Someone Else’s Children

Someone Else’s Children

My husband and I have three adopted children. Three boys. They call each other brothers of another mother. They’re cool with that and so am I. Unfortunately, precious few Christian African American women would agree with my views on adoption.

As a young, married woman 19 years ago, I didn’t have a positive attitude about adoption. Frankly, adoption was the furthest thing from my mind. Both my husband and I were in school full time, working like Hebrew slaves on advanced engineering degrees. Between the two of us we made $18,000 a year in stipends. I thank God for those years (and for that small vegetable patch). Those lean times taught me how to wait on God.

Growing up in the swamplands of North Carolina, I played with trucks and climbed trees. Doll babies and tea sets were never on my gift wish list. After a few years of marriage that changed. It happened one sunny afternoon while I babysat for a college friend. That precious little toddler stole my heart with her sparkling brown eyes and chubby hands. When her mother picked her up two hours later, our one-bedroom apartment never felt so empty.

I soon graduated and tried to replace the longing for a child with a full-time job, volunteering at an urban ministry, church involvement, and writing. But the longing persisted. My husband was still in grad school but he agreed that it was time to start a family. I was 29. One and a half years later and no baby, I hit a wall. I started each day in tears, crying in the darkness of my walk-in closet before work. The crying lasted for months. On the outside, I was doing good things in my church and community racial reconciliation ministry. I was a faithful wife. I was a productive engineer.

On the inside, I was dying. Longing for a child.

At church, someone suggested we consider adoption. I was tired of all the doctor’s visits, the treatments, basal thermometers, and the prayers to God. I wanted relief. I wanted to feel good again, to feel God again. Adoption seemed like a good option.

We did our research. We talked with counselors and social workers. We talked with our friends and parents. We prayed and fasted. We had so many questions about the process, the costs, but especially the kids: What if they’re not black (or black enough)? What if they’re developmentally challenged? What if they’re violent? What if they’re crack babies?

God answered all those questions with peace. As Psalm 34:4 says: I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Along the way my husband and I have met some really wonderful adoptive parents. One couple, Becky and Joe, became part of our family. Our first meeting, though, was a tough one. It was on a Saturday morning in 1997, the year I was struggling with the specter of infertility. As long-time volunteers in an urban ministry, my husband and I were attending a racial reconciliation training conference.

The conference had my full attention until I spotted a white woman holding a beautiful dark-skinned baby across the room. Out of my fragile heart I thought: How could she have my baby? Before long I was wiping tears from my face, crying over the baby my husband and I could have adopted. If we only had money like that white woman.

That white woman was Becky. We were introduced later that day. To my surprise, she was the baby’s foster mother. She and Joe had committed themselves to care and advocate for children “caught in the system.” Over the 15-plus years they were foster parents, Joe and Becky fostered more than 30 children — mostly African American and biracial infants.

This older white Christian couple from the Midwest lived out the ministry of reconciliation described in the Bible. They showed me what sensitivity meant when they learned to properly care for the hair and skin of the little black children under their roof. They demonstrated empowerment and interdependence to me when they intentionality included African American mentors in their lives.

And later, when they adopted two of the brown-skinned children, I supported them, knowing that their heart was centered on seeking God’s will. They didn’t act out of pity for the poor. Their hearts were not shaded with the rosiness of “Love is enough” and “There is no color in God.” It is inspiring to see how my white Christian sister and brother lean on Jesus to help them navigate the treacherous waters of raising black children in America.

Bottom line: Adopting is not an easy fix. For me, becoming the mom of three brothers of other mothers was very difficult. In fact, in the beginning, it was like pulling a scab from a wound I thought had healed. But today I have three boys. Not three rejects or three unwanted children. I have three sons. Some people call them someone else’s children. I call them mine.

What Pastors Can Learn from Barbershops and Salons

What Pastors Can Learn from Barbershops and Salons

I wish churches were more like barbershops.

As a child I kept a love/hate relationship with my barbershop. On the one hand, like any mischievous little boy worth the scars on his knees, I despised the idea of getting a haircut: all a haircut did was pull me away from playing baseball and filling my pockets with dirt. Plus it took a really long time – let me emphasize this – a really long time for one person to get a haircut. The phrase, “I got three heads in front of you,” basically means, “Come back tomorrow.” For women in salons, a short delay can easily turn into a sleepover.

On the other hand, I never receive more compliments or feel better about myself than immediately after a haircut. The teenage me felt empowered by a fresh lining, and – I’ve done the math on this – life becomes 35% better after a haircut. Not just your life – ALL life becomes better.

Almost like church, right? (riiiight) Nowadays the barbershop is the hood’s sanctuary.

More than a Haircut

What we all know about barbershops and salons is almost universally true: it’s not about the haircut. Those take forever, are priced arbitrarily, and there’s no figuring out the person who handles your hair. No way.

But we don’t go to Supercuts instead, because efficiency doesn’t matter that much. (And because, Supercuts). Instead we go to, and sometimes endure, barbers shops and salons because of the experience. There is something about the ability to speak freely in a company of our peers that really makes a difference.

Really, it’s the difference between McDonald’s (Supercuts) and Soul Food Sundays at your grandmother’s house. I’ve been searching for years the right words to capture this experience – the barbershop – as have many books, dissertations, and movies, with varying success. What we know for sure is that it’s more than a haircut.

