Senator Burr, sir, please bid good day to Betsy DeVos

Senator Burr, sir, my name is Shannon Dingle, and you represent me. I live in Raleigh, NC. You represent my husband and six children, who you'll see pictured throughout this post. You also represent the hundreds of other North Carolina residents who voiced their opinion on your recent (and now deleted) Facebook post expressing support for Betsy DeVos's nomination to the position of Secretary of Education.

I'm a former public school teacher. Before I stood before my first class of students, I knew plenty regarding the significant debate about growth vs. proficiency. (Actually, I gave a speech to my high school's National Honor Society about the issues there, after our school was given a low grade by the state despite serving many students who arrived with below-grade proficiency in all subjects.) I've only seen that conversation grow louder since then. This is Education 101. Or maybe it's better described as a prerequisite for a 101 class. But Betsy DeVos clearly didn't know even the Cliff's Notes version of that central issue, based on her confusion during the nomination hearing. This shows she wasn't even willing to listen to or read a basic briefing on the issues related to the position she's seeking.

I have a Master's in Education, specializing in autism and learninig disabilities. Even before I took a single class, though, I knew about the federal law IDEA that guarantees a free and appropriate education to students with disabilities. It's a cornerstone piece of legislation. My students were able to be in public schools because of this necessary law. Betsy DeVos didn't know what IDEA was, didn't know it was a federal law, and admitted herself that she didn't understand basic questions about it during her hearing. 

I'm the mother to six children in NC public schools. I keep hearing - from several folks in DC, including President Trump and Mrs. DeVos - that public schools don't work, that they're irreparably broken. Could you sit across from the fine teachers and administrators in our state and criticize their work to their faces? Because that's what you're saying when you buy into this rhetoric. I'm the product of public schools in Florida and North Carolina, and my husband is the product of the same in New Jersey, Ohio, and North Carolina. You'll be receiving a letter from my 10-year-old daughter in 4th grade soon, because she wants you to know how excellent her public school experiences have been in your state. Maybe we should send a copy to Mrs. DeVos as well.      

Two of our children have disabilities, one receives ESL services, and another is served via the gifted and talented program. When leaders like Mrs. DeVos talk about school funding, they begin at the premise that every state and district has an average price per pupil spending. This is true, and the figure is used to compare student costs across different contexts. In reality, though, these averages are just that: averages. Some kids cost less to education while others cost more, sometimes significantly more. For example:

  • Two of our children receive no extra services at school; their cost of education is much lower than average.
  • Meanwhile, one of our children is served through gifted and talented programming and another through ESL and intervention programs. Those students require - per federal law - educational specialists in each area, which requires additional funds from the district for their education. That cost is distributed across all the students served by that program in their school, but it still increases their actual price per student expenditure.
  • And then we get to our daughter in a Title 1 preschool where she receives special education services. Beyond the Title 1 funding, she gets speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy at school, each 1-2 times a week. On top of that, her support needs require a one-on-one aide to allow her to access the education she deserves, per federal law. In other words, her actual price per pupil cost includes Title 1 funding, parts of the salaries for three different therapists, and the entire salary for a teacher's assistant whose job is to be her aide. Obviously, this means her education costs significantly more than her siblings or most other students in the school or district.

During her truncated hearing in which questions were limited, Betsy DeVos shared that she had no experience as a public school student, parent, or educator. None of her answers or body of work before now have shown that she understands the funding structures for traditional public schools. 

Vouchers are harmful for vulnerable students. Most voucher proponents, like DeVos, act as if the cost per pupil spending in our district applies to all of my children equally, as if we can say the price per pupil in our district is exactly what it costs to educate Jocelyn, Patience, Philip, Robbie, Patricia, and Zoe Dingle. That's clearly not true, given what I shared above.

What is reality, though, is that vulnerable students lose educational services when funding is diverted to private schools, the majority of which are religious in nature. These schools aren't required to accept several of my children. Funds used to educate my children and other children in need of exceptional services leave the school while my children aren't able to go elsewhere. The education of the children demonstrating highest need suffers in this set-up. Mrs. DeVos's definition of school choice means only some students get a choice while others don't. All of her educational efforts have been toward for-profit privatization rather than student-serving public service.

