What our Elf Brings to Us

For those who are on the sidelines of the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon, I get it. They are creepy as one of my friends suggested. They are extra work during an already hectic season. Each year we scour Pinterest and look for new and ever more enchanting ways to bring delight to a month that holds the promise of Santa and the birth of Jesus, do we really need an elf to add chaos and joy to our little ones? Like Starburst flavored candy canes, are we missing something by distracting from the real flavors and reasons for the celebrations? The answer could be yes and yet we have an elf who visits each night when Plum is here, an elf who wakes up each year the night after Thanksgiving and goes back to sleep on Christmas eve. Elfie brings magic, Elfie bring joy, most of all Elfie is a dear sweet friend to a little boy who one Christmas season several years ago had a wounded soul and a broken heart.

I can’t remember how I first discovered our elf, I purchased him online rather than the ones available widely in stores. That one did seem a bit clown like, a bit more creepy to me. What we sacrificed in bendability we gained in a sweet face, more along the lines of a stuffed animal really. I do remember that my sweet Plum was in the midst of time away from his parents for an extended period, he was broken and his little eyes had lost their sparkle. As his grandma, of course I would do anything to bring that back, anything to show him the joy of Christmas when he was lost at such an early age. So Elfie joined our family. Each night Chef and I would strive to out do the night before, back when he was here every night, the challenge was great. Plum grabbed onto the idea of a special friend who was all his, someone who came to visit him and bring him silliness and make messes and sometimes a trinket or some candy and cared so deeply about him that he flew from far away just to be with him. Plum reconnected with his playfulness, he found an outlet for hope.

I have discovered along the way, even as I have sometimes struggled to find the next adventure for Elfie, even on the nights when I was too tired to mess with creating some mess I knew I would have to clean up again in the morning, when I would have preferred to go on to bed, that Chef and I have rediscovered our childlike wonder as well. Most nights I set up something, generally pretty lame I’ll admit, I am less than creative after about 3 in the afternoon so by 8 or 9 at night, I am toast. Then Chef takes over and blows us all away. Over the top fun ensues, he always takes it to the next level. Then we sleep and eagerly await, along with our Plum, the first light of morning if he sleeps that late, when he rises and rushes about the house to find his elf and see what mischief has happened while he was snuggled and dreaming.

As the Christmas decorations are stowed each year, totes filled with bulbs and garland and nativity sets, Elfie stays on Plum’s dresser. He is a reminder throughout the year of the importance of relationships, even ones that pop in and out of our lives, that we are to take our blessings as they come, even in the shape of a toilet paper strew bathroom or a frozen lego blocks, that laughter matters. This is surely our last year with the elf, already Plum has come home from school announcing someone in his class told him that there is no Santa, that the presents come from your parents. I will miss the little guy, in spite of the extra work. Next year we will talk about the joy of discovering an elf each morning and how God wants us to rejoice at discovering His Son each day, not just during the Christmas season. Our elf has become an important part of our story, bringing the spirit back to a sorrowful child. I think that is holy and a bit less creepy.

Finding the Courage to Hope

Pulling all the totes down from the attic, the three boxes holding artificial trees, I mindlessly began my task of decorating for the season. Normally music fills the air as I transform my home into a welcoming place for Santa, a reminder of the birth of our Savior, yet on this day, I lugged, I hauled, I assembled and then stopped. The totes sat, the garland left hanging out, ornaments, with hooks ready left neglected. It took me three days to finish what I usually do in a number of hours. Finally I closed the totes with much left inside and hauled them back upstairs. As if I were doing laundry or mopping the floors, my mind was not on my work, my heart was elsewhere. Then yesterday, the first Sunday of advent happened and my attention was snapped back to the point of it all.

I watched the most courageous woman I know lead her granddaughters up to the altar to light the first candle of the season, to tell the story of hope. She shared of another advent season when her heart was shattered, her hope was buried with her murdered son. Yet on this day she was standing before us, lighting the candle of faith of things to come, with the children of her children, reminding us that hope comes not of the events of this world but the life of the babe born thousands of years ago. She believes, she gets up each day and she keeps breathing. How can I wallow with such an example?

