When she knelt in front of me on the cement floor of the conference event center, I gave the answer I usually give, but I wished I’d had more to offer. She wanted to know, “How do I raise my little girls to be better? How do I teach them everyone matters? How do I raise them to embrace everyone?”
I gave my standard answer, sitting on my folding chair, my knees resting against each other and my toes pointed inward. I told her to notice who sits at her dinner table, and I told her to think about the people who invite her to their dinner table. And, I think that matters. I do. I think it matters when our children see people of all cultures and races and religions and abilities and political parties and languages joining us to break bread, right under our roofs.
That beautiful young mom thanked me and she hugged me and squeezed my hand before she walked away, but she got me thinking. I’ve been mulling her question over in my mind and in my heart. Standing in the shower, breathing steam into my lungs, I’ve wondered about a better answer I could give her. One with more practical steps and tangible ways to build a new normal for her girls and for our world.
Because that’s what we’re aiming for, isn’t it? We’ve taken a good look around us and we’re realizing we can do better, when it comes to making space in our worlds for people who are different from us. We are feeling the changes all around us, and we are happy about the walls that fall and the bridges being built.
So, I’ve been thinking about what I’d tell that mom if ever I got a second chance, and here are a few things I’d say:
- Read books to your children that feature children of color, and make those books your go-to books. For one week, one month, or an entire year, let the books you and your children read together be the ones that feature children of different races, cultures, abilities, and ethnicities. Consider these suggestions, courtesy of a few of my Facebook friends: The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, My Name is Sangoel by Karen Williams and Khadra Mohammed, or The Hello Goodbye Window by Norton Juster. My Facebook friends had a lot to say about this. Their hands-down favorites are The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, and Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe (also available in Spanish). Check out all their suggestions, here.
- Attend story time at a library in a different community. Or, if your child is interested in gymnastics, dance, soccer, or some other activity, consider enrolling them in a program in a different community, where you and they will each get to interact on a regular basis with people whose daily life is different from yours.
- Consider embracing a sister church. As a family, find a church that is different from yours, and attend that church once each quarter, or even once a month. Get to know the people there and become familiar with the style of worship. Participate. Meet with the pastor and pray for the congregation as a family. Be open about this decision with people in your home church who wonder where you disappear to each quarter or each month. Go out to Sunday dinner with the members of your sister church, and think about inviting friends from both of your churches to share a meal at your home, or a night out together.
- Enroll your child/ren in VBS at a different church this summer, and sign up to be a volunteer. Whether at a church you designate as your family’s sister church, or some other church, invest in one week of fellowship, learning, and working together with the children and families of a church in a community that is different from your own. Get in touch with that church many months in advance of VBS. Establish a relationship with them and ask if it would be possible to serve in this way.
In every instance, the goal is to make the inclusion of people from different cultures, races, ethnicities, and abilities a normal way of life for your child. As they grow, our children should be more surprised when they find themselves in environments — especially among people of faith– where everyone they meet looks just like everyone else. Instead, their normal will include the richness of the knowledge of people and customs from many different cultures, each deeply loved by our God who created us all.
We get to gift our children with a new kind of normal, where every tribe and tongue and nation come together here on earth, as it is in heaven. After all, isn’t that what the prayer really means? Isn’t the power in us — the same power that raised Christ from the dead — sufficient to help us find our way across the lines and over the walls that divide us? This is the moment where we get to roll up our sleeves, in the right here and the right now, and live out the ministry of reconciliation to which we’ve been called.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Reading your post, I do wish I could go back and do some things differently…be more intentional about opening my children’s eyes and hearts. I do take comfort though knowing that my son’s best friend is of another race and my daughter purposely chose to teach in an inner city school that is multi-racial. I tried to teach my children that we love, not because of someone’s color, or ethnicity, but because God first loved us…but there is, and always will be, room for improvement…thank you.
Lynn D. Morrissey says
Bev, my father taught in St. Louis’s what we call the “inner city” for nearly fifteen years, plus we lived there. He was in the minority, and so were we (as European Americans). I also worked in the inner city years later, also as a minority. Through circumstances beyond our control, these things changed, but I treasure the friendships and experiences. But Deidra always makes me think, and I realize, I need to *purposely* put myself in those situations. I am sure that your daughter’s and the lives of those whom she has touched have been enriched.
And, on a side note, I always love to see you in the comments, Lynn. I truly appreciate your perspective on the world.
David Rupert says
Agree. Great wisdom wrapped in easy to grasp truth
Sounds to me as if you did a pretty good job, sister. I get it, though. My kids are adults, too. And, I’m always kicking myself for things I wish I’d known back then. But, we all do the best we can with the information we have. And, the main thing is love. It really is. If our kids know we love them, and that we’re always growing and learning, that means something, don’t you think?
Wow! This is just “spot on”!!! We really have to be intentional about exposing our children to differences, so that differences become normal! I love the pictures of my boys and their friends, where I can see every color of the rainbow. It’s exactly the way God intended it to be. He just wants us to LOVE!
Yes! Never underestimate the power of love! Following any of these suggestions without first making space for love renders it all meaningless, doesn’t it? Then, these suggestions become a project, and something about which we get to say, “Look what I did!” and that is SO not the point!
Love. First and foremost. In all things.