(What about charter schools? Well, it's worth noting that the DeVoses only shifted to charter schools after they invested $5.8 million in a failed attempt to implement a state-wide voucher system in Michigan, which concerns me about allowing her to have any control over federal education funds. After that failure, then the charter attempts led by Mrs. DeVos in Detroit were even worse. The only other district to intensely invest in charter schools - New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina - has largely excelled, so I'm not saying that charters are always bad, even on a large scale. I've observed both success and failure in them. In the interests of full disclosure, I served as a special education consultant in the planning stages for New Orleans's charter program. Choosing a leader from that program or another program with similar successes wouldn't have raised eyebrows for me, because students are being served well, for the most part, there. But it makes no sense whatsoever to choose such a failed voucher and charter school leader as Mrs. DeVos to implement plans for either at the federal level.)   

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My husband and I attended public universities in North Carolina. Lee graduated with a BS in civil engineering from NC State in 2004. I graduated with a BA in Communication Studies at UNC in 2003 and a MAEd in Special Education from ECU in 2009. We both benefited greatly from our college and graduate school educations in the public system in our state. Hearing Mrs. DeVos share her lack of experience with public post-secondary schooling concerned me during the hearings.

I have student debt. I was an out of state student at Carolina. As I'm sure you know, the costs are much higher in that situation. I chose to graduate in three years from UNC because tuition increases were making it financially difficult, but I still left with student loans. I am down to about $5000 in loans and will be paying that off soon. Most graduates in our state carry much high loan amounts than I do. When questioned during confirmation hearings, Mrs. DeVos admitted she had no experience with student debt, even among close friends. I don't see how she can impact needed changes there with so few qualifications and so little experience. 

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I am the survivor of rape and sexual assault. Like a substantial minority of women, I know what it's like to have my body claimed by another in tragic ways. I know what it's like to have someone painfully enter my body without my permission. I know what it's like to bleed and bruise and cry and have nightmares because body parts that should be sacred were violated in criminal and cruel ways. If you've been following the news over the past several years, you know that sexual assaults on college campuses are a serious problem. Many universities have failed in their handling of such crimes. When Mrs. DeVos declined to say if she would enforce Title IX provisions regarding campus sexual assaults, I wanted to throw up. I don't ever want other women to experience what I did, but if they do, I want every support to be in place to help them afterward.   

I've personally experienced gun violence. No, not from a grizzly bear, like Mrs. DeVos suggested. I won't go into specifics, but I remember that terror. I know that guns in the hands of good guys aren't always used for good purposes. Furthermore, even here in my county, armed safety officers in our schools can make schools less safe. And I know as a teacher I was already bearing more tasks and responsibilities than I signed on for, so being in a workplace with guns or carrying one myself? No, thank you. (Also, I was sexually harassed and threatened by an administrator in my first school, so arming any of them would have made me quit, even though I loved teaching and our school was already understaffed.) Betsy DeVos's answer to the question about guns in schools was ignorant at best; in the past four years, we've had 210 documented attacks by those with guns in schools and zero by grizzly bears. Furthermore, wildlife experts say bear spray is a better safeguard against such hypothetical and improbable attacks than guns would be. 

I could share more concerns, but I think this should be more than enough to give you pause. I'd like to remind you that you represent the families of the 1.46 million public school students in North Carolina, including 169,000 (12.6%) served special education and 97,000+ (6.5%) served by ESL. I'd also like to remind you that federal funding for teachers in the form of grants and loan forgiveness is important, which should interest you because any bit helps in a state that ranks 41st in teacher pay like North Carolina does. You represent those teachers too. You also represent the 55% of college graduates in our state who have student loan debt. 

You'll be up for election again in 2022. If you choose not to represent me and my family, I'll campaign in every way I can for whoever runs against you. If no one else steps up, I will run against you, because all families - especially those who are most vulnerable - need to have a voice in DC. So far this term, it seems like you're speaking for your big donor DeVos instead of your constituents. (Given that she has donated more than $40,000 to you over the past four years, if you can't vote against her, please recuse yourself because of the conflict of interest this creates for you.)

Please, Senator Burr, sir, do the right thing and oppose the nomination of DeVos as Secretary of Education. Some of my children and I would love to meet with you in person, either here in North Carolina or there in DC, to share these concerns and our heart with you directly. I apologize that I can't offer thousands of dollars, but I think my voice and your conscience is worth a lot more than her donations.

I would leave my contact information here for you to follow up, but just check with your office for that. I call almost every day, and I will continue to do so in hopes that you'll begin representing constituents like me.

what two girls can do when no one tells them that they can't

I have six amazing children, but today I'm going to tell you a needed story about just two of them. I say "needed" because the news is hard right now. It's easy to live in a rage-y place right now, especially if you share my political bent and views about how Christians should be responding to it all. 

