I will never pretend to relate, but I’ll listen and pray

So how will you handle it when you experience racism toward your children? the pastor asked me.

I wasn’t expecting that question as I sat in our pre-marital counseling session next to my husband-to-be and across from the pastor, both men of color.

I searched my mind for a quick answer and replied, “Well sir, we are going to teach our children that if they don’t get a job, it’s not because of their race, it’s because they aren’t qualified.”

He went on to explain that as a white mother of bi-racial children, we may experience prejudices against our family for the color of not my skin, but theirs. I showed the pastor the utmost respect as I listened to him, but inside I had shut him out and I got into the car with my future groom and a whole lot of attitude. I was upset he had predicted something such as racism in my children’s future. How dare he.

This Friday, June 26, marks 16 years of marriage for us and just a few weeks after the pre-marital counseling while on our honeymoon, the pastor’s words warnings of racism came true.

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We spent a week walking around Chicago taking in all the sights. One of the first places we stopped at was a small Ma & Pa souvenir shop on Miracle Mile. I was looking for some postcards when Gene said, “Let’s go.” I started to tell him to wait until I found the perfect card to send to the kids, but he was insistent. “Let’s go. I’m being watched and followed.” I suggested maybe the guy was just looking for something, so he proved it by walking around the store. He was watched and followed, while I browsed without turning the shopkeepers head.

I remember walking outside empty-handed because I wasn’t about to hand over any of our money to them and all I could say was, “Wow.” I was so disgusted.

The last night of our honeymoon in Chi town we had a great night eating outdoors  on the Navy Pier listening to live jazz. The night was perfect. Then we headed back to the hotel. We were around the corner from the entrance to the hotel when this black man started yelling at my husband for being with a white woman. He was aggressive and Gene was trying to tell him to back off. He told me to go to the hotel and he stayed behind with the stranger.

I was fearful for him, but did as he told me to and thankfully only had to wait for a few minutes until he joined me. I couldn’t believe someone hated that we were together simply because of our skin color not matching. I was so naive.

Over the years, there have been things said to all 3 of my kids proving the other child saying it was being raised by racist ignorant parents and most recently my granddaughter who just finished 1st grade was told by a classmate, “if you’re black then no one wants to be your friend”.

Just a few years ago Gene was standing on the north bank of Holmes Lake with a pole cast in the water, waiting to catch a fish. He was at his fishing spot just 2 miles from our house when a car with two grown men pulled into the parking lot, yelled “Go home n_ _ _ _r!” and sped off.

When he got home he told me about it and how the white grandpa standing near him teaching his young grandson how to fish looked at Gene with sorrow in his eyes and an unspoken apology. I asked him what he did or if he yelled back at the men and he said, “No, I prayed for them.” It made me cry thinking that he had been called such a horrible name, but I admired my godly husband for taking those animals to the throne of grace and mercy.

Racism. It does exist, but it hadn’t in my world…until I got married.

The pastor was right in asking me that question 16 years ago.

He wasn’t trying to tell me to teach my kids the world is against them, but he was trying to warn me of those who refuse to change. Those that will drive by in a car and yell things at a someone enjoying their favorite hobby. Of the man in the street that would shout his hatred opinion that we got married. Of the shop owner who follows the black customer around and leaves the white one unattended. He was trying to warn me about the mean child that repeats what they have learned to another child during recess, the funnest part of a kids day.

It had nothing to do about teaching my kids the reason they didn’t get a job. It was about trying to prepare me for what was to come.

I was unprepared to answer the pastors question because I had never experienced racism. I had never seen it before. Now, 16 years later, I’ve seen it and I’ve seen the tears in the person ‘s eyes who it has happened to.

But this is the thing.

Not one time have I ever pretended to know what they went through or tried to convince them that racism doesn’t exist. I’ve never tried to downplay or dismiss their experiences. They are smart enough to know that all white people don’t hate them because the color of their sin, but they also know the truth that Satan-led ignorance is alive.

