When You Get Something Wrong

A funny thing happens when you write novels. As release day approaches, so too, does the anxiety. I’m not alone. In fact, most of my writer friends are familiar with this particular correlation.

Penning words that people in this broken world will read? It’s powerful stuff. Words hold the ability to shape and challenge and reinforce thought. And if I may borrow from Peter Parker’s uncle, with that power comes responsibility.

It’s a responsibility I feel profoundly.

So here’s where I get vulnerable.

Life After releases next week. I exhaled a giant sigh of relief when it received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Another Thank You Jesus when it showed up as one of RT Magazine’s Top Picks. Some early readers are saying its my best, most complex novel yet. All of which encourages me something fierce. Because I believe in this story. I believe in God’s ability to use it for His glory. I’m excited to get it into the hands of readers.

But recently, I was struck with an acute bout of anxiety.

All surrounding two lines of dialogue that occur in the book.

Two lines of dialogue most people will read right over and not think twice about. And that, right there, is what compels me most to write this post.

Over the past year or so, the Lord has been slowly and methodically removing the scales from my eyes. Scales that have made it easy to overlook the injustices so many people of color face in this country. God’s teaching me more and more each day, but I still have a long way to go. And sometimes, my ignorance smacks me across the face.

A la, these two lines.

They belong to Ina May Huett, an elderly black character living in Chicago. She speaks them as she’s flipping through one of her photo albums with the main character, Autumn Manning.

The first line comes after a photograph of her late husband and his family, standing in front of a clapboard house:

“Those were his brothers and sister. Smack-dab in the middle of the Great Depression. Black folk in America think it’s tough today, and I’m not discounting that. Lord know, there’s still plenty of injustice in this world, but, hoo-boy, it’s nothing like it was for a black family back then.”

I’m not discrediting the viewpoint. It’s one I’ve heard expressed before. Life was harder back then. When a black child could be tortured and killed for whistling at a white woman, and black men were hung from trees, and Jim Crow said black bodies could fight in our wars but they couldn’t have our same rights. It was most certainly harder.

But I cringe at the wording.

Black folk in America think it’s tough today …

That single word minimizes black pain now.

The racial injustice of today is not a figment of black imagination. It is real. It is pervasive. And we, the Church–a body that is called to stand against all forms of injustice–should be the first to address it.

The second line comes after a photograph of Ina May and her husband standing beside Martin Luther King Jr. before they marched in Washington. Ina May tells Autumn about some encouragement she recently offered a white mother who was having a holy terror of a time managing her three small children (two white, one black) in the middle of a grocery store.

“And all I could think was, you should see us now, Dr. King. You should see us now.”

Of the two lines, this one jars me the most.

All of us want to feel comfortable. We don’t like to squirm. I think it’s a big reason why so many of us steer clear of hard, honest conversations about race. We want MLK’s I Have a Dream speech without his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, where he calls out the white moderate. Because indifference, beloved, is the greatest enemy of love. And oh, how the blood of indifference has stained our hands.

White history in America is ugly, y’all. Ugly with a capital U. And when it comes to history, we have two choices. Just two. We can either learn from it. Or we can repeat it.

If Martin Luther King saw us now, I’m not so sure he’d be very pleased.

We might not have lynchings anymore, but we still live in a society that de-values and de-humanizes black and brown bodies.

Jim Crow laws might be a thing of the past, but we still live in a segregated America. We are a product of the past and until very recently, red-lining was a thing. I hear so many people talking about how “those people” just want government handouts, ignorant of the fact that our white ancestors took government hand-outs that our black ancestors were denied, essentially creating the urban ghettos and in effect, the grossly unfair distribution of opportunity we see today.

And this is just the tippity-top of the racial iceberg.

When we choose to look away? When we choose comfort and warm fuzzies over the very real cries of our marginalized brothers and sisters, we are the problem. We become the white moderate MLK called out in that letter. We become Jeremiah 8:11 …

They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
    saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
    when there is no peace.

When I wrote that small snippet, my intention wasn’t to perpetuate white comfort. My intention wasn’t to add to this rose-colored mentality so many of us want to cling to. My intention came from a personal experience, wherein I was that struggling white mama, and a black woman became my Ina May.

