#DisconnectToConnect

Do you like social media? I do.

I love to post pictures of my children, share insight into my passions, and like my friend’s status. I feel inclined to retweet a great blog post or article. I dutifully share quotes and statistics that call others attention to the needs of humanity and the brokenness in our world.

I like to look at my friends pictures, utilize the networking platforms within social media, and randomly creep on people’s profile pages (true confession).

I enjoy watching videos, checking my newsfeed, following the retweeted ‘tweet’ back to the original source, taking the latest challenge and sharing with others ways they can be involved.

But, what if I like social media so much, that all I ever do is like, share, and retweet? Will anything be different? Will I have done my part to create change?

The geniuses behind the social media movement would presumably say, yes.  On some levels, I would agree.  Social media has given me a platform to educate and encourage others about foster care and adoption.  It has given the non-profit organization I work for a way through which we can tell our story, call people to action and solicit donations.  I see the value in social media.

And yet, I am afraid.  I’m afraid my generation, my peers, my friends, and even I may be using social media as the easy way out, even unintentionally.

We sit at home, in our office, along the pews at church, or at a coffee shop, click a button, type a post, write a blog, and believe we have changed the world.

Boom. World change. Easy.

Or is it??

It is not as easy to physically go into our communities and find those who need our “hands and feet” to bring them good news and help. It is not as convenient to step out of our lives, disconnect from the created reality of social media and step into the messiness of those around us.  Maybe they don’t need another like or share.  Maybe instead they need a friend, a voice, resources, a listening ear, a ride, a jacket, a meal, our talents or even our homes.

If we are not careful, we will just become a generation of social media activists.  The poor will still be poor, the sick will still be sick, the hungry will still be hungry, the lonely will still be lonely, but our laptops will be warm while our coffee cups are full.  Generation fail. 

What if our newsfeeds currently full of bathroom selfies, beach selfies, gym selfies, church selfies, bed selfies, dog selfies, and  food selfies suddenly became saturated with selfies of widows, orphans, the elderly, the homeless, our neighbors and the downtrodden. Or, what if, selfies really weren’t needed anymore because our desire to be liked had been passed over by a desire to serve, love, comfort, and bring hope to others, all the while fulfilling needs within ourselves that we subconsciously had buried beneath one more post, picture, like, share and retweet.

I like social media, I really do. But, if I’m honest, social media can become a crutch through which I cover up my obligation to help others by just giving them a quick click.

So here you go, take this challenge, disconnect to connect.  You can like it, share it, retweet it, hashtag it or hide it, but in the end, please disconnect for a bit, go out into your community and use your life for real change, real purpose, and real connection.

Boom. World change.  It’s just that easy.  The world is waiting for you.

#worldchangebeginswithyou

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”   – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

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They Are Precious In His Sight

Every year we celebrate a man, Martin Luther King Jr., who courageously fought for equality for generations past, present and future.  We highlight his courage, his love, and his character.  We look around and high five each other, because ‘we’ve’ come a long way.  And yet, most days are but a poor reflection of what truly should be.  We seemingly gloss over the ugliness of reality with catchy quotations spread throughout the social media world, while overlooking the messy brokenness that still wrecks entire communities. 

To understand some of this, one must only look to the numbers presented within the foster care system.  Numbers, frequently quoted in relation to a term known as ‘disproportionality’. 

In 2011, more than half of the children entering foster care in the U.S. were children of color.

Black or African American children are disproportionately more likely than other children to be reported, investigated, substantiated, and placed in foster care.  – Children’s Rights (www.childrensrights.org)

Does that quote catch your attention?  Now, we can all start cranking out excuse after excuse about why this might be the case.  Some of which may be valid points, as such, a lot of deep issues are built into disproportionality.  But, let me tell you about what I often struggle with as an advocate and professional in the child welfare field.  I struggle with the reality that there are a significant number of foster and adoptive families, who simply do not want an African American child.  Here is a list of things I’ve heard over the past nine years,

  • We are open to other races, but not African American.  We are just not sure we could effectively meet their cultural needs.
  • We are open to other races, just not African American.  We do not feel we would know how to deal with their hair and skin care needs. 
  • We are open to other races, except African American.  We are worried our extended family may not accept them.
  • We would prefer not to be placed with an African American child, because we are not ready for the questions people might ask us when they see us out in public.
  • We would prefer a Caucasian child, so that they will look like us.
  • We really want to have a placement soon, but we are willing to wait until it is a Caucasian child. 
  • We are open to bi-racial children, as long as, one of the races is Caucasian and the other race is not African American. 

