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May 25, 2017
When Strangers ask the Wrong Question.

Hello again, dear heart,

I’m going to ask for your grace in this letter to you. I’m asking because I can’t sit across the table from you to tell this story, so I hope you can assume my heart is earnest and my motives are pure in what I’m about to share. I also need to say I can’t do this perfectly, my complicated heart put into simple words, and it may come out a bit clumsy. For this and anything else that offends, I ask your grace up front.

I’m writing you this letter from a sunny front porch of a charming old vacation home we rented for the week. We ran away from the landlocked homestead to the coast and a beach town in the southernmost part of Texas. We are spending our days celebrating the beginning of summer and the birthdays of our two youngest boys in the sun, swimming in warm gulf waters, playing in the powdered sugar sand with Topo Chico in our hands. It’s been absolutely lovely in almost every way.

This town is a mixed bag, a hodgepodge of I don’t even know what. It’s a beach town with some stunning architecture – many of the houses and buildings dating back to the 1800’s. The charm is surprising and, considering it’s the closest beach to us by far, it’s a place I could see us returning to. But it’s also a Texas town, with the same old perils of the deep south and confederate flag emblems covering t-shirts in the souvenir shops. It’s strange, a bit rough around the edges.

Giving out grace gets like that once in awhile – messy and rough around the edges. Rather than candy at a parade, it’s more like swatting a mosquito: fast and bloody. Sometimes it’s not sweet going down and it doesn’t resemble candy at a parade. It’s the medicine going down with no “spoon full of sugar”. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when it’s not easy. After all, unmerited favor means “you really don’t deserve this.. but I’m giving it to you anyway.” I had a situation where I had to practice that awkward grace in this odd little town yesterday.

We spent the afternoon checking out the old part of this town. The main street is lined with historic shop fronts and clothing, art, and candy stores galore. You get the beach town vibe right away with even the clothing stores selling chilled bottles of beer and they’ll pop the cap for you so you can drink while you shop. We took our dog with us and kept getting stopped by person after person about how cute she was and where was she from and “Oh my gosh! what kind of dog is that?” Doggins looks like a teddy bear and an ewok made sweet love and had a child.

After an afternoon of filling our boys with coca-cola floats, saltwater taffy and new flip flops, we walked the historic strip the other way back to where we were parked. A woman in her fifties with a daughter twenties stopped us and said, in a slight Texas drawl, “Hey.. Where did you get him? ..” We were walking so I stopped, not quite registering what she had said yet. “Excuse me?” “Where is he from?” she repeated, “Where did you get him from?” I looked at the dog, smiled, and did that annoying dog owner thing I swore I’d never do.. “It’s a she.. we got her from a farm in Missouri..” She raised her arm, pointed her finger at Zion, our youngest son, our black son, and said, “No. HIM. Where did you get HIM?..”

Zion was right next to me, three feet away from her and her bony Texan index finger. He looked at her with confusion, then looked up at me with even more confusion, not able to parse out what was going on here. My mouth dropped open and there was a split second where I realized I was going to have to practice the medicine of grace in the face of ignorance, once again, on behalf of our sweet son. In that split second a lot of things went through my mind – answers that could make her feel terrible about herself, to put her in her place, to wake her up, to point out she didn’t even know our name, she didn’t ask where I was from, where our other children are from, or where I got my husband. She asked the same question of our youngest son that everyone else that day had been asking about our dog, and I wanted to claw her face for it, full mama-bear mode.

The last time someone asked that question I was wearing seven pound Zion in wrap on my chest walking through a Whole Foods. It was the ‘burbs and the woman asking was an older ‘burb-dwelling woman, so I told her what I told all the other white strangers in that season who were curious about our black baby, “He’s from Kansas City.” For some reason they always seemed disappointed, like, “how come you didn’t save one of those beautiful African babes?” Maybe they just felt foolish for asking the question in the moment, how they had just voiced their thoughts to a total stranger about something that wasn’t their business. Regardless, it was easier to give grace because Zion was tiny and didn’t speak english yet, so he had no idea what they were saying. This time, I swallowed my disappointment of society, my hatred of systemic racism and ignorance, my frustration, and answered, “He’s from Kansas City.. we all are.” Her face fell and she and her daughter made some awkward noise and walked away.

