When Hope Welcomes Diversity

As I sat on my front porch, I watched the kids play in the cul-de-sac. One black kid, two whites and three Latinos — two girls, four boys. They squealed with laughter, ran in circles, kidded each other like typical children enjoying a summer night.children - diff races

Far away from the murders of young black men and women. Focused only on the fun of being together without barriers.

When I watched George Floyd die on the national news, I cried and forced myself to watch it several times so I would never forget. Then came the reminders of earlier murders, of the taking of life merely because of skin color.

Such a sad scenario for a country that is supposed to stand for equality — all of us created equal by the God who gifted us with different skin tones.

Yet I’ve struggled to find a way, as a writer, to respond. What kind of voice can I add to the discussion as a white woman living in a comfortable cul-de-sac?

My history did not prepare me for the headlines of 2020. No black farmers tended their crops in our community. I didn’t go to school or church with black kids until my college days. Not because I avoided them, but because our community was segregated. Everyone on both sides seemed to accept it as the status quo.

At least, that was the excuse given to us.

The 1960’s opened my eyes to more of the struggles and inequities that needed to be fixed. I succinctly remember standing in a worship circle at a college weekend retreat, grasping the hand next to me and looking to see our white and black fingers intertwined.

“Cool,” I said to nobody in particular.

But that day, my soul opened to more possibilities. Until I experienced racism myself.

As a missionary in Honduras, I was a very white woman in a Latino world. We were not allowed to go downtown alone and never traveled outside our post at night. The culture shock was deep and real. It was a lonely identity thrust on me by location, gender and race.

But when I served as an international minister at the University of Kansas, I learned to appreciate and revel in the beatific richness of diverse cultures. Each week I met with Chinese post-docs, Kenyans, Muslims from the Middle East, Indians from New Delhi, Koreans, Japanese, Nepalese, Germans and other European students.

Although I was the leader of the group, I too learned from my students: about amazing foods, cultural differences, the rhythm of multiple languages and the colorful textures of customized dress.

None of us talked about racial differences. We all gathered together for one purpose — to learn to speak English better and share our lives with each other.

Only the U.S. was behind the curve ball where we couldn’t reconcile just two races as equal partners.

So I wonder what I can do now to help move my country of origin to a better place?

Admit that I don’t truly understand how it feels to be black in America. Until we open the conversation, truly listen to each other, ask the open-ended difficult questions and desire to learn from each other — we’ll be tethered by our history.

Change and social justice only happen as we dare to believe in the need for change and actually work hard to make it happen.

Educate myself. One of my black clients and I are reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Soon, we’ll meet online and discuss it. Hopefully, we’ll both grow and appreciate more fully the challenges our nation faces.

I’m also committed to reading more books written by authors of color, and I want to support the Black Writers Guild.

Recently, I attended a writers conference where I learned tips about writing diverse characters. The workshop was focused on various races and reminded me once again how most of us write from the viewpoint of our comfort zones.

Speak up. Silence is indeed a form of consensus. My voice will be heard at the ballot box as I discover each candidate’s plan for civil rights and racial equality. Which candidates are committed to social justice, mercy and decent human rights for all?

Leadership matters, and change can’t happen when the same people work from the same office with the same mindset while refusing to listen.

God promises that someday people from every tribe and language will stand before his throne (Revelation 7:9, 10). Heaven will be a place where diversity is celebrated and fully accepted.

If we’re going to live eternally with our brothers and sisters from all over the world, we’d better learn how to peacefully live together now.

We have so much work to do and so many prayers to offer. I pray to God with steadfast hope we’ll get it right this time.

Maybe the children will have to show us the way.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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When Christmas Changes

Throughout our city, wherever we traveled, we heard it.Xmas pkg - hot choc

In grocery stores, libraries, Target and Wal-Mart — even during church services where it occurred in stereo sound — one person in the aisle echoed by someone across the room.

The Great Cough of 2016.

In spite of our vitamins, clean eating and daily spraying through the house with Lysol, my son and I both caught the Great Cough of 2016.

With all our plans for the holidays suddenly deleted, we dragged our pitiful selves to our respective recliners. The cat glanced back and forth as we coughed, trying to rid our bodies of what the doctors called “Upper Respiratory Infection.”

Christmas plans immediately changed. None of our usual holiday foods. I wasn’t cooking anything except chicken soup. Unwrapped presents waited in Amazon boxes. Worse, we were not able to spend Christmas with the family in Oklahoma.

We didn’t want to infect the entire clan, and truthfully — they didn’t want us within breathing distance. Why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the children, my elderly mother and all the other relatives?

This was the first year since I served as a missionary in Honduras that I did not see my mother for Christmas.

We found an urgent care open on a Sunday. Bless the hearts of that medical staff! We armed ourselves with legal drugs. Thank you to the hard-working people at CVS! Fully medicated, we each returned to bed and slept late — when the coughing didn’t wake us up.

But Christmas happened in spite of illness. A few days later, my son’s girlfriend and her family invited us for a delicious meal and an evening of fun. We played table games, wearing hygienic gloves, trying not to cough on anyone.

The next day, we piled cough drops into my purse and escaped the sick house for a movie. I highly recommend “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith’s poignant performance of a man dealing with intense grief. The twist at the end gave us plenty of conversation starters as we managed an evening breakfast at IHOP.

Then we again collapsed in our recliners. Still coughing, but finding some joy in TV shows. The Grinch tried to steal Christmas from Cindy Lou Who while George Bailey learned how he lived a wonderful life.

Our Christmas may have looked different and not what we planned but we survived it. The promised Messiah still came. The beauty of Luke chapter two remained solid and the twinkle lights on our tree reflected a glowing  angel at the top.

Hope survived our Christmas changes as gradual healing brought us upright to face a new year. The Great Cough of 2016 did not win, because Christmas is not about food, health, presents or travel.

Christmas incorporates the beauty of music, joy, light and a Love that forever transforms lives. No matter how we celebrate the season, the root of its beginning cannot change.

And in that security, we find hope in the eternal promise – Immanuel – God is still with us.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

For a holiday gift you can give to a hard-working caregiver, consider Holiday Tips for Caregivers. Available on Amazon and Kindle.