I stumbled across this post that I wrote over three years ago about how difficult I found parenting to be… oh, how true that remains! I thought I would re-publish it because 1) the book I recommend is still one of my favorites, and 2) the pictures of baby Jeremiah are cracking me up! He was such a mess!
I’ve never been a kid person. When Michael and I first got married (and for many years after that) I would walk by the baby isle at Target and inwardly cringe at all of the baby stuff. I didn’t hate babies, I just had no idea what I would do with one of my own. Kids were something for later… waaaaay later.
And then something happened and now I was living in “later.” It was time to think about having a baby. When we talked about having children, we always jumped ahead in our thinking to when they would be cool. Like when they were 9 or 10 years old. When they would be able to read and play guitar and have a conversation. We didn’t really focus on what it would be like to have an infant– largely because we had absolutely no idea.
For instance, did you know that new moms can become slightly irrational about their little ones? I do not usually consider myself to be the irrational type, but within 12 hours of bringing J home, I became obsessed with the temperature in his room. He was born on July 1, but I was convinced we were keeping it too cold in the house. I bought two thermometers for his room because I needed to know at all times what the temperature and humidity level was. I needed two thermometers so that I could make sure they were accurate.
I didn’t realize how much this child would change me. I knew he would change a lot of things about my life– sleeping, to name a big one– but I didn’t realize how much he would change me. I didn’t know how much I would miss him while he spent an afternoon at Grammy’s. I didn’t know how much I would love making him giggle hysterically by yelling “Boo!” at him. I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to listen to him cry in his crib. I had no idea how much my heart would leap when he placed his hands on either side of my face, looked me straight in the eyes, and leaned in super fast for a kiss (which turned into more of a head butt.)
I had no idea about anything baby-related and I didn’t really try to fix that. I read a few books when I was pregnant about how to swaddle a baby and help him sleep through the night, but that was it. In my mind, there was a good reason for not reading tons of books about becoming a parent. I didn’t want to obsess over every decision I made. I didn’t want to read books that would contradict each other and leave me frustrated and confused. I didn’t want to read about all the things I should be doing and create more and more metrics to judge myself by. I’ve been down that road before and it never ends up where I think it will. It took a really long time, but I’ve mostly embraced the idea of grace. The idea that I am going to make mistakes but there is grace for me.
I didn’t dive into all the books that I might have read. Instead, I turned to a few dear friends who probably did read all those books and I said, “Help me please!” I have learned a ton from them and I am grateful for their patience with me. I know they think I’m a bit strange with all my [basic] questions, but I would rather ask someone I love (and who loves me!) what they tried and how it worked, than try and sort through what books are going to be helpful and what books are going to make me hate myself.
So, this next part is going to be pretty ironic because I am now going to recommend a parenting book that I read and really loved. I am not against books. I love books! I’m just trying to be more discerning about what I read and whose advice I take. This book is one that has really stuck with me and I find myself thinking about throughout the day. Especially in those “melt-down” moments.
Give them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson- The authors do a fantastic job of showing us how to bring the Gospel into our parenting. What I think about the Gospel is the most important thing about me. So to have a book that demonstrates how the Gospel dispenses grace into every aspect of parenting is incredibly refreshing. There’s good theology in this book, but there are also good, practical discussions on how to raise your children to love, adore, and be captured by the Gospel.
“Every way we try to make our kids “good” is simply an extension of Old Testament Law– a set of standards that is not only unable to save our children, but also powerless to change them. No, rules are not the answer. What they need is GRACE. We must tell our kids of the grace-giving God who freely adopts rebels and transforms them into loving sons and daughters. If this is not the message your children hear, if you are just telling them to “be good,” then the gospel needs to transform your parenting too.”
I am not an activist.
I do not protest or boycott or wave signs in front of the courthouse. I have absolutely no desire to read political blogs or engage in debates with people who cling to labels and find their identity in promoting ’causes.’ I do not consider myself to be harsh or dogmatic and, as such, have always resisted the divisive nature of politics.
I am a Christian and I have been utterly changed by the gospel. And as I look at myself and other southern, white, gospel-loving people I am saddened by what seems to be a continued lack of concern for our black brothers and sisters.
