Was I a Racist in My Own Home?

Do you see yourself as a racist?

Probably not. You certainly hope not. Right? Me too.

You know I’m probably going to say something like “we are more racist than we like to think.” Yep, I am. But then, if we’re honest, that’s no surprise. Don’t we all prefer to hang with people just like us? People who look, talk, and smell the ways we prefer. But that’s not really being racist, is it?

The problem comes when we want to see people become just like us. It’s not limited to races. This desire nests in anything that defines us: our faith, our political alignment, our parenting styles, and even our economic status. In our heads we know that if everyone else was just like us, the world would be grossly imbalanced. But deep inside we actually believe differently.

This is evidenced in our families, as well—where our children were born into a culture different from ours. We know it will take time, but hiding deep in our hearts, is the expectation that they’ll eventually start thinking and behaving like we do. And so we either ignore, downplay, or try to root out the impact of their beginnings. It’s hard enough to transplant them into our families. But let me tell you …

August 13 Roots

Somehow we have to learn to be at home with these little people from different places in the world.

It took me several years to come to the realization that my children would never turn into “mini me’s”. How I wished I had arrived at this understanding a lot sooner.

The following are specific ways that helped me learned to embrace our differences:

1. We regularly celebrated their culture of origin.

On the annual celebration of their adoption day we prepared Russian foods: borscht, pierogies, kielbasa, blini, and other fun foods. We also purchased Russian candy and kvas (a drink I can’t stand but my kids love) from a nearby Ukrainian store.

Aug 13 borscht

2. We talked positively, redemptively about their biological parents.

I wanted my children to feel a connection to their parents, and have a sense of place and purpose in this world. I didn’t want them to go through life bitter at their parents. God’s forgiveness is available for every single human. Opportunities to change and live in His grace are available even to those who’ve hurt us the most.

3. I had to grieve the children I never got.

I didn’t ever want to be bitter that God had not enabled me to have biological children, so I didn’t let myself grieve very deeply. But one day, after about four or five years of parenting, I had to face the fact that I would never have a child who looked like me, walked, laughed, or talked like me. It took another three or four years to realize that because my adopted children would never become a reflection of me, I needed to have a funeral in my head and lay these children of my dreams to rest.

4. I had to release my adoptive children to be Russians living in America.

It probably wasn’t until our oldest had lived on his own for a year or so, that I realized I had to allow each child to determine what parts of their Russian identity and what parts of their American/Johnson identity they wanted to claim for themselves.

5. I didn’t have to change who I was and become like them.

It was a hard tension to live with, but in time I came to a peace that my children were going to operate according to a very different set of values than mine. Instead of focusing on how we differed, I chose to focus on what we had in common. For several years I remember thinking the ties that bound us were single thread thin. But that’s where I started, and in time those cords have grown thicker.

I think we all have a subconscious longing for others to be just like us.

Frankly, I suspect this indicates we actually like who we are. But, it also an indicates that we’re not sure we’re suppose to. And so we look to the choices others around us make to affirm that we’re worth liking.

Aug 13 Mirror
Photo by Septian simon on Unsplash

Maybe the racism that hides deep inside of us is something we need to take an honest look at. Partly so we can learn to accept people for who they are. But more importantly so we can celebrate who we are. I strongly believe that before we can accept others, we have to start with ourselves. Maybe that’s why the Bible records in it’s very first chapter that …

God created man in His own image
(Genesis 1:27, NASB).

We are little representations of God Himself.

Don’t you think that’s something to appreciate? Something to show off?

And if God’s image is coded into our own DNA, it’s keyed into our children’s as well. It’s displayed in every single person. How fun would it be to start looking for the evidence of the Creator built into every life? What kind of difference would it make in our families if we made a daily practice of deciphering the expressed character of God in each member?

Something I should have done, and I suggest you do, is keep a journal of the things you appreciate about each child (and your spouse, or anyone you have a hard time liking). This will not only keep your focus positive, it will usher you into genuine worship of the Father.

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Souvenirs for the Soul: When You Have to Stay Home

I wanted to go!

Oh, I wanted to go. But the Lord said, “No. Not yet. Not this year.”

It was the summer before my junior year of college. My church denomination offered a summer missions program for college juniors and seniors. I so wanted to sign up and see where I might find myself for ten weeks. I did get to go the next year, to Anchorage, Alaska. But for the summer of 1983, the Lord told me to stay home.

Really, God? What could you have for me in Des Moines, Iowa that would be better than serving you in a remote corner of the United States?

He pointed me to Psalm 37:3.

Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. (NASB)

July 31 Climatis

It would be years later that I’d come to understand the word “cultivate” means “feed on”. But at this point in time, I thought it meant that I needed to grow in my ability to be faithful to the Lord‘s direction. A good thing for me. And I did learn more deeply to trust the Lord, His timing, and His ways.

But the real meaning of this verse is that …

Sometimes the Lord wants us to sit still and feed on His faithfulness to us.

Today I’m concluding my Souvenir for the Soul series. I’ve talked about lessons the Lord has taught me in new and unfamiliar places. But you know what? He also has much for us to learn in those stuck-at-home, hot-and-sticky, droopy-eared days.

He wants us to take long, cool drinks from our own wells.

He knows the most nutritious food grows in our own gardens.

He wants us to embrace the joy from the wet gigglers that jump through our sprinklers.

He knows our richest treasures will be found sitting around our own kitchen tables.

