Saturday, October 31, 2015

Columbia SC Classroom Assault: The "Aha" Backstory

I've stayed away from controversial topics here recently. Sometimes when you're working through your own personal drama, you just don't have the mental and emotional energy to focus on anyone else's drama. So I've kept it pretty light and fun for the most part.

But this week, I had to write about one particular news story. It just struck a nerve.

Most of you have heard about the teen girl assaulted by a police deputy in her Columbia, South Carolina classroom. Most of you have seen footage of the attack. All of us have come to our respective conclusions. I've heard several over the last week.

"The Columbia Sheriff was right to fire Deputy Ben Fields. This was police brutality at its worst."

"The girl deserved the treatment she got. With her horrible attitude and defiance, she needed a beat-down."

"The teacher is at fault here. Teachers should have better classroom management and control over their students."

"That girl's parents need to get her in check. If a child of mine carried on like that in class, she wouldn't need a deputy to drag her across the floor. I would have."

And on and on...

Yet here's the part of the story that really broke my heart.

That 16-year-old girl recently became a foster child.

The story from the New York Daily News...
"In an interview with the Daily News, Todd Rutherford, the respected Columbia, S.C. attorney representing the assault victim... revealed that his client, in addition to suffering injuries on her face, neck and arm, is living in foster care."
I don't know why the young girl is in foster care. Her mother and grandmother are both living, so she is not a legal orphan. And yet this teenage girl has already experienced a huge trauma -- the trauma of losing her family.

I read an article yesterday by Russell Moore, adoptive dad and President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, that really hit home for me as an adoptive mother. His major point: prospective foster and adoptive parents should enter the foster/adoptive process with eyes wide open, understanding the challenges of raising children that have experienced the losses associated with being displaced from their biological families. His words:
"Potential parents should be told, from the very beginning, that every child adopted or fostered will be, in a very real sense, a "special needs" child. In every case of adoption or foster care, there's a tragedy. Someone died, or someone was addicted, or someone was impoverished, or someone left."
I have seen this reality in my own home in the eyes of my son and daughter that joined my family through adoption. They have known great loss. They have endured real trauma. They have experience a tragedy. The parents that birthed them, for reasons unbeknown to them, were unable to parent them. Before they were adopted, they were displaced from all they had known.

This is the tragedy this teen girl has experienced. This is the trauma she has endured. 

Unfortunately, she has endured another major trauma. One that's been played over and over again on the news and in social media.

So what should be our response?

Instead of jumping to swift judgements in situations like this, let us be swift to bow our heads and pray for all involved. This experience was traumatic for everyone involved -- especially a 16-year-old foster girl.

I'm praying that this young lady will find healing from the traumas in her life. Will you pray with me?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Blackish: Making a Case for Multi-Ethinic Churches

I'm not much of a television-viewer -- except evening news and "The Voice". I am front-and-center for Pharrell, Blake, Adam and Gwen, whenever possible. Make no mistake about it.

But there are a few shows I like to catch every now and then. ABC's "Blackish" is one of those shows.

Now some of you are nodding your heads right now, because you love this crazy, quirky show. Others are shaking your head adamantly and have lost all respect for me for wasting a full half-hour on this crazy, quirky show.

Wherever you are on the "Blackish" spectrum of love and hate, hear me out for at least the end of this blog. Because last Wednesday's episode spoke volumes about a weekly phenomenon rarely addressed in today's television world.

Last Wednesday "Blackish" went to church.

Yes, you heard (or read) that right. CHURCH.

I won't rehash the entire episode in a day and age when television can be watched on-demand multiple ways. Check it out for yourself when you can. But I did want to share a few thoughts that came to mind while I watched this episode titled "Churched".

I'll share them here, if you will allow...

1. "Black Church" and "White Church" are Different

Now I know I risk sounding stereotypical here, and I promise that's not my intent. After all, I grew up in a predominantly Black church in Baltimore where we sang traditional hymns accompanied by a classically-trained organist. We learned choir music the old-fashioned way, using sheet music to learn the lyrics and our parts. We seldom clapped in church, and our service was very quiet. Church began at 11 and ended by 12:15.

You can imagine I was completely overwhelmed the first time I practiced with a more traditional Black church choir, where the choir director sang out each part so we could learn the song's lyrics and melody.

So believe me, I know there are all types of Black churches and White churches.

However, there are some commonalities amongst most traditional Black and White churches. And "Blackish" had a field day showcasing an exaggerated parody around this.

The White church service was spirited, and had a worship leader that led the congregation in happy, uplifting music. The service was over in 45 minutes. The sermon was structured and easy to follow - a typical 3-point message. The following Sunday, main characters Dre and Bow struggled with sitting through a nearly-identical service to the previous week's.

The Black church, on the other hand, was a different experience altogether. A huge choir donning purple choir robes performed song after song after song... The service lasted for nearly five hours, the sermon multi-layered and unapologetically long. Church announcements -- delivered by Dre's mother Ruby -- went on for nearly an hour.

