Today is my twenty-eighth birthday, and my son is almost two years old.
It’s not a milestone year for me. It’s situated plainly between the dawn of a quarter-life crisis and the birth of the infamous self-awareness that the third decade brings. Twenty-six and twenty-seven were dull enough, but twenty-eight is the triple whammy.
One very special thing about twenty-eight, though? It’s the year that I have a toddler. At twenty-six, I gave birth to my son. At twenty-seven, the Lord lifted me out of the depths of postpartum depression. And at twenty-eight, I’m enjoying my beautiful, bright-eyed, brown-skinned boy.
He’s almost two. And as I chip away at the very beginning of raising him in this world we live in… I’m burdened.
Sometimes, I’m afraid of the world my little boy is inheriting — the din of polarizing voices jockeying to tell him who he is. I fear for his heart, being pressed and pulled in a thousand directions. For his mind, being buffeted about by cheap counterfeits for identity. His soul, being weighed down by disillusionment.
At twenty-eight, I look into the eyes of my almost-two-year-old and I realize that I’m the first voice he’ll hear. I want that voice to whisper words of dignity — of strength.
You are mine. You are your father’s, too, of course. And what a blessed boy you are to have a father like him. He is hardworking, generous with his time, loyal, idealistic, kind — and present. There is a lot of talk about absent black fathers. Your daddy had one. My daddy did, too. But your daddy is here. He looks you in your eyes every single day and tells you that he loves you. I don’t think either one of us could love you more.
As you grow up, the world will see you in myriad ways. You’ll be tall because we both are. Handsome, just like your daddy is. Charming like him, too. And all of that potential in the world will live inside of your beautiful brown skin.
Not everyone will think of you as beautiful. Some people will see you coming a mile off and make all kinds of assumptions about who you are — about who your father is — about who your Father is. They will want to use you as a mascot for the advancement of their ideologies; some people will want to silence you; some people will want to push you into the spotlight as an unwitting spokesman.
They will look at you and see you as a man, even though you’re still a little boy.
Your mother feels a lump in her throat every time someone comments on how big you are. “He looks so old” reminds me both of the time that’s speeding by and the fact that, as a little black boy, sometimes you won’t be seen as little at all. And you won’t be “boy,” to them, not in the lighthearted Huck Finn boyhood way they see for their own sons. There will be those who see you as a threat — to their property, to their livelihood, to their ideology, to their daughters.
You’ll meet them sooner than I want you to.
I wish I could shield you from them. I wish I could shield you from all of the pain in this world — not just the unique pain you might endure as my beautiful brown boy, but from any pain whatsoever, from broken hearts to stubbed toes and all of the pain in between.
But sweet baby, you’re not just mine — you’re also God’s.
He placed you in a family that clings to his name. He placed you in a family that understands that your identity is so much deeper than your skin tone. Understand: the good Lord made you black on purpose, and we praise him for it. We will teach you all about your heritage; all about God’s sovereign goodness in making you young, gifted, and black. We’ll teach you about myriad ministers of the gospel who look like you. About myriad ministers of the Gospel who don’t look like you at all, but are still part of your spiritual family tree.
Your father and I will surround you with people — all kinds of people — who affirm who you are in Jesus. We will create an extended family that isn’t interested in perpetuating the divisions of this world. Or ignoring the work of unity that lies ahead. We want you to see yourself for who you are in Jesus, and we want you to see your earthly context for what it is.
We will teach you, my son, that you are loved. And out of that love, we will teach you to speak peace into the chaos. We will teach you the transcendent voice of the one who made you — one who is not bound by political platforms, societal ideologies, petty tribes, or fenced-off camps; one who breaks down walls and barriers with the powerful sword of Truth. We don’t want you to fit neatly into anyone’s box. We want you to confound earthly boxes because your eyes are so fixed on heavenly ones.
It’s your mama’s birthday today.
You give her strength and hope. My son, you are the best gift I could ever ask for.
She hopes you’re a gift of grace to this fragmented world.
I’m not making these proclamations as a voice from on high. My social media forays bring out just as much pettiness in me as I see in others. If we’re talking logs and specks, I’m walking around with a California redwood lodged in my eye. Here are three things I would love to see less of (and more of) on social media.