First blog post

This is the post excerpt.


As I am bumbling through this blog design process, I realize that this is no different than virtually every other area of my life: it’s not exactly how I planned it, I’m realizing half way through that I don’t really know what I’m doing,  I’m feeling out of my depth (but not too embarrassed to admit it), I’m wondering how everyone else does it and seems to make it look so effortless, and I’m thankful that people are kind enough to encourage me along the way. Technology is not always my friend, but WORDS are! And since I am nothing if not verbose, unmarried, and the parent of a male child who cannot possibly receive all the words I have to share, I am very grateful for this venue which allows me to share them with anyone who is interested. God bless you!

Why Kids and Pets Wreck Your Life… But in a Good Way

I remember an evening when I hosted a dinner party for my boss and my co-workers. The menu was carefully planned; one of the guests was vegan, so I had to be creative. The table was beautifully set ahead of time, with matching dinnerware. My house was spotless and cozy with candles flickering and carefully selected music playing softly in the background. As we sat around the table, my boss, who was known to be quite the dragon lady said with a smile, “Your home is just as I’d expected; a place for everything and everything in its place.” I could not have been more pleased.

Yeah, that was B.C.  Before Child. No one would ever make a comment like that about my home now. And dinner parties? Well, they are more a, “Grab a bowl from the counter, serve yourself some soup from the crock pot and sit where ever you want.” kind of fare. None of my dishes match, I no longer have open flames anywhere in the house, music just ads to the din, and now I rarely sit while I have company. I hop out of my chair every three minutes to manage my surly teenager, my hyper and overly friendly dog, and the sassy kitten who thinks she owns the joint. Everything is most decidedly not in its place, even if it had a place. Which is why there is always a pile of papers, pictures and clothes behind my bedroom door and if I get tired of tripping over something long enough, it goes down to the murky depths of the cellar, where I can trip over it every time I do laundry. The 768 square foot house that was juuuust right for single me when I bought it, is a little more of a challenge to contain two humans, a 62 pound canine, an indoor feline, a leopard gecko, and all our stuff. The once oatmeal colored berber carpet intermittently has a pattern; what I like to call ‘Muddy Dog Paw’ print. The kitten has little friends she plays with; she finds them under the furniture and behind the TV; they’re called dust bunnies. My car looks (and sometimes smells) like a college dorm room. And my yard? Well, let me just say this: I recently purchased a bale of straw to spread over the back ‘lawn’ to combat the mud when it’s wet, and dust when it’s dry. That’s one battle I have lost completely.

My sister reminds me that, for much of this, it’s a season; dirty floors, a muddy yard and a messy car – par for the course when raising kids and animals. The child will eventually grow up and move out, and the animals won’t live forever, and order will be restored. But part of me knows, my life has been wrecked forever, but in a good way.

I married young and was divorced and single again after six years. I did not come to alone-ness easily and had never been on my own as I had gone from my parents home to being a wife. I spent the first many years desperately working at filling my life with as many people, activities, and obligations as I could so as to be alone as little as possible. After I found my footing I began to enjoy my independence and freedom and became much more comfortable. Too comfortable. It’s not as if I didn’t have any challenges in my life, in fact, I sought them out: travel, missions, ministry, vocations, home ownership. But it was on my own terms and at my own pace and within a reasonable budget.

When my desire to be a parent out-weighed the prudence of waiting for a spouse, I made the decision to adopt on my own. This wasn’t a second-best option for parenthood for me. I had always wanted to adopt, even while I was married. Of course, making the decision to adopt and having that dream come to fruition… well, let’s just say that the seven years it took for that to happen gave me a lot of time to imagine, think and dream about how parenting would change my life. Yeah. I had NO IDEA. Nobody does. And boy, howdy! he was a challenging kid if you ever met one. And just about the time the child started to turn a corner into, “Whew, I feel like things are almost getting easier!” We got a dog. Same thing. I had no idea. (It was a downhill slope from there to getting a kitten….)

