Sunday, February 18, 2018

Why it Took So Long for Me to Finally Understand White Privilege

No, I haven't been living in a cave the last two years.  Yes, I plainly see that there are still racial issues in our country.  For crying out loud, news broke this week that the Parkland, Florida shooter was a member of a white nationalist group.  Of course I know that racism exists.  And as an extension of that, white privilege is a thing.  But what I am embarrassed to say I am just awakening to is how widespread and embedded the problem is in our culture.  And how I can be contributing to the problem.  

In it's simplest terms, David Wellman defines white privilege as "a system of advantage based on race".  That's ugly.  As someone who came up through a racially diverse neighborhood and school system, it has been up to this point, easy for me to deny any such "system" exists.  There are no castes here.  There are laws to protect the rights of all colors, ages and ethnic groups.  For too long, I have worn blinders that modern-day racism is confined to the evil, unenlightened and ignorant.  That a small population of small-minded people are causing all of the problems.  I can't hide in that bubble any more.  As a middle-class white woman, I can't pretend that I truly understand, but I also can't pretend I don't know it's there.  

This week, I listened to a podcast featuring Duke Kwon, senior pastor of Grace Meridian Hill.  His church is in one of the most ethnically and economically diverse parts of Washington D.C.  He is an author and speaker for The Witness - a black Christian collective, and has contributed to the Reconciliation and Justice Network.  I heard Kwon explain white privilege in a way that finally penetrated my thick skull.  He defined privilege as being afforded something that you have not earned.  And then he challenged believers, saying that we should understand privilege more than anyone.  Because of Jesus, we are supplied with forgiveness, mercy, grace and salvation - none of which we have earned.  

As much as I hate it and would like to believe this is not a wide spread problem, I know that there are places, people and situations who will react differently to me than they would a person of color.  There is a widely held understanding that mechanics treat women differently than men.  Why is the race card such a mental leap?  Speaking for myself, I so desperately didn't want it to be true.  L. Pulido in an article in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers said, "whites do not necessarily intend to hurt people of color, but because they are unaware of their white-skin privilege, and because they accrue social and economic benefits by maintaining the status quo, they inevitably do."  

But I am unaware no longer.  "He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light."  Job 12:22.  So I'm examining my heart and encouraging others to do the same.  I am learning that none of us are immune from pre-conceived ideas about people who are different.  I have heard the most outspoken advocates for the rights of their black child say the most racist things about Hispanics.  The enemy can plant harmful lies and hatred in dark corners when we aren't looking.  We all need a good look under the hood, because racism is a heart issue.  

Racism is also a kingdom of God issue.  "For God so loved the WORLD [emphasis mine]."  I cannot be for God without being for each and every one of you - regardless of ethnicity.  I don't have all the answers, I'm still wrestling with myself on this.  So I will simply close this with a few scriptures about God, who is a God of justice and loves the nations.  May we learn to glorify Him in this.

"But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"  Amos 5:24

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."  Micah 6:8

"For I, the Lord, love justice;"  Isaiah 61:8-9

"Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow."  Isaiah 1:17

"Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly."  Leviticus 19:15

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Book - and Husband - Review

Click the link below to see this on Amazon.

"What if it's the little things that make a big difference?"  That's the tag line for Melanie Shankle's latest book Church of the Small Things.  With her Dave Barry-esque humor, the author challenges us to embrace the mundane.  To stop living for the grand gesture, mountain top type moments and realize the importance of our daily, faithful routines.

Toward the end of the book, Shankle (affectionately known to her fans as Big Mama), shared a quote from her daughter's 7th grade English final:  "some people stand out more than others, like neon posters on a beige wall."  She went on to explain that we don't always take notice of the beige wall, but it is the thing that holds up the neon poster.  The beige wall allows the neon poster to shine bright.

I have the privilege of being married to a beige wall.  My husband is introverted and even-tempered.  He will never be called the life of the party.  He is a meat and potatoes, non-creative who prefers TV to books.  He doesn't have money or power or a postgraduate degree.  What he does have is the respect of everyone who knows him.

Two different times this past year, Chuck found himself out of a job.  Both times he secured employment in relatively short order because someone he knew pursued him.  Not the other way around.  That's what happens when you quietly live a life of integrity.  When you are genuine and warm and love others the way Jesus does, people want to be in community with you.  When you are hard-working, honest and loyal, people want to work with you.

