LOVE IS IN THE AIR
Lisa: It was October 22, 2003. I was working at Bed Bath and Beyond as the customer service manager. Anthony came in to buy frames for some posters, because he is the kind of guy who frames posters. He walked into the store, and as much as I don’t believe in love at first sight, I could see that this guy was smokin’ hot. After talking with him for a few minutes, I knew that I wanted him in my life in some capacity—even if it was just a friendship.
I gave him my phone number before he asked, because I’m a strong, assertive woman who isn’t afraid to go after what she wants.
He called me two days later and asked me on a dinner date. I told him, “No way. I’m not going to be out in the dark alone with you. I’ve seen that movie. You can take me to lunch… in daylight… with witnesses.”
We went on a date to the fanciest restaurant I’d ever been to. It was so nice. He even wanted to keep talking to me after I offered him the frozen, foil-wrapped pat of butter I had been sitting on to warm it up! I thought that was the way everyone warmed up their butter… I was wrong, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.
Anthony: I was in law enforcement during this period in my life, and I had just been promoted to sergeant with the Sheriff’s Department. After our first date, I had gone away to a training for two weeks. After being gone one day, I had to make sure we could see each other again, so I called to set up a second date. Moments into that conversation, before ever agreeing to the second date, Lisa asked me if I knew Jesus.
I remember giving her answers based on what I’d learned in church as a child, but it had been 12 years since I even said the word “Jesus,” so my answers were not as strong as I was trying to let on. She stopped me in my tracks, probably because she knew I was bluffing, and shared her story with me. She shared her hurts and victories and how Jesus met her right in the center of those places. What she shared was so different than the Jesus I remembered that I needed to find out more for myself. The Jesus I knew was cold and rigid. The religion I grew up with was full of rules and regulations. The God I was familiar with was full of judgment and wrath. But the Jesus that Lisa had in her life was totally different. This Jesus was a God of compassion and care. He loved and sought after the lost and wounded. He forgave you when you asked, and let go of the sins that separated. I wanted to know more about that Jesus.
Lisa followed up her story by saying, “You’re grown and I’m grown. If you’re not willing to be exposed to the Gospel, let’s not waste our time.” I loved her boldness, and I admired her boldness. Lisa invited me to church, and said that could be our second date. I went, and never stopped going. I walked in the door for her, but kept going for Jesus.
TRUTH BE TOLD
Lisa: To be honest, we haven’t experienced too much racism as a couple. I expected some of the older folks at the corps to have something sideways to say… but they proved me wrong. They loved Anthony before I did. They welcomed him with open arms, so much so that he found his way back to the Lord because of their kindness and genuine love.
There have been a few times while walking together and holding hands that people stare at us funny, or for too long. But we have thick skin and don’t let the opinion of others sway us, especially strangers. Too many folks care too much about what people [who only see the surface of things] think. Sometimes when I see those stares I tell Anthony, “I think they are staring because we look so great together.” Most recently, a bell ringer verbally assaulted both of us with racial slurs, and mocked our relationship. That would have hurt if her opinion mattered.
Anthony: If we were to open up dialogue as people, we could learn so much from one another. Honestly, I’ve only been in a few situations where I’ve faced outright racism, but I’ve been in many situations where I’ve faced what we’ve labeled as “accidental racism.” It’s when assumptions are made about you because of a misplaced need to lump you in with a particular group or stereotype. It happens all the time, from the person you briefly meet at the mall, to well-meaning Christians at church. Like my failed attempt at answering Lisa’s question about knowing Jesus, that inner desire to connect should come from what’s actually been revealed about a person, not just the bits and pieces someone has seen or heard about your culture, upbringing, or background.
Lisa: More than anything, we are diligent with positive conversations about race and our differences with our children. We have two beautiful beige babies. Our son is 13, and he looks like my clone. Straight brown hair, blue eyes, and very light skin. Our daughter is 5, and looks more like a mix of both of us, but leans more toward looking like her dad.
Our experience with them has always been progressive west coast, and it doesn’t feel as if they are in the minority, but we do recognize that their experience is different than both of ours, and even different from each other.
Anthony: Our children have had to learn some hard lessons about race and culture over the years. One lesson, in particular, took its toll on each of us. I believe our son Anthony was in the third grade at the time, and Lisa went to pick him up from his after-school program. When she arrived, Anthony was on the “you are in trouble” bench. The program aide said that Anthony was there because he’d gotten in a little trouble.
