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.

So, We Will Love

Our imperfect human side always tries, and often succeeds, to get in the way of what God really wants from us as parents.  As worldly creatures we like being better, doing better, and getting more done than the next person. We want to prove our worth in others eyes.  As foster parents, we want to show our kids this is what “good” parenting looks like.  We want them to see our “normal” and we want that to be their new “normal”. 

But, in reality, we are not any better than their biological parents.  While we do not abuse our children physically, emotionally, or sexually.  Nor, do we  neglect our children, but, we still sin.  And, sin is sin in God’s eyes.  Therefore in His eyes, we are really not any better than the parents we are supposedly protecting these children from.  Our judgement of the biological family, for the choices they have made and make, is clearly just as wrong as the choices they have made and are making.

We are beginning to  understand more and more each day that we are not only here to love the children, but also their parents.

At the end of the day, God has called us to love and protect these beautiful children.  We get to play an important role in their lives for now.  Our goal should never be about how much better of a parent we are than their biological parents.  Instead, the goal should be love.  We are here to show these children they are special and they are loved.  To show them they make our world crazy better every day!  We get to kiss their hurts, celebrate their accomplishments, praise their great works, and tuck them into bed every night after we pray for their mom and dad.

Our imperfect human side wants to make this about us.  But, God’s plan has always been to make this about the children.  And, in that, the biological parents are a clear extension of their children and God’s plan for redemption.

So, we will love.

We will love not only the children, but we will love their mom and dad.  We will pray for them.  We will root for them.  We will encourage them.  And, we will remember, this journey is about love, grace, and mercy for all involved.

– Howard’s Party of 8

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.

Messy Redemption

Redemption is messy.  Being a part of the redemptive story hurts.

We knew this going into foster care.  Even so, somehow, we convinced ourselves there would be times where we would be able to compartmentalize the brokenness, pain, and heartache.  Yet, being an effective foster parent, does not allow for one to compartmentalize, it means we willingly take on the pain, heartache and brokenness.  Trying our best to carry the burdens of the children in our home.  To be their protectors, caregivers, keepers, and defenders.  Much like Christ has done for each of us.

It doesn’t get easier.  No, in fact, it only get’s harder as we go deeper with the children and hear more about their story.  It only hurts worse as we see their biological parent fail them week in and week out.  Even if the children just blow it off as, “dad must of just been tricking us”, when they don’t get the much anticipated present they were promised last visit.  We get mad at dad, but then we remember,  he is broken and lost.  We are too.  He needs redemption.  We do too.  We remember, redemption is messy.

Yet, it is worth it.  Because we know redemption is in the works.  We know the story being written is greater and more unimaginable than we could ever imagine.

Redemption is messy.  But, the new story being written is beautiful.  We do not know what the next chapter holds, but we know we are ready: pain, heartache and all.

After all, this journey is not about us, but about them and Him, and redemption.

The Human Factor

In the beginning, we agreed that we were all in as a couple when it came to Foster Care.  We knew we would love a child or children for a season.  We knew we would empty our hearts, knowledge, and compassion into every child that came into our home.  We would get attached, we would love until it hurt, and then when it came time to say good-bye, we would say good-bye and share our grief with each other.  We still believe this, we still own this, we are still walking this.

But, nothing ever really follows our nice laid plans, right?  The Human Factor always throws us a curve ball and leaves us standing there wondering, what the what?!?

We tell ourselves on a daily basis, reunification with biological family members makes sense.  It is good for children.  We’ve read the stats, we’ve heard the research–reunification leads to less trauma long-term.  We know it, believe it, and own it……then, BAM, the Human Factor says, ‘but, what if?’

