Day 3: My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves–31 Days of #WOKE}

Last year, at the age of 37, in spite of living and working among other races for my entire life, I finally noticed the racial divide.

As a child of the 80s, I was taught that talking about race was impolite; it meant you noticed differences. We say, “We’re all the same, after all—on the inside. Isn’t it better to be ‘colorblind’?”

But ignoring race is like sidestepping the gigantic crack in the sidewalk of society and history. We try and tiptoe over it, or worse, we pretend it doesn’t even exist.

Of all whites, I should have known better, because I can’t think of a time when I didn’t have a person of color in my life.

The first boy I ever liked in kindergarten was black. I nearly followed him into the boys’ restroom one day. When I described him to my mom as having dark skin, she asked, “Is he black?”

“Of course not,” I said. “No one has black skin. He’s brown.”

In middle school, I rode the bus for an hour, either way, to attend school in the projects because our county in Tampa, Florida, was one of the last to integrate schools.

My midwest Christian college was majority white. Some black students were browsing in the bookstore once and the cops showed up. Someone assumed they were there to shoplift.

In college, I spent six months in Uganda and lived with an African family in a village. I often confounded their assumptions. “I didn’t think you people did things that way,” they’d say. To them, I was America. More than once, I was asked if I knew President Bush.

After college, my first teaching job was in the inner city of Chicago, in North Lawndale, at a 100% African-American school. I asked my students if any white kids ever attended there. “I think once … maybe,” they replied. I got so used to seeing black faces that I was shocked by my whiteness when I saw myself in the mirror during bathroom breaks.

I lived in China for five years. For the first three, I was one of three white faces in a city of 60,000. Many people wanted to be my friend. I understood it was because I was white. I humored them, telling myself I’d be more accepted if I learned Chinese. So I spent hours studying until I was fluent. But even then I wondered about my friends’ motives in spending time with me. I wished I could look Chinese.

After China, I taught at a small private Christian school in Chinatown in Chicago. Six out of eleven students were boys. Only one of those boys was black, the rest were Asian and white. One day all the other boys showed up at school with their backpacks full of clothes for a sleepover at one of the boy’s houses for his birthday. Guess which boy wasn’t invited …

To not notice race is to not notice the way clouds affect the shifting of light in the sky. It is to pretend you don’t feel the rain pelting the hood of your coat or soaking into the hole in your boots. It is to ignore reality.

And yet somehow I still believed we were living in a post-racial, inclusive, equal society.

Continue reading at SheLoves Magazine.

Day 2: The Year I Went All ‘Dangerous Minds’ {31 Days of #WOKE}

My first year teaching in inner city Chicago was a spectacular failure.

 

My first year teaching in inner city Chicago was a spectacular failure.

The middle schoolers at a school in North Lawndale ran off two teachers in the four months before I arrived. A mid-year graduate from a nearly all white Wheaton College in the Chicago suburbs, I believed I was different. I would love my students. I would ignite their young minds with a passion for learning. When others ran, I would stay.

In my arrogance, I actually watched the movie Dangerous Minds the week after I accepted the job. In it, beautiful, blond Michelle Pfeiffer transforms her black and Latino students through the magic of learning. I, too, was determined to be an inspirational badass.

I couldn’t wait to be the hero.

I didn’t realize I was stepping into a complex web of poverty, segregation, unemployment, emotional wounds, lack of education and a deadly compulsion to belong even if it meant to a gang. In my desire to be a do-gooder, I added clutter to an already chaotic and confusing system.

I worked 16 hour days, planned elaborate lessons, called parents daily and quickly memorized student’s names. But after having done nothing for the entire year, the students were not about to begin working. On the third day of school, my students egged my car. By the end of the semester, I wept every morning on the drive to school. I was sick a total of seven weeks between the months of January and June.

In 2002, North Lawndale was (and still is) one of the most segregated, drug-riddled, and poverty-stricken areas of Chicago. When asked to draw their neighborhood, my sixth graders drew corners where drugs were sold and houses where gang-bangers lived. To buy anything from a gas station, you had to order it from the cashier from behind a barred window. Boarded up houses, abandoned lots and glass-littered parks spread out like a ghost town. Twelve year olds were checked regularly for weapons.

The school was 100 percent black. Most of my students did not live at home with two parents and the majority were being raised by a grandmother. I had to be careful which students I called home about missing homework or behavior, because they would be beaten. I was convinced that if tested, every single one of my students would have been diagnosed as having some sort of behavioral disorder. Some of them would throw desks if I didn’t call on them to read out of the social studies book.

At first, I couldn’t understand my students when they spoke. They twisted and played with words, volleying back and forth. I struggled to decode their cryptic language and enter into their conversations. Their invisible walls seemed impenetrable.

I quickly realized the dilemma of being the lone adult in the classroom when a fight broke out (which happened at least weekly). As soon as you secured one student, the other would come swinging at both of you. A student accidentally struck me once and from then on I decided to let them fight it out until I could seek help. The office got used to me buzzing down, though I was more likely to send a student next door to enlist the help of the eccentric 60 year-old gay hippie teacher.

