trust.

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I just returned from a little trip to Dallas, a little Tex-Mex food, a little speaking, a little fun with friends, and a whole lot of vulnerability practice. Loved it all. (Well, maybe not the crying in front of hundreds of people part.) It was worth it. It was worth finding more of myself so that I could offer more of myself to the gracious audience at the Tapestry Conference – a ministry and team who I have developed such a respect and admiration for the ways in which they are serving the adoption and foster care world. I want to live by them, laugh with them and enjoy them EVERY day! I continue to find healing by being in relationship with them. Deeply grateful for the opportunity to be hosted by such fine Texans, both this year and last.

This time when I spoke, I revealed all the ways and reasons why it’s really hard for an adopted person to trust…people, God. I shared how awful it feels when people leave, fall passive – physically and/or emotionally. And then, how when that happens, the human heart is left fearful of people and wandering – by itself, unprotected and without direction. How does/why would, a heart trust when it begins believing so early that it needs to navigate life and relationships and its feelings…alone?

How does a heart learn how to sink and soar when it has no place, no one, to explore from and return to?

And then, because you can’t leave hundreds of people in despair during a keynote, I shifted my focus from sharing all the ways that I had labored so hard in order to not need people, to how it was only in my awakening to the reality that I actually needed Jesus more than people when my process of learning to trust could begin.

The lies I’ve believed are being named.

The truth of how God sees me is being heard.

The veils my heart have worn for so long are being removed.

And then compassion…God’s compassion, his “rachum.” Oh, how it’s pouring over me. Oh, how it’s beginning to settle in me. The kind of compassion that was designed to flow like a mother’s love to her baby, in the womb – the very space a child is most vulnerable. That’s what I’ve needed. That’s what I’ve longed for. That’s what we all were created for – to be loved like that. To sit in that tender space that rests between us and God…and receive…perfect love, the kind of love that drives out fear. To allow a holy and sacred exchange to happen…of giving, of receiving…so that trust can emerge. And then, offer that kind of space in our relationships, with one another, to our children.

Trust begins with a holy and sacred exchange.

Parents – we need you. We need honest, vulnerable, forgiving, restorative relationships where our healing has a place to work itself out. You are the people I believe God is calling to be a part of your children’s healing. God will do his part. All you have to focus on is your part. And here’s your part…practice entering into the tender and intimate space that God has created between you and him. Practice spending time with your advocate. Practice listening to what he is whispering to you, what he is speaking over you. Practice spending time without your veils. Practice being loved, so that you can be love. Allow the holy and sacred exchange to happen. And in doing so, I believe that in that space, you will begin understanding what trust truly is. And then, because you know what that space feels like and because you know how good it feels there, you will begin realizing that perhaps trust is nothing that can be proven or earned. It’s only something that will happen when a space is created for love to be experienced. And then, create that kind of space for your children, invite them in. Show them how loved they are. Maybe as our children witness our belief, our trust in God, it could pave the pathway for their belief, their trust, to form and deepen with that kind of God, in that kind of love.

Maybe all of this good movement forward, this progression in the parent-child world, is directly related to the extent in which we as the parents, we as the advocates, allow ourselves to be on a healing journey too. We get to model God’s love – how deep and wide it is – and the mystery and beauty that he is, and who we need, to experience trust.

Maybe, trust transforms. All of us.

You create the space. Let God do the healing.

With much love and gratitude for not only the ways you are “listening” to your children, but also “leaning in.”

 

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I DO x 10.

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October 3, 2013

Dear Lover (said in the very best SNL “hot tub lovers” accent),

Ten years ago today we walked down that aisle, ready for commitment and companionship, intimacy and trust. We held hands and kissed and said, “I DO.” We believed that God had brought us together – that wild, rebellious, adventurous guy and that independent, sweet, obedient girl – who defied the culture around us and dated and waited well through our late twenties. We felt mature. We felt ready. We were happy. We were about to take a leap into marriage bliss, into our future, into forever, together. That day, our day, was unique and classy and beautiful. Nothing extravagant, just simple and meaningful. Just perfectly us.

