Thoughts from an Ordinary Guy

This journey through life is never boring......

Month: April 2015 (page 1 of 3)

Straddling Two Worlds

We straddle two worlds.

We can’t ignore either one.

We can’t turn our backs on either one.

It’s a struggle we expected but it has boiled over to be much bigger than we expected.

How do we balance the two?

God put us where we are, because He wants us where we are. But we can’t understand why.

Rather than growing up in a middle class suburb, why didn’t I grow up in the middle of rural Africa?

Rather than attending a Christian private school, why didn’t I have to attend a struggling inner city school where the graduation rate wasn’t nearly as high as the incarceration rate?

Why did I grow up with an active, loving and engaged dad when so many grow up never knowing their dad?

Why could I walk from home to school and back without being afraid of being mugged or accosted by a homeless person?

I.Don’t.Know.

But I’ve seen glimpses of the other side. The other world.

I’ve seen black boys struggling for survival in the streets of Haiti.

I’ve talked to a teacher who has lost 5 of her students to gang warfare before they would have graduated from high school.

I’ve heard stories of black men – well educated, articulate speakers tell stories of being pulled over by cops and having their entire car searched – because they have had a tail light out. Oh and this wasn’t a story on the news, this was at a local church’s service of racial reconciliation. It.Happened.In.West.Michigan.

We straddle both worlds.

I am not a black man. I am a white man. But my son is growing closer and closer to becoming a black man.

I straddle both worlds.

I’m not part of “that world” but I am part of that world.

I hate that I have to tell my son to be careful where he wears the hood on his sweatshirt “up.”

I hate that people I care about still suffer from the scars that are still there from years and years of oppression.

I “get” that people in Baltimore and other places rioted because they lost hope. They reached the snapping point and blew up. How many of us haven’t done that on a smaller scale with our kids?

But I hate that it has to happen. I don’t want it to happen.

And it hurts that there are people I know and care about who don’t see that part of the world.

Who move around and live their lives enjoying the benefits of their middle class life with their middle class upbringing.

Who consider the plight of those who have lost hope as something that is “their fault.”

And it hurts that really good people who put their lives on the line to keep us safe are being “blamed” for the overreactions that others have had to those who lost hope.

When I signed on to being a transracial adoptive parent, I signed on to straddling those two worlds.

And I will.

But the wounds that are showing up are so much deeper and harder to straddle.

This is not the way that Jesus would want it.

And it’s up to all of us to do something about it.

Restore hope.

Restore dignity.

Rebuild understanding and acceptance.

Don’t make the world color blind – because that attempts to ignore the basics of who someone is. Instead, make the world color filled.

Celebrate the differences but work towards acknowledging the value and the worth of everyone.

Whether they grew up with two parents in a white suburb.

Or a homeless street child in the slums of big city America.

People, please, we have to do better.

All of God’s children deserve better.

All of them.

TJV

Haitian Adoptions

I’m not sure who the original author is and I don’t vouch for its authenticity (isn’t everything you find on Facebook always true?)  but……

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Baltimore, Ferguson and What’s Missing……

I don’t personally know anyone who lives in Baltimore.   I don’t personally know anyone who lives in Ferguson.    The closest I can come to that is that I have a friend whose brother is on the Baltimore police force.

Whether the news media is telling the whole truth or sensationalizing it,  even if the story is only half as bad as it sounds on the news, it’s bad.

What’s going on in the United States right now?   Why is there so much that just seems so awful.   People thinking that violence is the answer – no matter what the question.    Other people thinking the only way to keep things “under control” is through violence. 

Anger.   So much anger.

What’s missing?   What’s causing all of this anger that is boiling over?

To answer that, I’m going to take you to another country.    A country that is near and dear to my heart.    A country that two  of my children were born in. 

Haiti.   Haiti – a beautiful land with beautiful people.

Haiti – a land with over 70% unemployment and a 20% mortality rate for children under the age of 5.

Haiti – a land that is, time and time again, subject to what they call “manifestations.”    We call them riots.   We call them protests.    They are quite often violent.    To the best of my knowledge only one President of Haiti has ever finished his term without being assassinated, overthrown or something quite drastic.

What’s missing in Haiti that appears to be more and more missing in the United States?

Hope.  

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it 47 years ago and it still rings true today:

The Language of the Unheard

A riot is the language of the unheard.

A riot is the language of people who have lost hope.  

They don’t know what else to do, they don’t know how else to attempt to improve their lives.

And so they rage and they riot and they fight.

