how can i bring more people to the table
wednesday evening, september 19, i left with a group of five total women from my mothers of preschoolers (MOPS) group to travel to the annual MOPS MOMcon in louisville, kentucky. we returned on sunday afternoon, the 23rd. that was the longest i've been apart from bina since she was born.
i loved the content of the conference and i found myself completely emotionally and physically exhausted by the end. i was worried about my milk supply (which turned out to be fine). i was concerned about how it was going to go sharing an airbnb with four other women and one bathroom, traveling to and from the conference center coordinating our schedules as one (and that was a challenge, but we did it). i wasn't sure if i was going to be able to sleep well (i usually don't, especially when in dorm style sleeping accommodations). i didn't have my husband, who tends to be the one who brings me back down to earth when i get in emotional upheaval. so though i was somewhat excited to go and attend the sessions and workshops i had picked out, i had more than a bit of anxiety about the whole thing. but i went.
we arrived about 12:30 in the morning on thursday. it took us awhile to wind down. i think i got into bed around 2am and tossed and turned for hours until an alarm went off at 6am. i was absolute toast that day. that evening i made sure to get myself in bed by 10:30pm in order to give my body time to relax and fall asleep at a decent hour. i know my limitations, and my sleep needs are heightened now as a pregnant woman. if i was going to enjoy the conference at all and approach it with any sort of emotional stability, i needed to get myself some sleep! and sleep i did. i was proud of myself for not being frustrated and down about knowing my limitations but rather embracing them and doing what i needed to do to take care of myself so i could get the most out of the conference.
i thoroughly enjoyed all of the workshops i attended. the two that impacted me most were (1) the art and beauty of living beyond race with dr. lucretia berry, which i attended on friday, and (2) down syndrome on purpose: the lucky few with heather avis, which i attended on saturday.
dr. berry's workshop emphasized the need to give children language to talk about race so that they have the power to engage. she listed some pretty disturbing facts:
by the age of three, children already notice racial hierarchy (white = good, darker skin = bad/negative)
by the age of seven, white children demonstrate they believe children of color experience less pain than they do (this is dehumanizing)
there were others too, but those two struck me most. many would like to call themselves "colorblind," as if it is something positive, a status to be achieved. however, if you can't see race then you can't see racism. colorblindness doesn't solve problems, it actually perpetuates them. and the narratives surrounding race are embedded deep within us. often we don't even realize that's what's going on in our thoughts and hearts, or recognize that the ideas we've grown comfortable with actually are damaging and need to be challenged.
dr. berry's workshop focused on understanding the importance of and giving children the language to talk about race. when kids have the language and support to talk about race, it breaks down walls and empowers them (and all of us!) to speak. kids need space and permission to express themselves and their thoughts. if we give them the chance to share their thoughts, then we can engage with them and talk through things that we wouldn't be able to otherwise. dr. berry suggested several books to start the conversation including the color of us by karen katz and all the colors we are by katie kissinger. she takes these books into classrooms and reads them to children, then interacts with them regarding the content.
dr. berry wrote curriculum, what lies between us, to help people understand the history of racism and take steps towards healing. i've ordered this as well as the two recommended children's books. as a mother, my job is to model what i want my children to become. i have to do the hard work of examining myself and my own thinking and learn how to foster racial healing if i'm going to hope that my daughter will do the same.
after the workshop, i overhead a conversation between two women sitting a few seats down from me. one was a white woman talking about the process of adopting a little girl from haiti, and the other was a black woman named beverly who was a mentor mom from a MOPS group in new york. i ended up talking with beverly after the other mom left and she said a couple things that really impacted me. at one point she asked the question, "how can we bring more people to the table?" meaning, to the discussion on racial healing. i confessed i feel i have been pushing people away from the table because i get frustrated with the positions of others. i don't want you at the table anyways! she sympathized with that sentiment and shared that sometimes we need to take a break so we can get back into the game. but her question really made me stop and consider. how can i speak in a way that BRINGS people to the table instead of pushing them away?
later in the conversation beverly shared how if you ask a group of white people how much of their day is affected by race, they will say almost 0%, while if you ask a group of black people the same question, they will say almost 100%. but the truth is, both races are affected by race all the time. blacks are affected by the negative implications of racism while whites benefit from white privilege. like. dang. we have so much to learn.