And here we are, a decade later, still together – still skipping and fumbling and wandering and wondering, still learning to cherish and honor, still learning to fall…in love. We haven’t “arrived.” We’re still traveling. I’m so, so grateful for how our love story keeps moving and shifting and becoming…truer, deeper, wider.

Here’s what I know today, that I didn’t know 3,650 days ago:

I know a lot more about what comes with commitment. It’s in the “staying” – when hot, angry words fly around, when wrong and reactive responses come spewing out, when a cold shoulder gets shoved in a face, when the heart shuts off and takes a hike, when money and property and home-owning don’t go as planned, when romance and adventure fizzle and flop, when negative family patterns and personalities flare up, when ideas and ideals get squashed, when children call out the worst in you. These are the war zones, where the battles take place, when we want to quit. They’re brutal. They’re ugly. We’ve stepped on some killer land mines. Yet, we’re here. We both keep showing up. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes God only knows how we’ve made it back to one other. But we did. We’ve stayed.

I know a lot more about what comes with companionship. It’s in the “playing” – together, and with others. Something really good happens when we take the time to be alone, to be adults, to be friends. We’ve always talked and listened and processed – in the car, on the phone, in restaurants, in the living room, on vacations. We talk about what matters and what doesn’t matter. We keep making each other laugh…hard. We explore and discover, we re-visit and reminisce. Your “bads” are my “goods.” My “goods” are your “bads.” You introduce me to your world of boats and beer and wide open country – of peace. I introduce you to my world of mindfulness and moscato and big cities – of adventure. And then we invite others into our world – people who laugh with us (maybe at us) and play with us and who feel comfortable with us. We’re totally “people” people who love to laugh and eat and play. These have remained essentials in our marriage.

I know a lot more about what comes with intimacy. It’s in the “sharing” – openly, honestly, graciously. We were both intellectually reflective people back in the beginning, but neither of us knew much about what it really meant to connect, emotionally. Neither of us had many positive, lasting experiences being vulnerable, with ourselves, with others. This didn’t set us up well. But I’ve been learning…what it means to put your whole self on the table and allow it to be heard, received, pushed back on, embraced. I’m learning what it means to get mad and sad and scared, what it means to soar. And then, what to do with all of that, how to “be” with all of that, how to respond to all of that. I’m learning to see more of what’s inside me. I’m learning to see more of what’s inside you. Sometimes I might not like what I see, but I’m wanting, I’m choosing, to see the remarkable and the perfectly OK parts…in both of us – with openness, with honesty, with grace.

I know a lot more about what comes with trust. It’s in the “believing” – in one another’s goodness. It’s easy to think someone’s trustworthy when the endorphins rage and the romance stays. But, now we know how easily the endorphins fade and the romance can drift away. I (kind of) thought I trusted people, especially you, wholeheartedly. Winds up I didn’t. Now I know, I trusted mostly myself. Winds up that doesn’t work, at least in marriage. Somewhere I learned that someone is trustworthy only if they never hurt you. Which means, somewhere I learned that people aren’t human. But, they are. You are. I am. We’re learning what it means to repair the ruptures, start over, re-do – with respect, with acceptance, with forgiveness. We’re learning how to be human, together. We’re learning this new of way of believing…in one another.

So I guess that over the past ten years, I’ve been learning what you sign up for when you say, “I DO.” It’s not about getting hitched and wearing some bling and building a house and growing onions and cranking out darling Korean/Norwegian babies. It’s not about the picture of the perfectly posed wedding couple, smiling, admiring one another. It’s about what’s IN them – in us – and how God wants to use what’s happened BEHIND each of us to create something redemptive THROUGH us, together, FORWARDS. It’s about building and breaking and re-building. It’s about staying and playing and sharing and believing. It’s about love – learning what it means and feels like and looks like from above. And then, offering that kind of love in ways that free you, free me, so that we can create something sacred and true, together, that gives an even a fuller picture of LOVE himself…to one another, to the world.

I’m quite certain, that’s what we signed up for that day. Let’s keep leaning and living into THAT love story!

I’m in this, with you.

Happy I DO x 10, Baby!

I love you…still…always.

