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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why I hate election years...

Don't worry. I'm not going to tell you who or what to vote for. Or not vote for. Nor am I telling you who or what I plan to vote for. Or against. This is not that kind of post. You go vote for whatever you believe in. That's how it's supposed to work. I'm not worried about it. God is God the day before, the day of, and the day after each and every election. And that's not going to change.

I should be inspired and encouraged during a year in which the people of my country have an opportunity to have a voice, to make a change, to make a difference by voting.  

Instead I get frustrated and annoyed. By negative and misleading political ads. By Americans' overall lack of critical thinking skills. At how, because of said lack of critical thinking skills, those incredibly dumb negative ads actually work. At how people make judgments or assumptions about other people based on political affiliation. At how people are demonized over political issues. I become super-cynical about the process, about the money involved. The whole thing just seems like a big disaster to me.  And really, don't get me started on the money spent on the campaigns.

Ugh.

But the main reason I cringe during presidential election years is because I think it is the time when Christians do a bang-up job of misrepresenting Jesus.  We lose sight of what we are called to do and it seems, for a few months, as if we are here to coerce people into thinking like we think or living like we (at least claim to) live; or that it is very important that we be right about political matters.  We act as if that "Kingdom" Jesus talks about is America, not heaven.

Last time I checked, Jesus didn't say "go forth and make laws."  He didn't say "go argue with everyone until they see that you are right."  He did not say "please trash the political opponent of whatever party you are in so that everyone will vote the way you want them to."  I think we forget that we cannot govern someone's heart and soul.   And as a follower of Jesus, I am much more concerned about loving your soul than I am about governing it.

Jesus didn't say any of those things, but he did say, "Go, make disciples."  When we stand in front of Jesus to give an account for our lives, he's not going to ask, "what laws did you lobby for?" or "What politicians' names were on your bumper stickers?"  He's going to ask, "where are my people?  Where are the ones that you were supposed to love, the ones you were supposed serve and help follow me?"

This year, I pray that Christians will consider our actions carefully. Is our behavior hurting the very people we are called to love?  Are we pushing people further away from Jesus in the way that we handle politics in this country?   What is more important? Making a law that forces people to act a certain way, or loving people and actually living in community with others so that they can meet Jesus?

I pray that the Church (with a capital C - meaning all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus) would love Democrats. And Republicans. And Independents.  And that we would never be so arrogant as to claim that one party or another is the one that Jesus would pick. I pray that the Church would be a body of people who fight for justice for the oppressed, for those who don't have a voice; that we would truly love our enemies, just as we are called to do.  

My husband reminded me of a quote by Billy Graham:

It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge, and my job to love."

Oh how I pray we remember this!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Brothers and Sisters...

Something's been bothering me lately.

It's a sentence I read in a book and it's sticking with me.  Maybe it will bother you too:

"I'm tired  of calling the suffering my 'brothers and sisters' when I'd never allow my biological siblings to suffer likewise."*

It's right up there under the title on my blog... "the adventures of an adoptive family, continuing our commitment to adoption and the needs of our brothers and sisters in Africa..."

I do that. In my efforts to put faces and names to the poor, to the downtrodden, to the oppressed, I call them my brothers and sisters.  I want to feel connected to them because my heart is attuned to their suffering.

They don't have coats on their backs, yet I have five just for me in my closet.

I have a biological brother. If he were freezing to death, do you think I'd just let him be, or would I go buy him a coat? Or give him mine?  There is no circumstance under which I would allow my brother to be freezing. Or hungry.

But that's what is happening all around me.  I pass by folks with signs at every stop light.  It was COLD last night. I know there were lots of people in my city with no warm comfy bed with plenty of blankets. And no coats. And I spent the night in my comfy bed with an electric blanket (I'm wimpy, I know it). And those five coats of mine spent the night unworn.

That's not to say we haven't been doing something. We are committed to returning to Swaziland as often as possible. Rob's going this summer. I'm hoping to go next summer.  But that's 11 days out of the 365 we are given each year in which we can make a difference.

God's working on my heart, friends.

If I'm going to call them my brothers and sisters, I need to start acting like it.  The Cassells are going to be much more active in working with the poor in our community here.