The staff was about half black, though our middle school group of four teachers was all white. The other three had been teaching in the neighborhood for many years. The math teacher, who had taught in Lawndale about 30 years, told how the white staff were hidden in the trunks of the African American’s cars on the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. I remember she would wrap Snickers bars for all her students for their birthdays. Her students adored her.

When my students cursed at me, I said I loved them. I arrived at work early and stayed up late grading papers and planning lessons. I promised I wouldn’t abandon them. I thought if they knew I was in it for the long haul that they’d start to trust me.

But it wasn’t enough. My words and even some of my actions betrayed me.

In spite of working through the summer to prepare curriculum for the fall, the week before school began I received a message from the principal: “Come and pick up your things. We’re really sorry, but another teacher has been hired to replace you.” Was it because I couldn’t control my classroom? Because the parents complained about me? Because of politics within the school that I wasn’t privy to? Because I was white … ?

Or did my students and the administration sense my lack of authenticity? When I thought I was communicating love, did they feel patronized? Was I trying to fit my students into the culture of my whiteness instead of first learning about their culture, bending and assimilating to them instead of expecting them to orient to me?

I’ll never know.

I fought for my job, but lost the fight. When school began, I was sent to different schools each day as a substitute teacher until a new job opened up.

Perhaps my students and the administration saw through my idealism and lust to be the hero who rushed into the inner city to save the day.

Perhaps they saw what I could not.

***

The woman who originally recruited me, Karen Trout, was also white, but her experience was vastly different from mine. With a pixie-cut and a quick smile, she had showed me around, telling me her dreams for the school and for the students. At 31, she and her husband had already lived in Lawndale for almost ten years and had informally adopted three African American boys. Her husband was in full-time ministry, training men to love God, work hard and be educated. I admired her patience and understanding. Without her as a mentor I wouldn’t have made it six days, much less six months.

Her family is still in Lawndale today. They turned the abandoned lot next to their three-flat into a park for their street. Their adopted children are grown and their two biological children are two of just a few white children in an otherwise all-black school. They have started businesses around the city that provide young men and women with jobs that take them off the streets. As much as possible, they have assimilated into the culture and allowed themselves to not only be known, but to know their neighbors.

I think my mistake was telling myself I was all-in without physically moving in. I believed I could make a difference from a distance. And my students, the principal and the other teachers saw what I could not yet see.

I was in it for me.

 

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Introduction: 31 Days of #WOKE

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

I’m white, but barely noticed my whiteness until recently.

I’ve always thought white people were boring, actually. Friends from other cultural backgrounds had interesting food, festivals, cultural dress, customs and languages. Those from non-western countries lived communally, cherished family and celebrated holistic living. They did not divide the sacred and secular. They saw the holy in the ordinary, messy, seasons of life.

Like many from the U.S., I’ve been around people of other cultures, religions, languages and ethnicities my entire life. I attended a Jewish preschool, fell for an African American boy in kindergarten, ate fried tomatoes, onions and eggs with my Colombian friend in sixth grade, obsessed about boys with my Jewish friend in seventh grade, had black teachers, had a few African American, Indian and Latino friends in high school, taught in a 100 percent black school in inner city Chicago after college, another racially diverse school and even at a school in Chinatown.

But I also experienced other cultures abroad: I went on short term mission trips to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, lived in a village in Uganda for six months in college, spent five weeks in Tajikistan, traveled in Europe and Thailand and taught and studied in China for five years.

You’d think I would have known.

But it wasn’t until I moved to a nearly all white area in the U.S.–the last stretch of plains with tumbleweed cartwheeling up against the mighty Rocky Mountains–that I began to see my whiteness. And it was then that I saw all the shadows it casts.

What Does it Mean to be “Woke”?

According to Urban Dictionary, being “woke” means being aware and knowing what’s going on in the community.

Merriam-Webster “Words We’re Watching” describes it like this:

“Stay woke became a watch word in parts of the black community for those who were self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better. But stay woke and woke became part of a wider discussion in 2014, immediately following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The word woke became entwined with the Black Lives Matter movement; instead of just being a word that signaled awareness of injustice or racial tension, it became a word of action. Activists were woke and called on others to stay woke.”

I am on a journey. I have not arrived, nor will I ever be fully “woke.” But I am learning. I am growing. And I am slowly beginning to see.

The first time I ever wrote a piece about race, I wondered if I had a right to speak. I wondered if I knew enough or if I was going to say something stupid, offensive or ignorant. But an African American friend of my husband’s responded to my post in a way that gave me courage. “Thank you,” he wrote. “Because I’m tired. It’s refreshing for this message to come from someone who is not a person of color for once.”

Ijeoma Oluo recently wrote an article entitled, “White People: I Don’t Want You To Understand Me Better, I Want You To Understand Yourselves.” The more we understand our whiteness, the more we can understand how our whiteness affects all the people of color around us.

What Can You Expect in the Series?

Have you ever rewatched an entire movie with commentary from the actors and director on? (I have.) That’s what I’m hoping to do in this series. Mostly, you can expect stories from my life. For each post, I’ll ask myself (and possibly answer) the following questions:

What did I learn about whiteness through this experience?