About now, you may have decided that I have lost my mind, and, you may be right. However, if you are considering being a parent, or want to begin with the starter kit of puppy or kitten, or, if you are just in the midst of the mess like me, and have a few minutes between shuttling your kid around and have the dog barking at the back door and the kitten climbing up your pant leg, here is my point: YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE. You are not now, never have been, nor will you ever be. Having children and animals will make sure you will never forget this truth. These ‘creatures’ grow and change and move on to the next developmental level so quickly, whether you are ready or not. And they drag you along with them. You learn things you never would have learned, meet people you never would have met, go places you never would have gone. You learn to LET THINGS GO that aren’t important and embrace things that are important and live in the moment, because they clamor for your attention and don’t take No for an answer. Most importantly, they teach you to love deeply, tenderly and selflessly. They don’t fill you up, emotionally, they empty you completely so you are forced to find what stuff you are truly made of, who your friends really are, and in Whom your faith lies.

At the end of my life, for what do I want to be remembered? You could eat off of her floors, they were so clean, and her yard was the envy of the neighborhood. Or: She was a rescuer of lives, human and animal, and when I spilled coffee on her couch, she said, “That’s why I chose brown, because it’s the color of coffee and chocolate.”

If you are finding yourself at a comfortable place… a little too comfortable, kids and pets are a great way to make your ‘perfect’ home and life a little less comfortable, a lot less perfect and much more… honest. You are not in control of your life, but you can allow your life to be wrecked, in a good way.


~ Love is Risk, and messy

When Christmas isn’t Merry

I’m about to make a statement that may initiate hate mail and get me kicked out of several social circles, so brace yourselves: Christmas – not my favorite season. I’ll go farther than that – I, for the most part, intensely dislike (I generally avoid using the word ‘hate’) Christmas music. For a person of the Christian faith and a musician, not absolutely LOVING Christmas and LOVING Christmas music is, well, sacrilegious.  Even though I sing in choir, and have nearly every year of my adult life, beyond a few ancient and sacred classics, I can barely tolerate Christmas music and avoid it whenever I can. And as for the entirety of the Christmas season, I am, at best ambivalent.

Please let me explain. I grew up in a home that had every good Christmas tradition in place: family, church, food, decorations, gifts, and yes, even music. It was all good and I loved it, sharing it with my parents and my siblings. But, my ability to continue to live out my concept of that ideal was cut short by my divorce at a young age and many years living as a single person. There was still family, but it was not a family of my own. Although I never spent a Christmas alone, I did most of the Christmas season alone: shopping, cooking, decorating. While my friends and siblings were taking their children to sit on Santa’s lap, baking cookies with them and going as couples and families to see the lights, I was… not. I had rehearsals and performances and parties that I attended, but I did it on my own. If I were predisposed towards depression, these would have been my darkest days. I functioned. I made the best of it. I did my best to reach out to other single people and people who had no family in town, and I think I enjoyed Christmas day, itself, but it was a concerted effort.

Then, I became a mom, and everything changed, right? Yes, but not in the way you might think. My son had the attention span of a squirrel (and the energy level), and nothing about our Christmases together felt… traditional. It only took a year or two for me to realize that my hopes for at least a couple of family traditions for the two of us, the Nutcracker, the Singing Christmas Tree, driving around to see the lights, even decorating together, would probably ever happen, at least not without some sort of awful scene. The simple task of lighting candles on an Advent wreath he made in Sunday school and reading a short (very short) devotional became more a lesson on fire safety than Advent. There was no baking, there was no shopping (there was me, ordering online at midnight after I’d finally finished the dishes and laundry), and his contribution to decorating was to stand on the lights while I was trying to string them and to break at least one of my favorite ornaments each season. It seemed everyone else was able to achieve at least some version of their Rockwell-esque scene during the holiday season while I felt like I was, if not faking it, then, putting on one heck of a brave face.

Then came the coldest, darkest, saddest holiday season of all; last Thanksgiving day which ended with my father in the ER, in ICU for two weeks, never to return to his home, moving my parents to a retirement home in December, my dad gravely ill during Christmas and by January, he had passed away. It was the coldest winter with the most ice and snow in many years, I had just started a new job so I had no paid time off and was navigating treacherous roads in the dark, to and from work, to and from the hospital, to and from my folks. I spent those months in a haze of grief and worry, barely able to eat and sleep. I just had to make sure that my parents were cared for, my child was cared for, and I didn’t forget to buy toilet paper and dog food. I honestly thought that was going to be the year we didn’t have a tree up or any decorations. I just couldn’t muster the energy. At some point, someone gave us a pre-lit tree and I told my son who was home alone during Christmas break, if you want a tree, you’re going to have to put it up yourself. And he did, bless his heart.

