Ep. 89 || Trillia Newbell: Helping Our Kids Celebrate God’s Beautifully Diverse Design Transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity. 

Laura:  Hi friends. Today I am excited to introduce you to Trillia Newbell. On today’s show, Emily and I are chatting with her all about diversity, and how and why to talk to your children about it. Diversity is a bit of a hot topic in our culture today, but it’s so important to have conversations around it. Because while we all have differences – from the color of our skin, to where we live, how we talk, to how we spend time – we were all made in God’s image. Someday we will all gather - every tribe, tongue and nation together - to worship God and today in an imperfect way, we can image that. 

Trillia is a woman I admire and respect so much for how outspoken she has been about the importance of loving those around us. The wisdom she shares on today’s show will both challenge and encourage you to invest in celebrating diversity in your family. She gives a lot of practical tips, including how to address the somewhat dreaded, “What’s that?” question that kiddos ask when they someone with a difference from them. 

Trillia is the author of many books, some of our favorites being Enjoy, which is all about learning to love God’s good gifts. Also, God’s Very Good Idea, a book you all have likely seen us shared before. It’s one that we would encourage all of you to have on your bookshelves as a fun and simple way to chat with your kids about the beauty of God’s diverse creation. It’s a favorite book of our children’s, and we think it will be for your kiddos too. Trillia is not only an author, she’s also a speaker, and she’s currently a host on two podcasts that Emily and I both regularly listen to: United We Pray and the ERLC Podcast. We’ll link to all of these things in our show notes so you can easily find Trillia and check out all the different things she’s involved in, which you won’t want to miss. 

Okay, time for the show. 

Laura: Hi Trillia, thanks so much for joining us on Risen Motherhood today.

Trillia:  Thanks for having me. I am glad to be here.

Laura:  Can you just start us off and tell us a little bit about yourself, your family makeup and what makes up your day to day – for any of our listeners who haven’t heard of you by some crazy chance? Just let them know a little bit more about yourself.

Trillia:  Sure. I don’t even know where to start with my day to day, [laughter] so I’ll start with my family because my day to day looks different every single day. 

Laura:  Oh yes, amen!

Trillia:  But my family, I am actually in a sweet interracial marriage – my husband’s white - and I am black. I have two bi-racial babies who are no longer babies; [laughter] they are 12 and 8. We live in the Nashville area, and that’s about it. That’s about it … [laughter]

Laura:  You have a podcast called “United? We Pray,” that everyone should listen to. 

Trillia:  Why don’t you tell them? [laughter] I do a lot of writing – I have several books - and we’re going to talk about one today. I speak, and I work for the ERLC as well, under Dr. Russell Moore. I also do a podcast called, “United? We Pray,” with Isaac Adams, and it’s been an absolute joy to think through topics and pray, which is something that you need in the podcast world. Am I right podcasters?

Emily:  Definitely.

Laura:  Yes.

Trillia:  [laughs] Most of my day to day looks like: I get up really early. I am a really early riser; I love early mornings. That’s probably the only thing that’s consistent. [laughter] I wake up early and get in the Word; that’s about all that’s consistent. Each day looks so different – it’s anywhere from writing, to meetings, to doing something like this for a morning podcast. Or talking to people, interviews, whatever. That’s me.

Laura:  Wonderful. As you mentioned, there is a book of yours that we have really enjoyed, and talked about a lot on social media, on Risen Motherhood. It’s your book, God’s Very Good Idea. In that book you talk about the beautiful plan that God has for diversity. Can you just give us a high level of what is the gospel concerning diversity? What is God’s plan in creation, and how did he make us so beautifully unique as individuals?

Trillia: It really starts in Genesis 1. God created male and female; he creates us equally but different. But then he creates the world, and you see all these nations, tribes and people, all created in the image of God. But all created differently. We see that throughout all of scripture, God has a rescuing plan for the nations. We messed it up in Genesis 3, when sin comes into the world, and there is hostility among people. But then we read Jesus gives the disciples a charge to go and make other disciples of all nations. He dies, and when he died, he didn’t discriminate who he would die for. He died for everyone who would believe – everyone made in the image of God from every tribe, tongue and nation. Then in Ephesians 2 we see, not only that by grace we’ve been saved through faith, but that the veil of hostility has been broken down in the body of Christ. He’s created one new man – the Christian; we’re united, and the veil of hostility has been broken down so that we can love and be united with one another. 

