I’m Rachel Kimrey, and this is how my family is living deeply.
My husband Josh and I have a blended family; we have a 9-year-old son, Luke, who biologically joined our family, and we have a 6-year-old daughter, Livie, who joined our family through adoption. Our journey to adoption was messy and filled with previous losses, a similar story to many for whom God grows their family in this way. Livie’s journey to adoption was equally messy and filled with loss, even though she was just a few days old. And these speedbumps were expected. We knew it would be this way. What we weren’t adequately prepared for was the suffocating role racism would play in our lives, even before Livie could do so much as sit up or crawl. Livie is bi-racial. Her father is black, and her mother is a second-generation Puerto Rican and Italian immigrant. Her mother took a public bus for prenatal care and has a college education; both her parents work multiple jobs to support themselves. I was proud of Livie’s story, and I was proud of the selfless choices her parents made to give her life. It only took a few days for my husband and I to realize that the skin color Livie inherited from her parents was just as divisive as our brothers and sisters of color have claimed it to be for many years, and it has sadly become even more clear as she’s gotten older.
I am a teacher, and, before we adopted Livie, I would have labeled myself an advocate for others. When I heard about the harsh realities of race in America through the news or my students, I believed them. But, looking back, I clearly didn’t believe them enough to step out of my bubble. I think Josh would say the same thing. Living alongside our daughter has taken those blinders off. When Livie was only a few days old, doctors we interacted with assumed her biological parents were addicted to drugs or welfare. Visiting church, grocery stores, and restaurants meant explaining to well-meaning strangers that her story wasn’t what they assumed. We repeatedly had to answer questions about what country she was born in, even though she was as American as our white son. We quickly realized our close circles lacked diversity, and that Josh and I were to blame for that. We arrived at these realizations as racism started to affect Livie more directly. Teachers at preschool reported that another student told her she had to sit under the bench because only white kids could sit on the bench. Kids on playgrounds said her skin looked dirty. Dance studios recommended that hip hop classes might be a better fit for her than ballet. Nursery caregivers explained that they needed to protect other kids from her because they didn’t know her history. Strangers routinely assume she’s taller and older than she is, and are offended when she doesn’t act the age they assign to her. Acquaintances verbalize judgements about black people, and quickly explain that those judgements don’t apply to Livie. We started to see that in a world where we declared “color-blindness” the new solution to racial inequity, even the youngest of our flocks couldn’t overcome the sin of partiality that looks for differences over similarities.
Josh and I prayed about what changes we could make that might give Livie more community that looked like her – so more of her life could be spent without her skin color being her defining character trait. We read more diverse books and watched more diverse movies, joined diverse social media groups and sought out community events in other parts of town. We started small because we didn’t know how to go big yet. I volunteered with Safe Families for Children, which let me meet and make friends with women of much different backgrounds than me. Josh started to listen more intently to his patients of color, trying to learn all he could about the role of race in our own city. And when a job became available at Beaumont Magnet Academy downtown, I jumped at the chance to work and transfer my kids to what is possibly the most diverse school in our county.
After finding diversity in our work and school lives, what was left was a deep longing for diversity in our church life. We came to notice that our church was faithfully able to minister to Luke, but that it might be harder for Livie to learn about Jesus when few people looked like her and no one in leadership did. I started to hold some resentment toward our church because I felt so alone in trying to raise my bi-racial daughter.
The Lord didn’t leave that resentment to grow and moved in Jim McKinney and Suzanne Stelling to reach out to me about joining a new committee at Cedar Springs, the Revelation 7:9 Team. This team is part of the EPC’s Task Force to challenge churches to faithfully embrace, worship with, and serve our neighbors from “every tribe, peoples, and nation.” Our team, which includes a Session member, staff member, church officers, and a diverse group of church members, studies how our church, with its rich heritage of faith, might better answer God’s call in Revelation 7:9 – “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” Our team recognizes that Cedar Springs has been faithful to serve these people groups, but we may not have prioritized making our church a welcoming place to worship with these people groups. We spend time praying for discernment and sharing ideas for how our church composition might mirror the 3 – 5 mile radius of our church more than it does now.
Working in an inner-city school has opened my eyes to the overwhelming needs that are going unmet in our city, needs that will perpetuate inequalities among those of racial and low-socioeconomics subgroups in our very own community. Needs that could be met in relationship more than they are currently met with donations. Our city is fortunate that we have the Knox Ed Foundation which runs a Community Schools Partnership. This partnership provides relationships and resources for 16 low-income schools in the Knoxville city center, and it’s a partnership that Cedar Springs is already involved in! If you would like to come along side me or want to hear more, please email Rev79@cspc.net. I am confident work in these communities will change you like it has changed me and my kids – God will grow in you a heart to have friends from all “tribes and peoples and languages” and for Cedar Springs to look a little more like heaven with “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation.”