Struggling through race and identity

Been thinking a lot about race and identity and how to bridge the two without wounding. My children are bi-racial, I found out a couple years ago that I was bi-racial even though all of my life, as I have shared in my story, I have always felt “different” and am asked on a regular basis, “what are you” “where are you from?” Now to help my children grapple with this question in an information based, competitive society is another feat indeed. As I watch my children struggle through their experience, I am reminded of something God says in Psalm 34: “he will deliver us from all our troubles,” in the original text this isn’t exactly as us English speaking folk suspect. Rather, “deliver” in Hebrew means to prepare, equip or strengthens. When I reread the verse with that in mind, here is how it reads with the preceding verse:

“The poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him and prepares, strengthens and equips them.” (italics mine)

This changes everything because in a society that is self-entitled, avoids pain at all costs, I mean come on…we have a drug for everything, a label for issues, we are impatient, we throw major temper tantrums and…leave the marriage, leave the church, leave the job, leave the friendship, the list goes on and on, we look for anyway to be “delivered” from the situation. Clearly, this isn’t how God operates.

I find this truth to be hard when I am personally facing troubles but also extremely hard when I think of my children and their troubles which is why I am always blown away that we are called God’s children. When our children are struggling we only taste a small sliver of his pain he feels when we are troubled. If only I could make everything right when they are struggling especially when their troubles are a trace of my past sin, or when they have no control over the situation – like the color of their skin. Then there are the adult children…they sure know how to remind you of how jacked up of a parent you were and are. The struggle is real for sure with them but let us not forget the cute little stubborn, strong willed children who insist on their way.

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The Psalmist goes on to say, “those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing.” At first glance, we think wow, I seek the Lord, and surely there are good things in my life but what I am going through right now is NOT good and it says, “we will lack NO good thing.” Digging a little deeper, this is about the result of seeking the Lord, not our circumstances, possessions or our narcissistic selves feeling good. When we seek the Lord, we will only find good, there will be no lack of good as we are seeking the Lord in the struggle.

Yeah, I know it stinks that it doesn’t mean what we thought, right! But check this out, this Psalm may have been written over some time (not exactly sure of time frame), and I am not a theologian but think about it, we know that David suffered many injustices, but we also know he suffered at the hand of his own choices. When you get to v. 19 the tone changes.

He declares, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” This is a major declaration the Psalmist makes, yet, if only it really meant that we could avoid pain and suffering but again, deliverance here is – stay in the struggle and I will prepare you, strengthen you and/or equip you. This fits right in line with other scriptures that tell us about suffering – you are going to suffer, but this does not change who God is and how our struggles fit into the story of God that we play a part in.

But hold on, be encouraged, there is actual deliverance in the way we prefer – look at v. 4, “I sought the Lord and he heard me and delivered me from all my fears.” This deliverance means: snatch away, save, take out! How beautiful, remember perfect love casts out all fear and that God is love, and fear brings torment, torment is not what God uses to shape and conform us, rather troubles, suffering, hardship. I would say they really are different.

This looks completely different from the “troubles” that come when you love the unlovable, choose forgiveness for someone who has hurt you deeply, or in humility speak gently to the teenager who regularly rolls her eyes in rebellion. Surely, I want to be “delivered” (snatched up) from that child, or should I say, I want to snatch up that child, but these are the things that the Lord prepares, strengthens and equips us for, they can move us to seek him, and when we do, we lack no good thing!

As I work these truths, I am digging dipper into what this looks like for my “bi-racial” children and how the Lord intends to prepare them for their place in history (His story). Or maybe deeper how can we as a generation reconcile the racial constraints put on another and often by the hands of those that are the “same color” as us. Meanwhile, I will stick to what I do have control over and grapple with my children in the day to day questions they now get to answer for themselves, and hopefully in light of Gods truths and not the worlds.

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Tomorrow…

Tomorrow, my daughter Mary, who I placed for adoption, will turn 24 years old. When I think about this, I wonder not necessarily as a mother but as a woman what she struggles with. Does she have friends in her life that speak truth to her and encourage her when she is down? Does she have an intimate relationship with God and hear his voice? And in light of my last post does she know she is significant and has an irreplaceable role in this life?

The irony of all this is that I didn’t know I had an irreplaceable role and beauty that no one could take when I was her age. I exchanged it all for a lie. I bought the lie that boyfriends, sex and being the bad girl would give me significance and beauty.

As a result of believing this I ended up with all types of troubles including two unplanned pregnanciesprom mom 2 among other consequences. I say that carefully and very lightly. To be clear, both Mary’s life and Xaviar’s are precious and planned by the Creator. He makes no mistakes!

Surely, my consequences could have been something different than pregnancy, after all, there are plenty of women we know that can’t have children, couldn’t God have closed my womb and caused it not to bear life? Absolutely! But he didn’t.

