Understanding Hidden Prejudice

I have a hidden prejudice against a certain group of people.

There.  I said it.  I’m posting it online for the world to read and digest.  Where did it come from? How did I discover that it existed within the walls of my soul, influencing the way I acted around this group of people and how I felt about them?

I will gladly tell you about it.  But first, I think I need to just clear the air for anyone who is trying to figure out who the target is for my hidden prejudice.

Smokers.

ashtray

I have an issue with smokers.  When did it start? I think back to my early years, listening to my teachers and parents talk about the dangers of smoking, and all the anti-smoking campaigns I have heard over the years.  Perhaps my perception of smokers was based on the stories I read about people burning to death in their beds from a lit cigarette or forest fires started by someone who was smoking. I’ve seen the litter caused by unused portions of cigarettes and I have endured second hand smoke from people smoking in public places. In my mind, all this added up to the conclusion that smokers are weak human beings who can’t stand up under peer pressure and don’t have the willpower to quit.  They are irresponsible, lazy, messy, rude, selfish and don’t care how their smoking habit affects those around them.

Special note to any smokers or former smokers reading this who are among my family or friends, I DO NOT FEEL THIS WAY ABOUT YOU.

Isn’t it great how the human brain can compartmentalize people and situations separately? Some thoughts and feelings that may seem to be contradictory can be rationalized within our minds based on the category in which we place them.

Somehow, I’m able to reconcile my beliefs about smokers in general by putting them in a separate category from the specific people with whom I have an established relationship.  In this way, I can feel very differently about people I care about, who also happen to smoke.

I would never call my friends or family members irresponsible, lazy, messy, rude, selfish or uncaring.  I KNOW THEM.

I think this is a very important point when trying to understand hidden prejudice.  I’ll explain more in a minute. First of all, I want to explain how I discovered my hidden prejudice toward smokers a certain summer afternoon about five years ago.

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rainonwindow

Here’s the story:  My husband and I, with our four little kids, were enjoying ice cream with his sister’s family at a local ice cream shop in Mobile, Alabama.  As we got ready to leave the store, we realized that it was pouring down rain outside.  We had left our umbrellas in our van which was parked on the other side of the parking lot.  As I stood under the small overhang area outside the store, watching my husband run out to the van, I tried to figure out the best way to keep the kids from running out in the rain. That was when I noticed someone standing nearby smoking a cigarette.

My gut reaction was immediate.  I groaned internally, as I thought to myself, “Great.  Not only are we going to get soaking wet, but we have to deal with this guy’s cigarette smoke, as well.” Every negative thought I had about smokers came to my mind as I picked up my two year old and tried to subtly gather my four year old, six year old and seven year old together so that we could stand as far away from the smoker as possible.  In my mind, he was just another irresponsible, lazy, messy, rude, selfish and uncaring individual.

And that’s when the man did something unexpected. As my husband pulled up with our family van, the man put out his cigarette and came running over to me with an open umbrella.  I was taken aback as he insisted on helping me get the children to the car so they wouldn’t get wet.  It took a couple trips, but when we were done, I smiled sheepishly at him and thanked him.

As we drove away, I realized three important things:
1. I have a hidden prejudice against smokers.
2. Not all smokers line up with my prejudice.
3. My prejudice against smokers isn’t an accurate portrayal of all people who smoke.

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Now I’d like to come back to my earlier point about understanding hidden prejudices. The best way to find out if you have a hidden prejudice, it is to test how you feel when you see a stranger in that specific category.

Begin by asking yourself, what is your gut reaction when you see a stranger in a specific category?  How do you feel when you don’t have any other information about them beside the category that jumps out to you first?  What if that category is a skin color?  Or people of a specific nationality?  Or people from a specific area of town or neighborhood?   Or people who hold a specific type of job? Like the police? Or lawyers?  Or journalists? Republicans?  Democrats?

I think some of you are already feeling that gut reaction just looking at the words I’ve written above.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that categories of specific people groups should be compared to the bad habit of smoking.  Obviously, those are two different things.  People are not a bad habit.  But when we are talking about how prejudices form, the same principles apply.

What I had to realize is that every experience that I have in life either feeds on the prejudices I have or breaks those prejudices down.

After all, there are plenty of examples to backup my prejudice against smokers.  I still see cigarette butts littering public areas.  I still hear about people starting fires accidentally because they weren’t responsible with their smoking habit.  Not too long ago, when I was stepping off an elevator, a smoker stepping into the elevator blew a huge puff of smoke directly into my face.

