Friday, July 19, 2013

Until I Could Ignore it no Longer

Seven teenage boys sprawl across our living room, and they are mad. They sit with long brown legs stretched around Caden’s wooden blocks, fiddling with the Old Maid cards Jayci has strewn across the carpet. Meanwhile, I perch on the edge of the tub next to Jayci while she splashes, her milky skin covered in bubbles and her blonde hair laced with pink shampoo. I can hear the boy’s raised voices shouting over each other, they discuss Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman and the not-guilty verdict. I try to split my attention between their words and the story Jayci recounts for me of the dream she had of being born a princess, in a golden castle where nothing could ever go wrong. The boys say they are going to a march downtown this weekend, they think there might be riots. Everyone will wear hoodies they declare, and eat skittles.

The discussion still circles wildly around the verdict by the time I have tucked Jayci into bed, kissed her still-damp tendrils, and gently eased the barn door shut behind me. I sit cross-legged next to my boys, picking up crumbs from the carpet while trying to untangle their thread of conversation. No easy feat with the way they run roughshod over each other in loud eagerness to discuss the unfairness of it all, the racism, and the life they find themselves living every day. I look from face to face, following the contours of strong jaws and varying shades of chocolate skin. A lump forms in my throat. Because each and everyone one of them is intelligent, funny, talented, beautiful. Yes, beautiful. Just don’t tell them I said so.
I start to interject, trying to find ways to impart wisdom. But they don’t, or wont, hear me; so I close my mouth and listen. Because perhaps that’s all I can do right now. Demonstrate hospitality by opening my house and table to them, and creating a space where they are heard. Where injustice and anger can be felt, recognized, and acknowledged. They are mad, and they have a right to be. I acknowledge too my own otherness, the fact that I will never fully understand what life feels like lived through their deep brown eyes and chocolate skin. But I also acknowledge that I can choose to enter in with them. I can lock my arms with theirs and entwine our lives, living in solidarity even when it feels scary and risky. And that means admitting my own role, my own prejudices, my own snap-judgments and mis-pronouncements about the places others have been and the places they are going.

Their banter turns lighter and they begin their usual teasing over athletic ability and prowess (or lack thereof) with the ladies. I smile and try to keep from laughing, reminding them to keep things kind. Or at least not quite so mean. Finally, we put in the movie, pass around the sour patch kids (which I share reluctantly), and fight over the peanut butter m&ms. Tonight, we watch 42, and the irony and parallels aren’t lost on me. Together, we watch a man fight injustice, standing alone to inspire a race and a nation with extraordinary courage and talent. Tears brim in my eyes, and the boys tease me. But they squeeze my arm and rub my back lightly, so I’m hoping that means they love me anyways.

The movie plays while rain splashes loudly from the gutters, and occasional lightning flashes through the blinds. Like the pattering drops and rumbling thunder, I hear the words rushing to my heart and pounding in my ears:

There was a great unfairness at the heart of what I loved, and I ignored it until I could ignore it no longer.


And with every heartbeat I sense it anew: my prayer that this mess might be the impetus for a new beginning, the very moment when the injustice can be ignored no longer. When I can send any of these boys to the store in any neighborhood and know they will be met with grace. With joy and hospitality and love. No matter what they are wearing, or what color their skin.

Even on stormy nights like tonight, when anger swirls and thunder rumbles deep and threatening, I can – I must – believe in the power of light and love to fight a growing persistent darkness. I must believe that the God who breathes life into the driest of bones, can ignite the passion and scandalous grace of an entire nation. Such that my friends with white skin, the ones who live in the nicest neighborhoods, the ones who carry guns, the ones who write on the neighborhood watch page, “YBM riding his bike down the street,” might no longer see a young black male riding his bike as a threat, but an invitation. An invitation into a story, into a life, an invitation to know not just a "YBM" but Ashton and Zack and Jerell and Dedric and Jahvier and Sabo. Young men with names and lives and baby sisters on the way. Who make mistakes; who write curse words on facebook; who buy socks patterned with marijuana leaves and then throw them in the trash when I ask what message they send. Who get suspended for fighting, and play peek-a-boo with Caden. Who sip the imaginary tea Jayci serves in tiny pink teacups, and quit the basketball team to join again the next morning; who sing loudly and tease often. Who are poets and artists. Athletes. Friends. Sons. Brothers. Heroes.
The movie draws to a close and we send the boys home. Adam drives a few, and the rest run through the rain. One pulls his hood up over his head to keep his dread-locks dry, and I watch until I see him safely pull his door closed behind him. I peek in on Caden and Jayci, watching their breathing and pressing my lips to their cream-colored foreheads before hugging Zack an extra-tight good night and climbing into bed next to Adam. We lay quietly together, Adam’s breathing quickly evens and I know he sleeps soundly. But I tangle myself in the sheets with tossing and turning. My heart remains troubled. Because I know these boys look at the news, staring into the eyes of Trayvon, and see themselves reflected. I worry for their safety, and for the anger I sense building in their hearts. More than anything, I want them to know the freedom found in Jesus. I long to impart to them the truth that they can shake off the shackles of poverty and racism, and rise above on wings of hope. But I also long for them to know that they are heard. That they are angry, and that’s ok. And when they are ready to listen, I will remind them that their anger does not define them. I will remind them to rise and grow into the men they are already becoming. I will assure them that we recognize and echo their cry for justice, and that we will keep marching and fighting alongside them until the day when that justice becomes reality.