Because Jesus didn't say "give your money to a third-party organization so that they can feed the poor."  He told us to do it. He told ME to do it.  He knows those relationships can be life-changing (both for them and for me). We will keep giving to the organizations that we always give to, but that's no substitute for action.

So here's my start. The kids & I are going to pick up granola bars, water bottles, and ziploc bags at the grocery store this week. We're going to put together the bags with a bar and a bottle so that we have them ready to hand out at stop lights.

And I'm in active search-mode for opportunities to serve here in Greensboro where my kids can come along.

Thank you, Jesus, for that nudge in just a small sentence in a book.


** the book is 7 by Jen Hatmaker. You will be hearing much more about it in the very near future!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The low-down on slings...

I have posted before about my sling.  I love it.  I've been babywearing since my firstborn was born, which means I've been wearing a baby nonstop since the fall of 2006. I'm not exaggerating. I wore Riley up until the day Allyn was born. I was still wearing Allyn regularly when I left for Ethiopia.  A sling is my #1 baby item, hands down. If I had to choose between my sling and diapers, I'd have a really hard time making the decision. I think I'd buy a lot of slings and wash them every day. Slings are just that great.

I promise I'm not lying when I say people comment on my sling pretty much every time I wear it, which is several times a day!  I'm sure some of it has to do with the bright colors, but I do think folks are intrigued. Baby wearing has gotten a lot more common these days, but I used to get some funny looks/comments back when I wore my first son around.

The sling was wonderful for attachment for my first two biological children. I loved having them close to me, I loved that they could be near me even when I had other things to do. I loved that I could nurse them in the sling and no one would notice (I have a few funny stories about that!!)  No one can steal your baby from you when he's in a sling.  I don't mean actually steal, but you know how over-excited people can make their way over to you and your new baby and the next thing you know, your child has been transferred into their arms and you aren't even sure how that happened? Well, that can't happen when your child is in a sling. Which is especially nice during cold and flu season, or for over-protective first-time mamas (we've all been there!), or, more recently for me, the adopted child who would happily hand himself over to any random stranger.

And with my adopted child, I am even MORE in love with my sling.  And ever since I've been babywearing, I've had both adoptive and non-adoptive mamas ask me lots of questions.  And my one friend has even asked for a blog about it... so here you go Anna! :)

Let me start off by saying why a sling is so helpful with attachment.  A child that is next to your body in a sling is interacting with you even if you aren't paying any attention to him.  He can feel your heart beat, feel your body heat, he can be touching you or having some skin-to-skin contact; all things that we know are helpful for bonding.  That's wonderful for both biological and adoptive kiddos.  Newborn babies aren't yet aware that they are separate beings from their mamas, so being in a sling is so comforting for them.   Also, you can have more interactions with your child while they are in the sling, even if you are doing something else.  Amani can be in the sling and we can be out shopping and without realizing it, I've been planting little kisses on his forehead, patting his back, smoothing his hair, making occasional eye contact... all things I could never have done had he been in a stroller or even in the child seat of a grocery cart.

And then there is the practical side to slings. When you are in a store with a stroller, you're taking up a lot of space.  If you are somewhere crowded, you can't really move until the crowd parts enough for you to push your stroller through.  When your child is in a sling, you don't take up all that much more space than your own body. You can maneuver through crowds, stores with narrow aisles, etc, with MUCH more ease.  You can go to the bathroom without figuring out where to put your stroller. And yes, you can go to the bathroom WHILE wearing your child in the sling, or help an older child go to the bathroom while wearing the youngest in a sling.  It keeps them from touching everything in there. yuck.

The other added bonus of the sling is that your hands are free.  For me, that meant still having enough hands to hold hands with my older two as we cross the parking lot, it means I can still carry their art projects and lunchbags to the car from preschool.  It means I can use two hands to push a grocery cart that already has two kids in it and still have the baby with us.  Whenever I've traveled with the kids, I've brought my umbrella stroller to put my bags in and put the child in the sling.  Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, folks.

Need I say more? Are you convinced already?  Let me tell you a little more about the different types of slings!

