The Ministry of the Casserole

Trauma. Violence. Suicide. Abuse. Mental Illness. Depression. The List Could Go ON…..

These words have been in our news and conversations.  Within one week in my corner of the world, we became aware of three suicides.  In the last month at least two school shootings grabbed the headlines.  Children are dying from violence and abuse.  It is overwhelming to think about yet it seems to be so pervasive we are commanded to pay attention.

 1 in 4 person suffer from a trauma and the ratio is pretty much the same for mental illness.  This is a significant statistic we need to pay heed to in order to begin to make progress towards healing.  Think about it, if you are in a group of 4 people, at least one of you struggles with mental illness or has suffered from trauma.  Staggering isn’t it! The educational world is beginning to realize the implications this has on a child’s ability to learn and grow.  Thus it has begun to “educate” itself to understand what shifts needs to occur to better serve students.

For me though, I have been called by God through ordination to bridge the world and the church.  I live this calling out in service as a school counselor in public education with accountability to be a compassionate witness,  representing the church of which I am ordained.  So to continue to build the bridge between the two,  I am going to focus on the ministry of the church in regards to trauma and mental illness in this post.

A very close friend of mine is raising her son who suffers from mental illness.  She grew up within the United Methodist church and even during the first few years of her son’s life, the family participated in church activities.  Then the outbursts and meltdowns began and the reality that he suffered from mental illness began.   It became apparent that the church was not equipped to respond.  So they withdrew from church, even though they have connections with people (pastors)  in the church.

So the other day this friend and I were conversing about how for a hospitalization, funeral,  or new birth the church usually responds in some capacity and usually it is with food.  It is an awesome way to show support and care.  However, that was not her experience.  She shared with me that when her son had to be hospitalized for his mental illness,  no “casserole” or food was shared.  No support was given.  No inquiries were made into how the family was coping or how the church could support them during these extremely stressful times.  And he has been hospitalized multiple times.

I share this story because the church has some growing to do in regards to ministry with and for persons and families who struggle with trauma and mental illness.  We are champions at supporting those who suffer physical ailments yet disease of the mind is still a battle fought alone and oftentimes with shame. We not only need to give witness to the suffering but realize we travel with them along this journey.  And that the journey doesn’t need to remain hidden or forbidden to be talked about in the community of faith.  Many suffer alone without the support of a community of faith.  We, the church, need to be present to the pain knowing though that it does not require a solution, as Teresa Rhodes McGee states in Transforming Trauma.   She says ,”Rather, it means holding the memory of each person’s suffering and transformation as sacred.”  The church plays a unique role in the healing of people and exploring what that looks like for each congregation is important.

How can we become places where healing and transformation can occur with intentionality? I believe the process begins through educating ourselves.  And if we are faithful to the Biblical story we need to become keenly aware of the trauma held within the pages that shape who we are.  Not only be aware of it but to speak to it in multiple ways.

So with a couple of friends, a spouse who is a pastor as well, and the help of the conference staff we thought it was time to begin that process of being intentional to make sure we authentically understand these realities so we can provide space for those who suffer from mental illness and trauma.  So on September 28-29 2018, the first Becoming a Trauma-Informed Congregation Conference will be held (in our conference)  For those who are United Methodist in the Great Plains Conference, a flier with information will be included in the packet next week.  More articles, registration website/link, etc. will be forthcoming in the next several weeks.

Forewarnng:  This is not a program with steps to implement.  This event will educate the participants on the biological, emotional, and spiritual impact of trauma. It will focus on shifting from “what is wrong with you” to a “what has happened to you” paradigm.  It will be an opportunity to explore in breakout sessions various components such as the church’s response to suicide or incorporating trauma-informed concepts into worship.  We will discover together the implications this will have for our congregations.  It is a first step!

Remember 1 in 4!  It is time the church begins to explore with intention how ministry will look in the future with those who have suffered trauma or struggle with mental illness.

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Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Over the last several years being a school counselor, I have learned so many things that to recount it all would take up too much time.  This afternoon, however, I learned that ignorance is not bliss.

Let me share what I mean.  In my adult life there have been topics I haven’t explored because I believed they did not pertain to me or/nor was I that interested.  So thus I stayed ignorant.  Figured I was happier that way.  I mean I couldn’t be held responsible for what I did not know.  Well, this afternoon I became educated on what is happening in the drug culture and what is affecting us greatly, especially families.

In my counseling classes and in education, I was aware drugs were a very real part of my students world.  It was part of my world.  However, being aware is not a substitute to being informed.  I liked keeping my head buried in the sand because than I felt safer and it was how I was raised.  Now…..not so much.