My husband and I have been together for 24 years and over the years, he has always thanked me for being myself. I am a white woman who has never tried to darken my skin or put a weave in my hair. I have never confessed to understanding the “black experience” like a woman recently said after she was exposed in national news of her life of lies. A life she thought she could claim because she is the mother of bi-racial children from her previous marriage to a black man. I have always just been who God created me to be. As Gene’s wife, I hurt for him, but I’ll never know what that felt to be called the N-word or to be followed around in Chicago. I can’t understand it and I won’t ever pretend to, but I can follow my husbands lead and pray. Pray for our country and the changes that need to happen for unity.

Recently I was at a retreat where my friend, Dr. Helen Fagan spoke. She said, “We grow the most when we are around people who are different from us, who aren’t like us.” I love the truth of that.

Back in 2012, I founded and started the annual Refresh my Heart women’s conference held every spring in Nebraska. After the 2015 conference two women commented to me that they love how multi-cultural the conference is. One lady asked me if it was something I did on purpose. My answer was that I just do what God leads me to and invite who He leads me to extend an invitation to speak or lead worship. I also shared that it is important to me that I didn’t run a conference that my daughters couldn’t see themselves at if they attended it. God knows that desire in my heart and I believe He has created this conference where women of all ages and from all backgrounds and cultures can join together under one roof to teach, to learn and to worship Him together. A place that racism isn’t welcomed. And for 2 days, it’s unified beauty in all colors worshipping one God.

I don’t know how to change people’s minds, but I know it starts within. My friend Deidra Riggs speaks openly on race and has taught me some beautiful things over the last few years like how it is a heart issue. One of my favorite things she says to do is sit at the table long enough to get to the other side of the issue.

Be around different.

Don’t pretend racism doesn’t exist.

Don’t get up from the table.

Be yourself.

And pray.

We all need Jesus.

Blessings,

Lelia

 

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7 Responses to I will never pretend to relate, but I’ll listen and pray

  1. deandginger says:

    I was raised not seeing a person’s skin color, but seeing their heart’s color. My best friend was ‘Black’ and my great-grandmother felt that inappropriate. She told my mom that if I married a Black man, she would disown me. I wasn’t even old enough to date!

    God has every color in his bouquet, roses, lilies, forget-me-not’s, irises, dandelions, lilacs, jonquils, clover, etc. to name but a few. If He cared enough to make the flowers different and yet loves them all, why shouldn’t He do the same with people? Bouquets of many colors are pleasing to the eye, at least to my eye. I am sure they are to God’s as well. Blessings!

  2. Thank you for this, Lelia. Your perspective and voice are so important. I’m thankful that your husband is the kind of man who can pray for those who sin against him, also that he’s the kind of man who will have a conversation while sending his wife back to the hotel. He sounds like a person of true character. May God continue to bless your marriage, family, conference. Heart. I’m sorry for the hurt your family members have experienced. I’m sorry for the hurt you’ve experienced, loving them as you do.

  3. Friend how I Love your and Genes hearts. Time and again when I’ve asked about issues you have responded and shared genes response. Both have level headed mature Jesus loving conviction.

  4. This is so powerful–growing up, I never saw racism around me until around my high school years. It’s so hard to watch people you care about go through hate & pain for no reason. Thank you for speaking about–the more people are aware of how hurtful and unjustified this kind of thinking is, the more they will be loving towards their neighbor.

  5. I was raised with grandparents who were raised in a time where skin color did make a difference to them – and I watched it, hating it, not understanding it, not wanting to do that. I didn’t see people that way – I saw people, not color – and I have tried to raise my boys that way – to make soul connections, that there is a chair at our table for everyone – that God’s design is multi-colored. It breaks my heart that people treat your husband or your children differently – it breaks my heart that loving your neighbor isn’t everybody’s goal. I love how you handle this – and how live the challenges you face – and how you accept who you are – no excuses. Powerful, grace-filled post. I’m so glad you shared your heart!

  6. Thanks for sharing this Lelia!! Beautiful post!! ♥ Happy Anniversary!! ♥

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