  • What if we are the better placement long-term?
  • What if biological parents continue to make selfish, detrimental choices?
  • What if biological parents never own their mistakes, only repeating the cycle?
  • What if they don’t protect these most incredible gifts?
  • What if they don’t love them?
  • What if they quit their job, because their simply too tired and the job is too hard?
  • What if they can’t maintain stable living?
  • What if they don’t help them with homework?
  • What if they don’t go to ‘Open House’ at the school and let their child show them every single thing in the room, including the stickers in their locker?
  • What if they don’t believe in them?
  • What if they don’t provide meals, clothing, and other items needed for them?
  • What if they choose their needs over their child’s needs?
  • What if they drop them off with complete strangers, over and over and over again?
  • What if they are just too tired to be a parent that day or night?
  • What if they don’t properly fasten them in their car seats, making sure their most precious possessions are always safe?
  • What if they don’t teach them to cook?
  • What if they don’t play catch in the yard, draw pictures, and laugh until their sides hurt as a family?
  • What if they just suck as a parent?
  • What if the children are just a status symbol and a way to get another check?
  • What if they don’t take the  children to church?
  • What if they don’t show the boy how to treat women and show the girls how to respect their bodies and hearts?
  • What if they don’t model an appropriate relationship, so their children know what love and happiness really looks like?
  • What if they use drugs?
  • What if they never ‘get it’?…That these children are truly God’s greatest gift to parents.

Our brains tell us, reunification is best, but our hearts are thrown off by the Human Factor that takes a journey of its own.

Regardless, four months in, we are still owning this, believing this, and walking this.  Now, if someone would just tell that stupid Human Factor to shut up and leave us alone!!

– The Howard’s – Party of 8

This Is Your Home

“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”  – Sarah Dessen

Since the first day our children were placed with us we’ve tried to make them feel at home, and not just at any home, but their home.  When they arrived we had their names and pictures up in their rooms.  We had new sheets and comforters on their beds.  We wanted to create an environment where they not only felt accepted, but an environment where they felt comfortable.

Over the first ninety days we feel like we have had some success.  And yet, even with some success we still see uncertainty in their lives.  We were reminded of that tonight as our 9-year-old foster son came around the corner from the kitchen and said, “Mr. Keith, I fixed your trash bag.”  He was referring to fixing the bag in the trash can.  He started to walk away and then I called his name and said, “hey buddy, you didn’t fix my trash bag, you fixed your trash bag, because this is your home too.”

It sounds so simple, but we think it is impactful.  It reminds him and his siblings that for this season they are a part of our family and this is their home. They may not readily accept it.  In fact, they may never accept it, but we are not responsible for their response.  We are responsible for being proactive to help them feel at ease and at home.

With so much uncertainty in a foster child’s life, it is up to the foster parent to create an environment that allows the child to feel safe, comfortable, and accepted.  Here are a few ideas we have come up with;

  • Create a space that is their own.  Easiest place is probably their bedroom.  Allow them to hang up pictures, pick out paint colors, etc.
  • Hang up pictures of your foster children around the home.  (Our extended family (grandparents) even chose to do this too!)
  • Hang up their art work, report cards, and other items that might be important to them.  Refrigerator recognition makes most children feel valued.
  • Help them unpack and hang up their clothes (if they will let you.)
  • Plan meals around food items they like.
  • Have them help you shop and cook.
  • Take them on ALL family trips that your own children would go on.
  • Ask them how they want you to refer to them in public.
  • Make sure they have their own things and that they understand those items will always be their items.
  • Give them chores around the home, so that they feel a part of the family.
  • Allow them to pick out family activities.  Empower them to have a voice, just like all family members should.
  • Allow them to decide what they will call you.  It empowers them and allows them a comfort level with you.  Three of the four foster children in our home now prefer mom and dad.  The fourth one is still comfortable with Mr. Keith and Mrs. Staci.  Both are okay with us!

As we do this, we hope the things we do will be, “but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that they can take with them for their entire lives, wherever they may go.”

We would love to hear from other foster parents about different ideas they have tried to create a ‘home’ environment for children who may only be around for short season.  Feel free to share in the comment section below.

Why Would You Do That?

“I heard you took 4 kiddos into your home…Why would you do that?”

This was the question posed to us a few months ago.  It was innocent, and yet, very misguided.  The question came from an elderly Christian who had spent their entire life in the church.  Honestly, we were thrown back by the question and the only response we could think of was, “Why would we not do it?”