The school district hosted a two hour workshop on the new trends in the drug world.  A couple of us signed up to go and I am so thankful I did!  It was a powerful and informative workshop.  The presenter was Officer Jermaine Galloway from Boise, Idaho.

I learned about all sorts of names, music, clothes, strains, trends just to name a few things.  Here are my takeaways from this afternoon:

  1.  “You Can’t Stop What You Don’t Know” -his byline for his workshops and basically you can’t combat something if you know nothing about it.
  2. Drugs are being morphed, laced, and camouflaged  in so many different ways that it would be a full-time job to stay current.
  3. Nothing is random–the music, the clothes, the drugs are tied together.  As he says,  “Sex, drugs, alcohol and explicit language all travel together”
  4. The ability to produce/manufacture drugs is EXTREMELY EASY TO DO!!!  Websites like Amazon and Ebay are selling the equipment used by persons to make various substances like Xanax or Dabs.  YouTube is full of videos that teach folks how to be their own pharmacy (so to speak).  The more available something is, the more usage there is (think cellphones, etc).

As if this wasn’t enough to get my attention, he shared about the drugs  Fentanyl and Carfentanil.  Just google these drugs and check out the potency.  Why are these drugs showing up more?  There are several reasons for this; but what I got from this portion of the workshop and its impact in my world of elementary education is that it is being laced to other drugs such as marijuana, heroin, etc.  So because of it potency it is very lethal.  For those who are not opioid tolerant, a size of a penny of Fentanyl will kill you and a salt crystal sized carfentanil is even more potent, thus deadly.  Kids are dying from this because you can buy synthetic drugs off the internet and “have it delivered to your home” or off the street and not know it has been laced as Officer Galloway shared.

Furthermore, it is deadly in several forms (not just through ingestion).  If you see a zip loc bag of a substance, almost by instinct we open it up to smell it or touch it.  With these two very potent and lethal substances, it would kill you.  Hence why there is an increase in law enforcement and other service type employees (EMS, nurses, firefighters, etc) deaths from these drugs.  So the takeaway, if you discover what you believe to be a substance you do not know what it is, contact law enforcement–don’t open the bag and sniff.

This is extremely terrifying and disturbing information.  However, I am so glad I went because now I am more informed so when I see certain hats, shirts, hear certain music, etc I now know what is being conveyed.  And that my friends is empowering.  It is a HUGE ISSUE FACING OUR COUNTRY THUS OUR FAMILIES.  But learning and stretching my mind to wrap around something I preferred to not know about is liberating.

So if you want to follow Officer Jermaine Galloway on Facebook or Twitter:  #tallcopsayssstop or Tallcopsaysstop.  He also has a website which I would invite you all to check out!  An afternoon well spent!

 

Why #DailyGratitude

Last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas I became aware I was in a not-so-good place.  Not a dark place but a bad attitude place.  When I hit Christmas break and had time to reflect, I realized how far I had gone.  While at the same time I was also reading Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book The Long Steep Path.  In her book she has a chapter entitled,  Be Grateful for the Good Things You Already Have, which ignited a spark.

Now being grateful was not a new concept to me.  It is a concept in which I practice quite often or so I would tell myself.   However, it was without intention.  By this I mean, when I had a really great day, I would give thanks or at times I wouldn’t.  I would practice during appropriate times of the year (Thanksgiving) but again without thinking much about it.

The spark Hyde’s chapter created was to be public with my gratitude.  Here is what she writes:

Now, the part about posting gratitude on social networks might seem odd. It might even sound like an idea that doesn’t mesh with the gratitude theme.  I can picture you asking yourself (I’m a novelist, I have a vivid imagination), Why online?  Why not just be grateful?  I tried that.  It worked fine.  Until I forgot. Which I always did.

As I read that, I thought that is so me.  I would try to practice the discipline of giving thanks/being grateful but I would allow life to interfere and sideswipe me.  When I realized how insightful she was about making #DailyGratitude public, it got me thinking.  So why public?  As Hyde states:  It creates accountability.  It has forced me to intentionally think at the end of the day what I have to give thanks for.  Yes there is lots to be grateful for but the practice of sharing it and making it about one thing during my day requires reflection.

I am also discovering it has helped with being in my “bad attitude place”.  It has helped move me to a “better” place in regards to my own mental health.  It is simple yet hard.  Quick but impactful.  I know lots of people do a journal (which I love to do) but sometimes that is too long for me to do.

So, if you are following me on Facebook or Twitter, and see the #DailyGratitude, know it is a way of practicing self-love.  Believe me, some days have been quite challenging to think of a time in my day for which to be grateful for,  but this discipline of living gratefully has opened up a way for me to practice self-care with accountability.