The gospel is about love– the love of the Father in making a way for us to be reconciled to him. It’s about the love of the Son as he came and lived among us and then died to claim us as his own. The gospel is about unmerited grace, forgiveness of sins, and putting all the wrong things right again. This is not a gospel of fear. This is not a gospel of self-protection. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not call us to constantly replay in our minds all the bad things that could happen to us if we reach out to those who desperately need us. No, the gospel calls us to die to ourselves– to do things that appear foolish to the world. The gospel calls us to reach out to others and actively work for their good.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58: 6-8)
I have given myself a pass for far too long when it comes to ignoring the difficult things of this world. “My life is so hard already,” I say. Raising two small children who are determined to zap the life force right out of me seems like a good excuse. Plus, I need to spend time with my husband and let’s not forget that I have a very demanding job. There just isn’t the time, energy, or interest left over for me to care about anything beyond my little life.
Systemic problems like the mass incarceration of young black men or the still-present disparity in educational opportunities for so many poor students and students of color are issues that have existed for years. These are things that I do not even know how to begin to think about. And so I don’t.
I just don’t think about them.
I do not own these as my problems or admit that I have any role in finding their solutions. All these years I have willingly worn the blinders that my station in life affords me. These “whiteness blinders” have always been there, focusing my attention on things that society tells me are inevitable, and blocking out the really unpleasant things. I will most likely never worry about the possibility that my church might burn in the night or wonder if my husband will be seen as a threat to law enforcement officers if he’s dressed in baggy jeans and a hoodie. It’s very possible that I could go the rest of my life without ever engaging in meaningful conversations about race with my sons. I don’t think about the hard things in life because I am mostly removed from them. I don’t think about these things because I don’t have to.
But surely I have some responsibility. Surely the gospel compels me to do something. Raising my young boys to rightly understand this world—to fully grasp the gospel and how they should try to live it out in this time and in this place—may very well be the most important thing I ever do. Will I follow the example of previous generations and hope that because I do not actively teach them to be racist, that this in itself will be enough? Will they understand and see all the ways in which our society is tilted in their favor? Will they grasp the role they are to play in using their privilege to elevate the voices of those that are often marginalized? Will they even care?
How in the world am I supposed to teach them these things when I still have trouble recognizing them myself?
In an effort to educate myself on the civil rights era and how it played out in the places I call home, I am reading books, watching documentaries, and talking to people who lived through it. My husband and I are currently watching the documentary series from PBS, Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years. Each night as we watch people recount stories of the bus boycotts in Montgomery or view recordings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. passionately preaching, I feel the blinders coming off. As I watch the drama unfold of what it took to enroll James Meredith at the University of Mississippi in 1962, or see numerous governors decide to close the public schools instead of integrating them, I am shaken. I am even more shaken to realize that it was totally acceptable in our society for the vast majority of white Americans—many who identified as Christians—to hold such racist views. As I watch white southerners in Arkansas and Mississippi gleefully chant “Two-Four-Six-Eight, We Don’t Want to Integrate,” I realize that I am looking into the face of my past. This—this right here—is my heritage on display.
And it’s incredibly ugly.
What do I to do with all of this? What’s my role in the months and years ahead as I teach my students and raise my children? I still have no idea how to solve big systemic problems like racial injustice, but that doesn’t mean I can remain unmoved by their existence. When people you love are hurting, you hurt with them. If I am able to move through life completely unaffected by the suffering of my black brothers, what does that say about my love for them? What does that say about my claim that the gospel has truly changed me?
Nicholas Winton, the man who saved hundreds of children from Nazi persecution during World War II, said, “There is a difference between passive goodness and active goodness, which is, in my opinion, the giving of one’s time and energy in the alleviation of pain and suffering. It entails going out, finding and helping those in suffering and danger and not merely in leading an exemplary life in a purely passive way of doing no wrong.”
To my shame, I have often been content to live my life “in a purely passive way of doing no wrong.” Due to a combination of ignorance and indifference, I have been unmoved by the injustices around me. I have withdrawn from discussions about difficult things because it makes me uncomfortable. I have not found or helped “those in suffering and danger.”
