Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Letter: One Year Later

"Let's make sure we have someone escort Britney into the newsroom the next couple of mornings.."

That's an excerpt from an e-mail one of our station managers sent out one year ago, that followed my decision to "go public" about a deeply hurtful viewer letter I received.

I knew sharing it could go three very different ways:
1) No one would care
2) People would care
3) People would disagree with me and be angry

If there were ever any threats, I didn't see or hear them.

But some nasty comments did follow.

It had also only been a few months since I met with the Lake Charles Police Department after my vehicle had been egged, over who knows what.

I didn't know if I could expect something like that again or worse.

But you know what, I truly didn't care.

Someone had crossed the line with indefensible words about my son, words that still create a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

"Give back the little black boy while you have a chance."

I felt anger. 



This "concerned viewer" had sent a card to the station to encourage me to "give back the little black boy," my one-year-old son, while I still had a chance.

The handwritten card went on to detail the concerns, such as him being a "breed" because of his skin color - and ultimately that in keeping him, my white daughters would be at risk of being raped by him one day.

Even all these months later, it's hard to type out those words.

I let them sink in for a couple of days.

I let them bother me - and honestly, I felt them start to sour me.

There were insecurities I had buried that suddenly rose to the surface about whether or not Matt and I truly were the best parents James could have.

What many people might not know is that we were still in a "placement period" with James. We were three months away from his adoption through foster care being finalized and there was a chance he could be removed from our home - or we could tell our caseworkers that he would thrive more with someone else.

Would he be better in a home with parents and siblings of the same race? 

Is he going to have an invisible target on his back in today's society because of our family dynamics?

Are we enough for him?

As a therapy of sorts, I sat at this very keyboard and started typing...

When I typed out this post last year, I didn't really think anyone would take the time to read it.

Still, it was healing to me to put my words out there in the universe, to shine light in the dark shadows of the painful words that had been sent my way.

Then, something happened, yall...

Something big and incredible - and I can't think about it without my eyes filling with tears.

People cared.

They reached out.

They sent kind cards.

Entire schools wrote notes and even drew pictures of my family.

They talked down racism and talked up acceptance, diversity, and love.

They did this by the thousands.

Within just a couple of days of publishing my blog post last year, it was read, shared, or clicked on over one million times.

The attention one little piece of my heart garnered was overwhelming, but it was the outpouring of support that taught me so much - and ultimately changed my life:

We are more similar than we are different.

Our backgrounds might be different.

Our skin color might be different.

Our interests probably span around this globe and back again.

But our similarities win.

We are human.

We have feelings.

We love fiercely.

We ultimately want to leave our world a better place.

We need each other.

There are things I cannot offer my son, that other people can.

One example: I am still learning how to style James's beautiful, tight curls.

The first time I showed up at an African-American barbershop, I stepped into a world I couldn't believe I was just experiencing for the first time!

It was a party! There was a table with older men playing card games. There was food for the taking. Football was on the TV.

And, the barber said something that made me feel so encouraged about James's experiences in the years to come:

"I want this young man to learn to play spades here with us," he told me.

I want that, too.

I want men of color to be willing to invest their lives in my son, because it will make him better. 

And I want women of color who will love on my white daughters as I love on their kids, too.

We need to live out the fact that racism is not natural. It is learned. We must stop it.

We can share so much across racial lines if we just take a moment to give a bit of ourselves to others.

We must talk about improving race relations.

The Letter  opened up the door for dialogue with strangers that I now call friends.

It brought hugs in grocery store aisles and unexpected tears from people who have lived out a similar scenario.

I even got a second letter that I can only guess was from the original sender. It was short, but the words "I'm sorry" were part of it.

I imagine the sender was an older woman - someone who grew up in a very different time and with very different values.

Maybe she is someone's grandma.

Nothing makes my heart soar more these days than images like this: seeing my grandma embrace her great-grandson who became part of our family in such an unexpected way.

Every time she holds him, she rubs his arms and says, "Your skin is just so beautiful."

It is - and so is the picture of love across generations.

Still, this year has also caused me to look at our world a little differently.

I realize just how "white" our family experiences can be at times.

Sometimes it's not until I look back through photos that I realize James is the only black child at a big event.

Or we're tearing up the dance floor at one of our favorite restaurants and I notice he's the only black person in the entire building.

At two years old, he is too young to notice something like that now.

My family will have to be more intentional about diversifying where we eat, where we shop, and the events we attend.

