I've never been one to make New Year's Resolutions, and not because I think it's a terrible idea. Mostly because self-control is hard, and I have a severe fear of failure. This year, though, I've felt the nudge to do something different. I will be choosing a word for 2018: LISTEN.
Lately I've found myself living inside of strange echo chamber. My kids do something annoying, and I start to think about how to post about it in a hilarious way on Facebook. I see my dog do something cute, and I immediately snap a photo for the world to see. What kind of blog post can I write that will garner the most attention? What status update and adorable photo will gain the most "likes" and "comments"? What kind of witty, self-deprecating comment can I add to a Facebook conversation that will make me appear charming and genuine? This mindset isn't reserved just for social media either. For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed making people laugh with silly one-liners and storytelling techniques. Even though I truly am an introvert, I also enjoy affirmation. Is that true for all of us?
I don't think any of that is bad in and of itself, but I've been noticing a side effect of these behaviors: I forget to listen. I forget to listen to those around me, the friends and family members and students that I encounter in my everyday life. And more importantly, I forget to listen to the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit. Instead of praying for my sometimes-annoying children, I write status updates in my head. Instead of truly listening to my student share about the decision-making process in selecting a major, I think about the perfect story from my own life that somehow relates to her situation. Rather than truly focusing on what my husband tells me about his day, I scroll through a newsfeed or think about a recipe or remember a story I wanted to tell him. Instead of turning to Jesus, my best friend and confidant, as I try to make sense of the world around me, I think about how to compose the best-ever blog. And I don't want to do that in 2018.
I'm not 100% sure what this will look like, but I know it will sound quieter. It will include less social media presence and more time of quiet reflection. And I'm excited to see what the Holy Spirit does. I'm not signing off of my blog or Facebook for the entire year because sometimes writing can be an essential part of my personal listening process and some of my best friends are found on social media, but I will probably post less often and more intentionally. When my mind starts racing with what I could say or what I should write, I will silently think to myself, "Listen."
On Sunday we drove home from Kansas City after a holiday visit with Chris's mom. We spent some of the time listening to Christmas music. Forgive me, but I'm a sucker for Christmas nostalgia in the form of dusty records from the attic. My childhood Christmas soundtrack was Burl Ives and Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole played from LPs. Nat King Cole's version of "O Holy Night" played on our Sunday afternoon road trip. That song gets it all right, doesn't it? The holiness, the beauty, the chains and the freedom. At one point I said to Chris, "This version is my favorite. He sings just the notes."
There's some truth in our need to sing just the notes, too, am I right? Just like Nat King Cole doesn't need the extra riffs and embellishments to create the perfect version of that holiday classic, we don't need the extra busyness and chaos that we often create in the holiday season. However, in our attempt to fabricate the perfect holiday, we put up extra strings of lights and spend more on gifts than we should and say "yes" to too many Christmas parties. We would be better off if we stuck to Nat King Cole's version: just the notes.
Since becoming parents, that has been a holiday goal for Chris and me. We pare down and focus on the essentials. Tonight we will wrap gifts and drink red wine while the boys are at basketball practice. The store-bought wrapping paper won't match on the edges and the corners will not be crisp. (My apologies, Dad. You definitely taught me better.) I'll probably write names on gifts with a Sharpie. This year at least I have clear tape. (I've been known to wrap birthday gifts with duct tape.) The perfect ribbons and intricately lettered name tags aren't essentials for us. (No judgment if they are for you.)
We probably won't make it to look at Christmas lights this year, and we might not get to watch every Christmas movie on our list of favorites. I never get all of the baking done that I'd like to do, and this year we're making our own gingerbread houses out of graham crackers and frosting because I didn't want to shell out the cash for the fancy store-bought ones. But that's okay. Those things are the extra riffs and embellishments that might make us lose focus on the notes, if we're not careful.
Just the notes. So what does that means? The Gospel notes are pretty simple:
Jesus came. Jesus lived and loved. Jesus died so you and I can experience freedom and forgiveness. Therein lies our greatest hope.
Sing just those notes this Christmas, friends.