Then in Revelation, we see that every tongue, tribe and nation will be worshiping together – all of us. We aren’t living out that reality now, but one day, for eternity, we will be worshiping together. The gospel is what makes all this possible. The fact that Jesus died on the cross, bearing the wrath that we deserve - every single person - any who walk on this earth, everyone. That he rose, and he’s in that seat right now. He defeated death, and it is for all of us. What makes it beautiful is just that it’s possible. What makes it hard is that we’re not living in it.

Emily: That was such an amazing explanation, but it can be hard to communicate that to our children sometimes. I would encourage you to pick up Trillia’s book because she really goes through that well. 

I love that you did that at a child’s level, and gave these great examples of what different looks like kind of through a child’s eyes. Kids typically are looking at hair, glasses, what people like, or what their hobbies are. You really go through that in the book, and we really appreciated that. That’s what we try to go through on Risen Motherhood, is that creation, fall, redemption, restoration piece, because it is amazing and that can be so helpful when it comes to understanding it in its full picture.

Trillia:  First of all, thanks about the book. It was such a joy to write, but it was also agonizing to think through. Okay, how can a child understand this? We should be able to read the scriptures, that’s what he says. To have that child-like faith, and to be able to read it like a child. It was a joy, but yes, it was a task. [laughter]

Laura:  That’s an interesting point Trillia because one thing all of us moms who are listening want to instill in our children is helping them – just like you did in the book – to understand God’s plan for diversity.  Can you talk a little bit – especially as a mom yourself – what are our children are inclined to believe about diversity? But then, what should we be teaching them, and why is this such an important message for our kids?

Trillia:  That’s an interesting question. What are kids inclined to believe about diversity? I don’t know that kids come out and they’re thinking like, “Okay, this is what I am going to believe about...” I think instead, they’re going to ask a lot of questions. “Mommy, why is that person ...” Something totally embarrassing. [laughter]

Emily:  They do it at the time that it’s most embarrassing for you. [laughter]

Trillia:  Absolutely. More than likely, a kid is going to ask questions. What we need to know is that these are good and okay questions. It’s good to ask questions, and it’s okay for them to explore. I remember when my son, Weston was two, he would identify me as “brown” and his dad as “peach.” He would call me “brown,” his dad “peach” and then himself “peach.” At one point he changed it and called me “chocolate,” which was adorable. [laughter] Kids are going to look and see differences. What we need to be equipped and ready to do is teach them about differences. That it was God’s idea to create mommy brown and daddy peach.

What we just need to remember is that kids ask these questions, and they think, “Wait a minute, it’s God’s idea. These are God’s ideas to create someone with curly hair and someone else with straight hair. It’s God’s idea to create someone with really deep, dark skin, and someone with freckles and light skin. What we need to do as parents is to instill in them that these differences are good, and that they’re okay. Then, that it’s okay for us to think about differences; and not only think about it but celebrate these differences.  

In our culture, we so often fear differences. That’s how we approach the conversation about race, or about anything. We fear our differences, rather than celebrate and embrace them. I think that that will help when kids ask questions about differences. If we’re thinking, “Wait a minute, it’s okay and it’s good,” we can talk to them about this, and we can even celebrate our differences.

Emily:  I love how you’re taking it a step further – acknowledging to affirming that it’s good, and it’s God’s good plan. Because I think that without some of these good educations in gospel-thinking, even for adults our natural inclination might be to brush it aside or just affirm it and move on as quickly as we can. But I love that God goes a step further; he is sovereign, and he has a good plan for everyone in everything that he does. We can know the way that we’re created was by his hand and for our good in his glory, and to share that with our children. Celebrating it is really going to speak a better word than, “Oh yes, that child is this, but okay, let’s move on quickly.” 

Trillia:  Oh good. Yes, God speaks a better word to this whole topic. Any topic when we’re thinking about diversity or race is beautiful in the scriptures. It’s also hard in the scriptures, but it’s beautiful. If we can turn our gaze and eyes to the Word of God and to God’s plan, it will always direct us better, and in the right way. I am really thankful for The Good Book Company giving me this opportunity to write this book, and I do pray that it serves parents in this way.