of course that night i got into a heated conversation with some of my MOPS comrades that started with one of them asking what i learned from the workshop and then a side discussion with another at the table who was pushing back against the responsibility of whites in seeking racial justice. i was not in a mental or emotional place to have that conversation and it went poorly. and then i heard in my head beverly asking "how can we bring more people to the table?" i instantly felt remorse. sometimes, it's just really hard to hear things come out of people's mouths and not react poorly. and if i'm honest, those things that now set me off were things that used to come out of my own mouth. i confessed my sin to the person i was talking to and shared that i'm having a hard time with this, and we were eventually able to speak in a way that each of us could hear from the other. but it takes work, ya'll. self-control. it's not easy.
the next day during one of the main sessions, a woman named sarah shin spoke on colorblindness and said all the things i was unable to articulate the night before. she challenged us to be color BRAVE, not colorblind. sarah shared how we can confuse niceness and kindness. jesus wasn't nice. the cross doesn't display niceness. it displays sacrifice. jesus was intentional and bold in his interactions. being color brave means being kind, courageous, and intentional. it means sacrificing my own comfort, saying to others that don't look like me that i will love you at a cost to myself. that i will become ethnically aware, recognizing that EVERYONE of EVERY color has an ethnicity. this includes white people. the friend i had the heated conversation with the night before was able to hear this and consider how god might be working in her heart. i'm thankful i was able to apologize for not speaking in a way that could be heard and to do a redo of that conversation so that she would be open to hearing more. but i didn't find out that this was the case until she spoke about the experience several days later. side note, sarah shin's book recently came out, beyond colorblind, and it's on my to read list.
i kind of had an emotional breakdown after that main session. i felt completely overwhelmed by my own inadequacy, unable to communicate well what i care about. why couldn't i be like sarah shin?! i'm too passionate, and my passion is offensive. i say the wrong things all the time. i push people away rather than draw them in. the room of the main gathering was reserved for prayer after the session and i stayed back and just cried and cried. i felt alone and misunderstood. god, how are you going to use me? i keep screwing up. what if i never get it right? i'm the scum of the earth. and then i paused and worked on accurate thinking a bit. brittain, first of all, you're pregnant. you're away from your family. you're here at this conference with four other women you don't really know well, and who don't know you well. you're not sleeping great. you've got heartburn and are uncomfortable. you're overwhelmed by all the content of this conference, as good as it is. of course you're feeling emotional and spiraling down this path of self loathing. now, dry those tears. get some lunch. and keep going. i packed up my things to head out and on my way out another mama stopped me and asked if she could give me a hug. and of course i started sobbing. she said she felt god had told her to return to the room, and took time to speak with me a bit and tell me that i'm going to be okay, that it's all going to be okay. god sent another mama to give me a hug and tell me it's going to be okay. god sees me. he sees my struggle. and he's just smiling at me knowingly, the way i smile at my three year old when she's losing her mind and so full of emotion and i know it's going to be just fine even if she doesn't. it's not a patronizing smile. it's the smile of someone with perspective beyond this moment, with compassion and love. it's going to be okay. you're okay. i'm okay. screw ups and all.
the lucky few workshop with heather avis took place that afternoon. i had planned to attend that and latasha morrison's be the bridge workshop, but that one was cancelled because latasha was unable to make it, to my eternal dismay. her workshop was the one i was looking forward to most! instead of finding another one to replace latasha's, i ended up attending heather's workshop twice because i loved it so much.
heather is mom to three children by adoption, two of which have down syndrome. several things she mentioned in her workshop really challenged me. heather declared that all people belong in the body of christ, not just able-bodied people. if differently abled people are not represented, then we are not seeing the fullness of god. WHOA. that's deep stuff.
she said that choosing NOT to be an advocate is a privilege. it means the challenge doesn't impact you so you aren't forced to deal with it on a daily basis. this made me think of race as well. heather shared it takes practice to be an advocate. and it's okay if you don't know what you're doing initially. let's figure it out together! she addressed the idol of comfort saying it's okay to be uncomfortable. inclusion means access and opportunity. this looks different for everyone. if we believe that all people are created in the image of god, that means ALL people. not just the able-bodied. we must see worth and value in ALL people, and to pursue that we have to get creative and uncomfortable.
i think what stood out most to me from heather's workshop was the idea that we are MISSING OUT if we don't see all people in our churches. we're missing out on the fullness of god and his image! and further, that it's okay to try and fail, we just have to get back up and keep trying. practice makes progress. this process is uncomfortable, and that is okay. we humans tend to shy away from uncomfortable things. we think if something is hard, it must be bad and that if something is easy, it must be good. but that's not necessarily true. i want to see the fullness of god in my church. all color, all abilities. i don't want to miss out on the fullness of god. so what do i need to do to see that happen?
