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Healing Conversations on Race, Part II (with Veola Vazquez)


Alisa: Hey, welcome to The Art of Relationships podcast. We are so glad that you are with us. And my name is Alisa Grace and I'm here with my co-host, Dr. Chris Grace. 

Chris: Hey everybody. 

Alisa: Yeah, we are the CO directors of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. 

Chris: Yeah, recently voted the most outstanding center in the world. When it comes to marriage and relationships and just centers in general,

Alisa: That was an honor a real honor 

Chris: And a might have been we're second in the world. But  you know, I looked up Yelp and apparently, somebody did, you know, confirm that on y'all that we were the greatest center in the world. I, you know, I don't want… 

Alisa: Who are we to argue? 

Chris: Yeah, and it might have, it might have said America or the Western Hemisphere. But clearly, we are probably the best center for marriage and our lesson. 

Alisa: Yeah, in La Mirada, California. 

Chris: That is a guarantee right there. 

Alisa: Guys, we have a fabulous podcast prepared for you because we have a really special gas. And our guest today is Dr. Veola Vazquez. And Chris would you know Veola, well, we've known Veola for gosh, over 20 years. So would you would you introduce our guest? 

Chris: Yeah, our guest is Dr. Veola Vazquez, who is currently a professor a tenured professor and Licensed Clinical therapist psychologist at Cal Baptist University and got her degree here are her graduate degrees at Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola. And that's the first opportunity to meet. 

Veola: Yes, that's right. 

Chris: Yeah. And I know that that day will live in infamy. Because it was soon after that meeting that I said, if there's only one person I want to hire on our faculty, it's Veola Vazquez and Dr. Vazquez, I hired you right away to teach some undergrad courses for us. And I think you started right then right after you got your degree teaching. Is that right? 

Veola: Yes, I did. Yeah, right away. Yeah.

Alisa: She was one of our highest-rated professors at the time. 

Chris: Oh, so highly rated. 

Alisa: We miss her. 

Veola: Yeah, aw miss you guys. 

Chris: We almost did bad things to your husband when he moved out to San Bernardino, you know, to his tennis career, and I don't know this tennis pro stuff. It's so overrated. 

Alisa: That Carlos! 

Veola: Well, and then he became a police officer. 

Chris: That's right. He became a police officer. That's why he went out there and left us and so me trying to do harm to a police officer that's never turned out. Well, for me. You know, I've tried it a few times. And I've always ended up regretting that moment, my lawyer said again, and I said, I'll never my dad was a police officer,so we can tease about that. Veola. 

Alisa: Veola. Okay, how many times have you really been down at the police station? 

Chris: Growing up before I was a Christian, right? Well, I have times oh, I know a lot. But sometimes I visited with my dad voluntarily. And sometimes I was brought there by some of his friends and voluntarily. I was taking in at least twice, but I was mostly a good kid. At least I just had some bad tendencies and bad friends.

Alisa: You know what? That's probably really true. That's a whole nother podcast. Be careful who you're friends with.

Chris: Yeah. And then Jesus transformed me in college. Yeah, that's awesome. 

Alisa: He did they think the Lord. So today we're going to be visiting with Veola about her brand new book that she has out. It came out just a couple of months ago in February of 23. And it's called Healing Conversations on Race: Four Key Practices from Scripture and Psychology. And Veola, we spoke with you last time we did a whole podcast or last episode on those four practices, four steps to having a healing conversation. Could you just give us a quick summary of those four practices? 

Veola: Sure. So the four practices to help people remember them, we use an acronym, which spells out the word heal, to help people think about how they might heal, and their relationships across racial relationships. And so H stands for humility. E stands for empathy. A is acceptance of emotions, and l is Christ-like love.