FIND YOUR UMBRELLA PERSON

umbrella

However, realizing that I have a prejudice against people who smoke, I can stop those prejudices from influencing my reaction to strangers who smoke by thinking about my “umbrella” man.  Now I can remind myself that not all people who smoke are irresponsible, lazy, messy, rude, selfish and uncaring.  In fact, some are very kind and will go out of their way to help a stranger who is caught in the rain with four small children. 

I am so grateful for that moment.   One moment was all I needed.  Because of that one moment  I was able to have a bright, vibrant example of unmerited grace extended to me from someone I was holding a prejudice.  We all need to find those umbrella people in our lives in order to break through our prejudices.  I can’t think of anything else that will influence our souls in a more powerful and effective way.

BE AN UMBRELLA PERSON FOR OTHERS

I also think this situation can be quite meaningful when reflecting on the racial, political and social tensions we are seeing today.   Whether we do it intentionally or not, many of us fall into a category of someone else’s prejudice. How can we provide an umbrella when there is a downpour of fear, hate and anger raging outside?

umbrellaI want to become that “umbrella” person for others.  Sometimes it’s not enough to just know in my head that I don’t stand for injustice, social inequality or racism.  But I know I can’t fight hidden prejudice with words alone.  I have to do it with actions that contradict those gut reactions that stem from the roots of the prejudice beliefs held about certain people.

I want to go back to my prejudice for people who smoke.  If a group of smokers started protesting against non-smokers (like me) by destroying things, committing unlawful acts and being hateful in the efforts to force me to accept their smoking habits, that’s only going to feed the prejudice I already have for them. In the end, that is never going to change my mind about them.

Also, consider what would happen if that  group of smokers try to win me over with facts and figures to dispel my opinions on smokers and change my behavior toward them?  They could tell me about all the people dying for obesity and abuse of alcohol or other types of drugs.  They could be logical and straight forward, and have some really great arguments in their favor.  But mostly likely, they still won’t change the way I feel.   The reason why logic doesn’t usually help to win over people with hidden prejudice is because those prejudices don’t reside in the logical spaces of our minds.  They get stuck in the dusty, dark places in our souls that we don’t like to show people.  In a debate of logic, the prejudices we have usually ends up builds a wall between our brains and our hearts, and the members of each side remain fixed on the opposite sides of the debate.

What makes the difference?

It only took one man extending grace toward me.  And that’s what being “an umbrella person” is all about.  It’s about grace extended from one human being to another. It’s the grace that keeps the rain of fear, anger and hate from drenching our souls, and brings us together under the umbrella of grace even if we stand on different sides of an issue or platform.

In the end, I have to decide if I’m going to allow my prejudice to grow stronger based on all the bad examples I’ve seen and experienced, or do my best to look for umbrella people in my life.

You can find them, too. And they are out there. I promise.  Sometimes we have to search long and hard for them, because they don’t often show up in the media and they are not usually the ones seeking the attention of the masses or trying to make a name for themselves in social media.

In the meantime, I will also do my best to become an umbrella person for others. I hope in some way, my article has provided a bit of an umbrella for you, the reader.  Know that you have intrinsic value beyond your skin color, your nationality, your job or your social status.

selfworth

 

 

 

 

Preparing a “RAFT” while the ship is sinking

David C. Pollock was a sociologist who did various studies on children in internationally mobile communities.  He labeled these children as “third-culture” because their parents’ home culture and language were different than the culture in which they were currently living.  These children often balance speaking different languages, adjust to different climates, and learn different cultural norms outside of their home. For some of these families, this cultural adaptation happens again and again during the course of their childhood so that many different cultures impact the way they view the world.  This process has both its positive and negative affects on the way these children eventually identify themselves as adults.

Part of his studies focused on the negative impact that comes from the losses these transient children (and adults) experience as they often are relocated to new and different cultures.  Pollock created a strategy using the acronym, “RAFT” to help people process the emotions of leaving people and places they love and to be able to transition to their new location.  This building of a RAFT includes a plan to help deal with the emotional loss of separation and to be able to connect well with a new location.  IN this plan, you take the time for reconciliation, show appreciation for meaningful relationships, and make time for those important farewells while getting prepared mentally for a future destination.

raft

It’s a great plan….if you have the time to do it.