Lynn D. Morrissey says
As *always* this is a thoughtful, heartfelt, and practical post. I greatly appreciate the invitation and also the tangible steps you have given that we can take forward across that bridge. Until people cross over and meet in the middle, we will continue to experience racial divides in our country (and globally). I think, too, it helps (as I implied in my response to Bev), that it helps not just to meet on the bridge, but to cross over it. Awareness of the racial river dividing is the first step. Getting onto the bridge is the second, but when you cross over it and break bread and live in community side by side on the other side, you gain new perspective, love, empathy, and understanding. It’s that Atticus Finch truth about walking around in someone else’s shoes. It’s that Jesus truth of loving your neighbor as yourself. We have to get to the point to feel what others feel and to experience what others experience; otherwise, I don’t think we will truly understand their view as they stand on their own to feet and look out from where their shoes are planted. We won’t know what wearing those shoes feel like and how they pinch. And it’s more than about Black and White in America, which is why I’m so grateful that you have broadened out your recommendations. At that fabulous feast in the new earth, Jesus will indeed welcome every tribe and nation to sit around His great big banquet table. Wow! Now that is a Grace Table worth sitting at–worth working toward. Bless you for never giving up. You are precious in His sight and mine!
So true, Lynn. It’s more than black and white. Race is the lens God has used to teach me about his great desire for us to stop taking sides and making excuses for our biases — whatever they may be. In our country, the issues of race and racism require (I realize it’s a strong word, but I think it’s the right one) those of us who follow Jesus to roll up our sleeves and work to make things different.
There are other topics, concerns, issues, and preferences that divide us, too. Whatever our division, it’s God’s desire for us to be one. If we continue to hold up oneness as our goal and our prayer, God will show each of us the strongholds of division we’ve been overlooking, justifying, or excusing, in our hearts, our minds, our communities, and in our churches.
Lynn D. Morrissey says
Thank you for your encouragement, Deidra. Oneness! Amen. That about sums it up. Now may we live it.
Beautiful, Deidra! Thanks for the practical ideas. Lydia, Anna, Scott and I are always looking for new ways to expand our understanding. Love you, friend.
Grateful for your continued commitment to learning, growing, and working toward this oneness, Jennifer. Peace, sister.
Nancy Franson says
Perfect. When the final prayer of our Lord for his disciples was that they should be one as He and the Father are one, well, we’ve clearly got work to do.
And yes, that same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead abides in us. Do we believe this? Do I?
Thanks for starting the conversation, and for keeping it going. This needs to be shared, and widely.
You know what astounds me about that prayer, Nancy? It’s here, in John 17:20, 21:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (italics mine)
The world will know Jesus was sent by God, when we figure out how to do this better. That blows me away. Every single time.
Beth Williams says
The suggestions are wonderful ways to show our children that people of different cultures are just like us! No need for biases!! Children today, as well as some adults, need to understand the various cultures of the world. I have a niece who went to China for graduate school. She taught in the university and met her husband there. They are a bi-cultural couple. He is Chinese and she is American. Funny thing their two children were born in America (1) and China (2). The children speak Chinese and English. What a way to grow up and learn!!
Joanne Peterson says
Thank you for recognizing the need for us to look at other people’s stories, work to understand them, and love them. I will look into your book list. It’s a simple way to expose my children more. Our charter school( from school choice) where my kids attend school is more culturally diverse than my first round of kids. My kids just think it’s natural to attend school with kids of different colors than they are, but it made me realize we don’t know many of their stories or cultures. We need to do something about that. I volunteer in the library once a week, and see and talk with the kids, and love hugging and serving them. But, what about their parents, and their stories too? I will need to look into this further.
David Rupert says
Good suggestions… And easy too. Deidra you’ve taught me the value of just Going There. It’s not that hard.
I think you have some great suggestions here, it’s so important to create diversity cross cultures as our normal as it is the normal where my kids go to school but I will use some of the suggestions you have made. What does VBS stand for?
Ah! Thanks so much for asking! VBS is Vacation Bible School. It usually takes place in the summer, is hosted by a church, and is geared toward children. It’s a little bit like Sunday School, but more time and for an entire week.
Michele Morin says
Your suggestions are like open windows in a stuffy room. I’m the crazy, hair-on-fire lady who’s always tracking down kids and volunteers for VBS, and if someone walked up to me and volunteered to bring her kids and help out? I might just start speaking in tongues (and then I’d be fired!).
I’m reading Bev’s comment and thinking that I truly believed, as I was raising my older children, that the “racial thing” was in the past. I live in Maine, so we’re pretty homogenous up here, but even so, we read books with strong female AND male protagonists and that featured a mixture of cultures. I had no idea that we were heading back into the sixties and seventies in ways other than where the waist on my jeans sits.
I’m finding this has affected the way I’m talking about inclusion with my 13 year old whose best buddy is from Ethiopia, but who is hearing alarming truth about violence and ignorance on the news. I’m thankful for your leadership through this maze of thinking and speaking.
Nancy Ruegg says
I was not intentional to give my children multi-ethnic experiences. Those that occurred could be attributed to happenstance only. But our son and daughter-in-law have made their home the gathering place of different cultures on numerous occasions. At one dinner of fourteen people we counted at least seven nationalities represented. You are right, Deidra: there is much richness we can give our children/grandchildren as we come together with people of different backgrounds–“each deeply loved by our God who created us all.” Thank you for the challenge to be more intentional in living this out!
Great ideas! Thank you for the tips. ☺️
Betsy Cruz says
This is great food for thought, Deidra. I grew up in El Paso, TX, and I was in 2nd grade when I learned I was NOT Mexican American. It was a real shocker since all of my friends were. Then my kids grew up in Izmir, Turkey. They feel more Turkish than American. In fact they’re really mixed up since their dad is Salvadoran. Now for 9 months we’re in a city where we get more chance than we’ve ever had to rub shoulders with African Americans. I’m grateful for a new opportunity. All that said, we still need to grow in opening our hearts to others. Thanks for your words today.