Yep, I didn’t make any of these statements up.  Can I tell you something else?  Most states struggle to place African American children in adoptive homes.  In the state that I live, work, and foster in, children of minority races above the age of 2 are classified as ‘special needs’ adoptions and subsidies are provided in hopes of encouraging families to adopt such children. 

But wait, take a moment to read this beautiful quote from Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,

“….one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers….”

Let that sink in.  No really; pause, reflect, and let the beauty of that statement soak into the depths of your soul. Now ask yourself, why do we so often avoid the African American child in the foster care system?  Oh, we will take the Hispanic, Caucasian, or even Asian child, but “dadgum, we just don’t know how we’d parent that African American child.”  What the ___________?!? (you fill in the blank)

Now, to be fair, I could have written a completely separate blog (and, maybe I will) about all the beautiful stories I have seen of transracial fostering and adoption.  Families who love the children in their home, despite any differences in race.  Of moms and dads seeking out anyone and everyone they can find to give them information regarding what hair and skin products work best for ‘their child’.   Families celebrating differences and aspiring to immerse their child fully into their cultural heritage.  But, today, in the midst of all the quotes, posts, and reflections my heart stopped instead on the ‘why?’

We have come so far, but, ‘why’ are we still not there?  We can do better America.  Child after child in the foster care system needs us too. 

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

***I realize this is a heavy conversation and all parts of the conversation cannot be worked out and stated in a simple blog post.  I also respect families being honest during the licensure process about their personal limitations.  Regardless, as an advocate for children in foster care, I feel this is a topic to highlight, address, and bring to light. 

If you want to learn more about ‘disproportionality’ in Foster Care ask Google, or click on one of the links provided below.

Click to access Disproportionality%20Rates%20for%20Children%20of%20Color%20in%20Foster%20Care%202013.pdf

Click to access RacialDisproportionality_ES.pdf

http://www.ncjfcj.org/resource-library/publications/disproportionality-rates-children-color-foster-care-2013-technical

http://www.childrensrights.org/issues-resources/foster-care/facts-about-disparities-in-foster-care/

https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/cultural/disporp/

Click to access afcarsreport19.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Dear Church: Racism is OUR Problem

Dear Church,

I love you. You have helped raise me, you have taken care of me, and you have shown me immeasurable amounts of grace and mercy. You have taken me in with all my scars. Scars formed by failures past and present. Scars formed from sins small and large. For this I will forever be thankful. You are the Bride of Christ. This makes you beautiful. You are His hands and Feet, this makes you powerful. And, yet, as the Bride you are not perfect. In fact, your scars are also evident. The brokenness of your heart and walls is on show for all to see. People love chipping away at your cracks, mocking your Groom and mocking you, his Bride. But, I still think you are special.

That is why I want to talk to you. You, the Church. I need you to know something. I need you to hear the heart of the Groom. His heart is one of diversity, and yet, Church we often fall short of the Groom’s heart.

It is not your fault. You didn’t create the shades, but you did allow the shades to divide in your name.

In fact, it is not within your walls that I learned of such evil. I learned it from those in the community who claimed to be a part of you and from those who claimed not to be a part of you. That both agreed, often made it very confusing for me. Aren’t we supposed to be different?

I still remember my grandpa using the word. You know the word, n****r. He said it during his normal conversation while talking about the recent signings of the Dallas Cowboys. I sat there as I heard him say, “Well, they signed a bunch of n****rs.” I’ll never forget that moment. I won’t. I was confused. My closest friends were all African American. I was blessed to be raised around a very diverse, accepting clan of Army Brats. We were not white, black, brown, or tan. We were simply, children. Children, who loved and accepted one another regardless of the color of our skin.

Church, do you remember when I was in the 8th grade in San Angelo, Texas? Do you remember that day at lunch when I was sitting with all my friends (all African American’s) and one of them asked me why I never sat with the white kids? You remember me being confused and angry, right? Why would I sit with the white kids? Why did it even matter? Those were my friends and I sat with my friends. But, that day, I began to feel some of the racial divides of our country.