We all need to see the good news too.

We all need to be reminded of what our aspirations of a better world can look like.

We all need to know that our fights are worth fighting because sometimes beauty emerges out of the struggle.

Jocelyn in 9. Zoe is 5. Both are badasses, and both would be horrified that I just used a "bad word" to describe them. (Meanwhile, one of their brothers would be asking why I am calling them bad donkeys. Thank you, literal understandings via autism!) They're rockstars. They're amazing. They are creative and determined and bold and beautiful. 

When Jocelyn was little and our only child, I realized the best word to describe her is "very." No matter what she is or does, this child lives on the extremes. (She's a lot like her mama in that way.)

Before Zoe joined our family, we'd get messages from time to time from the director of the adoption program there in Taiwan. In most, she'd write something like, "the nannies want to make sure you know that she is very strong-willed." I said good. In our house, I don't know if we'd know what to do with any other kind of kid. 

Now Jocelyn's "very" comes out in some radiant ways. She loves to read, and by that I mean everything and anything and all the time. She's learning to play piano, and she's practically obsessed with practicing. And she has learned about her siblings' disabilities and medical conditions, and she often tries to figure out how she can help them, if she can.

Now Zoe's "strong will" comes out in some defiantly gorgeous ways. She has defied almost every negative expectation we had been told about her. She won't talk? No one told her that, and she's become a chatterbox. She won't be able to keep up cognitively with her peers? Her peers are working to keep up with her, actually. She might not be able to express emotions or interact with others? Um, that's laughable to anyone who knows her now. She will be "horribly devastating" to our family, as one specialist said prior to the adoption? NOPE. She is defiant in all the ways that we could have ever hoped, defying any less-than expectation that so many unknowingly harbor toward kids with disabilities. 

All the fourth graders at their school participate in the Invention Convention. They come up with ideas of something they can make to solve a problem. They make it. And then they make poster boards to show it off, and parents and teachers weave their way through the library to ooh and ahh over their work. 

Today is the Invention Convention. Today these two girls are coming together to show something amazing. To prepare for the project, Jocelyn and Zoe talked about things that Zoe couldn't do like her classmates. Neither of them were comfortable with those limitations. Both of them saw the hopeful word "yet." Not Zoe can't do that. Zoe can't do that yet.

They came up with turning pages of a board book independently and getting her binder out of her bag and into the bin like all of her classmates. Then they got to work. They tried different things. Ultimately, a Harris Teeter bad rigged to the side of her chair, a cord tied to the top ring of her binder, and bump-on stickers at the corner of board book pages worked to turn "can't do that yet" to "I can do it! I can do it! Look!" (That last statement are the exact words of Zoe.)

But I don't think words can suffice here. Take a look at the beautiful brave of two girls who dared to dream beyond present limitations. 

This, my friends, if what two girls can do when no one tells them that they can't.

(Please forgive any typos here. I'm off to the Invention Convention, so I don't have time for silly things like proofreading today.)

I want to know better, so I can love better.

People of color, I know that while I have black and Asian children, I'm still white. Please, feel free to call me out or correct me if I'm ever speaking from white privilege instead of learned knowledge.

Those of you with disabilities and/or mental illness, I live with physical damage and ongoing issues from rheumatoid arthritis as well as PTSD, and I parent children with a range of diagnoses, and I taught special education for several years and then trained special educators for a while, and I have a MAEd in Special Education, but that doesn't mean I'll always get it right. Please, feel free to chime in whenever I say something about disability or mental illness that doesn't match up to your lived experiences.

Immigrants, I am parenting four children who traveled here on orphan visas, and I taught mostly children of immigrants in my first two years as a teacher, but I haven't lived that life. Please, speak up if I'm getting anything wrong about your realities.

Those who are struggling financially and unable to meet all your needs, I am sorry that so many in our country have accepted the lies that you are lazy or criminal or not worthy of love and belonging and help. As my kids received reduced lunch benefits until recently, I know a little of your experience, but our lives have still been more privileged than most. If I ever speak out of turn or post anything that's condescending toward you, let me know. Please.

Native Americans, I've been mostly silent about my privilege here, even as my kin arrived shortly after the Pilgrims. My ancestors contributed to your ancestors' decimation. And until #NoDAPL, I didn't say or do or care much. I will do better. And if I don't, please call me on it.