But what happens when you don’t have the basic ingredient to this plan? What if there is no time?  It’s as if someone says, “The ship is sinking!” and everyone around you starts to abandon ship before you even know what is going on.  In the midst of it all, someone says, “Oh, yeah, build this raft! Hope you make it!  Bye-bye!”

The first example that comes to me is a recent experience I had living in mainland China.  There was a national campaign in 2018 to remove as many foreigners living in the most heavily regulated cities.  Foreigners were arrested, questioned and detained if there was anything out of order in their paperwork.  After that, 90% or more of those foreigners who were “detained” (a.k.a. sent to Chinese prisons), were deported.  Specifically, whatever belongings could be brought to the airport by co-workers or friends was all that they had to take home with them. They were sent directly from the detention center to the airport on their final day in China.  There was no chance to say good-bye or even make sure that all personal belongings had been retrieved.  A friend of mine, whose name will not be disclosed to protect her privacy, taught her students for the last time before Thanksgiving.  As she wished them a “Happy Thanksgiving”, she had no idea that would be her last interaction with them.    She spent Thanksgiving Day in a police station and was sentenced to be in a detention center for five days. This turned into three weeks in jail which ended in a one-way flight back to America.  She was also informed that she would not be allowed to come back to China for at least three years.

How does one build a RAFT in the aftershock of being pulled away suddenly from a place you call home?

And what about our situation now?  In early March, everyone thought they had plenty of time to prepare for end of the year goodbyes. But the coronavirus that has spread so stealthily across the globe has also infected end of the year plans and cancelling any hope of being able to reunite in a normal school setting.  Teachers now face the tough reality that they already gave the final hug and last high five to their current students for the year.  Some might be reunited at the beginning of next year. Others will be moving on to a different location. The U.S. embassy in Turkey encouraged its citizens to consider leaving Turkey now or face the possibility of not being able to find any open flights in the summer time. For those teachers not returning in the fall, this means having to pack up their entire lives, skipping all the heartfelt goodbye moments to leave early while still trying to finish teaching their students online.

How does one build a RAFT when it feels that a huge strip of time was ripped from our hands? How do we stop the clock of life which seems stuck in fast-forward at present?

As someone who grew up as a “third-culture” person, I wanted to offer a few insights that I have learned over the years.  There is a lot I have learned especially after getting married in 2005. I have made five major international moves with my husband and four children in the past fifteen years.  So, I’ve had a lot of experience with both good and bad closure.

When you are left building your RAFT at the last minute or trying to build it after the fact, here are some things to consider:

R = Reconciliation.  The “R” in RAFT was what Pollock was saying needed to happen within interpersonal relationships that have been broken between yourself and others.  That is still important, but there is a new dimension added when you have a sudden departure from your current location.  It important to realize that you need to reconcile yourself to the situation that caused you to have to leave early.  Recognize the hurt and pain you feel.  If there is anger involved, find a way to deal with the anger.  Finally, find a way to make peace with your situation.  Know that God is in control and he will help you find a way to make closure happen in the future, if it didn’t happen before.

My favorite example of this brings us back to the story of my friend who was deported from China.  She was one of my son’s teachers.  The summer after her deportation, we were able to meet up with her in the U.S. and spent an afternoon together.  It was a special time of closure.  She told me that several of her students were able to connect with her through social media or even in person since she had left. She was also able to connect with colleagues and friends from China after some time of being back in the U.S.  She told me how she found peace with God’s timing for the circumstances surrounding her departure from China.  Her story reminds us that reconciliation doesn’t always come when we expect it, but in small moments that arise over a long period of time.  Sometimes building a RAFT is a work in progress that you will continue doing long after you move to your new location. 

A = Affirmation.  The “A” in RAFT was finding ways to appreciate the special relationships that you are leaving behind.  When the departure is sudden, it is no longer possible to show this appreciation in person.  Social distancing does not allow for the traditional methods of showing appreciation.  We think of banquets and concerts and gatherings where a large group of people can reflect over all the wonderful people in their community. These traditions have been dashed amidst the concerns that everyone maintain a safe, social distance from each other.

This doesn’t mean that affirmation is impossible.  It’s just a bit more complicated and a lot more remote. Even when your carefully planned events fall through, don’t close yourself off to creative alternatives. In the end, you might find that the process of appreciating people through online or distant methods become more meaningful on a personal level. You might be surprised at how meaningful these new ways of affirming people can become in this present situation.  

