Why I bought my light-skinned daughter a dark-skinned baby doll

I remember looking through the American Girl Doll catalog as a young girl and wondering why they had Addie, the black doll.

There was one black girl I remember at my elementary school.  She was bused in from downtown for an opportunity to go to a better suburban school.  There are a few times I remember her having a very snotty nose.  I thought she was weird.

I don’t remember anything about people of color from my time in junior high school.  Probably because I didn’t look past myself very often, right mom?

In high school, I had two guy friends who were black who attended our youth group.

But really, it wasn’t until college, when I was serving as a Young Life leader at an urban high school that I can actually remember befriending people with a dark skin color.  That was the first time I had an up close view of the black community.  I visited their homes and their churches.  I learned about their families and their dreams.  It was also the first time I befriended people who were a part of a lower socioeconomic class than me.  I had done a service project or mission trip to serve people, but I’d never built real relationships with people different than me before.  I learned about what it was like to grow up in poverty and to continue to live in it.  I learned that a high school diploma was truly an accomplishment.  As I befriended these girls and their families, my love for them grew.  They are part of some of my best college memories.

In light of recent events in America, I think it’s easy to see that many people are like me.  A lot of us haven’t grown up with a clue of what it’s like to be black in America.  Sure we aren’t racist – we don’t think less of them because they are a different skin color.  We have just grown up separate from them and we haven’t looked for opportunities to go out of our way to find a way to interact.  Our paths haven’t crossed. The generations before us did a lot of hard work to fight for black rights and to stop segregation in America.  Perhaps for the last few decades we’ve lived on cruise control when it comes to the black-white relationship in America.  Over the last two years, I think it’s been made clear that it’s time to turn off cruise control and do the hard work to move forward.

Last week I went to Target to buy the first baby doll for my daughter Emerson.  She’s the cutest blonde-haired blue-eyed girl around, in my very biased opinion.  There were tons of options on the shelves.  Baby Alive was far too complicated for her age.  Several had very creepy eyes.  I wanted something that was all fabric and could be washed.  Along with something where she could practice taking care of a baby in order to get ready to be a big sister one day.  I settled on one doll in particular that met my requirements.  It came with a magnetic bottle and paci, as well as a plush toy and a little book for the doll.  Bonus! There are other outfits I can buy for it in the future.  There were two different models on the shelf: one light-skinned and one dark-skinned.  I instinctively grabbed the light-skinned blonde-haired doll.  However before I could walk away, I hesitated.

It’s a lie when people say that they don’t see color.  We all see different skin color.  Our differences are a beautiful thing when we learn to appreciate them.  Gina Torres is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen and I love her dark coloring.  With my senses, I will acknowledge that others look different than me.  What I have trained my heart to do is to love people regardless of our differences.  What I want to train my daughter to do is to love people regardless of our differences.

I put the light-skinned doll back on the shelf and I walked out of Target with the dark-skinned one. Actually, that’s a lie.  I put the light-skinned doll back on the shelf and I walked out of Target without a doll.  I was convicted that I should buy the dark-skinned one, but I was worried people would think it was weird.  That evening I talked to JR about it and he affirmed by decision to buy the darker doll.  The next day I went back to Target, no complaints there, and bought the dark-skinned doll.

Can you guess what my sweet girl has been doing for the past week?  She has been hugging that baby doll.  She has been giving it a bottle and a paci.  She carries it around the house with her.  She loves that doll.

Emerson with doll

This doll won’t be what compels her to love people who don’t look like her all the days of her life.  I’m not naive enough to believe that.  But, I do believe that it will be part of the narrative of how we train Emerson to love people regardless of their differences.  From her earliest memories, I want her to know that we are on this earth to show God’s unconditional love to all people.  Later in life when she interacts with people who don’t look like her or think like her, I hope there is a faint memory of her love for this doll or at least a photograph of it.

In her future, it will feel complicated to figure out how to love people who aren’t like her.  How can I avoid saying something dumb to them? Are they going to like the same food as me?  Will I offend them if I do this? Right now it’s simple: she hugs that dark-skinned baby doll as tightly as she would a white one.


Dad’s day

When Emerson was just a few weeks old, JR and I went to lunch at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants with our precious girl asleep in her carrier.  The man sitting next to us struck up a conversation with us when he saw JR’s “Young Life” hat.  We talked briefly about ministry, DTS and our newborn.  The man finished his meal, exited the restaurant and then came back to our table with a book for JR on being a dad.  As he handed him the book he said, “Be a dad, not just a father.”  After he left, we talked about this statement and what it means to be a dad.

It seems to me that father is the term used for the role and dad is more a term of endearment.  Dads do more than just donate a sperm.  Dads provide.  Dads love.  Dads show up.  Dads forgive.  Dads encourage.  Dads teach.  Dads discipline.  Dads cheer.  Dads support.  Dads hug.  Dads play.

daddy and me blanket

I recently returned from a week of Young Life camp with teen moms.  As I listened to their stories, I was shocked by how many of their parents have completely dropped the ball on parenting.  The effects have been devastating to these teenagers.  These girls have needed their dads and most of them barely have a father.  After every week of Young Life camp I attend, I am incredibly thankful for both my parents, especially my dad.  My dad has always been active and involved in my life.  He has embodied what it means to be a dad.