Those in the LGBTQ+ community, I probably know the least about you, to be honest. I have neighbors and friends among you, but I'm in the stage of mostly listening and not speaking much yet, so I can learn. If my silence becomes hurtful or my speaking - once I do - shows my straight and cisgender privilege, I want to know. I want to learn. I want to love better where so many straight cisgender Christians haven't.

Women, I'm one of you. I'm with you. Rape and abuse survivors, you too. But I know my one voice doesn't represent us all. All of our stories create a beautiful book, and we need each other. So if my story and yours don't match, that doesn't make either of ours invalid. Your voice is valuable here.

Muslims, I am a woman of faith too, but when someone professing the same faith as I do commits a murder or other crime, I'm not blamed for it. I don't know what it's like to be treated like I am. I will speak out for your fair treatment and honor, because our humanity isn't based in who we worship. If I ever represent you poorly, remind me that I aspire to be better than that.

Jews, my privilege is showing here, because I honestly didn't realize until recently than anti-Semitism was still a thing. You are loved. And I am paying attention now. Please engage with me if I show that I'm remaining clueless instead of learning.

Those who fit into multiple of the groups listed above, I understand the concept of intersectionality, but I don't always get it in a personal way. Please let me know when I'm wrong. (And specifically, black women, if I start to sound like the sort of white feminist who acts like you don't exist or like Susan B. Anthony stood for all women when she didn't stand for you, put me in my place, please.)

And if you're among a marginalized group I failed to include here, send me an email or comment below. I'd be happy to revise this to include you.

And, finally, Christians, I am one of you. Please be mindful that Christ spent most of his time with those who were marginalized wherever he was. (And no matter who rants to you about a supposed war of Christmas, please admit that we're not the marginalized ones here in the US in most places.) Consider the groups listed above when you read "love your neighbor as yourself" (in Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39, or Romans 13) or "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (aka the Golden Rule, found in Matthew 7:12) or "let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4). Compassion is central to our faith. Please live that out with me. Let's all be more like Jesus, together, and spur each other on to do all things for the glory of God and the good of all those he created.

We are all human. We are all welcome here. We are all masterpieces. We are all valued and valuable and worthy, and our differences enhance the beauty of our communities. I need you. We need each other.

And we'll all mess up from time to time. (Or maybe a lot of the time.) We all need grace, but sometimes we need correction as well. Please offer both to me.

All, thanks for being here and for joining me in this work of loving and living well. You are loved. I'm thankful for you.

_______+_______
And those of you who are as privileged or more than I am, thank you for getting this far in a post that isn't really for you. My words might make you uncomfortable at times, but that's where the growth opportunity is. Thank you for being here and for listening and for asking questions and for weighing in with kindness and humility.

And, you know, for putting up with me when I go on a binge of political posts.

123 reasons why Trump's words matter (and so do ours)

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

  1. These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. (Matthew 15:18)

  2. The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21)

  3. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs. (Ephesians 4:29)

  4. The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

  5. Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:33-37)

  6. Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24)

  7. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

  8. Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin. (Proverbs 13:3)

  9. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (Colossians 3:8)

  10. Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity. (Proverbs 21:23)

  11. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

  12. My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)

  13. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. (James 1:26)

  14. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:3-12)

  15. A soothing tongue is a tree of light, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)

  16. Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them. (Proverbs 29:20)

  17. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues. (Proverbs 17:28)

  18. No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:43-45)

  19. Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given. (Proverbs 25:11)

  20. Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)

  21. The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. (Proverbs 17:27)

  22. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. (Proverbs 15:2)

  23. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (Romans 12:14)

  24. The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction. (Proverbs 16:23)

  25. Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

  26. Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed. (Proverbs 11:11)

  27. Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2)

  28. Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. (Proverbs 10:19)

  29. You have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth. (Proverbs 6:2)

  30. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:3-4)

  31. Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue. (Proverbs 11:12)

  32. To answer before listening - that is folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13) 

  33. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment. (Proverbs 12:19)

  34. He loved to pronounce a curse - may it come back on him. He found no pleasure in blessing - may it be far from him. (Psalm 109:17)

  35. A person finds joy in giving an apt reply - and how good is a timely word! (Proverbs 15:23)

  36. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)

  37. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

  38. Or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. (Leviticus 5:4-5)

  39. Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:16)

