Thursday, April 12, 2012

A letter to a friend

I wrote this letter last night to a friend and though I know this may seem odd, I want to post it here (edited a little)

Hello there,

I have been meaning to write you this letter for several weeks now.   I think it was about a month and a half ago when you visited our home for small group.  Just before you left, I blurted out several thoughts to you about my experience as an urban teacher—the things and hurts that I’ve been struggling with since I quit teaching in public schools several years ago.  It came up again a few weeks later amidst a conversation with a friend.  I realized that there were a lot of issues in my heart that needed to get sorted out between me and the Lord.  I was very hurt by several of my students while I taught middle school.

And then of course God stepped in—mercifully.  That is why I’ve wanted to write to you.  When we moved to our new home, God blessed me with new neighbors to get to know.  One of them across the street is an African American couple who are the pastors of a church in the town we moved to.  I met the husband just after we moved here back in December, but I didn’t meet his wife until about 2 weeks ago.  I saw her across the street and briefly went over to meet her before I ran off to art co-op class with the kids.  When we came back from class, she also returned to her home just as we did.  She is a busy woman who is constantly on the go—and this was definitely one of those God moments that he plans out—seemingly unexpected.
Within a few minutes we ended up talking about racism, Caucasian and African American cultural norms, and many other things.  My mom often shakes her head at me—at the depth of conversations I jump into quickly with people.  I know it may seem unusual to many people, but I’ve realized over the years that it is part of how God made me.   So, it didn’t catch me by surprise to have this conversation with my neighbor on the first day I’d met her.  Instead, I felt such peace—knowing this was a conversation I’d needed to have for a while. 
After talking with my neighbor, I came to several conclusions.  I want to share them with you and apologize if my comments at our home had any negative impact on you.

First, my neighbor told me a story of when she was out with a friend and how a Caucasian woman just cut her off.  Her friend pointed it out to her, but she explained that it happened often.  Her point to me was that just as often as I’ve had African American people cut in front of me, the same in reverse has happened to her—I just wouldn’t be aware of it.  She didn’t say this, but I also realized that it may also be the case of selective memory for me in regard to many aspects of how people look.  Do I remember (unintentionally) all of the times that people cut me off?  How do I react when I see people?  What quick judgements do I make?  Today I went to the library and consciously made the effort to let everyone who was going through a door at the same time as me go before me—I consciously wanted to be considerate to everyone.  It was surprising to me how often it was my instinct to go first.  The “me first” desire dies hard, doesn’t it!

Second, I came to the conclusion that I need to set aside what I read in a book so long ago.  The book was a well intentioned (on the part of my professors) part of my education training, but it set some stereotypes and ideas firmly into my head that caused me to attribute to behaviors to a characteristic of my students rather than  to them as individuals.  I need to fight any stereotypes that creep into my head and instead simply show people grace every step of the way.  I am susceptible to stereotypes and prejudging people by my past experiences just as everyone is—and I need to fight that inclination to prejudge people.  

I am so thankful that God has been working to heal my heart from the damage the stereotypes I’d formed had done to my head and heart.  What a blessing it is that God never abandons us amidst our hurts and weaknesses, but instead walks with us through it all and helps us to grow!

I hope and pray that your school year is going well!  I will be praying for you to have wisdom and strength as you teach—and that your students would desire to learn.

We haven’t seen you since that Sunday and I do hope that y’all have found a church you feel at home in.  That is my deep hope.  I hope you had a wonderful Easter celebration!

In Christ,

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