Recently I had the honor and privilege to be a guest on the Feed Your Spirit Podcast with Jill Dobrowansky (follow her on Instagram). We were introduced by a mutual friend, Lauren Condoleon who was also a guest blogger here a couple of months ago! I had the opportunity to share my heart behind why this blog means so much to me and how it came to be. Check it out, I hope it’ll be an encouragement.
In the mornings I watch my daughter, Esther carefully select the clothing that she will wear for the day. In her head, she sees a fashion diva when picking out these outfits and she has the attitude to match. However, regularly it is something crazy, such as a wild printed shirt under overall shorts with a sequined bow on them along with a skirt over the overall- shorts. Then to top it off, a big bow or sequined cat ears, and a “braid’ that resembles something very different than any braid I have ever seen. I love her sense of creativity but under no circumstances would her outfit match her level of confidence. Now, she is six and I love her but I am not sure she is the fashion icon she sees herself as. It is cute at six, however, I don’t believe that if I was to copy her style, that it would either be viewed as cute or fashionable. We may not do this with clothing, but I do think we try to do this in different ways as adults, especially within the church
Within our own Christianity, we say that God meets us right where we are, yet somehow we find ourselves portraying a picture of how we want people to see us, and rarely is it reflective of a God that takes us mess and all. We feel that in order to be a good representation of God, we have to be the finished product. When we adopt this thinking, we hide all our flaws and only show our best self even if that isn’t a true reflection of who we are. My daughter could care less when she picks out her outfits in the morning of what I think or anyone thinks, that is where she is at. As she gets older she will learn what does and doesn’t match. She will also become more self-aware. The one thing we all have in common is our humanity, the fact that we all fall short. Hopefully, we are growing, we love showing everyone the areas we have already grown in but it is so much more difficult to show our shortcomings or what we are currently working on. That takes vulnerability. I believe vulnerability is a strength if we will allow it to be. My vulnerability makes me more relatable and it also makes others feel safe. There is no safety in shallow relationships. My best relationships are with those who have seen my worst and yet still believe in me, supported me, and have never pretended that I should aspire to be as put together as they are.
We live in a world where people are masters of reading a room and figuring out who they need to be to gain the appeal of the room. We have a world where nobody knows who they actually are anymore because they are constantly fulfilling the needs of others rather than focusing on becoming a better me or more importantly who God intended me to be. There is a very powerful lesson in coming to terms with the fact that not everyone will love you and there are people who can’t handle a messier or more authentic you. Authenticity isn’t just your wonderful moments, it is also your fears, mistakes, and challenges. We are all flawed, we all need grace and compassion. When no safe space exists it is easy to find ourselves isolated and full of anxiety. I know this from my own experience.
There was an experience I had with a church leader several years ago, where I was being open and honest about the grief that I was experiencing. The grieving process had started 4 months prior to this conversation. Anyone who has ever gone through grief knows that it is a process that looks different for everyone and does not have a specific time frame. This church leader had pointed out that they could visibly see that I was sad and heartbroken and then they began to question how deep my roots were and if I was bearing good fruit. That moment really shaped how I approached the next few years after. It meant that I suffered in silence. It didn’t stop my pain, it just meant I kept it to myself and learned to smile a bit more and act cheery even when I felt heartbroken. There was no safety. To be honest, I didn’t even believe that what this specific leader had said, I just knew that they weren’t safe. At that moment I had hoped to find understanding and encouragement but instead was met with judgment.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.Romans 12:15-16
I love Romans 12 because the whole passage is on genuine love and what that should look like in our own life. Being a vulnerable leader means letting our guard down, it means allowing ourselves to have empathy. Vulnerability means sacrificing our need to share our wisdom in order to listen and connect to what others are experiencing regardless of whether we are rejoicing with them or weeping with them. We need to be with people where they are at, after all, that is what Jesus does has always done.
As church leaders, we get it wrong. We mess up, especially when we are dealing with things we don’t understand and have not experienced ourselves. We need to feel comfortable in those moments to say, I have no idea, I have never been through that but…I know someone who has. For myself, I want to always eir on the side of grace and empathy. There have been many times as a leader where I have gotten this wrong, where I know that I thought I was doing the right thing but I have hurt someone. In those moments I want to have the humility enough to say, I am sorry, I handled that wrong. As leaders, we need to be vulnerable. We need to admit when we get it wrong, we need to be quick to say sorry. We need to not be afraid of people we lead, seeing our faults. Again, our humanity is what connects us to each other. Our highlight reel will only isolate us and those around us.