  40. Evildoers are trapped by their sinful talk, and so the innocent escape trouble. (Proverbs 12:13)

  41. From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward. (Proverbs 12:14)

  42. An honest witness tells the truth, but a false witness tells lies. (Proverbs 12:17)

  43. The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy. (Proverbs 12:22)

  44. The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool's heart blurts out folly. (Proverbs 12:23)

  45. The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin. (Proverbs 10:14)

  46. Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. (Proverbs 10:6)

  47. The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin. (Proverbs 10:8)

  48. Whoever winks maliciously causes grief, and a chattering fool comes to ruin. (Proverbs 10:10)

  49. The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. (Proverbs 10:11)

  50. Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense. (Proverbs 10:13)

  51. Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool. (Proverbs 10:18)

  52. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. (Proverbs 10:20)

  53. The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense. (Proverbs 10:21)

  54. From the mouth of the righteous comes the fruit of wisdom, but a perverse tongue will be silenced. (Proverbs 10:31)

  55. The lips of the righteous know what finds favor, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse. (Proverbs 10:32)

  56. A fool's mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them. (Proverbs 14:3)

  57. A honest witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies. (Proverbs 14:5)

  58. Stay away from a fool, for you will not find knowledge on their lips. (Proverbs 14:7)

  59. Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright. (Proverbs 14:9)

  60. Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. (Proverbs 18:2)

  61. The words of the mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream. (Proverbs 18:4)

  62. The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating. (Proverbs 18:6)

  63. The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives. (Proverbs 18:7)

  64. In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines. (Proverbs 18:17)

  65. From the fruit of their mouth a persons stomach is filled; with the harvest of their lips they are satisfied. (Proverbs 18:20)

  66. The proud and arrogant person - "Mocker" is his name - behaves with insolent fury. (Proverbs 21:24)

  67. With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors, but through knowledge the righteous escape. (Proverbs 11:9)

  68. My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords. (Psalm 55:20-21)

  69. I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts - men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. (Psalm 57:4)

  70. They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows. They shoot from ambush at the innocent; they shoot suddently, without fear. (Psalm 64:3-4)

  71. Rescue me, LORD, for evildoers; protect me from the violent, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day. They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent's; the poison of vipers is on their lips. (Psalm 140:1-3)

  72. The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them. (Proverbs 12:6)

  73. Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value the one who speaks what is right. (Proverbs 16:13)

  74. The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction. (Proverbs 16:21)

  75. A scoundrel plots evil, and on their lips it is like a scorching fire. (Proverbs 16:27)

  76. Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear. (Proverbs 25:12)

  77. Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. (Proverbs 25:15)

  78. Like a north wind that brings unexpected rain is a sly tongue - which provokes a horrified look. (Proverbs 25:23)

  79. A wicked person listens to deceitful lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue. (Proverbs 17:4)

  80. Eloquent lips are unsuited to a godless fool - how much worse lying lips to a ruler! (Proverbs 17:7)

  81. One whose heart is corrupt does not prosper; one whose tongue is perverse falls into trouble. (Proverbs 17:20)

  82. Lead me, LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies - make your ways straight before me. Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with malice. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they tell lies. (Psalm 5:8-9)

  83. LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the LORD; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. (Psalm 15:1-5)

  84. Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them... Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts - murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them." (Matthew 15:10-11, 17-20)

  85. Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them." After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all food clean.) He went on: "What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughs come - sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person." (Mark 7:14-23)

  86. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. (Revelation 14:5)

  87. For "whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech." (1 Peter 3:10)

  88. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:12-14)

  89. The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. (Isaiah 50:4)

  90. The lips of the wise spread knowledge, but the hearts of fools are not upright. (Proverbs 15:7)

  91. A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. (Proverbs 15:18)

  92. The LORD detests the thoughts of the wicked, but gracious words are pure in his sight. (Proverbs 15:26)

  93. The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. (Proverbs 15:28)

  94. Better the poor whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse. (Proverbs 19:1)

  95. A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free. (Proverbs 19:5)

  96. A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will perish. (Proverbs 19:9)

  97. A corrupt witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of the wicked gulps down evil. (Proverbs 19:28)

  98. A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare. (Proverbs 21:6)

  99. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. (2 Timothy 2:16)

  100. All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. (Proverbs 14:23)

  101. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of the destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy. (Proverbs 31:8)

  102. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. (Proverbs 31:26)

