Last week, my husband encouraged me to take a “mommy sabbatical.” For seven days, I stayed in the cute little town of Saratoga, WY. I slept, I read, I prayed, I swam, I took advantage of the town’s free hot springs.
It was delightful. With just my littlest with me, I was truly able to retreat and collect my thoughts and rest. I was on mommy duty only as much as Big Easy needed to eat, and even then, family was willing to give him a bottle so I could stay out. My husband had given me some “homework” and for pleasure, I read Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult – one of my favorite authors.
I had used my Cartwheel rewards back in April to get the book before going to the hospital. Silly me. Third time’s a charm, I thought, and assumed I’d have time or desire to read after giving birth. That was not the case. So while I had the book picked out for the hospital because it was about a labor and delivery nurse, the reality was I had zero desire to read anything while in the hospital with #3.
So, here I am a few months later, and finally started/finished the book. On so many levels, it was the perfect accompaniment to my “assigned reading,” by combining the topics of motherhood and racial inequality. As my husband had asked me to read two other books, The Mission of Motherhood and Just Mercy, the newest by Jodi Picoult was the convergence of the two (more on those other two books at a later date, but holy moly – they’re kicking my butt and have me saying “amen” out loud in coffee shops). The story is told from the perspectives of 3 very different people: Ruth Jefferson, an African American woman accused of the murder of an infant; her white lady lawyer Kennedy McQuarrie and the infant’s white supremacist father Turk Bauer (the perspective of the white supremacist was really hard to read – like a punch in the gut).
Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” As I studied on the topic of motherhood last week, this quote took on an entirely new meaning for me. Amidst the monotonous routines of wiping noses, disciplining, wiping booties, breaking up fights, wiping up messes (lots of wiping up going on) and repenting for my anger, I often feel like I’m drowning in a sea of small, unimportant things. However, as I read Small Great Things, I began to think of how I can do these small tasks of motherhood in a great way – a way that points my children toward Jesus and the beautiful grace offered in Him.
“I had never imagined that this – the most natural of all relationships – would make me feel so incompetent,” Ruth said. Indeed this idea of motherhood makes me feel so unbelievably ill-equipped and incompetent on a daily basis. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I frequently feel like a terrible mom. Kennedy said, “You know the hardest thing about being a mom? That you never get time to be a kid anymore.” During this journey of motherhood, I have come to realize what a weighty burden it is to raise little people. I can’t do it in my own strength, and I can’t just run away from the difficulties and be a kid whenever I want. But there is a time and a place to let go of my expectations and standards and just enjoy the little gifts God has given us. There is a time to be burdened and a time to be grateful for God’s grace in covering my complete inadequacies – both in motherhood and racial reconciliation. Over the last year, as I have been diving deeper into the rabbit hole that is race relations, the story of Kennedy’s progression from being “not racist” to seeking to actively be a bridge-builder and ally is the one I identified most frequently with. In what ways do I perpetuate and allow white privilege? How do I unknowingly marginalize those who have different skin tones and different experiences? What things do I do that communicate contentment with the status quo, instead of actively challenging racism?
But it was the perspective of Ruth that spoke most deeply to me. The voice of someone who has been systematically oppressed, marginalized and minimized her entire life was eye-opening. It had me questioning ways in which I unwittingly do the same to people of color I encounter. I was challenged by the bluntness of her (righteous) anger at the ways that racism is indeed still alive – from her wrongful arrest to the suspicious looks while shopping.
For the last year or so, as I’ve read and studied and sought to learn, I’ve been confronted with how wicked and evil my heart is in these matters of race and bridge-building. How entirely apathetic I’ve been to the suffering of people made in God’s image. It’s been rough, but only an infinitesimal amount compared to the people of color in our country. As a white woman, I can’t even pretend to know or understand the depth of the issues. However, Small Great Things allowed me a small glimpse into what can happen if I, as a white woman, seek to actively educate myself and refuse to be silent about issues of race. As Kennedy’s character dives headfirst in the relationship with Ruth, she says, “It’s the difference between dancing along the eggshell crust of acquaintance and diving into the messy center of a relationship. It’s not always perfect; it’s not always pleasant.”
So thankful to have had time away to read, and so thankful for Small Great Things which allowed me to dive into the messy center of motherhood and racial reconciliation during my sabbatical. If you’re interested in either topic, definitely take time to read it!