My encouragement to you is, your own failures and weaknesses might be exactly what God wants to use, they may actually be the connection point to someone else finding freedom. Haven’t you experienced healing because someone else has been vulnerable enough to share? I know I have. People are craving authenticity in a world where authenticity is lacking. Choose to be someone people can connect to, someone who is confident regardless of their shortcomings because you know that God is bigger than your shortcomings. One of the most miraculous things about humanity is how we continue to thrive despite our weakness and insecurity because we recognize our need for God.
LA Davis is a friend of mine, who I have asked to share this week. LA is someone I trust and knew would give a much needed perspective as well as her own experience with Racism in America.
January 2020 I believed, would be the year of clear vision and fresh beginnings. Well, I was wrong, 2020 has caused me to lose my breath over and over.
With COVID-19 as the green screen backdrop; Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. Oh, and let’s not forget Christian Cooper (NYC bird watcher), who’s still breathing, but for a moment caused me to once again lose my breath.
All these incidents have highlighted the infectious disease of racism. Many thought it was cured while others thought it lay dormant, then there are folks like me that are infected and injected by it every day. The infectious virus of racism didn’t start yesterday, last week or a year ago, it’s rooted in history and has evolved over decades.
I grew up in a shore town in New Jersey, in an apartment complex with tenants that were all blood-related. My best friend was the only other child on the block aside from my siblings and cousins. Her family owned a restaurant that they lived above.
We played together daily; hung out at each other’s houses, went to school together, and attended each other’s birthday parties for as long as I can remember. We were alike in every way possible, except for the fact that she was white and I was black, and it never ever mattered.
After 8th grade, my family moved to an offshore town, and sometime later her family did the same. Our friendship has slowly diminished over the years and has become seldom Facebook hello’s.
Entering High School in the new community was a culture shock. I went from seeing more people who looked like me to being in this predominately white High School with kids that lived in affluent neighborhoods, with parents who were Doctors and Lawyers. Meanwhile, I humbly shared a two-bedroom apartment with my mother and two sisters.
My first experience of racism and what is now widely known today as white privilege was introduced to me during my freshman year. But I managed to survive it, all while not having a voice or voices to help navigate me through it.
But did I really survive it? Fast forward. Both my sons, who are currently 26 and 21 years old attended and graduated from the same high school. Although, the school had become a little more diverse the generational curses of the past still remained.
During my oldest son’s sophomore year, I bought a house in an affluent neighborhood near the high school. My neighbors weren’t as welcoming as I thought they would be. My house started the block so I only had one neighbor next to me, which was occupied by an older white woman that I never met (she’s since died). I’d often catch a glimpse of her peeking through the curtains and when I acknowledged her presence, she would quickly duck away. Sadly, it was a fun little game for me.
During one of my youngest sons sporting events, his team played against an opposing team that came from a predominantly African American community. After our team’s loss, my son who was not wearing his team jersey was told by an older white male “you people need to go back to where you belong”. Like any momma bear protecting her cub, I pounced, and let’s just say that man scurried away after being told that “his community” was also my community. (I gave you the radio edit, I didn’t know Jesus then.) This all happened in 2010.
There were times when I’d have visitors to my home and police officers would park in the vacant lot directly across the street from my house. I’ve had the police called on me during a graduation party for my son, allegedly for the music being too loud.
My sons have been profiled, stopped by the police, asked where they were going or why they were traveling in a certain direction, stopped after being seen with white female classmates to ask the female if she was ok or felt safe. This was a reality, not a movie.
Oh, and by the way, I have been in Law Enforcement for 15 years, currently as a Detective. I am and have been the only black female police officer in my department. During the length of my employment, I have had personal experiences with discrimination as a female and more recently with disparaging racial comments said by a person of rank.
So yeah, I’m having a tough time breathing lately! I can’t breathe at work, I can’t breathe in society and I can’t breathe in front of my sons who look at me as being a part of an entity that’s killing black and brown people in this country. They leave the house in fear, wondering AM I NEXT?
I have no guarantees, all I have is faith and prayers for those fears and that reality for them to go away! Their fears are legit, my fears are legit and they shouldn’t be dismissed by people who don’t understand.
