Category Archives: Pain

When It Feels Like the World is Missing the Point

10628631_10152518441896009_750468054027756701_o*Disclaimer: this post will only make sense if it’s read in its entirety. And it’s a little long–I apologize in advance. But stick with me? I think it’s pretty dang important.

My father is Hispanic; his family immigrated to the US when he was a child. My mom is white–a mixture of Scotch-Irish and German descent predominantly, with some other things thrown in there. I’ve been told there is some Italian in there somewhere; I’m not sure where or on whose side or if it even matters. I already got a lot of feisty blood, so what’s some more thrown in?

My life has been one of navigating two cultures. I don’t know it any other way. And I’ve never known which one I more strongly identified with; my pale skin and lack of Spanish linguistic skills kind of nudged me in one direction, but you can’t ignore what makes up half of who you are. In the end, this ambiguity has been a gift more than anything else.

(Although those little boxes where you can check your ethnicity on standardized tests and surveys and government forms always stress me out–which box do I check??? I don’t know!!! There’s no box if you’re mixed. I leave them blank.)

Anyway, the gift is that I adapt easily between people groups. This has even proven true in foreign countries when I don’t know the language or anything else. I just dive right in and absorb it all. And I was taught that all people are to be valued and respected because they are God’s children. To have ever held the notion that being white is somehow superior would have been to dismiss half of who I was. People are precious. Period.

***

It is hard for me to identify with communities that are predominantly made up of any one people group. I grew up in San Antonio which has a large Hispanic population. The school I went to was predominantly white and Hispanic kids, although there were a few black kids there too. I think that just reflects the demographic of the city; I could be wrong.

And then we moved to South Dallas which is so ethnically diverse, I don’t even know how to describe it. At one point the town I spent most of my time in was probably nearly half and half when it came to black and white residents; a rapidly growing Hispanic population I am sure has since shifted the ratios around some more, not quite into thirds, but still each group is significantly represented.

I thought we were a snapshot of America, just an example of how the population trends were going. At the very least I thought we were a snapshot of Texas. But after conversations with friends in other parts of the state and the country, I have realized how completely untrue this is.

***

My first real encounter with racism was as an adult, my first year teaching, to be exact. A student had failed an assignment because she had skipped almost all the parts I had outlined in the handout, so her mother and I had scheduled a conference to discuss it. I showed the mom the assignment sheet I had passed out, and then I showed her the assignment I’d received from her daughter which was barely completed and missing pages. I saw the anger rising in this woman’s face and was starting to feel very sorry for what was awaiting her daughter when she got home, when the woman stood up and started yelling at me: “You’re racist! You’re just penalizing her because she’s black. I bet none of your white students did the assignment right, but they probably passed anyway. You think you’re so much better, but you’re racist. I’m going to the principal!”

I was too shocked to even say anything. She stormed out, and I burst into tears, certain that I was about to be fired from my first real job as an adult. Was she serious? The thought had never even crossed my mind that someone would accuse me of racism.

I want to say that was an isolated incident, but there were a handful of parents who frequently tried to get around their children’s poor academic performance by blaming the racist teacher. It was exhausting. And to be perfectly honest, it hardened me. This is what people refer to as playing the race card–making race an issue when it has nothing to do with the problem at hand. I am sorry to say I came to expect it. I am even sorrier to say that for a while it kept me from being able to hear the legitimate wounds and struggles people were facing. I was too indignant that someone would make an assumption about me based on the color of my skin (ironic, I know).

When I was about to pull my hair out, I sat down with a friend and co-worker one day (who for the sake of the story I need to say also happened to be black) and said, “Please help me. Am I actually being racist and I don’t know it? Or is there such a thing as playing the race card? Why does this keep happening? What am I missing?”

And those questions to her opened up a dialogue that helped me gain some perspective and understanding. In our little neck of the woods, there were definitely times people cried “racism” to detract from the actual issues, BUT this did not negate that racism was alive and well, even in our very diverse community. My friend was highly educated and had run into people’s surprise that she spoke “like a white girl”–as if somehow a black girl couldn’t possibly be well-spoken and intellectual. Her fiancee had been followed by police on more than one occasion when he was hanging out with his brother, suspicion aroused because two young black men surely wouldn’t be out at night unless they were up to no good. Neither of them were alone in these experiences. My heart started softening.