And the people who have the difficult job of keeping the peace have to engage in a battle.   A bigger battle than they expected.

A battle that puts them in harm’s way.    A battle that can make even the strongest soul weary.

And no one wins.    Well, almost no one.

I’m sure the devil was smiling as he looked down on Baltimore last night.

A former boss of mine always said, “don’t come to me with a problem without coming with a  solution too……”

So what’s the solution?

Restore hope.

Really it’s that simple.    And that terrifyingly complex.

How do we restore hope?  

We restore hope through living and spreading the impact of a relationship with the source of all hope.   We don’t get all preachy about what’s right and what’s wrong, we don’t get all “preachy” about church and religion.

Instead, we show love.   We show love to those who are hurting.   We show love to those who have lost hope.   You know, the tax collectors and prostitutes – yeah, Jesus had dinner with the IRS agents and the “women of the street” so I think we can show his love to more people who aren’t “like” us.

We share love.   Because, to quote the famous Bob Goff,  “Love Does.”   

And sharing love requires giving grace.   Sharing grace.   Extending grace.   Grace to those who have lost hope.    Grace to those who need someone to give them a second chance.

Grace to someone who needs someone to believe in them.

A friend of mine, Lisa Anderson, is doing that with teen moms in Grand Rapids.    You can read more about what she’s doing and how she’s restoring hope, showing love and giving grace to teen moms who had no hope, had no one who loved them.   It’s called Grace’s Table.  

Labor of Love – Grace’s Table from Grace’s Table on Vimeo.

In this world that is so full of awful and horrendous things, in a time where there is so little to be hopeful about, don’t give in to the fear.

Don’t give in to blaming “them” for the problem (which ever problem you might be struggling with).   

Instead, show hope.

Help others see hope and love.

Even if they don’t see life the same way you do.

Even if they don’t look or dress or act the same way you do.

Lift others up and make a difference.

Join forces with someone like Lisa.

Do it in your own world,  your own life, your own family.

It’s what Jesus did.

It’s what He calls us to do.

Oh, and it ticks the devil off something serious too…….

TJV

Of Nepal, Haiti and Choices

This past week has been a time of very unpleasant flashbacks.

Reading stories online of friends of friends sleeping in their cars in Nepal because they don’t trust their houses.

Hearing about friends of friends who are working in Nepal and are running out of water.

Knowing there are churches near the epicenter of the quake where no one has been able to make contact with them yet.

It seems a lot like January, 2010 in Haiti.    And I don’t like that feeling.

It gives me a knot in my stomach – maybe that’s why I’ve lost weight this last week?

And then I got to thinking about the people there – they don’t have a choice.   They were where they were because God put them there at that time.    Whether it’s because they were born there, or they came to study or to serve or to climb a mountain, they were there when the disaster hit.    They had no choice.

We have a choice.    We actually have three choices:

  • We can turn a blind eye and do nothing.   
  • We can randomly  support an organization that sounds like they are good without really knowing about them.
  • We can do some research, ask some questions and support someone wisely.

But I want to tell you about some other people I’ve gotten to know a little bit.    They are people who have made some not so good choices, they have struggled and they have had challenges.    Challenges that most of us could never relate to.

Some might say, “They made bad choices, they need to face the consequences.”   

I agree.   But I also believe that God never intended us to face the consequences of our bad choices alone.    He’s always there with us and He puts people in our lives who are there to walk  beside us, to help us get back up and to make our path easier.

There’s a friend of mine who is doing that.    She’s working with teen moms, many of whom have made bad choices, and she’s saying,  “I don’t care.”

“I don’t care about the choices you’ve made in the past.   You and your child need Grace and this is Grace’s Table.   So pull up a seat and let’s walk this road together.”

Together.

Keeping young moms out of even worse places and helping them get their lives back on track.

And helping them keep and be a good mom to their child.

Keeping these kids out of foster care and out of the trauma and abuse and neglect that happens so often to children who can’t be parented by their mom.

She’s making it happen.   Day by day and child by child.

They are kicking off a new program and a big push to impact even more moms and babies.    I’ll have more in the next few days.

Until then, remember, God gives us choices and He also calls us to give second chances to those who have made bad choices.

And welcome them to Grace’s Table.

Stay tuned,

Tom

Look Behind……

Look behind the behavior – at school and everywhere…..

As my friend Christine says,  “Our children would behave if they could.  It’s not defiance, it’s fear, it’s anger, it’s trauma, it’s scars……”

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