My soul has been bruised and battered and dented and banged up these last few years, the pain of estrangement and then the horror of a the election, hearing the voice of an admitted abuser played daily on the news, today he endorsed another of his kind to win the Alabama senate seat. My hope has grown so dim, lost in the shadows of twitter rants and more and more men I once respected being uncovered as harasses of women. As if the loss of my children wasn’t enough, I now find the loss of my country looming, even escapism of television or movies or NPR is no longer a refuge, I can’t find a safe place for retreat. Then comes a lesson in hope.

Hope is not in the now, not right this minute relief, not an Ambien or a bottle of wine or a really good book to forget the pain. Hope is seeing through the trauma and the chaos to what is coming, trusting that what is going will be joy and peace and love. That is a pretty big leap, one for fools, I think. Fools who believe that the Christmas decorations are more than the red suited guy, more than the maxed-out credit cards, more than the elf who visits my Plum. Hope is listening to the story of a pregnant woman and her husband traveling to a far land to be counted, to determine the taxes, to find they had no place to safely give birth to God. I remember being in labor with Stella, telling the nurse to make it stop, the pain was too much, I wanted to go home and forget the whole thing. Then it was time to push and they told me to stop, to wait for the doctor. Yet there was no stopping, she was coming, it was time. Can you stop a freight train as it is rushing towards you? So she came into the world and the doctor barely caught her. God came into our world with this timing as well, as if to show us we cannot stop His presence, we cannot determine His timing. That is where the hope begins, in that moment of His showing up in unexpected places, in all the wrong times for us, those inconvenient and pain filled moments when we are least prepared and cleaned up and wearing our best clothes to meet our Savior. No, I think God brought us hope in the that baby in a smelly stall to two people who were sweaty and hungry and exhausted, terrified and alone.

My Christmas tress are lit, the bulbs reflecting light around the room. I know now that each sparkle is meant to cast out distrust, to illuminate the promise of what is coming. I have been reminded of hope, what began thousands of years ago. As I sit with my coffee and gaze at the trees, I am thanking my friend for her story and my God for showing up in my rubble and my mess. My hopes and dreams won’t be fulfilled anytime I soon, I suspect, but we are playing the long game here. Looking both back and ahead, we can find what was breaking through the shadows all along, Jesus was born in fulfillment of the scriptures and that is enough for today.


Never Read Junie B. Jones at Bedtime

Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.

Psalm 95:2-3

Do you know the Junie B. Jones books? The Barbara Park series of silly books for children? Plum and I have been reading these and his laughter is the music I crave. I will read all night, I tell ya (a little Junie B. humor there) just to feel him collapse on my lap, unable to contain his delight. He, like thousands of children before him, find Junie to be outrageous and hysterical. Her sass, her thought process, her choices, all combine to create chaos for about 5 chapters until she gets sorted out, usually with a hug from her parents and a snuggle with her favorite stuffed animal.  He begs for one more chapter, one more please, more music to my ears. I remember his father doing the same as we read Harry Potter. Able to read by themselves but wanting that time together, to be close and experience the story with someone. I am grateful for the opportunity to read to this child as I read to his father so many years ago, to hear his giggles and his pleas to continue.

We are blessed to have a home filed with books, to have those favorites that we return to time and again, board books that I read to him as a toddler that he now flips through quickly, “Too easy, gran, too easy,” yet when the comfort of the familiar is what he desires, I notice that is what he has selected. We have children’s books in his room and figuring prominently in the living room, a bookcase exclusively for his growing collection. His subscription to the National Wildlife series of Ranger Rick magazines once took up a spot on the shelf, now the stack reside next to his bed, a favorite pre-bedtime pick. It is my indulgence like others buy purses or shoes or new make up or fancy watches, I buy this boy books. I am investing in his future, in his thoughts, in his development. I know what we do now will reverberate long into the future, in ways we cannot predict. I feel the pressure even more to get this right.

