Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hope for the hurting

Working as a chaplain in a residential group home, I bear witness to stories so tragic and hopeless that I'm often at a loss for words (which is probably a bonus to those to whom I am listening).  I attended a training this morning where I learned about rehabilitating adolescent sexual offenders and heard case studies that threatened to make me physically ill.  It would be easy to fall into hopelessness about the state of our world, and particularly our children (and I've been drawn in that direction more times than I can count).  But the thing that stuck with me about this morning's training was the counselor for this kids who reminded us that underneath all the labels and deplorable behavior, they're just kids, looking for love.  I wrote the following piece for our quarterly employee newsletter as a way of personally processing, and helping to find hope in all the hurt we encounter on a daily basis:

Cyberbullying.  Sexting.  Assualt and battery.  Sexual offender.  At-risk.  Disabled.  Abuse.  Neglect.  Each word is like an attack on my heart, and yet, they become normal topics of conversation in our line of work.  Dysfunction and “differences” become the new “norm” and I long to run home and put my own children in a bubble, terrified of all the fates that could possibly await them.  Many people talk about how the world is so much worse these days and how Christ’s return must be eminent…how many are the apparent signs of the “end times”.

And yet, in my calmer, less fearful moments, I am reminded that we’ve lived in a broken world since Adam and Eve severed the perfection and calm of Eden with one act of irreverent disobedience.  A casual read through the Old Testament will give witness to crimes and deviations that would shock even our numbed souls.  Though they didn’t have the technology or the terminology, our ancestors of faith had the same access to darkness and evil that we do today.

We are a broken people, whether or not we’ve been labeled as such or convicted of a crime.  Whether we fit a DSM-IV profile, a doctor’s diagnosis, or a psychologist’s evaluation, we are all in need of love and nurturing.  We are all seeking something greater than ourselves, an answer to our bigger questions for purpose and meaning.  We are human, fallible and fumbling, yet seeking connection with one another and the Divine.

As we work together in our mission and calling (and in our own personal quests for love and acceptance), let us look beyond the labels and reach out and offer the only source of help we have—the love and grace of God, who sees us all as the bits of dust we are, and yet accepts us anyway as God’s beloved children, regardless.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


As a newbie iPhone owner, I've been playing around with an endless array of apps.  I'm drawn to the photography ones as I've always loved both the art and nostalgia of photos.  Many of the photography apps allow you to choose from various filters that change the mood of your photographs.  You can go for a retro feel with Polaroid style shots or vintage with sepia or black and white.  I spend a lot of time browsing blogs and Facebook pages full of these moments captured with a timeless touch.  I am often envious of these perfect moments, a slice of beauty preserved. 

But don't we all use filters?  At work, my co-workers and I joke about days when we don't have our filters turned on and say what we shouldn't (usually, the way we're really feeling without toning it down to the banality we usually employ).  I filter some of my experiences and thoughts when I post in order to filter it through the perspective (persona?) I wish to portray.

I've had comments and laughs over my delight in capturing my kids' meltdowns (and posting them for all the world to see).  While I like to capture moments of perfection (the infrequent culinary creation or a rare and  lovely portrait shot), I'm realizing that these are not my true reality.  These perfectly framed shots are what set me up for disappointment a lot of the time when I expect them to happen more often than they do.  Instead, I'm trying to learn to use my own filters to see the allure in those moments when it falls apart, when the artsy facade crumbles and we discover the truth that we're all a little broken.  I want to filter out my judgment and discouragement at the failures and see the delight in a world I don't have to embellish, or spin, or work to make it something it's not.  Life is beautiful, even in the dark, ugly places.  There is life and beauty inside of me.

Monday, June 13, 2011


It was one of those mornings: the kids woke up demanding and needy, with a side of rude.  They didn't want their breakfasts or to get dressed, they only wanted to annoy each other and irritate us with their inability to follow directions.  You know, the usual.  I gave up midway in dressing Brady, pants on and shirt off, and said, "That's it.  I'm going to work."  He burst into tears and said, "No!  I don't want you to ever go to work.  You'll be there forever and never come back."  He blocked my way, and no amount of hugs, pleading, or bargaining would stop the tears.  I had to walk out to my car to the sound of screams and John closing the door so Brady couldn't follow me.  At work, I got a call from a sad little boy who said, "I miss you, Mommy."

