Why I Have Hope, Part 1

It was a big deal when my brother started to come to school with me. We could walk together, to and from, and I felt like such the big sister. I was very proud of my position.

 

I don’t remember the first time it happened, someone pointing out that my brother did not have the same color skin as me. I do remember the day I decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore, though.

This kid, I still remember his name, called my little brother a ‘gook’. I had learned from a family member the nastiness of that word and it brought up all kinds of pent up, never-used feelings. I wasn’t having it.

I had my little brother’s hand in mine as I tried to punch this kid. The boy and his friends laughed at my inexperience with violence. The rage launched me forward onto him while the kid’s big brother watched, his companions cheering us on. I feel like he was shocked. He didn’t know I was that mad. I remember him saying, “Kara, Kara. Stop.”

But I couldn’t stop – the thing propelling me forward was bigger than me.

I was incensed on behalf of my very small brother. My brother  with his beautiful dark eyes and dark hair and coffee colored skin. I loved our differences. I was proud that my brother was Korean, that he was different. He was so beautiful to me.

I don’t remember a lot except that I was screaming hysterically as I ran home. I raced to my garage, where I grabbed a hammer. I wanted to inflict the worst kind of pain on those boys.

It didn’t matter that they had not made Todd bleed. His wounds were invisible but deep. You could see the wariness in his eyes. After all, some of our own family members had no problem making fun of his race.

Why should he be surprised by the kids at school using mean words on him?

Why should he be surprised at the teachers who pretended not to overhear?

Why should he be surprised at the adults who asked idiotic questions of him?

Back to that day, the day when violence came into my heart. I chased that boy for two blocks, anger growing with every pump of my legs. The boy was faster than me and reached his house before I could reach him. His mother was sitting on the front porch.

He ran up the two concrete stairs and stood behind his mother. I stood gasping for air, grasping a hammer tightly in one hand, sweat rolling down my forehead. It was the voice of his mother that calmed the fire in my heart.

Thinking back on it, I believe it was her understanding that acted like cool waters.

I thought, “She gets it.” 

His mother didn’t look like the other mothers at my elementary school. Her clothes were different, her accent not the same. Maybe she understood being on the outside. Maybe she recognized the flames engulfing my heart.

She listened to my tearful story, words coming between hiccups, snot and tears running down my face. She nodded her head and took her son’s hand and told him to apologize. 

I went home exhausted, defeated, and scared.

For the first time I saw that the thing my little brother was up against was an indomitable foe.

I was also frightened by the monster inside myself.

Racism is raised generation by generation on hate. Racism is fed small children to keep it growing into a proper big monster. How would I ever beat that?

 


 

For me, the day I chased that boy home with a hammer in my hand, I realized something new: knowing the person at school wasn’t the same as knowing the person.

When I saw that boy’s mama was waiting on the front porch I had clarity about his life. For one, he had a mother. I don’t think I’d ever considered that.

For another, he had a mother who was different. Lastly, I could see that his life was not the same as mine. There was something about the way his yard looked that suggested that what happened in my home was not the same as what happened in his home.

Suddenly his chipped front tooth didn’t add to his malice; it was just a chipped tooth.

I think he learned something new that day, too. I think he learned that someone can be pushed too far, that they can lose the ability to choose reason. Sadly, I think he learned to like that feeling, at least while he was at school.

That was not the last run in this boy and I would have. He and I would have words again on a school bus in high school. He didn’t grow out of bullying even in high school. One afternoon, I would sit back and watch as someone pummeled him, after months and months of taking mean words, and think, “Yeah, I remember that feeling.”

By the way, it isn’t a good feeling that you’re left with after you do violence. It’s a lonely feeling.

Doing violence leaves you feeling separate from everyone.

I need you to know that I wasn’t always the champion of the underdog. There were times that I did the bullying, a fact that still fills me with regret.

It seems that learning to do the right thing is an ongoing process. The pendulum is always swinging between reaction and inaction.

It’s the middle where it’s good. That’s where we can make some progress.

 

 


 

We need to accept that there are race issues in the U.S. My experience in America, as a person with pale skin, versus the experience of someone with darker skin, or a different accent, differ greatly. 

We appear polarized as a country, and I know there’s truth to that.

I’m not buying it completely, though. No photograph or video can ever fully encapsulate the complexities of our lives.

Those of us in the middle are a little confused. But here in the middle we can see both sides a little more clearly than if we were swung over to the far left or the far right.

Still, I want to make sure that I’m not falling into the white moderate default of inaction. Neither do I want to run home for my hammer, a reaction that is not helpful.

 

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice…” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

So what do we do? 

We know that hammers don’t work. We also know that apathy will not move us forward.

As always, I believe the answer is community. I believe it’s about inviting people into our lives and into our homes and having (potentially uncomfortable) conversations. Be willing to know people in your home and in theirs.

