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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My Tongue Needed a Fire Escape

I have a confession to make.

Believe me, it’s not an easy confession. It’s confession of a sin I’ve never heard other moms confess—which leads me to think I was a really, really bad mom. Can you tell how hesitant I am to admit it? But in learning to deal with this horrible habit, I learned a very important lesson I’d like to share with you.

My confession: I used to swear at my kids. (Cringe.) Because I still feel the need to protect my image a little bit, let me clarify. I never used that one really, really bad word. I hate that word! To me it sounds like verbal rape. Also, … well, I suppose I could spend time trying to paint an accurate picture here, but the truth is, it just isn’t pretty no matter how much I try to dress it up.

Aug 7 lemuel-butler-515Photo by Lemuel Butler on Unsplash]

I wanted to blame my kids or the situation. I wanted to justify myself with, I can’t help it; the words just pop out of my mouth before I can stop them. Though it felt that way, I knew it wasn’t true. After all, I didn’t talk that way at church. I also knew God held me responsible for the things I said. Having memorized 1 Corinthians 10:13 as a teenager, I was convinced that He had built into me the ability to control my tongue.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
(NASB)

One day I was doing an assignment for a women’s Bible study group. The passage we studied included James 3:10.

Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, THIS SHOULD NOT BE.”
(NIV)

I knew it was time to deal with my tongue.

So I had a little conversation with the Lord. Lord, I keep failing at this. I believe your Word and know there’s a way for me to muzzle my mouth. But I need your help in figuring out how. Right here. Right now. It’s time to get to the bottom of this.

Then the Lord taught me a simple little trick. It starts in your mind long before you ever get into a heated situation. …

You have to prepare.

Then He suggested I pick other words I could use. I needed to choose those words when I wasn’t angry so they’d be ready to grab and use when I was. Sort of like having a bag of tools handy at my side.

I never came up with a list of appropriate words. It was enough for me to realize that the way I could control myself in irksome situations was to prepare before such an incident ever arose. Frankly, it was enough for me to realize I really could keep bad words from popping out

In fact, this led me to a deeper realization. Any thoughts I had given attention to would eventually find a way to sneak out of my mouth when I least expected it. The key was to …

Not allow ungodly thoughts to loiter inside my head in the first place.

I learned that when an inappropriate thought or word passed through my mind, to say (sometimes out loud), Nope, that’s not landing here! I then intentionally replaced that thought with what God would think. I still do this.

A friend recently reminded me of a quotation from Martin Luther our former pastor once shared:

You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.

We all have sinful ways.

Yep, we need to call it what it is—sin. Ungodly impulsive reactions: words, facial expressions, or other behaviors. The time to replace these responses is in calm moments. It’s during peacetime we should identify our poor responses, create good ones, plant the new ones deep into our brains, and, practice, practice, practice.

When we’re in the middle of a firefight, smoke keeps us from seeing the escape route God has for us. So before the battle ever begins we have to acquaint ourselves intimately with that route. We need to be able to turn to it blind—even in our sleep.

Aug 7 Escape Route

When it comes down to it, the best way to prevent curses from flowing from our lips is to plant praise deep in our hearts.

I don’t know about you, but that’s something I can do.

Souvenirs for the Soul: Wild Horses Are Not Lone Rangers

You don’t want to be out there after dark. It turns pitch black and there’re no street lights to guide you back to town.

Homeschooling afforded us some far-reaching field trips.

Some people call them family vacations. But since we traveled during the fall—after the heat settled down, the mosquitoes were hopefully dead, and the masses of other families were back home with their kids tucked away in public/private schools—and since I made sure our kids wrote in their journals, I choose to call them field trips.

In 2001, we planned a month-long trip, visiting several national parks and other western venues. To prepare for this adventure we started the basic academic subjects in early August. Additionally, I ordered travel magazines from the states we would visit. I assigned each of our children to pick an attraction for us to visit. Then they had to research and “teach” us about that place: why it was worth visiting, its history and unique features, and how should we prepare (special shoes, safety measures, precautions).

We learned about Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, and … I can’t remember … maybe Bryce Canyon. But our oldest wanted to us to hunt down wild horses deep in the desert outside Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Did you know wild horses don’t roam alone?

They live in one of two types of herds: a stallion and his harem and foals, or a group of bachelors. (I can just imagine how a bunch of would-be harem owners behave.)

So in Wyoming, we set out on a 23-mile trek, in the heat of a sunny afternoon, carefully traversing dirt roads, while scanning the terrain in search of a herd. Several miles into the trip we spotted one not far off the road. We got as close as we respectfully could, stopped our van, and waited.

In a matter of seconds we knew who the lead mare was—the one that took charge when we drove up. She and a few others trotted across the road in front of us, while she called for the others to follow. We could literally hear her encouragement. It seemed to take a little convincing, but they all eventually crossed over and kept on going—their long tails blowing in the breeze.

We’d been to Mt Rushmore and Yellowstone by this point, but nothing captured my breath like these beautiful creatures. Strong, determined, untethered owners of free-range.

This experience gave me a new understanding of what it means to be “wild.”

You can’t just do what you want, how you want, when you want. Humans, like horses, are meant to live in community. And we are all meant to follow a leader. One leader.

Now this isn’t a lesson on leadership. No, it’s a lesson about the fact that we can be beautifully wild, but we still live in order with others. We need each other. Alone we die; together we thrive. The only way to get along is by refusing to fight for the head spot, and instead regularly choosing to submit to that head.

And who is that head? Have you guessed it yet? It’s not Mom. It’s not even Dad. And it’s never, ever the kids.

God is our Head.

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
(Colossians 1:18, NASB)

July 17 Hearts Moving toward Christ

For our wedding announcements Bob made the design in the above photo. It symbolizes two hearts, uniting into one. The only way for that union to happen is as each of us move toward Jesus (the cross). If one of us chooses to live outside the lordship of Christ, our unity will weaken. But as long as we continued to grow closer to God, we will automatically grow closer to each other.

This is true in all our relationships. Now, I know our children don’t understand how to live under Christ as their head. It’s a hard concept for any of us to grasp. But, I do know this: the best way to parent is to surrender our parenting to the Father.

July 17 Wild Side

How do we do this?

I’m curious what you would say. How do you as a mom surrender to God practically?

For me, it took a lot of listening. Getting past my emotions, be willing to set aside my agenda, and listening. It meant measuring my words, actions, reactions, methods of discipline, and expressions of love against God’s word. It meant apologizing when I needed to, and sometimes adjusting the consequences I had handed out in the middle of a hot and messy moment. And it meant redefining my expectations.

So, trapped and restrained mom, do you long to run wild?

You can. As long as you remember wild does not mean going solo. You need to surround yourself with others like-minded, common-experienced moms. And more importantly, you need to know and follow the voice of the great Head.

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