And, then I would hear that word again. It was in the ninth grade, my family and I had just moved to Yukon, Oklahoma. One morning, while in the locker room, a teammate mentioned, “n****rs.” Once again, I sat there stunned, speechless, and unsure of what I was really hearing. It hurt. It hurt deep. In fact, I wondered, why in the heck was I living in such a place like this?

And yet, nothing would hurt as deep as my college years. It was post 9/11. My roommate, my brother, my friend is of East Indian heritage; somehow this would classify him as an ‘Arab’. As if, being of Arab descent was bad? Every day he would mention things that were yelled at or spoken to him on campus in those following weeks. I would get so angry. You remember don’t you Church? I had quite a temper back then. I would fight anyone, anywhere, anytime. And so, I was mad. That set up that fateful night during an intramural basketball game when an opponent asked him if his ‘camel was parked outside.’ You remember that don’t you Church? That was not my finest night, but I had to fight, I had to defend, I had to stand up. All around me I didn’t see a single member of your body getting angry. That was the only night in my life that I threatened to kill someone. In fact, I’m ashamed to say I threatened to kill the guy’s whole family. I remember the anger, the rage, my body shaking and being held back by others. In that moment, I would have done it Church. I would have murdered everyone who dared speak racism against my brother. I’m not proud of that moment Church. It is a moment that the Groom covered with His grace. For that I’m thankful. But, I’m also not ashamed for being angry and reacting. Why would no one else stand up?

And yet, in the days, weeks and months to follow it has only continued to spiral. I’ve heard it since then. All the stereotypes of supposed ‘Arab’ people. They are ‘towel heads’, they ‘own 7-11’s’, and they are all ‘extremists’. Church I know this breaks your heart. Especially, since your Groom, of Jewish heritage, most likely had a darker, more defined complexion than that of the Caucasian Jesus I grew up looking at. I bet you hated having that picture on your wall, didn’t you?

It still hasn’t stopped. Church, it is your body I have seen rallying against the ‘Mexicans’ who are here illegally. I know you don’t mean too, but your name is all over it, because we, your body, love to do things with a sprinkle of the Groom on top. And, yet, ‘those people’ are part of YOU! They are members of your body, they are also the Groom’s Bride. Why, why can’t we see that? Church, why do we promote racism in the name of being an American, being a Republican or being a Democrat?

Church, is your heart breaking yet? Mine is. It hasn’t stopped. You are aware of the recent trial that took place and the racist undertones that have accompanied it. The President spoke some strong truths yesterday. Did you hear it Church? Did you hear him express the reality of profiling and stereotyping that he, as a bi-racial African American man, has faced throughout his life? I know it’s true, because I’ve seen it. I know it’s true, because as much as I’ve touted my diversity and openness I too have made judgments based on conceived ideas about certain populations. I’m guilty. I’ve laughed at jokes that only enhanced racist stereotypes. I’m guilty. I’ve made blanket statements about people based on their race in my mind, even if I never spoke it out verbally. I’m guilty. I’ve stood quietly by while listening to others spew brokenness without standing and rebuking it every time. I’m guilty. Those moments have not been my finest moments Church. Admitting these failures hurts. It hurts deep, because all my life I’ve said I’m not that person. But, it is also freeing. Don’t you see Church, when we admit it, own it, and bring it to light, then the light will cast out all darkness, evil, and ugliness. Church, it is okay to admit we’ve failed. In fact, it is more than okay. It is beautiful.

I’ve heard friends, co-workers, church members and family members say things that don’t make you proud. I’ve seen them post things on Facebook or forward an email with a racist undertone. And, you know what hurts? I didn’t always respond Church. I didn’t. I wish I had. But, Church, I failed you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I have not been who you need me to be. I’m sorry I have not been who the Groom needs His Bride to be.

Church, why am I talking to you? I’m talking to you, because your body operates like this. Racism, prejudice, and bias are real inside your walls. I know you know. You see it every single Sunday. Caucasians worship within your walls with other Caucasians, African Americans worship within your walls with other African Americans, Hispanics worship within your walls with other Hispanics, Asians worship within your walls with other Asians and on and on and on. You see Church, I understand, it is not just a Caucasian problem, African American problem, Hispanic problem, or an Asian problem. I understand the problem is not centered around one tone of skin, or one society, or one culture. Within each race there is racism, prejudice and bias toward others. Church, within your walls, no matter the color, racism still runs its course like a virus. Why Church?

