We Have To Say Something

Two summers ago, after a racist comment was made by our president, a pastor declared that we as Christians should always denounce racism, stand up and fight against it, and seek unity. I sat in a pew closer to the back, but that message was for me. It was for all of us sitting in the mostly-white congregation, but God knew I wouldn’t ignore it. Not because I’m trying to be a hero, but because He’d already planted that seed in my heart and I had friends of color whom I love and it was time I used my voice to say something.

But before you stand up against something so deeply ingrained in our society, you have to acknowledge it exists. You have to examine your own heart. You have to own your mistakes and be honest as you grow. You have to find a balance of grace for yourself and others trying to grow, but you also have to firmly stand against evil. And sometimes evil can be tricky to spot.

First, if you aren’t familiar with micro-aggressions, click on the link. Examine the stereotypes you’ve developed. Are you guilty? We all are guilty.

Now, read this article written by an amazing educator and speaker, who as a Black Woman, has faced our micro aggressive behavior more than once.

Can you see, feel, understand why we have to acknowledge this evil lurking inside our hearts, minds, and actions? When we see blatant racism happening we are quick to condemn, but what about the silent behaviors that are more real and even more harmful to our friends of color?

Maybe this is more fresh on my mind because two people, whom my husband and I considered close friends, decided we could not be friends anymore because I won’t stop listening, growing, and speaking up. As much as it hurts to lose good friends, it’s nothing compared to the daily mind games that our friends of color go through.

At any time, I could quit being so vocal and probably there are a few people who would like my posts on social media, again, and not feel uncomfortable around me, anymore. That’s my privilege as a white person. When it gets too hard and people are sick of me speaking up, and I start losing friends, and my feeling get hurt–I can just quit.

But that message two summers ago was for all of us. The truth isn’t pretty, it’s damning. I’m so angry reading about my friend’s experience at the airport and her car: how she had to justify she wasn’t stealing her own luggage or breaking into her own car!

So I am going to keep speaking up. And more importantly, I’m going to keep growing and recognizing my own micro-aggressive behaviors or tendencies. Not because I’m better than anyone, but only because I recognize that we all need each other, but we are so busy hurting each other and rarely acknowledging it. We have generations of people still being harmed by racism that too many people say doesn’t exist!!

My kids are watching. God is watching. One day I’ll stand before Him, and I refuse to waste the time on earth He’s given me, so I’m going to say something.

When You Can’t Go Back Home

It hurt to leave, I’ll admit, I cried. I couldn’t look back, because if I did, the adrenaline pushing me forward would have dissipated, and my family was counting on me.

But now the home that we bought as a family of three and grew to a family of seven…a home in which three of my babies took their first breaths in, well that home is ready for a new family.

And God, who knew how much that would tear us up? Starting over in Alaska was our aim, our chance at adventure and healing, so who knew the thought of not going back home would even enter my mind?

Because we can’t go back home. And we need our home to sell quickly, tears or no! Our home sitting on the market for months while we live thousands of miles away could destroy the dream we are now pursuing.

Of course, this makes me reflect! There’s just so much to this challenging life lesson, but what sticks with me most is that we can’t move forward if we won’t let go of our past. We loved our home, but it’s not our’s anymore. It’s ready for a new family to live, laugh, and love in.

We started house-hunting in Anchorage and it was really sad. There will not be our home from Texas in Alaska. And as long as that is our goal, we will feel disappointment, every time. So we regroup. We remember why we came, why starting over is such an amazing gift and privilege, and that it’s not a building that makes a place a home. It’s having each other.

We are so used to a fast-paced, relentless life, that slowing down, living in a temporary duplex feels agonizing. I remind myself to be grateful, but as long as I mourn what I’ve left behind, I can’t feel grateful.

Someone said we are going on an adventure with five of our favorite people and whomever said that was correct. If we had to return to Texas after working so hard to be where we are now, it wouldn’t even feel right.

I’m reminded of the verse that there is a season under Heaven for all things:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ASV

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

There’s so much here. This season of life is filled with so many purposes, I keep returning to the thought that I’m with the people I love most. We have a fresh start. This is a gift. And mostly, I want to grow and be faithful. I want to be the wife and mother my family needs. I want to sleep in peace knowing we are exactly where God has placed us.