OK, so, there have been some amazing and unique experiences, like when I had a Japanese friend stay over Christmas eve and come with me to my parents’ on Christmas day because she had no one with whom to celebrate Christmas. She was the only Christian in her family; all the rest were Buddhist. She was full of joy and gratitude, just to GET to celebrate Christmas. One year, I flew to Spokane on Christmas day to visit my sister and her family and it was snowing so hard they had to circle the plane till they could plow the runway. The flight attendants made everyone on the plane sing Christmas carols till it was safe to land. Then, there was the year we call our Kosher Christmas. My parents, who have traveled to Israel countless times, met and befriended a group of young people from Israel who were selling beauty products from the Dead Sea in a kiosk in the mall. “Wouldn’t you like to see what it’s like to celebrate Christmas in a traditional American home? Well come on over!” The catch? A couple of them had Jewish dietary restrictions. No problem! Kosher Christmas dinner it is! And the one year I let my 10 year old stay up really late so we could attend a midnight mass with a friend, who sneaked away from her sleeping family to come pick us up. None of us are Catholic, we just had always wanted to see what a midnight mass was all about. All memorable, but, not exactly Christmas card-worthy.

Christmas just isn’t always merry. Sometimes, it’s downright dysfunctional. Sometimes there is grieving to be done, and sometimes, I’m just slogging through life, doing the best I can. Even when things are going well, I find it to be exhausting and disillusioning. With jam-packed work schedules, school schedules and social calendars, who has time to ENJOY Christmas? But if I close my eyes really tight, clamp my hands over my ears, I can see, hear and feel it in my own way. I hear angelic boys’ choirs in great cathedrals, “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”, mysterious Gregorian chants in stone monasteries, “Veni, Veni Emmanuel”, guitars in country churches with broken pipe organs, playing Stille Nacht, and the very sweetest tenor notes ever written, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people”. I can see a rocky hillside in Bethlehem, the ground of which I’ve walked with my own feet. I see a manger carved out of stone used as a cradle. A baby crying. Of course he cried. He never held back his emotions as an adult; why would he as an infant? I feel the tension of nations perched precariously on the brink of war, people longing for something bigger than themselves, bigger than everyone and everything else that has disappointed and failed them, to hope in.

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Christmas doesn’t have to be merry. But it does have hope.


~Love is Risk







When the Whole World’s Gone Mad

How do I let my child walk out the door each day, when the whole world’s gone mad. I’ve been asking myself this question a lot, lately. My son has just become a teenager, and although he’s nowhere near driving a car, or going on dates, or working at a job, he is asking to do very teenage things like hang out with friends at the mall, or walk to a friend’s house, or, just in general, go places and do things without me, which he should; he’s 13, after all. I knew this was coming. This is good, right? These forays into the world are the necessary steps towards developing independence. But do you KNOW what’s going on out there?! Good grief! I don’t want to know, and I still know. I rarely watch the news and I don’t read the paper, but doggonit, I still find out – the world has gone mad! Petty and dangerous despots are ruling countries like petulant, bratty boys bullying a playground full of children, only they have access to nuclear weapons! Neo-Nazis are brazenly flaunting their hateful dogma. And it seems like not a week goes by without a report of a gunman in a school, church or shopping mall, which are pretty much all the places my kid is these days.

Which brings me to another question I’ve been asking myself, lately: How many times can you have a conversation with your child that involves the term ‘active shooter’ before it gets weird. “Be on your best behavior, be respectful of adults and remember, if there’s an active shooter, there’s always a back door in every store – you don’t have to go back out into the mall to get out.”  Massive eye-roll, heavy sigh, “I know! You’ve told me! I got it.” Here’s another one: How do you explain to your 13 year old (who is black and looks like he’s 17 or 18) why you are spending a Saturday morning at the DMV to get him official ID to carry as proof of his age without using the words ‘police brutality’ and how do you foster an attitude of trust and respect with law enforcement while still telling him things like, “Now, if I get pulled over, I want you to stay quiet, be completely still and keep your hands in your lap.”