Alisa: And it was a really powerful time together of processing. Because the whole idea is that race really complicates our relationships and even when we reject racism outright, and we just say, hey, we know that is wrong. We know that that grieves God's heart, and we try to walk in a better more Christ-like way.  It can be hard to do, there can be some real pitfalls. And so we talked about those four steps, how they apply to those conversations because we want to talk about not only how do we get our thing getting unstuck about that. And we talked about that in the last podcast. But today we want to talk about how do we get those conversations unstuck from unhealthy patterns. Maybe that we learned growing up in our culture in our families in our friend groups, in our, you know, in our educational systems in our entertainment as part of the culture, but how, as in particularly as Christians, because you approach this, you and your co-authors approach this from a solidly biblical perspective, which we truly love. Chris, did you want to add?

Chris: No, I just think that that approach that you guys took with your colleagues, heal is just really powerful because you share so many stories, life stories of people that have been impacted by this. Let's move to this idea what the heal model, what does it take to get prepared and ready to hold a healing conversation? What do you recommend? And I know this is part of your book, you know, how do we demonstrate that? How do we take into account Second Corinthians 3:18. And we all who, with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the spirit which is your guys? You know, one of the key verses in there? How do you go about preparing for a healing conversation? 

Veola: So it takes work, right, it takes a lot of self-reflection. So the way we see it is that people can have healing conversations with little preparation and with much preparation. But the more preparation, the better. So that's like the first thing to think about. Because I think if you go into a conversation about race-related issues with somebody of a different racial background, with no preparation whatsoever, it is easy to get stuck in old patterns, and then things not go well. So the more preparation, the better. And in our book, we do give a lot of practical steps and activities that people can engage in to prepare. 

Chris: Veola, you almost lost me with the more work. I don't want to you, you know. But really, isn't everything to gain whenever we put that time in? It does, it takes effort, this isn't just going to happen. 

Veola: It's not just going to endeavor now that we are as Christians, kind of the way we see it is, if we're committed to a life, where we are in the process of sanctification, where we are working out our salvation to be more like Christ, we recognize that that is a process that involves an ongoing walk with the Lord, where we are seeking to delve into Scripture and understand who he is, and then to be formed to be like Him. That is process. So being formed into the image of Christ is not something that just happens without work. Right? We have to do something about it. And you Thanks be to God that he has already promised us those who come to him and repent. He's promised that we will be with them in heaven from the time of that repentance, right? But at the same time, we do have an ongoing work that we do. 

Chris: Yeah, I just theologically struggle with why I mean, why can I just live a life? Casual enjoyment of God and just say, okay, man, okay, you know what, I'm starting to show my age. So let's just go.

Veola: Right, it'd be so much easier to not have to do sanctification. That's right. So we think that..

Alisa: Oh, go ahead. Go ahead, Veola.

Veola: Okay, so so we think that dealing with race-related issues, is an important part of becoming more like him if to be to do it well, as opposed to ignoring it. And not ever talking about these things, and not trying to relate to our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ to who are different from us racially and ethnically. If we don't do anything about building those relationships, we're missing out in part of the process of being more like Christ. So the preparation for having healing conversations, we do believe is a part of that spiritual formation. And we can do that by learning more about our own racial and ethnic background, exploring the messages that we've gotten throughout our lives related to race and race relations. But then, beyond that, let's say we just kind of happen into a conversation about race that we weren't expecting. We think we can also immediately begin to prepare ourselves for the conversation by asking ourselves questions about how well we believe we are doing in that moment of expressing humility, and empathy and acceptance of emotions and Christ-like love. So just thinking through the heel acronym, in a moment of a conversation can help us have an ongoing preparation, by self-reflecting on those things in the moment. 

Alisa: I love that Veola. And in this towards the end of your book, where you're laying out the steps to, to engaging in this conversation, I really appreciate and value that that the very first step that you outlined in this book is that you start with prayer. And just inviting God before you ever say a word to the other person before you ever even start that conversation. You guys lay out the principle that you humbly reflect, and ask God to help each person be accessible to be responsive and engaged. And, Lord, help me to display a Christ-like attitude in this in the fruit of the Spirit, as as we allow you to bring healing to this relationship into this conversation. Why is this so important to start with prayer? First?