P.S.  I love Catherine Ryan Hyde’s books and this is an excellent one as well!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Question I Try Not to Ask

In my training to be a counselor, I learned a “trick of the trade” so to speak when working with children.  I learned this from Dr. Garry Landreth (a guru in child centered play therapy) at a conference about two years ago and it has stuck with me.  And that gold nugget is this:

NEVER ASK A CHILD THE QUESTION WHY?

The reasoning behind such a statement made perfect sense when he explains it.  The explanation is the question “why” requires rational thought.  Children have difficulty accessing that part of the brain, especially in regards to their behavior.  “Why”  requires the child to explain in a rational way the reasoning behind what they did or are doing.  And what I have discovered is that the majority of the time, they cannot answer the question.  It requires the ability to self-reflect on behavior that is lots of time unexplainable.  The answers vary from a blank stare (usually looking anywhere but at me) to shrugging shoulders to a verbal “I dunno know”.

When visiting with a student, this question hardly ever comes up (occasionally it slips out).  I have learned it is not a fruitful question to ask children or adults for that matter.

However, with adults the question is rarely asked because we don’t what to infringe upon someone else’s motivation, freedom, etc.  But as I have perused through social media and looked at all the comments regarding tragic and horrific events, the question I   try to not ask pops to the forefront.  And here is what I have concluded:

If I were to sit down with someone who espoused hatred and evil, that question would be wanting to fly off my lips.  Why are you doing such horrific acts?, etc.   But here’s the deal breaker:  it makes people defensive whether it is a child or adult.   And to overcome evil in this world, making them defensive isn’t beneficial because it doesn’t allow for dialogue or learning.

Every day I see children whom have experienced evil in very microscopic ways.  It doesn’t make the headlines and cause outrage among the mainstream.  Yet the only way I know to overcome evil is through loving the children.  When evil makes an appearance, it is how I can respond.  Through this action, my hope is that the evil that made an grandiose appearance in recent years will subside with intentionally loving  the children.  Because it is with them that we have the greatest opportunity to shape their lives for good. And that my friends is worth the work it takes to daily love them because in them hope is alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Home

Approximately nine months ago we began the process of preparing our house to sell, move closer to our places of employment, and all the while look for a place to live. Our home sold in 3 weeks time yet we had about five or six weeks before closing. Surely we would find something; but we did not—at least not to buy.

Sometimes the curve in the road intersects with another road that provides a solution that works for all those involved. Such was the case with us. We found a couple in our church willing to rent a house to us for a short time (meaning six months). While in the rental house, we left many boxes packed because we knew it was a temporary home. And while living there, our world expanded with diversity.

At the end of May, we found a house to purchase. We began the process of packing up what we did unpack, clean out the boxes that had been taking up residence in the garage, and made many trips to Goodwill. The house we purchased is smaller than our previous homes; yet one in which we could see would be a good fit for us into the future.

So prior to moving, my husband began looking at different flooring options for the house and we decided on vinyl plank flooring. Having never laid a floor before, we consulted with friends and consulted again. On the Monday before we moved, my husband began to pull up the carpet. Our son helped immensely and together they got most of it laid prior to our move on Wednesday. I am so proud of them and the work they did. It was a great experience for both of them.

As with any move, it seems to take a long time to get settled in and to call a place home. Re-doing the flooring helped us to claim this house as our home.

In about three weeks I return to work and school begins about a week in and half later. I have been reflecting on the stress moving puts on a person and how much anxiety it can cause. And then I think of the kiddos I work with at school A majority of them move multiple times over the year and sometimes each year are in a different school. If it is stressful for a fairly well adjusted person (and I know some of you will have your doubts about this statement) such as myself, then I can only imagine the impact it has on developing children.

Finding home is good and a blessing, but I realize it is not a guarantee. Life happens, poverty happens, all kinds of tragedy happens that makes finding home elusive for lots of people. So this evening as I begin to think towards returning to school, my thoughts and prayers are with the children and their families who are struggling to find home.

Expanding the Family

Less than 9 days until summer break for the children at my school. Many of the kids at my school are high needs in multiple ways. School counseling has afforded me the opportunity to work with some of the most “challenging” children.

It has been a year in which I have been expanding my family (in a way that never occurred with kids in the local church). These kids have become part of my family. No, none of them come home with me. No, I don’t bail them out when they get in trouble. But here is what I have learned about expanding the family.