Are there any blind spots that I missed the first time around?

How can I analyze this experience utilizing the concepts I am learning?

But I’ll also include practical information and resources as well as a few posts from some friends of mine who are people of color.

I’m mostly writing for myself, but you are invited along on this journey. I sincerely welcome your input, comments, links, corresponding stories, questions and even criticism.

When my dad taught me to drive, I sat in the driver’s seat of the parked car as he shuffled around on the outside until he disappeared from my view. He wanted me to understand the devastation of a blind spot. Please help me to discover mine.

Table of Contents

Here are some possible posts that will run every day beginning March 1st, 2017 (check back here each day for an updated link). Most definitely subject to change;-)

1. Introduction

2. The Year I Went All ‘Dangerous Minds’

3. My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves Magazine}

4. Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack {stereotypes}

5. Lent and Prophetic Lament

6. (Guest Post) “What are you?” by Vannae Savig

7. Without a Voice (poem) 

8. Three of My Favorite Podcasts with Women of Color

9. Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1)

10. Friendship: The Need to Hear “Me, Too” (Part 2)

11. Resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race

12. Just Mercy

13. Words (a poem)

14. The Culture of Whiteness

15. White in Uganda

16. White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

17. (Guest Post) Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call by Tasha Burgoyne

18. What I Want for My Children

19. How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

20. The Problem with the Wordless Book

21. What Ever Happened to Integration? (Part 1)

22. Are You the Nanny?

23. Chinatown

24. Guest post

25. Book Review

26. Betrayed by White Evangelicals?

27. Interview with My Mom

28. Desegregating Our Social Media

29. Buying a New Home

30. The International Women’s Club

31. What Does it Mean to Be White?

 

Okay. *deep breath*

Let’s do this.

Be sure to sign up for email updates so you don’t miss a post! And please share if you feel this could benefit someone else.

 

Scared, but excited,

Leslie

A series exploring whiteness and racial perspectives.

Podcast Discussion: On Being/John Lewis #blackhistorymonth

John Lewis — Love in Action

This was the first year in six years of being married that I realized our anniversary is on Martin Luther King Jr.’s exact birthday, January 15. After a year of listening to podcasts, reading articles and books and intentionally prying open my eyes to inequalities between the races in the United States, black history month means more to me this year than it ever has.

I recently listened to a very powerful podcast where Krista Tippet of On Being interviewed Senator John Lewis, a Democrat serving in Georgia. Lewis knew MLK personally and was one of six organizers of the 1963 March on Washington during the Civil Rights Movement. In the podcast, he tells about what it meant to be a part of a nonviolent movement. I was surprised to learn that the men and women would practice protesting beforehand to be sure they could respond to threats in a nonviolent way.

Lewis himself was one of the first to be beaten unconscious by the police. He said:

“The movement created what I like to call a nonviolent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest forms of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m going to still love you. I know Dr. King used to joke sometimes and say things like, ‘Just love the hell outta everybody. Just love ‘em.'”

That doesn’t always seem to be the spirit of resistance today. If we are protesting, arguing or writing, are we doing it out of love? Am I?

I loved Senator Lewis’ perspective as he talked about the movement to fight for civil rights. He took the long-view. He shared:

“Our struggle is not a struggle that lasts for one day, one week, one month, or one year, or one lifetime. It is an ongoing struggle … And in the end, I knew within my own soul that it was going to be a long haul, and I believe that. You don’t change the world, the society, in a few days. And it’s better. It is better to be a pilot light than to be a firecracker.”

Many of us are angry. In a fight, flight or freeze, we are ready to fight. But perhaps we need to take the less-sexy road and be a pilot light instead of lighting every wick in front of us, enjoying the thrill of being a firecracker, but sacrificing the longevity of a slow and steady burn.

Be sure to sign up for email updates, because you don’t want to miss this:

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

Beginning March 1st, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Wake Up, White Church

Wounded, the Body of Christ walks with a limp. In the United States, our black and brown brothers and sisters are suffering, so the evangelical church–the whole church–should ache with pain. Five generations of so-called freedom have not erased fifteen generations of slavery.

It’s time for the white evangelical church to notice.

I was stunned by these tweets from people of color in the wake of the election in November:

Yolanda Pierce @YNPierce Nov 8: White evangelicals: you’ve decisively proven that you love your whiteness more than you love your black & brown brothers & sisters in Christ.

Soong-Chan Rah@profrah Nov 9 White evangelicals, you could have stood up and said that following Christ and the body of Christ is greater, but you chose to pursue power.

M.DivA@sista_theology Nov 8#ElectionNight taught me that white evangelicals will NOT be denied their privilege. They will trample the cross to hold onto it.

Leslie D. Callahan@fifthpastor   Nov 8 By the way, white evangelicals I see you. I see your racism and sexism. I see your repudiation of the very values you said matter.

Nicole Chung@nicole_soojung Nov 8 This is white people. White people voting directly *against* their neighbors, their friends, some of their family. It’s a vote for violence.

Jamil Smith@JamilSmith Nov 8 Manhattan, NY I knew my country hated me. But this much?