And this is why I have hope: it’s never too late to move forward.

 I’d like to point out that racism does not always wear a white robe and march with tiki torches. Racism uses words like ‘they’ rather than ‘us’. Racism, like all -isms excludes rather than includes.

Most often racism is silent, pretending not to see inequalities or hateful behavior.

 

Be brave, misfits, not silent. It’s okay to shake up the order of things.

Just leave your hammer at home.

 

Also, for further reading on the issues of racism:

Is there a Neo-Nazi storm brewing in Trump country?

A Reformed White Nationalist Speaks Out on Charlottesville

The White Flight of Derek Black

ShannanMartinWrites

I’m Racist (and So Are You)

 

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Home Again

Our family traveled a lot when I was a kid. We took short trips, long trips, and sometimes just day trips. I loved going, seeing new places, but also knowing that we shared the same sky, the same moon no matter where we were. I can sleep so well in a car, probably because of all that traveling. One of my favorite memories is lying in the back our big yellow van, my head against the wall so that I could see out of the window above my head. I would sleep that way, only waking when when we slowed down to turn into our neighborhood.

The big hill that leads to our house is lined with trees and streetlights and is as comforting to me as home. I would open my sleepy eyes and know exactly where we were, which neighbor’s house we were passing. As we pulled into the drive my parents would chant, “Home again, home again jiggity jig!” Even today I feel myself relax as I drive up that street.

It’s funny to me that I never wanted to move away from home. I mean, I wanted my own apartment as I got older,  but I never thought about living in another city. After Lee and I had been married for a couple of years a job opportunity came up that would require us to move. Every cell in my body wanted to stay in Lexington but I knew that Lee needed this.

So, we moved to Knoxville, Tennessee.

The first few months there were scary and lonely. Driving in Knoxville terrified me, and I learned lots of back roads to avoid the interstates and heavy trafficked roads. Because the radio in my old black Volvo didn’t work I had to sing loudly to distract my babies and myself from my panic at sharing the road with so many trucks. Old hymns, Mary Poppins, and Queen make up the soundtrack of those days.

Moving made me brave.

I was able to travel I-75 because I knew that home was at the other end. Going to visit my parents gave me courage. On the return trip knowing that Lee, our house, and our little life were all waiting for me made my goodbyes less bittersweet. It’s funny how fears abate when you have people waiting for you. They give you mission.

We moved three more times, twice two new town, and each place I fell in love with. I enjoyed learning the history of our new town, local favorites, and hidden treasures. I stopped thinking of Lexington as home and more as the place that I grew up. Two years ago when we moved back I couldn’t help but contemplate home, and what that means.

I was reminded of all the coming-of-age novels I read where the main character moves back home and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. I always wondered what it was like to move back home after redefining yourself in another place.. No one knows what you were like in high school, or about your brothers, or what you and your best friends like to do. You don’t run into people you know at the store, at least at first, and you can switch hairdressers easily. Everything is new, and that can include you.

Moving back home, though, was so different than I thought it would be. Living in my childhood home, roaming the streets of my neighborhood with my own children, is much more grounding than I had imagined. On our daily walks we step onto the same corner that was the meeting spot of the neighborhood kids. Even though someone else lives there the house across the street is still ‘the Leggett’s house’ to me and my parents.

My handwriting, in permanent marker, is in the closet of the bedroom my girls now share. My boys’ swing set is where me and my brothers played for hours. Neighbors who knew me from childhood stop me and we condense our lives into a ten minute chat. We wave goodbye, filled with memories of a picturesque past.

Moving back to the town where I took off my training wheels for the first time, where I learned to drive, and where I got my heart broken for the first time made me brave again. While a new place can give you the freedom to be someone a little different it can also sweep you up into a current that’s not your own. We’ve had some heavy stuff happen, which caused the shoulds and have-to’s to become even more weighted.

Sometimes you just keep functioning and don’t realize how big of an influence fear has become.

Moving home gave me the space to face that. Moving home gave me space to find my courage again, to remember that no matter what happens in my life I have a place within me that houses my ten year-old self. The me that knows riding down a hill with no hands is possible, the me that doesn’t care about skinned knees or climbing too high will always be there, waiting. Fearlessness that reins freely in our youth isn’t grown out of. Rather, it is covered up under the guise of maturity  and responsibility, making us think we’re grown ups.

Audacity is always waiting for it’s moment to shine, though.

Coming home made me feel that again. Watching my youngest learn to ride his bike with only two wheels on the same sidewalk I did unleashed it. I’m probably not going to ride my bike with no hands today, but my heart is lighter, more able to be in the world.

Life is short but fear makes it shorter.

Today courage means filling my life with relationship that make my life messy, embracing inconvenience and taking heart in the fact that Jesus has overcome the world. Pushing through the uneasiness that comes from going against the grain of this life is not always easy but my days feel longer when fear is not in charge.