I’m proud of our adoption story, our beautiful family, and our glorious adopted son. It’s one of the greatest acts of grace I’ve ever received, both from Zion’s birth mom and from God’s divine hovering Spirit of love. I weep for Zion’s mom and the choice she had to make every mother’s day and I pray for her every one of his birthday’s. I’m happy to talk about his story with anyone when it’s the right place and the right time and the person on the other side of the convo knows my name and I know theirs. This was not the right time and it most certainly was not the right place. Even I had to make the choice that correcting this woman would only lead to more confusion in Zion’s mind at this point in his life. What I wanted to say was “We didn’t get him from a WHERE. We got him from a WHOM.”

Grace tells us to check our pride at the door. We have to leave our arrows and our expectations out at the welcome mat, and come unarmed into the place where love lives. We have to sit at the common table with crooks and racists, with politicians, people who eat at McDonald’s and women on vacation who ask irresponsible questions. We take our place next to them at the table, pour them a glass of wine and pass them the mashed potatoes. We do it because that’s what Divine Love does for them every single day.. and what it does for us. We do it because we are all desperately in need of the same grace. Grace is the love that won’t quit being offered to the least deserving.. even ourselves. Then, someday, because grace loves to come full circle, they pass us the gravy, top off our wine glass, or forgive us for denting their car and almost not leaving a note. All analogies aside, it’s a mess, and sometimes it’s the last thing we want to give, but we give it anyway for the good of the family, in honor of the feast.

Oh my, Ashley, I can’t even imagine what I would’ve said in that situation. It sounds like you gave the perfect response. It seems to me that the daily preaching of grace to yourself has embedded that grace into your heart so that a knee jerk reaction to a horrifying question was also met with the grace to find an appropriate response!

Natalie, thank you so very much for these generous words.. gracious I am so thankful for your support and to hear your “voice” again in this way lately. I brought your letter with me to our vacation and opened it here, digesting every word with so much thanks and joy.. I can’t wait to write back. thank you again for your empathy here and so much love to you.

My heart DROPPED when I read that bad part.
So sorry that Zion and you had to go through that. Some people are so ignorant and cruel :(

thank you so much amanda, for your empathy and compassion.. The hard thing is I don’t think she knew she was being cruel. I think our internet-driven, social media-obsessed culture makes people think they can say whatever they’re thinking out loud, before they even consider if that’s appropriate or not. It makes me sad, for sure. but I am also sad for her.. sad for what life must have looked like for her, especially regarding transracial / adoptive families, if she feels so free to violate our family’s personal space in such a flippant way. anyways, thanks. xo

Dear Ash,
WHAT. Hokey Pete.
My heart is pounding so fast right now. (Deep breath). Listen, I could go on and on as to why I feel so much frustration and sadness, but I’ll take a page from your book and say, mercy. I appreciate so much how grace was your response. that it is so present and reigns so deeply in your heart that even in a situation such as this where anger may seem righteous, you gave grace. It’s inspiring. I hope that woman felt it, to her very core, and maybe she’ll be changed by it too.
Grace and Peace,

kind, sweet Emily,
Thank you so much for these words and your empathy. I don’t know that grace reigns deep in my heart, but I do know it’s been on the forefront of my mind, which means I see it more frequently and am asking myself “where is it now?” like a kind of mythical Waldo. It helps. Not all the time and it doesn’t reign sometimes when it should but I am slowly seeking it out more and finding myself being sought by it. I hope she felt it at her core. I hope she might be changed by it too. Thank you,

Ashley, you are such a light. What an example of pure charity. Thank you for sharing such a tough experience from your journey of empathy. That woman may not ever understand the gift you gave her, but your son will always be blessed by your example of grace. xo

thank you so much for these very kind dear lovely words, jen.

[…] stumbled across a post about grace this morning, and it resonated for so many different reasons. I especially loved that […]

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