A Letter to My Children

 

Recently our country has erupted with news stories, staggering across the bottom of our tv screens, and finding their way into our news feeds, police brutality, another shooting of an unarmed black man or woman, Black Lives Matter rallies, violence against police. And my children have begun asking questions.

My eight year-old son Demetrius keeps asking me “ Mama, are they going to start segregation again?”

I have avoided his question for a long time. And I think the reason I’ve avoided it is because if I want to be honest, I have to answer him, “It never actually ended bud.”

 

And how do I begin to explain that dark history? How do I begin to explain that what they’ve taught him in school is not the whole story, or even an accurate portrayal of part of the story?

 

I feel super inadequate as a white woman, trying to communicate to my Black and American Indian son that the history of our country is full of darkness and oppression for his people.

 

Yet my avoiding his question, my unwillingness to feel uncomfortable and inadequate is problematic in this goal I’ve set to be a stone catcher. It speaks volumes of my privilege. So I am starting today, while sitting on the airport floor in Chicago, after binge listening to my hero Bryan Stevenson, I am feeling like I have to begin somewhere. So here is my letter to you Demetrius, and to all of my children:

 

D-D,
You know how we’ve been talking about what is going on in America, about why police have been shooting black people who didn’t have guns? You know how I’ve talked to you about how you need to act around police? You know how sometimes I yell at you when you loose your cool, and I start crying and I usually say something like, “Demetrius! If you act like that out there, you will get shot! You have got to learn NOW how to be respectful, because you don’t have the luxuries that Tre has.” And you always scream back at me, “That’s not fair!”

 

And you’re right!

It’s not fair.

 

And yet it is still true.

 

D-D, you keep asking me if they are going to start segregation again. But I want to tell you something. Something that th
ey haven’t told you in school, something that makes people uncomfortable. D-D, segregation hasn’t really gone away. We can call it different things now, it looks different than water fountains and schools. And yet it doesn’t at all. Because black people still don’t get the same water (Flint, Michigan) or the same access to education (http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/01/28/us-education-still-separate-and-unequal ). And although we don’t have signs that hang outside of restaurants any more, we still have restaurants where you wouldn’t be served, just based on the color of your skin.

It’s awful. Really really awful.

 

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Here’s what I haven’t told you:

 

  1. There is a politics of fear and anger in America. Our leaders have fought to keep us afraid and angry for a long time. And when people are afraid and angry they will tolerate injustice, abuse, and cruelty. I don’t want you to be afraid and angry. I as your mom want to make sure you are a man full of hope. Because where there is hope, there is no longer a place for fear and anger. And then truth can reign. It is important that you, even as a little boy, begin to understand that identifying the ‘bad guy’ isn’t as clear as the news, our president, or your teacher makes it out to be. If we become afraid of a group of people, we will begin to make decisions that don’t represent our God.
  2. All people are equal. They aren’t treated equally though. And that is not what God wants. In my opinion, the worst part of slavery was that white people acted as if they were different than, better than, and superior to, black people. And we aren’t. And unfortunately that hasn’t much changed. The slaves were freed, but white people in America have continued to treat Black people as if they are inferior. It looks different than indentured servitude these days, usually, but it isn’t.
  3. Terrorism isn’t new. Terrorism has been occurring in the United States since the very beginning, it began with white people committing acts of terror on your American Indian ancestors. Terrorism didn’t strike in America for the first time on 9-11. Terrorism has been woven into the history that blankets our land. And without us being honest about what we, as white people have done, our country can never heal. The lynchings of black men, women, and children were acts of terror that infiltrated our country since the end of the Reconstruction in 1877 up until the 1950s. Muslim’s aren’t the first terrorists on this dirt. We are.

 

Buddy, I know that when we talk about these things you cry. I don’t ever want you to loose that. I want you to forever feel how awful this is. I want you to forever feel the weight of injustice. I pray that your dad and I can encourage you to not run away from what feels hard. I pray that we will teach you through our own broken paths, that you, D-D Luke, were made to do hard and holy things. Please be brave brave brave.

