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Truly Listen

I come from a long line of talkers. Not only are we given the gift of gab we also are given a tactless approach. I struggle with knowing if that lack of tact is in my blood and there's no changing it or if it is a learned behavior for which the grace of Jesus is abundant. I promise I'll keep working at it and asking Jesus for more insight on what I can change for His glory.

So imagine my hesitation to talk about racism...For one thing I didn't know it was really and truly still a thing until 2020. I have experienced firsthand throughout my life prejudice. I know what it feels like to be treated with prejudice [Think chubby Mennonite girl with pigtails in a town of liberals who snicker and point as you and your large family walk by] and I know I am guilty of treating others with prejudice. Not on purpose, of course. But when you see someone struggle to get in and out of their car because of obesity you automatically feel superior and judge-y. Until you yourself are overweight and struggle to get out of your car. Then you understand and identify.

I thought we had grown and learned our lesson with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Growing up I read about Ben Carson and his life and thought it was not a question of race that gave him his challenging beginning, but of poverty in the inner city, of time and place...I believed his life was a great example to all of us to work hard for what we get in life. Remember, I grew up on a farm where hard work and stinky manure were daily continuances.

The second boy I loved in my young life was a beautiful black boy. He was second because my first love was a summer before of a little white boy from my home church.  I saw color of course but embraced it. I was enthralled with the differences of color. To me the children's song , "Jesus loves the little children... all the children of the brown yellow black and white...Jesus loves the little children of the world" was true and good and a celebration.

I loved Scott and Joey because of them. Scott was blond haired and blue eyed and would catch lightening bugs with me after church. We ran back and forth hand in hand from one end to the other of the church lawn after dark gleefully catching bugs and watching their bellies light and flicker in our palms. His smile was wide, his demeanor gentle.

 Joey was gorgeous. His big brown eyes and dimpled cheeks captivated me as we learned Bible verses together in V.B.S. He had a big laugh. When Joey laughed we all laughed. He would stick his tongue out and roll his eyes to horrify all the good little Mennonite kids, but it didn't work with me. I was enraptured with his looks, behavior and large personality. I remember wishing my hands from front to back could change from dark to pink like his. My white pudgy hands were just blah sitting across from Joey as we colored our robed biblical characters in our V.B.S. books

So to face reality and know these have not been the years of innocence as I had thought till now, has been unsettling. In a good way. One thing I know since I am in my forties is that when someone is crying out to be heard, I must learn to stop whatever I am doing and listen. I have missed important years of my marriage, bluffing my way, thinking I knew what was going on when I didn't, and overall choosing ignorance because it was easier. Denial has a bitter taste in the end. Listening and caring in the end is love.

I am weary of denial and bluffing and not hearing.  It's urgent now to be made aware of facts and human suffering. How long do we go on staring at facts and denying that we as a people have forgotten how to be kind and gracious? Maybe we never learned? Respect and good manners and kindness are the best tools we have to be Jesus to others. All others. All races.

It's time to be unsettled. Time to stop lollygagging. I know I have asked myself in the past weeks serious questions. I have been soul searching and asking Jesus if I am prejudice or racist. Down to the uncomfortable struggle within... in my behavior with everyone and anyone, those I know and those I don't know but meet on the street. Am I kind? Impartial? Do I care? Can I prove it?

How do I know unless its been tested? A friend once asked me how I was getting along with my husband as she knew I wasn't the perfect little wife...At the time he was away on a trip so I told her it was going great. Then she remembered he was gone and we both laughed because we both realized how utterly human we are to claim perfect kinship with someone we aren't even with currently. Love and respect and kindness are all qualities that can't be truly tested with out abrasions. So it is with racism and prejudices and partialities.

I don't pretend to understand something I know little about. But I want to learn to listen. I know how it feels when what you say is not believed or given notice; when your perspective is automatically shut off and ignored because of who you are or because of things in your past. People do that about many things often. Sadly, that is a human response more and more; I think probably because there are so many voices clamoring to be heard.

It comes down to the fact that we need each other. Everyone wants connection and affirmation. How well you give and show those things to others is up to you. There is no right or wrong way to do it, but its a do not a say. And Jesus is the perfect example of how or what to do. Listen to that still small voice and do that thing or go that place or be that person in a time of need. You. Make your impact on the world around you by being ordinarily kind and compassionate. To everyone. God provides the challenges but also gives direction and grace for each meeting and opportunity.