As a Christian and a single parent, I’m convinced that if we fail to accept this truth, our efforts at rising above our circumstances and raising our children well will prove futile. We will continue to experience a daunting level of paralyzing frustration that immobilizes us. Our lives will become the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Recent conversations about the ills facing families, particularly minority families, focus heavily on the absentee father phenomenon and its devastating consequences. No argument there. Boatloads of statistics, polls, and surveys document almost ad nauseam the poverty, social maladjustment, and emotional fallout that can’t be denied. Given all the hell breaking loose, you’d think we’d be beating down church doors and wearing the pages of our Bibles ragged, searching for His answers to our problems. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A survey conducted by the National Fatherhood Initiative indicates that churches and spiritual leaders are not high on the list of sources dads consult for help with fathering issues. In one survey, mothers were asked to name the sources that fathers of their child look to for help. Only a third indicated that the father had “consulted a place of worship, minister, or rabbi.” Similarly, when fathers were asked who they go to for help, just a little more than half said they relied on a place of worship. It stands to reason that if God is not consistently and actively involved in our parenting, He’s probably equally absent from our children’s lives.
So, the hard truth is this:
The absence of an earthly father, while sad and unfortunate, can be overcome. The absence of God the heavenlyFather cannot be overcome and is deadly. There is no substitute for Him. It’s vital we shift our focus to include the absolute necessities of: (1) Our children knowing, loving, and following God; and (2) parents making Him the foundation of our homes. Not necessarily to the exclusion of everything else, but most certainly preeminent to all else.
How will our children’s lives be affected when God is the absent, forgotten Father? Consider:
•Psalm 127:1 tells us that if God Himself is not the builder of our lives and homes, everything else we do is vain and accomplishes nothing.
Practical application: If no one in a home seeks God’s wisdom about priorities and strategies that will make a child’s life what God intends — and no one introduces that child to his true Father — then having a present, active, involved father doesn’t accomplish anything. There aren’t enough workshops, programs, lock-ins, websites, or resources that will make an ultimate and eternal difference in that child’s life.
Action steps: Single-parent families and dual-parent families, first let’s take stock of our children and our homes. Have we allowed God to be the master-builder of our homes? Does God’s will and desire to determine our behaviors? Do our children know Christ? Do they understand that their lives must be anchored in Him for them to be meaningful and influential? If in a single-parent home, do they experience the power of overcoming obstacles created by the absence of a parent? If we must answer ‘no’ to these questions, it’s time for a new game plan. Second, go to the Word of God and see what He says you should be doing as a mother or father. Third, pick one thing and pray specifically about it every day for one week. See what He will do.
• A child’s life built around the absence of a father rather than obedience to the Word of God has a shaky foundation that cannot sustain him against the winds of circumstance.
In Matthew 7 the Lord Jesus Christ compares the life of an obedient person to someone whose house is built on a rock. This house, though buffeted by the storms of life, will still stand, providing security and safety. In contrast, one who hears and knows His word but does not obey it foolishly relies on something that will not withstand the strong winds and adversities of life. This one will find himself without protection when trouble comes.
Practical application: While God clearly indicates the role of fathers, nowhere does He instruct us to completely build our lives on their presence or absence. God and His word alone are our foundation, and upon Him alone, we must rely. When we frame our children’s lives in terms of a father’s absence, we are in effect making that fact a foundation of their life. If we make them feel that their father’s absence or lack of involvement is the determinative factor of their success, safety, and quality of life, should we be surprised when they, in fact, succumb to poverty, and poor choices? We’ve drunk our fill of the liberal social science Kool-Aid that tells us poverty and incarceration are caused by fatherlessness. Think about that. My child does not live with his father. Therefore, he will be poor, angry, aggressive, and land in jail. Come on now. We are laying a false foundation in our children’s lives with this faulty mental paradigm. What about God’s instruction to be angry and sin not? What about His promise to comfort and heal the brokenhearted and to provide all our needs? It’s time for us to skip the Kool-Aid and drink the living water the Spirit gives, which offers a life-giving alternative to what we are now experiencing because our collective house has come crashing down.