When I was in the fourth grade, our school Christmas concert featured a select choir. Students could audition with our elementary school choir teacher, and the best singers in the bunch would get to perform "The Christmas Song" in a special small group. I have always loved singing, and in the fourth grade, I thought I was pretty good. I confidently signed up to audition, all the while picturing myself on the stage in a sparkly new Christmas dress. The spotlight would be beaming on me as I sang my heart out to a crowd of beloved grandparents and teachers. The audition came, and of course, I nailed it. And then the list of performers was released. Imagine my shock when I read and reread the names, only to realize I had not been chosen.
This could be a story illustrating how it feels to be left out, but for me that story was more about my unfulfilled expectations. I wrote my own story that Christmas season, and it featured me as the main character, a singing prodigy. Little did I know that reality would instead have me watching with envy from behind the curtain as my classmates took center stage.
The holiday season is often about writing our own story, isn't it?
In our holiday fantasies, the extended family all gets along with no talk of politics or uncomfortable comments after too much wine. Our work parties include the perfect balance of appetizers and light-hearted banter, and our children are completely satisfied with every gift under the tree. (Like the year I got my Fisher Price house AND typewriter.) We have the right amount of snow for making snowmen, the weather isn't too cold or windy, and the hot chocolate is always served at the just-right temperature.
Our expectations are often unmet with our own holiday version of broken leg lamps and awkward bunny pajamas and the racist family member who always drinks too much.
Last week Chris and I had a raw conversation about the story we had written for our lives. It involved travel overseas, sometimes with and sometimes without children. It included a budget for a closet full of cute clothes and dining out whenever we wanted. The holidays would be filled with chaotic laughter with extended family followed by quiet, comfortable time at home. I would maybe have my PhD, and I guess while I'm at it, we were both in better shape and I had longer eyelashes. Chris, I'm sure, wrote himself with a beard.
Out of respect for my children I won't share details, but I will say that is not our reality. Trauma has left its footprint on our lives, and it doesn't get erased with the freshly fallen snow. Somedays, it doesn't seem fair. A Hallmark movie we are not. I often don't send out Christmas cards or letters because I'm not sure how to spin the truth in a public-worthy, palatable epistle.
I know I'm not alone in this story writing. No one writes cancer into her own story; the career-ending injury wouldn't make it past the first edit if we were writing for ourselves. A cheating spouse or the death of a loved one? No way would those events happen if we were the authors of our own story.
Similarly, if the Israelites had been writing their own narrative about the Messiah, he would've come as a powerful king, ready to overthrow the Roman empire. He definitely wouldn't have come as a helpless baby who grew up to dine with prostitutes and tax collectors just to die the death of a criminal.
I'm slowly learning to relinquish my control over my own story, instead relishing in the fact that I have the perfect Author. When I was 18, the story I wrote for myself included marrying a boy from my hometown followed by successful careers and bio children in a Pottery Barn house in the suburbs somewhere. Instead I found myself in God's story, a minor character who met a gangly dark-haired young man at a concert in Kansas City. I traded the suburbs for creaky wood floors in the city, and instead of a high-powered career, I get to help young writers find their voice every single day. I maybe can't afford a closet overflowing with a J. Crew wardrobe, but I scored the best comfy sweatshirt at a thrift store the other day, and really I would rather live in worn-in yoga pants and wool socks anyway. And a perfect family life would surely be so boring.
This holiday season I'm trying to not peek with envy from behind the curtain as others play a more important role. When that dreaded thief named Comparison sneaks in, I squeeze my eyes shut and whisper a prayer of gratitude for the life I wouldn't have chosen. Because slowly I am learning that God's story has a much better ending than any I could ever write for myself.
This isn't much of a teaching blog lately, is it? I'm writing about race and Christmas ornaments and today, Jesus. I'm apparently not very good at sticking with a theme. Or maybe it all ties together. Who knows?
For the past few months, however, I've been noticing a theme in my faith life. The Bible is full of so many outsiders. I think we in the Church (myself included) need that reminder again this Christmas season: Jesus came for the outsider, too.