  103. Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips. At the beginning their words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness - and fools multiply words. No one knows what is coming - who can tell someone else what will happen after them? (Ecclesiastes 10:12-14)

  104. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. (Luke 12:3)

  105. An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels. (Proverbs 18:1)

  106. Save me, LORD, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues. (Psalm 120:2)

  107. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

  108. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. (Proverbs 4:24)

  109. A troublemaker and a villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, who winks maliciously with his eye, signals with his feet and motions with his fingers, who plots evil with deceit in his heart - he always stirs up conflict. Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed - without remedy. (Proverbs 6:12-15)

  110. [Wisdom speaking:] Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. (Proverbs 8:6-8)

  111. To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. (Proverbs 8:13)

  112. It is one's honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel. (Proverbs 20:3)

  113. Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended. (Proverbs 22:10)

  114. Pay attention and turn your ear to the saying of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach, for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart and have all of them ready on your lips. (Proverbs 22:17-18)

  115. Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble. (Proverbs 24:1-2)

  116. An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips. (Proverbs 24:26)

  117. Do not testify against your neighbor without cause - would you use your lips to mislead? (Proverbs 24:28)

  118. Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, "I was only joking!" (Proverbs 26:18-19)

  119. A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (Proverbs 26:28)

  120. Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue. (Proverns 28:23)

  121. Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end. (Proverbs 29:11)

  122. If you play the fool and exalt yourself, or if you plan evil, clap your hand over your mouth! (Proverbs 30:32)

  123. There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

White friends, I need you to let me know you're safe.

“I’m writing a new blog series about HIV now that we’re home,” I told her, barely balancing the phone between my chin and shoulder as I carried the basket of dirty clothes to the laundry room. Laundry still overwhelms me now, of course. It was even harder then as I was newly adjusting to our life as a family of eight. Going from three to six kids - all aged 6 and younger then - in one adoption is no joke.

“I’ve heard whispers that some people at church were worried about having their child in class with mine, but no one has said anything directly to us. So, have you heard anything?”

The silence was so loud on the other end that I thought we had gotten disconnected. I said her name and “hello?” 

She said, “I’m here,” as I moved laundry from the washer to the dryer.

I thought, perhaps, I needed to rephrase the question. I wanted to be clear that I wasn’t fishing for her to tell on anyone or name names or anything like that. This time, I asked, “Are there any specific concerns people have that I could address on the blog to clear things up?”

“Well,” she started and then paused. “Well, no. I haven’t heard anything from anyone else, but… well, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this.”

“Huh?” I dropped a couple items. I couldn’t bring myself to pick them up. Something about her tone made me freeze. I waited on her words.

“Well, we’ve decided we aren’t comfortable with playdates anymore. We love your kids. We do. But with HIV, we just don’t know. [Husband] isn’t okay with that. I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“Oh.”

I’m honestly not sure how I ended the phone call. I know I finished swapping the laundry. I remember emailing her with fact sheets and links, in hopes that this was a simple lack of education. My husband and hers sat down to talk it out. We tried to assure them that our child with HIV posed no risk to theirs.

(After all, HIV – other than mother-to-child transmission – is spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants, and sexual intercourse. I think we can all agree that those activities should be off the table for playdates, right? So, no problem.)

They were resolute, though: they could tolerate our child with theirs in Sunday school, but we didn’t want to risk any more contact than that. We could still be friends, they offered. (That didn’t really work, as you might imagine.)

I felt numb for weeks. I stopped inviting people over, not knowing who else might reject us. I felt more unloved and betrayed than I had since my childhood. No one seemed safe if this best friend wasn’t, I figured.

That was almost three years ago. Yet I’ve been thinking about that experience a lot this week. As I continue to lament what this past election showed me about our country, I'm lamenting anew at the denial of justice for Walter Scott and his family in Charleston. His name became a hashtag in April 2015 because Officer Slager shot him eight times in the back while he was 17 feet away. We watched the video. It also showed Slager depositing his taser next to Scott’s lifeless body, planting evidence to match the lies he planned to tell, saying Scott had his taser when he never did. (Not while he was alive, anyway.)

If we hadn’t seen the video, I think of how the narrative might have been different. If we hadn’t seen the video, I think of how many of my friends would have believed Slager’s lies. If we hadn’t seen the video, I think white America would have ignored another black man’s blood.