In the moment, it's hard for me to realize that their love for us is what makes them cling so tightly, to act out as an attempt to clamor for our attention.  It's hard to remember that the six hours I will be gone is like an eternity to them, and in the time I am home, much of it is consumed with the work of taking care of a house and two kids.  Instead of counting down the days until school commences, I should be enjoying every sacred day of summer with my kids while they still cherish my time.  It's easy to remember when the guilt is nearly suffocating.  Maybe I'll learn to remember it when the frustration rises and instead stop and live in the moment, whether beautiful or ugly, as even the ugly ones can be redeemed.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Disney dreaming

My family recently took a cruise on the Disney Dream and I'm still wrapped up in the magic of it all.  Although I've enjoyed Disney movies in the past, I wouldn't consider myself a fanatic (just your average nonchalant fan).  We took the vacation with the intent of having a restful break, made possible by the children's programming that would allow my husband and me space and time to reconnect.  We also had an image of the special memories that we could create as a family and for our children.  However, I left the boat a Disney convert. 

Disney is a world in itself.  Their use of imagination ("imagineering"), their creativity, and their attention to detail draw you in to every experience.  Everything you do becomes part of a larger story.  We didn't just go to dinner; we were invited to a feast at the Royal Palace, along with our little "prince" and "princess".  There is an entire Disney culture with its own language and customs.  Conversations are ended with the phrase "Have a magical day" and you are not only given directions but are pointed in the right way by friendly "cast members" wearing large Mickey gloves.  The cast members are trained to make "magical moments" happen for each guest.  After all, their mission statement is "We create happiness."  Yes, it's a little trite (or presumptuous...or just plain nonsensical), but when you experience it, you become a believer. 

Since our return, I've studied some of the Disney model through the Disney Institute site, the Disney Parks Blog, and the book The Church Mouse: Leadership Lessons from the Magic Kingdom (by pastor Christopher W. Perry).  I have more Disney-themed books on my wish list and hopes to attend a Disney Conference someday.  I think their ideals and the way they carry them out have a lot to teach both the business world and the church.  While I know they are not without problems or controversy, the way they treat and engage their guests is a beautiful example of hospitality.  Their use of creativity seems truly magical when you're surrounded in all the elements thoughtfully put together to bring you into the story.  While I knew on one level all of this was carefully designed to get me to spend money and buy into their "product", their "brand", it worked.  I left, not feeling like I had been had, or that I was simply a consumer, but felt that I had actually experienced something...well, I'm going to stop myself from saying "magical" yet again, but it's hard to find a better word to describe it.

In his book, Christopher Perry suggests using the Disney model as a way leading in the church.  In talking about church culture, he suggests "discovering your church's mission and connect people to that story bigger than themselves" (much as Disney designs a larger story for each experience to create their own unique culture).  This inspires me to think about my own mission and calling and how to better connect those to whom I minister with a larger story, God's story.  I hope to become a better and more creative storyteller and to continue to redefine my mission and place in the story...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Nine years ago on another warm summerish evening, my beloved and I were walking down brick aisles, through a congregation on the lawn to have and to hold from that day forward.  We were joined in front of an intimate group of family and friends, in the practical backyard of our first shared home, within the seminary community that had drawn us together. 

Our wedding was a dream, one of those perfectly realized ones that is still vivid in my mind.  We planned and shared each detail together, from the invitations to the ceremony itself.  I can recall the heat and humidity of the day, and friends circled 'round to fan me with my dress.  I treasure the casual schedule of the morning, painting pottery with my honorary bridesmaids, while the guys checked out the art museum.  My girl friends helped me get ready, took pictures, and even made our bridal bed before our evening service.  John was getting ready in a neighboring apartment, and when he was late, I was initially nervous, but was delighted to discover he was orchestrating a flower surprise for me.

Our ceremony was planned and written by us, down to our carefully selected vows, which we both managed to mangle in the same part.  A professor and friend officiated, and the dean of the seminary played and sang our wedding song, to which we walked in together.  I remember the smiles of my mom and grandmother, the busyness of friends' preparations, and the fun of everyone mingling as we waited, and the meeting of my groom halfway as we prepared to walk together.  I remember our happy tears and a kiss to remember at the end.

Our postlude walk was to bubbles, and a wave over our shoulder as we walked back together to our home and to the new life ahead.  We shared Chinese take-out for our wedding feast.  It was perfect.

I feel so blessed that our life together still feels both so new and so comfortable.  Three moves, multiple jobs, and two kids later, he is still my soulmate, my love, and my best friend.