Veola: Yes, well, it does a couple of things. So it sets the stage that we are inviting God into the process. It also it sets the foundation that we are coming at this from a common ground, even if we don't have areas of commonality and how we see things related to race-related issues, we do have the common ground of being brothers and sisters in Christ. And both have a desire to demonstrate Christ's likeness in the conversation. So the prayer invites God into that process, as well as acknowledges that common ground and we think really set the stage for everything to come. And therefore also we end the conversation with prayer to so those are like the bookends of the conversation. 

Chris: Yeah. And, and I think, just to be able to recognize that it's not just you guys didn't tell us was prayer. I think you told that prayer, prayer and even more, right? 

Alisa & Veola: Lots of prayer, yeah. 

Chris: We could all use that. But I do believe that is exactly what humility is, is recognizing that and you just look at the life of Jesus, right? I mean, here he is, at the most important times in his ministry, and he just walked away and spent time alone praying, and this is Jesus, the, you know, the, the, the holy Almighty King, who recognizes it takes prayer to get his heart ready to end this, that that I still don't understand. I still don't know why Jesus needed to orient himself in prayer and why he did it. It's a model for us. But it was also powerful. 

Alisa: I think it's because he was in his full humanity, as well as being God, he was in his full humanity while he was here on Earth. So he was actually living by the power of the Holy Spirit, just like he's asking us to, that that was part of that humility of setting aside His deity coming and taking the form of the servant. Right. And and so to follow that model that Jesus does, I think requires us to pause and adopt that same hue, that same attitude of humility before we ever start that conversation. 

Chris: Then that idea, Alisa, sort of just even with prayer, when he brought Peter and John with him, you know, they couldn't stay awake. And when he asked his closest to come with him and pray, you know, they failed. But his, he didn't chastise them. You know, he just showed, you know, Veola part of your model, which is empathy and acceptance and love for them, even in their, you know, brokenness.

Alisa: I think one of the ways that we teach our students here at Biola or when we're speaking at conferences about having healthy conversations, when they're hard conversations, is we encapsulate that that principle that you have in your book as the three P's. You pause, you pray, and then you proceed. I. So I, that's, I think that's why you're really keyed in on that very first step is before you do anything you pray. And one of the verses that comes to mind for us is we talked about Psalm 139. How David in Psalm 139 Just spends the whole chapter talking about how intimately acquainted God is with him. You know, all everything about me, Lord, every book when I rise up and when I sit down a word on my tongue before I ever even speak it, right, you're intimately acquainted. But then those last two verses in that chapter, David says, But search male Lord, try me and know my anxious thoughts, and lead me in your point out anything that is offensive to you, and then lead me not lead that other person, but lead me in your everlasting way. And I think, see, C.S. Lewis got it right, because he said, prayer changes me. And that's why I think it's so important that we start these conversations with prayer is because before I can ever say, Lord, you need to change this other person, their heart, their attitude, they're wrong. We have to draw a circle around ourselves and say, Lord, start the change with me point out where you need to do the change in my heart, and then lead us in this conversation. 

Chris: That's so important. You know, I pray that so often that exactly those words for Alisa, Lord, she says, and I say, look .. 

Alisa: Hey, that wasn’t very healing 

Veola: Hahaha

Chris: But I'm praying for you that God would answer your prayer.

Alisa: Thank you? 

Chris: You’re welcome. What's the next step, then that you say is important in this? 

Veola: So in the actual step model, or the preparation? 

Chris: Yeah. In that preparation piece where you say, once you feel you're ready for this conversation, and you make those initial steps, right, you're beginning to, to seek out the other person, you're you're beginning to say, okay, you begin, it's a listening process and, and how you're able to express and deal with emotions, and then be able to listen to emotions. 