Laying the false foundation of father-absence victimization reflects a heart and mind that have not yet fully grasped the absolute power of God. If God cannot give us victory over circumstances that come with absent fathers, how can He be who He claims to be? Friends, God is waiting for us to fully trust Him with our children’s lives, no matter the circumstances of their conception, birth, or life. If you’ve laid this false foundation by internalizing the horror-story statistics: (1) Go to God, confess your fear for your child’s life and bewilderment over what to do. (2) Ask Him to renew your mind regarding your child’s future. Keeping a journal will help you keep track of answers you get in prayer and as a result of prayer. (3) Find resources that give practical and biblical strategies for parents. (4) Most of all, actually begin todo what God tells you.
That’s it for now. Truth is hard to hear, hard to digest, and harder still to implement. Everyone’s talking about “speaking truth to power,” but I say let’s speak the Truth from Power. Next time, I’ll highlight one more way in which our children’s lives can be adversely affected if the Lord remains the forgotten Father. Until then, I close with this prayer for us all:
May God give us all spiritual wisdom and insight so that we may grow in our knowledge of God. May our hearts be flooded with light so that we can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—us his holy people. Lord help us to understand the incredible greatness of your power for us who believe you. Your power to save our children, to heal their and our brokenness, to make our children mighty and a praise in this earth, no matter what situations they are experiencing now. And surprise us, Lord with your unique answers to our unique situations (adapted from Eph. 1:15-20).
I still remember the first time it happened. I was dropping off my 17-year-old cousin at a friend’s house in the wealthy, white Massachusetts suburb in which I lived and where my father is still a professor. We knocked on the wrong door. Minutes later, I was pulled over by the police. Slight, young and scared, I was interrogated about my activities, whether I was delivering drugs and what I was up to.
I remembered. My parents had sat me down months before when I got my license.
It doesn’t matter that you’re female. It doesn’t matter that you’re an honors student. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never been in trouble a day in your life. It doesn’t matter that you are leaving to start attending Stanford this fall. When most of these police officers see you, all they will see is a young black girl and that can be dangerous. So, when you are harassed — and you will be — try to stay calm. Try not to be afraid, and call us as soon as you can.
A black teenager’s rite of passage.
Since then I, a minivan-driving soccer mom of three, have been stopped because I “looked suspicious.” My husband, a partner in a Dallas law firm, has watched white women clutch their purses in the elevator out of fear of him. One of my best friends from college, a Wall Street banker, was stopped last year after leaving a midweek choir rehearsal at his church and arrested for “looking suspicious” in his own tony Westchester suburb, and was forced to spend the night in jail. And my 26-year-old brother-in-law, a Princeton honors graduate, an ordained minister, and a Habitat for Humanity staff member living in Harlem, was stopped and questioned while walking home from work by four white police officers just six weeks ago because they thought “he looked suspicious — like he was looking into a van.” Thank God none of us were shot out of “self-defense” since our brown skin made us look so “suspicious.”
I am scared. It is not a new fear, but one that has never gone away and is heightened as I look at my three beautiful boys. These precious ones, for whom my husband and I have lovingly and willingly sacrificed much; with whom I have stayed up countless nights, wiping noses and reading bedtime stories; for whom I have visited dozens of schools and spent hours of research, trying to secure them the best education; in short, the sons for whom I have given my life could find themselves in danger through no fault of their own.
Now they are growing up from babies into fine young men. And that should be nothing but pure joy. Yet, in our society, that also means new danger for them. Not just from the random violence that can touch any life, but due to the particular violence that is visited upon black boys — especially as they begin to look like young men.
We have to prepare them for what they will encounter because of someone else’s perception of what they are, based on media images that portray black boys and men as predators, pimps, and thugs — even though my sons have no personal reference for this. No, the black men in their lives are loving, responsible, and hardworking fathers, uncles, teachers, and friends who model courage and conviction, values and virtue, family and faith.