F = Farewells. The “F” in RAFT is a tough one.  When thinking of an actual raft, the A’s and R’s are the piece of wood, but the farewells are the strands of rope you use to pull the whole raft together.   One of the most painful things to hear is, “I didn’t even get to say good-bye.”  In the same way that you need to find new ways to purposely affirm valuable relationships in your life, you should also find different ways to say, “Goodbye.”  This applies to those who had to leave early and those who got “left behind.” If someone special to you had to leave before saying good-bye to you, find a way to connect with that person even after they’ve left.

Pollock emphasized planning events in which you can say, “Good-bye.”  But sometimes, even the most well-planned events can fall through. Sometimes, there is no time to plan those events before the departure.  Don’t let yourself think that just because the departure has already taken place that you can’t say goodbye.  The most important part about farewells, regardless how sudden or planned they are is to remember that goodbyes NEVER have to mean the end of a relationship.  To wish someone a “farewell” is simply to wish them a good journey in their future.  It is simply the closing of a chapter, not the ending of a book.  Look for the opportunity to rise in the future for meaninful moments of connection and farewell.  

T = Think Destination. The “Think Destination” in the RAFT is like the paddle or the rudder to your raft.  Pollock was specifically talking about focusing on the new location where one is moving so that it is possible to emotionally disconnect from the past and keep moving down the path of life.

However, let me suggest that we take this concept and go one step further in thinking of our destinations.  I believe if we think about our final “destination,” it should fill each one of our hearts with hope.  Why is that?

Because I believe that if we are all part of the same family in Christ, our final destination will be together again.  We will be in a place where there are no more tears, no more separation, no more goodbyes or farewells.

As you walk down the path of life that God has given you, “think destination.”  As you remember all the wonderful places you have lived and all the wonderful people you have met and those special people who have taken a small piece of your heart with them, “think destination.”  With every tear that falls, “think destination.”  With every smile at a happy memory you hold, “think destination.” As you reconcile the pain and sadness with great joy and gladness, “think destination.”

I have to be honest.  Sometimes I get really homesick.  But I am homesick for that final place when all our sorrows will be erased and no virus can ever separate us from the ones we love.  Time will stand still and we can all worship our Savior and Lord together.  What a glorious day that will be!

Links to Global Organizations that Work with Global Families:

Families in Global Transition:
https://www.figt.org/

Global Nomads Group:
https://gng.org/

 

 

Swinging into the Turkish Language

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Learning any new language has its challenges.  From the fall of 2017 to the summer of 2019, our family of six had been submerged in the Chinese language of Mandarin and doing our best to learn a language with a completely different alphabet structure and way of speaking.  Stephen and I did not have the advantage of going to a formal class the way our four children did.  At least 4 or 5 times a week, they would take an hour long class to learn how to read, write and speak in Mandarin.  Our oldest son was most successful in picking up the basics of the language.  I learned how to say a few basic phrases and I learned how to count.  But I could never read more than a few general symbols in Chinese and I wasn’t able to carry on any kind of conversation in that language.

Turkishalphabet

After that huge struggle, I have been pleasantly surprised as the ease in which I am learning how to speak basic words in Turkish.  It does help that the alphabet is very similar to English, except for a few letters having accents and “embellishments” that change the sound of the letter from the way we pronounce it in English.  Being able to recognize letters, read the words and pronounce them correctly makes a huge difference in the learning curve of a language.

Before you start to be impressed, I will confess that I still don’t even know how to say “you’re welcome” in response to “Thank you” and I can’t ask the simple question, “How are you?” and answer it.  However, I have learned about 20-30 words in the past fifteen days.  So, I’m proud of myself at the moment.

One thing I am very glad to have learned fairly early are the words for “yes” and “no.” For “yes,” you say, “evet” and for “no” you say, “hayir.”

The word for “no” literally sounds like the word “higher.” Now, one might not realize immediately the circumstances in which this word is used in English that might cause confusion in the mind of a Turkish person who doesn’t speak your language.

So, let me take you to the Turkish playground where a small child who speaks English has just asked you to push him or her on the swing.  You give the child a firm push and you watch as their swinging feet move higher off the ground.  The moment of confusion would come when the child requests a firmer push on the swing with the most common command we would hear in English: “Higher!”