Jemar Tisby, president of the Reformed African American Network told The Atlantic: “The vast majority of white evangelicals with whom I interact are on board and want to see a more racially diversified and unified church. However, when that same constituency overwhelmingly supports Donald Trump, I feel like they haven’t understood any of my concerns as a racial minority and an African American.”

Over the past year, God has taken a tiny fissure in my awareness and cracked it open into a growing knowledge of the pain experienced by people of color today. I’ve immersed myself in stories via podcasts, books and articles. I’ve intentionally followed as many people of color on social media as I can and sought out friends who are people of color.

Because of this newfound sight, I dreaded attending church the Sunday after the election. Instead, I downloaded sermons. Of the four sermons from white pastors, each spent two minutes talking about the election, only to carry on with their regularly scheduled programming.

But the sermons by black pastors I downloaded? Most scrapped their plans and devoted the entire service to preaching on the sovereignty of God in these uneasy times.

The fact that white pastors did not have to talk about race following the election is an indicator of the privilege inherent in white evangelical churches.

Ignoring the Ache

The western church loves to compartmentalize. We talk about “our ministry” and excuse ourselves from the table of other ministries we may not feel passionate about. But listening to a wounded brother or a sister in Christ and trying to love them better is not a ministry, it is a call for every Christ follower.

The Bible says if one member suffers, all suffer together and if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV). We are all connected, but as the white church continues to ignore the cries of our brothers and sisters, we become numb to their pain until we no longer feel the ache.

Advocating for the security, equality and respect of our brothers and sisters in Christ is not an option; it is a mandate from Jesus Himself.

True Jesus-followers

In Mark 12:28-31 “one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 

 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

If we do not love our black and brown brothers and sisters–treating them with the same respect, attention and admiration as we expect to be treated–we cannot call ourselves lovers of Jesus.

I’ll be honest. I’m still grappling with my own latent and blatant racism. When I see several black men loitering around a gas station, without even thinking, I say, “This is a bad neighborhood.” I feel uncomfortable watching the TV show The Man in the High Castle where the Japanese have taken over the U.S. and white people are subservient to them. I expect I will be treated fairly if pulled over by police. I can live in a white bubble if I choose to. But the more I listen and learn, the more I realize we are far from living in a post-racial society.

I believe Jesus wants racial justice and radical change to begin with the church. The church is for healing, reconciliation, listening, learning, lament, growth and transformation. Yes, it is a place for studying the Bible, but many churches worship the letter of the law instead of worshipping Jesus. We dole out the minimum amount of love in order to achieve the maximum amount of comfort.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks: “Is it enough that we do not murder our neighbor in such a way?”

The answer is profound:

“No. By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves,1 to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly toward them,2 to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.3

Are we protecting our brothers and sisters of color from harm as much as we can?

The church should be the place where people of color feel the absolute safest. It should be a place where we can delight over our differences because we each reflect a facet of the Imago Dei. It should be a stunning picture of heaven on earth.

But it is not. Right now, people of color do not feel safe with their white sisters and brothers in Christ—and that’s a problem for the entire church, not just the few who feel “called to racial justice.”

Many young people are walking away from the church, longing to shed the baggage the term “evangelical” now carries. The white American church is in danger of becoming so irrelevant, self-absorbed and legalistic it will continue to lose members of the congregation who recognize society as doing more to help people than the church is. It’s time for the church to wake up.

So what do we do?

Mostly, we shut up and listen. At first, at least. Michelle Higgins says, “Without humility, there is no solidarity.” We first take the posture of a learner.

We can seek further education individually or as groups. We form book clubs, start prayer groups or attend conferences. We find friends who look different from us. We partner with black churches to meet for meals, holidays or special services. Church leaders can prioritize having people of color on staff and on stage, regularly listening to their heart and voice.

I believe a movement is stirring.

African American sister Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge to Racial Unity, a group that focuses on bridging racial divides. It grew from 900 members in July of 2016 to 10,000 members in February of 2017. After the election, Latasha tweeted:

Tasha@LatashaMorrison Nov 16 many POC have been disheartened at the looking away of many White evangelicals. I’m encouraged by those choosing to stand. #bethebridge

White people are beginning to “get woke.”

Nothing New for POC

Our country is spinning wildly and church itself is a dizzying experience. It’s tempting to walk away. But ironically, the greatest solace I’ve found is from my sisters and brothers who are people of color. Why? Because this is not the first time many of them have felt out of control, afraid or had their voices suppressed. These tweets testify to this:

Broderick Greer@BroderickGreer Nov 16 For some of us, the terror began long before Trump’s rise.

Broderick Greer@BroderickGreer  Nov 16 And so, this feeling of insecurity isn’t new, it’s just more pronounced.

The Sunday after election day, African American Pastor Eric Mason of Epiphany Fellowship shared a sermon entitled “In God We Trust.” In it, he acknowledged that “there wasn’t a divide made, there was a divide that existed prior to this election. It just exposed this divide.” He said, “Sometimes you need for something to happen on earth so that you can look up to heaven.” And “There is nothing that sneaks past the fingers of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.”