Part of Jesus' lineage is Ruth, a Moabite widow who definitely should not have been invited to the party by traditional standards. She's so important, though, that she gets a shout-out in Matthew 1:5. Then later in Matthew we are introduced to the Magi. As John Piper points out, Matthew skips right over the shepherds to get to these foreign astrologers who were some of the first to celebrate Jesus' birth. Check out Matthew 8:10. Do you know who Jesus was talking about when he said this: "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith"? It was a Roman centurion, not only an outsider, but a resented outsider. In Luke 7:29-30 we read that even the tax collectors believed that "God's way was right," and in case you missed it, the tax collectors weren't part of the "in crowd." We also have women playing an essential role in the story of our Messiah, with some of the most beautiful words of praise in the New Testament being declared Mary, Jesus' mother, as she presents a humble prayer of worship in Luke 1:46-55. (It's also worth noting that by Mary was an unwed pregnant teen, most definitely an outsider during that time period.) And I still get goosebumps every time I read the account in John 20:11-18 of Jesus first appearing to Mary Magdalene after the resurrection. Look at Jesus' teachings where we encounter the Good Samaritan. See his ministry where He healed the beggars and the lepers and the most destitute of us all. Behold his dying-breath conversation with the thief on the cross. Again and again, we see Jesus display compassion for those outside of the "in group."
Even a cursory glance through the Gospels convinces us that Jesus didn't come for the ultra-religious and the holier-than-thous. As a matter of fact, they were so busy being right that they missed Him completely.
So where does that put us during this Christmas season? I think it's a not-so-gentle reminder to get out of our comfort zones and remember that the Good News of the Gospel is not just for the insiders. It's for the least expected. It's for the war-wounded refugee and the unwed teen mother. It's for the recovering heroin addict and the convicted felon sitting in a jail cell. Or, in the words of Dave Matthews, "The people he knew were less than golden hearted -- gamblers and robbers, drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers, like you and me."
For many of us, this isn't a new revelation, but if you're like me, it takes practice to move from understanding to believing, and action is often a requirement. What does that look like? It might be putting together kits to hand out to the homeless as we drive through the city streets. (I found great ideas on Pinterest that I will be putting together this weekend.) It might be preparing a meal for a down-on-his-luck neighbor or providing gifts for some foster kiddos. I think it's up to us to carefully discern on the individual level, but with certainty I can say this: Sharing the Good News with the outsider looks like lots of things, but it doesn't look like the repeated care and concern only for the insider. Jesus made that clear.
And maybe the revelation is that I'm an outsider, too, so the beautiful Gospel is for me.
I have a confession. Every Christmas season I find myself wishing I lived inside the movie White Christmas. I want the fancy dresses and the graceful dancing and the melodious crooning. I want the magical snow at just the perfect time, and I want sandwiches made for me to eat by the fire. But then I remember that I cannot sing like Rosemary Clooney, and I definitely can't dance like Vera Ellen (and don't get me started on the size of her waist!) My reality is much more Clark Griswald and a little less Bing Crosby, so if I'm not careful, I can find myself stressed and irritable and not at all jolly.
Today, however, I am pausing to take joy in my Christmas tree. It is far from perfect, too, and because of the angle of the top, it looks like it just might plummet through the front window at any moment. But it's real, and it's ours, and nearly every single ornament on it tells a story.
Because we were broke twenty-somethings, our honeymoon wasn't to a luxurious resort or spa. Instead, we stayed in a condo in Lutsen, Minnesota. With our basecamp a condo overlooking the lapping shores of Lake Superior, we explored summer in the state parks and leaned into the love we had just committed to. Our tradition of buying Christmas ornaments on our many adventures began there with a jolly-looking bear carrying a Christmas tree of his own.
I often tell my students, "Don't do college like I did." I wasn't sure of what I wanted to be when I grew up (I'm still not....see this and this), so I went back to the University of Northern Iowa to finish an already-started teaching degree. There I fell into a part-time job at the Continuing Education office where I met my supervisor, Brenda. She taught me about good tea and taco salads and gifted me with these beautiful hand-made straw ornaments. Every year Chris says, "I think these are some of my favorites" as he hangs them on the branches, and every year I say, "I agree." Thanks, Brenda.