In contrast, Chuck has two neon poster kind of kids.  His son is a med school student who has never met a stranger.  He'll soon be a doctor with bedside manner to spare.  Our daughter Allie is an outgoing 7th grader with personality for days.  She is loud, fun-loving and infuriating.  She sings, acts, makes straight A's, plays ukulele and volleyball.  And although I'm not as bright and shiny as the kids, I might categorize myself as a pale pink poster - somewhere between neon and beige.  I am social, like to crack a joke, and am creative - if only in my writing.

My husband hold us all up.  He is our physical, financial and emotional support.  He keeps us on a more even keel than we would keep ourselves and brings us down to earth when we get too big for our britches.  And he is our biggest cheerleader - shouting louder than anyone for the accolades, accomplishments, milestones and volleyball games.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote of feeling like nothing was truly safe anymore.  You can find that post here.  Although I am already rebounding about life in general, even then, my husband was a safe place.  When everything else seemed to be crumbling around me, WE felt stronger than ever.  For this, and for so many other things, it is my privilege to be the one cheering HIM on.

I am so grateful for my strong, supportive, beige wall.

For more articles and ideas about loving well as a wife and mom, visit this month!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

10 Things We Can All Agree On

Did anyone watch the State of the Union Address this week?  That one question has the power to bring people to verbal - and maybe physical - blows.
In this climate of warring factions and threatened government shutdowns, I'm using my blog to unite us all.  I present, 10 things we can all agree on:

1.  The Flu is awful this year.  It has been no respecter of persons or vaccines.  May God bless us all.
2.  "This is Us" is the best show on television.  If you can't bring yourself to get on board, I may have to question whether the vote of a cyborg counts, because you obviously have a cold, dead heart.  Exhibit A - it's coming on after the Super Bowl this week.  Exhibit B - your social media feed every week filled with feelings, tears and the like.
3.  Personal mail is exciting.  When most communication is digital and most snail mail is bills and advertisements, all heart rates perk up at the sight of a card-shaped envelop or hand-written address.
4.  Parents will do just about anything to alleviate the suffering of their children.  This may have occurred to me because of the Flu, heart procedures, seizures, and friends caring for cancer-battling warriors right now.
5.  It's easier and tastier to up your nutrition game than it's ever been.  You no longer have to go to specialized grocery stores or eat things that taste like cardboard to lower calories and increase vitamins and minerals.  Healthier options are readily available at most grocery stores and many restaurants.  I'm not saying it's all good (sample a few protein bars and you'll know it's not), but some things may surprise you.  I'm looking at you, garlic roasted broccoli.  And I'm winking at you, Halo Top Ice Cream.  Which leads me to...
6.  Eating unhealthy is delicious.  Everyone needs a cheat every once in a while.  A life lived without a french fry or an occasional pizza (and not one on a cauliflower crust) is not worth living.
7.  Texas is too hot in the summer.  I know it's early February, but the temps are already reminding me that our always too-short winter is almost over.  Some of you would call readings in the 50's and 60's spring.  But we are still donning our boots and scarves because they will soon be packed away for the next 9 months.
8.  The ability to shop online has changed our lives and the landscape of retail forever.  If you don't believe me, check out this list of the Top 10 Sellers on Amazon with products varying from camping equipment to baby clothes.  The picture of the Shaxea Bodywear Mens Slimming Shaper on page 2 makes me giggle.
9.  Water is important.  Without it, we cannot make coffee.  I'm only sort of kidding.  Even if you don't like coffee, you drink water.  Or some drink made of water.  Or something.  We all need it.
10.  There is far too much uncivil discord.  Hence, this list.


Monday, January 29, 2018

When Nothing Feels Truly Safe

2017 was a doozy of a year for me and my family.  In case you haven't heard all the gory details, I wrote about it here.  And even though 2018 has only been here a minute, I see much better things on the horizon.  The biggest piece of news is that my husband starts work with a brand new company this week.  He is brimming with excitement about the COO position with Strategic Government Resources and the opportunities for growth and development being afforded him.  In other news, Shelby has surgery scheduled this week to repair the heart defect we discovered, which will then again make her a candidate for an anti-epileptic drug trial that we have high hopes for.  And I have just 3 more months of maintenance infusions in my cancer treatment regimen.  I look forward to kicking the unpleasant side effects to the curb and only seeing my oncologist for well checks.