He described November 9th like this: “The clouds were still there. I still had mobility in my limbs. I was able to breathe. I blinked my eyes and I looked … and I said, ‘Hold on, you mean to tell me that this election didn’t stop the universe from being held in its place?’”

He continued, “This election did not move anything.”

Yes, God is in control, but the white evangelical church still has work to do. We need to open our eyes and acknowledge that all is not as it should be. In an age where truth is seen as “alternative fact,” we must advance toward, not away from each other. We are not whole until we suffer together.

White church, it’s time to wake up.

***

1 Matt. 7:12; 22:39; Rom. 12:10
2 Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:36; Rom. 12:10, 18; Gal. 6:1-2; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; 1 Pet. 3:8
3 Ex. 23:4-5; Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 12:20-21 (Prov. 25:21-22)

 

Be sure to sign up for email updates, because you don’t want to miss this:

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

Beginning March 1st, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

 

 

 

 

"If we do not love our black and brown brothers and sisters--treating them with the same respect, attention and admiration as we expect to be treated--we cannot call ourselves lovers of Jesus." --Leslie Verner

 

22 Minutes and 10 Ways I’m Surviving Motherhood

It’s amazing what you can accomplish in 22 minutes. In 22 minutes, you can shower (no hair washing–that’s no longer a daily priority), get dressed and possibly even put on make-up. You can journal, read your Bible and contemplate the life and words of Jesus. You can clean the kitchen and maybe even sweep the dried up cheese and peas off the floor. You can (nearly) do a Jillian Michaels workout video. Or you can steep a cup of Bengal Spice tea, breathe in cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves  and sit down at your computer. Like I’m doing right now.

Why 22 minutes? You’ve probably already guessed. Only the best survival tool of motherhood: T.V.

With three children four and under, most days I feel like I’m operating in survival mode. Many days my husband and I grab each other by the shoulders in the kitchen, give those shoulders a shake, look one another square in the eye and proclaim: “You can do this. WE can do this.” Sometimes we even high-five. Lest I one day re-read this after gazing at pictures of my adorable children and wonder what the big deal was, let me explain.

My son never sleeps past 5:15 AM. Ever. (And YES, we bought the clock that turns green when it’s 6 AM–but we haven’t found a clock that forces your child back to sleep until they are supposed to wake up.) We wake up to variations of stomping down the hallway, our door squeaking, followed by, “Can I wake up now?” or yelling from down the hallway: “CAN SOMEBODY WIPE MY BOTTOM!?” Some mornings we have cuddles on the couch, but most days there is much shrieking, yelling, fighting and crying as my husband gets cheerios and raisins and situates the kids in front of the T.V. while he grinds the beans and makes us his home-roasted French press coffee (yes, we are coffee snobs–simple pleasures, my friends).

Every.single.event. is a battle. Who knew I would practically cry or throw my own tantrum every day over trying to get another human being to perform basic hygiene or reasonable habits? Brushing teeth, getting dressed, going to the bathroom, putting on shoes and socks and simply eating food are now events I need to mentally prepare for or else I will have a break down.

Mealtime with small children is the worst. Why do we bother giving them plates? The food spends more time on the table than on the plates and most days my son says “YUCK” after I’ve spent an hour cooking. And the crumbs. There are always–always–crumbs. Not to mention food smears, hidden “delights” and sticky railings. I smash cheerios into our cheerio-colored carpet on a daily basis. My son’s room has no pictures left on the walls (he pulled them all off and broke them), has crayon on the wall, a make-up stain on the carpet (from when they “borrowed” my foundation) and chunks out of the paint on the wall from when the glider chair became a carnival ride.

My children have very bad snot-management. It’s exactly as you imagine–and probably worse. I spend more time at the doctor’s office than I do with my closest friends.

Yes, they are cute and funny and say things like “tormado” for tornado, “nummy” for yummy and “bo-manna” for banana. There is love and laughter and hilarity in a way that I have never experienced before. Yes. But, mama who is in this boat with me–we know this is HARD. Here are some ways I am surviving–and even (in very small increments) thriving.

1. Monday Rituals.

My children take ONE bath a week (unless they are so visibly dirty that I’ll be embarrassed to take them anywhere). I am not usually a ritual-type of person, but this is saving me. On Mondays, we stay home. I put a load of laundry in, make an extra cup of coffee and herd the crew into the bathroom. I grab a book and attempt to read for as long as the baby stays happy flat on his back on the bathroom rug. Now that he’s five months old, I bathe him in the tub with other two. He splashes like it’s his job and the other two shriek and beg me to take him out. After this, we all put on “comfy clothes” and pull out their activity boxes and trays downstairs to do some simple non-pinteresty craft like gluing pasta or cotton balls onto construction paper.

 

2. The Children’s Museum.

We drive an hour to the Denver Children’s Museum nearly every week. It sounds crazy and like a waste of time, but I’ve discovered that this is the only way I can legally strap my children down for an hour while I listen to podcasts. At first I wondered about the morality of taking my children to a place where there were few rules and every part revolved around them. Then I discovered the freedom: Wait. A place I could take my children where I don’t have to tell them: “No!” “Don’t!” or “Stop that!” for an entire morning? Brilliant. This is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving–if you have a Children’s Museum anywhere within 60 miles of where you live, ASK FOR THIS FOR CHRISTMAS.