A few short months after our wedding, we packed up all of our belongings and traipsed down to our new home in Mount Vernon, Missouri. Because I couldn't find a full-time teaching job, I began work as a teacher's aide in the elementary school. I was out of my element for sure, but I was surrounded every day by sweet children and the sweetest of teachers. I spent a lot of time in the room of Mrs. Kellie Krebs that year where we painted our very own gingerbread ornaments. Kellie showed me what it looks like to give your all in the classroom while simultaneously balancing marriage and family life. Her fourth grade students felt like they hit the jackpot every day when they walked into her room, and so did I.
Our time in Missouri introduced us to our first-ever Christian small group experience with a few married couples. In small group I witnessed the beautiful vulnerability of women sharing their sadness as they tried to conceive babies and couples making tough financial choices in the early years of their marriage. We saw job changes and house changes, and for a few years, we did life together. One tradition of small group was a Christmas ornament exchange, and while I have no idea who the Kansas City Chiefs player is that delicately balances on my Christmas tree, I know that every time I clip him to the branch, I think of that small group. The seven couples that attended are all still married more than ten years later. That is beautifully miraculous.
In the spring of our last year at Missouri, my beloved grandma Dorothy died. The trip back to Iowa for her funeral provided the perfect time to interview for a new teaching job, so a few years after moving to Missouri, we found ourselves making the trek north to Okoboji. I can't write about his now without crying because I miss my sister and her crew oh-so much, but for eight years we made our home there where we eventually became a family of four. Okoboji is bike rides around the lake in the fall and nachos at the Taco House and coworkers who felt more like family. Life had other adventures planned for us with another move northward, but our years in Okoboji will always be a tightly-held treasure for me represented by a bobber on my tree.
Before becoming parents, Chris and I took other trips. We visited my dear cousin Taylor in New York City where we dreamed of being city people while carb-loading with the world's best pizza and bagels. Because we were also tourists, we visited Lady Liberty and brought her home to hang on the tree. We also lounged on the beach at the Riviera Maya in Mexico. After being so seasick I prayed for death on a ferry ride to and from Cozumel, we bought our little sombrero so we can dream of sunshine and sweet cocktails in the middle of winter in the Midwest.
Then we became parents. Christmas with kids has taught me to release all expectations of a perfect holiday and to instead enjoy each simple moment as it comes. Adoption introduced us to the very best community of ridiculously brave parents who make daily sacrifices to provide the best life they can for their sweet kiddos. The red heart on the African ornament reminds us of that community, including Shannon and her family, who sold these as a fundraiser for their second adoption. This ornament also reminds us that part of our hearts still beats on the bustling streets of Addis Ababa.
We've also taken trips as a family where we carefully choose a souvenir to bring home. We have a lighthouse from Saint Augustine, Florida, a moose family from Winter Park, Colorado, and an ornament from the Christkindlmarket in Chicago. Because I tend to go through life with rose-colored glasses, I focus on the good memories of these trips: the Bloody Mary delivered on the beach while my boys frolicked in the waves with their cousins, the ache in our muscles as we reached the summit of a mountain in Winter Park, the great conversations we had about faith and science while exploring the Field Museum.
A glass bone balances on the tree for Rooney, a gift from the best neighbor we could have ever asked for, Lori. She took care of Rooney and loved him like her own, even when we moved across town, and she thoughtfully chose gifts for our boys each year that made them feel treasured. And of course the newest ornament to hang on our tree symbolizes our new home, Minnesota, the beginning of a new chapter where we hope to add new adventures and memories to our branches.
So our tree isn't perfect, but then, Jesus didn't come for the perfect, did He? My "merry" might be messy, but it's mine.
Rusty pines stretch high over the lake
under the finally-blue, afternoon sky.
Those towering trees have a Story to tell
as they clap their hands in praise.
Through breaks in their branches
cobalt blue races to the shoreline,
pushed by a Force outside of itself --
a rhythmic lullaby of rejoicing.