So, you push the child even more firmly so the swing continues its course further up and away from the ground.  As the child continues to plead to be pushed “higher!” try to imagine what it must sound like to the ear of a Turkish person.  Soon, you might have several alarmed people in the park thinking you are torturing a child who keeps yelling “No! No!” to you.

swing

But have no fear.  I have come up with a perfect solution.  Before causing any need for Turkish child services to hunt me down, I communicate to that child that if he or she wants to be pushed “higher” on a swing, they should simply request, “Up! Up!” And to get off the swing, they should say, “Stop!”

That will work for now, until I can remember the much longer phrase in Turkish that actually is “push me higher, please.” Yeah, it’s not in my 20-30 word Turkish vocabulary yet.

Hallelujah on Halloween

November 2012

A lot of churches around here have taken to celebrating “Hallelujah” night in the place of Halloween. Last year, we visited a variety of different locations.  One church in town celebrates an annual “Trunk or Treat.” Other churches open up their facilities to carnival attractions for kids.  Blow up slides and bounce houses are spread out across their lawns.  Beside the row of bounce houses, there are often little activity stands with different varieties of bean bag tossing or hammer throwing or face painting.  Some churches boast of small petting zoos with the appropriate number of hungry lambs, baby goats, bunnies and chickens to entice a good number of young participants willing to feed them. Last year, we even went to the mall.  The kids got free tokens at Chuckie Cheese for being dressed up in their costumes and some of the other stories were giving out candy as well.

However, this year, Halloween fell on a Wednesday.  Jared and Luke are members of a local Awana club that meets on Wednesday nights at a Baptist church in Clute.  This particular Awana gathering was designated “Hallelujah Night” and the special event of the night was the costume contest to take place after ‘group and verse time.’ Each club member had a chance to dress up as a person, character or animal from the Bible and would need to explain who they were and why they were important in the Bible.  So, we didn’t have a lot of time to try to visit many other church events before our scheduled weekly trip to Awana at 7pm.  We did make it to one “Hallelujah fest” at the Baptist church close to the school.  We stayed for about thirty minutes before we pried our kids away from the festivities to get to Awana on time.

(Jared, Luke and Grace pose with a couple friends)

Last year, Jared was the only one in our family attending Awana.  He had dressed up as Sampson and had won second place in his Cubbies group.  This year, I had purchased a little Abraham outfit for Jared and put together a costume for Luke to play the role of “the little boy who shared his lunch with Jesus.”  For weeks we practiced going over the story of how Jesus needed to feed 5,000 people and a little boy shared his lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish so that everyone could eat.  Then Jesus turned his lunch into a “miracle meal” and there were 12 baskets of left overs when they were done.

I kept Jared busy memorizing six main points about who Abraham was in the Bible.  One main point was a Bible verse that he had memorized, which was Romans 4:3 and states, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (NIV)”

When it came time to stand before the judges, the boys were able to recite all the information they had learned about their Bible characters.  Luke got a second place prize for his Cubbies group, which included two free movie tickets and “Awana bucks” to be spent at the Awana store in the near future.  Jared got first place in his Sparks group, which I consider even more impressive because it includes kids in kindergarten, first and second grades. He also won free movie tickets and “Awana bucks.”  Both boys were proud of their accomplishments and I was proud of them.  I can’t think of any other way I would rather spend Halloween night.

Oh, and Happy Reformation Day to those who celebrate this alternative on October 31st.  I think Martin Luther would have been proud of my boys, too.

Weather or not in Lake Jackson

November 2012

I grew up without any seasonal changes, so I’m not a person to be disappointed by snowless winters, a lack of a real spring blossoming or colorful fall foliage.  The process in which a tree goes from green to gold and then brown before become leafless is something I only read about in books. It also doesn’t help that my book knowledge of tree species is limited to elementary basics.  I’m pretty sure I can identify your basic pine tree (although I will probably confuse it with the spruce and fir trees).  I think I can tell the difference between a maple, oak, magnolia and birch, but I might get confused if you throw a beech or sassafras tree in front of me.

My first experience with true seasonal changes among these deciduous varieties was when I lived in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia.  The trees would begin to turn colors in early October and bursts of brilliant colors would cover the hills as we moved slowly from fall into winter. By December, the trees were appropriately bare and the weather would dip down near freezing on various nights.

Then I moved to Texas. The trees I have met in Lake Jackson, Texas during my year here were different from the ones I’ve seen up north. It doesn’t help that there is a curious blend of tropical plants and palm trees planted in the same neighborhoods with the oaks, maples and firs. They all seem to live and thrive well together for most of the year.

