Crayon Box Families
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We weren’t looking to adopt another child. We already had four young kids in tow. Our adopted daughter fell into our lives through a series of circumstances too long and complex to describe here. It was God’s doing. We are missionaries to Haiti and when you invest your life in a foreign culture it doesn’t take long for that culture to divest itself into you. Sometimes it adds a kid to your family.
When we came back from Haiti with one more kid than we went with, we were a multicolored family. I don’t like to call us multiracial because as far as I can tell for the Christian family, from the Bible, there is just one race. Humanity.
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God's promise to Abraham belongs to you.” (NLT) A Kingdom perspective means there are just people of various shades of God’s image. But, this isn’t always the case, even for believers.
If you’ve adopted internationally, married into a mixed race dynamic, or were born into a similar situation, here are four tools for navigating life in a crayon box family.
1. Most people outside the family mean well but some don’t. People don’t know what they don’t know. We can be incredibly blind to the biases that we’ve inherited or acquired. Our family has encountered a lot of rude situations and but one waitress at an old Coney Island restaurant in Metro Detroit takes the cake.
We were just trying to eat our Coney Dogs and drink our Vernor’s Gingerale in peace. “Where did you get that one from?” She was clearly referring to my daughter from Haiti. It was an awkward way to start a conversation and Christina and I weren’t terribly fond of our daughter being referred to as “that one.” But ok. I responded, using her name, that we adopted her, and she is originally from Haiti.
The waitress began to rattle off every cliché and bad thing she’d ever heard about the Island Natation our family loves, followed by, “How did you get her here?” The emphasis was on “her” as though the concept of an airplane from such a despicable place was utterly inconceivable. We closed the conversation explaining to her what God had done and how love had granted victory in my daughter’s life, finding her way into a family that loves her and can provide for her. She ended with a plainly sarcastic, “Ohhh-Kaaay.” It was clear that this woman had some kind of racial and or nationalistic biases that she was projecting onto our family. She acted very rudely.
That’s going to happen. Whether it’s a so called interracial marriage with children, a foreign adoption, or whatever, there is clearly still a race problem in America.
Families of multi shades can shine the light of God’s love by putting a simple biblical portrait of the Kingdom of God on display in the world. When my beautiful little blond daughter and my beautiful brown haired daughter play, they are just sisters. “For God does not show favoritism.” (NLT)
Accept that some people don’t mean well. Respond in love. Show them the Kingdom.
2. Some people outside the family are racially biased, even if they are blind to it. “Who does that white woman think she is talking to her like that?” My wife was gently correcting our adopted daughter at a pizza buffet. Two U.S. service women of African descent were seated nearby. One of them was furious that my wife was correcting our adopted daughter about the way she was navigating this buffet.
I overheard them but my wife didn’t at first. They had no idea of our circumstances. It was obvious that she was with us as a member of our family. We’d never met. I can assume two possibilities of their assumptions about us. Perhaps they thought she was my daughter from a previous marriage? Perhaps they thought she was a friend of our children spending the day with us. Whatever it was, they clearly projected some kind of racial bias onto my wife’s interaction with our daughter.
Here is a lesson for would be race warriors and the blended families who find themselves on their radar. “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” (NLT) I would have loved to have had the opportunity to enlighten these ladies as to our family dynamics. The facts may have cleared up a lot of false assumptions that they were clearly making.
Blended families are going to take some unfair criticism. When we can, we’ve got to gently instruct the people in or around our lives, as God grants us opportunity, as to the beauty of the blended family. Don’t take the opportunity to lash out in response.
“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” (NLT) These ladies got up and left, while continuing to criticize us to each other. There have been other teachable moments where we were able to talk about the challenges and joys of international adoption and being a blended family. When it is done in love, our families can offer a special witness of God’s lavish love to those we know.
3. Home has to be a sanctuary. This is of course true for every family, but for the crayon box family it has special significance for this discussion. In our home we speak nearly as much Haitian Creole as we do English. We don’t want our adopted daughter to lose her mother tongue but also we have a “Kranglish” culture.
We are back and forth to Haiti and we celebrate the beauty of our lives with one foot in two nations. For other blended families I’ve noticed and researched some of the trials they face. Mixed race kids feel pressure to “pick one or the other” so that they can more easily fit in somewhere. Siblings may not pick the same way as another child.
“A house is built by wisdom and becomes strong through good sense. Through knowledge its rooms are filled with all sorts of precious riches and valuables.” (NLT) Home has to be a place of open discussion and wise biblical instruction so our families don’t fall prey to the ignorance and false ideas of the world.
4. Church has to notice and act. My adopted Haitian daughter is almost the only person of color in the church where I serve as pastor. There is one other precious family. That’s it. Whether it’s my church or other mostly white churches, we’ve got to ask ourselves, “Are our churches places of welcome to all kinds of people? Does our church function in such a way so as to be a place of sanctuary for all people?”
It’s possible that a church is one color or another because that’s the dynamic of its community. It is equally possible that the church is all one shade because everything from the worship style to the décor screams, “This place is for us!”
There is a great article at the Missio Alliance page where Cara Meredith poses some questions on this topic. (https://www.missioalliance.org/ministering-to-multiracial-families-starts-with-noticing/) These are good questions to ask ourselves.
Her first observation hits home for me, as our church has wonderful images of church life in our halls, but we may be guilty of her concern. “As a parent, when I walk through the halls of a church building, I love seeing pictures and photographs of children participating in games and spiritual exercises, but if I only see photographs of children who look more like me than like my bi-racial sons, an unknowing invitation of unwelcome is communicated.” What do our decorations say to my daughter and others who may pass through our place of worship?
What about my preaching? Is my content and are my quotes able to capture the attention of a diverse audience? I know pastors who are fond of quoting American founding fathers. Some of those guys owned slaves. How does that communicate to a multiracial audience? I don’t have all the answers to these kinds of questions, but I think we should be willing to notice and listen to the Lord for answers in our context.
Meredith writes, “Change will begin to happen, perhaps slowly and perhaps at unseen levels in your own heart and mind, but change is inevitable.”
Crayon box families are a reflection of the Kingdom of God. Without saying a word, they shout "Life in the Kingdom is not about race. It is a simple celebration of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ for all of humanity."
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