That Force, that Story --
they are also in me.
So I, too, sing a song of thanksgiving:
For the breath in my lungs,
the words flowing from my fingertips,
the Truth that I am enough.
For the beat of my heart,
the laughter leaking from my insides,
the Trust that I am loved.
Amen and amen.
While winter doesn't officially arrive for almost two more months, the giant snow flakes on Friday and the wind chill of 18 this morning tell a different story than the calendar does. My students are coming to class in layers of down and wool, and we've traded our flip flops and tanks for fur-lined hoods and thicker socks.
Although I've never officially been diagnosed, each winter I find myself experiencing some symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Maybe I miss being outside. Maybe I miss the sun. Maybe I hate seeing my pale, pale skin in the mirror. Whatever it is, during the long winter months there are days I lack energy and zest. I have less laughter and more angst. Last year I purchased what I have dubbed my "happy lamp," and this year I'm trying to combat my winter blues with some intentional "hygge." If you're not familiar with the term, you probably live in a warmer climate.
(Side note: I think some mistakenly believe that caring for our mental health is selfish, but as a mom and a wife and a teacher, I know that is simply not true. Taking care of me means I can better take care of those around me, and this winter I vow to make that a priority.)
I find comfort in tradition and intentional rituals. For example, while I hate the mess of carving pumpkins, I love that for the last five years as a family, we have taken the time to create lions and tin men and silly faces and fan art for Iowa State. So yesterday I cooked a pot of chili, simmered some apple cider with cinnamon sticks, and played good music while we dug our hands into the messy goop. I drew the curtains to the dreariness outside, and the four of us talked about our days, laughed at our carving mistakes, and enjoyed some intentional cosiness. (The Jameson Irish whiskey in the apple cider was a helpful touch for the grown-ups.)
This fall I've also rediscovered a love for long walks. Soaking in just 30 minutes of vitamin D and clearing my mind while breathing in fresh air will be a necessity this winter, even if requires strapping on the warm boots and an extra sweater under my down coat. Because my mental health matters, I will get outside as much as I can.
So this winter I'm going to make more soul-comforting soups (I'm trying this one next week) and play more soul-touching John Williams and Hans Zimmer. I'm going to drink warm drinks out of my favorite mugs and watch the snow fly out of my big picture window. I'll be baking more bread and picking up my knitting needles again. I'll also be listening to the daily prayer and scripture on the Pray as You Go app. I don't imagine this will be a complete cure to the winter doldrums, but it sure doesn't hurt to try.
What are you doing this winter to keep your spirits lifted? Any favorite soup or warm drink recipes to share? I would love to hear all about it!
Here's another recycled post from a dusty, long-forgotten blog. It's a message that still needs to be heard - by me and by all of the other brave, beautiful women around me.
I'm not going to say anything new here. My thoughts won't be neatly organized and perfectly coherent. I'm just putting these thoughts in words, hoping that perhaps I can tattoo them in my own mind and heart.
It started with a blog from a friend, and I was thinking about how so many women face battles with food. So very many precious women that I love have trudged through bulimia and anorexia, overeating and overexercising.
And if it's not food, it's something else.
It's when I look in front of the mirror, dripping from the shower and think, "Teeth aren't white enough from drinking too much coffee. And yes, my upper lip is still too thin. Look at those damn wrinkles under my eyes. Like the dark circles weren't bad enough. And that's just great. More acne. Why won't my body remember that I haven't been a teenager for over a decade? Yep, extra weight around my middle. Perfect. "
It's when I'm at the grocery store berating myself because I don't have the time or energy to purchase only all-organic, all-natural foods and cook gourmet and also budget-conscious meals for our families.
It's when I look at other people's boards on Crackterest Pinterest and think, "Wow, do they really make all those recipes, wear all those outfits, create all those crafts, perform all those exercises??"
Not enough wrinkle cream.
Not enough Bible study.
Not enough treadmill time.
Not enough healthy food.
Not enough reading with the boys.
Not enough. Not enough. Not enough.
And I know where it comes from, too. It's the nature of our beast, right, ladies?
