How Do I Respond?

Last week I was having a discussion with some women about how to balance being informed about current events without being consumed by them. Most of the women in this group are not yet mothers, and they asked me and the only other mom (who is currently in that blissful exhausting newborn whirlwind) if our perspective has changed since becoming mothers.  “Definitely,” I answered. Watching or reading the news can be paralyzing when your child is sleeping or playing in the next room. I don’t remember weeping at the news quite as much before donning this “mom” title.

My daughter was four days old when bullets tore through Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I held my tiny, warm ball of love and wept.  I wept for the mothers and fathers who had held their own children just six years before in the exact same way I was holding Norah then.  I wept at the thought of sending her to school someday and not having the gift of welcoming her back home.  I wept for the teachers who I know loved those children as their own and wanted to protect them as fiercely as a mother protects her own children.

How do I respond other than weeping?

When my daughter was six months old, day after day I pulled up the news on my computer and there was a different story of another young woman who had been raped and murdered. Some were young college women. Some were brought to this country to be stripped of their worth, their beauty, their identity, and sold as objects for someone else’s pleasure. Some were being abused in their own homes.  One day I put my daughter in her crib for her nap, stepped outside to try to breathe, sat down, and wept.  I was paralyzed by the fear of raising a daughter in a world that does not hold women in high regard.

How do I respond other than weeping?

When my daughter was two and a half years old, she was happily playing in the parks in New York City while on the other side of the world the lifeless body of a boy almost her exact age was carried to shore by the waves in Turkey. It was not lost on me that the place Norah was born allowed me as her mother to encourage her to run and explore while the place Aylan was born forced his mother to encourage him to run and escape. I wept with his mother and all the mothers who are being forced to make unthinkable choices to create a life for their child that has been simply handed to mine.

How do I respond other than weeping?

Since my daughter turned three years old, our nation has learned the names of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Keith Scott, Terence Crutcher and so many other black men and women whose lives were cut too short.  Their killings have brought to light the pain, misunderstanding, and division that racism still plagues our nation. I weep with the mothers, fathers, friends, and siblings of these men and women, who rightfully proclaim that these lives, these black lives, matter.

How do I respond other than weeping?

In this same year, our country’s bravest men and women have gone to work in a uniform that stands for service, honor, protection, and safety.  These police officers have walked the streets of the cities they love to protect the citizens they care deeply about. They have chosen a career that is almost entirely selfless. They have been taken from their families in cold blood simply because of the uniform they wear. I weep with their families, both the ones who have had to lay their loved ones to rest and the ones who kiss their officers goodbye on their way to work with much more fear than they should have to carry.

How do I respond other than weeping?

My daughter will turn four in a few months, and we are raising her in a city that was the target of the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history. Just last weekend a bomb exploded in this city, in an area we had been exploring just hours before. To be honest, it didn’t rattle me as much as I would have thought. But the reality is that my daughter will grow up in a world in which it’s possible to be walking down the street and have a bomb explode next to her.

How do I respond other than weeping?

Let’s just pause for a second. That’s a lot to take in. Maybe too much. It can make you wonder how it’s possible to raise a child in this world without constant fear and endless weeping.

But I’m tired of only weeping – I think we all are. I want a new way to respond. I need to turn this weeping into something productive. But what does that look like when my days are spent at playgrounds and libraries, making peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and organizing play dates?

If you’re hoping for me to tell you that I’ve figured out the right response after I have wiped my tears away, you won’t find that here. I’m wrestling with what it looks like to translate my grief into something more than tears. I know that in my upbringing I was spared the adversity of racism, poverty, and violence that so many others must endure, so in many ways my first step is simply to lean in, listen, and learn. 

Right now, my primary role is mom. I don’t have a large company behind me or a platform to lend my voice to. I need to figure out how to navigate my response within this role. So, my response right now to the hurt and fear and division of this world, is to be intentional in teaching my daughter how to respond so that we can both use our influence and privilege to serve those other precious creations and change the narrative of this news cycle.

We’ll start simple. I will teach my daughter to reach out to the child who is sitting or playing alone. I will teach her to ask gently whether or not they’d like some company. I will remind her that some kids just need a little space sometimes and to honor that if they don’t want to play. And I will let her see me reach out to people who are sitting alone, whether on a street corner or at church. I will let her see me place a hand on their shoulder and ask gently if they’d like some company.

I will teach her to follow her intuition and speak up if she sees something that doesn’t look or feel right. I will continue to teach her that if she’s uncomfortable or in trouble and I’m not there to look for a police officer, because he or she is there to help. I will remind her constantly that she has a strong voice and is already really good at standing up for herself. I will encourage her to use that strong voice to stand up for others, too. I will let her hear me stand up for myself and others, and point out that I am doing that because we treat people with dignity and expect to be treated the same.

I will remind her every day that she is worthy of respect, that her body is her own, that her mind is strong, and her worth is not determined by her appearance. I will point out the way that her dad treats both me and her with kindness, respect, and honor so that she doesn’t have to just assume that’s the example to look for, but she will have heard that is how she should be treated.

I will not teach my daughter to be colorblind. No, I will teach her to see people for who they are. All of who they are. I will teach her not to be blind to anyone, for any reason. In being blind I think we push parts of ourselves on to the parts of others that we don’t understand. Or worse, we push our fears and insecurities on to the parts of others we don’t understand. We start to assume things about people rather than learning about them. If we choose not to see the color, the gender, the age, the ethnicity, the sexual orientation, the disability, the talent, or the uniform we choose not to see the whole person. And if we're not seeing, we’re not accepting. We're not learning and asking questions to understand more deeply. I will encourage her to ask me those hard questions first so I can help her navigate how to ask others with courage and gentleness. I will let her hear me ask those hard questions and listen intently when the answers are hard to hear. We’ll be strong and vulnerable in the same breath.

I don’t believe the God who created each and every person walking this earth looks past these differences. The Bible says He knows the number of hairs on our head, so He surely knows the color of our skin.

I will teach my daughter that God didn’t only create those born on American soil. He created the nations and the people who drew their first breath in every one of them. We will learn about how we can stand up for those whose first breath was drawn in a war zone and we will learn how to love them, see them, and want them as their Creator does.

And we will still weep with those who are weeping.

Because if we are truly listening, weeping might still be our first response. I will let my daughter see me weep at the injustice, pain, and division in this world so she knows that weeping is okay. I will remind her that it was Jesus who showed us to weep with those who weep.

I will teach her that we will not find perfect safety this side of Heaven, but we can find perfect peace among the brokenness if we put our hope in the One who reigns in Heaven. We can find glimpses of His compassion if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and learn to love like he loves. We alone cannot fix this broken place, but running or hiding from the brokenness is surely not going to do anything to move towards healing.

We hear all the time that “children are our future”. However, without children learning how to respond differently to current events, the future will not be different. It can start by letting them see us weep. They’re not going to change it if they only see us arguing angrily and paralyzed with fear. They’re not going to change it if they don’t see us grieving over things that need to be grieved. They need to see that weeping and grief are appropriate responses to pain and suffering.

So yes, I look at the news differently now that I’m raising a child, and I’m going to use this new view to motivate me to do something. Right now that something is to teach my child that her voice matters, but her love matters more.


**The photo at the top of this post is from a trip to Oslo last winter. Norah was drawn to this heart in the front of an old church in the middle of town. As we approached we realized that it was a memorial for the victims of the mass shooting there in 2011. The inscription reads, "... greatest of all is love".