My confusion began when fall weather came upon us in a rush on a cold October morning.  Perhaps these Texan trees are confused by the fact that October temperatures still resemble those of early August. Maybe they feel the peer pressure of their tropical counterparts to keep their leaves to themselves. After weeks of balmy weather, October temperatures dropped to near freezing leaving tropical plants crying out in misery. The rest of the trees seem to fall in three categories.  The first group of trees turned to their fall colors in a flash. Their reds, oranges and yellows happily cried out, “Fall is here!” After a few weeks, these trees began dropping their leaves in accordance to Mother Nature.

The second group of trees was less decisive.  They waited until the first group had long begun to lose their brown leaves before tentatively allowing some of their green robes to fade to yellow.  Eventually, they would also catch up with their fall-happy partners and begin to lose their leaves as well.

The last group of trees is a bunch of stubborn oak trees that wait until spring before they realize that they have not updated their wardrobe.  In a sudden rush, they work to remove the old leaves while pollinating at the same time.  I learned that this is actually normal of the oak trees in our back yard as they deposit both leaves and a layer of yellow and brown dust on our back porch and lawn.

In any case, we have discovered that our biggest raking efforts need to be saved until mid-March when we finally are able to collect the last of the leaves that fall from our trees.

(Kids in the Yard – March 2013)

Fireworks in Galveston

July 2012 – This was our first summer in several years that we did not make big travel plans to visit people around the U.S.  In spite of lighter summer hours, Stephen was still pretty busy with his job and I was still struggling through nausea and fatigue from my present state of being.  However, we wanted to do something special to celebrate the 4th of July.  We did hear that there was a fireworks event here in Lake Jackson, but that seemed a little tame after some of the fireworks events that we’ve attended in the past.

After some research, I discovered that Galveston put together a pretty good show on their beach front that included a parade and a fireworks show over the ocean in the same evening (http://www.galveston.com/cvb060812/).  Galveston is only an hour away from Lake Jackson.  So, we piled the kids, a picnic dinner and a sense of adventure into our van and made our way over to the seaside of Galveston.

We arrive mid-afternoon while there was still some parking available along the parade route.  Several streets were already being roped off, but Stephen squeezed our mini-van through and managed to find a parking spot on the very edge of a parking lot facing the ocean.  For the first time, we used the “tail gating” option on the back seat of our Chrysler Town and Country Minivan. We spread out blankets and got ready to enjoy the evening.

Our Patriotic Children

We were trying to decide if we should put on our bathing suits and take a quick swim in the ocean when Jared and Luke informed us that they needed to go to the bathroom.  So, I left Grace with Stephen and walked down the block to the nearest gas station to use the bathroom.  Of course, there was a long line of people also trying to use the restroom.  So, it took us a while to get through the line.

As we waited, I grabbed a free copy of a car sales magazine.  Jared and Luke became immediately fascinated with the vehicles they saw displayed.  I told Jared that the magazine was free, so he could keep it.  Ever since then, Jared will skim through that same magazine and dream about the car that he wants to own when he grows up.  (This changes usually every few days.)

By the time we finally got back to the car with bladders relieved, stomachs were beginning to speak.  So, we started getting dinner ready.  Hotdogs were distributed, baby food was prepared for Grace and we munched on our dinner as the parade participants prepared themselves for the show.

The weather was pleasant.  There was a breeze making the summer temperatures feel cooler than normal.  The sun was setting behind us, and the sky was nearly cloudless.  The ocean’s waves were mild, and the hum of vehicle and human traffic filled the air around us.

Right on schedule, the police cars that led the parade began to make their way down our street.  Lights were flashing and people scrambled to the sidewalks to find a good spot to catch any surprise gifts that might be given to them from the floats that were soon to arrive.

For the next hour, the boys waved their American flags and chased down candy, colorful beaded necklaces, fliers and stickers that were tossed in their direction.  Grace was especially fascinated with the beads.  I think she ended up with about 10 strands around her neck by the time the parade was over.

Once the parade was over, there was a lull as we waited for the sky to darken enough to begin the fireworks.  During that time, the kids played with their new treasures, relieved bladders once again, brushed their teeth and got their pajamas on.  (We were expecting them to fall asleep on the way home.)

At about 9:15pm, when the sky was just beginning to darken completely, the fireworks show began.  Music played in the background as kids watched in fascination at the bright colors lighting up the sky.  We were far enough away from the explosions as to not scare Grace.  So, even she was enjoying the show. The show lasted over 20 minutes, and we were all happy with the display.