With much love and gratitude for where we are, right now…

Carissa

PS – I still love that I married someone with big eyes for my babies!

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finding him. finding her. finding us.

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He strolled down the school halls like he owned the school. His dark brown hair, wavy mullet to follow, gave the perfect “I am too sexy” look. My eyes were drawn to those black, denim pegged pants, thinking he was the coolest male ever. He was the rebel, the joker, the teaser, the pleaser. And there I was, the new girl, the home-schooled girl, the girl in mauve glasses carrying her flute and wearing her matching navy blue and green whale sweater and turtleneck.

cdwed 001pic 20He flirted with me.

I giggled.

He smiled at me.

I thought he liked me.

He didn’t like me back.

So, I became friends with his sister.

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A decade later, we started dating.

Four and half years later, we got married.

Nine years later, we’re still saying, “I DO.”

We laugh, we play, we cuddle, we talk, we fight, we shut down, we retreat, we apologize, we forgive, we repair, we soften…and then we do it all over again and again and again.

We’ve worked hard. We’re still working. We’re still learning. We’re still discovering…ourselves, one another, what we signed up for.

When we started this, when we started, “ us,” we had no clue what really came with, “I DO.” No clue at all.

Choosing a mate can be exciting and daunting, exhilarating and scary. For many of us, we have this deep desire to spend the rest of our lives with someone – someone who we get to share our entire life with. I mean seriously, the benefits are amazing – companionship, intimacy, fun, protection, advocacy, love, belonging. The list could go on forever! Yet, we all know the statistics on divorce, the breakdowns, the fractures, the splits. We get it. Staying together in this world, this culture, it’s hard. Really hard. When we say, “I DO,” we don’t ever think it’s going to be us. We don’t ever want to be one of those statistics. We don’t ever want to be the main character on the next Bachelor/Bachelorette show because our love didn’t make it.

So, how do we choose? Well?

To stay connected, we have to know how to connect.

To experience trust, we have to know how to cultivate trust.

To offer love, we have had to feel loved.

To work through the disappointment, we’ve had to learn what to do with it.

To find a mate, we have to have found ourselves.

The dopamine only lasts for a certain amount of time. Yes, the “commitment” hormones kick in, but we have to choose to do the work.

I hope you have practice choosing…connection, respect, trust, love, forgiveness, humility, integrity, sacrifice, grace, perseverance.

I hope you know who you are – the good parts, the hard parts.

I hope you know who God says you are.

And then, have the practice of offering who you are to the world.

Because then, I think you’ll know when that same kind of person steps into your world.

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Celebrating the love within you, around you, how it shines through you.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

oh, how he loves…ALL of us.

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“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

It’s a song many of us sang throughout our childhood. The words come easily, the tune, naturally. We sang it. We believed it. We believed that Jesus loved everyone. But, did we learn to love everyone? Did we practice loving everyone? Do we? Now?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 84 this year. Many Americans and non-Americans remember his “I Have a Dream” speech. These words come easily. Yet, the courage and acceptance that is needed to live out his anthem, doesn’t always come naturally.

When I read his speech through more grown up eyes and ears and mind and heart, the phrases and words stand out to me in different ways, new ways, simpler ways.

This is a speech about a person’s dignity, not just about a person’s skin color.

This is a speech about a person’s well being, not just about sharing a meal together or holding hands.

This is a speech about a person’s soul, not just about fighting for equal rights.

This is a speech about having the opportunity to bring forth life…in us, in a nation.

This is a speech about what God dreams for his world.

Dr. King’s speech was profound and stunning and inspiring and dramatic in its day, but there’s something even more profound and stunning and inspiring and dramatic in his speech for us, today.

We live in a time where seemingly there is more fear and insecurity and shame and pride and anger and despair and suffering than ever. “Slavery” was supposed to have ended in 1965, right? So why do so many people today still feel enslaved, held back, unseen, dismissed, discriminated against, judged? For some, yes, their reach for freedom is thwarted by institutional power and policies, but really, when it comes down to it, aren’t these feelings perpetuated, knowingly and unknowingly, by people – their words, their jokes, their smirks, their bumper stickers, their t-shirt logos, their Facebook posts, their sermons, their handbook rules?