So while folks in this country are fighting to take off masks, to get hair cuts, to go shopping and golfing, I’m fighting an uncontainable virus rooted in hate.
My flesh wants to fight, kick and scream but because I didn’t invite God into it, I lose. So, I have to surrender the fight to him.
“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.” 1 John 2:9
When I asked LA to write this week, I was so grateful that she said yes. You can hear glimpses of hope in what she writes as well as the raw emotions of a lifetime of experiencing racism. Her story is not just hers but the story of many others. For this reason, it is important to listen to what is being said by our brothers and sisters who are hurting and experience racism and then evaluate ourselves and search for areas we can do better.
Over the last month or so, there has been this phrase thrown around which I am sure you have heard, “the new normal.” Everyone is talking about a “new normal” after quarantine; I have seen two different reactions to this idea. People are either excited or fearful at the idea of a “new normal”. There is uncertainty about what the future holds and, for the most part, it is accompanied by concern or fear. As you may know, if you have read my other posts, I value consistency and security, I don’t believe I am alone there. Consistency is also essential for my children who have autism. The pandemic plus moving states has been hard on my three kids, however, I do believe that when we get outside of our normal routine or there is an end to a season, there is an opportunity that comes with it.
We have an opportunity at this time to reevaluate our normal. It is easy to reminisce about times before quarantine and it gives us so many things to be grateful for. However, what about the portions that weren’t so wonderful? Maybe, you actually didn’t enjoy the job you have been laid off from or furloughed. Extra time with your kids might have revealed some areas you would like to adjust, so you can make the most with the time you have with your family. Now is the time to reevaluate and make changes. There is an opportunity to dream up what you would like your new normal to look like and to start taking action steps now. When your routine has been turned upside down, you get to decide what your new schedule will look like. If you want to change your diet and add in exercise, now’s the time to do it. If you’re considering a change in career, maybe now’s the time to seriously consider it. Maybe you have been wanting to say no to some things because you overfilled your plate, this is the perfect time to change that. Whatever it may be, while everything is in limbo, now is the time to make major changes.
There have been season changes in my life that I have just let happen and then there are the ones I have taken charge of. The seasons I have taken charge of have been seasons where I have thrived and felt the most growth in. These are the seasons where my relationship with God has grown and my marriage has grown. The seasons where I have either not had the energy to embrace or have just been frozen in fear, they have not been my most flourishing or rewarding seasons. In fact, those seasons have been some of my most painful growth seasons. Those seasons are where I have learned some lessons the hard way.
For those of us who know and love God, we know that our future is in God’s hand, we trust Him. However, we all have seasons where we have had to walk out some heartbreaking experiences. In order to go where God is taking us, we have had to walk through some deep valleys, not knowing when the end is coming. Trusting God has not meant there won’t be any valleys or it will be easy or without pain. Trusting God is knowing that the valley leads to a mountain, which leads to a mountain top that produces perspective. Our time in the valley determines our growth and strength to climb the mountain which in turn produces the perspective we get when we reach the mountain top. The dreams we dream and steps we take in the valley determine the path we choose and the mountain we will climb. Choose your path!
In so many ways our world is in a valley right now. The world is mourning the loss of family and friends, we are mourning lost jobs and not knowing how we are going to pay the mortgage and feed our children. Amongst all the sorrow, fear, and uncertainty, we will begin to put one foot in front of the other and before you know it we will be climbing out of this valley. Let’s begin to dream of what we want that mountain to look like. Let’s make sure we like the path we are on, that it leads to a view or perspective we can be proud of. Let me encourage you that great things will come out of this season because you have no choice but to reevaluate and to build upon the great things you had when it was normal.
For myself, I am thinking through what I want for this next season and as cliche as it may sound, I want to invest more in relationships. My friendships have taken a hit in this last season and I want to make sure that I put some energy and value into the people who mean the most to me. We have just moved states so everything is different but as it may feel like we are starting over again, we are not. We carry with us the wisdom, growth, and experiences we have had in our prior seasons with us. Starting a new season doesn’t mean we erase our prior seasons but we can leave the not so good experiences and take all the good that we have experienced with us. You can do the same in this season. Here are some questions for you to ponder…
- What are those things in your life that you would like to see change whether they be small changes or massive changes?
- Are there portions of your life, you are happy to let go of?
- Are there experiences or areas of your life you would like to take with you?