Is anyone else having these conversations with their kids? No? OK, it’s just me, then. Maybe it’s not on a daily basis, and we have a lot more mundane, hourly grind sorts of things to hash through to get through each day, but there are times when fear overwhelms me. Feel free to insert your favorite spiritual platitude in here- “You have to trust God! Pray for him! God is in control!” But, the truth is, not one of us knows the number of our days, nor the number of days of the ones we love the most. OK! Good talk. God bless! Have a nice day!

You were hoping for a cheery and inspirational conclusion, weren’t you? Well, here’s the best I can do: a sobering reality check. If the world comes to an end tomorrow, or if all is well and my worries were for naught, will I regret letting my son experience every good thing he can in this life that is in my power to allow? No. Either way, no.

You want to ride on a city bus to the mall with your friend? I don’t even know how to get to the mall on the bus! But your friend knows how? He does it all the time? (Internally gasping for breath.) Externally: OK. How much does it cost? Call me if you need a ride home. (By the way, riding the city bus is ‘fun’ when you’re 13. Who knew?)

You want to walk to McDonald’s to meet your friends? You mean McCreepy’s in the ‘hood?! Absolutely not! That’s the worst part of town. “Mom, my friends LIVE right next door to that McDonald’s….” Oh. Well. When you’re done eating, why don’t you go over to the park. Wear a backpack so you can take a football. (Apparently, when you’re a teenage boy, you don’t get tired of eating at McDonald’s even when you live next door.)

You want to go on a ten mile hike with the neighbor and his girlfriend whom I’ve only met twice? “But, I know them, Mom. I’ve played basketball with him for like, three years, and he’s super nice and he’s my friend.” But, how do I know I can trust them? “I trust them!” Sigh. Let’s go walk over and talk to them. Go with you? Heck, NO! I can’t hike ten miles!

So, how DO I send my child out the door into a world gone mad?

Take your wallet. Do you have money? Is your phone charged? If anything happens, remember – “Mom! I got it!” There is no hug and kiss goodbye these days. If I’m lucky I get a “Love you, too.” as I watch him go. And I trust that God is in control (Sometimes, on a good day), and I pray. And life is lived… in this mad world.


Love is Risk ~ and so is life





When I am not Enough

I really want to believe that since God chose me to raise my son (and I do very much believe that) that I am the perfect parent for him and completely sufficient for the task. I recently watched a very sweet and humorous internet video blog posted by a mom who was attempting to encourage parents, mothers in particular, to believe in their unique ability to parent their children and not compare themselves to other parents. And while I appreciate her intent, and I was quite encouraged and entertained by her video, when she emphatically stated over and over, “You are enough!” I knew in the deepest part of my heart that simply is not true.

Never mind the fact that the moody and often hurtful teenager who lives in my home reminds me of this fact almost daily, I see evidence of this in the broken lives and broken relationships of the people around me; family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances whose children have made bad choices, broken ties with their families, and destroyed themselves and the people around them. It’s very rare when I see a family like that and think, “It’s no wonder – with a mother like her, who could blame him? I’d go off the deep end, too!” Most of the time I find myself thinking, “If it could happen to them, it could happen to us.”

When I find myself so inadequate – in battles waged on behalf of my son, Ah! there are so many! And battles waged with my son, Oy! too many to count, and that’s just today! I know for a fact that I am NOT enough. It is a very rare moment (moment, not day) when I feel like I have made steps forward without taking at least a step back in the process. Perhaps yours is not a moment by moment struggle with your child, but a hit you on the blind side blow, or a sudden downward spiral, or a frog in gradually heated water till it’s boiling crisis. And you realized: you are not enough. Yes, God chose YOU to parent THIS child. Yes, but…  how? How did we get here? This is not how I thought it would be.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 2:23. It’s one of those cruel to be kind verses. All. You, me, this child, that awful harsh world out there, those teachers who don’t get him, those friends who are leading him astray, family members who don’t understand him. All. And the kind part, verse 24: “and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We don’t have to be enough, we can’t be – we’re all on equal footing in this respect; flawed humans in need of a savior. Jesus is enough. He out loves us, out reaches us, out forgives us, and out lives us. He knew from the beginning that we would be inadequate and chose us to do it anyway.