And we can’t do that while looking back. We can’t go back home. Home isn’t back there anymore, it’s wherever we are, together.

When Politics Become Religion

I grew up believing that Christians were Republicans and non-Christians were Democrat and only Heathens didn’t vote. No one told me this, I just figured it out by my environment. And needless to say, we were Republicans! One of my earliest memories is of a night my parents came home from a Bush/Quayle fundraiser and I wore some memorabilia on my head! Pretty sure there’s a picture to prove this, too. I was seven or eight years old at this time. There was jubilation in our home when Bush won in ’88. Fast forward to ’92 and deep sadness when Clinton won the Presidency.

I’m not writing tonight to bash Republicans or Democrats or even non-voters. Politics has its place. Politicians will get our votes, but the question is: who has our hearts?

I’m writing this as a person who has gone through a political and faithful metamorphosis these last few years. The election of President Obama in 2008 took a toll on my family and split us apart. A family member gave us an ultimatum: vote for him or you are not family. Well, as I said, the election split us, so you can infer how that ultimatum turned out. But we were not the only family this happened to I’ve learned. And so this truly opened my eyes that many of us worship our politics. Instead of living our faith and trusting in God, we place our hopes and dreams in political leaders who constantly promise better days if only we’ll cast our vote for him/her! And when we’ve placed all of our hope in man, not God, he has become an idol. (And we often find that unlike God’s promises, man’s promises fall flat.)

But that’s the American dream…the American way, right? Maybe it is, but this dream keeps my kids from knowing their cousins. This dream has severed friendships. This dream is false and disrupts what our faith is trying to teach us. This way of life disrupts how God is trying to reach us. My hope is that our connection to Christ will convict us when necessary. My fear is that this conviction is snuffed out too soon because we have chosen to worship our politics and we can’t even see it.

A few years ago, my family attended a Vacation Bible School program at a Baptist Church near our home. We went because our kids had participated in their VBS and they had a singing program. Before the service began, they brought out two flags: the USA flag and the Christian flag. We were to say both their pledges before prayer. I had never experienced this before, and I consider myself extremely patriotic! But it felt so wrong! It felt like…idolatry. I began to question what place does our patriotism have in our place of worship? And I vowed that we’d not go to this church again, but more importantly, that my faith in Christ would, and should, far exceed my faith in our imperfect government.

Are you still with me?

At this point I started noticing how often politics had been preached at the pulpit throughout the years, and always biased for one party. I started noticing my bias that all good Christians are conservatives. When I found out some of my closest friends and even a mentor was Democrat, this rankled me?!? How could it be? Do they really know the Lord like me? Could God be okay with their political affiliations? Could I?

Throughout the years, I’ve learned that, yes, these people know their Savior as much, or more, than me. I’ve learned that, yes, God is okay with their political affiliation as much as He’s okay with mine–there is no “Thou shalt only vote Republican” in any version of The Holy Bible. And getting to know my friends more deeply, and seeing their hearts to be genuine, yes, even I could be okay with their political affiliation, too.

This conviction that I felt deeply, that I had been worshipping my politics, started me questioning everything. I’d like to say that I was completely transformed instantly, that I no longer felt afraid when my party wasn’t in control, but that’s not how I’ve grown. I’ve grown through times when my party wasn’t elected, in control, and my life didn’t stop. My hope didn’t cease. I’ve grown through not voting when I didn’t feel sure how to cast my vote (and not hating myself for not voting). And I’ve grown because I refuse to vote straight tickets.