Veola: Yeah. So So yeah, so So if people are feeling like, they're prepared to have a like a purposeful and intentional conversation, where they're going to invite someone to sit down with them and go through like the six steps that we have that the first step is prayer, then the next steps basically involve a process where each person in the conversation has an opportunity to share an experience that they've had related to race, or racism, something about race. And so from a person of color, and let's say it might be experience of racism, they want to share where as that might not be the same for someone who's white, or maybe they have experienced some type of racism that they want to express. But both people will have an opportunity to share and listen, and which is also really important in the model that both people get heard. But the second step is that whoever chooses to be the one who talks first, they express the situation or event or topic, and then try to express their deeper emotions connected to them in it in a way that's very vulnerable. So going beyond that secondary emotion, that like that might include anger and defensiveness and frustration to be able to identify and then verbally express what their deeper emotion is. And then the person who's listening attempts to stay connected with that person and respond to that emotion with empathy. And that could be very simple statements that are things like, I hear that you were really sad related to this. It doesn't have to be super deep. But it does have to be a way that they showed they are connecting with and understand the deeper emotion that the person had. 

Chris: Yeah, so you would say that you would help someone you would coach someone or counsel someone to say something like, what I'm hearing you say is that you get extremely disappointed or feel shame. When this happens. And it sounds like they're not necessarily under recognize it or, or agree, they just have to say when that person followed you in the store for the 15th or 20th time in your life, you begin to feel not just shame but anger at right is that the idea? And then you let that other person sit with it? 

Veola: Yes, exactly. Just really a clear statement that they hear or emotion behind whatever they experienced wasn't sometimes the person who's talking may not be able to identify what that deeper emotion is. And so maybe the listener can even say it sounds like the the person says I felt so mad when they followed me. The listener might say, Gosh, I hear you saying that you really felt mad, but I also wondered you were really sad or scared that they might help them even to identify what the deeper emotion is. And then the, the person who's speaking, the next step in the process would be to try and figure out what their emotional and relational need is at that time. 

Chris: Oh, I love. Yeah. Just to insert one thing here, Veola, there's a big help that we use for our listeners. And for those that come to the CMR, you know, or even if they just go to is we provide a list of the emotions that get below what we call to the issue level, you know, and it's an exercise couples can use, it's identifying the deeper emotions that are occurring, it's easy for someone to say, I made me mad, you know, like you're talking to a kid? How did it feel when you know, he said that about you? It made me mad, like, and we used to say, okay, Natalie, I know that made you mad, but it did you What else were you feeling? And tell it? Did it make you feel disappointed? Or did it make you feel like you were being left out? 

Alisa: And maybe you felt rejected? 

Chris: And she goes, Yeah, I was I felt like they didn't love me because I was rejected. And it's it's that idea, isn't it? So anyway, we have that we have that those emotions available, just go to our website.  

Alisa: Yeah, we'll actually link to it in the transcription for the podcast today. So look for that link for identifying your emotions in the transcription and download it because it's, it's really helpful to I think, for people that have a hard time labeling their emotions and sharing their emotions. This is super helpful, because it gives you words like, you know, I feel abandoned or unimportant, or I feel powerless and loved. I feel misunderstood or unaware, I feel disconnected. Maybe in and it gives a description of what those mean. 

Chris: And Lisa and Veola, both of you, why is that so important to just to be able to sit to label, first of all, and then to be able to sit with that if another person expresses a what, what why is that so healing and helpful? 

Veola: Well, it's healing because it lets the person who expresses the emotion know that another person is there for them, and can respond to them and can respond to that need, and help them to feel connected, and help them feel loved or to feel not no longer rejected? Because there's someone there because, yeah, because those deep emotions, they leave us feeling so so vulnerable and often isolated. And we were built for connected relationships. And so having somebody present there to meet that need for a connected relationship, in the moment where they can say, I hear that you felt rejected, I'm here to let you know that I Yeah. So so healing, because I can we were built for connected relationships. And when we don't feel like we have those are missing a huge part of what God designed us to have. 

