ShePonders: Homemaking

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This thing I’m learning is making my home a place where we incubate compassion and kindness, where we practice forgiveness and learn the art of second chances is the best sort of homemaking.

ShePondersHomemakingI’ve been doing a lot of homemaking recently.

Several weeks ago I discovered that third grade boys hurled mean words at my daughter. My reaction came swift—shared tears, long hugs, soothing words, calls to the teacher, and rallying a community of friends around her to mend what was broken.

Now I check in often, and ask for greater detail about what happened on the playground with other kids. And I’ve empowered both my son and daughter to advocate for others who might fall prey to mean words—to stand up and say something next time.

We’ve read Desmond and the Very Mean Word, a stunning children’s book by Desmond Tutu, multiple times round our dinner table. The story centers on a mean word hurled at young Desmond by a red-haired boy. Desmond deals with the feelings the mean word provoked—feelings about himself and the other boys and their red-haired ring leader. He’s challenged to consider forgiveness. Then one day he sees the red-haired boy in the neighborhood, held down and taunted by his older brothers. He recognizes the anguish in his eyes.

What the young Desmond comes to see is that even the bully can be a victim. The next time the boys meet, there’s a moment of compassion, an instant where they see each other as fellow victims, both wanting to be free from that spin cycle of meanness. In this very human encounter, Desmond finds solidarity, forgiveness, and freedom.

My children asked me to read this story every night for weeks. And I think it kneaded good things into us. We discovered that words could make or unmake us. We noticed the humanity in both the boys. We saw how solidarity heals and forgiveness frees.

A couple days ago, someone asked me what ever happened to the bullies. It caught me off guard, which my friend must have read as confusion, because she clarified ‘what did they do to the mean boys who bothered your daughter on the playground?’

In that moment I realized something—in our house we never called them bullies or mean boys or bad kids. They’re the boys who used mean words, yes. Boys who made a bad choice, yes. But in our home we assumed they’re boys learning how to handle words, emotions, and hurts just like us. It never occurred to us to ‘other’ them by giving them a label or making them into villains.

Not long after the incident at school I remember my son asking from the backseat, “Do those boys have God’s fingerprints on them, mom?” As we pulled into the driveway I assured him, “Yes, they are made in God’s image just like us.” “So, God loves them like he loves me and my sister?” I answered in the affirmative. “So I shouldn’t be mean back? I should forgive them and give them another chance?”

And there it was … acknowledging the image of God in others and letting that truth control how we seen them and respond to them. We don’t return evil for evil. We offer forgiveness and we believe everyone gets second chances (and then some) from a generous God. We try to see the humanity of those boys like our own, and how a loving God embraces us all.

I confess, I did reflect on the parents of these boys, wondering what they were teaching them around their dinner tables about people who are different from them. Were they modeling behavior that their sons mimicked on the playground when belittling my daughter? I felt a surge of compassion for the boys, because maybe they just didn’t know better yet.

But then I wondered if I just “othered” those moms and dads by imagining them as “those parents who model racism.” What if they are more like me—trying their best to teach their kids to be respectful, kind and honest amid an increasingly hostile world? And what if some days, just like me, they’re heartsick when their kids make poor choices that hurt others? And what if they’re having similar conversations while driving home or over dinner about better ways to treat other people? So maybe I should drop the stones, drop the condemnation, the conjecture, and focus on my own homemaking.

This thing I’m learning is making my home a place where we incubate compassion and kindness, where we practice forgiveness and learn that the art of second chances is the best sort of homemaking. I’m creating a space for us to be fully human, seeing God’s fingerprints on us all the while. And I’m teaching my children to see others likewise—people loved by God worthy of kindness, forgiveness, and second chances.

If we labeled those boys as bullies or bad, I’d just be teaching my kids the dark art of marginalization. If I fumed about racist and ignorant parents, I’d show my kids how to stoke hostility and harbor resentment. If my homemaking doesn’t include dismantling the weapon of ‘othering’ or melting my own reflex to condemn and judge, then I’m adding to the violence, not the peace of the world.

I believe that how I make my home is what makes the neighborhood. When I send my kids out onto the streets with eyes to see God’s fingerprints on everyone, they see neighbors everywhere. I want my homemaking to shape my home—and all those around me. So for the sake of our neighborhoods I believe our homemaking matters.
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Image Credit: Katie Richardson

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Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is also the author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans).
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

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