God knew that I needed the shelter of home to find my courage again. It’s not about the place, or the house, or the neighborhood, either. Those things are nice but home is something inside, a notion that dwells within. It’s about being able to remember who Christ says I am, and for me that’s easiest to do when I think about who I was as a kid. I wasn’t weighed down by shoulds and have-to’s and didn’t hold back my love.

I am home, again.

Home again.

Jiggity jig.

 

 

I’m curious; how do you find home? Is it a place or a time? Does home make you brave, too?

 

When Suddenly Comes Around

Life is really all about waiting.

 

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When you’re a little kid you wait to grow up. Upon growing up you wait to get married. After  waiting to get married you wait for the right moment to have a baby until you realize that there is no perfect juncture to adding a new life to two . It just happens and you go forth into the adventure dumber than you realize.

Once the baby comes along you’re waiting for rolling over, coos, and giggles. You can’t wait for baby to sit up or crawl, or whatever milestone you’re expecting.  It’s all so exciting to think about, and then suddenly it’s happening. The milestones have been met and baby is moving on and you’re waiting to see what’s next.

Exhaustion is a fiend that hunts you, each day bringing a round of waiting. Waiting to not be tired, waiting to take a shower, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth. Waiting for snacks, for meals, for lunch, in line at the bank and the grocery and the library. Waiting for your kid to sleep through the night (the cruelest lie the world ever told!), waiting for a schedule to kick in, and for someone to tell you that you’re doing things right. In all of that waiting the world keeps spinning and you find yourself in love with the craziness of it all, even while secretly wishing it all away.

You potty train, spending  countless minutes and hours waiting for the kid to do what they’re supposed to do on their little potty. Books are read, dances and songs invented, and modesty is lost during downtime in and outside of the powder room.

Even after potty training happens you’re still on watch outside of bathrooms everywhere you go. One kid is scared of falling in, another one doesn’t want their tushy to touch the seat and learns to go while you dangle them by the armpits over public toilets. All this time  spent in bathrooms triggers your need to pee so it becomes a family affair, with your kids all piled in the stall with you announcing to strangers about the color of your underwear or size of your bum.

You may even make friends in the restroom.

The kids get older and the waiting is different, but still waiting. Tying shoes, riding bikes, reading books all happen with us parents lingering in the background, coaxing the kids along, encouraging them on their journey of learning to do stuff they need to know how to do.

You wait and you wait and you wait…and then suddenly comes around. The kids are big and doing life on their own.

Piano lessons, play days with friends, overnights (or almost overnights), classes; you bide your time during all of the activities that kids get to enjoy. You get your things done (or nap in the car) while they’re getting their other things done away from you.

You are less and less of the equation in their lives – still there, but different.

“Nothing,” becomes the standard response when you ask them what they did, because you are a little less welcome in their world as they discover who they are away from you. And because sometimes they literally don’t remember what they did.

Maybe some really hard things come your way, things you weren’t on the lookout for. These things might be hardest because you’re watching while life happens to your kid. It’s one thing for you to be in the belly of the whale but entirely new and dreadful thing to be a bystander while your kid struggles in the dark. It may even dawn on you that it’s not your hand they need and you turn your prayers in another direction.

Then suddenly comes around and that kid is just fine,and soaring and you’re onto the next one getting them through their own personal pit.

You find yourself able to think more and more about yourself during the time in between. You may even discover that  you’re on standby for your adult life, too, You may wake up at night with the feeling like you left the oven on, that there’s something you’ve forgotten. Perhaps your nerves are shot because do they know about present perfect tense and algebra and who the minor and major prophets are?  Do they? You may start to wonder just what the heck life is all about and if you can make it and how you’re going to get these half grown people of yours the rest of the way there AND JUST WHERE IS THERE?

Where will they end up?

Then God will remind you through whispers and sunshine-filled days, and rainy days, too, that he’s got this and that your job is in the waiting, and that he will do the work.

…but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31

Where they end up is where you wait on the Lord – you trust in him to get them there because not everything is your job. Sure, you can worry about not doing everything right, about not filling them up with everything that they’ll need to get through life unscathed but that’s not the point, is it?

Life wouldn’t be life without skinned knees, broken hearts, and massive failures, and God wouldn’t be God if he couldn’t handle it.

He’s got this. Really.

Water to wine, fishes and loaves – something called the Universe… from nothing.

Remember?

So let him handle it, and while you wait, teach your heart to trust him. He is good, so good, and faithful.  So faithful.

His promises are true.

Whatever you find yourself waiting on, and I’m preaching to myself here, trust that its going to turn out. Jobs, kids, husbands, wives, presidents, school, peace…wait, and find your strength renewed. No need to be weary or faint, or to consider running away from home, because you were created for this life, the one that you’re living right now.

Be brave in the waiting, friends…

 

because when suddenly comes around it’s going to be AMAZING.

 

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