Praise the Lord, I have documentation from my insurance advocate that they will cover reimbursement and ongoing payments for my catheters under this current plan. That’s a temporary solution (I’m secure until my insurance plan changes who knows when and have to fight this all over again) - but it’s an incredibly huge relief for now. Thank you so much to those of you who reached out and told me you were praying, shared it with your networks of prayer warriors, and even looked for disability advocacy groups to take up my cause. Thank you especially to those of you who reached out and told me you plan to join my support team - there is always room for you, and I’m incredibly humbled by the people who have come around me to say that I’m worth keeping on the field and that my quality of life matters.
Last week’s post was written at an emotionally stressful time as I was unsure of the outcome, but I felt such peace when I clicked “post” because I knew the situation was out of my hands. I’d provided the insurance and the benefits advocate all the possible information, and I’d shared my very real need in case of the worst case scenario that my insurance found a loophole to not pay for my medical needs (which I’m told is what the purpose of insurance is…). The body of Christ came around me in such an incredible way, and I am filled with gratitude for all the support provided. I also mentioned the incredible possibility that I had a bunch of people join my support team and that my insurance covers what they are supposed to - which is almost what happened. Praise the Lord! That’s not, however, the best case scenario.
The best case scenario is the miracle of American insurance reimbursing me for the basic medical supplies for the past several months, people joining my team in support of me remaining on the mission field long term, and God intervening in my nerve system and making the catheters unnecessary in the future. That would be unbelievable. But here’s the kicker, I believe it’s possible. I believe in a God who works miracles in my body as well as through the advocacy of the broader body of Christ.
As I was thinking through how to write this post asking for you all to join me in the prayer for that miracle, I saw a few repeated headlines and photos on my Facebook feed. I’ve not been spending loads of time on social media because of how it’s not great for my mental health currently, but this story caught my attention, and I began to think about how it connected to my own situation. The headlines were about Ahmaud Arbery. I realize I lost a bunch of readers just now, and there’s a good chance I’ll lose some more as I keep writing, but the grace and support and love extended to me by my readers ought to also be extended to the innocent people discriminated against differently in America based not on their ability level but rather the color of their skin.
No one who actually talks to me regularly would be surprised by my concern for this issue. The top five most influential theologians in my life are Jemar Tisby, Brandon Washington, Ekemini Uwan, Tim Mackie, and AJ Swoboda - in that order. Look up their pictures. These Jesus loving people have taught me a whole lot about how to look at Jesus from outside my own limited perspective and recognize that Jesus is engaging with those on the margins and when I have a position of privilege, it is my Christian responsibility to advocate for the oppressed. I am currently the oppressed when it comes to issues of access related to my disability, but I am still far more privileged than many people in the world based on the color of my skin.
This was forever made undeniably clear to me when I first met Zachary, the young boy pictured below scotch taping my eye shut in this group photo.
Zach won my heart over eight years ago when I met him during a “mission” trip to Denver. I helped his dad’s church with some outreach, and that church is now what I consider my “sending” church as they prayed over me and commissioned me as their first missionary when I left for Germany seven years ago. Zach has an older brother Drew, and I pray for those two boys regularly. Several years ago, their mom posted something on Facebook about how her elementary aged kids were given suspicious glances by a Target security employee, and I was dumbfounded. They were kids.
I met them as little guys, but as they’ve grown up, I pray more and more fervently for them to stay safe in a world that is so much more dangerous to them than the one I grew up in. I never had to fear for my life when I went out for a walk in my suburban neighborhood. I never felt judging eyes on me when I entered stores, and I certainly never had to fear for my own life if I heard sirens while driving. Zach’s dad is pictured on the far right of that photo, and I call him Pastor Derrick. So does my mom. Pastor Brandon is the big teddy bear near the middle of the photo. These men have taught me so much about loving Jesus and loving others. I look up to them so much, and I still can’t comprehend how these upstanding citizens and role models in the community have repeatedly been objects of suspicion to people who’ve never met them but judged them by the color of their skin.
To be completely honest, I can never fully understand this daily reality they live in, but I can be more intentional to listen to them when they offer me practical ways to advocate for them. One of the few social media posts I saw this week was Pastor Brandon’s wife Cheri telling her white friends, “This is your moment. Mobilize your voice and privilege.” I don’t have a ton of engagement on my Facebook apart from posting my blog links, so I’m trying to be intentional here with the way I use my voice and privilege.