We hit some traffic on the way home, and it was hard for the hyped up kiddos to finally close their eyes.  However, by the time we got home around 11pm, they were all fast asleep.  The parade and fireworks in Galveston is definitely something we will look forward to attending in the future, if we decide to spend our summer here in Lake Jackson again.

Storytelling the Texan Way

January 2012 -We have now been living in Texas for over a year. During the first few months, I started to become familiar with the cultural differences between this western state and the very far eastern states in which I lived in the past.  Since I’ve never lived in any other western state, I couldn’t tell you if Texas is similar or different to some of its western neighbors.  I can only compare it to Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York where I lived or visited in the first 35 years of my life.

One thing that did become very clear in the first year of living here is what I like to call “the pride of Texas.”  This is the first state that I’ve lived in that focuses on teaching their kids about their state history, legend and lore. It is a required part of their school curriculum and you can even see it in the stories that are found in the library.

I take my kids to a local library on a regular basis and we’ve found well-known children’s stories that have been re-written with a Texan twist.

The Gingerbread Man has become “The Gingerbread Cowboy.”  This cowboy made of gingerbread goes running across the desserts of Texas being chased by cowboys, buffalo and other Texan ‘villains’ before being eaten by the sly coyote crossing a river.

Then there is the slightly disturbing retelling of the three little pigs in a story about three little gators being chased by a ‘big bottomed boar’.  The boar destroys the first two gator’s flimsy homes with a “bump, bump, bump” of his large rump.  When he can’t knock down the third gator’s home, he tries to scoot his body (rump first) down the chimney.  The gators respond by heating up their grill.  The boar’s large behind gets slightly charred at which point he quickly retrieves his large proportions out of the chimney and runs away never to be seen again.

Side note: My sons really got a kick out of me acting out the role of the big-bottom boar knocking down the gators’ homes.

I think my favorite book so far is the Texas ABC’s.  Every letter of the alphabet has a picture of something from Texas.  Jared helped me take pictures of the pages, because I thought they were so cute.

I’m sure there are other books re-told Texan style.  I’ve only pointed out the few examples with which I have already become familiar.  Let me know if you know of any more, or if you know of another state that has its own similar stories.

Summoned to Jury Duty in Texas

January 2012 – I’ll never forget the first time that I was summoned to Jury Duty.  I had always wondered about the process and if it would ever happen to me.  When Stephen and I got married in the summer of 2005, we settled down in the northern Virginia area for a year.  Then we purchased our first home in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, just over the border between West Virginia and Virginia.  We lived there for two more years.  We were registered to vote.  We paid West Virginia taxes.  Yet, we were never summoned to jury duty.

Then, we moved to Ecuador in 2008.  We rented our home in West Virginia for the three years that we were living there, so we were still registered to vote there and were still considered residents of West Virginia.  We had all our mail forwarded to us in Ecuador, but some of our mail took several months to reach us.

During our final year in Ecuador, I received a piece of mail telling me I was being summoned for jury duty.  I almost panicked because the letter was over a month late of the day I was supposed to contact them to let them know if I was unable to attend.  I called them and was able to straighten things out without any problems.

So, let’s fast forward a few months.  Stephen and I had just moved with our kids to our new home in Lake Jackson, Texas.  We got our new Texas driver’s licenses and registered to vote at the same time.  About a month later, I was summoned for jury duty once again.  However, this time, I was able to respond in a timely fashion by making myself exempt from duty due to the fact that I was the sole caregiver of three children under school age.  It was a little disappointing, because I would have liked to have that experience.  Perhaps I will be given the chance again in future years when the kids are all in school.

Anyway, the story doesn’t end there.  A few months after I made myself exempt from jury duty, Stephen was summoned, as well.  So, he was able to attend his first summons, in the city courthouse of Angleton, which is about 10 minutes outside of Lake Jackson.

This was when we were able to discover that simply because you are summoned for jury duty doesn’t mean you will be assigned jury duty.  A large group of people are summoned and then a smaller group is selected from them to serve duty.  Stephen traveled out to Angleton twice before he was eliminated from the group.  So, his experience with the judicial system was short lived. However, now he can say that has been summoned for jury duty at least once in his life.

The outside of the courthouse building in Angleton, Texas where Stephen was summoned to jury duty.