Laura:  I would imagine that a key piece of everything that we’re talking about is just having your children exposed to diversity. I mean, to even begin to understand that there are people who live at different levels than maybe your family or your children do, or they have a different skin tone, or glasses, or assistive devices, or all sorts of things contribute to diversity. 

Trillia, what are some practical ways that a parent could expose their child to diversity? I know a lot of America is just made up of these very homogenous pockets. We are so separated among a lot of different levels, not just race. Are there some practical tips that you could give a mom for how to expose their children well to diversity?

Trillia:  There’s different ways that we are divided, and it takes effort. If you want your kids to celebrate diversities, the nations and people, you have to do it yourself. That could look something like having people in your home, inviting people, opening your door, looking out and meeting people in other neighborhoods. It could literally be just one block away because in some neighborhoods, that’s how strangely divided they are. It’s one block; it’s not just a whole community, it’s just a block.

I would say invite people too in your home, and when possible, go do things like grocery shop in a different neighborhood. Get really creative – take your kids to cultural events where they’re displaying different art and food. They do these cultural events in different cities all the time and in different towns. If that is not possible; if for some reason there is no neighborhood looks different than you, which of course there is, even if it’s socio-economic, and not necessarily your skin tone. If it really is difficult to bring diversity in the form of a person, to your home, then there’s still loads of books. You can still expose your children through history and talking about culture and current events. Bringing that to your table, and making sure that they’re exposed, they will learn in way or another. 

Wouldn’t it be great if we’re on top of it as parents? If we’re the first people to teach them about culture? Exposing our kids as much as we can to different cultures, even if that means not the person, is really essential, if we’re wanting to build a heart of a love for the nations and a love of diversity of people. Let me just tell you one thing that I did last summer. We have a heart and desire for the nations, but we don’t have all of the nations around us; we have some. So I got the kids together and I said, “Okay, this summer we are going to cook through the nations.” We went through and listed up all these different countries, from Australia, to England, to Ethiopia, all these different places. Week by week, one day a week, I would cook something, and then we would listen to the music and watch something. It was so much fun. 

I remember one particular week, cooking Doro Wat, which is an Ethiopian dish (which was delicious). They loved it. Then listening to the music, and reading about the culture. We did not have an Ethiopian in our home, but in so many ways, we did. There’s nothing that can replace a person, right? But it was so sweet for my family to be not only exposed to food, but culture, history and music. We were reading and learning, and we just spent that one night doing that. That’s just one way that you can expose your kids, family and yourself to different cultures, and people if you can’t have someone physically in your home. But getting to know people physically in your home or church is the first step. Proximity really changes everything.

Emily:  What you’re sharing is so encouraging, and it’s such a good, practical idea. What came to mind as you were talking is like, “Wow!” We keep hearing this on interviews, and talking about this in Risen Motherhood over and over again. That it’s really hard for us to pour into our children, what we are not already doing, or have a heart for. Even as you were sharing, I was just convicted, and was like, “Wow, I need to continue to pray for a heart for the nations, and for God to grow me in stepping out to reach out to our neighbors.” We have a very diverse community we’re living in in the middle of Iowa because we’re living in a college town, with lots of international people. But just, “Do we authentically make that a part of our lives?” And if we do, we have an opportunity to shape the culture of our whole family. I love that these are great ideas, but you are explaining that they’re built on a foundation of something that’s already going on in our heart and in our relationship with God.

Laura:  What else is really cool is how you’re essentially saying, “Let’s make diversity normal.” As we were talking about at the beginning of the interview, when you’re not having these conversations with your kids, or having positive conversations around them, or using encouraging, good words around these things … If it’s hidden, secret or hard, it definitely shapes them to feel like, “Oh, that’s like this untouchable thing.” Like, “We don’t talk about diversity.” But when you just make it the base line of saying, “Oh my goodness, isn’t it amazing how God made us all so unique?” 

I mean, even the fact that my kids like different colors, they can be individual in that. I remember my daughter had a crying fit because her brother’s favorite color wasn’t the same as hers. I was like, “Isn’t it awesome that God made you guys so different? That’s something that we can celebrate and enjoy.” It was just a good conversation of talking about how God makes us with different talents, giftings and skills. That’s at a two-year-old level, and so I love what you’re talking about - it’s not jus engaging in all these huge things but it’s also just the climate of conversation that you have in your home. To make it a baseline that diversity is awesome.