But at the end of the day, the intention behind our words does not matter more than the impact our words have.

Hence, this post.

About how sometimes, we don’t recognize our own biases until later, when they are staring up at us from the pages of a novel. One that you happened to write.

One I hope you will read.

Perhaps when you get to that particular scene, it will serve as a reminder. A challenge. To pause and pray for the scales to fall. For eyes to see. This is how I’m combatting the anxiety. Through prayer. That God would bring good out of my mistake.

Essentially, this is my prayer for every book I write. That He would take my paltry offering of words, and draw hearts closer to Him.

May He do the same now.

If you’d like to learn more about the issues facing black Americans today, here are just a few of many, many invaluable resources:

Pass the Mic, the official podcast of RAAN (Reformed African American Network)

Truth’s Table, three black Christian women who love truth and seek it out wherever it leads

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum

13th – a documentary on Netflix

A Warm Reminder Giveaway

*WINNERS HAVE BEEN CHOSEN. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED*

I need a happy place.

Does anybody else need a happy place?

I mean, I have my new cover with which I’m a wee bit obsessed. When the world looks dark and gray, this has become a sort of happy place.

Life After

But even that can’t shoo away all the divisiveness that seems to be lurking around every social media corner these days.

We’re all so busy feeling offended or slighted or defensive or indignant that we’re forgetting about Romans 12:10.

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Man, what would our life, our churches, our world look like if we could tattoo that verse on our hearts?

It’s a hard one to live, though, right? (Please tell me I’m not alone.)

There’s this song I love by Hillsong United. It’s called From the Inside Out. In fact, this is the song that inspired the title of my novel, The Art of Losing Yourself.
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Your will above all else
My purpose remains
The art of losing myself in bringing you praise
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Here’s what I’ve experienced:
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True joy, true peace, true contentment and courage comes when we lose ourselves in Him.
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That’s my ultimate happy place.
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And when I do that–when I lose myself in Him–I’m no longer so darned concerned about my rights or my opinions or my feelings or my fears. It’s about Him and His Kingdom, which is made up of real-life hurting people living real-life complex stories. And when He and His Kingdom become our heart’s cry, Romans 12:10 becomes as natural as breathing.

So in that vein, I’m giving away some gifts.

I hope that for anybody reading, and especially for the five people who win, this will be a warm reminder that our happy place is never more than a prayer away. I hope it will be a warm reminder that we will never regret kindness or grace, and sometimes, the very best way to honor anyone is by listening. While I probably shouldn’t attempt to tattoo anything on anybody’s heart, I can give you something that will allow you to wear it close by.

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To enter to win this necklace and an autographed copy of The Art of Losing Yourself, fill out the form below. I will use random.org to select five winners!
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Please note, you do not have to subscribe to my email list to enter. It is, however, the best way to stay up to date on my latest book news, such as new releases, bargains, giveaways, etc. I detest spam, so you never have to worry about that with me!

Much love, reader friends!

Lean Close and Listen: A Mashup

I’m disturbed. To my very core.

I’m disturbed by the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I’m disturbed by the deaths of five police officers in Dallas. And now, more death in Baton Rouge.

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Life is life. Valuable. No matter what.

Death is death. Tragic. No matter what.

And I’m disturbed.

I’m also afraid.

But not in the way you might think.

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Right now, it is unclear what motivated the shooter in Baton Rouge to open fire on police officers. But as soon as news broke, the narrative was set in motion. Social media became abuzz with assumption: the shooter associated himself with Black Lives Matter.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Right now, that’s unclear.

And I’m afraid.

I’m afraid my white friends, whether they admit it or not, see things like the Dallas shooting (and potentially, Baton Rouge) as justification to dismiss the outcry from the black community.

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I’m afraid my white friends will see the anger and sometimes, the violence and aggression displayed by protestors, and thus, discredit the entire reason the #blacklivesmatter movement exists.

I’m afraid my white friends won’t ask WHY.

Why is there a movement? Why are people so angry? What is going on?