So, we live to fight another day, and we will… fight, another day, and the day after that, till we die…. It may not be pretty, but it is noble, and absolutely ordained by God.  And where my resources are limited, His are limitless. Where I fall short, He not only gives grace, but gives it freely. What a wonderful word, freely. Good thing, because I need a lot of it.

~ Love Is Risk


From 3 to 13; a Decade Together

My baby turns 13 tomorrow, except he wasn’t my baby. He was someone else’s baby and came to me three months shy of his 3rd birthday. Motherhood and toddlerhood were nearly instantly established and we became a family. The adoption journey took roughly (and I mean ROUGHly) seven years, and it took a full year after I took custody of my son for our adoption to finalize, but we were certainly mother and son from the first day we began living in the same home together. In fact, he called me Mom the second time I visited him. I wasn’t sure how that would work. He was so little, barely verbal, and there was no Daddy to say, “Look! There’s Mommy! Give it to Mommy.” And his foster parents would only refer to me by my first name. So, how would he know? A stranger, appearing in his life, a different race, a different face than he’d known for the past nine months. He knew. And called me Mom, almost whispered it the first time, as if he was afraid someone else would hear him say it and challenge him. Within a week, he was in his own home, in his own bed, in his own family, and calling it endlessly as only a toddler can do; Mom, Mommy, Mom, Mom, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Moooooooommmmmy!!! I was sure I would never get tired of hearing it. I did. But it took a long time.

So, in a decade of motherhood, what have I learned? Well, if you’re expecting pithy parenting advice, it shall not be forthcoming. I got nothin. Because, first and foremost I have learned that I am not the mother I thought I would be. If I hold myself to the standard of the parenting examples I regard highly; my own parents, my siblings, close friends and people I admire, I usually feel I fall short in nearly every category. I suck at providing healthy home-cooked meals, I have NEVER been successful at getting my son to bed at a decent hour (ADHD don’t do bedtime), apparently I’m a yeller (didn’t know that until I became a parent) and for some reason, ever since my father died, I’ve been known to swear, occasionally, which has shocked and mystified my son as much as it has me.  There’s no point in laying ALL my dirty laundry out for public viewing. Nobody needs to see that. You’ve all got your own, I’m sure.

The other thing I’ve learned is that my child is not the child I thought he would be. Who is that child, anyway? He is male with an XYYYY! He doesn’t think like me, act like me, talk like me, move like me. He is not good at many of the things that come easily to me, and he excels at all the things I’ve never been able to do. I am a deep thinker, a person of words. He is a physical person and a person of movement. And the most startling discovery: my priorities for his life are very rarely his priorities, and my dreams for his future may be very, very different than his dreams for his future. I think that might be the biggest paradigm shift of parenting.

I think there ought to be a 12 Step program for parenting. Not for any particular addiction or abuse, just for regular parenting. It starts, of course, with Rule #1: Admit that you have a problem, and your kid does, too, doesn’t he? We all do! We’re all flawed. My son came to me from the foster care system and was so very broken, but then, I was broken in my own way, too, having been through a divorce and, well, just experiencing a lot of disappointments that come from living long enough to know life’s not fair. There’s been times when our brokenness has compounded one another’s and I felt like we were just a hot mess, and other times, when sharing the experiences we’ve had, either as individuals or together, transcended family; I’m not just your mother, I’m a person, you’re not just my son, you’re a person, we’re human beings, made in God’s image, dearly loved and desperately in need of redemption.

What do you do for your 10th anniversary of parenting? Well, a vacation AWAY FROM EACH OTHER is a good idea! Which I did; a weekend at the beach with a dear and trusted friend to rest, reflect, counsel, pray and face the reality of what my expectations were and are for my child and how they may, or very well may not, ever come to fruition. And a gift? If anyone is asking: carpet cleaning.