The early church made waves, because they chose to do things that were radical, abnormal, crazy and full of love.  Now it seems that when people decide to do something truly Gospel driven they get the most push back from ‘comfortable Christians’ within the church.  These individuals simply don’t understand why someone would want to lay their own life down to serve the ‘least of these’.

Hear our hearts, we have no desire to cast stones at anyone, because on our best days we are still highly imperfect individuals and we know even on the church’s best day it is still filled with highly imperfect people. But, we do desire for people to start ‘getting it’, to start living out the Gospel in evident ways. That is why we hope our lives are a canvas for God to paint His story in all it’s beauty and messiness, to encourage others that although this work is hard, it is possible and even rewarding.

What if it became the ‘norm’ in the church to take care of the ‘least of these’? To live out true religion by taking care of widows and orphans, to be the good Samaritan to our enemies, to forfeit our gain for the gain of others, to act like the early church and pull all our resources together to serve others in the body and show the world who Jesus truly is not only through our words, but our very lives. How would the world respond to that church?

The world has heard about our Jesus, but isn’t it time we as Christians start showing them our Jesus?

Yep, we took in four foster children. Why would we do that? Because, despite our huge imperfections, the Gospel compelled us to do so.

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/

Snuggle Time and Love

Early on in our six-year old’s life we began a tradition called ‘snuggle time’.  Essentially, it is the time right before going to sleep where we lay in bed and snuggle her.  It was something that quickly became a favorite of hers and she would often tell us, ‘I’ll always be your nuggle-bug’.  Yes, nuggle, instead of snuggle.  This tradition has carried over to our second child and she appears to like it as much as her older sister.   We also started night-time devotionals and prayer with our daughters at an early age.  Something they are still quick to remind us of if we ever forget, especially on the nights they are avoiding sleep!

Since coming to our home in October our four foster children have been exposed to devotional, prayer, and snuggle time.  And, while we do not ‘snuggle’ them.  We do make a point to do devotionals and pray together.  Then we give each of them big hugs, tell them how much we love them, how proud of them we are and then we tuck them in to their beds.  And, if we ever forget, much like our biological daughters they are quick to let us know.

Funny thing is, these practices are just habit for us as parents.  And yet, tonight our 9 yr. old foster son asked Staci, “why do y’all give snuggles?’ Staci explained it is our way of showing love to our girls and then proceeded to ask him, “Didn’t you’re mom and dad snuggle you when you lived at home?”  He thought about it for a long time and then said, “No, but when I get home I’m going to teach my dad to tuck me in and read the Bible.” 

His statement is humbling and reminds us that they are watching how we love and how we parent.  It reminds us that our love will extend back into their home.  That our actions as parents now, will be reflected by these children when they are reunited with their biological parents.

These are the nights and statements that make what we do worth it, while also breaking our heart for the children we have grown to love.

If and when these children get to go home;

  • We hope their parents understand how precious these little ones really are. 
  • We hope their parents learn to tuck them in and read the Bible.
  • And, we hope these children remember what it is like to have a mom and dad make them feel important every night before bed. 

In this life we never know how our love will impact others.  But, this we do know…..Our love has already begun to create change beyond the present!

Chosen, A Mother of Six

“From Paul, God Himself chose me to be an apostle and He gave me the promised life that Jesus Christ makes possible.”  2 Timothy 1:1

Being a mom of six isn’t always easy.  There is always laundry to be folded, dishes to be washed, messes to be cleaned up, hugs to be given, stories to be heard, hurts to be fixed, snacks to be made, and love to be given.  But, this is the promised life that Jesus has made possible for me.  He has fought for me to be given this life of endless laundry and dishes, because I have been chosen (for now) to be the mom of an additional four children who are all beautiful inside and out.

This life of endless hugs and ‘I love you’s’.

This life of pouring myself out into others, but getting so much more back in return.

This life of continual blessings.

A life that can be hard at times, but then I’m reminded that I have been chosen, and, for me, that makes all the difference in the world!