Monday, January 17th, 2011

Beads, braids, and baseball

On this birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, here’s a true story from early in our years of being a multiracial family.

I spread a shabby, faded quilt on the grass beside the baseball diamond, waiting for our son’s game to begin.  One-and-a-half-year-old Talitha and I were in jeans and jackets because the day was cool and windy.  She was wearing her big brother’s baseball cap and it kept slipping down over her eyes.

When Talitha spotted three little blond girls nearby – about four or five years old – she toddled toward them, hopefully holding out her big purple ball, an invitation to play.  They glanced at her, and turned back to their make-believe, ignoring her.

I sat still, puzzled.  I had never seen anything like this happen to Talitha.  Little girls usually would try to get her attention and beg her to play with them.  She hovered near these girls, too young to realize she was being snubbed, and enjoyed watching them play.  They continued as if she weren’t there.

What does a parent think when her child is rejected?  Talitha might be oblivious now, but that wouldn’t last many more months.  Why did those girls treat her as if she were invisible?  Only a few possibilities came to my mind.  “Is it because they’re good friends with each other and don’t know how to let a new person into their circle?  Is it because she’s so much younger and doesn’t know how to play their game?  Or is it because she’s black?

After about ten minutes, a gust of wind cleared away my fog of perplexity when it blew off her oversized baseball cap, uncovering her beads and braids.  I heard one of the children squeal, “She’s a girl!”  Another picked up the big purple ball from the ground and they began to play a rolling game with her.

Later, as I watched them teaching her how to somersault, I realized that the cold spring breeze had uncovered something besides a little girl’s hairdo – it had revealed my inclination to sift the actions and attitudes of other people through the sieve of my own sensitivity and expectations.  I was so tuned to find racial prejudice that I thought I’d found it.  How else, I had thought, could I explain their treatment of Talitha?  The real “prejudice” of those little girls – against little boys – had never occurred to me.

In the first months after we adopted Talitha into our white family, my radar for detecting reactions around us was extremely sensitive.  I remember some times when people watched us intently, and I thought I read disapproval of our mixed-race family.  But then they might say, “What a beautiful baby!”  And I would turn off my radar and realize that sometimes I myself stare at families, enjoying the sight of their beautiful babies.

The 19th-century English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said, “Avoid with your whole soul that spirit of suspicion which sours some men’s lives, and to all things from which you might harshly draw an unkind inference turn a blind eye and a deaf ear” (Lectures to My Students, Zondervan Publishers, p. 325).  If my antenna is always circling to detect prejudice in the way people treat my family, my radar screen will be covered with blips.

James 1:19 reminds me that “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”  If I am quick to listen, perhaps I will hear more clearly what a person really means.  If I am slow to speak, I won’t react instantaneously with wrong assumptions about another person’s intentions.  If I am slow to become angry, I can hear God more clearly when he shows me what is really happening.

As I turned to watch my son step up to the plate, I thanked God that he spoke in the springtime wind.

  • Leave a Comment (31)  

31 Responses to “Beads, braids, and baseball”

  1. Thanks for the reminder to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. So needed in my own heart, the heart of the church, and the heart of the nation!!

  2. Great story Noel. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi, I am a new follower of your blog, and your post today really touched my heart. My husband is a pastor, and we find ourselves in a tough season. Thank you for speaking truth. I so needed to hear that today, more thank you know.


  4. Oops, that was more than you know, ha! Sorry!

  5. Such a good reminder (one I needed tonight). It’s so easy as women to pick up on subtleties and to think we are master’s of discerning. Emotions and assumptions can blind us to reality and further cause harm sometimes. sigh… will be posting the spurgeon quote and the James excerpt up on the cabinet! Thanks!

  6. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Noel!

  7. Thank you for this. I have been searching for the Christian perspective on the response to digging deeper into my Asian American identity. I recently took a course in college on Asian American Studies, but I didn’t want to turn overly critical or defensive. This was an extremely encouraging and hope-giving message.

  8. What an amazing thing the internet has become! How much easier it is to learn from one another, many whom we would never have “met” otherwise, the great truths of the Gospel.

    I have read your blog for quite some time and never cease to be amazed at God’s goodness! Thank you for taking the time to be so open and honest.

    May God continue to keep you and your family seeking hard after Him.

  9. I fear I am the Queen of Incorrect First Impressions. The Lord so wants me to slow down, let love believe the best (I Cor. 13 – oh, what a weak area!), and not jump to conclusions. Thank you for the reminder to do this very thing. I am sure I will have ample opportunities tomorrow to do this!