If I worship any thing beyond my God, it is education. I trust that my God is supportive of teaching this child His ways through silliness that causes great belly laughs even before bedtime, as we prepare this special boy to drift off to sleep and hand him over to the angels. I know I am blessed by every book we share, by every time he still crawls onto my lap, by the sweet sound of his voice as he begs for one more. We are blessed by children’s authors who understand that kids need an alter ego who gives voice to their desires while maintaining a sweet heart and a basic goodness. Junie B gets many chances to get it right, I think that is called grace. I am thankful we have her to remind us to offer that to each other.



Runaway Legos and Packs of Gum

The tiny yellow Lego kept rolling off the table as we sorted the newest set he received for his birthday into colors, preparing to build. I generally am given the sorting task while he supervises, he checks my work for errors with a running commentary on my inability to see the difference between dark gray and black, the fact that I often choose to make an “all the rest” pile which he corrects for me, and his delight in a particularly interesting piece. He surveys the blocks like all the presents under a Christmas tree, taking in the joy of bright colors and multiple shapes, knowing everything there was waiting just for him. Yet this one piece kept escaping the pile, I was distracted and didn’t lay it flat. As it landed on the floor after many near misses, I remarked that this one piece was trying to get away from us. My Plum asked why, why is it trying to escape? I think it doesn’t want to connect with any other pieces, it just wants to be free, I replied as I moved another red piece into the corresponding pile. “Oh, yeah, I get that,” he told me. “We all feel that way sometimes.”

My joy bringer hands me snippets of wisdom at least as often as I offer him the opportunity to brush his teeth. Neither of us are particularly grateful for these gifts when we get them but maybe we both know they are in our long term best interests. While I am convinced that he is a genius guru joy bringer, the truth is probably that most children have words of wisdom to share, if only we listen to them. The beauty of a grandparent relationship with a child is we have the time, we can take the time, we can hear the snippets and remember to record them. I know my own children were quite verbal about feelings and were astute in ways of the world, surely they shared their views with me and I should have recorded them. Yet dishes and work and laundry and the other sibling and stress and stress and stress caused me to hurry and rush and miss what they could offer. Certainly I sought to atone for being gone during their early years, I listened attentively and cared deeply. Still, I was mom. When we are blessed, our true adoration comes from our grandparents. I know I am atoning with Plum for all the missed chances with Arrow and Stella. Yet ours isn’t a clear “grand” relationship either. Chef and I have stepped in far too often as parents, our roles with this child are cemented by age 7, he knows we are important caregivers in his life, we are his safe place. He can connect and still wish to roll away from some places in his life. I get it.

Accepting his wisdom does not mean I forget that he is still a child and needs us to help shape his character, to enforce rules and structure and consequences. His heart is so sweet and pure that when he strays into the dark side, my reaction is swift. I respond with immediacy and hopefully most often, natural consequences. During his birthday party, an overwhelming affair for anyone but certainly a boy who really just wanted to get to the present part and then the playing with the present part, sitting through a game of unwrap a ball of saran wrap looked tedious and horrible and mostly like torture. He chose not to play, instead he watched as his friends took turns unwrapping little toys or packages of gum.  Later as friends were leaving, one little girl couldn’t find her treat bag, which contained her circle of gum “tape,” a top prize. We searched but couldn’t find it so hurriedly created a new treat bag and wondered if someone picked hers up accidentally. This little girl is a neighbor to Plum at mama’s, a child who looks out for him, runs to get mama when he falls and gets a scrape, has a problem on the bus, needs his shoes tied. I felt horrible that this child especially had lost her prizes.

The next day, her equivalent in our own neighborhood, A, came to play with Plum. As they ran about the ever less haunted house while Chef and I dismantled it, A said she had something she had to tell, that Plum had done something bad at his party. He watched her share his secret, that he had hidden the other little girls bag, he wanted that gum. Plum and I moved upstairs to talk, after we supported A for telling the truth and following her conscience. My first question to Plum, did you know that was wrong? Everything that came after was merely faulty judgement, impulsive desires, selfishness overruling his heart, take your pick. We wondered if God had any rules about taking what isn’t ours, if we have been given any pathway to correct our mistakes, and finally if once we atone, we are meant to live in shame. He decided he needed to use his piggy bank money and buy new gum for his friend. We emptied out his pennies, took them to the bank inside the grocery store and the good folks there helped him count out what he needed. He selected the gum, rang it up, put his money inside the machine, bagged his gum and walked out with a lighter heart. That my sweet, I told him, is getting right with God. His friend hugged him as he delivered her gum, he ran to tell me how happy she was. He was clearly happier as well.