For sure, it’s the open conversation. The barbershop is where you can truly speak your mind. Whether in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America and their argument over the greatest boxer of all time – Sugar Ray Robinson or Cassius Clay (“his momma called him Clay, I call him Clay”); or in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, where the shop declares, “Ain’t no law for no colored man except the one sends him to the chair”; barbershops have a way of invoking truth telling and raw emotion that is rarely seen outside of the barbershop. A writer I love says it best:

There is no place like a Negro Barbershop for hearing what Negroes really think. There is more unselfconscious affirmation to be found here on a Saturday than you can find in a Negro College in a month or so it seems to me.
-Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act (1953)

We need more barbershops, and national media gets this. There are certain conversations we follow on CNN and ESPN—conversations like whether Lebron is greater than MJ—if they seem familiar it’s because these are barbershop debates. Even the panel-style format that pervades talk television today—The Talk, The Chew, and Bill Maher—these are nothing more than barbershop conversations with higher production value. Extreme opinions in the same room? A charismatic ringleader? The View has existed for years in beauty salons; in the early 20th Century they were called “hush harbors.” Safe space. Vibrant, neighborhood space.

Our barbers and stylists are conversation hosts, and they create a space where we can simply BE. We don’t all have to agree, and we usually don’t, but the opportunity to speak and be heard is what I value more than anything else. Protected space.

In a generation before us, the shop was even a political space, where injustices were aired and stories were shared. It’s hard for us to understand this, but for our parents the barbershop was a place to be human in a world that treated them far less: a humanizing space.

And stories are shared; plenty of stories are made up too, but there too was a purpose in this. Mythical space.

And it is still today a place to form our values and affirm ourselves in the way that most sociologists agree is best: with others. We form ourselves in community. We judge ourselves in the presence of others who are like us. The barbershop is, for better or worse, a cauldron of Black identity. Survival space.

And you thought you were getting a haircut…

Better Churches, or More Barbershops?

There’s a narrative of decline in the Black church (all churches really), that churches are dying and aren’t relevant, and being a believer in public is like wearing a scarlet letter. If you’re asking these questions, pay attention to all of this the next time you are waiting in a barbershop or salon—the way you must go this often, and how your appointment has become a ritual of necessity. Everything I’ve said about your local ’shop we should also say about church.

The way one physical space is many different things at the same time for many different people.
The way conversation is open and debate is valued.
The way life outside this space matters, and we’ll help you make sense of it here.
The way people feel like they have to come, because they can’t get this experience anywhere else.
The way my barber even takes Mondays as his day off…Sabbath (preachers should taken note).

I like this. These thoughts excite me. How about…

The way the barbershop/salon is decidedly not a consumer product. It is a respite from the market, where local artisans (OK, bootleggers) but also chefs and designers and artists can find a community of support. Shouldn’t churches be known like this?

I think there’s a lot for us to learn from our barbers, and also, a few lessons we’ve already borrowed that we need to unlearn. Like how some church services take forever to finish. Or how women and kids aren’t always welcome, and vice versa for beauty salons. Or, and perhaps most critically, how we lose our boldness once we leave that space: our words are muted and we begin to play along in the systems of the wider world. Why do we change once we leave? The question is valid of barbershops and churches.

During my last haircut, we somehow had a conversation about religion and boxing and violence and relationships and politics all at the same time. And those who listened soon got involved. I laughed, and one time I cringed, but I thought about it all later. I spent a little money—for support—and I was in community, and the entire experience was a gift. Most of all, I knew I was coming back. On the way home I thought…

“I wish churches were more like barbershops.”

Maybe we’re not so far off. I hope not—for our sake, and for the sake of the many people who have never known God’s love and couldn’t care less about church, but never miss a haircut.

Haiti unrest strands a number of US church groups

Haiti unrest strands a number of US church groups

Volunteer groups from several U.S. states were stranded in Haiti this past Sunday after violent protests over fuel prices canceled flights and made roads unsafe.

Church groups in South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama are among those that haven’t been able to leave, according to newspaper and television reports.

Some flights were resuming Sunday afternoon, according to airline officials and the flight tracking website FlightAware. American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said in an email that two flights bound for Miami and one for New York had taken off Sunday afternoon.

But even getting to an airport could be risky, U.S. officials warned. The U.S. State Department issued an alert Sunday urging its citizens on the island to shelter in place and not to go to an airport unless travelers had confirmed their departing flight was taking off.

Dr. Salil Bhende, a North Carolina dentist, said in a phone interview that a group of about 16 dental clinic volunteers was supposed to fly out Sunday from Port Au Prince but couldn’t make it to the airport because the roads were unsafe. After encountering rubble and garbage in the road, the group turned back to a church about 45 minutes outside the capital city where it was staying. Airline officials told them they might not be able to get a flight home until Tuesday, Bhende said.

“There were a lot of blockages,” he told The Associated Press. “It was very difficult to get to the airport, so we just turned around, basically, to be safe.”

Another member of the group, Pastor Fred Stapleton of Cornerstone Covenant Church in western North Carolina, said the volunteers have plenty of food and feel safe in the church.

“Nobody here is afraid for their life, or anything like that,” he said. “The people have taken care of us. We’ve been kept in a safe place.”

Chapin United Methodist Church in South Carolina posted online Sunday that its mission team is safe but stranded. Marcy Kenny, assimilation minister for the church, told The State newspaper that the group is hoping the unrest will abate enough for them to make it to the airport.

“They’re just waiting for things to die down a little bit,” Kenny said.

About 30 volunteers from a Bradenton, Florida, church were unable to make it to the airport Saturday because of protesters blocking the streets, according to the Bradenton Herald.

The group from Woodland Community Church includes about 18 teens, plus ministers and a handful of parents, said Jill Kramer, whose 15-year-old daughter is on the trip. They tried to leave for the airport early Saturday morning but turned back after they encountered protesters.

Kramer, who spoke to her daughter by phone, said the group has food, water and safe shelter at the nonprofit group where they had been working.

“The mission team, the directors they all decided it just wasn’t worth it to go farther,” Kramer told the newspaper.

— Yonat Shimron