During the service, Dre and Bow's White friend marvels, "Wow, six songs!"

"Each one more uplifting than the last," Bow responds, attempting to maintain a smile.

I chuckled over the exaggerations, but found myself nodding a lot too. Traditionally our churches are just different. And different isn't bad. It's just different.

2. Multi-ethnic churches can offer a middle ground

My husband Anthony and I served in multi-ethnic churches for 15 years. We love the multi-ethic church, so I know I'm partial. Yet one thing I love about racially-diverse churches is the blending of the cultures - evident in preaching styles and worship music. It's cool to hear Israel Houghton, Donnie McClurkin and Chris Tomlin all in one worship set.  Service length is usually a happy medium too -- somewhere in the 1 1/2 hour range.

Though this melding of cultures can have its share of hits and misses, the best benefit is doing life with people who look a little different, live a little differently and sometimes cook a little differently. Multi-ethnic church can offer a taste of heaven, where "every nation and tribe and people and tongue"* will worship God together forever and ever.

3. Finding a good church can be challenging

I found myself saying amen to Dre and Bow's conclusion after attending the Black church and the White church. Thinking they'd give up on going to church altogether, they concluded that it would take some time to find the best-fitted church for their family. This is so true. While there's no perfect church for any one person or family, there is certainly a church that will best fit our personalities and spiritual needs.

Whether it's a Black church, a White church or a multi-ethnic church somewhere in-between, it often takes a while to find it.

But it's certainly worth the search.

* Revelation 7:9

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tennessee Bound... But When???

I guess you can say I've been in a bit of a funk.

It's been a rough couple of years.

Marital issues. Major challenges with one of my children. Losing my Dad earlier this year, then losing my Mom exactly three weeks later.

And so on and so on.

But God's grace is truly sufficient, and I am still here. I'm still standing. And I'm believing that He will make me better on the other side of all this.

I'm believing that I'll be testifying like Job one day...

"But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold." *

But I ain't quite there y'all.

So... while laying here in this spiritual cocoon, I made a decision to keep my mouth shut until I could share something with at least a drop of hope and joy.

I've barely visited my social media sites. And I haven't written very much. I'm still doing my freelance writing, but that's relatively easy. When I'm creating an e-newsletter for a nonprofit or writing copy for someone else, it's not personal. I can keep my distance. No one has to know what's going on with me. No one cares what's going on in my heart.

I can highlight the lives and accomplishments of others. I can remain anonymous. I can talk a lot, yet be silent.

So much easier than what I'm doing right now. Being real. Authentic. Imperfect.

So during my moment of silence.. or days... or months, my husband Anthony told me he believed God was calling us to relocate back to Franklin, Tennessee. Franklin -- a sweet southern town where we lived for almost a decade before our time in Arkansas.

Franklin, Tennessee

I was excited about the thought. I love Franklin. It was home for many years, and the place I've always considered a second home. An added bonus -- we have great friends there.

And yet, I was also a little sad. I'd kinda hoped God might send us back to the East Coast. Back to the DMV -- DC/Maryland/Virginia -- the place that I consider my first home. After losing my parents, I'd hoped to move closer to my sisters and have my children grow up near extended family.

But... after I thought of all that moving to Franklin could be for my family, I got excited. Anthony and I began making plans, scouring Zillow for homes and searching job boards. More than anything, we prayed.

And God began to give some direction. Anthony began raising support for a nonprofit ministry that would be a great fit for him. I sent resumes in for communications jobs where I thought I'd be a great fit.

We also sold our house. We had nothing holding us back.

But apparently God had another plan. We'd originally set our move date in August.

Here it is the middle of October.

We have reevaluated, regrouped and reconsidered. We've prayed and questioned and fussed... And we're still here in Conway, Arkansas. In our little comfy two-bedroom exec apartment. 

We've answered countless questions. "Aren't you guys moving?"

We've seen the puzzled looks on others' faces. They are still here?

Trust me. We're as confused as everyone else.

And yet there are so many bright spots...

We haven't had to abruptly say goodbye to the sweet people we've known here. We live very close to our old neighborhood, so our children still have playdates with their friends. Our kids are in the same schools. The apartment is small, but has kept us closer together. My children are learning to share and sacrifice more. I have much less "house" to clean, which is awesome. Life feels carefree.

Less really is more.

Also, while still believing things are brewing in Tennessee for us, God continues to open doors here in Arkansas. Just this week, I was blessed with an opportunity to serve an amazing nonprofit here until we move. Anthony continues to teach at a local ministry and help facilitate diversity workshops for a friend's consulting firm.

I'd thought our work here was done, but God had another plan. Echoing in the cocoon of my life, I can hear His voice reminding me...

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." **

I hear You, Lord. I hear you.

*   Job 23:10
** Isaiah 55:8