 Trillia:  It is! Okay, you just hit on a few things that [laughter] I got very excited because one of the things that I hope that we can do is one, that we would rescue it from the culture. The topic of diversity in race has been so politicized, that’s why people are afraid of it. That’s the thing. We just immediately think “division,” “politics,” “hate,” and for good reason in the United States. We have been divided since the creation of the United States but we speak a better word which we said over and over again, because we know Jesus and we have the Bible. We know we have a better word for this. 

It’s a beautiful thing if we approach it appropriately, and with the gospel in mind. So one, yes, we can rescue it a bit, from this cultural conversation that often is heavy and negative, and celebrate it. We need to have those conversations as well; I am not saying let’s not have those conversations. I am just saying if we could start framing this conversation in such a way that it’s celebration. If that’s the reason why we want to have those cultural conversations, then I think it would change everything. 

Another thing that you said that got me excited was this conversation is so much more beyond just a race topic. The beauty of diversity is that God – and I am thinking of Corinthians – has created the body, the church unique, with all these different parts and giftings. We are so unique and different, yet we need one another. When we’re thinking about our children, if we want to guard against comparison or unrealistic expectations of them, we will get to know them as image bearers. That they are uniquely designed by the Lord, and their personalities and giftings are going to be different. 

If we can begin to celebrate that in others, how much more will we celebrate that in our own children? We won’t hold them to these expectations, compare them and try to make them in our own image. Rather, we want them to reflect the image of the Lord. There’s so much that God can really help in changing and grow us in, as we are learning to delight in his design. Rather than what we have created. I just think there’s so much that we can really learn and grow when we’re thinking about diversity in biblical terms, rather than in our culture, the way that we do.

Emily:  Yes, definitely.

Laura:  I agree. When you think about your kiddos and the fact that they haven’t been tainted by politics, culture and all of those things yet, you appreciate that. We have a wonderful, amazing opportunity to really show them God’s design from the start. Yes, as they get older they’ll be exposed to different opinions and things. But we can lay the foundation so in the future, they can be a light in the world, in politics and all of those different things. They can say, “Hey, this isn’t the right design, and it doesn’t have to be this way.” I just love that as moms, we can set the stage from the beginning for what our children perceive about this conversation. As you’re saying Trillia, it goes so far beyond race - all of the different ways that God made us uniquely. 

In addition, I am sure a lot of moms are wondering about this, and every mom will bring a story to mind as I share this, But how do you handle it when your child does point out another person’s differences in a very – as we shared out earlier – very loud or visible way? I have two children in therapy right now. When we go into therapy, we often see children that are very different than our family makeup is right now. A lot of them have assistive devices, walkers or wheelchairs. I have definitely had multiple moments where one or both children say, “Hey, why does she have that?” Or, “Why is he using that?” Or, “What’s going on with that?” Very loudly, and everyone in the room can hear. 

I am curious Trillia, what on earth should I say? [laughter] And how can I use it as a teaching moment?

Trillia:  Okay, so there is a difference between, “Hey mommy, why does she have that device?” And, “Why is she so fat?” Right? [laughter] One of them is just a curious thing, the other is rude and unkind. That is where we can divide it. I have heard kids walking in grocery stores and they say something about someone’s size; something that is clearly unkind. That’s when you correct; you pull them aside and you say something corrective. When a kid is asking like, “Well mommy, what is that device?” And they’re just kind of curious about something, I just think, “Oh, answer the question.” [laughter] 

I am going to tell you a funny story, [laughter] when I did this terribly wrong. My kids were pointing with their middle finger, okay? [laughter] Instead of me just not making it a big deal, I made it huge. I said, “Oh my goodness kids, point your finger down.” [laughter] I made this huge deal. They didn’t know what that meant. For the rest of the week, they would giggle and point with their finger. [laughter] The rest of the week was me trying to undo the damage. [laughs] I made it this big deal, and now it’s almost like they ate the fruit in the garden, and they’re all of a sudden, they could see the sin. They didn’t fully understand because they were young. But I guess my point is that we can make things bigger deals than they need to be. 

