"Stop right away. Put your hands in the air, like this. Don't move. Don't argue, even if you know you haven't done anything wrong." I read the tragedies in the news that lead me to these conversations with my children.
We talk about gun safety, even though we don't own one. What do you do if you find a gun? Never. Touch. It. Call an adult, immediately. We talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This week in our town, two young men were gunned down on the soccer field where my son has often played. There was no reason. It was 4:30 AM. If only they had been home, in their beds, safe. We talk about making eye contact, looking honest. We talk about being suspected, misunderstood. How sensitive these conversations are! To talk things through without creating fear or frustration, or forming unfounded biases in our kids. We remember positive examples, godly friends who are trustworthy men in uniform.
Yesterday evening my husband was listening to Albert Mohler's daily news briefing. He on one side of the room, me on the other and our son in the middle with a bedtime snack. Our son glanced up and caught me looking at him with teary eyes. Without a word, he stood and came to sit beside me and hold my hand. He had heard and was weighing the words of the broadcast. I told him that people respond in different ways to these stark realities, but we have to seek the way of God. Does He want us to walk around scared? No. Angry? Bitter? No. Wise, careful and forgiving? Yes. But it's not easy.
His response brought emotion into my throat. Head down and tracing crossword puzzles, without looking directly at me which is his modus operandi for sharing the deeper things of his heart. "I'm scared every day at school." It's tricky to pull out details without pushing too hard and closing him off. Turns out the big kids (high schoolers) make him nervous. He recounted two instances in particular. One of these involved a red-headed girl calling him a Chilean expletive. I kept my calm for him but later told my husband how I would love to grab her red curls in both of my hands and give her a lesson for messing with my son! Only we both knew I wouldn't because just as I teach him to forgive, I must also.
I told him, honestly, that sometimes I feel bad for him and sometimes I am in awe of him. I feel much has been expected of him as only a 9-year old boy. To go alone into his new school, the only one who is "different." No, he told me, there was a boy in a wheelchair. He was different, too. He graduated this year. And he was voted "best classmate!" We talked about what it might have been like for that boy when he first came. The stares, the questions, maybe even the taunting. Yet he opened everyone's hearts - and that is exactly what my son is doing as well. For every one person (and thankfully there have been very few) who is unfriendly, I encouraged him to think of all the friends he has made. I tried to explain that because of his friendship, they will now look kindly instead of warily at the next boy or girl they meet with his skin color. He is making a difference.
As his mom, there are times I want to protect him in a bubble. Homeschool him and keep him at arm's reach every day. He wishes it, too. But we would be doing him a disservice by not preparing him to courageously live in the real world which for him, may be much harder than for some others. Even so, I encouraged him to remember that he does not go out there alone. Every day my prayer for him is to remember that Jesus is right by his side, to feel His presence with him in every situation.
Often I reflect on my own childhood. I grew up in the same country, but in a different world. I cannot remember a single conversation where my parents spelled out how I should act in the presence of a police officer. But it was not for the reason some might assume. Certainly we were taught unconditional respect for any adult and especially those in authority. Additional conversations were irrelevant for one specific reason: we were raised in a dictatorship. The police were a branch of the military who carried machine guns and stood on street corners. For better or worse, we minded our p's and q's and dotted our i's. We didn't live in fear, but we functioned with careful respect.
Perhaps that is the crux of the matter. Respect - for position, for authority, but most importantly for the simple fact that we are all human beings created equally in the image of God. Romans 12 has been on my heart this week, particularly these verses: "Love sincerely. Hate evil. Hold on to what is good. Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other." (Romans 12:9,10 NOG) Indeed, what a wonderful world that would be. It starts with each one of us.