Our own insecurities produce overcompensation, masking our own true and beautiful selves. So we use social media to project this image of perfection in the form of romantic date nights, sweet moments with children, the Best Workout Ever, unending satisfaction at the workplace. Or we hide behind comical self-deprecation or the extra glass of wine or the careless flirtation with a coworker. We learn from our female role models, too, because that's just the way this female game works.
I see it in my female students, too, as they put on their false selves. Oh, I wore mine so well at 16 and 17. It was a false self of a pious and self-righteous Christian who was too good to go to parties with my peers. For other teenage girls it might be the need to wear every hair in its place with a perfectly coordinated outfit and accessories. It might be a carefree/careless attitude that results in purposely unkempt hair and multiple days in the same pair of yoga pants.
It all comes from the same root, though -- the mask put on because she doesn't feel like she is good enough.
This message of not enough comes from too many broken hearts and broken homes and nights spent crying and unrequited love. It comes from The Curse and the fear that we're not supposed to be like this. It's from jealousy and inadequacy.
So today I want to scream, "YOU ARE ENOUGH! I AM ENOUGH!"
You in the grocery store putting frozen pizzas in your cart because you don't have the energy to cook dinner after working more than 40 hours this week?
You on your couch looking at the perfect workout photos posted on Pinterest and wishing you had time to make it to the gym today? Or even walk around the block for that matter?
You who cried again in the shower because you get teased at school because you have a crush on a boy who doesn't even know your name?
You who lost your temper with your overtired children at bedtime after a week of too-little sleep and too much running?
You with the laundry spilling out onto the floor and the dust bunnies under the bed and the dishes piled up in the sink?
Too fat, too skinny, too boring, too tired, too nerdy, too bland, too wrinkly, too disorganized, too, too, too.
Enough, enough, enough.
"When I look around, I think this, this is good enough, and I try to laugh at whatever life brings. 'Cause when I look down, I just miss all the good stuff. When I look up, I just trip over things." -Ani DiFranco, "As Is"
And that "good enough" doesn't have to be a depressing admittance of resignation. It can be an acceptance of dreams and looking forward along with contentment and appreciation, a presence in the now. Living like surely these women do. Or this woman. Or this girl.
And I'll forget again tomorrow as I look at the Facebook photos of half-marathons, gorgeously staged family portraits, and photo-worthy desserts, but I have this written now. Published. Tattooed.
I'm pausing today to express some gratitude. The world swirls around me with chaos and unending news stories of flood and famine and fire, of sexual harassment and nuclear war. I scroll through my newsfeed and see sickness and sadness, conflict and confusion. In the midst of this, though, there is goodness, mostly in the never-changing, never-fading love of the Father. I'm learning to lean into that love more. It's safety in the midst of the storm.
Today, then, I pause for gratitude because, after all, "Gratitude evaporates frustration," an important lesson I taught my students just last week.
I am thankful for our new church home where I sit in a Bible study on Jonah on Wednesday nights and realize just how little I've ever been taught about the Bible. I'm thankful for those who have the gift of teaching, who can unravel the story and the historical context and help me understand God's heart more.
I am thankful for the campus where I work each day, where I can walk up the stairs and be reminded of the foundation of God's Word. From the breath-taking view outside of my classroom window to the peaceful chapel I walk by on my way to class, I'm thankful for consistent reminders of God's goodness and beauty as well as the importance of community.
I am thankful for our sweet pup, Rooney, my constant companion when I write at my little desk or fold laundry at the kitchen table.
I am thankful for my marriage. After thirteen years, it feels healthier than ever, even as we've weathered major transitions in the past six months. Chris is my very best friend as well as the best partner ever for laughing at reruns of Seinfeld or talking about the daily news stories. He has sacrificed way more than I have for this move to St. Paul, but he has done it with joy and his ever-present smile. He truly is the best.
I am thankful for my sons. My older son makes me think with his deep questions about life followed by a funny joke inspired by Garfield. My younger son lets me cuddle at bedtime and smiles on his way out the door to school, even when he doesn't want to go. They remind me that incredible beauty can come from the ashes, that phoenixes really do exist.