While I cannot take off my whiteness or opt out of the privilege it brings, I can do more to educate myself and my friends and family about the realities of our shared history. I am convinced that there are thousands of people out there like me. Thousands of people who have no idea what to do and so they follow the path of least resistance that is paved with apathy. For every person that is yelling something hateful or waving a confederate flag intending to offend, there are many, many more people that are stuck in the terrible trap of indifference. I am certain that there are many gospel-believing white Christians out there who want to make a difference but feel helpless and have no idea what to do.
Here is my plea to you, dear friends:
Begin by reading this book, this book, or this book. Begin by watching this documentary. Begin by reading more about how racism is a “system that institutionalizes an unequal distribution of resources and power between white people and people of color.” Begin by finding like-minded Christians who will dialogue with you about your white privilege and give you precious feedback. Begin by inviting the black folks in your life to really be in your life by sitting around your dinner table and praying in your living room. Begin in whatever way seems most natural to you.
But please, just begin.
My essay, I Will Not Stay Silent: A Southern White Woman’s Response to the Charleston Massacre, seems to have struck a nerve. It made it to the front page of The Huffington Post and Google Analytics tells me that over 35,000 of you have visited this site in the last six days. That’s kinda crazy.
The thing that I have loved so very much about this experience is reading the comments that so many of you have left. Somehow we have been able to bridge the divide of black/white, young/old, rich/poor, and southern/northern– we have told our stories to each other and we have been changed. I want to continue the conversation. I want to continue learning from you and being changed by all of you.
I don’t have ads on my blog so I am not sure how much advertisement revenue would have been generated for a readership of 35,000. When the post started to gain traction, I thought about putting ads up, but only because I would love to donate the revenue to some organizations that are actually working to pursue racial reconciliation. I really don’t like the idea of having ads on my blog. This is my scared space, you know?
It seemed like maybe it would be worth it if I could make a hefty donation out of all of this, but after talking to my super-wise husband, I decided to try and raise money another way. I don’t want to even appear like I am trying to benefit from the Charleston Massacre. I do, however, want to see if there is another way to leverage the interest in my essay.
I am not sure if this is going to work, but I’m going to try. I want to raise money– yes. But more than that I want to raise awareness about the injustices that are so often ignored in our society. I am convinced that if people’s hearts and minds change, their actions will follow.
Once upon a time, I fancied myself to be a photographer. I had grand dreams of opening my own studio in our little downtown area. I spent an absurd amount of time learning about photography, researching posing techniques, building a website and generally being uber-focused on my dream. Then real life set in and I realized being a photographer is not really what I should be doing. As much as I wanted to be a portrait photographer, it really stressed me out. Like reaaalllly stressed me out. There are many reasons why it wasn’t a good fit for me, but the biggest one is that I really hate selling my work. I want to take photos because it makes me happy and not because it makes money. Capitalism stresses me out, y’all.
And so I stopped worrying so much about getting photography jobs. I quit taking money from people and now I only take photos for families if I really, really love them. I found out that I would much rather wander around the yard and take pictures of weeds with my macro lens than chase someone else’s kid around that same yard.
But, I thought maybe I could sell some of my prints if all the money is donated to some amazing organization that helps us move forward from this terrible tragedy. I don’t know what organization that is, but I am going to ask my friends who know things like that and I will report back what they say. (If you have ideas for me, leave me a comment and I will investigate- thanks!)
Here is what I am proposing. You buy a print and I will donate 100% of the proceeds to one or more non-profits that have a mission for racial reconciliation.
I have lots of fine art photos that I’ve taken over the years. Many of them adorn the walls of my house and they make me happy on a regular basis. Some of them are weird like a cup full of colorful kids’ utensils and some of them are are artsy like the one of Yates Mill that accompanied my original essay. There’s one of a fortune cookie (don’t ask) and several that reflect the rural landscape of my beloved south.
The photography website that I spent forever developing back in 2013 is still kickin’ around so everything is all ready to go. Click HERE to view the gallery. Prints start at $10 (that’s super cheap!!) and shipping is free with orders of $25 or more. See examples below of how I have them displayed in my home to give you ideas. The frames I used in these displays are super cheap (less than $5 for most of them!) Here is a link to the frames I used if you want to get this same look.
Okay, friends. Get out there and buy some prints, share this post, and let’s see if we can do more than just talk about changing the world.