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I have been listening since this whole story began. Wanting to speak, but unsure what to say. So I’ve remained silent for fear my words and contribution would be inadequate for such a deep and profoundly important fight. So I've kept myself from writing, hoping someday my words might be more fitting, more compelling. Someday my platform will grow, or perhaps God will give me exactly the right sentence to ignite His people. But I'm deciding tonight to write anyways. Just as our boys will walk to the store and wear hoodies and live their lives anyways, despite feeling angry and inadequate and hearing again and again they are not enough. So in a rare show of courage, I clasp hands with them and enter into the messy together. I implore each and every one of you to pray for grace and hope to triumph over fear and prejudice. And then to do something to make it happen.

25 comments:

  1. Beautiful. Thanks for writing anyways, despite not completely understanding or knowing what to say. You've given your boys a voice that extends further than your living room, and I think that is awesome.

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    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement . . . I really appreciate it!

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  2. Sister, I have been piecing together a blog entry for days... I feel the same way, my kids were outraged and many discussions happened, and I felt torn, sad and angry...thanks for sharing your words!

    <3 you!

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    1. Cant wait to read your thoughts my friend!

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  3. this just gave me chills...

    what a place you let those boys come to - to let them know that there are people in the world who support them & love them & worry for them...

    & in return, yes, I'm sure they do love you back :)

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    1. Gosh, I just love you . . . I read your blog all the time, sorry I'm so bad about commenting and keeping in touch!

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  4. As I always think every time you write, the work you do and your spirit and your heart are beautiful and beyond measure. You're a gift, Becca.

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  5. I love your heart for these boys and for so many more. You write beautifully of your hope for them and your heartbreak. I am praying for their hearts and for you and Adam as you love and listen and serve. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for living courageously for the Lord. I am so grateful for you!

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    1. I just adore you and seriously think so often of getting together with you again! Let's make it happen :-) I've enjoyed getting to know Jonathan a little better too, he's going to start mentoring one of the boys who was sitting on our carpet this night . . .

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  6. I love this so much. And you so much. And your boys so much. I don't know what to say either, so I'm just listening for now. And praying with my church. And attending a small multi-ethnic forum tonight to listen some more. And pray. xoxoxoxo

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  7. Beautiful. Just beautiful. I love reading your words, and I will certainly be praying for your boys. And all of you.

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  8. thank you for sharing. I too have shared this week and tried to use my voice even in my feelings of inadequacy. I felt like I just had to say something, you know?, even though I didn't really know what to say. And...I love what you said.

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  9. Beautiful. Thank you for giving a face to those "YBMs" that we love. I struggle with seeing through their eyes and the eyes of young black women -- but I hope my attempt to try is honored. Thank you for this poignant post -- it just says so much of what I feel. You're so right -- the only answer is submitting to Jesus and his love. "Oh, how he loves us." I'm so grateful. I pray your boys, each and every one of them, learn Jesus' love. Trayvon is a blip compared to that. And thank you for reminding us that "crisis" is the moment of change. Learned that last night in "The Power of Habit" -- great book, since you like to read. I pray another MLK Jr. will rise and lead us toward love and nonviolence in the face of this tragedy.

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    1. Love this - and going to check out that book right now! :-) thanks for your words!

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  10. Beautiful, as always. Thanks for sharing your perspective, as mine is of course completely different on the outside but just as passionate as yours on the outside. More variation is needed in these conversations about race and racial tensions and yours is just right. And an even bigger thanks for continuing to renew yourself and inspire others. I'm sure God will grant you the grace, courage and wisdom to grow your platform with this particularly tough subject. Love.

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    1. I just love you Jasmine! Thanks for being such a continual source of encouragement to me!

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  11. God has placed you in this place in this time. Thank you for being so willing and faithful show these boys God. One heart at a time.

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    1. Your words are so meaningful to me . . . God has been really impressing Esther on my heart these days for some reason, so they feel especially important and encouraging to me tonight!

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  12. Girl, you have a gift here. I hope you know it.
    God is using you and your words and your courage.
    You understand me in a way few others really can and I'm thankful for that.
    I love this post so much.
    Off to shout it from the roof tops.
    xo

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  13. This is just such a great post. Given me a lot to think about. I'm sure there is more...

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  14. You could not have said it any more perfectly. You are doing great things. And inspiring the rest of us to do the same...

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  15. Beautiful, inspirational, full of love, full of hope.

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  16. I have never commented before but have to now. I work at a university and we see a large number of first generation college kids from a variety of backgrounds. I have listened to them at all hours of the day and night, responded to text messages at 2am to help them process many things--most recently this case. It is such a hard place to be. Inevitably, one of them will say "you can't understand. You are a middle class white woman. You don't know what it's like." They are absolutely right. I don't know what it's like. So like you, sometimes I just have to sit back and listen. Thank you so much for your words on this and so many other topics. They truly resonate with me and I really appreciate them.

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