You are almost here! Your dad and I cannot wait to hold you in our arms, to kiss your sweet cheeks, to count your fingers and toes. You, my love, are a miracle: Nine months ago you didn’t exist at all, and now you are flesh and bone and brain and heart and soul. We thank the Lord for you every day!
While you’ve been growing safe and secure inside my belly, the world out here has undergone some seismic shifts marked by much fear and tragedy. I want to tell you about the past few months while they are fresh in my mind because I believe that God is working through these events to do important work in our hearts. My prayer is that what He is teaching us now creates a wave of lasting change that will make your generation more loving and more thoughtful than mine.
In late January, when I was just beginning to feel your tiny flutters and kicks inside me, we started to hear news about people in China and other parts of Asia falling ill and dying from a mysterious respiratory virus with many different names: “The Coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” “SARS-CoV-2.” When the virus reached the United States, our President and several media outlets referred to it as the “Chinese Flu,” which may or may not have contributed a surge of hate crimes against Asian Americans in the weeks and months that followed.
This is something I need you to know, my sweet son: Words have power. We can wield them “like swords” (Prov. 12:18) or apply them like balm that brings “sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov. 16:24).
By early March, as your eyes began to perceive light and your ears process sound, the virus had spread to almost every state, including Missouri. We worried for you. No one seemed to know anything about how COVID-19 might affect pregnant women or unborn babies or newborns. There was no research – how could there be? We heard conflicting information about the virus from the media, government, and health experts.
The death toll climbed, the illness primarily affecting the most vulnerable among us: the elderly, the sick, the immunocompromised, and our Black brothers and sisters, who are dying of COVID-19 at three times the rate of white people due to poor access to healthcare and other preexisting conditions related to living in poverty. Hospitals became overcrowded, and doctors and nurses begged people to stay home to avoid further spread.
Restaurants and shops closed their doors, playgrounds were taped off, schools and churches moved online. We stopped seeing our friends and tried to keep a safe distance away from your Grammy and Grandpa to avoid getting them sick. Your Aunt Paige and Uncle Ryan pushed back their wedding, we moved your baby shower online, our friends and family members who’d planned to visit us canceled their flights, your dad was no longer allowed to come to our prenatal appointments.
The entire world was put on pause.
That’s when videos began to circulate that showed two white men gunning down Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was on an afternoon jog in a suburb in Georgia. Even though the local police had seen the video, no charges were filed against Ahmaud’s killers. A few weeks later, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot and killed by police officers as she slept on her couch inside her home in Louisville, Kentucky. A few weeks after that, another video surfaced – this one showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, for almost nine minutes while he repeatedly said, “I can’t breath” and twice called out for his mother.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, protestors of all colors, faiths, and political leanings flooded streets all over our country (and the world) to demand justice for Ahmaud, Breonna, and George, but also to speak out against the systemic oppression that has plagued black Americans since they were brought to these shores as slaves. In some cases, protests have turned violent: businesses looted and burned, officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds.
It’s easy to get nostalgic about the time before COVID-19, to wish that we could all just “go back to the way things were” or “return to business as usual.”
But the reason I’m telling you all of this is because I truly don’t think God wants us to “go back to the way things were.” We know that it is through exactly these kinds of tragic circumstances – when life feel most confusing and painful and hopeless – that God so often does his most important work within us. Instead of wishing away the year 2020, maybe we should stop for a second and ask, “God: What are you trying to teach me here?”
For your dad and me, COVID-19 has led us to reflect upon what Jesus really means when he tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
By the time you’re old enough to read this, you will probably have heard the parable of The Good Samaritan countless times. The story is so good, though, that it bears repeating here:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The true neighbor in this parable, of course, is the one who stops – the one who presses pause on his busy life in order to see and serve the dying man in the road. This parable is often retold as a reminder that to love your neighbor means to care for the weak, sick, and the vulnerable.
But it’s important to note that this parable is also very much about race.
In Jesus’ time, Jews and Samaritans (two separate ethnic groups) despised one another. The lawyer who questions Jesus hopes that he can “love his neighbor” by caring solely for other Jews, but Jesus uses this story to flip the lawyer’s worldview entirely. Not only does Jesus command that love for our neighbors should transcend racial boundaries, but by making the Samaritan the hero of the story, he also challenges negative stereotypes about Samaritans.
When I read through this parable in light of the racial unrest embroiling our own nation, I can’t help but feel deeply convicted.
Because long before we knew the names Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, back during our pre-COVID state of “normal,” we did know the names Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and so many others. Your dad and I have also known for a long time that racial disparities exist across nearly all systems in our society: criminal justice, healthcare, education, and economic.
Yet we’ve rarely stopped and paused our lives long enough actually do anything about any of it. Over and over again, we have been like the priest and the Levite: We see the man dying in the street, and over and over we choose to “pass by on the other side.” Because it’s so much easier and cleaner and more comfortable to avoid looking at the problem altogether than it is to stop and actually do something about it.
With COVID-19 has come much pain and suffering. The economy has grinded to a halt, people are out of work, and over 480,000 people have lost their lives. But even within these horrible circumstances, God is at work. Collectively as a nation, we’ve been forced to slow down, and it seems we are finally paying attention to the dying man in the street.
Because of global protests and vocal public outrage at the deaths of Ahmaud, Breonna, and George, police departments across the country have already begun reforming their policies and our President has signed an executive order to ban law enforcement from using chokeholds. More than ever before in the history of this country, white people are listening to their Black brothers and sisters, educating themselves on the deep-rooted causes of systemic racism, and seeking solutions.
The other day, someone I know to be a strong Christian posted this image on his Facebook page (side note: I sincerely hope Facebook is a thing of the past by the time you’re able to read this):
The words on this image trouble me for several reasons, but I find the last line particularly disturbing coming from someone who I know to be a follower of Christ: “If you choose to see evil, then evil is all you will see.”
My sweet son, if we choose to NOT see evil, then we are just like the priest and the Levite who “pass by on the other side.” Even more importantly, if we choose NOT to see evil, then we have no need for Jesus.
You are about to enter broken world full of poor and miserable sinners. None of us are immune, especially when it comes to the sin of racism, which has been with us since Biblical times and which, like all sins, will be with us until Jesus comes again. We all need the grace and pardon that only Christ gives through his death and resurrection.
My prayer for our nation is that when the pandemic and protests are over, when we all resume the hustle of “normal” life, that we keep working to love those who are unlike us and work to eradicate injustice. My prayer for the Church is that we help lead the charge.
And my prayer for you, my son, is that you refuse to look away from the brokenness of this world, that you refuse to be like the priest and the Levite who “pass by on the other side” because it’s more convenient and comfortable to do so. I pray that, like the Samaritan, you go out of your way to love and serve those who are crying out for help, especially those who are different from you – something that I fail at continuously.
I pray, too, that in the midst of this world’s worst trials and tribulations, you see God at work and know that “in all things [he] works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).