3. Exercise.

Fortunately, my husband doesn’t need to be at work until 9 am, so this is more feasible for us, but running for thirty minutes every-other day at 7 AM keeps me sane. I’m alone, outside and moving my body. But on snowy days, work-out videos on YouTube have also been a saving grace. Though they often get in the way (and more often get into mischief), these can be done with the kids in the room and they often try to join in.

On a morning run.

4. Nights out.

My husband and I schedule date nights at least twice a month. At times when money is tight, we go to Starbucks. On better months, we go for sushi or a movie. Last month we went barn dancing, which was cheap and so fun! Why don’t people dance anymore? This month, we realized that we can still bring our baby to the movie, which means we can stay out without the stress of wondering when the baby will wake up and need to eat. I also try and meet friends for coffee or a drink (now that I have a few friends–hooray!).

5. Hobbies.

Okay, so I don’t have much time for hobbies unless they involve my children since I am the stay-at-home parent. One of my hobbies is traveling, which happens um,  never, now that I have children. So I’ve found a way to travel without traveling and have gotten involved in the International Women’s Club at the university near us.  It meets the SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) criteria: during the day, before naptime, has other kids, snacks AND toys. I also love being outdoors, so I drag us all outside as much as possible. What do you love? How could you involve your kids in that?

6. Inventive Spirituality.

Sounds nutty, but it’s simple. Apart from the 22 minutes (or 44 … let’s be honest) that my husband and I have for quiet time in the morning, there is not a lot of space in my day for meditation, prayer or reflection. I am a part of a weekly Bible study, that I quickly do the DAY OF, but it provides the accountability I need to be in the Bible on a regular basis.

And I have a few apps and podcasts that help me think about spiritual things throughout my day:

You Version app: this has the Bible in many translations, but also has reading plans, devotionals and even devos and videos for kids. And it’s mostly free!

Laudate app: though I’m not Catholic, I have still loved this app. Here you can find daily readings, the liturgy of the hours, daily prayer, and a daily Bible verse. It was perfect for those early days of nursing when I was up at all hours.

The Practice Podcast: Better than a podcast and more than just a sermon, this podast provides a whole worship experience with a message, music and questions for reflection.

Pray As You Go Podcast: This is a daily prayer, scripture and meditation guide. It has been perfect for mornings when my husband goes on a run and I am preparing breakfast for my kids because we can listen to Scripture (often read more than once) and start our day in the right headspace. Thanks to Megan Tietz of Sorta Awesome Podcast for this recommendation!

7. Using My Brain.

This is a hard one when you live in Daniel Tiger World, but it is so necessary. I listen to podcasts any time I can, am in a book club and am involved in online communities related to racial reconciliation and social justice. I write to think (which is why I haven’t written as much these days …. when my body is tired, my brain stops working).

8. Trying to Be Sweeter.

I don’t have a saccharin personality. There was a good reason I was a middle school teacher not a primary school teacher. But I’m trying to sweeten up and learn the love languages of gush and snuggles. I’m trying to tune the tone of my voice so that I don’t always sound so eager, angry or frustrated. I’m learning to pretend I’m peppy.

9. Noticing Small.

Some complain that people use Instagram as a way to make their life seem perfect. I’m using it to notice the beauty in mine. John Updike famously said that he wanted to “give the mundane its beautiful due.”  I’m striving to do this. I’m chasing beauty in my ordinary, mundane, boring life as a mom. And if Instagram helps me do that, then it is a worthy tool.

10. Permission to be Imperfect.

I can’t tell you how many times in the last five months I’ve had to rewash a load of clothes. And I think there is a direct correlation to how large your library fines are and how many children you have. My counters need wiping, the floors are strewn with toys, my bathroom looks like a science experiment and sometimes I strap my kids into their car seats in the garage long before I’m actually ready to leave the house. I let my children ride the toy horses at the grocery store five times as I check out (this is actually my most brilliant discovery yet–not only bribery, but one cent bribery!). BUT. They are clothed, fed, washed, and cared for. And even if I am sometimes merely surviving … they are thriving.

I need to remember that–and so do you.

You are doing good work, mama. You are loving the best way you know how with the time, energy and resources you have been given. And do you know what your kids are going to remember twenty years from now?

YOU.

They are going to remember that hike you took them on, the way you laughed at their jokes and tickled them until they couldn’t talk. They are going to remember the songs you hummed as you scrubbed pans and the way you smelled when you snuggled next to them in bed. They are going to remember the dance parties in the kitchen, how you let them help you make waffles and the way you prayed with them before bed. They will remember that you did the voices as you read, sat with them on the floor and chased bunnies together in the front yard. Mama, you are doing an amazing job. You do you. Keep up the good work. And don’t discount the value of a 22 minute reprieve (in fact, don’t feel guilty about that even for a second). Most likely, it is just the breather you need to make you an even better mama in the end.

xo

Leslie

22 Minutes and 10 Ways I'm Surviving Motherhood

I Tried to Run Away from Love {for (in)courage}

My Love Story

The first time I ever had a date on Valentine’s Day, I was 31 years old. It ended up being the hinge upon which my entire life turned.