Our values, our beliefs, our faith…they pour out of us, sometimes without even a thought or intent. We live in a nation that is “for” freedom and justice. Yet, our actions often times send the opposite message. We want people to value what we value, believe what we believe, be what we want them to be. Life would sure feel easier if they did. But, that’s not real life. We aren’t all alike. We all step into this world from different places, stories that have shaped us and made us who we are today. There are so many categories we put people in, are put in. They keep us separate, distant, disconnected. Boxes and categories and labels don’t produce freedom. They don’t sustain justice. They don’t create together-ness. They don’t promote equality.

So, we have a choice. We have a responsibility. We have an opportunity…to love…everyone.

May we feel a sense of “urgency” in our own homes, in our own towns, in our own country, to create in our own small ways, an environment, a space where people feel welcome, seen, heard, accepted, free…free to walk with dignity and goodness.

May we “refuse to believe” that bitterness or hatred or violence is a means to a just end.

May we face the injustice and unrighteousness and wickedness with “soul force.”

May we have the “discipline” to fight for people’s well being and humanity.

May we come to believe that “…their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And…that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

May we, “not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

May we, “…be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together knowing that we will be free one day.”

Because, “…if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”

No matter what skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, income or weight…“all men and woman are created equal.”

Jesus loves all the children of the world.

Note: Words and phrases in quotations come directly from Dr. King’s speech.

You can read Dr. King’s speech here.

You can read 2 other racism-related posts here and here.

 

entering in.

So happy to introduce to you Tona Ottinger, an adoptive mama, an adoption advocate, a woman who seeks the beauty and hope in the world around her. I met her in my ever growing circle of adoption and have grown to love her heart for Jesus and her heart for what it means to parent the heart of her children. I’m confident you will be encouraged and inspired by what she has to share about “entering in” to the brokenness and beauty of story.

I like happy endings and packages wrapped in pretty bows. I like predictability and I grapple for control. I avoid pain whenever possible, trying instead to look on the bright side and think the best of everyone and all situations.

But that is not life. That is not relationships and it is certainly not reality. It is not living in the moment. When I choose to live in the moment, my heart is pushed to be honest. I am faced with a fallen and broken world, with shattered hopes and hurting people. I am forced to see the fractured pieces of lives affected by sin, evil, and suffering, including my own. The present is where my feelings are and where I should live. It is also where I hear the voice of the Lord and experience His presence and His peace that truly does surpass all understanding. He speaks, reveals, heals, and redeems in the present moment.

When we live in the moment, we are open and vulnerable to both pain and healing, to both fear and peace, to both sadness and joy, and to both loss and hope. When I focus too much on the past I get stuck. When I long too much for the future I am either paralyzed with fear of the unknown or lost in fairytale day dreaming about all the possible “what ifs.” But, I am not living with the joy and freedom of being present.

As a mom of four precious children through the gift of adoption, I have come to see that my children live in the present. Yes, they are affected greatly by the reality of their past and the loss, pain, and fear that weaves its hand through their stories. They are often very fearful of the future, but the healing they so desperately need happens moment by moment as we walk throughout our days. They are living and healing inthe moment.

They are longing for someone to cling to. Someone to trust. Someone to put their hope in and someone who will love them unconditionally, ultimately as Christ loves us. This is a tall order for a weak and fallen human to fulfill. I fail often. I make mistakes, and I am far from perfect. So I cling to His lavish grace. I need the same things they need from Him. So we are on a journey together. But that journey is lived taking one step as a time in the present moment. Where we all need grace, healing, trust, and compassion from our heavenly Father.

As their mom, I must be willing to enter into their pain and watch God heal and work. As much as I want to control, protect and rescue them, that is not what God has called me to do. That is His job. Please do not misunderstand me; I take very seriously the role that God has ordained for me and my husband within our children’s stories. We have the divine privilege of walking with them on their healing journey. God created the human heart and mind to operate inrelationship. That is where healing and hope reside. But, I cannot force this process and I must cling to Him as I wait.