My Plum turned 7 this week and I know he will have ever more opportunities to bring me joy and share his wisdom. I know more and more though that our chances to cement his character, to have the foundation laid that will carry him into a safe and healthy future, those days are waning. We know that he will choose to be free of his connections someday, that he will test out his boundaries and push the rules. I feel the importance of each and every moment now, the inability to let something slide. This child is absolutely too precious to risk. That is my own atonement. For now, we are building Lego sets, we are giggling at runaway pieces, we are delighting in his friends who support his good choices as well, we are loving on this child who every day, brings us joy.



Celebrating My Plum

Birthday week in Patches Of Light land and all things are Halloweeny. Our joy bringer was born 3 days before the holiday yet at age 7, this is the first celebration of him that is utilizing the seasonal theme. It was supposed to be easier and cheaper and in some ways that has proven true. Yet when all around, in every store and on all social media, I am assailed with decoration ideas and this quick easy set up and that especially cool spooky idea, I am finally ready to admit that I may have gone a bit overboard. The basement is becoming a haunted house, each room upstairs is readied for activities such as pumpkin painting  or glow in the dark bowling or mini pumpkin tic tac toe. Reminding myself that all of these decorations will stow nicely away and be used for years to come, like Christmas decor, has fueled my desire to create more toilet paper rolls with eye cut outs and creepy ghosts out of every old white sheet I own. Chef remarked last night that maybe we had gone too far, that he is only 7, maybe we are spoiling him. Silly man, of course we are.

I have been leaning into an idea, a foreign concept to me, one that blew my mind when I first heard it. I was told that to God, I am worthy of celebrating. Of course I had heard comments like this before but it sank in differently this time, my soul was open to the words and the corresponding affection that just such a celebration would bring. What would it mean to believe that one is worth celebrating, not for achievements, not for a report card, not for wealth, but merely for existing? I have always hated my birthday, hated the attention it brings to me. Attention is dangerous to one who maintains a hyper-vigilance, scouring my surroundings for potential abusers. I avoid the limelight, I hate crowds. But what if I claimed my safety in God and believed that I was of value because God chose me to be in this place in this time? Heady stuff.  As I work on really integrating this idea, along comes my Plum’s birthday. My Plum whom I adore and cherish, the child upon who’s every word I hang. I watch him fall asleep, I listen for his first steps in the morning as he rises. He brings my joy and I shower my love upon him, a safe receptacle who doesn’t judge me. Maybe we are spoiling him or maybe we are telling this child with his checkered history of adults in and out of his life that we believe 100% that he is worth celebrating.

In years past, when Lego was the theme or dump trucks in the dirt was the direction we went, we didn’t go so crazy. By celebrating the holiday with his big day, we get a twofer, and I know in the future all of these spiders and webs and skulls will be used. Seriously, the odds are in my favor. Post-Halloween sales might help us round out our collection of spooky creatures, in case we have begun a new tradition of a haunted basement.  After all, he IS going to be 8 next year and my God is this child worth celebrating. My anticipation for his big day may be a bit over the top, as a grandma I really ought to be more accustomed to birthdays and children aging. But this child is special.