***

I was an English teacher and always had to field an endless number of phone calls and emails from angry black parents whenever it was time to read Huck Finn. The literary purist in me was always indignant. Did these people not understand satire? Could they not see how Mark Twain poked at the foolishness of racism? I held my ground until another dear friend and co-worker lovingly but firmly said to me, “I would never ask my children to read that book. I don’t care what point he’s trying to make. Do you know what it was like in the years immediately following the Civil Rights movement to be one of the only black girls in your school and have a teacher assign this book and all of a sudden your classmates think they have a right to try out this word because it was in literature and you’re the only one around for them to try it out on?”

That book was not on my reading list the next year. There were other ways to teach satire without ripping open wounds for the parents of my students.

***

I am so grateful these friends were in my life to help me see. I don’t say this in a smug “See, I have black friends” way. The corner of the world I grew up in was colorful, so my friendships were colorful. This doesn’t mean I have always been able to clearly see their stories, their struggles, their wounds, their needs. Actually, that has taken me a lot longer than it probably should have.

But I have been learning to see. And I have been reading some portions of history that were most certainly left out of my education. And I am listening to people who live in other places and deal with these things on a far broader scope than I previously imagined. I am no expert–not even close–but the research-hound in me has been unleashed on this matter, and what I am discovering is demanding that I approach current news headlines differently.

And this is where I feel like so much of the world, specifically MY conservative Christian world, is straight up missing the point.

If you are only caught up in all the details of transcripts and autopsies and so on from Michael Brown’s death, you are missing the point.

If your only narrative is the one about police officers doing what they have to do to make it home to their families alive, you are missing the point.

If you are quoting stats about black-on-black crimes and fatherless black households, you are missing the point.

If you are too busy saying looting and rioting isn’t the way to bring change, you are missing the point.

If you are looking at the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner as isolated incidents, you are most certainly missing the point.

Our black brothers and sisters are trying to tell us that something is not right. Actually that lots of somethings are not right. And the vast majority of them would agree that looting and rioting are not the answer, but still they are pleading with us to listen to what is behind those actions.

When my children act out, I can write them off as bad or I can find out what is going on in their hearts that is provoking this response. People’s behavior is evaluated this way all the time; why not now?

I think of the apostle Paul writing that we are a body and if one part is hurt, we all hurt. Well, I have black Christian brothers and sisters who are hurting, and even if I cannot fully understand or grasp what is prompting that pain, dismissing that pain is flat out wrong. Throwing around words like “thug” and “none of us were there so none of us know” and “let’s just wait for the facts” is not remotely helpful. It certainly is not loving or compassionate.

We should sit with them in the pain, mourn with those who mourn, and offer our voice to their prayers. Above all, we lay down our agendas and our politics and our limited lenses, and seek to understand.

There is so much more I could say. I had a whole other section about the police side of this after my experience with my husband going through the police academy and pursuing that career path. Maybe it’s another post for another day because this is already crazy long.

In the end, I am shocked by the lack of compassion I have seen on display, even through silence and refusal to engage. Compassion does not say, “Well, yes it’s tragic, but…” And compassion is not quick to find ways to justify the loss of life. So I am saying, pleading, with all my other Christian brothers and sisters, we can do better. We have to do better.

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Filed under Change, Grieving, Pain

#Ferguson (or When You’re Struggling for Words, but Still have to Speak)

AP Photo/Sid Hastings via Buzzfeed

AP Photo/Sid Hastings via Buzzfeed

I am heartbroken. My heart has been heavy for weeks now – Palestine and Israel, Syria, Ukraine and Russia, ISIS, Robin Williams, the list is getting longer and the world is unraveling.

But Mike Brown has pushed me over the edge. Every time I think about it, the tears come.

There are a billion words I want to say, questions I want to ask, things I want to understand and dialogue with friends who have better perspective than I do.

But not today.

Today is for lament. Today is for grieving. Today is for holy indignation. Today is for holding out hands to rightfully angry, hurting, frustrated brothers and sisters and breathing, “I’m sorry.” Because I am. I am so so sorry.

This is not the world I want, for you or for me. And I don’t understand how this is still a thing – how a person is assumed to be up to no good simply because of their skin color. Why??? Why are their people who see the world this way? Why are their people who want to hide out in their monochromatic bubbles away from anything and anyone different from them? Why do we think someone’s skin color speaks for their character?

I grieve for mommas who love Jesus and love people with their whole hearts, who are doing their best to raise their children to walk in peace and respect for people, but who are afraid to let their children out on the streets for fear of what someone will assume and do. I grieve for dear friends who have shared stories of being followed by police while they were out having a good time with their siblings simply because they were two black men. I grieve for friends who have struggled to find themselves because people made them feel they had to “act more white” in order to succeed in this world. I grieve for students I have loved and mentored who carry this weight on their shoulders ever single day. I grieve for sons shot dead and futures snuffed out.