Henry Nouwen says this about compassion:

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

We are all broken and in that brokenness is the place where God’s redemptive hand creates great beauty. There can only be healing where there was pain. Peace can rush into the place that fear once took residence.

As God knits our families together through adoption, we are given a divine invitation to enter into our children’s lives with compassion and hope.

The human heart is sacred ground. There is power in sharing our stories and lives with one another. God created us as beings that are to live in community, with one another. We are, after all, made in Hisimage; the image of a triune God – One God in three persons. Relationship, community, family, life on life; this is how God created us to function. Together.

As an adoptive family we stand amazed that God in his infinite sovereignty searched the globe over and chose the 6 of us to live life together. None of us are related by birth or blood. None of us share an ounce of DNA, but we are a family.

We are a picture of his creative hand.

We are living life together.

We are loving deeply.

We are hoping in Him.

A song that speaks to Tona’s heart: Beautiful Things by Gungor

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Tona Ottinger has been married to Mark for 15 years and they live in Tennessee, where Mark serves as the Pastor to Families at Fellowship Memphis. They have four blessings through adoption. Camden(12yrs) – came home from South Korea at 10 months old. Mia (11yrs) – was adopted domestically at birth. Mallie (9yrs) – was adopted from Hong Kong at the age of 3yrs. Dax (8yrs) – was adopted domestically at 4 months old. They are passionate about special needs adoptions as well as compassionately walking with their children through their stories. Together they head up a city-wide ministry that resources and supports adoptive and foster families, as well as several projects that support the local foster care system. The Ottingers are parent trainers for Empowered to Connect. Tona is passionate about living a hope-filled life of abiding in Christ and being fully known and loved by Him. You can follow Tona on her blog.

 

on adoption…

Adoption November…national adoption month.

November…a month that recognizes and honors ALL the stories, ALL the people, connected to adoption.

I’m excited to have two guest bloggers this month share their journey in the adoption process, how this process has and is transforming who they are, and one friend who will give some really helpful and profound insight into understanding God’s voice and intention to what it means to “care for the orphan.”

Also, during the month of October, I had some beautiful adoptive moms read, Before You Were Mine – a book that my coauthor and I wrote a few years back. They have all written reviews of the book that I look forward to sharing with you in an attempt to help other parents capture their children’s birth stories in a Lifebook in honest and creative and intentional ways. I’m grateful for how these women were open to understanding the gift a Lifebook can be for their children in remembering where they’ve come from, the road they’ve traveled to get to their home, their “forever” family. I’m humbled by the way God allowed the message of the book to really soak in.

So, however you are connected to adoption, may you continue to step towards those lives in affirming ways, reminding adoptees of who they are…wanted, needed, loved, worth fighting for.

Adoptees…may you be reminded of how deep and wide the love of God pierces to your innermost soul. May you know how much you matter and the amazing gift you are to those around you, to this world.

Adoptive parents…may you be reminded of how capable you are to nurture and nourish the hearts and minds and bodies of the children you have invited into your home. May God continue to equip and empower you as you lean on him and as you allow the process of adoption to heal the deep parts of you, the deep hearts of your children.

Our stories – the beauty and the brokenness…they are meant to be shared and honored and redeemed, bearing witness to how good God is.

“Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray

 

racism: part 1

The way we look…it’s so hard not to judge, be critical of, what we look like. It’s like we have this sense, this feeling, deep down, that what we image to the world isn’t good enough. Our hair and eyes and nose and lips, our arms and waist and legs and hips…they’re all created in the image of God, right? Then why, why, why do we forever spend time wishing they clung to our bodies differently, more beautifully, like the ones we see behind storefront glass and billboards and TV? Is there someone somewhere with the ultimate body and skin type and height out there, or up there, sending us subliminal messages about who’s in and who’s out?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had people ask me, “What are you?” Weird. Awkward. Rude. Ignorant? I always knew that what they were searching for is to know what ethnicity my features reflected. So, I would always respond with, “I’m Korean.” I’ll totally admit that there were a few feisty times that I responded with, “What are you? I’m a person, a girl.” I loved catching people off guard. The random comments continued as people willingly shared with me how I reminded them of other Asian people and told me which of my features mirrored the Japanese, Chinese or Koreans. And then, there was that one time, when someone I had just met asked me if I knew a Korean girl in Michigan, and as I naively tried to connect how I knew her, he said, “Oh, I just thought that you would know her because she’s Korean too.” Seriously…that happened. And then, I have lots of stories about people assuming that I know karate or kung fu and telling me what good English I speak. I’ve always thanked them and let them know I’ve been working on it for 30+ years. And then, there have been those shocking times when good intentioned people have said, “Well, at least you’re not full blown Korean.” I guess to look more Asian would be a bad thing.