Thoughts of his beginnings are never far from my mind, all the days of anticipating his arrival that were spent coming to know his mama. Plum began as a yes when everything pointed to no. A disconnected father, a young mother challenged by the pregnancy. We watched as she painted a little dresser Chef found for her, readied a nursery here in our home, moved the crib about a million times to get it just right. We had many bumpy years of moving that crib out as she sought to begin life her own and then back in again as she needed a reset. Finally he moved into a bed and his room has stayed stable since, a place to call his own regardless of other changes in his life. Under his bed he stores treasures, one earring or a necklace from my dresser, a lightbulb, rocks, my Lord so many rocks, the collars from beloved pets. Not long ago a friend offered an old military truck which has become the perfect treasure chest for a little boy to contain his hoard. On days of greater anxiety, I find him sorting through it, as if the bits and pieces of his story calm him, center him. He goes through it less and less, my measurement for his inner tranquility.

“Well, Plum, what are your thoughts on year six?” I asked as he was pooping  and I was hovering outside the open door.  I don’t care what he says, he isn’t all that grown yet if he still wants me around for that event. But I digress. “It was boring.” This was the year of completing his kindergarten, beginning first grade, those seem rather significant to me. Nope. Boring. “Well, what about the summer, you played almost every day outside with A, in the mud.”  Yeah he conceded, that was pretty okay but mostly it was boring. Hmm, I was stuck. I thought it was a fantastic year, he learned to read, he exploded his math abilities, he can even tie his own shoes, for heaven’s sake (actually we just checked that off the list a couple weeks ago, but I swear he conquered it on the first try when I showed him those bunny ears.) He can barely tolerate looking back though, he said, “Six is just so young.”

He is right, as most often he is when we have these talks. But what he doesn’t know is that seven is still not grown. Anyone who comes racing off the bus with their shoe untied, cracking up only to tell me that it fell off as he was trying to get up from his seat at our stop. Apparently his buddy picked it up, held it to his face, and performed a disgusting act of maleness. “I swear, Gran, I heard him SNIFF!” Falling on the ground laughing again, backpack spilling Pokemon keychains and bouncy balls on the leaf covered lawn, he shattered the silence of my day with his giggles and delight. He is young enough still that he holds on to the sweet funny stories and events, he allows the tough things to roll off, to sizzle away like a droplet of water in a hot pan. It isn’t that he has such a perfect life that he knows no troubles, oh Lord no. I am confident that it is exactly because he has known trauma that he is resilient and determined to laugh when he can. I am at my utmost silly, I relinquish all dignity, ever willing to play the fool, just to elicit his laughter. Plum smiling means angels singing. When the angels sing, I know God is near. Truthfully, I know He has always been near to this child.

During this birthday week in Patches of Light land, I cannot help but reflect on not just who he is becoming but who has walked with him during the previous 12 months, who has shaped this year to help create this child. If ever there was evidence of the power the village plays in a child’s life, Plum is it.  His village rose up around him, he was prayed over while still in the womb. Our church has been beyond faithful in loving and supporting this child as well as his mother when she needed and was receptive. (His father has never left the prayers of the same community, God is walking that path with us, one with more twists and turns.) Plum occupied the front row closest to the praise band in order to dance and wiggle during the music portion of each service, he walks in as though he is the mayor of church. He feels ownership, as he should, as we all should. He knows comfort there, why wouldn’t he, these are his people. He glows with the love and support that surround his every step, he is unaware at his ages but one day he will realize that all those adults in his life were his prayer warriors, were placed there by God to lift him up out of his situation to become a man with a purpose in the kingdom. He will bring joy to many, not just his gran.

My joy bringer is 7 years old today, the baby I rocked to sleep, weaned from the bottle, potty trained, taught to sleep in a big boy bed and then to sleep all night. I was with him on his first day of preschool as well as kindergarten, I haven’t missed a milestone yet. But it is all the in betweens, the moments we talk amongst the bushes looking for insects or yes, even while he is pooping, that I truly treasure. This child carries my heart with him where ever he goes, as he grows. Today we will turn our home over to his many friends as they celebrate him. I will be listening for his giggles, confirmation that all the effort communicates to him, we know he is worthy. As the sun begins to rise, the early cold snap has brought flurries that catch my eye and chill my hands. My soul is warmed though, as I take these last few quiet moments before cutting apples for dipping into caramel and hanging streamers and blowing up balloons. My soul is quiet and peaceful, as I celebrate fully this child who God is sharing with me. My joy bringer, who helps me hear the angels sing.