And I am sorry for holding these words in my heart for several days and not writing them sooner. I am sorry it took a wave of conviction prompted by someone else’s boldness to make me speak.

I hate racism. I hate it with every fiber of my being. And I want to know how we can do better. I want to push back against this injustice.

But today I start with I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart. And for what it’s worth – to all the many races and ethnic backgrounds and cultures, but especially, today to my African American brothers and sisters, you have every right to be in this world. I want to be in your life, and I want you in my life. And I don’t want it to be my world or your world but our world.

I know it may not feel like it in the world at large right now, but with all sincerity, you ARE loved. Right here, in this heart, you are.

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Filed under Covenant Relationships, Grieving, Pain

Pleading (Psalm 6)

Note: Something I have been mulling over is the familiarity that can come with being raised in church.  I’ve read through all of the Bible so many times, my eyes can glaze right over the words without them imprinting on my heart.  But I believe with all my heart these words are eternal and can speak to us again and again.  This is my attempt to interact with Scripture in a different way, a more personal way, a way that makes it real to me where I am right now.  It is not meant to reflect any in-depth study of the original Hebrew or anything like that.  As I read Psalm 6:1-4 today, this is how my heart found a parallel with David’s words.

God, are You angry with me?

You feel far and silent.

Is this punishment?

Please – I am struggling.

My soul, my heart, my mind are faint –

done in from all the effort of facing each day,

trying to keep moving.

I need help –

even my physical body

is wearing down from the fight.

Questions,

Uncertainty,

Confusion,

Disappointment –

I am in anguish.

Make it stop.

Please, please just make it stop.

Do something!

Not something small,

not temporary relief.

Get me out of this hole,

this dark place.

I am clinging to words I’ve heard

again and again,

that You love me

and Your love does not fail.

Show me.

Save me.

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Filed under Faith, Pain, Prayer, Waiting

A Sliver of Hope

We’ve had a lot of craziness in our lives recently.  I’ve had a major project at work reach its climax.  I started taking care of a friend’s little boy 4 days a week, in addition to my own munchkins.  Any routine or schedule I’d been fighting for has been thrown to the wind.

Last Tuesday, I came the closest to having a productive, normal day I’ve come in several weeks.  It seemed we were finding a rhythm.  I managed to get a few things done around the apartment.  I managed to get some work done on my project.  I got all the little ones tucked in for naps.

And then the phone rang.  And after only a matter of moments, my world as I knew it was turned upside down.  I was left, struggling to breathe between the sobs.  (And I will write more about this change soon.)

The rest of the day was a fight to take care of the children and not alarm them, even though I only wanted to lock myself in the bathroom and cry.  It was a fight to face my friend when she came for her son and not come off as a deranged nutcase she should never have entrusted her child too.  It was a fight to be present when my husband came home, to not crawl into bed and refuse to come out.

In the middle of the fog and chaos and discouragement descending on me, I received this Facebook message:

I got up this morning around 6:30 to have my time with the Lord . . . I couldn’t get comfortable in my spirit . . . your face came before me in prayer . . . Please know that someone who really doesn’t know you other than saying hello in the parking lot was going before God for you . . .

God knew what my day held, and He stirred someone who is basically a stranger to spend the morning in prayer for me.  Why was it a stranger?  Why not a friend or my pastor or my own husband?  I don’t know.  I don’t care.

Or maybe I know a little.  Because in the days that have followed, I have often felt like maybe God has forgotten me, maybe He doesn’t see me.  It wouldn’t be that odd for someone I know to think of me in prayer.  But in moving the heart of a stranger on my behalf, the very day my soul was crushed, He emphatically declared that He does indeed see and know and has not forgotten.

This is my only hope right now, and I am clinging to it tightly.

And perhaps you, friend, have endured a heartache and disappointment recently.  Perhaps you feel abandoned or forgotten.  Tonight, I whisper a prayer that your eyes would be opened, that astonishing signs would be sent your way to have an assurance that He sees and He knows and He’s moving on your behalf.

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Filed under Grieving, Hope, Pain, Prayer

Healing the Race Wounds

Not too long ago, I was sharing with someone about the church my husband and I were at for 16 years before we moved.  It wasn’t perfect because there is no such thing as the perfect church, but there were some significant areas where this church got it very, very right.