Wildly independent, when other girls in college were hoping to snag a man and get their ring by spring, I turned my nose up at them, determined to do something “more” with my life. I wasn’t going to tie myself to a man who would hold me back from all God had planned for me (and I was sure I was destined for Christian Rockstar status).

And so I successfully avoided serious relationships, teaching in the inner city of Chicago and then moving to China to teach English and study Chinese. Although I was lonely at times, I was sure God could bring me a man who was also called to the same area of China I was if that was what He wanted. Until then, I could make singleness work.

But in the middle of my fifth year in China, I was blindsided.

I returned to the states for a wedding and “happened” to carpool with a guy on the way to a lake cottage with a group of friends for the weekend. Convinced God wanted me to marry a man also called overseas, I ignored my growing attraction to this guy with the piercing blue eyes and baritone voice—an actor in Chicago—at least until the ride home.

Oh no, I thought as we talked, laughed, and connected like old friends at the end of the weekend. As we dropped him off, he asked for my phone number and wasted little time in making sure we spent hours “hanging out” over the next two weeks before I flew back to China.

He asked me out for Valentine’s Day the night before I was supposed to leave. Cradling cappuccinos, we finally talked about “us.” What were we doing and what were we going to do?

He had plans—had researched—how to do long distance relationships well. Over Skype we could read books, watch movies, have “dates,” and even play computer games simultaneously. He would come visit me in China, of course.

And he did.

We got engaged after four months of a long-distance relationship where we talked for five hours every other day, read books together and wrote letters, then scanned them in because letters seemed more authentic than emails which could be overly polished. We were married by the following Valentine’s Day.

As I feared, marriage and missions have been mutually exclusive for me. This year is the seventh Valentine’s we are spending together and we’ll most likely get a babysitter for our three littles so we can have an hour or two of peace together involving pasta, candlelight, and coffee.

Our life is not radical, exotic or original, but our love is real and I have no doubt it was God’s intention to derail my pretty plans for myself in favor of blowing me away with His plans for me …

Continue reading at (In)Courage.

 

Sign up for to receive encouraging posts from (in)courage here!

No Longer Heaven’s Hero {review of ‘Dangerous Territory’ + Book Giveaway}

Who wouldn’t want to be heaven’s hero? Why would anyone willingly choose the “white picket fence” life over an exotic life guaranteed to be exciting and eternally meaningful? And if giving up everything to move across the world is clearly more holy, why would anyone claiming to love Jesus choose anything less?

That’s what I used to think, so I was delighted to find I wasn’t alone.

Amy Peterson’s debut book, Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, is a memoir about the two years she lived in Southeast Asia and the fallout she experienced after sharing her faith in a country closed to evangelism. With clarity, poetry and engaging story-telling, Amy chronicles the deconstruction and reconstruction of her faith after her idealism is obliterated.

With an academic background in intercultural studies, Amy weaves the history of missions and cultural analysis throughout the book, occasionally interrupting her narrative with fascinating essays about missions. Zooming out from her story during these brief interludes allows the reader to position Amy’s personal narrative into the larger picture puzzle of missions, past and present.

As a writer over fifteen years later, Amy regards her younger, idealistic self with the mercy of a wise mentor, neither criticizing nor judging, but sharing her thoughts as she remembers them. She gently offers her reader a glimpse into some fallacies young Jesus-followers can fall prey to. She also challenges many assumptions about Christian life, ministry and missions made by the church at large. Amy transparently shares her personal grief, loss, hope and doubt in hopes the reader will take her hand on the road and learn right along with her.

***

Though I was sent to China instead of Southeast Asia, reading Amy’s book was like viewing a stranger through a window and mistaking her for myself. Our stories bear so much resemblance, Amy saved me hours I might have spent writing a very similar book.

I was with the same organization, lived in a very remote area with one teammate, completed the same masters program, spent time at the same places in Thailand during our yearly conference and had crushes on boys in my program (though not the same ones). I also walked away from my time overseas with more questions than answers. After five years in China, I—a goer with no intention of staying in the states–returned home to get married and give up my status as Church Darling. The missionary invitations, inquiries and special treatment stopped abruptly and—like Amy—I wondered, “What if God didn’t want me to be useful? Could I surrender to that? Was I willing to be useless for God?” (182).

It’s humbling to give up our “heaven’s hero” status when we feel we’re stepping into the status quo.

But I have come to similar conclusions in my quest for a special calling, purpose and meaningful life. Namely, that our calling begins and ends with love. Our first call isn’t to China, Africa, Southeast Asia, missions, marriage or motherhood. Our primary calling is to intimacy with Jesus Christ. All other callings will fade, shift, surge and grow through the seasons of our life, but that calling will sustain us for our entire lives and even beyond.

***

If you or someone you know is interested in spending any amount of time overseas, I would highly recommend this book as a vulnerable account of a modern day twenty-something (not an overly-romanticized missionary biography), who left home with good intentions and returned with a greater awareness of the fact that she wasn’t loved more because she was willing to go, but began and ended as an adored child of God.