Love Is Risk (and hard on carpet)

When Regrets Turn to Gratitude

Every parent has regrets. OK, let’s be honest. There’s the Facebook-worthy Regrets: “I wish I would have slowed down and enjoyed it more while he was little. It goes by so fast!” And then there’s the Waking Up In the Middle of the Night Regrets: “I think I’ve made a horrible mistake and ruined my kid’s life and if I could go back in time, I’d do things completely differently.” Somewhere in the middle are the I Did the Best I Could Regrets, “This is the life I’ve been given; I’ve done the best I could with what I had. If he feels like he’s missed out or suffered because of it, I hope one day he’ll understand and forgive me.” But, often, those regrets turn into gratitude. One day, and I’ve had a couple of those days, lately, you have the opportunity to look back at the course of your child’s life and know that the things you thought might be disappointments, hardships or even damaging to them were character building and uniquely equipping them for later in life. If you’re a person of faith, and I am, you’ll want to take a moment to thank God that He sees what you don’t see, knows what you can’t know and is shaping your child’s life and future even when you feel like you’re just struggling to survive from day to day.

Because I’m the only parent, daycare has played a major role in both of our lives. I have always worked full time, and had full time daycare when my son was preschool age, which transitioned into before and after school programs for the school year and back to full time daycare for the summer, which transitioned into Boys and Girls Clubs. Due to changing jobs, changing schedules, changing needs, and some, shall we say… personality challenges, my son has been to a lot of different daycares and clubs. Not only that, but the elementary school that he was in from kindergarten through the fourth grade became such a toxic environment for him, I pulled him out and placed him in a different school for fifth grade. This is a I Did the Best I Could Regret. Lots of transitions, long hours away from home, making the best choices with the resources I had. Year round, we were up and out the door at 6 or 7 and coming home to a hurried dinner at 5 or 6. I knew there were advantages for my only child to be raised alongside those other children, especially when they varied widely in age, race, and family background, and there were some really wonderful caregivers who loved my child along the way. But still I worried; not enough time at home, not enough time with me, not enough hours in the day to do what ‘normal’ families do. But, just the other day, my son started 7th grade, and here’s another piercing regret; I couldn’t attend his open house because I was working. Since he was already there for football practice, he had the gumption to march on in and pick up his class schedule all on his own before being picked up by a family friend. When I asked how that went, he said, “Mom, I know SO MANY PEOPLE! When I went in, all these kids just kept saying Hi to me. It’s ’cause I went to three different schools and all those different Boys & Girls Clubs and even kids from daycare! I know EVERYBODY!” If ever there was a time when it is important for a kid to feel connected and acknowledged, it’s middle school, right?! He knows everybody! Hallelujah!

My father, the Baptist pastor, used to say there are two kinds of Christians: those who wake in the morning and say, “Good morning, Lord!” and those who say, “Good Lord, morning!” My son and I are not morning people; mornings have ALWAYS been a struggle for us. To make matters worse, due to my work schedule, at the age of 12 he is having to get himself up and out to the school bus on his own, several days a week. I’ve been a nervous wreck about this! I’ve been setting several alarms, calling him from work on our home phone and on his cell phone two or three times to make sure he is awake, still awake, remembering everything and out the door on time. Not only is he responsible for himself, he has to put the dog in his kennel downstairs (give him a treat and fill his water dish), make sure the cat doesn’t escape (which requires constant vigilance), and lock the house up.  This last Friday, I was scheduled to go in to work late so I would be leaving last. Rather than get up and do everything for him, nag and remind, and try to get him to eat something, as usual, I just stayed in my room and observed. My conclusion: HE LIKES BEING BY HIMSELF IN THE MORNING! He doesn’t want me there! He shuffles through the house with his phone in his hand, listening to music, does NOT eat breakfast because he doesn’t feel like eating (I really can’t fault him for that – I don’t either), does everything at his own pace, grabs his stuff and goes. He likes the stuff I do for him the night before, like packing snacks in his backpack, but he does not want or need my help in the morning. As long as he doesn’t sleep through his alarms, I am SO OK with this! Just to drive the point home, when I took the dog down to his kennel, he willingly went in and flopped down with a happy sigh of relief like he was glad to be rid of me, too. And, to humble me a little more, I could hear the cat ripping across the house upstairs, as if she was saying, “Yippee!! They’re all gone!” I’ve been rushing out the door on those dark, early mornings, plagued with worry and guilt over not being able to see my child off to school and placing too much responsibility on him, and here my entire household has become happily functional without me.