I would love to see as many shares and likes on this post as the one where I asked people to do something for me. Would you step up and do something for my African American friends too? It’s a different minority group than I fall into - is it too different for you to listen to them and advocate for them as well? Is it okay that I’m in a wheelchair because I’m learning to walk again and my skin is white so I’m not that different after all?
I’m still going to ask you to pray for the miracle that my nerve damage is healed and that I can walk and pee again like a normal person. But I’m also asking for perhaps the bigger miracle that you acknowledge your bias and privilege in whatever areas you have them (I know my audience is almost entirely white and economically comfortable) and look for ways to first listen to the voices of the marginalized around you and then actively advocate for their equality and advancement.
One of the things I’ve heard from my minority friends as well as the podcasts and books I’ve engaged with is that they are tired of always being the one to have to speak and educate white people. This hits particularly hard for me when I have conversations with my black students about how they’ve been used as tokens in the classroom. One student I mentor told me with a sigh and an eye roll about one day when she was just a bit tired but it was the lesson on slavery in history class. All eyes turned to her for explanation because she was the only black person in the room. I thought about the lessons I’d had with her older sister in my class and hoped that I’d been able to speak supportively as an advocate for equality while also giving space for her voice to speak louder than mine. I don’t want to rob her of her space to speak because she is intelligent, articulate, and on track to become an incredible lawyer who hopefully learned something helpful about crafting her written closing arguments from her AP English teacher. More importantly, I hope she saw that her AP English teacher was capable of representing diverse voices and perspectives in a God honoring way and wasn’t going to depend on her to be the token voice of black people.
I have a long way to go, but I’m grateful for the grace and encouragement from multiple students who let me apologize when I realized mistakes I’d made. The most laughable and obvious one was when a Korean student watched me fumble through excuses when we started to watch Holiday Inn, but I had to turn it off when I realized the only minority people in the entire film were the offensively portrayed cook and her two children who are side characters singing along with the racist black face song and dance. We switched to White Christmas which has an entirely white cast. I had one last hope for a classic film to share with her and was horrified to discover my memory of Louis Armstrong as central to the film High Society was grossly mistaken as he’s yet another trope to magnify the good guy Bing Crosby.
My Korean student was unbelievably gracious with my ignorance of my own beloved movies, and we eventually found a movie to watch with the positive message of the value of all people through it’s cast representation and plot, but I had to face the reality that I’d unknowingly celebrated stories that excluded other perspectives. The “normal” movies in my upbringing were all white. My all time favorite TV show is M*A*S*H. Have you ever watched all of season one? Did you ever wonder what happened to Spearchucker? The character disappeared from the show when the writers discovered that black surgeons weren’t allowed in the army during the Korean War. They worked for historically accurate representation, and there were other minority characters throughout the series, and in fact even had a whole episode about pranking a racist patient who didn’t want to receive blood from donors who weren’t white.
The show isn’t perfect, and neither am I. I am, however, working to be more like Jesus, to listen to others, and to use my privilege to advocate for a better world for minority students who come through my class. I hope that this post is also a way that I can help make a better world for kids like Zach and Drew who deserve to feel safe and affirmed wherever they go.
If you made it through this extra long post, here’s my weekly prayer request: Pray for miracles. You can be a part of the miracle of dismantling systems of oppression by seeking out and listening to minority voices this week. You can be part of the miracle of keeping me supported financially on the mission field. You can be part of praying for the miracle of God’s intervention in restoring my nerve function. All of those beautiful miracles can happen simultaneously, and I hope you’ll see the connection in them as I pray for the flourishing of all people recognizing that that means this week I use the limited platform I have to try to elevate the voices of others.
If you’d like voices more eloquent and informed than mine on these topics, Jemar Tisby and Ekemini Uwan are active across multiple social media platforms - particularly Twitter. Brandon and Cheri Washington both frequently write and share public posts on their Facebook profiles that are Jesus loving, honest perspectives.
Podcasts I would recommend with those same voices are Pass the Mic, Truth’s Table, and Footnotes with Jemar Tisby. The Witness BCC (www.thewitnessbcc.com) provides helpful, thoughtful, and Jesus based perspectives on current events. The Jude 3 Project podcast has also taught me a lot more names of credible theologians who I wouldn’t have otherwise heard. Jemar Tisby’s book The Color of Compromise is well researched and highly informative. Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is another voice I value highly who writes beautifully in her memoir A Sojourner’s Truth. If you’re going old school, Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited is a short, powerful read and James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree is a hugely influential text in the area of African American theology; both texts have helped me to see more of the truth of Jesus outside of my social context.