Within each of my kids, there is someone yearning for acceptance, a safe place when they are “stressed”, a relationship that they know is stable and where they can cheat at a game of UNO or learn how to put a puzzle together because no one has ever taken the time to do that with them. It is a school where volunteers are far and few between to come in and help because they are tough and it takes work to get them to trust.

And it is not just me. Each and every day I see teachers and administrators reach out to the kids in multiple ways to help and educate these children. Yes, everyone is getting tired and getting worn down by the work of education; however, the kids are part of our family and we will earnestly do what is best for them within the talents, gifts, training, and resources (which are dwindling all the time) we have been given.

And by expanding my family, these children have shaped my perspective. My focus has begun to be steered toward helping children who have high ACES scores (Adverse Childhood Score). I have begun to see everything through the eyes of kids who struggle. And yes it is disheartening and trying work. However, THEY ARE WORTH THE FIGHT. One might wonder how I don’t become burdened with all the struggles facing them, and I do. Yet it doesn’t consume me. I have come to realize I cannot change their situations (foster care brought that reality to the forefront).

And here is why I will fight for these kids:

I have come to believe in the power of ONE. One adult who is engaged in a relationship with a child greatly raises the potential of positive outcomes facing a child. No, I don’t always think that ONE is me—lots of times it is not. However, I know that for lots of our kids, that one is usually a teacher.
But I will be that ONE if opportunity presents itself. And when that happens, my family expands! And that is truly a blessing!!!

Why Are You Nice?

I know children say the funniest things, but most of the time they ask profound questions as well.  Why are You Nice? is one such question.

One day as I was walking with a kindergartener out to recess, she turns to me and asks “Why are you nice?”  I have to admit, as we were walking I had to bend down to hear her.  And then I couldn’t completely understand her.  So I repeated back to her what I thought she was asking.  And like most kids, she said no, “Why are you so nice?”

I must admit—the question caused me to pause.  Not only was I surprised by such a question but I really did have to think about an answer.  As we continued to walk on out to the playground, I replied that I had been taught to be nice.  When I replied that I was taught, she said, “In Kindergarten?”  and I said Yes.

My reply was a half truth.  Yes, I did learn manners, kindness, etc from my Kindergarten teacher.  I also learned it from my parents.  They were the most formative in developing how I interacted with people.

To be honest, her question floored me.  Is “niceness” such a rare commodity these days that our children see it as an anomaly that is causes them to wonder?  I guess it must be.  I see children everyday who need a “nice” gesture.  Lots of times I high-five the kids as they walk down the hall.  I try to always greet them as they walk into the school (as well as parents and teachers).

It is a question that is haunting me in light of recent events in the world.  The political climate is nasty (to say the least), apathy runs the day when it comes to working on problems that are easily solved (such as hunger), we are numb with the violence surrounding us trying to lay blame and continuing on as if we can’t do anything about it.

For me, her question is a wake-up call.  I hope I can listen and discover how to put more “niceness” or as I would like to say kindness in the world.  Will you join me?

 

 

Smirnoff Relief

Anyone who has known me for a very long time knows that I don’t consume much alcohol.  If it is strong smelling, I get sick to my stomach before it even reaches my lips.  Also, if I can’t smell it, it can’t be strong tasting either or else I won’t drink it as well.  Some good friends have introduced to Smirnoff.  I guess you could say I am very selective with what alcoholic beverages I will consume.  Also, I take medication that the two do not mix and well, I need the meds more than the alcohol.

However, I have discovered the power of an occasional Smirnoff.  And today is one of those days.  As I have mentioned before, I work in a Title 1 school.  Hardship rules the lives of a quite a few of the students there.  Some days are quite a bit more challenging than others.  There are days in which I wonder how those who have been there longer than myself have kept at it.  They truly are heroes and saints.

I am sure there has always been moments in education where teachers in schools fulfill many roles they never thought they would have to do and that is becoming more and more the case.

I am not only having a Smirnoff tonight because I work in a stressful environment because lots of people do.  And lots of people handle stress differently.  But I am becoming fearful.

Fearful—not a word typically in my vocabulary.  And here is why, I am seeing as the lack of communal support for people in poverty rises (which in Kansas, that rate is rapidly increasing), it has dramatic effects on children.  Two, whatever has dramatic effects on children, it has a ripple effect on their ability to cope and learn.  I purposely put cope and learn.  More and more children are coming to school without proper coping skills thus making the learning environment difficult at best.  If the coping skills are not in place than learning does not happen effectively if at all.  When the environment in which they come from is inherently stressful and when a person is chronically stressed, it affects ALL areas of functioning.