I have a ring sling. My particular one is a Maya Wrap. You can also find ring slings on etsy. I love ring slings. Mine has a big pocket, which I would say is ESSENTIAL. I wouldn't buy a sling that doesn't have a big pocket. I throw my wallet, car keys, snack trap, and sippy cup in there and then I can leave the whole diaper bag in the car when we go to the grocery store.  I can even put my wipes case and a diaper in there if we're headed somewhere and I think we might need a diaper change.  With a ring sling, you can wear a tiny baby laying down across your chest (though I never got the hang of that), or facing you with their legs froggy-style, and you can wear a hip-baby on your hip.  You can also wear your child on your chest facing-out but I never liked that much.

Another kind is the moby wrap. If I were starting over with a newborn, I think I'd get one of these. It's a loooooong stretchy piece of fabric that you wrap around you and your baby until the baby is sufficiently tied to you. :)  I think there is a big learning curve for a moby wrap but from what I hear from my friends who use them, it is really worth it to figure it out (and it comes with instructions).  And I think you can wear your child any way you want with those things. Really, like you could have the child strapped to your head if you wanted. Well, maybe not that. But they're versatile.

There are also pocket slings like hotslings. They aren't my favorite.  You buy them by size (S, M, L) and they aren't adjustable.  The baby goes in the sling the same way as a ring sling but there's no way to tighten or loosen anything.  I'm just not sure how folks use those things long-term.

The last one I can think of is the Ergo. These are really cool. You can wear your baby on your chest facing you, wear him on your hip, AND on your back. I never had one but I've borrowed them from friends from time-to-time. And as I write about them, I'm kinda considering getting one for Amani. ha. Please don't tell my husband. Mei Tais are like this too in that you can use them front, back, and sometimes hip for your baby.

The only baby-wearing item that I really don't like is that Baby Bjorn thing.  I actually don't even consider that true babywearing.  I had one for my oldest when he was a baby. I thought it was great at the time but I knew nothing about slings then. Now I think they're kind of awful.  I know some parents who like theirs, but I think it's something you pay a lot of money for and you have a very small window during which you can really use it. You can wear your baby on your chest. That's it.  There's little opportunity to actually be interacting with your child if you put her in it facing out (and some evidence that it's not a good position for little bodies), so she's just hanging from your chest. For an adopted kiddo I see zero value in it.  I guess there's nothing really wrong with the Baby Bjorn, I just don't understand why you'd get one when there are so many better options.

Sooooo... having or adopting a newborn? I'd recommend checking out ring slings, moby wraps, Ergos or Mei Tais.  Adopting an older baby? Ring sling is the way to go!  Or Ergo, or Mei Tai I think.  I brought my ring sling with me to Ethiopia and Amani loved it so much that I actually carried it with us around the guest house because he would often pick it up and hold it out to me to tell me he wanted to be in it! When he was fighting sleep like a champ, I put him in the sling and we could walk around together as long as it took in order for him to fall asleep.  Now that he's getting crazy heavy, I'm really thinking I need to sew myself a Mei Tai so I can wear him on my back.

I hope I've just made some new babywearing converts out there... please feel free to ask me any questions! I'm not really an expert, but at least I've been babywearing nonstop for almost 6 years now. :)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Trying to explain my struggle...

I am struggling HARD with our decision about what school we will send our oldest to next year. You see, we got into a local charter school that is next-to-impossible to get into (I'm talking over 1000-applicants-for-30-spots hard).  It is a fabulous school. I'm in love with the art teacher. Every family who goes there loves it.  They rave about it.  The test scores are through the roof.  It is an amazing opportunity for my kids to get a stellar academic education for their first 9 years in school. I visited the school and was taken aback by how much I liked it.

Sounds like an easy choice, right?

Here's the problem: the student body of this particular school is, by the vast majority, white.  There are only two teachers in the entire K-8 who aren't white (they are both African-American females).  That is NOT the picture I always envisioned when I thought about the schools where I would send my children.

When we first moved here, we recognized quickly that this is a pretty segregated city.  So we purposefully chose a home in a more diverse area of town.  And that was before we ever knew we'd have a black child.  I firmly believe diversity is really important for all kids. Back then, assuming all I'd have was white children ('cause, you know, I did take genetics in high school), I wanted them to have exposure to kids who look different from them. I felt like they would be missing out by not having the opportunity to have friends from different cultures.