The acceptance and affirmation we seek in this life can only be met God. I am not saying God can’t bring people into your life to speak into these places, he did for me, especially as a young woman who didn’t have a father, but apart from God’s will, seeking this out how we think best will only end in grief and disappointment.

Unfortunately, even after two pregnancies, I still struggled to see my worth and ended up remarrying with lots of baggage only to discover that I still through marriage was seeking something only the Father could restore. I remember when all the disappointment was laid bare for me to see! Years of seeking temporary fixes to my unmet need – all along my beauty and irreplaceable role that gave me significance and affirmation I already had, it is who I am and always was.

Cool pic with SamThe story isn’t finished, as I am still walking out marriage and womanhood, but one thing I am sure of now, I don’t need a husband, friends, money, or success to tell me I am beautiful and worth it. My worth is found in God alone. God is and has restored the broken places of hurt and disappointment.

I do pray that my daughter seeks God alone and hears His voice among all the other voices out there – how beautiful she is and how worth it she is! Women, we are worth it! We are worth being pursued by our husbands or husbands to be. We are worth more than selling ourselves to an empty lie… whatever the lie is you are tempted to believe.

I pray that every woman who reads this will seek and find the truth – who you are in Christ, your worth, that your choices don’t make up who you are, God is a Redeemer! God is very clear in his mind behind creating woman, his work wasn’t finished, his work was good but it needed that final touch – you – woman!

I do put my hope in God because though I don’t know where Mary is, or whether her family continued walking with God and if she continues to walk with God. I would certainly be blown away if she sought me out! I would be honored to have that place in her life to remind her who she is. For now, I pray the God who delights over her and celebrates her life keeps her pure and holds in her in the palm of his hands!

 

Sin, No Longer my Mark

Is there a sin that you struggle to get past? That marks you? Where you relive your stupidity or the shame that came as a result? I do. The contempt I feel towards myself for something that happened 10 years ago has left its mark. I could intellectually brush it with, “Jesus forgave that sin on the Cross,” and that is true but pride and fear keep me from realizing what the cross really means to me.

When I think of being “marked by sin” I think of the leper, or the woman who wouldn’t stop bleeding or the man who had a disease and couldn’t walk, supposing, as the religious leaders thought, they’re infirmities were the result of sin. The sins that result in something seen like sickness, divorce, imprisonment or an unwanted pregnancy leave a certain mark. But the sins that may go unnoticed like stealing, lying, or contempt don’t so noticeably mark us although they still have the same ability to dictate what we think and feel about ourselves and God.

BirdcageWhen I dwell on my sins that are “remembered no more” I feel shame and yet shame was nailed to the cross.

I combat the work of shame by identifying with Christ – meaning I acknowledge and offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that I am marked by Him rather than by my sin. I battle to not feel contempt towards myself and others involved when I relive that day that happened so many years ago. Simply put, there is no way to explain away the sin in my mind. There is absolutely nothing I can do to punish myself more, or change my “behavior”. It is by grace I am saved and not of myself. I have a new mark.

I attended a conference where a presentation was given that I will never forget. After a dramatic entry, a line of about 7 women entered the stage, each holding up a sign. Each sign was labeled with the sin that marked them before Christ: fear, contempt, shame, abused, liar, un-forgiveness, rape, and abortion. Then, the speaker said, “but today this is who they are in Christ.” Each woman stepped forward in their turn and turned the sign around to show who they were in Christ: beloved, daughter of the King, forgiven, set free, healed, loved, you get the picture. It was powerful! This has stuck with me since and is a stark reminder of the simplicity of God remembering my sins no more!

Another way, I combat contempt and shame is through the Word. Peter, the fisherman, after his Come-to-Jesus moment, rejected Jesus, even after Jesus told him he would. I can only imagine the shame Peter felt. I am so grateful God recorded these events, especially those of failure. Peter could have very well forsaken the call to fish for men because of the mark from failure. Instead, Peter let faith have its perfect work in his life, where he would become marked by Christ – an instrument of revival for the kingdom of God.

I am encouraged that God takes both willful and un-willful sins, and pulls all things together into something beautiful! What other gods do that! He is not dependent on me. Nothing can separate me from God’s love – absolutely no sin! I think I heard someone say something like this: “the only thing between me and the Cross is what I put there.”  My new mark: a daughter of the King, Forgiven, Healed and Redeemed! He remembers my sins no more!

Remembering My Story

When I realized it had been a year since I started blogging, I decided to celebrate by changing the theme. If you have blogged for any period of time you know that when you do that you have to edit the posts to “work” with the theme. So I did just that.