The one I perhaps miss the most is that it was a dazzling kaleidoscope of color, so racially diverse.  And I’m not talking about a church that’s like 80% white with a few token black and Hispanic families thrown in so they can pat themselves on the back about being multiracial.  Not even close.  This was the real deal – a congregation with a strong African-American presence, a strong Hispanic presence, a strong Caucasian presence, plus a smattering of all kinds of other backgrounds and nationalities along the way.

I remember once hearing our pastor there mention how other pastor friends had commented on this characteristic and wondered how on earth we made it work.  And I remember thinking, “Why on earth would it not work?”

The context of this conversation was set against the deep racial wounds being exposed by the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial.  Truthfully, the depth of it all surprised me.  Not because I’m so naive as to think racism no longer exists in this country, but because I forget what a unique thing it is to grow up in an environment where racial differences were secondary to shared faith and purpose, where friendships were forged by what we had in common.  And when challenges did arise, they were navigated in the context of covenant relationships – we were committed to each other no matter what.

I have been blessed with friendships where we could frankly, lovingly and respectfully discuss issues of race – challenge each other or repent to each other when necessary.  We were able to say to each other, “Help me understand.”  We could face the hard things and walk away, not divided, but further unified.

I’ve had parents say to me, “Would it have been easier to go to an all [insert ethnicity or color] church?  Maybe, but I don’t want my kids growing up that way.  They would miss out on so much.”  So they made a deliberate choice to enlarge their boundaries.

This is the world I grew up in.  So yes, I forget that it’s not normal.  I said as much and the response I got was basically, “Yeah, you really need to get in touch with the rest of the world.”  And for a moment, I felt shamed and guilty, like I had done something wrong.

But the more I thought about it, I’ve concluded perhaps it would be more effective if the rest of the world got in touch with the reality I experienced.  We can stand in our monochromatic corners all day and shout, “Racism!” from afar at each other, but in the end, we will accomplish nothing.  There is no law, no trial verdict that can fix this.

The only way barriers come down is when we refuse to be contained by them.  If we actually want to mend this wound, we have to stop coming at each other insisting on being understood and instead lean in towards each other with a desire and willingness to understand.  And we absolutely must leave our all-(choose-your-color) corners of the universe and do life alongside each other.

And yes, I get that this is easier said than done.  It does get bumpy and difficult sometimes.  But it’s worth the effort and the messiness.  We have to stop imparting to our children the messages that “they’re just too different from us” or “they’re out to get us” or “they’ll never understand us” if we ever expect to make progress.  Instead the message needs to be, “There are people who are different from you, and that may be hard sometimes, but you will be wiser and better and richer if you will soak in everything they can teach and show you about the world.”

I’m crazy enough to believe this is possible.  Because I’ve lived it.  One person, one choice at a time, we can see this wound healed.

 

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Filed under Church, Faith, Healing, Pain

A Little Change of Pace

This week in Story101, we are being encouraged to write something that is outside of our comfort zone.  Being typically far more inclined towards nonfiction with spiritual undertones, I decided to dip my baby toe into the tempestuous waters of fiction.  I almost didn’t post it here, but then I thought, “Why not?”  And truth be told, I think a little bit of my personal nonfiction crept its way into this story.  Oh well!

 

A cold rain drizzled down, lightly rapping on her window pane.

She shrugged into her favorite red trench coat and rummaged in her closet for a hat, ignoring the voice inside her head trying to convince her to stay inside where it was warm and dry, like any normal person would.

She couldn’t help it.  She had to go.  Something beckoned.

Stepping out her door, she hoisted her umbrella and headed off in the familiar direction of the tube station.

In spite of the fact that everyone walks everywhere in London if they can possibly help it, the streets were emptier than usual.  Perhaps she had ventured out just late enough to miss the frantic morning rush.  Perhaps people of more sound minds had ducked into a pub or cafe to sip a warm drink.

No matter.  This was the London she liked best anyway –   one of those rare moments when the bustling city seemed to pause to catch its breath, as if some inaudible message whispered from soul to soul that at some designated hour, they should all inhale together and hold their breath a moment longer than usual before exhaling and reviving the whirlwind of activity.  In these pockets of silence and stillness, she always heard her heart most clearly.

Never mind that she had walked these streets countless times before.  Her heart fluttered with the anticipation of something new, something yet undiscovered.  She found herself picking up the pace, trying to hurry, as if by speeding up she would somehow catch up to this intangible thing and be able to grasp it.