It’s been tiring to have people question and comment on and evaluate my appearance…all because I look different than they do.

Funny how we live in a country that’s so interested, so naïve, and in some places, so homogeneous that we think a person of color is so rare that we would feel the need to ask him/her, “What are you?”

I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve felt hurt, and even angry.

And then, I began learning how America found herself in these shoes. These shiny, better shoes that shouted privilege and power for almost 350 years (Did you know that the first slaves were brought to America in 1619?). For some, knowingly. For others, ignorantly. And, just for the record, I’ve been in these shoes. I’ve misused my privilege, my power. But now, years later, I hope to use my experience, my privilege, my face, my voice…for good.

So, like most growth and change and paradigm shifts, it began with awareness…awareness of what moments with people, with people of color, were significant, were defining, which meant that most likely, I had some emotion attached to that experience.

For me, my first memories of people of color involved experiences like, “Lock your doors. We’re going through the bad part of town.” Or, seeing a black man sitting on a curb, passed out, dirty, poor. Or, seeing an Asian woman aggressively and angrily shouting words that sounded like a mix between Chinese and English to a cook in a kitchen. Or, a Mexican family in the heat of the night all piled on a porch with all their kids running through the streets, unattended and wild. Or, an Arab man with a keffiyeh on his head walking mysteriously through the mall. And, even sometimes, on the TV, on the news, when time after time a person of color is being highlighted for a crime that he may or may not have committed. I remember these moments. My world? It consisted of almost all White people. The people of color I saw were distant, helpless, stuck out, bad.

Images: they’re vivid and piercing and sustaining.

Words: they’re descriptive and powerful and stick.

What was shown to us, what was told to us, what we experienced…it lingers.

What we see, what we say, what we do…it shapes us. It shapes how we view others…”them.”

Did you know that by age 3 there is already an awareness of racial difference? And by age 10, 90% of attitudes towards other ethnicities are set? That’s either a lot of significant emotional experiences with people of color or a few really powerful ones. Whatever way you look at it, the human mind and heart get shaped, deeply, by the experiences we have with people of color. If we’ve had more negative experiences with people of color than positive experiences, we will need other powerful experiences to change the power of those first memories.

For me in my journey, this shift began with listening…listening to stories shared by people of color – their hurt, their suffering, their pain, the misunderstanding, the violence, the injustice, the inequality – and believing them. It’s been reading books like Healing Racism in America by Nathan Rutstein. It’s been watching films like, Ethnic Notions (California Newsreel) and Shadow of Hate (Charles Guggenheim) and Blue Eyed (California Newsreel) and Color of Fear (Stir Fry Productions) and Crash (Paul Haggis). It’s been attending Institutes for Healing Racism. It’s been understanding more of how God calls us to love…everyone, no matter what color skin they may wear. These experiences have all been a part of my awareness, my learning, my recovery…of seeing people as human, not less than human. And, at the same time, hearing my own voice (and God’s voice) tell myself that what I look like is good, is beautiful, is enough. And somehow, in gracious ways, asking for others to see me, my Asian features, as needed, as human.

Perhaps we could start the conversation with, “Who are you?” instead of “What are you?”

So, if you find yourself stepping into a culture that values sameness, may your heart begin to value different-ness. I have this belief, this hope, that stepping into different experiences and crowds and cultures and parts of town could bring us perspective, relationship, love, wholeness…more of Jesus.

Because when I think about Jesus having a dinner party, I’m pretty sure that there would be a place at the table for everyone.