If the kid asks about a walker or something, you could just say, “Oh, she needs assistance with that walker,” and move on. Maybe we could talk about inside voices, later, and not make it a big deal. Like, “Hey, let’s use a voice an inside voice when we’re out in public.” But what we often do is we make it like, “Oh, oh, oh!” and then they’re thinking, “Oh, that’s bad that she’s in a walker.” And, “I should think of her as something uniquely different.” When I say uniquely different, not just someone made in the image of God, but someone who is: “I can’t relate to their difference,” in so far as we can relate to them. I would be really cautious about our response. Not so much what our kids do, but ask ourselves, “What is the proper response?” And the proper response is probably not to go big. Don’t make it a big deal, and then maybe later, have a conversation. Just really thinking, “How do I love my neighbor at that time? How do I love my neighbor as myself, and make her feel completely comfortable?”

Emily:  First of all, every mom’s shaking her head and thinking about that time that they made way too much out of something. [laughter]

Trillia: Then it became a thing.

Emily:  I love that distinction between something that is rude and unloving, and something that is curiosity. Sometimes from an adult’s perspective, when I’ve had that happen, I am still doing it through culture, politics and different things. I worry about that other person’s heart, even though I know our child is asking in complete curiosity.

Even just trying to, like you said, celebrate the diversity in that moment. The few times I’ve had that happen as well it’s reminded me like, “Wow, I want to have these conversations with our kids before we get in that situation, as much as we can.” Knowing that we can’t do that all the time, but that’s where something like your book comes in. That’s a good conversation starter, so that it’s not a shock, and that we’ve already covered a lot of things that are different. Or even just starting the conversation like you said, in the car later. Maybe they didn’t ask when they were right there, but in the car, like, “Hey did you notice that there were these different things? What did you think about that?” I am just learning more that I want to have that conversation first if I can beat them to it. [laughs]

Trillia:  There is a time for sorrow and for weeping. If your child noticed that there is someone who is suffering, then you can explain to them like, “Okay yes, this person needs this because of that. Let’s pray for them.” Because there are some cases where it’s actually a suffering, and so we want to be really aware that our kids are going to notice that. I know my kids will notice things, and they are so sensitive and will pry. We therefore want to be aware that, “Okay yes, you noticed someone who has the joy, but looks like they’re clearly suffering.” At that point, you can explain what hardships and suffering looks like, and then pray. Ask them if we could pray together for the kid. That’s just such a sweet opportunity to teach so much about God’s sovereignty and goodness, about Jesus – that he entered our pain, suffering and sorrows. It’s an opportunity to pray for our neighbors. You had mentioned you’re thinking about their heart, but we may not be able to go up to them and say anything, but we can instill in our kids our love for our neighbors through prayer. 

Laura:  That’s so important to teach our children compassion for others. Emily and I both have children with extra needs. We don’t know what the future holds, but that makes both of us extra tender to children with differences, children that look or act differently. I know that that’s something that I believe and trust that God is using in my own children’s life and in people who know us. That their children will learn compassion towards those that maybe don’t look or act the same, or have the same opportunities. 

Again, this is just a wonderful chance to be having these conversations in our home. That this is a regular, normal thing that we are really talking about – diversity and God’s great plan. It’s also a very small shadow and picture of what someday it will look like when we are all rejoicing at the throne. That is just a day to look forward to as we see just small glimpses of it here, and get to live that out here on the earth. I am just grateful that we have that to look forward to, when there will be no more tears, crying, or dissension between all of these differences. That will just be a great day when we are all united.

Trillia:  It will, and I look towards that day. It motivates my today, and it motivates me to talk about this because I know one day we’ll be together anyways. What a joy that will be when we’re united, there’s no more sin, confusion, and no more division. 

We will still be every tribe, tongue and nation. It’s unique, and we need to remember that God doesn’t get rid of the tribes, tongues and nations with each new creation. We’ll still have them, so why not start celebrating them today?

Emily:  Love it. [laughter]

Laura:  That is a great word to end on Trillia. We are so grateful that you joined us on the Risen Motherhood podcast today. We would encourage all you listeners, if you have not checked out Trillia’s book, God’s Very Good Idea, it is a wonderful book, and a great way to get these discussions started in your home. We just hope that all of you will have some little nugget that you can take home today to start celebrating diversity in your own homes.

Trillia:  Thank you.