Down the steps into the underground, slipping through the turnstile, she barely had a moment to wait before the train came roaring through.  Once seated, she finally allowed her mind to ask the question that had been lurking awkwardly in the room all morning, knowing it was uninvited but still begging to be acknowledged.

Just where exactly do you think you are going?

And where WAS she going?  Her soul had beckoned, and she had responded, simply wanting to let her heart feel alive.  Fortunately, there were countless places in the city which invoked this feeling in her, so it was only a matter of choosing one.  And settling on the need for beauty and art, she set her course for the National Gallery.

Mere minutes slipped by before that utterly poised voice came through the intercom, announcing the approach of Charing Cross station.  She stood as the doors opened and stepped out into the bustling station. The sudden emergence of activity threw her for a moment after the stillness of her morning, but the pleading of her heart was not drowned out.  Lifting her umbrella, she walked out into the falling rain, down the street and towards the museum.

The usual queues of tourists and school groups were assembled, but these she quickly passed, heading towards her favorite corner of the gallery.  Some condescending, self-appointed art expert had once told her it was cliché to love the Impressionists, but love them she did.  The softness of the paintings, the almost-blurring of the lines, the emphasis on the feelings evoked by the moment rather than the reality of the moment itself – how much of her life had been this way?  Indeed, she could rarely see a certain garden, feel a certain wind, walk under certain crisp autumn skies without recalling how she had felt in another time or place.

And even as these thoughts filled her head, there came the familiar pang of remembering.  Quickly, she scolded herself for at least the thousandth time, Why do you still let this bother you?  How ridiculous.  You are so far past this. How can this possibly still haunt you?

And just as quickly, there in the comforting presence of Monet, came the realization that some moments were precious gifts, purchased by the savings of her deepest hopes and longings.  Losing them did not doom her to a life without other such breathtaking moments, but the fact still remained that something precious had been lost, a truth she was terrified to acknowledge.

She drew in a sharp breath, finally allowing herself to feel the magnitude of what she had given, the pain slowly emerging from beneath the numbness.  Before she could muster the resistance to the onslaught of recollection, a tear broke through the hardened memories and slipped quietly down her cheek.

 

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Filed under Creativity, Fiction, Grieving, Pain, Writing

Giving Voice to the Pain

It came out of nowhere.

One moment I was happily working in the kitchen.  The next, I could hardly breathe, my heart doubled over with an old wound ripped wide open.

Not so long ago, I would have panicked, metaphorically rushed to stop the bleeding with a pathetic gauze of scolding myself and telling myself to just get over it already.  But not this time.  I am learning the purpose of these moments.

A song was playing –  the cause of my emergency surgery.  The words crept from background noise, demanding to be heard and tasted.  All I could think was, “Where was this song all those years ago?”

I don’t know, but it was here today and it gave voice to everything I had been too paralyzed and stunned to say.  It was excruciating to look back on that season and say, “Yes, that’s how I felt.  That’s what happened.”

But then the song ended and a miracle happened.  My heart was more whole than it had been five minute before.  All because the pain found its voice and said what needed to be said.

I think sometimes we are afraid to admit the healing of our hearts is a process.  Sometimes a very long process.  It’s like we’re afraid of making God look bad, afraid to say “I’m mostly healed, but maybe not all the way healed yet.”  And we’re afraid of the reactions of others, the inevitable “shouldn’t you be over this already?”

Can I say to your bleeding heart, your scarred heart, your heart in rehab – it is ok that it still stings sometimes.  It is ok that certain places are sore when they are used or touched again.  It’s ok.

Rarely does an emotional pain only happen once.  Usually there are moments upon moments, associated with certain days and colors and sounds and smells and sights.  Rarely does an emotional pain only touch one spot or one layer of your heart.

Our hearts are complex and deep.  Just as the pain seeped into layers, so the healing will come in layers.  And we don’t need to fear this.  There is a difference between processing a pain and wallowing in it.  There is a difference in acknowledging a pain with all its side effects and holding on to it.

And when it comes to making God look bad, let me tell you, when it comes to the healing of your heart, He is not concerned how He looks to anyone else but you.  Every human relationship represents an aspect of God’s heart and when those relationships become less than holy, leaving their scars, our perspective of Him is marred.  Part of our healing comes when we can see Him clearly again.  And He will walk with you as long as it takes to uproot the lies and restore His truth.

So let me encourage you – don’t shrink back from the pain.  Even if it is an old one.  Truly one day, that wound will be closed once and for all, but until then, lean into the process.  He loves you far too much to leave a single detail behind.  And when you are whole, you will be perfectly, gloriously whole.

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Filed under Healing, Pain