But even with the video, the trial ended in a mistrial, a miscarriage of justice, as the jury was able to render a verdict but proved unwilling to do their job.

I feel numb again, like I did after Tamir and Trayvon and Sandra and Keith and Philando and Alton and Eric and Levar and John and Tyre and Laquan and Ezell and Akai and Aiyana and Dontre and Jonathan and Samuel and Freddie and Rekia and others. (The list is too long, my friends. Too long. Lord, have mercy.) I grew up the daughter of a law enforcement officer, taught to respect the badge. Now I watch story after story play out of those wearing badges who neither respect their own code or the humanity of those with skin like three of our children. I feel so numb. No one feels safe when officers aren’t.

And if those officers are just a few bad apples, then why the lack of accountability? Why aren’t their colleagues the first in line to say that this sort of behavior doesn’t represent their work? Why isn’t the justice system willing to be just when the offender looks more like my father than my son?

Just like in those dreary months following my former friend’s declaration, I’m not sure who I can trust now. I’ve heard white friends defend the hatefulness of Trump’s campaign and followers, as if their words didn’t sting. I’ve seen posts and comments about how black people just need to not run and then they won’t die. I’ve been told, “your kids will be fine because you’re raising them right,” with no realization of the racist implication held in those words, the suggestion that black mothers and fathers aren’t good parents like we are.

Somedays it’s easier to just avoid you, white friends, unless you’ve explicitly told me or shown me you are safe. I know silence doesn’t equal racism. I’m not saying it does. I'm not saying that being quiet and white equates to being racist. But I am saying that silence from white people right now equates to uncertainty for me. It means you’re a wild card. It means you might be safe for us but I can’t know that for sure. It means that if I’ve never seen you show solidarity with those who have experienced racism, then I can’t know where you stand when we do.

And when I’m feeling particularly raw, I won’t turn to you if I don’t know you’re trustworthy. I can’t. I’ve been hurt too often for that. While for many white friends, the Slager mistrial feels like just another news story, it feels personal to people of color (and those of us raising black children). As I see white friends shocked by the mistrial, most of my friends of color aren’t surprised; they’re weary from carrying pain we’ve refused to even acknowledge. How can we heed the words of Galatians 6:2 to fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens if we try to pretend they don’t exist?

Please, friends, try to understand. Listen. Ask. Engage. Enter the hard conversations so that we can all grow. (As an example, you’ll find an amazingly helpful conversation under my friend Laura’s comment on my post here. That might be a good starting place.)

And once you can empathize, even just a little, then do something. I’m not asking you to speak out in all the ways I do. What a boring world it would be if we all used our voices in the same way! If posting on social media isn’t your thing, I get that. I really do. (Some days, it maybe shouldn’t be my thing either.)

Maybe doing something means having a conversation with a neighbor. Maybe it means texting a black friend to say, “I know the past month has been full of heavy race-related news… how are you feeling?” Maybe it means clicking “like” on something to let a friend know they aren’t alone. Maybe it means something more, something bigger, something bolder. Or maybe it means something simple, something in your school, something in your church, something in your home.

I tried to patch things up with my old friend, but our relationship basically ended with that phone call. She wasn’t willing to treat our child like anything but a threat. I learned then, though it broke my heart, that sometimes you have to walk away from friendships. I still love her. I still miss her. It's been almost three years, and I still can’t type these words without tears. My heart is still broken over this loss, to be honest. I’m still grieving.

But a friend isn’t a friend if she can’t see my children as fully human and worthy of love and belonging. A friend isn’t a friend if he chooses the fear of my children over the truth about them, whether the topic be HIV or race or immigration or disability or gender. A friend isn’t a friend if I share sorrow and the knee jerk reaction is defensiveness instead of care again and again. (Once or twice gets a pass, though I’ll call out that behavior for what it is. But we all have bad days. I don’t think it helps any of us to drop friends lightly.)

What I’m trying to say is that it’s hard to know which friends are true friends right now. It’s hard to know if all our friends are safe. It’s hard to know who would stand with us if it had been my son murdered with evidence planted next to him instead of Judy Scott’s son.

In other words, white friends, I need you to let me know you’re safe. I don’t know how to guess at that anymore. Too many people who have shown us love in every other way have surprised us with indifference or hurtful responses about racism.

And – while I know HIV status and race aren’t the same – I can’t bear to have one more conversation with someone who I think is safe who instead replies, “Actually, I’m the one who doesn’t want my kids playing with yours.”