Lisa called Anthony over and asked him what was going on. He replied that he was in trouble because he was running around with the other kids. The aide added that our son, and the other boys, were chasing each other around in what appeared to be a game of tag; however, they were yelling the word “n*gger” at each other as they ran. Our son didn’t seem to be phased by the retelling of this story, which is when Lisa realized that he didn’t have a clue about what the word meant or its origins. Lisa checked to make sure he didn’t understand the word’s meaning, and found he was genuinely clueless to its hurtfulness.
Lisa told him what the word meant and ways in which it had been used to demean black people over the years. Anthony was crushed. He had no idea. He was hurt and ashamed. He was not sure how it all came to be, but he was in the middle of a reality he didn’t understand.
I was still at work when all of this happened, so Lisa took the lead on sitting him down and sharing some of the challenges, but also the victories that black people in this country have experienced. She taught him that he could have pride in the wholeness of who he was. At first, I was a little bummed that I wasn’t the one who had that moment with him. But I was also encouraged that I have a wife who took the time—over the various years of our marriage—to learn about what makes me who I am. Her understanding of my identity gives her insight into who we are as a family.
THE IDENTITY STRUGGLE
Lisa: One of the things that we strongly dislike as a unit is when people say they are “color blind.” First, that’s just a lie. No one is color blind. We can all see that we are white, brown, and all shades in between. To ignore our differences is to say that they don’t matter, which tells us that the things that make us who we are don’t matter. That leads to us feeling like we don’t matter. Instead, let’s shift the conversation to: I acknowledge our differences, and instead of ignoring them in an attempt to equalize us all, I am going to celebrate our differences. Let’s learn about our differences, and know that what makes us different does not have to divide.
Celebrate. Don’t ignore.
Anthony: Based on my experience with having dual cultures, I worry about how these things will affect my children. I am both Latino and black. On various occasions in my childhood, I was too black for the Spanish kids, and too Spanish for the black kids. I was raised by my mother’s side of the family and Spanish was spoken in my home—but on the outside I look black. I know what it’s like to deal with the struggle of identity. Today, I see the beginnings of that struggle, even in our home. Our kids seek to find themselves. At times, they even gravitate to the parent they resemble most. My son, having seen some of what black people go through, often avoids his black side. I don’t think it’s a conscious and deliberate act. I believe it’s an involuntary response of self-preservation.
MAKING SPACE FOR EVERYONE AT THE TABLE
Lisa: We are in this as a family. Our upbringings were different, but that doesn’t mean that those differences need to remain foreign. We’ve decided to explore them, own them, share them, and celebrate them. But more than anything… we laugh at them. Anthony sends me links for YouTube videos on how to do black girl hair, and in these past five years, my braids and cornrows are on point. I send him recipes for casseroles that white people love, and he still refuses to eat them.
If we could give any encouragement with regards to living, loving, and serving in a world full of folks of all different colors, ethnic backgrounds, and traditions, it would be this: Lead with love. Listen to those who are different than you, with the desire to truly understand, instead of a desire to respond or share your opinion. There are people who have lived very different lives, even if they grew up at the same time in history, or even in the same location.
The biggest way we can make a difference in a hurting and broken world is understanding that we don’t have to have all the answers to be a part of the solution. Enter into this dialogue with humility, while throwing kindness around like confetti.
Your experience isn’t everyone else’s. If we don’t understand, let’s pour on the grace and make space for everyone at the table.
GET TO KNOW ‘EM
CHERISHED BIBLE VERSE:
Lisa: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perserverance; perserverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4, NIV)
Anthony: “Come near to God and Hew will come near to you” (James 4:8a, NIV).
BEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME:
Lisa: Anchorman, and pretty much anything else with Will Ferrell in it,
Anthony: Star Wars. All of them. But my most favorite is Return of the Jedi.
Lisa: Dark chocolate, and Watermelon Sour Patch Kides.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT MY SPOUSE:
Lisa: Anthony is the most selfless, integrity-filled person I’ve every met.
Anthony: I love Lisa’s boldness; she never lets fear get in the way of her accomplishing great things.
Captain Lisa Barnes is author of the book, Love to a Whore’s Daughter: Life And Faith Through The Lens of Grace And Redemption. Lisa shares how her identity shifted as a daughter of a prostitute to a daughter loved by God. In it, she answers the question, “How do we love God and others when we have been victinized by those who were supposed to love and care for us?” Download your copy at frontierpress.org/shop/love-to-a-whores-daughter/
— Captains Anthony & Lisa Barnes, Corps Officers, Seattle White Center, WA, Western Territory