I walked into my husband’s home office this week and I plopped on a chair.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
I was quiet for a moment, assessing how I was actually feeling. Then I just stated the truth, “I’ve been thinking about George Floyd’s death.”
My husband stopped what he was doing, turned his chair and said, “Yeah, me too.”
“I’m just so angry. And so sad. My heart hurts.”
Russ said he felt the same way, but then he added, “I also feel helpless. I mean, how can I, a white man, help the situation?”
We pondered that for a second. Racism is such a big problem that it seems like God Himself is the only One capable of changing hearts and lives.
And we agreed that we could and should and must pray for this situation.
I wondered if I should write about this hot topic. What kind of value could I add to this conversation?
Now, I’d like to just pause right here and give you some background so you’ll know a bit more of our story.
My name is Lori Doerneman and I was raised in an all-white community in small town Nebraska. It wasn’t like we were trying to be exclusive, but we simply didn’t have a lot of diversity in my predominantly Czech town.
Same thing for my husband, Russ, raised in a different small town in Nebraska. (His town was mostly composed of Germans.)
Thirteen years ago, we invited a little African American girl into our family. (Read more about the actual adoption process here: Divine Mercy + Our Adoption Story.)
Now, interestingly, adopting had not been on my radar whatsoever. I already had a little herd of kids under my roof. And to be honest, when we were in the discernment process of adoption, I did have questions and concerns.
Would raising a black daughter in our white family be a good thing for her? Would we inadvertently rob her culture from her? How would everything affect her long-term?
Where I landed: our family had prayed to be used for a higher purpose and God had responded in a very big way. We trusted that Malaysia was to be part of our family.
Furthermore, since I trusted that it was God’s plan for us to adopt, I knew that He’d have a plan of action of how to handle the issues and challenges as they arose.
As you know from your own lived life, raising children is fun and there are glorious moments of intense joy. There are also a lot of messy parts.
What we learned through the years, through the sharing of new intimacies like the combing out of hair (and the tears that accompanied the combing out of hair), through living, eating, praying and singing together as well as learning how everyone handles fear, anger and pain, is that we are all the same, with very similar needs and desires.
We want to be loved and accepted for who we are. That’s what all of my big, gorgeous children have taught me.
And that’s what life boils down to, if you think about it.
Each one of us, made in the image and likeness of God, created for an eternal purpose, deserves to be loved and accepted for who we are.
Unfortunately, because of all of the brokenness of our humanity, not everyone is loved and accepted for who they are in Christ.
Jeny is a close friend of mine. When she was in second grade, her family traveled from Wichita to Georgia to visit some friends. While she was swimming in a community pool down in Georgia, a man asked them to get out of the pool. Why? Because of her brown skin. Jeny is of Mexican descent.
Jeny experienced something that day, something that she had not experienced in her hometown. Later on, her mom explained that her friends in Wichita knew her. They knew their family. And they did not judge them. But this older man in Georgia did not know their family. All he saw was the surface. He just saw brown skin and made his own judgments.
Jeny said that shaming experience was a pivotal one in her life; it was then that she made the decision that she would never treat a person like that man had treated her.
Fast forward many years. Jeny is now married and has six amazing children.
Early on in our friendship, when our kids were just getting to know each other, they came over to play.
After the visit, Jeny casually said something about the fact that our family had adopted.
Her (then) 10-year old son asked, “Which one of the Doernemans is adopted, Mom?”
Isn’t that beautiful?
Several years later, Jeny’s (then) 7-year old daughter was in a familiar place, sitting in my kitchen. On that particular day, Jeny's daughter had a lot of questions about adoption because a family friend of theirs had just adopted a little baby.
I told her, “Well, you know that we’ve adopted, right?”
She smiled and said, “Really?”
I said, “Yeah, guess which child we adopted?”
She thought for a moment and then said, “Bridget?” (Bridget is my biological Caucasian daughter.)
Jeny taught her children well. They see the whole person, not the surface.
How did that happen? When my friend Jeny looks back on her life, she knows her defining moment came in the second grade, when she was told to leave a swimming pool because of the color of her skin. That moment was the catalyst for huge change in her life.
I feel like we, as a nation, are at a similar defining moment.
When my husband and I spoke, he made the honest comment, “What can I, a white man, do about the situation?”
His honest question has swirled around and around within me. What can we do in moments like this, when racism is exposed for the ugliness that it is?
I decided to lean in. (Brene Brown is one of my heroes and that’s her phrase.)