So why do I still feel unsettled?

In my adult life, I have never really struggled with fear, doubt or anxiety.  Every spiritual gift inventory I have ever taken has me off the charts in the area of faith.  And that is honestly how I have functioned in the day to day.  I truly believe that everything is in God's hands and that He works all things for good - even if I don't particularly like those things in the here and now.  But even now, as the Sparks family seems to be turning a corner, I feel insecure.  And it's a strange and foreign feeling for me.

After loosing two jobs last year, I can't honestly say I feel peacefully secure in Chuck's employment and our financial stability.  Shelby's health has never seen stable, but that hospital stay in the fall left me metaphorically waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I have had some hard relationship issues and at times feel very alone.  So friendships seem very fragile in this moment.  And even my writing - where I find great satisfaction and a deep sense of calling - makes me slightly uneasy.  My desire to be increasingly authentic and real sometimes feels painfully vulnerable.

Nothing feels truly safe.

As a believer in Jesus Christ with a profound conviction of God's love and provision for me, I don't mind telling you I'm not ok with this new normal.  Proverbs 3:5 tells me, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;"  NIV  The last part of this command?  No problem.  The circumstances of the past year have driven me far beyond my own strength and wisdom.  I have no delusions about my ability to handle any of it.  But trusting God with all my heart?  How do I do that when my heart isn't quite in agreement with my head?

My head knows all the promises of God.  "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."  Deuteronomy 31:8.  And Psalm 9:10, ", Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you."   "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 4:7 (All passages from the NIV). But how - practically- do I align my heart and my mind again?

As I prepared to teach my yoga class this morning, I put on this shirt:

It did not occur to me until much later in the day how much this word tied into my emotional struggle.  "Surrender your heart to God, turn to him in prayer,"  Job 11:13 CEV  Surrender is a good churchy word.  But what does it mean?  Surrender is traditionally a battle term.  I think that's appropriate.  It basically means to relinquish control.  As believers, the first time we do this, we gain salvation.  We decide that following Jesus and his commands is better than trying to handle this life on our own.  But, at least for me, the battle occurs on a semi-constant basis as I try repeatedly to wrist control back from Him.  Jesus says in John 10:28 that once I am in His hand, nothing and no one can take me away from Him.  But in my sinful stupidity, I am constantly trying to hold back pieces of myself - thinking I can handle a certain corner of my life on my own.  Until a year like 2017 happens.  I can't do it.  I don't want it.  I certainly don't need control.  And I KNOW all of this.  But my perspective needs to jump on my knowledge train.  What do I do?  How do I SURRENDER?

In my personal study time, I have been reading the book of Philippians and a corresponding commentary by Warren W. Wiersbe.  From Chapter 4 verse 8, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."  NIV  The only thing I know that fits all of those descriptors is our triune God.  I think my first step to SURRENDER is to stop dwelling on all the crappy things that have happened and start focusing on how incredible my Savior is.  As Wierbe says, "No Christian can afford to waste mind power on thoughts that tear him down..."  



Adoration of the one who made me, saved me and sustained me.  God is so great and majestic.  Seeing anew how BIG He is just might usher peace back into my world and change the posturing of my heart.  I don't pretend to know all the answers, nor do I think a chorus of "How Great Thou Art" will fix the roller coaster ride I've been on.  But I feel conviction that worship is the place for me to start.  Songs of praise.  Scriptures extolling his mighty deeds.  Reciting his attributes.  This is how I'll start to surrender this battle.  

"Surrender yourself to the Lord, and wait patiently for him."  Psalm 37:7 GW

What brings you the most peace?  I would love to hear from you.

I am joining Kate Motaung and other members of the Five Minute Friday community  for our weekly writing adventure. To learn about Five Minute Friday, click here. This week’s prompt is, “Surrender”.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Being INTENTIONAL (A Five Minute Friday Link-Up)

Image by Massililiano Sarno

My husband and I just celebrated 19 years of marriage.  And now as I sit in the space of time between  our anniversary and Valentine's Day, I can't help but think about how INTENTIONAL we are about maintaining a solid union.