Not only is it my blogging anniversary but it will also be Mary’s birthday on February 27. After all, that story was the original purpose of blogging. How fitting that I decided to re-post My Story:

I grew up in a humble home, free to run around barefoot, with un-brushed hair and skinny legs. I am Italian, Irish and something else…I became aware of how different I was from my cousins, dad and even my mom but mostly my sister. She has blonde hair with blue eyes; I have black hair with brown-hazel eyes. My Dad, I would eventually learn was my Step-Dad. He treated me as his own, just like he treated my sister (his biological child); he was a car mechanic by night and an Electrician by day. I remember him coming home late at night from work; he was a hard-working man most of his days. When he was home he took us for rides on his motorcycle, he let us crawl under the car while working on it and had a voice that could sing.

My extended family I would describe as kind to one another. The memories we hold are many – as a child we Aunt Claudette and Dadwere together every holiday and birthday. My grandparents lived two houses down from my childhood home and my biological father’s sister, my Aunt (picture to the right) on the other side, next door over. For the most part my childhood was normal.

Around the time I turned 12, my Mother and “Dad” were divorced and before I knew it we were moving out of the only house I ever knew and called home.  I started middle school and other things I had no business starting. I was pregnant at 15, my freshman year in high school. I didn’t last very long in a traditional high school and eventually attended a program through the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association). There I would meet lifelong mentors who I am indebted to; they would be my support system as I would make the hardest decision of my life – to place my daughter for adoption.

Family members and friends encouraged me to have an abortion and for different reasons. I remember being told that pregnancy would cause stretch marks and ruin my skin for the rest of my life; that I wouldn’t be able to go to college and hardest of all I was told that if I chose to keep my child that I would have to move out and handle my responsibilities. At the YWCA, I eventually experienced similar responses from peers that were also pregnant, and thought I was crazy to consider adoption. While most of them wouldn’t tell me directly how they felt it was implied by their skillful ability masked in a comment like, “wow, I couldn’t do that.” Only a handful truly had compassion and concern and would befriend me, after all, we were literally walking the aching road of pregnancy together.

My sweet boy and meIn 1994, I decided to go in the United States Air Force (USAF). I will never forget the moment that would awaken the hardest day of my life – kissing my 18 month old goodbye as he lay in his crib. I left at 5:00 AM on March 3, 1995 for basic training in San Antonio, Texas. I had high aspirations and nothing was going to stop me, not even the emotional waves of leaving that sweet little boy peacefully sleeping.  However, this gut wrenching twist in my stomach and knot in my throat that stopped the tears wouldn’t let up; visions in my mind of leaving her sweet little face through the glass window at the hospital on February 27, 1991.

Initially, I wasn’t going to see her but at the last minute I told the nurse I changed my mind and wanted to see her. There she was a head full of black hair, that same black hair that left me unsure of myself as a child. She was beautiful with fair caramel-colored skin and long legs, the same skinny legs that reminded me of myself running around barefoot with un-brushed hair. As tears ran down my face, my mother did the only thing she knew to do which was wheel me out of the room as quickly as possible to the closest exit.

Xaviar is a handsome, wide-eyed, inquisitive little boy, full of wonder. He has a way of getting himself in trouble by unwittingly “telling” me all the happenings of his day. I will never forget the phone call from his kindergarten teacher, “please come and get him, he has been kicked in the private part and is in a lot of pain.” Our time, stationed in Okinawa, Japan, per orders of the USAF were very difficult, though I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything; but I didn’t have family to call on for help. I rushed to his school and took him to the doctor. He always had a way of creating, let’s just say, situations like this. Today, he is taller than me, still has handsome brown eyes that draw you in, a personality that demands attention upon his presence and a sweetness that still tells everything.

His sister on the other hand, I don’t know, the last time I saw her was the day I was wheeled out of the hospital in a wheel chair with tears running down my face. Yet, that is not with regret. I have never regretted placing my daughter up for adoption. In fact, I can’t help but think about the letter the adoptive parents sent me a few weeks after her birth. It included a precious verse from the Bible, Ephesians 1:3-5: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure…”  I experienced a glimpse of God’s nature by placing her up for adoption just as God adopted me into His Kingdom.

One day, I look forward and hope for the chance to meet my daughter Mary Elizabeth, to see her beautiful long skinny legs and pure black hair. I am grateful for the experience. I would eventually have stretch marks and graduate from college. My mother and I are very close now; God has restored what once was a very broken and hurtful relationship to one that is open and growing in love each day. My mother is also blessed to have many grandchildren including the 3 from my husband and me.

20131225_181322Eventually, I would take steps to build a relationship with my biological father despite having been adopted myself by my step-father I call “Dad”.  My father and I see each other regularly and he enjoys brief times with his energetic, loud grandchildren and has grown fond of our new relationship. I have also spent the last two Christmas’s with my biological brother, from my father’s previous marriage. However, I will never forget lying under the Plymouth Valiant with my Dad, rides on the motorcycle, and best of all, his rendition of Randy Newman’s Short People while gracefully strumming his guitar. I look forward to hearing Mary’s story but until we meet again, I will share the beauty that comes from the ashes of an unplanned pregnancy!