I found myself in an uncomfortable place. Would blacks judge me for trying to gather info? Would whites accuse me of something?
I leaned into all of that discomfort. I wasn’t sure what I would learn or gather or find.
I sat down with three of my kids (the ones that were home at the time) and I simply asked them, “Have you heard of what happened with George Floyd?”
My 11 and 15-year old sons had not heard much. My 17-year old Malaysia had watched the videos. She knew what had happened.
We talked about some of the facts. Like all of life, they are kind of messy. Yes, Mr. Floyd had a criminal record. Yes, the police were called in for something that he had done.
We talked about what the policemen had done to Mr. Floyd and how he had died.
After that, the conversation was officially open in our home.
We talked pretty much non-stop. What could the police have done differently? How did they misuse their power? Are all policemen like that?
What could the bystanders have done? Why didn’t they? How does it feel to be in the presence of someone with authority? Do you ever feel confident to speak up about a wrong? Why or why not?
After two days of discussions, with every person in my home pitching in, the kids could clearly see that first and foremost, George Floyd died needlessly, in a way that no person deserves to die.
My 15-year old son said what was on his heart, “I don’t see how looting and rioting will make this problem better, Mom.”
I appreciated his honesty. Why the looting, indeed? It doesn’t make much sense, does it? But as Trevor Noah (talk show host and comedian) explains so eloquently and concisely in this video, THE DAILY SHOW, we all abide by certain “rules” in our society.
We expect people in power to protect. To be fair.
The problem is when any individual has to stand by and watch while the “contract” that we all signed with society is not being honored by certain members of that same society.
Watching George Floyd lose his life, at the HANDS of someone that was supposed to protect and serve, kind of makes the social contract (that we all bought into) feel pretty useless.
Trevor Noah says THAT is why people protest. That helped my kids understand why the looting/rioting. But does that make it right? Are there others ways that voices could be heard?
I knew I did not have any answers to those questions, and I told my children that.
So I started researching.
I read The Case for Reparations.
I watched 13th, a brilliant documentary on Netflix.
My daughter Rachel watched Just Mercy and told me all about it.
The information coming into my head and heart overwhelmed me and I went on a long bike ride and cried. For miles. I cried out to my God, “I didn’t know any of this was happening.” My emotions were RAW.
As I was getting ready for bed I watched some of Senator Cory Booker on The Late Show. He hit me over the head with this, “We want to blame someone…we want to blame the white supremacists ….we want to blame people with hate in their hearts, yeah, but that’s not the majority of us. King warned us that what we have to repent for is not the vitriolic words and actions of bad people but the appalling silence and inaction of the good people.”
He called for a deeper love and he asked for our circles of empathy to expand. “Will we be a nation of love?” And he used the word “love” not as a cheesy word, but as a word that means sacrifice, service and struggle.
It’s saying that what happens to you happens to me.
Wow. We must repent for the “appalling silence and inaction of the good people.” I am a good person and I have been silent. It was not a formal decision. I simply lived my life without thinking beyond it.
The next morning I listened to Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, on How to Be an Antiracist. Brene Brown and her guest, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, helped me understand the intense emotions that I’ve had this week. They gave me insight into me, they gave me insight into racism. I am grateful.
I’m also grateful that my son Eric encouraged me to write this post. I had told him, “I am afraid to say the wrong thing.” And he pushed me, like he always does. “Mom, we help parents get good at having difficult conversations with their children. That’s what we do. Don’t back away from this because you are afraid. Dig a little.”
So, mother friend of mine, I know it might seem easier to just skirt this whole racial issue that is going on, but don’t.
Pray for guidance. Get input. Gather facts, even when they are messy.
Sit down with your family. Ask good questions. Seek the answers together.
We serve a very big God. And I know He will guide and inspire all of us seekers on this path.
Senator Booker said to keep asking the question, “What can I do?” He said to hold tight to the question and in six months from now, when people are not protesting in the streets, let that question motivate you to act. We must love, serve and sacrifice for others.
What I learned this week: I know nothing. I am a privileged white woman and I have lived a totally different reality than many of my brothers and sisters. I.know.nothing. But I am open and I am ready to learn.
One last thing. My husband received a text from a wonderful friend, Craig. He said that he was overwhelmed at the events of the week and he needed to meet with a group of strong men and talk about what they can do.
We are at a defining moment.
Be not afraid.
P.S. We created a free course for mothers to build into their daughters more purposefully. If you are at a place where you want to get back to the basics, enjoy our gift to you: The Daughter Dare.
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