We Forgot To Limp

Plum stubbed his toe this weekend, not the terrible first stubbing of spring that draws blood on tender flesh cushioned for months under socks and slippers and boots, but really more of a bumping of his little foot against the cement porch, a foot that has spent the entire summer roughening on the gravel road alongside our home. A closer inspection showed not a single drop of blood, not a tear in his skin, no mark of the injury that he felt. Hours of barefoot play in the summer sun and the steadfast refusal to keep shoes on brought about a tough exterior, one that belied the pain he was experiencing. We have extra bandaids for just such an injury, one that is more inside than out. He asked me how one limps, such was his determination in milking this event as well as the disappointment that nothing outward pointed to the level of pain he was knew. I showed him and he managed a limp for all of two steps before he was distracted and the pain receded. I understood his concern, though, I had worn my own bandaids all weekend.

Our church moved 10 years ago to a brand new building, one that fit the dreams we all shared for more ministry options. This weekend was the celebration of that move and our 3 services would be combined into one but our church couldn’t hold us all at one time, thus the high school just down the road was chosen to be our worship site. The auditorium and cafeteria were large enough for us all, a perfect choice. Except that building held memories of my children, of Stella’s art exhibits, of decorating their lockers every year for their birthdays, of graduation ceremonies as I watched them cross the stage and look to their future. I walked those hallways as I registered them for classes each year and bought new sweatshirts and yearbooks, I met with teachers their for conferences. This was their high school, the place I drove Stella to early each morning when she missed the bus and picked them both up to drive to orthodontist appointments.  This building held memories that I had ignored. Yet walking though with Plum, I began to mentally limp, I felt the injury and knew no one could see me bleeding. Then it happened, I was distracted. Plum wanted to explore the stage, a friend tripped and fell, the food was plentiful and the friends were all around, I forgot that I had stubbed some memories. As we left the event, I realized I had survived without real damage to my psyche. Now in thinking about the school, I would also remember singing praise songs and would always consider that the students who sit in those chairs for assemblies will be covered in the prayers of our congregation.

Later Chef and I attended a wedding of a young woman from church, a woman who oozes grace and light. She sings with our praise team and sends me notes that lift me at exactly the moments I think I am sinking, she lives out faith actively. Chef and I had not been to a wedding since the civil ceremony of our daughter, the estrangement occurred one month after that and we were not invited to her actual wedding, the one with the dress and cake and music. I knew this would be a stubbing crashing smashing of memories, a bashing of hopes and dreams but I so respect this young woman we couldn’t not go. Bandaiding my heart, we entered the event hall and found that many other friends from church were there as well, we sat with some who kept us occupied and laughing and covered with joy such that we forgot to limp, we forgot to check for bleeding. This wedding was the perfect one to ease us back into life, to invite us to participate in joy and distract us from our pain.

I know it would be safer to avoid the gravel, to always wear shoes, to stay away from places that trigger memories that will break through to my bruised soul. Yet I am not called to be safe and protected, to hide and to be cushioned. I am asked to rely on the strength of God, who will guide me and keep me from harm. Running away rom those events that might possibly touch on my sore spots means I would miss the chance to heal ever so slightly, to replace some memories of what hasn’t been with an evening of laughter and new jokes to share and delight with friends instead of nursing wounds on my couch. Paul says we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, he doesn’t say we should stop doing the things that might rough us up. Today I trusted in God to protect my soul, and found his grace was indeed sufficient. Step by step, that is how I move ever closer to the light.


For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9


(photo credit to http://www.sweetsugarbelle.com/2013/01/that-funky-bandaid-color/ )



When Children Repeat our Hate Speech

The world crashed down before I even had my first cup of coffee, before actually I had even turned the coffee maker on. We had only donned slippers and robes moments before, just out of bed, I’m not sure I have even visited the bathroom yet, surely I must have or I would have lost control of that function right there on the steps as my grandson uttered hate speech. Of course he didn’t know the meaning of the words he used, merely repeating something in the manner of growing his vocabulary. Of course I delight as he uses ever larger words and deeper concepts that he picks up from listening and exploring his world, I have always delighted, until this one morning. My heart broke before it even had time to fully wake. Spreading the reputation of my Plum far and wide as a joy bringer maybe has brought more pressure than this 6 year old can bear. As he nears his next birthday, I too am getting closer to admitting that he doesn’t always bring the smiles and lighten my heart, he is reflecting the world sometimes to me and it isn’t pretty.  I much prefer when he shows me God.