I’m not writing to be your Holy Spirit’s conviction, but as I’ve lost good friends recently who could not forgive me for dropping the Republican Christianity, I hope that maybe I help open some eyes that we’re not called on by God to be good voters. We’re called to love our God with all of heart, soul, and mind and strength. And we’re called to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Mark 12:30-31)

Signs that politics have become religion:

1. Not allowing opposing political ideas to be heard, immediately discounting people who think differently.

2. Trying to prove God is a _______ (fill in the blank for whichever party you prefer).

3. Ending relationships with people you love because they vote differently than you.

4. Allowing yourself to hate a human of a different political persuasion.

5. Justifying the right to shut people down, belligerently, in the name of Christianity.

6. Feeling hopelessness or despair when your political party loses control of whichever branch of government.

7. Justifying disgusting and sinful behavior in a political leader as okay because they are _______ party even though The Holy Bible does not excuse said behaviors.

I am sure we could add more signs to the list. I am guilty of all of these behaviors. In fact, I cringe just knowing my part in alienating people who had a curiosity about knowing God, but couldn’t align their political briefs with mine and decided He wasn’t for them.

Politics has its place. Voting is a powerful right as an American citizen. Yet, political leaders and laws made will never regulate a man’s heart. No leader nor law can compete with the immense power of a faith built on Perfect Love.

So why do we allow our politics to separate us? My sister said one day, her relationships meant more to her than her politics and so, I think our Faith has helped us come a long way.

My Fellow White Savior: Let’s Get Uncomfortable!

I recently watched this clip, shared by a friend who, as a person of color, felt a certain frustration about being subjected to “white savior” films as a high school student. Click on the words white savior to see this clip of how Hollywood transforms the real narratives (of struggle) for minorities to be more palatable by using a white hero.

Seeing this short clip was eye-opening for me because I liked some of these films! The emotions I felt after seeing some of these films were aptly described in the clip and because of those feelings, the “danged if I do, danged if I don’t” feeling of defense surfaced, too. The thought that maybe I’ll never get this right tries to influence my mindset, but then I realized something powerful: it’s good to feel uncomfortable.

In fact, I often reflect on all my uncomfortable emotions. Defensive attitudes can naturally be the first emotions we feel when we sense white privilege in our lives or see it being played out before us. But feeling defensive is not helpful if you are trying to grow in understanding other people’s perspectives on the realities of life. Sadness is also natural, but wallowing in this emotion fuels “white guilt” and asking others (usually non-white friends) to comfort you is very selfish and harmful for those you ask. I typically respect anger the most because it spurs me into action for necessary change, but anger needs to be checked closely as it can be fueled by self-righteous attitudes and therefore turn off people (who might possibly be influenced to see injustice not noticed, previously).

It’s such a fine line. Emotions can be the lighter fluid of change in a person’s life, but too much can burn the process down to the ground and leave you, and everyone around you, burned…or seriously alienated.

So, what’s a white person to do? This is actually a question I think on all the time, especially when encountering a behavior I do that is discouraging for people of color, such as believing all the Hollywood portrayals of white saviors and believing I’m not racist because I like these films.

So again I ask, what’s a white person to do? I don’t have all the right answers, and if I pretended to know, I’d be lying. But there are some things that help me, and I’ll share those ideas, and maybe you could share ideas with me, too?

First of all, if you are just entering this journey, or have been on this path for a while, I’m so glad we are connecting and I wish you all the best and even hope to have courageous conversations!

I think understanding white privilege and moving away from a white savior mentality is that you have to observe it, and when you do, don’t ignore it. I wasn’t able to see these behaviors or thought processes on my own, but thankfully my friends of color felt comfortable to speak into my life and the scales fell off. So find your close friends of color and initiate a conversation, and if it’s your first time, just know that it will be uncomfortable as many of us were raised “not to see color” or refrain from making a person feel uncomfortable by speaking about our differences. BUT embrace the discomfort and lean in. That pain, that conviction, that challenge to what we previously believed is the catalyst for growth.

And then what? I don’t know, just keep learning. Follow Twitter chats like #ClearTheAir or #BreakRank or #EduColor. There’s no way you can follow these discussions without feeling all the feels. You will feel the whole gambit of emotions. And if I were you, I wouldn’t offer much, just listen to others’ words. Understand the anger non-white people have regarding the injustices and stereotypes they encounter every single day. Understand that there is more to their stories than how we grew up. AND If you’re brave enough to ask a question, you’re feelings might get hurt with the answers- so embrace that, too.