As parents of a special needs child, the odds of us staying together are stacked against us.  I have heard divorce rates for families like ours hover close to 85%.  How accurate that is, I'm not sure.  But I do know it's higher than the average divorce rate.  Which is already sadly elevated.  The stressers and pressures can be daunting - but so are they for every marriage.  Whether your spouse is a challenge or a delight to live with, successful marriages take work.  So I'm sharing with you the top 4 things my husband and I do to be INTENTIONAL in our relationship:

1.  We are INTENTIONAL about carving out time together.  We still regularly date each other.  We try not to let more than a couple of weeks go by without getting a babysitter or sending the kids to spend the night with grandparents so that we can be alone.  The dates are often simple.  Sometimes just dinner.  Sometimes just a movie.  An occasional concert.  A short day trip with lots of built-in car time.  Once we even just drove around and looked at houses in a different neighborhood.  The point is, we get out of our pajama pants and out of our normal routine to remind us that we enjoy being together.

2.  We are INTENTIONAL about intimacy.  We aren't newlyweds anymore.  And we are a little longer in the tooth.  We are tired.  We are busy.  And our kids are demanding.  If we waited for spontaneous, romantic moments to have sex, we would qualify for a convent.  But knowing that it's both enjoyable and important for a healthy marriage, we look for the most conducive opportunities and plan our rendezvous.  And because we have been faithfully consistent in this aspect of our relationship, I believe there will again be a day (after the kids are out of the house) when spontaneity and romance will again be a sweet part of this equation.

3.  We are INTENTIONAL about giving each other what we need the most.  Ephesians 5:33 commands, "each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."  NIV  A woman's #1 need is to feel loved.  And a man's #1 need is to feel respected.  There is much research to support this.  So my man tells me and shows me he loves me in a hundred different ways.  And I do my best to avoid undermining or discouraging him.  He hears me tell others that he is the best man I know.  And I mean it.  I could tell him all day long that I love him, but he will never believe it if he feels disrespected.  Hear me say that our sinful nature gets in the way and we fail each other from time to time, but the right message is consistent enough that we know where we stand with each other.  For more on this I recommend the book Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerich.

4.  Lastly, we are INTENTIONAL about protecting our unique bond.  It's my belief that most people don't jump into an affair like they jump off a cliff.  One minute of high ground and the next in the pit. It's more like a gradual slope down a hill.  Many affairs start out as innocent work colleagues or friends.  But when you allow yourself repeated alone time with a member of the opposite sex, you are opening the door for an unhealthy relationship to develop, whether or not you are looking for it.  My husband and I have no desire to be alone with anyone else, so we set some guide posts around that.  We don't have lunches or dinners, take car rides, or have closed door meetings alone with a member of the opposite sex.  And if either of us is unwittingly thrust into such a situation, we notify the other immediately.  It shows our desire to honor the spirit of the promise.  It may sound strict, legalistic or maybe even silly to you, but our relationship is worth any inconveniences that this may cause.  Better safe than very, very sorry.

As we near Valentine's Day, I would love to hear the ways you are INTENTIONAL in your marriage.  Comment on this post so we can all learn from each other.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NIV

I am joining Kate Motaung and other members of the Five Minute Friday community  for our weekly writing adventure. To learn about Five Minute Friday, click here. This week’s prompt is, “Intentional”.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Simplify (A Five Minute Friday Link-Up)

Image by Allan Foster

As a fitness professional, someone who struggles with compulsive overeating and a recovering exercise anorexic, I was fascinated by the TV show "The Biggest Loser".  The reality contest, which enjoyed a 17 season run, pitted obese contestants against each other to see who could loose the biggest percentage of weight in a designated time period.  The episodes sucked me into the struggle of the participants to alter their appearance and their health.  I stopped watching the program after a few seasons when the weight loss stories got more and more sensational.  It was obvious that the methods employed on the show to put up such outrageous weight loss percentages could not be healthy.  Pounds that come off that fast can never be maintained.  We were obviously witnessing the results of hours of daily exercise (that could never be maintained in the real world), extreme and severe calorie restriction and potentially unsafe appetite suppressing and fat burning drugs.

However, the mental picture of one of the challenges from the show has long stayed with me.  At a certain point during the proceedings, when the contestants had all lost a significant amount of weight, their trainers would ask them to strap back on the equivalent of the pounds they had lost and run a mile.  Having enjoyed moving and exercising in freedom from many of these pounds for several weeks, the participants struggled with the extra weight and felt the heaviness they had previously carried all the time.  After the race was over, they all felt such relief to shed the extra pounds again.