July 31 God is Faithful When We Have to Stay

You know that verse I just mentioned, from Psalm 37? The very next verse is one we know well—and often misunderstand.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:4, NASB)

Something in our brains (probably from our preschool days when we believed fairy tales) tells us that if we put God first, He’ll grant our every wish. As we’ve grown older, we’ve learned (probably in heart-wrenching ways) this is not true. That same part of our brain wants to think God’s not fair. Or, He must not love us. Or, we haven’t figured out how to truly delight in Him.

But I think our spirits understand that the truth is …

When God is our foremost pursuit, He will plant His desires inside us.

And as we trust Him, wait patiently, and watch expectantly, He will be faithful to fulfill those desires.

So for those of us who didn’t get to “go” this summer, God still has souvenirs for our souls.

Souvenir for the Soul: God’s most precious treasures aren’t discovered in the wow, but in the right here and now.

Lord, teach us to look hard in our own places and discover the riches you’ve set right in front of us. Help us savor that honey-sweet manna that arrives daily on our own plates—Your goodness.

Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
(Psalm 37:5-7a, NASB)

Taste and see that the Lord is good.
(Psalm 34:8, NASB)

Family, the Beautiful

What comes to your mind when you think about Independence Day?

I think about …

  • The brave who’ve fought, and died, for our freedom;
  • The stars and stripes swaying proudly at front doors;
  • Sizzling hot dogs, watermelon drenched grins, and homemade ice cream;
  • Parades, glow sticks, bug spray, and fireworks;
  • And a kaleidoscope of people from sea to shining sea.

July 3

We’ve so much to be grateful for. Don’t we? Abundant resources. Awe-striking landscapes. Amazing people.

We’re not perfect. Not by any means. But we sure are beautiful. Yes, we are!

What a great picture of our families.

We’re not perfect. Far too frequently we display our shameful ugliness: unyielding division, stinky attitudes, embarrassing ineptness, agonizing failures.

But ever so often we need to put all that aside and throw a party. Celebrate what we are together.

Rescued. Redeemed. Renamed.

Merciful. Hopeful. Strong.

Beautiful.

July 3 R&A citizenship

There will be more battles to fight, mountains of litter to discard, sturdier bridges to build, and necessary paths to clear.

But today is a good time to stand. From table-end to table-end, stretch wide and grasp tight. It’s a day to raise our anthem: God bless and guide our home sweet home … our family, the beautiful.

July 3 United.jpg

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Psalm 133:1 (ESV)

 

 

Souvenirs for the Soul: Dangerous or Stunning?

Call me unorthodox, but they didn’t look beautiful to me. Oh, they took my breath away, but they looked…

Dangerous

… like gaping jaws, ready to suck me in, crush me to pieces, and finish me off. I felt threatened by their enormous, jagged wildness. My initial response was to beg the Lord to keep me far away—at a safe altitude as I flew high above them toward my destination in Alaska.

Last week I shared about my experience flying over the Yukon Mountains . I related how I had to quelch the fear that those mountains could destroy me, and choose to marvel at their grandeur instead. I shared how at first they terrified me, until I decided to let them inspire me. Because once I got past my fear, I could see they were …

Stunning

… an endless, pristine display of God’s magnificence.

But you know what? Those mountains were inanimate. They were just sitting there. Somehow despite their lifelessness they had stirred powerful emotions. How is that? Because in reality, a piece of rock of any size can’t wield that kind of power. It has no control over my reactions. My fears were actually prompted by something deeper—more than likely a lack of understanding or experience with those mountains.

Souvenir for the Soul:

The same is true with people’s opinions. We have no control over how people view us. We aren’t capable, nor are we responsible, to dictate what people think. We can seek to better inform others, but in the end …

Whether they think we’re dangerous or stunning is their choice.

A couple of things to consider here.

One, we need to do all we can to be at peace with those around us, and then leave the results with the Lord.* It was the Creator, after all, that caused me to change my feelings about the Yukon Mountains. He is fully capable to change what people think—as long as they’re willing (something we can’t do a thing about either).

June 12 We have no control over how people see us

Two, the opinion we do have control over is our own. How do we view those around us, especially the ones that look dangerous? I’m not talking about an unsafe person who can physically or emotionally harm us. I’m talking about our mother-in-law, or neighbor, or coworker that we tend to avoid because we seem to frequently irritate each other. And, of course, our unattached children might very well fit into the dangerous category, too.

I wonder what would happen if we started viewing the “dangerous” people in our lives as “stunning”.**

Wondrous creations of God. What kind of difference might it make?

If I imagine what it might be like to have my feet on the ground—up close and personal—in the middle of the Yukon Mountains, I have a pretty good idea, my opinion of them would change dramatically. Maybe, the people we fear are like that, too. Maybe we need to take the time to draw closer: feel their soil beneath our feet, meander through their wildness, smell the fragrance of the flowers that grow in their crevices, drink from the waters that spring from their depths. I have a feeling we’d be amazed at their beauty.

June 12 Maybe its time we meander

A word of caution: We can’t crash land in their midst. We have to study guide books, pack water and energy bars, wear appropriate shoes, and examine the landscape to find the safest trails. We have to tread respectfully.

And maybe it would help if they got a closer look at us. Maybe this week might be a good time to extend an invitation. A smile. A compliment. A note in the mail. A cup of coffee at a nearby venue.

They may never change their view of us, but I have a feeling the Creator would like us to seek out our own fresh perspective of them. He’d like us to quelch our idea that someone is dangerous, and deliberately look for what’s stunning.

Without naming anyone, share in the comments three words that describe the stunning beauty of a person you used to think was dangerous.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
*If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:
“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:17-21, NIV

**In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 7:12, NASB