Why are we like this? Why Church? Why are we okay with racism and at times even try to ignore it? As if, it will just go away? Or, act as if it really “is not that big of a deal”. Our silence on the issue only further perpetuates and condones it. The words not spoken speak volumes. Why are we so quick to praise the Groom with our lips and hearts, but decimate His beautiful creation with those same lips and those same hearts?

Why am I talking to you Church? I’m talking to you, because you can change this. You can call all people to the table and hold everyone accountable. You alone can blend the shades and spread the message. You can call racism what it is, sin. And, as we know Church, sin will always separate us from the Groom. The Groom covers our sin, but we have to address it and then we have to confess it. We have to own our sin; we have to be accountable for our sin. You know this Church. You know the Groom stands by wanting to take His Bride by His side. But, she is ugly. She is racist. She is prejudice. She is bias. She is broken. Church, you can fix this.

I still believe in you Church. You are beautiful. You are the Bride. But, Church, racism is OUR problem.

Please Church, please let the Groom restore you to the beautiful blend of shades you were meant to be.

Sincerely,

A guy who loves the Church & loves the diversity with which it can be..

“I am not what I ought to be.
I am not what I hope to be.
But I am not what I once used to be
and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

~ John Newton (1725-1807), former slave trader turned minister and abolitionist; author of the hymn, Amazing Grace

*These are my thoughts and honest reflections about the issue. Some terms in this post are not politically correct, and it was meant to be that way, to highlight the racist under tones in our society. Some things may offend you. If they do, ask yourself, why? Why are you offended? Full disclosure, I’m a 33 yr old white guy trying to be more like Christ, but often falling short of who He wants/needs me to be. I struggle daily with my own temptations, sins, struggles. I have not experienced extreme racism or prejudice directed at me, so I don’t claim to be a victim or even to fully understand. But, I do believe the conversation needs to be had. And, what better place than the Church? The very place that was intended from day one to be full of diversity. We’ve dropped the ball, we’ve been silent, and we’ve perpetuated evil in places evil should never have a foothold.

Ponderings about Spring, Newness, and Clutter

We love Spring.  The sounds of the air.  The earth reblooming after a dormant winter.  The signs of new life.  The celebration of resurrection.

The freshness of a new season.  A time to reflect and prepare for all that is new.

But, in order to prepare for all that is new, we sometimes have to spend time cleaning out and decluttering our lives from all that is old.  Somewhere along the way, we have convinced ourselves that more is better.

  • more activities for our children
  • bigger homes
  • better cars
  • more items to fill our homes
  • more commitments in our lives
  • more hours at work and less at home

But, what if true contentment is found in the less?  What if our children really do not need another sports team, band, ballet to participate in or student council to run for?  What if we don’t need another 50 to 60 hour work week to prove our worth?  What if all they need is us and all we need is them?

  • game nights
  • family vacations
  • weekend trips together
  • daddy/daughter dates
  • cooking and making messes together
  • family devotional time together
  • father/son weekends
  • mommy/daughter outings
  • fishing trips and camping trips
  • nights away from cell phones, laptops, and electronics
  • days spent at the park, picnic lunches and duck ponds
  • movies nights and snuggles before bed

Have all of these things been exchanged for one more practice, one more tournament, or one more weekend away?  Or, has Facebook, cell phones, Twitter, text messages and Instragram suffocated the families ability to connect?  Have we determined that our worth is in our jobs and not in our family?  Or, as parents have we determined our worth is in the success of our children, so what is one more activity really going to hurt?

Spring is a time for newness, freshness, and a time when the dormant comes to life.  But, in order for the dormant to come to life, sometimes we have to toil the soil, brush back the dead and cluttered and give the new seedlings room to find sunlight, raindrops, fresh air, and the crisp breeze.  Then we can sit back and watch nature do what it does best; come to life and blow our minds with it’s ability to create beauty.  Much like our children have the abilty to do.

Spring is a time for resurrection.  What does the clutter of our lives teach those around us about Christ?  2 Corinthians 5:17 states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”.  Has the new come?  Has the old gone?  Is our value in Him, or has it become more about us, what is our’s and what we do?  We tell our children their value is in Christ, but do we affirm that to them through our lives and their lives with the things we prioritize and cram into our schedules?

Is it time to declutter?  If so, what better time than now?  Our children learn their example of expectations and clutter from us, their parents.

As Spring blooms, what example will we set in decluttering our lives and freeing our family from the ‘rat race’ expectations of our society?