And now I am faced with a decision. Do I deprive my oldest two children of the opportunity to have friends who are different from them? Do I send my youngest to a school where he will be firmly in the minority?  What is more important? Amazing academic education or providing diversity for my children at school?

Part of the hard part of this struggle for me is that not many of my friends truly understand.  We joke that I'm "crazy" for even considering not going to this charter school.  They all applied too, and they would send their kids in a heartbeat.  I love my friends, and they are trying to understand, but for most of them, the idea of sending their kids to an (almost) all-white school is no big deal.  The thing for me is I want diversity for ALL THREE of my kids, not just my child of color.  I can't seem to explain very well to those around me that I think it is very good for my kids to be around people who are different from us. Not just racially. I want them to have contact with people of different races, value systems, religions, sexual orientation, you-name-it.  Because that is what the world looks like. And Jesus loves the people of the world.  And the last time I checked, He told us to love them too.

We had dinner the other night with some friends of ours who are in the process of adopting two children from Ghana. When I told them our predicament, they both cringed and said, "ooooohhhh"   They get it. It was like a giant breath of fresh-air for me to talk to someone who can relate, who doesn't think I'm crazy.  I'm left wondering... why do I struggle so much against the idea of sending my white children to a school where everyone looks like them when it's a non-issue for most of those around me?  Why is surrounding ourselves with people, cultures, and views that are different from our own not seen as important a part of education as pure academics?

So we haven't made a decision yet.  I am struggling and praying and wrestling with it.  And I'll struggle, pray, and wrestle with it until we do.  We are still waiting to hear if we got into another magnet school so I can't even begin to decide until I actually know what all our options are.

But it is weighing so heavily on my heart right now. I've written four different blog posts about it - this is the first one I have had the guts to publish.

 I'm kind of a scaredy-cat that way.

Monday, April 9, 2012

"I'm not racist but..."

Have you ever heard that phrase before?  You know, when someone prefaces a racist comment by saying "I'm not racist but..."

It drives me a little crazy.

Mainly because if you feel it's okay to make a racist comment at all, you are in fact racist.  Or at least you are acting like you are. Declaring yourself "not racist" doesn't undo your actions.

We live in the South with a capital S.  It's a place where racist comments are often considered okay as part of normal conversation.  When we first moved here, I was told which schools were better because they "don't have as many minorities."  I was told about certain youth who made bad decisions because they "dated black boys."  These were comments from people who love my family.  They didn't know at the time that those comments bothered me, they were sincerely looking out for family since we were new to the area.

I don't hear those comments from the people I love anymore.  I don't know if our family becoming multiracial has changed some attitudes or if just people know not to say those kinds of things to me now.  We are so blessed in that almost everyone in our family and circle of friends has been supportive of our adoption.  Any weird comments I've gotten have been from strangers and honestly, I don't care too much what strangers think of my family.

But I wanted to share a cool story.  We didn't ask our extended family before we started an Ethiopian adoption. We told them after we'd made the decision.  But since Amani's been home, I've asked some of them what they think about having a black family member. All of their answers have been wonderfully supportive. They love him, just like they love our bio kids. Our family's pretty cool like that.

Anyway, my brother just shared a great story with me. He said he was out with some folks and a girl was making some racist comments. He didn't say anything at the time. The next day at work, he was talking about how he was going to see his niece and nephews. She asked to see a picture. He said, "I'll show you, but you're going to feel pretty bad about the stuff you said last night" and showed her a picture of the kids.  He said she started backpeddling and trying to explain her comments from the night before. He said he just told her that she should be more careful, because you never know who might be listening to what she says.

What I love about that story is that he didn't have to do anything to make her feel bad. He wasn't a jerk, he didn't jump down her throat (which is possibly what I might have done), he just let the natural consequences of being caught do their magic.  I'm hoping it made a difference for that girl. And I'm so proud of my brother.

I do think one thing is important that I'm learning more recently: it is not my job to educate the public.  My job is to be a good mom to my three kids.  That means I may need to leave some opportunities to educate the ignorant in order to protect my children. I'm okay with that.  It's hard for me sometimes to let comments go, but in some instances, it's better for me to do what is best for Amani, not necessarily what's best in terms of educating a random stranger in the moment.

But be aware, if you tell me something that starts with "I'm not racist but..." I just might not be able to keep my eyes from rolling. :)