Alisa: Gosh, that’s beautiful. Also to answer your question, Chris, what Veola is saying is that, when we're able to talk at this deeper, more emotional, vulnerable, open, transparent level of communication, these deeper emotions, and the other person that listener can receive our heart and hold it and care for it in that process of that conversation. That's where growth in this relationship takes place.That's the beginning parts of the healing, of creating a relationship where I can feel safe, I can feel secure, I can feel deeply vulnerably known and accepted and and loved by this other person. And when a relationship when there's that kind of safety and security. That's where that growth, that's where intimacy, and that's where that connection really grows strong and deep behind just a surface level. Like if you just jumped to resolving the problem or the or conflict without getting that this deeper emotional level, you forfeited the opportunity for growth and for a deeper, more intimate relationship and understanding with that person. 

Veola: Right, and Emotionally Focused Therapy like its model was built on some approach. And what it tells us is, is that when couples are able to engage in these deeper, more vulnerable conversations that they are better able to problem solve, they're better able to then move toward how we solve some of these racial justice issues. But if we're not in a place where we're feeling like we are connected and emotionally conveyed, it becomes very difficult. So in cross racial relationships, if we can apply these practices and principles in these conversations and develop closer, more intimate relationships with people who are racially and ethnically different, then we're more able to problem solve racial justice issues at a later point. 

Alisa: Yeah. If the only good talk about in step number four, you mentioned briefly, you talked about that the original speaker that they need to be able to express the positive need or want from from the other person that they're visiting with? So what does that sound like on a practical level? Can you, like, Give us an example, articulate that for us? 

Veola: Yeah, so the speaker, if they can recognize whatever their need is in the relationship at the moment, then they can express that need. And so it might be that we use the example I gave earlier about, like, all of the volunteers store, one thing I would need in a cross ratio relationship, would to know that this other guy can be safe with this other person that I can, and I can feel accepted by this other person. So I might, if I can figure that out. In the moment, I might just say, I just need to know that you accept the United States. And then the listener can then hopefully respond by just simply saying, like, yeah, you know, I do expect you and I want you to know that who you are, to me is important, and you're cared for. I'm here to help you feel safe. I'm here to support you and to listen, when you are concerned about these things, somehow, verbally acknowledging outwardly that they are able to respond.

Chris: It makes you feel human, doesn't it when the other person does that, like you said that you develop this deep emotional all of a sudden, like, at least at safety, but this deep emotional connection of wow, I'm understood, I'm heard. And I think we I think we all long for that from our Savior from God, right? I am, I am loved, I am cared for, you know, I'm no longer to be shamed and hidden and run away in that sin. Right. And instead, we have that. So Lisa, there's two more steps? 

Alisa: Oh, that was the fifth step, I think of a beautiful scriptural example of following God's example of caring for someone's heart like that, is Psalm 116, verse one, and it says, I love the Lord, because he hears and he answers my prayers, because he bends down to listen, I will pray, I as long as I have breath, isn't that a beautiful example of the Lord live, he hears me, he listens. And he responds with care, to show me that I'm important to him. I think that's such a beautiful example of your step number five, and in this conversation. And then step number six you have below is that both Christians pray together asking God to continue to help each other be accessible, responsive and engaged. Why just talk about that, that last point, why is it important to wrap it up in this way? 

Veola: You know, as we were saying before, the prayer is such a key to continue to acknowledge God's presence. But also that goes, the conversation ends, we have to remember that that's not the last conversation number one. And that conversation itself probably brought up a lot of additional emotions that maybe are haven't been expressed yet or unresolved for the person. And so ending with prayer allows the two people to again come to that common ground where they started, invite God back into the process, and then help us I think, remember that we continually need his guidance it along this path. And as we move forward, after the conversation, we really encourage people to actually then talk about how the conversation went. And so that prayer also so you can set up that next step.

Chris: Yeah, gosh, feel. This has just been so helpful. So hopeful, and I think that's what I love about this book is it just doesn't point out issues and problems, but it then gives very scientifically, sound at Biblically sound principles. On a practical to how to to navigate this very important area of healing conversations. 

Chris: Thanks Veola!