it has been weeks since the MOPS MOMcon now. i've been overwhelmed again by all the resources i picked up while there. new books to read, in addition to the 17 i already had at home on my list to read. i have a book problem. a serious book problem. i have library books on the highly sensitive child and the highly sensitive person. i was notified last week that two of the four books on childbirth i requested are available for pickup. i can't read them all! i can't do it! beyond my book to read list, i've been overwhelmed by the situation with kavanaugh and dr. blasey ford. i felt completely defeated when i read last friday night that the senate had confirmed him. i've been frustrated by the comments of those from my high school faith community on facebook regarding issues of politics, this one being the latest. the other day i deactivated my account again because it just brings more heartache than anything. i don't want to have conversations with people i don't ever talk to in person about how we disagree on politics. peace out. i've started to insulate a bit. focus on my little family. delight in my daughter bina. and just shut all the rest out for a bit. beverly had said it's ok to take a step back so that you can reengage. burnout doesn't help anyone.
here's my delightful child, whom i love so much. she is the cutest and my heart explodes with love for her (also frustration, because that's life). i just get a kick out of her every single day. her style. the funny things she says and does. her requests ("bacon with butter" for lunch yesterday). her love for baby dolls and trucks. her little full-of-empathy self. the way she's seeing me do things and replicating them herself (sometimes this is terrifying, other times it makes me so proud). like the other week we were at ward church's indoor play place and one of the little boys was taking one of the big foam barrels from the baby/toddler play area into the playscape for big kids and bina saw this and fought him for control of the barrel insisting "NO! THAT'S FOR THE LITTLE KIDS!" he eventually relented and put it back. that's my girl, standing up for the ones smaller than her to the ones bigger than her. i was so proud.
this morning i went to bible study fellowship (BSF). today's lesson in the book of joshua covered the land inheritance by the tribes of israel. the israelites sure did a lot of screwing up. not trusting god, blatantly disobeying him even after seeing time and time again that obedience yields blessing and that if they just consult god first, he grants them victory. instead of settling in the land of canaan when they arrived after being delivered from bondage in egypt, they decided it was too scary and that they couldn't take it over. they didn't take god at his word, that he would give them the land and victory of the people who inhabited it. and then they ended up staying outside the land god had promised them for another 40 years until a generation came that was willing to trust and obey. still, 2.5 of the 12 tribes of israel ended up settling east of the land that god had promised them while the other 9.5 settled in canaan. oh we humans!
i was convicted by the lecture about the lesson this morning. how often do we settle for less because it is too hard? god has promised the victory, but we don't trust him. we don't believe he is going to come through. but he is ALWAYS faithful to his promises, if only we trust and obey. where in my life am i settling for less because it is too hard? what would happen if i sought god first instead of my own ideas and passions, and asked him to show me how to move forward?
many of the chapters we covered in joshua this week detailed the boundaries of the land allotment given to each tribe of israel. boundaries are good things, ya know? residing within the boundaries god has placed for us without grumbling against them shows contentment. do i push against the boundaries showing a lack of contentment in my own life? i am in a season of motherhood with a small child, about to welcome another and then considering resuming the process of domestic infant adoption a year after that child is born. my season has its own boundaries and limitations. how can i be content within those boundaries, fully embracing my season? and how can i participate in what god has for me BECAUSE i am a mother of young children? there are aspects of this season that are unique and fleeting. how can i best serve god and his purposes right where i am?
the lecturer shared that god's grace is all the power we need to do all that god wills. do i believe this? i pray for grace often. god, grant me grace for this day. grant me grace for this tantrum. grant me grace for this conversation. your grace over all the things, god. i don't know exactly where god wants me to be in the realm of racial healing in this season. i know i have a responsibility to model to my children what racial healing looks like, to be the adult that i want my children to grow up to be. that's a pretty big calling. i may be stepping away from some responsibilities (outside of motherhood) i currently have in order to make time for others. i know i need to spend time seeking god and his will in this. and trust that he's going to guide me on this journey, as i seek him and obey him. there will be missteps, for sure. but as long as i can keep coming back to god and seeking his will, i will get where he wants me to go. one step at a time. so i'm asking god, as beverly asked, how can i bring more people to the table? and i'm practicing my listening skills. here we go.