For the past twelve weeks, we have dealt with three major losses. First, my husband’s father passed away, then a few weeks later, my mother, and then last week, we buried my husband’s mother. All in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. A few days ago, I lifted my head just a bit out of the fog of grief, only to discover that the world was on fire. It was burning with an age-old enemy of racial discord, which should have been resolved and healed decades ago.
There have been many times I have felt helpless and defeated concerning this issue.
Why hasn’t it changed?
Why does this issue seems to resurface over and over?
Why can’t we learn?
Why can’t we love?
In 2016, I was connected to Juanita G. Floyd through a mutual friend, and soon learned of her beautiful story. In 1969, she was the only black girl in her second grade class during the transitional year of integration. Her mother bravely prepared her for her new school in creative ways, instilling in her a solid knowledge of who she was and Whose she was. With a message of faith, forgiveness, and friendship, we co-authored an inspirational children’s book called Summer of 1969. I won’t spoil the story for you, but I think you would be blessed to read this beautiful story of racial reconciliation. You can check it out here.
The point of this post is not to tell you about a book we have written. The point of this post is to tell you what I learned through the process. Somewhere along the way, we no longer were a white woman and a black woman with a common goal. Instead, we became sisters with a shared mission. Sure, we were different in many ways. But our shared faith bound us together in unity and friendship.
On the Sunday before the book was released, I was sitting in church, silently praying for our project. Our pastor had led us through a time of silent prayer where we asked God to show us His way and His path for our lives. As I was praying, I suddenly had a thought in my head that repeated like a broken record.
Wash her feet.
Wash her feet.
Wait, what? You want me to wash Juanita’s feet? I thought nervously.
I was familiar with the biblical concept of washing the feet of another, just as Jesus did, but I had rarely participated in such a thing.
Wash her feet.
The thought persisted until I finally prayed, “Okay, Lord, I’ll wash her feet. Even if she thinks I’m crazy.”
And as my imagination took me down the trail of what that would look like, very clearly words poured into my head—words I knew I must say.
The following Tuesday we were schedule to meet together to pray before the release of the book. Just before she arrived I gathered my grandmother’s bowl and a clean towel. I chose this particular bowl for two reasons: 1.) My grandmother truly was the most loving person I have ever known, and 2.) I knew the bowl was representative of many generations.
After we prayed, I gathered my nerve and told Juanita of my experience in church. And she graciously allowed me to wash her feet. As I began to dry her feet, I looked up with tears in my eyes and spoke the words that the Lord had laid on my heart: “Juanita, I am so sorry for any wrong or unkind thing that people that look like me have done to people who look like you.”
Juanita smiled and said, “I forgive.”
To my white friends, we must wash our black friends’ feet. That may not be a literal act, but we must find some way to wash their feet.
But I’m not mean, we think.
But I’m very accepting, we think.
But I’m not racist, we think.
Wash their feet. Ask forgiveness for generations of wrong doing.
I never intended on sharing this story with anyone. It was a private moment between two sisters who look nothing alike. But Juanita has given me permission to share it because both of us desire that one day things will be different. That one day change will be permanent. That one day we will all value each other as the magnificent creation we each are—all made in the image of God.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.