Breaking down barriers
Amber Koter and I have what many might think is an unlikely friendship. Yet the Spirit brought us together when I was in the “valley of the shadow of death,” as the psalmist writes (Psalm 23:4). (To read more about my story, visit: embracingmyshadow.com.) Our relationship began during a time when I was going through a separation and divorce, my grandmother had died and my father was sick. All of these things triggered my depression. My friend Amber stepped in to love me back to life.
Amber is a mental health advocate, blogger and a survivor of postpartum depression. When I first met her, I thought she had it all together—the perfect life with the perfect husband, the perfect kids and the perfect wardrobe. It’s funny how sometimes we only see the things we want to see and only portray the things we want people to see.
I soon learned that Amber was human, just like everyone else. At the beginning of our friendship, I took a lot from her. I needed constant care and support, which she gave without asking for anything in return. Over the years, our relationship has shifted. We have become soul sisters, women who fill spaces and places in each others’ hearts that no man can. We have a spiritual connection, one that only God could have designed.
Amber is white. I am black. We come from different backgrounds and have experienced life differently. However, we have committed to doing the hard things together. Talking about race is one of those things. When Gather approached us about sharing a conversation on this topic, we were both humbled and delighted.
ROZELLA: Has race ever been something you’ve noticed in the context of our relationship?
AMBER: When we became really close, I remember telling you I loved you, and I recall you being taken aback…we were just colleagues. But our faith connected us, and I really felt like I needed you to know you were loved. Even in your depressed state, I wanted to be your friend. Not race based. However, years into our friendship, race is an issue—not a barrier, but a connector.
ROZELLA: Our friendship began because of [our shared] experience with mental illness. [This] evened the playing field. I remember being very tentative with you around race and politics—not because I thought you’d get mad or disconnect from me—but because I thought you couldn’t handle it. You are one of the most inquisitive people I know—truly seeking knowledge to understand. But I felt like racial/ethnic things were off-limits, like they would rock the boat. I didn’t want this relationship that was so life-giving to disappear or to become awkward.
AMBER: Interesting. Yes, politics were touchy when we first became friends. When you met me, I was coming out of the shadow of my nuclear family and my now ex-husband and learning to be myself.
ROZELLA: The same way you wanted me to know I was loved “as is,” I didn’t want our differing views on race, which impact how we engage politically, to get in the way of you knowing that you were loved “as is.”
AMBER: I recently told another friend how you didn’t coerce or lead me, but rather walked beside me as I learned who I was truly, not as a follower of another human, but as a follower of Christ and as a Lutheran, in particular. My church with a big C also reassured me of my convictions by electing a female [presiding] bishop with very strong feelings, beliefs and statements about racism.
ROZELLA: Wow. It’s funny because five years ago, I would have said that you saved my life—quite literally. I felt indebted to you because of the grace, compassion and care you showed me. That’s when I realized that the heart of a person matters more than race, class, gender, orientation or anything else. You took me into your home and your life because you cared. I’m reminded of the road to Emmaus story, where two followers of The Way walk along and see the Divine in their midst.
AMBER: I think what took the longest in our friendship [was] for you to accept that I really didn’t want or need anything in return at the time. But now we’ve seen that our relationship does require give and take. We have ups and downs and lots of painful growing to do. When I think back, the only thing I can remember is that we had differing experiences and thoughts on the Middle East. When you mentioned rocking the boat were you thinking of more local racial/ethnic strife?
ROZELLA: Yes, and we still have different opinions on the Middle East, but diversity makes the world go round! I think that there are ways of being, culturally, that go unspoken. I have always been a person who moved between spaces, who was a translator for folks. I didn’t want to translate with you. I wanted to just be. So at times I’d hold back or gloss over something because I realized a racial/ethnic lens caused us to see things differently. I often think about money and parental support/care. To a certain extent, my way of viewing how I supported/cared for my family was based on a more collective way of being, versus an individual way of being, which for me connects back to ethnic/cultural orientation. Does that make sense?
AMBER: Yes, for sure. And nothing has helped me to understand this better than being in relationship with you and your family and other friends who allow me into their space.
Your family has welcomed me in a way that allows me to better understand—more than words could explain—norms, stereotypes and lenses. For goodness sakes, I call your father “Daddy!” But I also think that this way of being, this sisterhood, is the type of relationship that most people only dream of.
ROZELLA: I totally agree. .
Rozella H. White is a speaker, writer and preacher desperately seeking justice, mercy, humility and LOVE. She wants to live a meaningful life and help others do the same. Rozella blogs at Embracing My Shadow, The Mudroom and The Salt Collective. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @Rozellahw and ‘Like’ her page on Facebook
– Rozella Haydée White.
Amber Koter serves as director of digital media for the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, where she lives with her two sons. She is the author of beyondpostpartumblog.com. She also facilitates the longest running postpartum peer support group in Georgia.
To read this and other Gather articles in their entirety, subscribe now. As a subscriber, you can also view Gather online, as an app on your iPad, on your Android device and on your Kindle Fire. To request a free copy of the magazine, contact us.