I am thankful for the height and depth and width and breadth of God's love, an all-encompassing, safe love.
In the midst of the chaos and confusion of the world around me, I am thankful.
If you're involved in the transracial adoption world, you have more than likely heard of or experienced the bead activity. Basically you take an empty clear cup and fill it with beads to represent people. Each color of bead represents a different race, and you put beads in the cup to symbolize your dentist, doctor, spiritual leaders, neighbors, etc. By the end, you have an understanding of how diverse your world is. If Chris and I had done this activity prior to adoption, our cup would have been 100% white. The diversity was only increased by the addition of our two Black sons. Two beads of color in a sea of white.
Have you ever had the experience of being the only person like you in a certain scenario? Maybe you're the only Iowa State fan in a family full of Hawkeyes. Maybe you're the only female in a workplace full of males. Maybe you're the only Muslim in a classroom full of Christians. That experience can feel isolating and sometimes scary. Of course we are adaptive creatures and can more than likely adjust eventually, maybe even discovering empowerment. But isn't there something comforting in looking at someone with shared experiences and without even exchanging a word, knowing they "get" you?
When Chris and I entered the terminal for Ethiopian Airlines at the airport in Washington, DC, it was one of the first moments in my life where I was one of only a few white people in a room filled with people of color. It was exhilarating because we were preparing to visit the birth country of our soon-to-be sons, and the diversity of language and skin color was a beautiful reminder of what heaven would surely be. Of course we spent those few days in Addis Ababa with extra attention as the "ferengi," but the Ethiopians warmly welcomed us with smiles and coffee ceremonies. We weren't bombarded with unwelcome questions or requests to touch our hair or skin. And of course after those few days, we returned home to our world of white where we would soon bring our children.
Our neighbors and friends welcomed our sons with open arms and kindness. Our boys received services and attention at school and church. They were known and loved, but they were often the only people of color in pretty much every scenario we put them in. From sports teams to summer camps, our church home to our school family, our boys rarely had a racial mirror other than each other and a few other international adoptees in our community. As we tried to navigate a world of racial disparities and inequalities, our boys had to learn lessons about taking care of their Black skin and being a young Black man in America from two white people just trying to do the best we could.
I often tell others that our agency did a fantastic job preparing us as best they could for the realities of early childhood trauma and what that might look like for our children. They did not, however, do an adequate job of preparing us for the realities of raising children of color in a nearly all-white community.
Eventually, the idea of moving came up again and again in conversations between Chris and me. In the car or at night after the boys were tucked in bed, we began to research potential destinations that would provide opportunities for more beads of color in our cup. And then we made the leap. I will be honest in saying that this decision came with a side order of sacrifice. We left behind a support network of friends and family, including the blessing of "doing life" with my sister and her crew. I closed the door on many years of a successful career as a high school English teacher with coworkers who were my friends and confidants and many students who made my work feel like play. Chris said goodbye to the flexibility of owning his own business and, for the most part, setting his own schedule, a dream for family life. Our boys left behind the only sense of stability they had ever known in their young lives, including a network of solid friendships and teachers who knew them. And of course we miss those things. We would all be lying if we said we didn't. I still cry when I think about missing my niece's junior high volleyball games and sharing a knowing smile with my nephew in the high school hallways. While we're growing our network here, adult friendships take time and energy, two things that are often in deficit in our busy lives.
Time and time again, however, our children are in a sea of color, and all of those tiny sacrifices become so worth it.
This summer I found myself at awards ceremonies at the end of basketball camp where I was one of two white adults in a gym. My boys are playing on a flag football team full of children of color. We have a Black family practice doctor and a rec center up the street staffed almost entirely by people of color. My sons are no longer finding themselves in that isolating role as the only. We have a church with a diverse staff and congregation, and better yet, we have co-lead pastors who frequently address race and the Gospel.
I'm not here to tell other adoptive families that they absolutely must move, that an urban environment is the only way to go if you are trying to raise kids of color in today's word. I'm just saying that our cup has more colorful beads today, and we are so thankful.
I like to teach.