  10. Beautiful story! Thank you for sharing it. I love the Truth behind it, too. It is liberating.

  11. Thanks for sharing this. A wonderful truth.

  12. Oh Thank you so very much for writing this!!! I struggle with suspicion and jumping to conclusions with my family members the most. And my marriage of 10+ years was suffering for it until the Lord chose to reveal the ugliness in my heart. I am going to be meditating on the verse in James today. :)

  13. Thank you, Noel! We are a newly multiracial family with hopes of growing in that area. :) We adopted a biracial baby girl a year ago, and we praise God daily for the precious gift she is. I find, though, that my “radar” is up all too often. Thank you for a sweet reminder of in whom our security lies.

  14. Dear Noel,

    This is such a great truth! Thank you for sharing your experience and your heart. I will be passing it along to a group of women here in Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil. They are all wives of pastors or elders and I try to minister to them and encourage them. Many are also helping to plant a new church, so these words of Spurgeon and James will be importnat for them.

  15. My pastor taught a message on this verse Sunday!! We really need to bridle our tongue!!Listen intently and be slow to speak!! Pray for wisdom. speaking for myself,of course.

  16. Applicable to my life in so many ways…

  17. Thank you for writing this as my husband and I are in the midst of adopting transracially!

  18. Noel,

    Many thanks for this!


  19. It’s amazing how we jump to conclusions in so many areas of life. Thanks for sharing this story!

  20. Noel,
    Thank you so much for sharing this. We are weeks away from traveling to receive our first adopted Rwandan child. What a good word for me to hear as I find myself already rehearsing in my head how I will respond when people ridicule our transracial family! A well timed help indeed! Laura

    • Laura,

      We are also adopting from Rwanda although we are much further down the list….I would love to hear about how it goes when you get to go pick up your child! If you have a blog or wouldn’t mind me contacting you via email, let me know.


  21. Thank you so much for this. We too are a multiracial family. Lately I have found myself expecting racism anytime I am out with my two boys. I really needed to hear this. I am glad not to be alone, and thrilled to be corrected in my assumptions.

  22. Beautiful reminder of how we need to be Spirit-led, and not “mama bear” led as we face different encounters throughout the day as mommy’s to children who are of a different skin color than us, yet so much a part of us. So far we’ve had mostly positive experiences these last 9 months, but I will admit, my prejudice antenna tends to be ready and waiting all too often for those negative comments/looks. Thanks for the verse from James, so good to remember.

  23. Wow. What a needed word. I just did this very thing last night. Mine wasn’t regarding race, but old hurts leading to new bitter assumpitions.
    “….revealed my inclination to sift the actions and attitudes of other people through the sieve of my own sensitivity and expectations.” This really hit home as I realized that this is what I do quite often. It’s amazing how a little truth can be the first step on a path to freedom. Thank you.

  24. Noel,

    Your words of humility, wisdom and grace are treasures to my soul. May the Lord work in my heart and in all of our hearts the desire to love and believe the good in all things. This was a kind, gentle rebuke from the Lord for me to trust His soveriegn goodness in all things. I need to slow down my words, tongue and anger to think and ponder about how all the things that God brings into my life work for good. It is sinfully not my first reaction frequently. I am grateful for His grace and His promise to complete the work that He has begun in me. May we perservere until that day, humbly seeking His strength and grace. Each day may we reflect more of His love and grace to those around us. Thank you for humbly sharing and encouraging us to embrace the precious truths.

    With much love and gratitude

  25. Thank you for your story. I love how the Holy Spirit helps us ‘see’ beyond our thinking and feeling by showing us truth we don’t see.

  26. Dad & Mom Zumstein

    Dear Mrs. Piper,

    Here is what we wrote our three older children this evening . . . one in Canada, one in China, and one in East Texas:

    I found Mrs. Piper’s reflections interesting . . . and very, very good.

    However, as we thought about Daniel, and my own raising in the “North” . . . I realized Mr. & Mrs. John Piper do not understand what it is like to live in the South, especially “small town” South. Yes, I know about John’s “root’s” . . . but they don’t really know. My experience with “race” in the Pacific Northwest was exactly like hers below . . .

    I intend to respond with the above on their blog . . .

    Love Dad & Mom.

    P.S. Their daughter is the same age as Daniel . . . and we believe from the Dominican Republic . . . probably a little “darker” than our Brazilian Amazonian, but not by much . . .

    • Dear Fellow-mom,

      I’m sorry if I sounded as if a proper attitude would insure that there would never be prejudice. I know that’s not true. But I did hope that writing about one incident would remind me not to jump to conclusions that, in themselves, are a sort of prejudice.

      Though we both grew up in the South–my husband in Greenville, SC, and I in a very small town in middle Georgia–it’s true that we’ll never really know what it’s like to be black, wherever we live. So I can only write about what it’s like for us to be a mixed race family.

      And I pray that God will help us be part of helping his children overcome suspicion and prejudice so they can draw together as the brothers and sisters they are.

  27. Amen! “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Prov 18:13

  28. […] Beads, Braids, and Baseball {@Noel Piper} […]

  29. Good Word! May the Lord take away my frequent “spirit of suspicion”.

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