I’m afraid of a particular line of thinking that goes something like this:

If #blacklivesmatter weren’t a thing, then police officers wouldn’t be getting shot.

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Or, not quite as overt, but just as pernicious, I’m afraid that my white, Christ-professing friends won’t want to hear it anymore. I’m afraid they’ll see the hashtag and roll their eyes.

I’m afraid they will refuse to listen to the black community, which is overwhelmingly saying, “There is a problem here!”

Yesterday, my son said, “Mom, I wish you wouldn’t keep telling me to clean my room.”

To which I said, “Guess what, buddy? If you don’t want me to keep telling you to clean your room, then CLEAN YOUR ROOM.”

I’m pretty sure the same principle applies here.

Until things change. Until we stop ignoring and de-valuing the feelings and experiences of an entire people group, the sharing needs to continue.

And we all need to get honest with ourselves.

Have you felt annoyed when another #blacklivesmatter tweet pops up in your feed? Now in the same breath. Have you done any investigating as to why this is a hashtag? Or do you avoid the articles because you’re already convinced you disagree with them?

Or what about this:

Did you get upset over the deaths of the police officers in Dallas without first getting upset over the deaths of Alton and Philando? In your heart of hearts, the place only you and Jesus can see, do you believe one of those lives is more or less valuable than another?

This is where it starts. A good, hard, honest look at ourselves.

Maybe for you, annoyance isn’t a thing.

Maybe you’re just afraid to speak out.

Because if you speak out, you might align yourself with the wrong group. I see this from my conservative friends all. the. time.

To which I say:

Social injustice–any injustice–is not a political party thing. It is an Imago Dei thing. A Jesus thing. If we profess Him, then we need to care about the things He cares about. As far as I can tell, justice and mercy and human life is pretty high on His list.

If you’re sitting there worried that standing with the black community means standing against police officers, please just stop. No matter what either/or rhetoric is making the rounds, this is and will always be a both/and issue.

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Maybe these aren’t your fears.

Maybe your fear stems from a lack of understanding. 

Maybe you avoid the issue because you don’t feel qualified. You aren’t educated on such matters.

If that’s you, I have GREAT news!

You can get educated.

Might we begin here?

Follow these people

I’ve asked it before and I will ask it again. Who are you listening to? Who are you letting be the authority on topics of race and racial injustice? Other white people?

If so, might I call attention to the inherent problem this poses? Would you go to a conference on parenting if the keynote speaker wasn’t a parent?

We have to start listening well to voices in the black community.

For me, I look to Christian voices in the black community, because at the end of the day, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The people I list below love Jesus and they are part of the black community. Follow them and see what they have to say.

Of course, this is just the tippity-top of the iceberg. There are so many others. Find them. Listen. Hear what they are saying. Not the media. Not politicians. Not your grandmother. Them.

Stop saying All Lives Matter

It sounds good, but it’s counterproductive.

Confused?

Read this:

The Next Time Someone Says All Lives Matter, Show Them These Five Paragraphs

Watch this quick, informative video

Have you, perhaps, used one of these arguments in the face of #blacklivesmatter? This video is yours.

4 Responses You’ll Probably Hear When Talking About Black Lives Matter

Read these four articles

They are utterly eye-opening and I hope everybody who is reading this blog will click and read them in their entirety. I’ve included the link, followed by a couple snippets taken directly from the articles.

I’m a Black Ex-Cop and This is the Real Truth About Race and Policing

“On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with.

That’s a theory from my friend K.L. Williams, who has trained thousands of officers around the country in use of force. Based on what I experienced as a black man serving in the St. Louis Police Department for five years, I agree with him. I worked with men and women who became cops for all the right reasons — they really wanted to help make their communities better. And I worked with people like the president of my police academy class, who sent out an email after President Obama won the 2008 election that included the statement, “I can’t believe I live in a country full of ni**er lovers!!!!!!!!” He patrolled the streets in St. Louis in a number of black communities with the authority to act under the color of law.”

And this …

“The reality of police abuse is not limited to a number of ‘very small incidents’ that have impacted black people nationwide, but generations of experienced and witnessed abuse.”