So, how could Trayvon Martin’s tragic slaying last month in Florida not break my heart, trouble my soul, and compel me to action? How can it be that, a month later, his shooter has not even been charged with a crime? How can it be that we live in a country that we fight to defend, but where the taking of our sons’ lives does not even warrant their killers’ arrest? How can it be that this child’s life was taken simply because he was walking while black? How can this be the America that I love?
Sadly, so little has changed.
My well-meaning white friends have no idea why so many African Americans distrust or fear the police who have vowed to protect and serve. And they have no idea what it is like for black parents to have to prepare their children to deal with a public that often still judges them by the color of their skin. They are so committed to the idea that we live in a color-blind society that it is hard for them even to perceive, let alone help change, the reality that impacts our lives and the lives of our children daily.
I learned in law school, and it is still true today, that it is the color of the victim, not the perpetrator, that is one of the greatest determinants in criminal sentencing. The harshest penalties are given for crimes against white women and the least harsh, even for the same crimes, are meted out when the victim is “only” black.
So, I can’t make nice. I can’t pretend. The murder of Trayvon Martin could be the murder of any black boy going to the store for iced tea and candy, including my sons.
The clock is ticking, and justice has not been served. The clock is ticking, and my boys will be young black men soon.
The clock is ticking, and my husband and I must prepare to have the same talk with them that our parents had with us: You are bright. You are funny and smart and sometimes silly. Your laughter and smiles fill up the room when you enter. And your warmth and your hugs fill my heart with more happiness and joy than any one person has a right to expect in one lifetime. You are capable of being anything you want to be in this life — even President of the United States. But when you walk out of the safety, protection and loving arms of our home, you are walking while black, and only our prayers can protect you then.
OUTLAW MOM: Kelley Williams-Bolar spent ten days in an Akron, Ohio, jail.
The jailing of an Ohio woman for lying about her residency to get her kids into a better school says tons about the sad shape of public education in America. But in our eagerness to sympathize, it’s easy to overlook the fact that what she did is wrong.
Forget about “waiting for Superman.” When it came to getting her daughters into a good school, this Ohio mother pulled a Batman and took the law into her own hands. Now she’s paying for it.
I was alerted to the story of Kelley Williams-Bolar by Seattle pastor and One Day’s Wages founder Eugene Cho, who insisted via Twitter that “this is not a story from The Onion,” echoing the common Dave Barry refrain, “I’m not making this up.” Such is the palpable sense of outrage and disbelief across the blogosphere regarding the news of her conviction and subsequent jailing.
Ms. Williams-Bolar of Akron, Ohio, was recently convicted of two felony counts in connection with her misrepresenting her children’s residency in order to enroll them in an exclusive school district. Most of the protest over this development stems from the sympathy generated over a mother who wants the best for her children, as well as the bitter irony that her conviction will prevent Ms. Williams-Bolar from successfully completing her teacher certification (she had been working on an education degree, and serving as a special-needs instructional assistant).
Though there are those who want to see this primarily as a story about race, I’ve read fewer accusations of the R-word than I expected to see. It seems as cooler heads are prevailing. Yet, even when viewed strictly through the lens of class, it’s hard not to be uneasy about seeing a mother being prosecuted over where she sent her children to school. It’s hard not to wonder what’s wrong with the schools in her area if a mother’s got to go through all of that rigmarole and subterfuge to ensure a quality education for her kids.
But let’s ignore the big societal issues for a moment. Let’s just look at this from the perspective of the mother trying to secure an education for her children. Were her only two options to either break the law or send her kids to languish in substandard schools? Somehow, I think not.
People often refer to looking at the opposite side of an argument as “playing Devil’s advocate,” which is ironic, because for once I’d like to advocate for God. (Not that He needs it, but just go with me.)
It’s beyond cliché to ask the hypothetical question, “What would Jesus do?” Instead, let’s ask a more difficult-yet-salient question, “What does Jesus want right now?” That is, assuming we as believers in Christ were in a situation similar to Kelley Williams-Bolar — and many of us who are African American and live in dense urban areas already are — what is the proper Christian response to this kind of challenge?
At the risk of sounding flip, I must say — this kind of law-breaking isn’t it.
