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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Hope in the Retelling

Recently, another writer asked, “Are you working on your memoir? It seems you’ve lived an interesting life.”

journal writingIn fact, I have been writing my memoir for several years. Only one  piece remains, but I have to wait for life to hand me the answer for the final chapter.

It’s common for people in my demographic, especially writers, to look back and review our lives. But a good memoir is more than just an autobiography or a review of life’s circumstances.

The most effective memoir carries an ongoing theme which cements the pieces of life together. My cement becomes apparent with each telling of the facts.

Dad and I worked together as a ministry team for much of my childhood. Whether it was a downtown mission for homeless men or Sunday afternoon at the nursing home, we served together. Dad played his guitar and led the singing of hymns while I played piano and occasionally sang a solo.

Then I came home, opened my diary and wrote about the day. My Red Chief tablet became the medium for stories which I sent to Reader’s Digest. I tore up the rejections when they landed in the farm mailbox, but even that scathing critique could not stop the flow of my words.

After college, I traveled to Honduras where I taught at a school for missionary kids. I kept a journal during that time and later wrote The Plain Path, my first book. It is now out of print, but I gave it to several youth groups who were prepping for mission work.

Ministry continued as I served in my church with music and childhood education. Then followed several years in nonprofits such as a parolee recidivism program and a pregnancy crisis center with an adoption service. I worked as a communications director, a biblical counselor and an administrative assistant. During the evenings, I wrote articles and fillers, stories and books — still unpublished.

A group of supporters sent me to my first writers conference where I learned the basics of what editors want. By that time, I was a wife and mother, still serving in nonprofits and the church — writing more words while my son slept.

It was an article about miscarriage that catapulted me into the publishing world and became the impetus for more spin-offs. Then stories for children where I found ready markets about parenting and marriage. I still attempted books but couldn’t find an agent who wanted my work.

Then followed several years as an international minister at the University of Kansas. I loved meeting people from all over the world and helping them adjust to the US. During those years, I wrote curriculum for teaching English, devotions to send via email around the world and articles about cultural differences.

The hard years began with divorce, job loss, financial struggles and the responsibility of raising my son while working several jobs. But I continued helping a nonprofit that served uninsured people, then moved to a new position as administrative assistant for chaplains.

By this time, my articles sold regularly which padded the income and kept us fed. An accidental meeting with an acquisitions editor morphed into a contract for my first novel, then the rest of the trilogy. Finally, I saw my books on library shelves.

At another ministry assignment, I was offered the opportunity to become a certified life coach. That decision merged into multiple articles, but also the joy of helping women find their direction in life, especially when starting over single.

Coaching writers became a natural progression from life coaching, and my books started multiplying. I added editing as another stream of income and studied the pros and cons of Indie Publishing.

Through the years, I often envied people who worked in one job for 30+ years and retired with a substantial pension. But that was not the way my life worked out. I have filled numerous journals and to date completed 14 books. And I have met fascinating people who all have their own stories.

But always, my goal has been to help others with their journeys and move them toward some semblance of hope. When I look back, my memoir cement includes various ministries while always surrounded by some sort of writing.

At the heart of my life is the power of communication, especially with the written word. Writing has always been a dream, but essentially — my destiny. Through coaching writers, editing and continuing to write my own projects, the dream has become my vocation and now — my final act.

The memoir is not complete, but I will finish it. When it is ready to be published, hopefully it will bring my readers closer to another step of hope. Then I will know for certain — my life had meaning.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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