I Won’t Keep Your Secrets Anymore

“Why can’t people admit that their experience is not the only one? We all walk very different paths across this earth. When black people speak of the experiences they’ve had, why can’t white people just acknowledge? Why do so many feel compelled to argue and bristle and fight back?”

And also …

I can’t be the only white person who’s been privy to this kind of closet, subversive racism. I know there are a lot of white people standing up and speaking out and supporting the black community in saying, “This isn’t right. There needs to be change. We still have work to do.”

But not enough of them.

I’m telling you, as a member of the white community, not enough of you are speaking up. Not enough of you are being truthful about the racism you grew up with. The racism your friends spew. I hear it. I’ve been to your parties and your barbecues.

I know you hear it, too.

I won’t stand by and keep your secrets any longer.”

Dear White Christian Woman

“I know it’s my privilege to serve a savior that is near to the broken hearted. But I want to walk alongside a community of believers that are near to me as well.  Sadly…that’s just not the case. For every #AltonSterling and #TamirRice, I notice an overwhelming silence from my white Christian sisters. It’s deafening. I support every missional cause that my white Christian sisters push on social media for every impoverished country. But where is my community of believers when injustice is happening right in our own backyard? Is it less of a cause because there are no artisanal crafts to sell in honor of the slain? 

I’m hurting here. Really hurting. Like the kind of hurt that leaves you with no eloquent words…just sobbing. This. Should. Not. Happen. Whether you believe the victims are criminals or not, they deserve to make it to the police station, just like the police officer deserves to make it home.”

If You Don’t See the Tragedy in Black Neighborhoods, You’re Not Looking

“I do not think white Americans are guilty, as more militant people believe, of wanting black people dead or repressed. I also believe the answer lies in conservative principles and rule of law as opposed to socialism. But I do think white Americans are guilty of willful blindness, of thinking a problem has been solved when it hasn’t, of living in a bubble and not seeing the struggle of their fellow Americans.”

Read this book

Time for another honesty moment.

Have you ever thought something like, “Slavery ended forever ago. The Civil Rights Movement happened already. Jim Crow is a thing of the past. Can’t we all just move on?”

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How can something as devastatingly horrendous (and also, disturbingly deliberate and pre-meditated) as black slavery and Jim Crow not have long-lasting and far-reaching impact?

What book addresses this, you ask?

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Alexander lays it out. The full scope of American history (the rise and fall of slavery, the rise and fall of Jim Crow, and the after effects) as it pertains to black oppression. And that’s just in chapter one. I’m only on p. 48 and I’m already wrecked. I’m only on page 48 and I already know I can’t stay quiet or sit on the sidelines anymore.

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I hope you start this journey with me.

I hope you read the articles and follow the people on Twitter and watch the video. If you’re feeling ambitious, I hope you order the book and give it a read.

I hope you don’t shoo this post away in annoyance, or scratch your head in confusion, and move on.

I also hope you don’t read this, feel a moment of understanding and passion and conviction, and move on.

You could if you wanted. Doing so is your privilege as a white person.

For our black brothers and sisters, though? It’s not a privilege they have. These aren’t issues they can turn off because they’re sick of the drama. This is what’s happening to their sons and their fathers and their cousins and their neighbors.

For the sake of justice and freedom and healing, this privilege needs to be set down. We need to roll up our sleeves, lean in, and start listening.

Who’s ready to take this journey with me?

Please feel free to ask questions or share your thoughts in the comments below. You by no means have to agree with me. I encourage dialogue, so long as it is kind and respectful!

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I’m adding some stuff, because I’m at this beginning of this journey and my knowledge is so incomplete. Here are some more recent resources that are really helping me to understand this from a more complete, Christ-centered point of view:

Blog Series: FAQ about Racial Reconciliation from Trillia Newbell (there are two blog posts as of right now, with at least one more to come)

Podcast: Real Hurt, Real Hope: Racial Tension and Perseverance (if you have time to listen to ANYTHING, please let it be this)

Blog Post: It’s Not Either Or by Courtney Miller