We need to make sure that we are supporting places that will welcome a 22-year-old James today just as they would welcome a two-year-old James.

My hope is that one day soon, we have a better reflection of  community.  That it is a true place of fellowship and connection - where our lives are richer because of the differences we can celebrate - and the commonalities that weave us together.

I love this quote from author, L.R. Knost:

"It's not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It's our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless."

That's a task we are committed to seeing through.


Friday, March 3, 2017

More Than We Can Handle

This was the weekend, exactly one year ago, when Matt, one-year-old Lila Rose, and I made the four hour drive to meet our son for the first time.

I cannot explain to you the range of emotions I felt that day, with fear overshadowing the excitement that had been building until just two days before...

I felt different.  I knew something was off.

I sent Matt to the store for a box of pregnancy tests, just in case, because I knew if that was the source of my churning stomach and nausea, that everything would be different.

The little boy called "JT" that we had grown attached to over the past several months through pictures and videos would likely not join our family if the pregnancy test was positive, because it would be more than we could handle.

I took the first test and saw the faintest line.

It can't be, I thought, my heart racing and my legs turning into jello as I sat alone in the bathroom with the door locked.

One more test - a digital one - will show me the words, "not pregnant," and we can move on with life as we had planned at that time.

I took the test, praying that it would not be positive.

Time seemed to stand still - then the words popped up: Pregnant: 1-2 weeks.

I couldn't breathe.

How was I going to tell Matt?

This was more than we could handle.

I sat the test down next to him, not even able to say the words, as tears streamed down my cheeks.

What were we going to do? Were we going to make the trip to meet JT that weekend?  Could we allow our hearts to stay open to his adoptive placement with this unexpected news?

We decided to not make a sudden decision - giving ourselves time to talk it out, pray over it, and beg the Lord for direction.

Our four hour drive felt like it would never end.  I stared out the window through each passing town, looking at minivans and family-hauling SUVs passing by and wondering if those moms ever felt the panic I was feeling about motherhood in that moment.

When we walked in the door of JT's foster home, his foster mom handed him to us and said, "Here's new mommy and new daddy, JT."

The weight of what those words meant was more than we could handle.

Two more months would pass before the legal hoops had been cleared to move JT into a permanent home.

We were at the top of the list and still had the option of telling his social worker we had changed our minds.  But we knew our hearts were committed to being the forever parents this little boy needed, even though it felt overwhelming.

On the day James was brought to our home, we got a crash course in his daily care regimen.

There was acid reflux medicine, an inhaler, a nebulizer, cans of special formula, and James was wearing a helmet to help correct a problem with his skull.

Two hours after arriving with our 11-month-old son, a suitcase, box of his favorite toys, and box of medicine, James's foster mom he had been with since birth, and his social worker, were gone.

"God never gives you more than you can handle!"

That's the message we heard from countless well-wishers in those first weeks and months to follow the addition of James to our family, along with my obvious growing belly.

Three children under the age of two, and two full-time working parents felt like too much.

At the grocery store, "God never gives you more than you can handle!"

At the doctor's office, "God never gives you more than you can handle."

At daycare, "God never gives you more than you can handle."

Even at church, "God never gives you more than you can handle."

But we did - and do - have more than we can handle, and I believe that's exactly how God planned it.

It's when we are weakest that God's strength is even more evident.

It's through our shortcomings that God's power takes over.

It's through our fear that we run to God for peace.

It's when we are weak that He is strong.

It's when we can't handle the weight of life that God promises his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Y'all...the past year has been TOUGH.

We've had dozens of specialist appointments and therapies for James that have taken us back and forth between New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette.

We've gone through the roller coaster of getting to know a child who came to us as a stranger and the work that goes into creating a trusting bond between parent and child.

We've done our best to let Lila Rose know how special she is and that she is the best big sister a kid could have.

And we've added Adeline to our family, a precious, cherished baby I truly cannot imagine not having in our lives today.

There's a framed Bible verse in Adeline's room that I stop and read every day.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time." Ecclesiastes 3:11

Everything includes the messy, the unexpected, the challenges, the tears, the "more than you can handle."

Take heart if you are feeling like God has given you more than you can handle.

He is right there with you and promises he will draw near to you when you draw near to him.

The narrative being written is one of beauty that might not be seen today, but it will emerge.

Our hands our full, but our hearts are overflowing.

What a blessing to have more than we can handle.