Or perhaps you feel that going abroad is only for the holy? Although Amy clearly had a strong faith, her story reveals that God doesn’t send heroes, he sends the ordinary. He sends the willing. And He sends them not to change the world, but to catch a glimpse of His love for the world first-hand. In her conclusion, Amy admonishes missionary-hopefuls: “Don’t go because you want to save the world—go because you want to learn to love it. Go because you know that you are loved” (217).

***

I have an extra copy of Amy’s book that I would love to share with you! Leave a thoughtful comment on this post sometime between 2/7/17 and 2/14/17 (by midnight, U.S. Mountain Time) and I’ll enter you to win a free copy of Dangerous Territory. I’ll announce the winner on 2/15/17 and get it in the mail to you ASAP!

Have you ever been on a quest to save the world? How did that work out for you?

~Leslie

BUY THE BOOK HERE. (Right now it is only available on Kindle, but print copies should be available soon.)

When You and Your Husband Have Different Callings {for SheLoves}

When my husband and I met, we knew one of us would have to give up our calling: acting in Chicago for him, or teaching in China for me. Due for time back in the states, I gave up China. And because of the nature of marriage and parenting three children four and under, he lay stage acting on the altar as well. Like the story of The Gift of the Magi, I sold my hair to buy him a watch strap and he sold his watch to buy me a comb.

Many years before, a wise married friend and mother of four warned me, “Love is sacrifice.” My best friend, who married at 19, described marriage as a way for God to “chisel us down.” Neither sounded very sexy to me, so I vowed to steer clear of marriage.

Then I met this incredible man.

While we were dating, I wrote him a letter from China (which I then scanned and emailed), confessing my fear that one day I’d be trapped in a tiny Chicago apartment in the winter with an infant. Although I longed to have children, I feared losing myself in the process. Two February’s later, I stood jostling a newborn while staring out the drafty windows of our vintage Chicago apartment, wondering what happened to my life.

***

True love involves mutual sacrifice. Love is the montage of running tedious errands for one another, making love when you’re tired, knowing when to stop talking and when to start listening, changing throw-up sheets together at 3 a.m., squeezing hands under the table during stressful family visits, giving one another a night out or a morning to sleep in. Both spouses make sacrifices for one another in what feels like a relay race as we pass the baton down the field, each doing the hard work of moving the team forward.

I admit I now roll my eyes at romantic comedies. In a card for newlyweds, I’m more likely to copy Philippians 2 about Jesus doing nothing out of selfish ambition than I am to write Solomon’s words about many waters not quenching love.

After a mere six years, I still believe in the magic. But it’s not what you think …

Continue reading at SheLoves.

This is Not Our America

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus (November 2, 1883)

I used to teach this poem to my seventh graders in the public school in Chicago along with our Constitution unit. Breaking into groups, students from Ghana, Korea, Nigeria, India, Iraq and Mexico discussed what it meant. I never told them why this poem was famous or showed them any image along with the poem, but had them read and reread, marking symbols and figurative language with pencils and encouraging them to jot notes in the margins. We’d reconvene and discuss.

“What is this poem talking about?” I’d ask.” Why are certain words capitalized?” “What is the deeper meaning?”

After discussing, I’d eventually flip on the overhead projector (it was 2004), illuminating a picture of the statue that stands as a symbol of America, the Statue of Liberty. And we’d reread the poem:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

And the white, brown and black, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Hindi children in my class would discuss what this poem meant to them—to their family, identity and future. How once upon a time their families, too, had been welcomed and ushered into a new kind of freedom. Just as my white Irish, English and German ancestors had.

Our country is flawed and is still recovering from the wounds of slavery and oppression in our history. But until yesterday, I was still proud to be an American. I loved knowing that we were a refuge for the refugee, a hope of a new future for the destitute and a place of safe landing for the homeless. Today, I am ashamed.

Last night as the news was still covering a march for life, President Trump sat down to sign a ban of all refugees and restrictions on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries effective immediately. His order literally left tired and weary refugees stranded at the airport in the very country they hoped would offer them relief from their years of running.

This is not our America.

As a believer not just in a higher power, but a man named Jesus, I pray the church would take up this cause and advocate for the very people Jesus would fight for. Christian colleges, missions organizations and youth groups send followers of Christ to the 10/40 window—an area located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator–where the least reached with the message of Jesus live. Most of those fleeing war-torn nations come from the very nations we fund missionaries to go to. The mission field was coming to us.

Most Christians chose Trump because of his stance on abortion, though he is not “pro-life” in any other arena. This week, evangelicals have seen that more than pro-choice or pro-life, our new president is pro-Trump.

Our country needs people to take a stand for freedom again. These organizations are mobilizing and working to help refugees. Please get in touch with them and see how you can help:

World Relief

We Welcome Refugees

UNHCR

(*If you know any others who are doing this work, please leave a link in the comments.)

God is with the poor. When we welcome, open our homes, offer our food, give clothing and furniture and make sure our borders remain open to the poor, we serve Jesus himself.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me…to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.” –Matthew 25: 35-36, 40