 

I love you to the moon Bub.

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(This letter was spurred after listening to a talk given by Bryan Stevenson at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California.)

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Veterans Day

Veterans Day is an official United States public holiday, observed annually on November 11, that honors military veterans, that is, persons who served in the United States Armed Forces. It coincides with other holidays, including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, celebrated in other countries that mark the anniversary of the end of World War I; major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. The United States previously observed Armistice Day. The U.S. holiday was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.  Source: Wikipedia

I didn’t grow up around anyone in the military and I am, admittedly, not very knowledgeable about the armed forces and those who serve in them. As an American, I appreciate the services our military has provided, but I never really knew what it meant for someone to sacrifice for our country. I have uncles and cousins and even my father in law served our country, but probably because of age barriers and common courtesy, I never allowed myself to ask too many questions of these people. That is, until I met Matt & Julie.

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Ethiopian dinner!

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Matt & Julie

Matt and Julie are my neighbors-turned friends. Through our fun and unexpected friendship I have come to learn not only about the military in general, but what it means to have made a sacrifice for our country in service. Matt is just one person who has made this sacrifice and while I could never do justice to his heroic story, I’d like to share a little bit about what I’ve learned it means for some to sacrifice your life in service to this country.

Matt is permanently disabled. Reading that you might think that he is wheelchair bound, but it’s actually nothing like that. Matt walks around looking relatively normal. You’d never guess he was disabled- save the fact that he never goes anywhere without his service dog, Diana.

However, what Matt gave up with his service to our country is this: a normal life. Matt has severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), congestive hart failure requiring mechanical valves and blood thinners, neuropathy (which causes a severe burning sensation in his hands and feet), severe hearing loss, basilar migraines that look like a stroke, and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He regularly has seizures, falls, bodily injuries and episodes of PTSD. He is at a high risk for stroke and uses blood thinners which require a total lifestyle change to maintain. He is more than 200% disabled and he will never lead a “normal” life. Matt is 35 years old. With the help of his caregiver, who is also his wife, and his service dog, Matt can do many ‘normal’ things, except he can’t. He has to worry everyday about whether he might end up in the hospital with what for many of us would be a simple injury. He has to worry about the mechanical valves in his heart.  He has to worry about his health failing completely before he even turns 40.

Matt’s brain and body no longer function like they were made to-because he served. Matt can never work a regular job- because he served. Julie plans everyday around Matt-because he served. The ER doctors and nurses at our local hospital know Matt’s name-because he served.

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Veterans Day, 2015. Matt came to my kid’s school and shared some of his story with Vaughn’s class.

But here’s the thing that really gets me. In spite of everything Matt has endured, he’s covered in joy. He’s kind. He’s compassionate. He gives the best hugs of anyone I know. In short, he doesn’t wear his injuries and disability like armor, instead he wears it like an embrace for others. He wears it like compassion for others who are hurting and it looks a lot like love. I see Jesus in Matt because he hasn’t let his trauma cripple him (and believe me when you see his rap sheet, it should have!). He hasn’t let the cost of his sacrifice break him. He’s allowed his pain to be his strength. He’s allowed Jesus to be his example of how to let hurt and pain be your asset. Matt gave up everything, but in some ways, Matt gained something that some of us will never have: compassion. I know he probably wouldn’t have chosen to have this broken life and maybe if he’d known what his sacrifice meant, he might not have signed up. But he might have. Because he’s just that kind of guy.

You can thank a veteran today. You can thank a veteran tomorrow. For Matt and others like him who have given up normal and healthy and time with their families and Christmases at home and being at the hospital for the births of their babies for us, everyday is a reminder of their sacrifice. Let us not forget them next week when the flags have all disappeared from our Facebook pages and the tributes to our servicemen and women aren’t the first thing we see on every cover. Let’s remember them always and keep them in our prayers and hearts, because our service men and women have all given up something for us.

You can read more about Matt’s amazing story here.

You can support many organizations who serve our servicemen and women, but here is one I am certain does great work.

http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/