When A Little Boy Completely Surprised Me With His Reaction to My Daughter’s Appearance

It was a lively family party, in preparation for a wedding weekend, and the house was full of family members from all over the country – some of whom I hadn’t even met yet or at least hadn’t seen in years.

We exchanged hugs over and over as new people arrived to help celebrate. The kids ran around gleefully outside while the adults loaded up their plates and caught up.

I kept seeing a little boy pass by, probably around 10 or 11 years old. He was a big kid, not much shorter than I am, definitely athletic. And while the other kids paid no attention to me and Brenna, this boy would hesitate at my daughter, wrinkle his nose slightly and furrow his brow a bit, as if he was trying to figure out Brenna’s appearance and wasn’t sure what to make of her skin.

Finally, by the fourth time he passed by, he slowed down until he was standing right in front of her. And I admit – I braced myself for what I thought was coming: a question perhaps, or maybe even a not-so-nice comment about her appearance. I felt a little swelling of annoyance start build up in me, threatening to spill over into upset.

But then he knelt down so that he was eye level with Brenna. And this tough-looking preteen all but cooed at her: “Well, aren’t you just the PRETTIEST little girl? I LOVE your pretty dress! Are you having fun?”

Oh. My. Heart.

My expectation of needing to come to Brenna’s defense melted away in an instant. I was absolutely, completely wrong about this child’s intent – and joyfully so.


Defensiveness can turn our insides ugly – fast. Defensiveness prepares us for a battle before an actual battle cry. It finds us ready to fight, ready to defend, ready to hurt in return for the hurt we are anticipating or experiencing.

Maybe most importantly, defensiveness turns off our ability to listen well. We don’t care what someone else is saying, what they’re feeling or where they’re coming from – because we’re already upset, ready to fight back at the perceived offense. Fight or flight has kicked in, and it doesn’t matter if the threat is real or in our minds.

Pushing back against my tendency to rush to the line of defense turns my focus outward, instead of inward. It has helped me to try listening beyond what others are saying in order to better understand what they are feeling. When I remind myself that I am not necessarily under attack when someone is expressing a differing view or asking for more information, I can usually see that person is hurt or proud or many other feelings that actually have very little to do with me.

I won’t pretend it doesn’t hurt when a rude comment is made or another child uses an unkind adjective to describe our sweet girl. But we have been surprised by the good of people too, again and again. And just as we don’t want anyone to make assumptions about Brenna’s story, our story, we try not to assume negatively about the reactions of others before giving them a chance.

On most days, I would love to experience an outing without pointing or questions because in all honesty, it does begin to feel intrusive. While I want others to be educated about Brenna’s skin, what I desire even more is for people to squelch their own curiosity and offer a hello or tell me how cute my kids are. I can only dream of a world where we could all learn to extend a little more kindness instead of judgment – a world in which we stood more assured and didn’t have need to question others, or ourselves.

Defensiveness can lead to a growing anger and resentment deep within ourselves. But through offering grace, kindness can be mustered up. And I’ve found that when kindness is extended instead of anger, it builds self-confidence and contentment…and even connection.cIMG_1495

A while ago, there was an older gentleman behind us at McDonald’s, and he started speaking to me before I was paying attention. I caught something about “keeping a hat on” Brenna, and my face started to get hotter, thinking it was the beginning of a lecture about keeping a hat on my kid when out in the sun so that she doesn’t get sunburned (not the first time this has happened.)

“What was that?” I asked him, pushing back against my rising defensiveness.

He repeated his comment: “I was just saying that I don’t know how you get her to keep a hat on. My grandkids just pull them right off!”

He smiled at us. “She’s sure a cutie.”

My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

Want to raise kind kids who appreciate differences? You can download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities when you subscribe to my monthly email newsletter!  Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.

Move Toward the Mess (and a book giveaway!)

She practically shuddered with a hand over her heart. “You took your baby…to Africa?” she asked my friend Ginger, and we laughed.

“Yeah,” Ginger smiled. “It was fine, and our kids were able to experience so much of the culture. We can’t wait to take them back again.”

I think of that moment every now and then, when I realized that comfort is a very, well, comfortable thing. It’s difficult to step out of that comfort, to walk knowingly into uncertain situations even when we are doing so in order to spread Jesus’ love.

Being uncomfortable is hard. Moving into the mess is difficult. But that is right where God wants us.

I’m finishing up the book Move Toward the Mess by John Hambrick, who is part of the leadership team at Buckhead Church, within North Point Ministries. (Scroll down – I’m giving away a copy today!) What John has found is that too many of us are too comfortable… too isolated… too bored within our faith. But “if you’re bored,” he writes, “don’t waste another minute. If your church service feels like a failed pep rally that never leads to the actual game, then it’s time for you to follow Jesus onto the field where the opposition is real and the stakes are extraordinary.”

I’ve been contemplating this a lot when it comes to my family. I’ve been asking myself not only what am I helping my kids to learn about the Lord, but also what am I showing them about what it means to give of ourselves, to love others the way Jesus loves us? Because doing this, truly doing this, usually means stepping outside of ourselves, outside of the areas that bring us comfort.

When we first got the opportunity to serve at a local winter homeless shelter, we didn’t hesitate to sign Connor up too. He was 5 at the time, and he was assigned the job of handing out little packs of snacks and water after the individuals came through the dinner line. There is a lot of mess among that group. We’ve heard some interesting things, and we’ve seen a fight or two break out. But it’s a real chance to be a part of Jesus’ love, and I feel like I’m looking at the face of God as I hand out bottled waters and say hello and smile.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there’s nothing heroic about showing up once a month for a single dinner. But it’s a start, and the first step in moving into a life of less talk and more action does begin with showing up. I know we have a lot more to learn, a lot more to give, and much, much more love to offer. And reading Move Toward the Mess has deepened my resolve and heightened my reflection for how our family can meaningfully live this out.

One of my favorite points in Move Toward the Mess was an analogy John used to describe what is happening in churches across the country. He likened Christianity to a sporting event, with the locker room strategy, followed by the big highlight: the game. But today, he pointed out, we’ve busied ourselves with talking strategy in the locker room so much that we’ve been abandoning the game.

“…What if the team didn’t show up on the field? When we Christians start to confuse the locker room with the game, things get boring…We talk about love and generosity and grace. Those things come alive and get exciting when they’re running loose in the world. But if we only ever talk about those things in church, and never practice them outside the church, things get stale. It might be more comfortable inside the walls of the church, but excitement is found where Jesus is at work – out in the world.”


When I think about what it means to move toward the mess, I think of my friend Kathy, who played an integral role in getting hundreds of beds built in a Charlotte NC apartment complex for the homeless. I think of my friend Kristin who organized a group of friends to host a fundraiser that collected months’ worth of toilet paper for low-income families in our community.I think of my friend Julie who mentors young, homeless mothers each week. And I think of my friend Ginger who serves with her family in Sierra Leone, working to bring education and the Christian faith to the people there.
I know that it takes not only a willingness, but also specific, passionate action to move into the places where we can make a deep impact – and I hope to continually seek out these places to connect with others in grace and love. Wherever God is calling us – from the international ministry to the local nonprofit to our neighbor’s home – the most beautiful parts of life are found in the mess.
Today, I’m giving away a copy of Move Toward the Mess! Just leave a comment and I’ll select a winner by Friday, January 20 at 5 p.m.!
My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!
Want to raise kind kids who appreciate differences? You can download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities when you subscribe to my monthly email newsletter!  Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.