you, Jude. I like you, I love you, and I’m so proud of who you are.

Love,

Mommy

Letters To My Kids (Tatum)

Sweet girl,

Two whole years ago I wrote about your very first days with us. Do you remember them? How new everything was then – for you and for us. I look back in awe of those early moments and days. Every interaction was a veiled question – who are these people? Will they meet my needs? Will they be loving or harsh? What kind of food will they feed me? Do I have to sleep in that dark room? How will they discipline me? Should I be scared? Can I trust them? And for me, every interaction was an attempt to figure you out – Is she scared? Does she feel safe? Does she like peanut butter? Will she want to eat her veggies? Does she understand what I’m explaining?  Is she missing her family? Are the boys being gentle enough? Is she frightened in her room by herself? Does she want me to hold her?

We were both so young, weren’t we? From the moment I saw you, my lovely, I had big dreams for you. I had big dreams of adoption, of healing, of health, and of fierce love. But you want to know the dream I remember most clearly? I had the simple dream of you running into my outstretched arms, squealing, “Mommy!”

Two years later, and you have our last name. When I sign papers for you, I can sign the “parent” line, instead of the “guardian” line. Two years later I can tell you – almost every day – that I’m so grateful that I get to be your Mommy forever, that I will never stop loving you. Two years later, and you run into my arms, squealing, “Mommy!” more times than I can count. It’ll never get old, I will never take it for granted.

My daughter, you are a treasure to our family. A treasure that we prayed for, worked for, fought for, and are overwhelmed with gratitude about. God has big plans for you, my sweet brown eyes. And you can bet I’ll be with you every step of the way. You have my heart, Tatum.

I love you,

Mommy