And it’s not because God doesn’t care about our children being educated. As a matter of fact, it’s precisely because God cares about our children that we must be careful. Jesus had some pointed things to say about those who mislead children and cause them to sin. And the apostle Paul also instructed his protégé Timothy to oppose teachers of false doctrine. What this shows us is that God holds to a higher standard those in the position of providing moral guidance, as both parents and teachers do.
So what kind of message does it send for a teacher to skirt the rules for the benefit of her family? How can she tell other students that the rules are for everyone, when she acts as though certain rules shouldn’t apply to her or others in her situation?
More to the point, God wants us to have faith. Not in district reassignment, or voucher programs, or tax redistribution, but to have faith in Him, and His ability to supply our needs. I have no idea if Kelley Williams-Bolar is a believer in Christ or not, but I know many people in similar situations who chose differently in light of God’s providence in their life.
Maybe she could’ve been up front about where she lived and could’ve gotten scholarship assistance from a third party. Maybe there would’ve been people in her faith community who could’ve helped her find a place within the boundaries of that exclusive district. Maybe she could’ve asked her father to share custody of the girls. Maybe all of them could’ve moved in with their father. Or maybe she could’ve challenged her girls to do their best in the less-demanding schools in her area, and done her best to find additional educational resources to help close the performance gap.
I’m not saying these other issues of law and politics and inequity are invalid. They’re very important, but for parents trying to raise their kids, these issues are beside the point.
The point is, God has a whole universe of resources to work with, and if we come to Him with devoted hearts, He will cause all things to work together for good. We don’t need to second-guess His providence by making morally questionable decisions and using situational ethics to justify them.
That’s the lesson I hope Christians walk away with. Just as obedience is better than sacrifice, we must also remember: the wrong thing for the right reason is still the wrong thing.
There’s been a lot of chatter recently about Disney’s upcoming feature The Princess and the Frog, since it represents not only the studio’s return to traditional hand-drawn animation, but also the arrival of Disney’s first black princess. Though a little late to the party, this is still a welcome milestone for the mega-media company and for its lucrative Princess brand. For years, African American daughters, and their parents, have wondered if there would ever be a princess that looked like them. Now, this December, we’ll finally be able to answer in the affirmative.
But there’s actually another Disney character who’s become a role model of sorts to many little black girls, including my own 9- and 6-year-old daughters. And, as is often the case, she’s not whom you might expect.
I’m talking about Hannah Montana.
It’s been several weeks since my daughters and I went to see Hannah Montana: The Movie and I still find myself thinking about the film. Is it because it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen? No. Is it because it offered a compelling gospel message? Nope, that’s not it either.
One of the reasons the film has been on my mind is that it has caused me to think a lot about what makes the Hannah Montana character, as portrayed by 16-year-old actress/singer Miley Cyrus, have such widespread appeal. What started out just a few years ago as cute but cheesy Disney Channel show about an ordinary teenager (Miley Stewart) who leads a secret life as a pop-music superstar (Hannah Montana) has evolved into a huge brand that includes a multitude of licensed products, including such items as apparel, backpacks, books, clocks, shoes, toys, and even toothbrushes.
But here’s the kicker: Hannah Montana’s fan base isn’t just made up of straight-haired, light-eyed, fair-skinned girls that look like her; it transcends race and culture and includes girls of all skin tones, with different hair types, from a variety of ethnic groups and nationalities. Just look around the next time you’re in a large crowd where families with young girls are present; you’re bound to see someone of color wearing a piece of clothing bearing the trademark Hannah Montana guitar or butterfly motifs or emblazoned with her popular “Secret Pop Star” motto. Even the Obama daughters danced to Cyrus’s songs at a Disney-produced inauguration concert for kids.
It’s not surprising that the Disney show has become so popular. It features likeable characters and storylines that viewers can connect with easily. No, the average fan doesn’t reside in an upscale, California beach town as the main character, Miley Stewart, does. And it’s unlikely that many of them will ever become pop superstars. But girls still find the show — which is centered on the awkward situations Stewart gets herself into in every episode — entertaining.