All I Really Want for Christmas

I love listening to Christmas music during this time of year.  I have some of the classics, but I also have a lot of albums made by Christian contemporary artists.  In 2005, Stephen Curtis Chapman wrote a song called “All I Really Want” describing what an orphan would really want for Christmas.  I thought the song was sweet, but the words never hit so close to home as they have this year. These words have taken a new meaning for me:

“All I really want for Christmas is someone to tuck me in
A shoulder to cry on if I lose, shoulders to ride on if I win
There’s so much I could ask for, but there’s just one thing I need
All I really want for Christmas is a family.”

© By Stephen Curtis Chapman

This Christmas a little girl is getting that Christmas wish.  She may be too young to understand it.  After all, she’s only nineteen months old.  But one day she will understand.  She’ll find out how her parents, Philip and Chrissy Cobb, began praying for direction in adopting a child.  When the door closed for them to adopt a child from Ethiopia, they didn’t give up.  They moved on to another adoption agency and were introduced to a little girl in China who was in need of a permanent family.

They first announced to the world that they were looking at adopting a little girl in China in early May of 2011.  Although they had been told the process could take well over a year, they were able to fly to China on December 8 of this year and are now finalizing the paperwork in order to fly back to Florida in time to spend Christmas together with their new daughter, Li Rose.  They are due to arrive in Gainesville on December 21.

It has been quite an adventure.  Find out more about their story by visiting their blog: http://hobnobwiththecobbs.blogspot.com/

Philip with Josh, Chrissy with Li Rose

I heard the bells on Christmas Day…

Bells are ringing this Christmas, but they aren’t Christmas bells.  Actually, they rang eight days before Christmas and I didn’t even hear them, because they were ringing in Costa Rica while I was in Texas.

The wedding that took place on December 17, 2011, all began with one of those stories where boy meets girl.  Only in this story, boy and girl weren’t that interested in each other until they had parted ways for several years and then found each other again on Facebook.  They had attended the same high school together in Guatemala and shared the common factor of being third culture kids (TCKs).

He had been born in Honduras, lived in Ecuador and Guatemala all his teen years, spent a year in Iraq as part of the National Guard and spent most of the rest of his time in and around Gainesville, Florida.  His parents were both from the U.S. but had been missionaries in Latin American countries his entire life.

She was born with dual citizenship as well.  Her father was from Costa Rica and her mom was from Canada.  They had been missionaries in Guatemala until they moved back to Costa Rica.  She had moved back to Canada.

As their relationship bloomed, there were many visits back and forth.  He visited Canada.  She made a trip to Florida.  Then the engagement and preparations for a wedding took place.  Where to wed?  The answer seemed simple enough.  Her family was in Costa Rica, so that was where she wanted to get married.

Briana Flores arrived in Florida early in December so that she could become Mrs. Timothy Cobb legally in the U.S.  Then they had the ceremony in Costa Rica a short time after that.  After their honeymoon, they will return to the U.S. and Briana will begin the process of becoming an official U.S. citizen.

Tim Cobb kisses his new bride, Briana Flores.

Recently, a Canadian friend of mine who married a Texan, explained to me some of the complications she was going through just to get a green card so that she could start working in the U.S.  Even though she had legally gotten married to an American husband in the U.S., she is not allowed to get a job until she has that green card.

“It’s no wonder there are so many illegal immigrants!” she told me.  “They make it so difficult for people to become legal citizens.”

She had to visit a specialist doctor whose office was more than an hour away from home to verify that she is healthy.  I guess if you are going to have immigrants, you might as well have healthy ones.  There are blood tests and fingerprints and paperwork upon paperwork to legalize and notarize.  And when that is all done, you have to sit and wait and wait until everything gets processed by an immigration office.  Then there will be a special interview scheduled with both my friend and her husband to verify that they really did get married to each other.

When will she be able to apply for actual citizenship after she gets her green card?  According to my friend, it could be about seven years.

Now my youngest brother, Tim, and his lovely bride, Briana, will begin this adventure together.  Will they be able to handle it?  Oh, yeah.  They are TCKs.  Forging the world of multiple cultures is engrained into their nature.  They may not have a lot to start off with, but they’ll have each other.  And they have “Emmanuel” God with them, walking beside them through every step of the journey.

Merry Christmas, Mr. and Mrs. Tim Cobb!  Here’s hoping “ya’ll” might come over to Texas to visit a spell with the MK Meier family someday.  Ya hear? Yi-haw!