I realize that I cannot predict your path of understanding nor speak for anyone besides myself, so know that your path may look different than mine and that’s life.

But, Mel, I don’t have any friends of color?

**********************************

Maybe start there. Why don’t you have a diverse group of friends? Do you really want that in your life?

I do. My friends are incredible people. Who doesn’t want to know incredible people?!?

My Fellow White Friend, there is no easy answer. That’s why I ask so many questions!!!

Personally, my blinders regarding the separate worlds and realities between our cultures and races, have come off through growing in my relationship with my Savior, Jesus Christ. He put the desire to be united with His creation in my heart. I can’t help but think that all this separation saddens Him, or angers Him, to a degree we’d never understand with our human minds.

I believe that harboring racist thoughts and actions is a sin that separates us from each other and from God. You may not share my faith, but you can definitely see how being separate from our neighbors has harmed our country in quite a few ways.

So start listening to people who have more melanin than you. Maybe you’ll find many more commonalities than differences? Maybe you’ll grow a deeper friendship with someone you only thought you knew well, beforehand?

I’d love to hear all about it and wish you the best.

Let’s talk more, later!

Sandra Day O’Connor

This month is Women’s History Month! Today, my oldest daughter and I read Remarkable People: Sandra Day O’Connor by Jennifer Howse (Weigl Publishers Inc.) I had hoped it would spark some kind of interest in biographies, discussion about obstacles women have faced, and some inspiration, but truth be told, my daughter was mostly unmoved. This saddens me, but it also challenges me to make this more regular in her life. I’m hoping the more we read together, she’ll grow more interested, begin to articulate her thoughts, and give a rip about more than the latest Pokémon character!!!

However, I was extremely inspired by O’Connor’s life! Before reading about her today, I knew very little about her. She grew up during the Great Depression on a cattle ranch in Arizona. She went to a boarding school in El Paso, and before becoming the first female Supreme Court Justice, she had also become the first female Senate Majority Leader! As a young woman in the early 1950s, she was turned away by law firms because she was a woman, even after graduating from one of the finest law schools: Stanford Law! It really wasn’t so long ago that gender discrimination was acceptable.

In fact, I tried to draw my daughter out asking, “When she graduated, women could basically stay at home and be a house wife, be a secretary, nurse, or teacher. There weren’t many opportunities for us back then.” And we discussed for minority women, even less opportunities. So it truly is amazing when people break down these discriminatory walls.

Sandra Day O’Connor grew up surrounded my minority peoples such as Native and Hispanic Americans. This gave her a better experience as a leader in our world, as a Supreme Court Justice, regarding the idea of fairness.

She experienced breast cancer all while in the public eye, and resigned so she could be with her husband who had Alzheimer’s. She was a mother, grandmother, and author! She was recognized for paving a path for more women to follow.

The idea that she believed we should all do everything to the greatest of our abilities, even the most menial of all jobs, really impressed upon my mind. My daughter wasn’t as inspired as me, but again, this challenges me to give her more opportunities to learn about people paving a path for more to follow.

I’ve always loved reading biographies and this month, I’m challenging myself daily to learn and read about a woman who left her mark on our society. I’m hoping by the end of the month, my precious daughter will be inspired, too!

It’s just what I needed to tell myself!

Eighteen years ago I wrote myself a poem that I needed to remind myself of tonight! Why tonight? Because the big dream just ahead requires a bigger faith than normal.

I found this little scrap in an old hatbox filled with other memories.

It may not happen when you thought it should. It may not happen when you hoped it would. But He knows our hearts, He knows our ways, the Almighty Master who created our days. And sometimes He even lets us share in His plans, and that’s a gift He gave to man. 12-24-01

I just turned 21 a month before.

I can only imagine what I was thinking about when I penned those words 17 years ago, but I do know why He let me see them again tonight as the overwhelming feelings of impossibility are near the surface of my emotions.

Doubts and fears have me wishing for the normalcy that has become our lives even though I know if I press on, the rewards will be more amazing than I can even imagine!!!!!

