Trails of Tears. Residential Schooling. Ground stolen by trickery. Deceit. Betrayal.
These are some words that describe the history and stories of those who first came to settle the lands we call North America.
I have a part in that. No, I didn’t force men, women and children onto the Trails of Tears nor rip their children from them and place them in residential and boarding schools. I didn’t trick them into stealing their land or sneer at their culture, their beliefs, their music and their dancing. But the color of my skin bears resemblance to those who did, and sadly some who still do.
A few years ago I was invited to share in a special week in Alaska called “Beauty for Ashes.” There I joined in facilitating a training with leaders from the lower 48 states as well as leaders from an organization called Family Wellness Warriors in Alaska. We planned and prepared to offer hope and care to some struggling to walk forward while holding stories of the harms forced on their peoples and tribes.
Struggling with the time difference, I was unable to sleep. I got up and read a book I had brought along. Prompted by that book, I made a specific commitment to God, then I held my hands out, palms up and asked God to touch my hands with His presence. After sitting quietly for a number of minutes, I withdrew my hands feeling no touch. I chose to believe God was honoring my commitment, even without His touch. Morning came.
The early hours of our training together didn’t go well for me. I had some things to learn about how I was impacting others with my choices of words and the tone of my voice. Someone from the Family Wellness Warriors struggled with seeing past my white skin to my heart. My presence triggered her to remember the stories she held personally and the ones she knew of her ancestors that preceded her. I felt I bore the label of wicked white woman.
After our training, I left and went to my room to cry and struggle with my hurts and thoughts.
Soon I heard a knock at my door. It was the woman from earlier. She was part of the reason for my tears. Now she was standing outside my door.
I answered the door reluctantly, wanting to hide my tears. When I opened the door she had tears in her eyes, too. I invited her into the room and to join me on the couch. She came over to me and held out her hand.
“I’ve come to ask for your forgiveness for my hard words to you. I offer you the hand of Jesus between us.”
She didn’t know about the commitment I had made or my request to God to touch my hand. But this gesture seemed too wild to be anything but God answering my early morning request of Him.
The training ended and together we moved into the week of caring for those who had come to look more deeply into the stories that have greatly impacted their adult lives.
It was a good week and at times a hard week. It was a week of second chances for me. I learned in new ways how I can impact and invite others toward kindness or disruption. My teammates and I learned how to better interact and how to hold difficult memories without leveling unfair blame.
It was a second chance for two women of different heritages to join together and work through difficult stories: hers, mine and the stories of others.
A special honor was when I was invited to join with my new friend and the Princess Warriors in the Celebration Dances held at the conclusion of Beauty for Ashes. There was much to celebrate for me, my friend, our teams united, and the many participants who left with new hope on their journey forward.
Valerie Avery treasures the journey of embracing all God has gifted her with including creating art and beauty using fibers, beads and nature. The bond of 50 years of marriage has created a legacy as mother to 5 and “Grammie” to 20. She is venturing into the world of writing and is grateful for a place to share stories of growth and hope. You can read more here.
Dear Valerie, thank you for, first of all, going to Alaska knowing that much would come against you with white skin. Such bravery and I love that about you. Your strength and love shows through your writing. I cannot begin to imagine how that hurt and I love that the woman knocked on your door and you opened your door. I am reading many books about the abuses committed upon our African Americans in our country. It is sickening. Sickening. The Native American plight is horrific too. It is costly to educated ourselves in their trauma. Thank you for what you do to help in healing and in healing yourself. You in spire me.
Dear Becky, It is so sickening what is happening to our sisters and brothers with a different skin color. Knowing your heart for the good of others as well as mine, we can do no less. And yes, it’s costly to engage them with hope. I met a Native American couple while we were on our island this past August. Their stories are grave dotted with severe alcoholism, generational abuse and some harm they are perpetrating on themselves and their next generation. I met with them several times and thought one was going to rehab. Sadly right at the end that didn’t happen. The tears stung my eyes and my heart as we drove away. I was disappointed. And then I had to realize we offer what we can and they get to decide to accept it or not. You said I inspire you. It’s a mutual admiration community. I’m in awe of the travels you’ve made and inroads for sex trafficking. That’s another grave sickness. Thanks for your words my friend, Valerie
This is a powerful piece particularly in the context of what is happening at standing rock.
Thank you friend for sharing in the plight the Native American population with your heart. You honor the beauty and resiliency of who they are.