Daddy and me alex baptism

While I was growing up, my dad played with me.  Whenever he came home from work he would jump in with whatever I was doing.  He played make believe.  He played with toys.  He played tennis with me.  He wrestled with us.  He tickled us.  We played hide and seek for hours.  I remember thinking of him as my playmate, not just an adult.

Daddy and me selfie

I can’t remember a time where I ever doubted my dad’s love for me.  He made it clear with his words and his actions that he loved me.  He communicated his love for me over and over again.  He said, “I love you.”  He gave me hugs and kisses.  He gave me back tickles for hours.  He came to my side in the middle of the night when I yelled for him to ask for a drink of water from the cup on my nightstand.  Bless him for that.  As I have become an adult, he has called me and texted me.  Once we started living in separate cities, he took me to fancy dinners when he was in town.  He has made it a priority to see me.  I have always known that he loves me.

Daddy and me

Before I write them, I almost want to eat these words.  My former teenage self is cringing right now.  In my head, I can hear my mom saying, “You’ll thank us for this later.”  Part of me hates it, but she’s right.  My dad wasn’t afraid to tell me no.  I am so thankful for that.  Yes, he was a little easier to get a yes out of than mom; but, he still gave me rules and boundaries.  He wasn’t afraid of taking away a privilege.  He was fine not being my friend for a few hours, days or weeks.  He gave me a curfew.  He grounded me on occasion.  He yelled at me when I deserved it.  He corrected me if I mouthed off to my mother.  Much to my dismay, I did not run my house when I was a teenager.  Already with Emerson, I am learning that saying no may be one of the best ways I can love her.  My dad told me no when he knew it was going to be in my best interest for the long-term.  As an adolescent, I did not know how to always choose what was best for me.  My dad communicated his love for me by stepping in and giving me guidance and boundaries when I needed them most.

Hook em daddy and me

My father is a dad because he played, he loved and he said no.  I love him so!


Happy Dad’s Day!

Wedding daddy and me


The price of freedom

After I wrote last, you people came together in a miraculous way.  Within a few hours, $3000 showed up in our bank account and another group of people had worked together to book Donte a stay in an extended stay hotel.  What we needed that day was more time.  You bought Donte the chance to live free.

During his two week stay at the hotel, things continued to come together.  A group of three Christian guys stepped forward and wanted to consider having Donte live with them.  We shared more of the story and Donte met with them. After a few more days of prayer, Donte moved in to their converted garage extra bedroom.  One post on Facebook later and a free mattress showed up for him.

Donte's new room

A few days later, Donte called me one morning asking if I knew who Jeff was.  I did not.  He explained that he was supposed to meet Jeff at the address where at his office, but he didn’t know which office he was in and Jeff wasn’t answering his phone.  After failed googling attempts, I told Donte to just start going into every office in the building asking for Jeff and explaining why he was looking for him.  His search turned up empty.  But, several people pointed him in the direction of one specific office.  He walked in there even though he knew it wasn’t where Jeff would be.  He told them the same thing he had told every other office.  One of the employees said, “We don’t have a Jeff here but you say you are looking for a job?  We can help with that.”

Turns out that office was a hiring agency.  We still haven’t figured out who Jeff was or where his office is.  Donte completed all of the hiring agency paper work and was honest about his background.  A lady came back a few minutes later with the news, “You start Monday at 4 pm.  Show up at this address and you’ll need a pair of steel toed boots.”  Donte found himself a job.

He has been working hard the past two weeks at a beauty supply distribution center on the night shift.  It is hard to believe we all survived those first few weeks when he was released from jail.  It is incredibly clear that God made a path for him: people offering their home for a night at a time so he had a place to sleep, dozens of people donating small amounts of money so that we could pay his bills and a provide a place to call home for two weeks, connections coming forward from all different corners to connect us to agencies that may be of help, a group of guys feeling led by the Lord to open their home long-term to Donte (even after I resisted several urges to take matters into my own hands and prod this group of men to consider it) and a job landing perfectly in his lap without any of our help.

I got to the end of myself: the end of my own strengths, abilities and connections.  You people rose up.  You paid the price for Donte.  You paid what he couldn’t pay for on his own.  It was beautiful.  Without your help, he would not still be free.  We had to have approved housing by a certain day and as that deadline was approaching, we had nothing.  You purchased his freedom.  The money you gave is still helping to cover his bills until he is able to take them all over.

It is so obvious that this is the heart of our God.  When we couldn’t pay the price for ourselves, God paid the price to purchase our freedom.  His Son gave His life in order for us to live free.  Now we are able to decide how we want to use that freedom.  Will we continue to walk with God and recognize all that He has paid for us or will we live for ourselves?  Will we offer our lives to Him or will we pursue only our desires?

This is where we find Donte now.  The pieces are in place for him to be successful; but, where there is great freedom there is also great temptation.  There are still many cards stacked against him: Probation and no training in managing personal finances are two of the big ones.

Our hope for Donte is that he will use his freedom to pursue things that honor the Lord.  We want him to chase after things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).  His life serves as a reminder for me to use my freedom to do the same.  The price of freedom is costly.  What will you do with yours today?



What’s the backstory here?

Well obviously he’ll live with us

Inconvenient tears

Let your generosity be a whisper of encouragement

Donte’s home

Not yet an ending

God’s love for the guilty

Showing up and visiting jail

Preparing for baby


Someone say yes

End of myself