And the show is not just a time-killer I give my kids permission to watch while I clean the house. I like it, as well! As a matter of fact, I often catch myself laughing at and repeating some of the one-liners and expressions articulated by the show’s characters (“Sweet niblets,” anyone?). In a nutshell, Hannah Montana is a program our whole family finds enjoyable — including my ordained, Ph.D’d, theologian husband.
I think another reason why the show is so popular with a wide variety of viewers is that it gives kids hope. By seeing that Stewart, a small-town country girl who dreamed of being a recording artist, has succeeded at reaching her goal, young viewers are inspired to pursue their own dreams. Despite all of her antics — and those of her alter ego (Hannah) — Stewart is a successful and well-adjusted young person. And, because of this, she’s become a role model for all sorts of girls — many of whom look nothing like her.
Wisely, the movie isn’t just a big-screen reenactment of the TV show. Though it features the same characters, it places Hannah/Miley in even bigger jams and forces her — and us — to confront several challenging life questions about friendship and personal integrity.
I also enjoyed the music in the film. The songs, like most Hannah Montana music, fuse together pop, rock, and country elements to produce child-friendly, infectious tunes. Take “The Hoedown Throwdown,” for instance. A mashup of hip-hop and country-western, “Hoedown” has spawned a new line dance that my girls attempt whenever the song plays on television or Radio Disney.
But, for me, what’s even more important than the fact that the TV show and movie feature age-appropriate humor, positive messages, and likeable music is that they have prompted multiple discussions with my girls about subjects that are important to our family.
For example, as all of us fans already know, Stewart’s life sometimes becomes complicated when she finds herself being torn between the two “worlds”– that of a regular teenager and that of a famous pop star — in which she tries to live. But she has made the choice to do it — and her father has agreed to it — because they believe it’s the only way she’ll be able to experience a normal upbringing.
Both in the film and TV show, the storylines centered on this theme are entertaining. But they also repeatedly reveal just how challenging and stressful living a double life as a regular teenager and a pop star can be. And isn’t that exactly what happens to us when we try to have it all, or when we try to be someone during the week that others wouldn’t even recognize on Sundays? When we attempt to have “the best of both worlds,” as Hannah’s theme song puts it, we often wind up emotionally, physically, and even spiritually exhausted.
Hannah Montana has given me the opportunity to remind my girls about the importance of prioritizing the relationships we have with the family members and friends that God has blessed us with. We should never allow our professional pursuits and dreams to compromise how we’re seen by the very people that will love us no matter how bad we mess up. When all the glitter and glam that many of us work so hard to have in our lives has lost its splendor, the people that we can usually count on the most to be there for us are not those that signed our checks or had our names engraved on awards. It’s the people we’re connected to by natural blood (our kinfolk) and divine blood (our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ). They are the ones who gird us up when the facades we put on from day to day become too much to bear.
But lest you think I’ve been totally brainwashed by the marketing behemoth that is Disney, allow me to say that I’m aware of that side of the phenomenon. Another reason I’ve been thinking about the Hannah Montana movie is that it further confirms what I already know about the Disney conglomerate: it is very intentional about securing the patronage of our children and, consequently, our families. Thanks to the plethora of Disney products that can be found on the shelves and racks of our favorite retailers, Disney has managed to wiggle its way into our homes and lives in a powerful way.
This is why parental discernment is so important, whether your child is fascinated by a Disney Channel star or someone from another network or recording company. Unbridled exposure to — and admiration of — a particular individual or character can sometimes lead to that figure becoming an idol. As Christian parents, we must guide our kids’ media choices while teaching them how to maintain a healthy separation between being “a fan” of a star like Miley Cyrus and becoming “a worshiper.”
Obviously, Hannah Montana is not the worst thing out there that parents have to contend with today. As an African American mother who wants her daughter exposed to hopeful and constructive messages, I appreciate the character. Though she’s a white girl from the sticks of Tennessee, she’s become a role model for young black girls like my daughters. Is she flawless? Of course not. Nobody’s perfect. But while we wait for The Princess and the Frog and other positive characters who reflect the multihued diversity of our world, Hannah isn’t a bad friend to have around.