In the book From Clutter to Clarity:  Simplifying Life from the Inside Out, author Nancy Twigg defines clutter as, "Anything that complicates your life and prevents you from living in peace as you live out your purpose".  Whew.  My life is complicated.  And peace can be hard to find.  Simplifying may not be as easy as throwing out the trash.  I think often times the things that are cluttering up our lives can masquerade as good things.  Hebrews 12:1 outlines the biblical instruction for simplifying our lives.  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,".   With enough time spent in scripture and prayer, we can be convicted of our sin, ask forgiveness and seek God's help to turn from it.  But what about the other stuff?  The non-sin stuff that hinders.  How can we pinpoint what else is getting in our way?  I think the answer lies in verse 2.  "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  The race we are running is toward Jesus.  That is the road God "marked out for us."  The "other stuff" that hinders is anything that makes our daily journey to Jesus more difficult.

What is slowing me down as I run toward Him?  What is blocking your vision as you look toward His face?  Is it a relationship?  Is it the way your spend your money?  Or your time?  Is it a pursuit that's become too important?  All-consuming even.  The answer to that question is the secret to simplifying.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

One Word - Hope: for Compassion Bloggers Network

image by qthomasbower

I have many friends who practice a "one word" type of resolution each year.  After thought/ prayer/ consideration, they select a single word that will serve as the focus or motivation for the year.  They meditate on it, study it from an intellectual and biblical standpoint, and try to absorb the fullness of it into their lives.  I have watched this ritual from afar and admired the dedication and tenacity it takes, but I have never chosen a single word for myself.  Until now.

The Compassion Bloggers Network asked contributors to pray about what word focus God might be placing on our hearts for 2018.  My search brought me to HOPE.  If you read my blog much at all, you know 2017 was a hard year for me and my family.  And though I very much HOPE 2018 will be better, this has nothing to do with my word choice.  I chose HOPE because I believe the spiritual meaning of it is quite misunderstood and I want a better grasp of it.

A dictionary definition of HOPE as a noun is "a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen."  As someone who is now a card carrying member of the cancer community, I hear the word bandied about often.  Each type of cancer has their own color "hope ribbon" like the one pictured above.  And many other physical and mental conditions vie for our time, funds and loyalty with ribbons of their own.  Everything from AIDS to Tourette's and all the alphabet letters in between.  For the cause nearest and dearest to us, we want research.  We long for understanding and compassion.  We pray for a cure - a better life for those suffering.

Hope as a verb means, "to want something to happen or be the case."  It's common usage might be represented visually by something like this:

image by minh.tnm

As in, "cross your fingers and HOPE for the best".  Commonly heard in sentiments like, "I HOPE you feel better soon."  "I HOPE my presentation goes well."  "I HOPE you find a job soon."  "I HOPE we win the game."  "I HOPE peace comes to this country."  All good things.  But we aren't guaranteed any of those things.  Just because we think something should be a certain way, doesn't mean it is.  Not all children are fed.  Not every injury is healed.  Not all disease is cured.  Our HOPEs are often nothing more than wishes.  Anyone who has lived in this messed up, broken world for a minute can attest to that.  As the old Disney song says, "a dream is a wish your heart makes", but a wish is not enough to build your world view on.  If we put all of our energy into trusting that one day, things on this earth will be different, we may lead ourselves down a road of bitter disappointment.

Author Aubrey Sampson says, "Hope, biblically, is not 'looking on the bright side'...Nearly every time hope is mentioned in scripture, it is always about the object of our hope, Jesus."  Hebrews 11:1 NIV says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."  But what is it, biblically, that we can hope for?  My HOPE is in the following four verses.  "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."  Titus 3:4-7 NIV   No matter how my days are playing out, no matter what or who I have or don't have, my Savior loves me.  He saved me because of His mercy.  I will forever be grateful that I did not have to earn that salvation, because I never could.  And since He has made me right with Him, I have life for all eternity.  Heaven.  Forever with Him.  The Bible says so.  God says so.  As a result, "Let us hold unswervingly to the HOPE we profess, for he who promised is faithful."  Hebrews 10:23 NIV