I am fearful because as I look at the big picture, children are losing in our state and losing a lot.  It does take a village to raise a child and some of the most important supports are being whittled away such that I now walk around at times thinking, who is going to take care of the children?  And some of you may respond, it is the parent’s responsibility.  True but sometime (lots of the time) they do not have the skills they need to be effective at parenting.  Either way, the question remains, who will care for the children?

Thus, this is what is driving me to seek some Smirnoff relief.

 

 

 

 

Reflections of An Ordinary Life

This is the phrase that I wrote two days ago as I was re-entering the practice of journalling.

While in college, I had to journal for classes.  Mainly over books we were required to read, especially in my Christian Education classes.  At the time I didn’t necessarily enjoy the practice, I have continued to use it periodically (specifically when I check out a book from the library that is related to my work) and am realizing its potential and potency again.

What has drawn me back to want to take the time to think and write about “ordinary?”  I think it has to do with my vocation.  Journalling is well-known for its therapeutic benefits and as I have journeyed through my first Christmas break as a school counselor versus a Children’s minister I starkly realized I needed an outlet (besides my hubby).  Some days I would leave school, call my hubby, and talk non-stop about the adventures or day I had until I pulled in the driveway (which is about 20 minutes).

I now see the world differently because of where I now work.  When I shop,  I think about the kids I work with and realize that some would not have had much of a Christmas without the help of others.  It is intense and I needed a safe place to reflect, vent, share my anguish and joys as I begin another semester.

I don’t know if any profound words will arise while I do this, but I do know that it will help me to fill my well so that I can help those I am with on a daily basis.  It is nothing dramatic or new, but I look forward to the release and growth it will provide.

352

It happened again today.  In the last few weeks, mass shootings have taken place globally and nationally.  They have become so common that I am not sure we will even bother with the discussions that follow these events anymore…in other words, whose fault it is.  In the US, mass shootings are generally blamed on either mental illness or access to guns.  And of yet, nothing has been done to rectify the daily dose of mass killings that are occurring.

In case you weren’t aware, today’s shooting in San Bernardino, CA is the 352nd mass shooting in the United States.  Does this strike anyone else as something of major significance that needs to be addressed?  If you remember, there are 365 days in a year and we just started December.   Mass shootings are tracked by the Reddit-based Mass Shooting Tracker and thus are able to provide us with this interesting data piece.

Today, when I heard the news from a co-worker in a meeting as it came across her phone, we then turned our discussion to how it seems that the frequency has greatly increased.

Tonight, I write this blog with a smidgen of fear in my heart.  I never ask anymore why because obviously that question is not curbing the intensity or frequency of the issue.  It is a complex problem requiring collaboration and taking our share of the blame in letting them continue.  Yes, I am aware that they won’t be eliminated completely; however, it can get less frequent.

After Sandy Hook, I thought how could we allow these shootings to continue and it turned into a political piece in which nothing resulted.  And when we don’t respond when children are put in harm’s way, that should really disturb us to action.  But alas, it has become a major incident in a long string of mass violence incidents that we are tolerating.

I hope you have noticed I am not laying blame with one specific entity because it has reached the point where we are all to blame to a degree.  And that is hard to hear and this is why………

We organize ourselves along the fault lines of::: it is mental illness, or lack of gun control laws, or terrorist thus BLAMING SOMEONE ELSE for actions  that are affecting lots of people.  Now why would I say this:::because accepting responsibility for playing a part in a violent world takes courage.  Addressing something of this magnitude requires a willingness to create a different reality and well, it is just easier to blame someone else than to do the hard work that it is going to require to change this course we are on.

My fear comes from now living in the reality that no matter where I am,   violence of this magnitude can occur. And if I would let it, it could consume me and that is not beneficial to me or to the world we live in.

So as we mark this one as the 352nd mass shooting, we will mourn the loss of lives, wonder why, and continue on our way pushing it back in our minds as it fades in the news to which it falls off our radar until the 353rd  occurs and the cycle repeats itself.

I wish I had a magic wand and knew what the solution is.  All I do know is that all these people who have pulled the triggers were children at some point.  And if you want to change the course of the future, get involved with a child.  Be someone who engages with a child and help them to learn to have empathy.  Take the risk of getting involved in the lives of another, because this seems to be one of the easiest thing each of us can do.

But I will warn you, it is hard work.  It requires us to teach each other compassionately even when at times that is extremely difficult.  It might require us to involve ourselves in the lives of others so to help us learn that there are alternatives to this craziness.

And one more thing, most of us look to our political system to enact laws to make this stop.  And yes, that is a possible solution, but nothing, and I mean nothing, will alter another’s course in life than a positive relationship with someone.  Be that someone!!!!!