My older sister is so often right; quotably so. While my son and I have battled our way through a very harsh and at times unjust public school system, and dealt with teachers and administrators who were not only uncaring at times, but seemed downright spiteful and dare I say it, racist, she would say, “Remember, even the bad teachers are in his life for a reason. They build his character, teach him to stand up for himself and others, and let him know that life isn’t fair. He’ll be better and stronger because of it. And so will you.” There have been so many times I wished I could have shielded my son from the harsh realities and unfairness of the world, been home with him more, given him better opportunities (for what? I don’t know, the intangible ‘more’) Really, I have no way of knowing how his future is being shaped, his character is being formed, and what kind of strength he is building for what lies ahead. Only God knows. And His ways are not my ways. (Good thing. My ways involve a lot more worrying and nagging.)

To really love another human is risk; who knows the outcome? Joy? Perhaps. Heartbreak? Most certainly! To love God… is also a risk; to trust your fate, and worse yet, the fate of the person you love more than yourself, in His hands. But I ask you this? Who else is worthy of that trust? I hope I continue to be surprised by how many of my regrets turn to gratitude.

Love Is Risk


Brown and White, Pink and Black

A few months ago I was within earshot of a rather interesting, and a little troubling conversation between my son and his friend, who were sitting in my living room. My son, who is genetically, mostly African, and his friend who is racially mixed (I honestly don’t know what the mix is), were recounting various situations at school in which classmates were being in the least, ignorant and insensitive and, at the worst, overtly racist towards them. The final comment was by the friend who said, with a sigh and without any malice, “I hate white people.” At which point I, the invisible, forgotten parent and the only white person in the room piped up and said, “Hey! Wait just a second! I’m white!!” To which they both turned a startled gaze upon me as if seeing me for the first time as a white person (or even as a person, for that matter) , and the friend said, without skipping a beat, “Naw, you’re not white. You’re pink. We good.” OK, thanks for that, and nice recovery, by the way, but, “Yes, I’m white and I don’t treat either one of you like that, neither does anyone in our family or any of our friends or our church or our neighbors, so let’s not make generalizations about people based on skin color, since you don’t want people to do that to you… yada, yada, yada… Golden Rule…. (Picture pre-pubescent eye-rolling here annnnd… end of teachable moment. “Can we go outside?” Screen door slams. yes. sigh.)

My son was rather, shall we say, frenetic as a toddler, so, I think he was a little late in developing the cognitive ability to recognize racial characteristics. But when he finally did, Boy Howdy! Everybody knew. Every time we saw a person of color, he would shout out at the top of his lungs, “MOM! Look! (pointing, of course) That lady is brown just like me!” I didn’t know how else to respond, so I matched his enthusiasm. I would say, “I know! Isn’t that great?!” Most people would come over to high-five him or shake his little hand and say, “Hey, little buddy! Look, you’re just like me. We’re the same!” It was rather precious, except when it wasn’t… well received, but those situations were few and far between. For the longest time, he referred to himself as brown and I went with that. Sometimes, he was chocolate and I was vanilla, because I always prefer chocolate, and he always prefers vanilla. And, yes, I did let him lick my arm, many, many times. “Mmm, tastes like vanilla. Now, you taste me, Mom.” (I can assure you that sweaty, sticky, dirty little boy arm did not taste like chocolate, but, a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.)

One day, when he was maybe 4 or 5, after spending time with my dad, he came home and said, very firmly, “Grandpa says I’m not African-American.” OK… tell me more about that conversation. “He says I’m an American. I was born in America just like you and Grandpa and I’m a cilizen of America!” Yes, yes, I agree with all of those statements. You were born in Portland, Oregon, and you most definitely are an American and a citizen of America. “I wasn’t born in Africa.” No, you were not. OK, good talk. However… when he felt the need to announce this fact to random people, specifically, people who identify themselves as African American, it didn’t go over so well. The “African American” identifier still doesn’t quite work for him, even now, especially since we have friends who are from Africa and became American citizens, and thusly are African-Americans.

