Your Life Matters - R.E. Martinez
Let me share a story with you… I grew up in a mixed-family home. By mixed I mean we had parents from different ethnic backgrounds, my awesome father is Caucasian, and my amazing mother was of Mexican descent. Consequently, all of the Cooper siblings (Yep, I was a Cooper growing up), grew up with different colors to our skin – my sister being the “Casper” of the family (I love you, Angela, lol). Growing up, we all knew that no matter the color of our skin or the ratio of Mexican to Caucasian in our DNA, we were all Coopers – we were all family. In fact, no matter how dysfunctional our family was (and it was), nothing could ever change how much my family meant to me – or how much it meant to us altogether. (Interesting fact: Growing up my name was Robert Eloy Cooper.)
Later in life, in my middle school years, I experienced for the first time the ugly reality of the “R” word – Racism. Let me further explain… Around the age of twelve, my parents divorced and went their separate ways. My mother and I stayed in San Antonio, Texas and my father and siblings moved to Oklahoma. In the city, we lived amidst diversity and were engulfed with acceptance in the Hispanic, Asian, African American, and Caucasian communities – it was just the context in which we lived. Later on, I moved to a small town in Oklahoma where my dad lived. This is where things changed a little for me. For the first time, I saw visually and experienced personally pushback against certain races – more specifically, against the Hispanic culture. I did not get it. I did not want to, and it bothered me to no end! Interestingly, the word “racist” was not a “thought” in my mind back then, but the “feeling” of racism was no stranger to me. Racism was real, and boy did it suck! I grew bitter and expressed my frustration in ways that only magnified the issue and generated further feelings of hate for my own self. Side note – Over the years, many people have also expressed to me their own experience with these feelings, mainly because of various forms of racism against them personally. Feelings of inferiority are something very real in the realm of racial prejudice. It is only the gospel that can ultimately tackle this complex head-on.
Feelings of inferiority are something very real in the realm of racial prejudice. It is only the gospel that can ultimately tackle this complex head-on.
Back to the story. Thankfully, at that point, there was someone that helped change my general perspective. His name was Guss. He was an authority in the town, and through another close friend of mine in that town, I was invited over to his home one day. Guss was awesome! I remember him just spending time with us, with me personally. He was kind, respectful, a teacher of young people, always wearing a smile, and he was a police officer, which was a shock to me! Not that police officers were suspect at that time in my mind. But here was an authority figure, and he lived in a town that in some ways (not everyone), had a bias toward people with darker skin colors, and yet he was different! I remember sitting at the local filling station and drinking soda-pops with him and others. I felt comfortable around him, and often life’s worries disappeared when we were with Guss! Looking back now Guss taught me something so life-changing. He taught me that my life matters through the way he infused time, energy, love, and care both on and off the clock. I miss Guss and I wish I could hug him today. I would not even know where to begin.
One more quick story – Fast forward to my High School days… I eventually moved back with my mom to San Antonio. We soon packed our belongings and moved to Upstate, New York. Looking back now, I can see a major cultural shift that was about to take place, I mean we moved from Texas to New York! We moved to a small town (that I will leave unnamed) in upstate, NY where it was quickly apparent that I was once again in the minority. I did not think anything of it, at first… Soon after joining the high school baseball team, I had a run-in with a fairly large, popular, and talented young man. It became rapidly apparent that he did not care for me at all. In fact, I quickly was on the receiving end of the nastiest of looks, the ugliest of comments, and once again – the resurfacing of various racial slurs. Apparently, he thought that I was an American Indian – calling me “Chief” and other associated terms. Listen, I have been mistaken for Chinese, Korean, and many other ethnicities – to which I have no issue – I guess it comes with the territory. Shrug. The issue grew over time. Through away-game trips to other schools, I would intentionally avoid him, finding myself sitting in the back of the bus, or off to the side somewhere hidden as past “feelings” of inferiority resurfaced all over again. Often, even walking the halls of the school and the immediate community I could just feel the very real tension in the air coming from people around me, simply because I was Mexican. There is absolutely no way to describe the feeling of inferiority to someone, it just plain sucks!
