I have a seven year old daughter and I over heard her talking to one of her friends. Her friend is African-American and my daughter was asking her questions about skin color and if it affects how she does things. My first reaction was to want to jump in and stop the conversation or to redirect the conversation. However, it was very interesting to me so I just listened. Her friend politely responded that God created her just like you (Ellen, my daughter). She went on to say that just because she has a different skin color does not mean that she is any different. She said, however, that sometimes people make fun of her or are scared of her because of her skin color and that makes her sad.
Ellen responded that sometimes people say the same thing about her sister (talking about Lydia), but that she is no different than us; other than it may take her longer to do some of the same things. She said that it is hurtful to hear others talk about her in that way. She apologized to her friend that she felt that way and she said that she was happy to have her as her friend.
My heart melted. But there was something more profound in this conversation that I have not been able to get out of my head. One, I was upset at myself for wanting to stop the conversation. Why? because I would much rather have people come and talk to me about Lydia than judge her. I should not discourage my children from asking questions for the purpose of gaining information. However, often times those questions are for hurtful intentions rather than educational, and that is sad to me. The other very profound thing was the way it was handled. It was so innocent and amazing. I need to learn more from my children and how they interact.
Since this little conversation my daughter has continued to ask questions. She is starting to notice that people come in all shapes and sizes, colors and abilities (her pure innocence is wearing off :( ). She has been asking a lot of questions about why and asking what to do with these thoughts when she sees someone different.
We have been trying to help her along, however, I have been taking a deep look into how I handle that. WOW! Completely eye-opening. I feel like a HUGE hypocrite. I ask, beg, advocate, educate for acceptance of my daughter; however, I am not very accepting of others myself. I may not say anything or act on my thoughts; but I do have those thoughts. Those thoughts are just as bad. And we are talking about everything, the way people dress, their size, the color of skin, disability, how they parent, how they act and the list goes on....there are so many more things that we form our judgments on that just are not fair.
I am struggling to write this, so I apologize if my thoughts are coming out disorganized and making no sense. I am struggling because I don't want to admit it. I am struggling because I am seeing how deep this issue actually goes. I am struggling because as I want to change the world for my daughter; I realize that it really must start with me.
As I have been very deep in study of the Bible, I have read about how important it is not to point out someone else's speck in their eye, when I have a HUGE plank in my eye. Yikes! That is really hard to swallow. I recognize how hard this is and how deep this issue is. I realize how far from that I truly am. I don't want to admit it, it is extremely hard, but I am understanding how hard this really is.
I like to think that I am accepting and open to different folks, that I share the love of Jesus with others and I act in a decent way. But I am a sinner and I fall so short of how I am suppose to live. Just the other day I handled a situation completely inappropriate. It has been on my mind and I had to swallow my ego and make things right; that is really hard. But I realized that I handled this situation inappropriately and did so in front of others who did not know me. Those folks were not present when I went back to ask for forgiveness. Those people were left with an impression about me; that I would like to think was not very characteristically correct of me. They can easily judge me and say that I am not a very nice person. Ugh. It happens so easily. I am sure for many the impressions of me are not very favorable because I fail a lot and I don't always handle myself so well. But does that define me?
The more I am writing, the more I recognize how complicated this is when you think about it; it almost makes my head hurt. I understand that it is NEVER OK to judge someone by outward appearance, NO MATTER WHAT. But if we are honest with ourselves; I think that we have all done it before, even when we have the best heart, best intent, even if we are open to all kinds of differences.
However, the acting part is the one that hurts the most. When we act upon those thoughts and we form opinions of people before we even know or understand, that is just a tragedy. If we could all ask those questions to just find out information first, I think we would be a lot better off. I think it is bad enough to think a thought, but we need to practice that it stops there. Regardless of what our first impressions are, everyone deserves a chance. Regardless of what our brain thinks, or if we were taken off guard by an appearance or if we don't understand; we should not judge someone based off of that. Get to know them, ask questions, have an understanding first. I think we could all surprise ourselves. Ellen found out what happens when we act on those thoughts. She came up to me and said that she was thinking something inappropriate. I asked her what and she told me I was fat. My heart sank. Yes, I could handle to lose some weight, but my daughter really thinks that?! I was just glad that she said it to me and I had the opportunity to use it as a teaching tool.
And what we try to teach our children is grace. I believe that grace is much different than tolerance. We have a strong belief of the Bible and we will not compromise that. Tolerance is allowing anything and everything to be OK. However, I believe the Bible clearly states right from wrong. Now I know that is pretty controversial; however that is what I believe. I am not perfect, I cannot be perfect. I sin just like everyone else sins. I make mistakes and I let people down. Dare I even say that I act inappropriately more times than I care to admit. But to judge someone, to form an opinion about someone before getting to know them; I believe that is just wrong. I want the people who see me acting inappropriately to extend me grace; give me one more shot and not form an opinion based on that. I need that grace to show people who I am. I fall way short of the glory of God and yet He continually shows me grace; He continually is seeking me out. I need to extend that to others as well and freely too! After all we all have bad days.
I know not everyone will agree with me on my points, but this is what is on my heart today. The difference is in how we handle these situations and how we present ourselves. I guess this helps me to realize that I am far from perfect, that the things I am asking other people to do for Lydia; I do that to others too. I am more conscious of this now, we talk about it as a family. It is so much fun to watch the girls grow and develop. While I know that they will not be perfect, they will fall on their faces several times; they are getting a very important lesson. There is a profound difference in all of our differences and that is what makes the world so much fun. Lydia brings something different to the table than Ellen and so Allison adds her flavor too. It is fun and that is very special.
I know that this little conversation has made a difference in my life and I am going to work harder on removing that plank from my eye than point out the speck in someone else's eye. I am going to work harder on controlling how I handle myself in EVERY situation, but when I do fall, I am going to ask, even beg, for grace. And I too, must remember that God is giving me grace; I must too. And when I don't understand, I am going to ask. I would much prefer a stranger to come up to me and ask me a question about Lydia than judge Lydia based on what they see (and that goes for all of us!).