But, now, he identifies with black instead of brown. And, lately, I am more referred to by him (as a joke, mostly, because I flush and sunburn easily) as pink rather than white. Are we clear on that? I’m not. It’s an ever-evolving process. What I am clear on is that my son gets to define it, himself, with the loving support of his community, which is his family, his friends, his church and his neighbors. You see, in addition to all the awful, evil, violent things that are happening in our country regarding race relations, there are also wondrous, miraculous, divine things happening. There are more interracial marriages/partnerships than ever before, and the resulting children are a blend of the best of us. There are blended families of mixed races where a blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl calls an African immigrant, Daddy. There are families that grow by adoption that know absolutely no boundaries when it comes to race, ethnicity or country of origin. There are old, white, folk who were raised in a different era who end up with Asian granddaughters and black grandsons and become the proudest, most indulgent grandparents ever to bore you with pictures. And, while skin tones may be a part of our family or personal narrative, and may be an ever-morphing part of our individual identity, it does not always define our culture. Our families and communities define our culture.

Recently, I took my son to North Portland at his request because he wanted to go to a real black barber. He’d been asking every black male in Vancouver with a haircut he admired, and I mean EVERY one, even strangers. They all said the same thing: you need to go to North Portland. So we headed to the epicenter of African-American (I’m white, I use the PC term) culture in Portland, Martin Luther King Boulevard, on a Sunday afternoon and began searching for a barber that was open. White me, my handsome, young, black son who looks four years older than he is, cruising around in our decidedly “mom-mobile”-looking, old SUV. After one hit and miss, we were referred to a place that was open and took walk-ins and my young man was able to get a killer haircut from a bona fide, black barber. Afterwards, I wondered what his response to this experience would be, if he would be more or less comfortable being in a room full of black people (this rarely happens to him), and if he would be drawn to, or repelled by the particular (and kind of odd) situation in which we had just found ourselves. His observations impressed me and made me very proud. He felt that the only other woman in the room (the wife of the barber) was dressed immodestly, that they had conversations in front of a room full of strangers that were too personal in nature, and they used language that was inappropriate to use in front of a child. He liked his haircut very much. They were very nice to him. “But, can we try another place, next time, that would be more… professional?” Absolutely!  We’ll keep trying till we find the right one.

The values of HIS culture, our culture, that have nothing to do with the color of our skin, held true in this situation: to respect women (and for women to respect themselves), to conduct yourself with dignity and professionalism when you are at work or in public in general, to be gracious and thankful, but make wise choices in where you spend your time and money. O.M.Gosh! Did the nagging, lecturing, harping, and yes, sometimes yelling and screaming, “Did you hear what I just said?!” actually get through? In this moment… maybe. He’s only twelve. I’ve still got plenty of time to ruin him. (Or, I’ll keep nagging, lecturing, harping and maybe I could try to cut back on the yelling and screaming.)

Maybe, an entire generation of mixed families, however they come to be; by marriage, by birth or by adoption, are building a culture that has nothing to do with their skin tones (or better yet, are embracing ALL their skin tones) but going beyond that, can stand on a culture of which the values are respect and dignity and graciousness and kindness and thankfulness. It’s a tall order, a noble calling, and, I’m not gonna lie, most days I feel like I’m failing. But, I’m trying. And I know an African-American dad and a white mom who are trying with their white daughter and their bi-racial sons. I know white parents who are trying with their Asian daughters. I know many interracial couples who are trying with their bi-racial kids. I know many adoptive parents who are trying with their kids. And let’s not forget the unsung heroes: families who are all of the same race and/or ethnicity who are raising biological kids who do not know, nor will they tolerate racism, because their parents brought them up that way, some of them breaking the patterns of racism with which they were raised.

Lest you think that I’m unaware of the state of race relations in our country. Stop right there. Lest you think my son and I haven’t experienced racism. Stop right there. I am, painfully, fearfully aware and I try to make my son aware without causing him to be fearful – it’s more than a fine line, it’s a razor’s edge. He has, we have, experienced racism – some situations still too raw for either of us to share publicly. But, I have hope. There IS hope! And if you need to be introduced to ‘hope’, I know them, personally.

Love is Risk