I AM SORRY.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

(Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi)

I want to start this post with a confession: I struggle with racism.

The definition of racism is: The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.

I have to admit I do this. I judge others based on their skin color, I have believed that I am better because of my skin color. Which as I write that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard, but it is so sadly true. I am not better because my skin. It’s skin, made from keratin, collagen and fats like every other person on this planet (not to advocate color blindness, but that's another post). And so, I am here to apologize. To say I am sorry to anyone I have ever judged because of the way they look. To publicly say I am sorry to my sisters and brothers who don’t look like me. I am sorry.

The last year and half the Lord has been opening my eyes to the systemic racism in our culture, white privilege, and has broken my heart over my own failings in this area. And this week, like many of you, I watched in deep sorrow has the lives of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were taken and then I watched as the violence came to Dallas at the end of what by all accounts was a peaceful march. I happened to be driving by Dallas right as this happened and saw the police response as 20+ police cars flew towards downtown. Not even knowing what was happening, tears filled my eyes and I began begging God for mercy.

We are in a desperate need for God’s mercy as deep hurts and deep divides in our country are only getting deeper and deeper with each passing week. Rather than healing, admitting we have a problem, admitting that there are some serious problems in our culture, we seem to be burying our heads in the sand. Some in the white culture seems to believe that saying Black Lives Matter is saying other lives don’t matter. Which is false. When you say unborn lives don’t matter, you aren’t saying that everyone else who is born doesn’t matter. You are trying to point to an injustice you see in the world, which is what Black Lives Matter is trying to show you. There is an injustice to how Black and Brown lives are treated in America and we must wake up to this reality. As Christians, I think many of us our missing the fact that God called us to love our neighbor, which is everyone, regardless of race (and many other things). He has made ALL people, all of them, in his image. ALL of us, across the world, are made in the image of God.

This past Friday night I attended Concord Church in south Dallas to mourn and pray for the violence of this past week. I saw people and churches coming together across racial and denominational lines. Sunday morning is historically one of the most segregated hours of the week. And yet, on Friday, I saw predominantly black and predominately white churches come together to mourn. I saw pastors of these churches call out injustice and call us to something better. I saw pastors of mega churches confess to racism and pride and seek forgiveness. I saw humbleness and hearts open to change. It was the Church in action. It was as if I saw the words of God to do justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly come to life. And it was beautiful.

And then this past Sunday, I sat in my own church, Irving Bible Church, and I saw the Church there too. I saw how God is moving, was already moving out ahead of this week. The topic for the week (set months ago) was “Listening,” which dovetailed perfectly into what has been happening in our culture. And Mark Matlock reminded us that we need to stop and listen to other people in order to be the blessing to our culture that God wants for us to be. We need to listen to people who don’t look like us in order to be good neighbors. Nandi, our Hospitality Coordinator was already slated for announcements and prayer weeks ago. Nandi happens to also be black. And girl got up there and preached it. Her honesty and rawness were INCREDIBLE. Her leading us in a time of prayer was transformational to my heart and I hope to many other hearts. I am grateful to call IBC home.

So, brothers and sisters, can I challenge you? If you are a believer, can I encourage you to sit with God today and ask him where there are broken places in your own heart that need healing? Ask him to reveal to you places where you aren’t seeing ALL people, regardless of race, as made in the image of God? Ask him how you can love your neighbors, regardless of how they look, and truly reflect the heart of God? I believe sitting with God and starting the journey of loving others the way Christ loves us is a much needed step in the healing of our city and nation.

And thank you for listening to my writing and my words. I am in no way an expert on this, and I have a LOT of work to do in my own heart and life. If you have thoughts, comments, or questions, please reach out to me.

Resources:
Like I said, this past eighteen months, the Lord has done some work in my heart. Some of the resources he has used to do this are listed below. Let me reiterate, I am FAR from any kind of expert and I definitely do NOT have it all together in this area. I struggle and mess up and say dumb things all the time. These are simply some things that have helped me and continue to help me every day.

Be the Bridge: a group for those seeking to be a bridge in their community. I first saw Latasha Morrison speak at IF: Gathering in 2015 and was blown away. The Facebook group is a great place to start. They ask that for the first several months you are in the group, you simply watch, don’t comment. Which is a fantastic way to practice listening to others.

Friends: Do you have friends who don’t look or think like you? You do? Awesome. You don’t? You need some. This has been one of the best things for me was to start seeking out conversations and friendships with those who don’t look like me.

Social Media: We live in a super connected world. I would encourage you to diversify who you follow and let yourself be challenged to think about something differently. I am challenged/encouraged by Latasha Morrison, Eugene Cho, Jen Hatmaker, Glennon Doyle Melton, Jefferson Bethke, Lecrae, Russell Moore, and many others.

Podcasts: I LOVE podcasts. LOVE. I listen to them all the time. I have been opened up to all sorts of new ideas through them. And they help me identify with others who are not in the same place I am currently. For issues related to race and culture, I currently am listening to:

Code Switch: A podcast on race and identity by NPR journalists.

Gravy: Food related stories of the South, they frequently look at race and the Southern culture.

For Colored Nerds: Brittany and Eric discuss various topics and they talk very frankly about what it’s like to be black in America.

Embedded, the Police episode: This episode is on Los Angeles’ skid row, following the police over 24 hours. 

Grateful

I know, I have been terribly lacking in the writing department. Life has been busy, my new job of editing keeps me busier with words than I have ever been before. But, I have some ideas and thoughts brewing. So, while I can't promise anything, I am hoping to post more in the near future. -VA

Yesterday, I had this conversation with my friend Jen and she reminded me that gratefulness is the key to happiness. I know that may sound like a “duh” moment for some of you, but I was struck by how quickly I forget this truth.

Lately, I have been struggling with a lot of discontent. Of not trusting God that he has a plan. Not believing that what God is doing is good. Believing lies about myself and others. Feeling frustrated at where I am in life. And in part, I think it’s good to work through those feelings and to talk to God about them. I think like any good relationship, pretending everything is ok all the time leads to trouble. You need to talk about the hurts, the fears, the problems to build a stronger bond.

But, I think at a certain point it has turned unhealthy in me where I can’t stop focusing on all the things I am missing, all the things I wish I had, all the things I think I need to have a happy life. I fall into comparison and envy. Looking at others around me and wishing I had what they had, more money, more prestige, was thinner, more in shape, healthier, smarter, a boyfriend or a husband, a different house or a different life. And I lose perspective of ALL the things I should be grateful for, I lose sight of the fact that God made me to me. I need to let go of comparison, to repent of envy, and chose to life faithfully in the life I have been given and rest in the gifts he has given me.

So, I am challenging myself and asking God for help in being grateful. To look at and list the many gifts I have been given in this life. I have a life to start with. I can breathe and walk and talk and think. While my body doesn’t always work like I wish and there are some problems with it, I am going to chose gratefulness that I have a body. I have two legs that work and carry me where I need to go. I have two arms that are strong and whisk ingredients to make delicious baked goods. I have a mind that processes information and hands to write with. While I may not have a boyfriend or husband like I have wished, hoped and prayed for, the Lord has given me a beautiful community of people who love me, care for me, cheer me on, encourage me, dream with and for me, push me, and remind me of God’s goodness in the world. He has surrounded me with people who make me better and stronger. And those are all things I can be grateful for in this life.

So, today, what do you need to let go of and what do you need to be grateful for?