The old show, “Kids say the Darnedest Things” takes a lighter view of the utterances of children, when they repeat the curse words mommy said or describe how daddy put the moves on mama. We laugh when we hear adult talk emerge from little mouths, highlighting the absurdity of our concerns and our proclamations. Yet what of the times that they repeat hate speech? What does that say about the world they are exposed to, how do we control what they know and hear and say without limiting their growth? In a society that allows white supremacists to march freely without the need for hoods, there should be no surprise that this ugly talk has filtered down to my first-grade grandson. Apparently it began on his bus, when he was being bullied by older kids who eventually were sent to see the principal and he was moved to the seat right behind the bus driver. Yet no one bothered to address the language used against him, to explain why it was wrong. He only knew it felt hurtful to have the older kids taunting him. Other kids ran to tell Mama as he got off the bus and sat down in tears, unable to make it even the block to his door, such was his shame. So when our very large white Labrador blocked his path on the steps, it seemed the perfect time to use his new words. Frustrated and annoyed, he blurted out, “Move it you white cracker!”

My first instinct of horror and shock ruled my own words: No Plum we never ever ever say that, that is ugly horrible talk. Then I got some coffee and invited him to sit with me as we dug into the why. We talked about slavery and the idea that some people are worth less than others, something he thought was outrageous and my heart began to mend. We talked about another ugly word, one I never ever want him to use and why. We explored how angry people are right now because they are being treated as less than still and he is white skinned and he is expected by many to be better just because. We talked about a war within our country fought by those who wanted slavery to continue and those who didn’t and how grateful we are that the North won. We also talked about bullies and hurtful words and how the things those folks say are probably things we don’t want to allow to come out of our mouths. He apologized to our dog who was none the worse for it all but my Plum was learning that words matter.

A deeper fear was lurking within me though, one that screamed that I must stamp out this hate speech before it can grow any roots. Somehow I missed some moments with my own son, in spite of all the posters and quotes and books and moments to address his innocent utterances as well. He was one person, an addict but not a racist, before he went to prison. When the gates opened, he was clean and sober but covered in swastikas and runes and subtle references to white supremacy organizations. His experiences inside had exposed him to a race war that our war on drugs has elevated, he became an enlisted soldier in an army that was bringing its fight outside the cells and into the streets. Mama and I feared what he would plant in this sweet child’s head, how would we continue to nurture a child who loves everyone if his father was telling him to hate some? Yet Arrow has chosen to separate from his son, to disappear and begin a new family outside the influence of our ideologies. While his son is white, he has become less than worthy in my son’s construct, a heart-breaking possibility when we measure people by what they can do for us and not by virtue of their existence. Still, everyday I worry about this man who was once my little boy learning that words matter and love was better than hate. He is engaged in a war that has already been lost, on many fronts. My soul aches for this lost boy.

So we try again, with this child, to eradicate hate speech before it can destroy a little boy’s loving heart. Every day that he leaves our homes, when he climbs aboard a bus or hits the playground, he is exposed to a world that is struggling with racism and sexism. For now, he knows that God made us all, that we look alike on the inside, where it matters most and that we are all important to God. He told me today that he is a follower of God, not bullies. My joy bringer reflects God to me, and I have to be strong enough and honest enough to reflect God right back, especially during the hard talks, even before coffee. I have to be brave enough to tell him words that he cannot use, even against our dog, who truthfully, is quite annoying. We are meant to be light and grace during these turbulent times, our children are watching and listening, and in spite of us all, repeating our embarrassing words. His “shits” and “damns” don’t seem all that bad any more.  Neither does home-schooling.