So many wonderful friends and family are praying for us through this difficult process of moving our family to Alaska. We are purging material items but also the old ways that were making it so difficult to be a close, family unit. In fact, purging the tangible has become a representation of purging the intangible, old ways of thinking and settling.

So my 21 yr old self came through for my 38 yr old self. I used to write poems on random papers and lost track of them, but not God. He put those words in my heart then so the Melody could be heard exactly when I needed her most.

Memories of Miss Gray

Tonight we visited friends that live in the same town as my first teaching assignment, Pottsboro, Texas. Driving by the intermediate school where I taught my first three years coupled with going through pictures and notes from that time (this past week while packing up) really sent me into a deep nostalgic mindset.

My friend from our hometown in Missouri to landing in Pottsboro together!

As we drove by and I pointed so my children would look, the thought that I may never drive by this iconic place again, really stuck with me. This place, town, friends, former colleagues who meant so much to me at one time…. So many have, like me, moved on to different places. But those memories of them, they were real again, thinking of the track I walked miles around, halls I walked up and down, the spot where my homeroom and I planted flowers one Earth Day, and mostly the people whom I shared the time. I imagined my first classroom and science lab that were more home to me than any place I rented, just inside the building walls.

No one in the car had the same powerful connection to the place my adulthood began and started to blossom. And yet, had I not started blooming there, I most definitely would not be who I am right now.

Here I am, 38, mother of five, wife of one, and forever an educator who is staring down the road to another adventure…one taking me to another starting point, another cast and crew, and another place to bloom. But I wouldn’t be able to had I not traveled other, transformative adventures, first. Had I not made lasting memories and important friendships and connections….

I coached softball, basketball, and volleyball those first three years.

So much can change in such little time. My children are growing so quickly, my husband and I are graying and getting older so much faster than when we first began. Here we are, 12 years later….

And, well, I’m just grateful for my memories. I’m grateful to be able to look back with gratitude, a prayer of thanksgiving, and more hope for the future than I’ve ever had….

The many connections and deep friendships made will not die in the time and space that will surely grow between us, but onward we look to bloom and create new memories that will also forever change us into the people we become. It’s such a sweet and temporary spot that time allows us to remember, grieve the quick passage of time, but then press forward. I don’t know that looking back is a positive experience for all, but tonight, I remember I am who I am today for everywhere I’ve been, everyone I’ve known, and everything I’ve learned along the way.

This box was made for me by a former student my last year in Pottsboro. Inside were pictures and notes.

Are We Listening?

Let’s face it, kids are hardcore honest. Once I had a fourth grader let me know about my wild and crazy nose hairs! True story! During a parent conference!

But sometimes kids bare their souls and we aren’t listening, we aren’t seeing. We may see hours later what we missed or we may never know, but there is no professional development better, or more true, than what these tiny or smaller humans are teaching us.

Today was such a day for me. I like the social studies curriculum we use very much, it offers online resources, and I like that it’s more current than the textbooks I grew up reading. Today we started reading and learning about the government, who is in charge…and then this picture came up.

Years ago, this picture wouldn’t stick out to me in any way, but today, it made me super aware that not every child in my class would see this picture as I see it.

In fact, two of my students, both boys, and non-white, spoke up and said this picture made them feel sad. One little boy said it made him feel afraid. I asked if he wanted to explain why he had fear, and he bravely said it was because he was afraid they’d come and take away his daddy….

This is first grade. This is not a hardened, cynical youth or adult, this was from the innocent of innocents.

We listened to him. Then, we sang about empathy because even if they didn’t understand the connection just yet, it was my job to plant the seed.

Because I was listening.

Becoming More Culturally Responsive in Teaching

Years ago in my teaching prep courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, we were asked how we would teach/be culturally responsive in a diverse environment.  I answered the question by copying whatever the text said and that is why I do not remember what I wrote, only that I had absolutely no idea what I would do.  We were required to spend 75 hours in schools that were high in populations of Native Americans, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans.  What I can recall is that the school where I spent hours with the Native American populations were frightening.  The school was dirty, old, and completely filled to the maximum capacity.  Right across the Red River, the schools where I spent with the two other groups, were completely different, as in modern, clean, and less scary for a teacher-in-training! This was in the early 2000s.