- Are you frozen in fear or are you taking steps?
As we keep our eyes set on God, we can be certain that we will find ourselves on a path that will lead to the right mountain. “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him;” – Psalm 37:23. So let’s do some dreaming, let’s give space for hope and anticipation for our next season. A new normal does not have to be bad and full of fear and dread, it can also give room for new ideas and fresh outlooks.
This week, I am happy to conclude my Guest Blogger portion of Autism Awareness month with my husband, Tom. Tom is an amazing dad to our three children and adds a great perspective of our parenting journey through the Autism Diagnosis of our three beautiful children. He tells his journey in an authentic and genuine way. You will most definitely be blessed.
Since Megan launched this blog a few months ago, it has been exciting to see the feedback that has come. Whether it’s people laughing at the Woodies Wisdom posts on social media or the weekly blog, there has been a ton of response about how it’s been uplifting or encouraging. After plotting this for years, I am so glad it’s now live and having the impact it is.
I am delighted that Megan would ask me to be a part of the blog this week! As a part of Autism Awareness Month, she asked if I would share a few thoughts on being a dad with kids on the spectrum. Firstly, let me say that because Megan loves me she would never say anything negative about me, especially not on a public blog…so I guess I’ll have to rat on myself 🙂 Below I’ll write about 3 things I wish I could have/will do better.
When we first had reason to think Elijah had autism, I did not want to even consider it. (Megan has written about the diagnosis process in previous posts.) My own insecurities, unwillingness to ask the tough things and fear meant that I ignored a lot of things and tried to explain away some very obvious signs. Seriously…when my 3 year old runs into church while I’m preaching and turns off the lights leaving a congregation in the dark, with no sense of consequence or that this would be a problem, it might be time to ask questions. There were so many signs, and I ignored all of it. I feel the guilt from that because we probably lost 6-8 months of early intervention that Elijah could have got. It is better to face reality head-on. It takes more faith to stand in front of the monster you’re facing and stare it down than to ignore it all. There will be endless possibilities for me to face the scary reality head-on – I hope I have the courage to do so.
When a parent first hears their child has special needs, the experts talk about a grieving period. What they mean is that the expectations that we had for our kids have shifted. Maybe drastically, maybe slightly, but that change in expectation is tough. My expectation of parenthood didn’t involve IEP meetings, calm down strategies, and the feeling of dread when a kid misses their medication. Expecting the kids to improve and grow is the right kind of expectation. A rigid expectation of how things will all turn out has lead to disappointments. A good expectation is that the next trip to the store with the kids will be better than the last. A bad expectation is there will never be a bad trip to the store ever again. That inevitably leads to upset. I expect my kids to develop, learn, and grow, but my expectations need to grow at their pace, not mine. There’s a possibility that one of the kids will live with us into adulthood, as he stretches and matures, that expectation might stretch too. I want my expectations to be optimistic, growing, and flexible. Focused on growth, not goals. The balance of joy and disappointment shifts when you have this approach.
Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is a quality frequently applauded in the Bible. Everyone appreciates it when people are patient with them. But when it’s my turn to be patient, I am terrible. Especially when it’s the kids getting me going. I do not know the journey of other parents, but I can say that often our kids act impulsively without any regard for consequence or what happened the last time they did the thing they are about to do. Sometimes it’s dangerous, other times it’s destructive, maybe it’s just annoying. To protect the guilty I won’t list the crimes here, but I promise there’s been some craziness. It’s in these moments that my patience is noticeably in short supply. I have met some parents whose patience is incredible. I have also realized they have an easier time connecting with their kids and making the situation better and not worse. That’s why I want to do better. Getting frustrated with the kids has never helped. Trust me, I have tried. However, when I’ve kept my head together and been rational, there’s typically been a better outcome. The interesting thing is that even if I’m masking my impatience, the kids still pick up on it. The goal isn’t to hide my annoyance to a very annoying situation but to truly have a loving patience with my children (and I suppose everyone else). I have no doubt that if I improve in this, it will improve just about everything. I’m doing better than I was, but there’s big room for improvement!
There is, of course, a lot more I could say, but these are the things that have stood out to me as I’ve thought about this blog. Definitely look out for the weekly posts, Megan consistently writes amazing stuff. For all the other special needs dads out there, stand strong and face reality, be flexible with your expectations, and pray for your patience to grow.