Just the ponderings of us, the Howard’s-Party of 8….We’d love to hear your feedback.

This Is Our Season

“All of us wonder how we would have acted in the epic struggles of human history. Would we have stood up and been counted among the courageous and just? Now we don’t have to wonder.  It is our time. Over 30 million worldwide live in slavery.”  – David Batstone, President Not for Sale

As a child I remember hearing the stories of Indians being massacred by settlers who took their land.  I remember hearing about how slave owners abused, mistreated and kept people in slavery.  I remember walking the grounds of Dachau and hearing the stories of the holocaust.  Every single time I would think, ‘if I were alive then, I would have stood on the side of justice and change.’  And, then I would think about my family, my friends, my neighbors and I would wonder to myself, ‘what would they have done?’

But, as I read the quote above I realize I do not have to live in the ‘I would have’, but I can be part of change today in the here and now, because slavery is still strong, genocide is still rampant, and throughout the world the mistreatment of people groups is ongoing.  I’m sure there were many who lived through the previous seasons of our history who had to live with, ‘I should have.’   I do not want to be one of those regretful people.

“There are more than 30 million slaves in the world today, more than at any other point in human history.” – Not for Sale Campaign

This is our season, this is our time, this is our chance to stand on the side of justice and change…..Will you join the movement, or will you look back twenty years from now and say, I should have…..??  Educate yourself, become aware, but more importantly begin to ACT!

Groups Standing for Change:

Love 146, http://www.love146.org

Not for Sale, http://www.notforsalecampaign.org

IJM, http://www.ijm.org

Polaris Project, http://www.polarisproject.org

Exodus Cry, http://exoduscry.com/

Freedom Place, http://www.freedomplaceus.org/

http://allwewantislove.org/wordpress1/

www.humantrafficking.org

***Statistics on Modern Day Slavery:  https://secure.notforsalecampaign.org/about/slavery/

Storybook Endings

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For most teen girls, the opportunity to attend a prom is seen as a magical time when they have the opportunity to dress up, fix their hair, and be a princess for the night.  But what happens to the girls who can’t afford to purchase a nice dress and enjoy the magical evening?  One young lady asked this very question and decided to do something about it.  Rachel Smith, a senior at Canyon High, had been a part of service projects in the past and had always wanted to lead one herself, but had never had the opportunity until this past May.  That is when her parents attended an event hosted by Arrow Child and Family Ministries, and learned about the need for the Amarillo community to wrap their arms around young people in the foster care system.  Her parents came home that evening and shared everything they had learned with her.  She knew then she had to do something for these young people.

But what could she, a senior in high school, do to help these children?  That is when the idea of “Storybook Endings” came to her and she began to put in motion a plan to assist teen girls who found themselves in the foster care system during prom season.  As she began her senior year in high school, Rachel began organizing, publicizing, and advocating for other teenage girls to donate their old prom dresses so that girls in foster care would have an assortment of dresses to choose from for their prom in the spring of 2013. Rachel was blown away by the incredible responses by other girls and teachers in her school.  Over the span of a few months she was able to collect over 60 prom dresses and recently she delivered the dresses to Arrow Child and Family Ministries, a local non-profit organization that serves foster children in local foster homes, adoptive homes, and in an Emergency Children’s Shelter.

Wanting to change the world is not a new thing for Rachel, in fact, she hopes to major in Social Entrepreneurship in college and her ultimate goal is to use her skill-set and the skill-sets of those around her to better the world.  Organizing “Storybook Endings” would give her the opportunity to make an impact in the here-and-now, and serve teenagers in foster care, a group who are often forgotten by the rest of society.  Rachel stated that her idea for “Storybook Endings” came from the thought process that for every young girl, prom-time should be a time when they can wear a dress that will make them feel special.  In addition to gathering dresses, Rachel is working on collecting books for children and teenagers in foster care, creating for them a complete storybook ending.

Rachel Smith is proof that everyone can do something to serve others. Her story reminds us that we are never too young to begin changing the world around us, even if it begins with one dress or one book at a time. Everyone deserves a storybook ending, especially children who have already faced so many hardships in life.

To learn more about Arrow Child and Family Ministries and how you might be able to serve children in Foster Care, log on to Facebook at www.facebook.com/arrowamarillo or contact Keith Howard at 1-806-335-9138 or keith.howard@arrow.org