Fast forward to 2019 and most of my  years teaching have been in a public school where my white skin is in the minority and we are classified as Title 1, meaning most of the students are on free or reduced lunches. Being culturally responsive was not something I was aiming for per se, but it has definitely become a required skill to remain relevant for my students.  I wish I had taken courses on this subject, but thankfully, bonding with my students and their families gave me the education I needed.  I can honestly tell you that the desire to know and understand what motivated my students was where my education in culturally responsive teaching began.  Also, my colleagues of color have impacted my teaching practices.

Here is a list of some culturally responsive traits:

  1. Positive perspectives on parents and families
  2. Communication of high expectations
  3. Learning within the context of culture
  4. Student-centered instruction
  5. Culturally mediated instruction
  6. Reshaping the curriculum
  7. Teacher as facilitator

Taking courses on being culturally responsive may not be necessary if you are on the path of finding out how to bond with your students.  When building  foundational relationships with young people, some of these traits are natural, like being welcoming to families.  Over the years, my students taught me that they were more highly involved in learning when I was talking less and they were doing more, my role as a facilitator was shaping itself and my own pedagogy was more student-centered.

The two strongest indicators, for me, that I was becoming more culturally responsive in my teaching practices, was when I was able to reach out to my students and ask them how I could help my students of color more, and when my personal friendships started growing with more non-white people.  One young lady shared with me she felt noticed and as important as all other students, for the first time, in my class.  The comfort we felt while talking about our differences and appreciating each other was real.  I listened more to my students and the wise teachers who took me under their wings. Becoming friends with more people who were African American, Hispanic, Asian, or biracial has given me glimpses into perspectives I would otherwise never have.  I know being able to address cultural differences with people close to me has really challenged and changed me!  AND I LOVE IT! I’m absolutely grateful for those relationships and the way I’ve grown because of them.

Relationships, conversations, and learning how to appreciate different perspectives is what has formed me into a culturally responsive and relevant educator.  While more natural for others and less natural for some, if we are willing to listen and learn, more of us in education can cross the divide that oppresses our nation, and be part of the unifying factors.  That is probably one of the coolest things about being in education, being a unify-er of people!

If you are interested in growing in this area or helping others grow in this area, hop on Twitter this Tuesday and follow one of my favorite chats, #FlocabChat.  While on Twitter, under the search button, type in #FlocabChat and click on the “latest” tab.  Our chat  begins 7pm CST and 8 EST.

 

Although I have grown so much in this area since I first became a teacher, I know I still have much to learn.  Listening and asking questions to educators in the know is one of the best ways to begin this important journey!

Saying Goodbye

When my husband and I were daydreaming about an adventure in a far off place, there was no thought of what it would feel like to say goodbye. This evening, as I prepared for tomorrow, tears fell as I fully took in that there wasn’t much more time in the building that is my second home.

I started thinking about all the students who hug me in the hallways, even though they’ve never been in my class… I remembered so many fun memories with co-workers… And I started praying for the teacher who takes on this beautiful class after me, that she will know what she’s doing, love and appreciate my students, and that they won’t feel like I deserted them.

How can a job take over so much of your heart? I felt panicked because it felt like I was saying goodbye to a part of myself. And it really hurts. I reflected on this, asking myself is it just my ego? But I know it is not.

One of my best qualities is jumping in with my whole heart and one of my worst qualities is jumping in with my whole heart….So probably the brokenness I feel is just natural.

I have nine more days doing this awesome job. I hope these next two weeks will be memorable, and I pray my students will remember how much I love them. There’s still so much I need to take care of before I go, I want to make sure being busy doesn’t rob me of the special times ahead.

I won’t feel guilty for talking with my friends after work. People are the most important part of my profession, and the relationships formed these last few years run deep. I look forward to the last parent conferences, too, for the same reason.

When I’m not residing in my second home anymore, school will still go on, my students will still learn, and the year will be full of all the things. My heart will still be there, at least a part of it. And that means it truly was a work of heart.