There is absolutely no way to describe the feeling of inferiority to someone, it just plain sucks!
I did not want to be there, and looking back now I still do not think my mom knows exactly why I skipped school, and missed over half of the required school days in one year! I was so frustrated, yes, and even scared. I hated the school, I hated living there, and more than anything I hated any form of racism – personified or not. I did not get it, and I did not want to! One day while sitting in class… I cannot tell you her name, nor what the subject was. But I do remember this… She was my teacher, an older lady, and she walked up to me and asked me a random question in the middle of class. She asked, “Do you play the piano?” I was taken back and confused, to be honest. I responded, “No mam.” She leaned down and made an interesting statement. She said, “You should, you have the hands of a piano player.” Ha! What did that even mean?! Truthfully, at that moment, as ambiguous as it was, it meant a lot to me! You see, I did not see any value whatsoever in anything I was doing at the time, let alone in who I was as a darker-skinned individual. Yet, a lady, a respected teacher, in a town that had some bias toward people with darker skin colors, took the time to help me see in a small way that my life even mattered. So small to some, and yet profoundly significant to me at the time. It did something to me that day. (Ha! I wish I could say it caused me to pick up the piano!) No, but it did change my general perspective a little! I wish I knew her name. I wish I could hug her. I would not even know where to begin.
Today I am a pastor, a chaplain, and a family man. I could write a book about so many others who have spoken into my life, in some way or another telling me that my life matters. Over 20 years ago, I became a follower of Jesus Christ – a Christian. I can see today the providential hand of God instilling worth and value in my own life over time through others who have taken the time to listen, no matter my skin color or tone. The beauty of it all is that God has called me to minister to others today – all people. Broken people, loveable people, not so loveable people, people with a different color of skin, people with the same color of skin, and most of all people who see no value in their existence… not yet anyway. As a person, a human being, I smile at others (behind the mask – I promise I am smiling), I hold the door for others, I pay for someone’s meal, I give to the needy, I intentionally look for ways to talk to people, I listen for hours to people’s hurts and pain, I hurt for the oppressed in any way and will run to them to help, no matter the color of their skin! You see, as humans, this is something we can all do and should do – even against all odds, it is simply a matter of general perspective. But something far greater than a general perspective of others is a gospel perspective! Please allow me to briefly explain.
There is no greater way to see the necessary change needed in any culture, society, or even individuals than through the gospel itself. The greatest expression of the value and worth of all people (no matter the color of their skin), was seen in God sending his Son Jesus Christ to die in our place as broken sinners in need of him alone. God providentially and consistently provides moments of hope to everyone in life, and it all begins with His initial move of giving His one and only Son for you and me. His life for yours! You do not give something so great as He did for someone that does not matter, indeed your life matters! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever…” (John 3:16) No matter who you are, no matter the color of your skin, and no matter the amount of negative or cynical attacks you face, please know that in God’s eyes your life matters. The gospel of Jesus Christ banks on it! There is great hope in the gospel and while God may use a plethora of encounters with random people in life to provide hints of worth, the greatest of encounters is with Jesus himself! If there is anything that I have learned up to this point in life it would be that God makes no mistakes, and he providentially weaves His sovereign hand in our lives, ever more drawing all to Himself. Ultimately, we find our greatest worth and value in Christ alone, and it is in the gospel that we are able to experience daily just how much our lives matter to Him who died and rose again for us!
There is great hope in the gospel and while God may use a plethora of encounters with random people in life to provide hints of worth, the greatest of encounters is with Jesus himself!
Truthfully, I now know where to begin… at the feet of Jesus! All the varying general perspectives that I have been given are just a larger part of the divine tapestry that God Himself has created, and His hand alone has orchestrated. In a greater way, through the gospel lens alone, we are able to see a powerful display of God ascribing value and worth to all men’s lives. When we detach ourselves from the One whose image we are made in, we reap devastating results. We are seeing this in our culture today, outplayed in so many different and unfortunate ways. The gospel truly is the only way that we will be able to understand fully why both mine and your life really do matter.
The gospel truly is the only way that we will be able to understand fully why both mine and your life really does matter.