When I walk into my classroom on the first day of school each year, I am always nervous. It’s not because I don’t know what to do or say, or because I am unsure if things will go well. I don’t know why I always have butterflies in my stomach, but maybe it’s because there are all these students sitting quietly in their seats, faces turned toward me, waiting for me to begin.
There is a palpable anticipation on their part and they are looking to me to set the tone for how our class will proceed. That first day, every student is new to me. And though they might have heard about me from older students and I might recognize some of them, this is the first time they are a student in my class. And it’s a little awkward. They don’t usually get my jokes that first day or realize that I am most comfortable when I’m being goofy. It takes us a little while to form into the class that we will eventually become. They have to learn about me and my quirks and I have to learn about them. But mostly, it takes us a while to really gel as a class because I have to earn their trust.
My first few years as a teacher, I didn’t understand that teaching was all about building a relationship with my students. Naively, I thought it was about lesson plans, grading papers, and classroom management. I eventually learned that what good teaching really comes down to is me going out of my way to show students that I am on their side, that I am for them and that I believe they can do the work. I must do this over and over and over. My first job is to “win them over;” after I’ve done that we can get down to the business of learning Geometry.
I used to think it was obvious that I was on their side… I’m their teacher! Of course I want my students to be successful, of course I will help them if they need it, of course I have time for them! But I teach high school mathematics. By the time students get to my class, they have already decided that they either like math or they H-A-T-E math. It then becomes my challenge to convince those students who feel uncomfortable and even a bit suspicious of me that I truly am on their side. I don’t have any control over my students’ past experiences that shape their views of mathematics. I have to take each student as he or she comes and many come with a history of feeling like an outsider in math class.
Somewhere along the way I realized that there is a very particular power dynamic that exists in a classroom between teacher and student. Not only am I the only adult in the classroom, but I am also the one that assigns work, controls their grade, and judges their behavior as acceptable or not. These are perfectly valid reasons for any student to be wary of me during the first few weeks of school; students who have had bad experiences in previous classes will be even more justified in wondering if I can be trusted. Am I the kind of teacher that is going to sigh deeply at them when they come in two minutes late? Am I going to make sure they feel my frustration when they sheepishly admit that they don’t have their homework… again? Even worse, am I going to shame them in front of others because they don’t understand a concept?
Because I am the teacher and I have the power, I have to be very careful with my words, my tone, my actions, and even my facial expressions. It’s up to me to show my students over and over that I can be trusted. I can’t just say it once and expect them to believe me. It will not do to simply assume that my students rightly interpret my subtle attempts to show them that I care. I must over-communicate my position that I am on their side and that I believe in them because, given their likely background, they will have a hard time trusting me. I first have to acknowledge that the power dynamic exists and then work within that construct to help my students flourish.
There are also power dynamics that exist in our larger culture. These range from obvious ones like the dynamic that exists between high wealth and low wealth groups, to more subtle ones like the tension that can exist between people who were born and raised in a place and those that are newcomers to that same area. And there are definite power dynamics that exist in our culture because of race, but this is one of those things the majority white culture doesn’t particularly want to acknowledge. I get it. By admitting that whites have a kind of privilege not enjoyed by minorities, it feels like I am happily identifying with my ancestors who took it for granted that they were privileged. It feels distasteful and, honestly, it makes me feel… dirty? It’s hard to explain the emotions that swirl around in my head/heart/stomach, but it feels similar to the nervousness I feel on the first day of school. I don’t want there to be a power dynamic and I certainly don’t want to benefit from it. It feels very uncomfortable to admit that I have some sort of “power” that is accessible to me simply because I am white.
But admitting that a power dynamic exists doesn’t mean that I am endorsing it.
And so, just as I’ve realized it is on me to show my students over and over that I can be trusted, it is on us, white folks, to show our minority friends, acquaintances and even strangers over and over that we can be trusted. It does not matter whether we want this power dynamic to exist–it’s there. Perhaps the first step in shifting the power dynamic is to look for it in our own lives and then work to elevate the voices of those around us who are often ignored. Perhaps we can begin to shift the balance of power in a significant way as we listen to one another and consciously decide that we are not content with how things are. Perhaps one day, the idea of white privilege will legitimately be a foreign concept to my children’s children.