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!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stepping into a New Role

Over the last couple of years I have posted about the journey through graduate school to finding a job in a local public elementary school.  It has been an exciting ride and I would not change a thing.  As so I would like to share a few insights I have reached in my new job:

  1.  My school rocks!  Administrators, teachers, office staff, child study team,  custodians, lunch personnel, and paraprofessionals come to do their best and roll with whatever comes their way.  They have been awesome to work for and with to teach the kids in ways that are remarkable.
  2. I have become very aware that I am a privileged person.  Many of you who know us personally know we did foster care for about 5 years and so the trauma that children face is not new to me.  I grew up in middle class america and continue to live in that arena, yet my worldview has widened greatly since working at a school.  I am saddened every time attacks are made on public education because they are made by people who have a skewed picture of reality.  Yes, public education is not perfect, but it is the only institution where the playing field is made somewhat level for children from all walks of life and without it we will be in serious trouble.  I think we have yet to realize in what ways our current ideology is leading us in the wrong direction, but the outlook is not good–not only for our children, but our country.
  3. I have also become very cognizant of how comfortable we are as a society with casting blame.  And I also know that is just not helpful.  The cost is becoming unbearable for this societal norm and our children are suffering.  It goes beyond political affiliation or ideology.
  4. If at any time in your life that you thought prenatal care was not important and it is something each new mom should be able to afford, than come live in my world. It is HUGE!!!!!  More and more research is pointing to how important it is, but let me tell you the lack of it is devastating.  So much occurs prenatally, especially regarding brain development, that the ill effects of this haunt a child forever and makes healthy development challenging.

My reading list has grown quite long since I have begun the new job.  And what has prompted me to share these insights (although not that profound) is that of resilience.  I am reading The Resilience Breakthrough (would highly recommend it).  And as I work with kids, resilience is something I desire for each child to have because something else comes with resilience–HOPE!  If I can help a child become resilient, I know that this child will be all right in life.  It may not be grand, but they will have the skills to make it through.  And that my friends is worth celebrating!!!

Pew Therapy aka Soul Food

For the past two weeks, I have been practicing pew therapy.  I could have very easily skipped a couple of weeks of worship and no one would have thought twice about it.  But I chose to go for pew therapy.  Whether engaged as a professional in ministry or in education, the push is on for self-care.  And it makes so much sense yet is difficult to do.  In the two days of orientation for my new job, that was ultimately the bottom line.  Take care of yourself!

As I transition to a new setting of an elementary school and left professional ministry in the church, I am treasuring this time of pew therapy.  For me, pew therapy is soul food.  Sitting, absorbing, participating, partaking, and worshipping all took on a different meaning. It has been twenty years since I have had pew therapy in which there was nothing else grabbing my attention.  I was able to focus on being a part of community worshipping God which up until now, my worship was my work.  In others it was difficult to truly focus on worship because my mind was elsewhere.  I am not sure I fully realized how much I needed pew therapy.

Entering a time when public education is under fire, pew therapy will become ever so important.  While that is always in the background, I realize it will be about the relationships I build with the people I interact with each day.  Like all relationships, my life will change because of the new people I will work with and for.

So pew therapy will be a major source of renewal, strength, energy, and sustenance.  It provides a source of hope outside of us and that is worth having a weekly connection.  It allows me to focus on who and what is greater than me and my little world to know I am not alone.

Working with children is my vocation and helping them navigate the waters of school is critical to their success and our future.  So pew therapy is highly recommended for those who know their lives impact others, especially children.  Get your weekly dose (whether in a church, temple, or mosque), and be amazed to see how God works through you to touch the lives of those around you.

No Place Is Exempt

Gripped once again with grief for the violence in Charleston, South Carolina, we as a country have lots to grief.  As I sit looking at my Facebook feed and listen to news updates on my computer, I realized we have lost something we may not even realize is gone.

Yes, there has always been violence since the beginning of time (read the story of Cain and Abel).  Not an excuse just reality.  Hatred continues to be taught to future generations and it seems to happen with more speed and effectiveness than ever before.  Access to weapons is easier than voting (at least in my state) where to show your citizenship is required to vote while anyone can purchase a gun or weapon of mass destruction (such as a AKA 47) as long as they have the money.

What has crossed my mind alongside the prayers I have offered for the city and victims is the realization that we no longer have places we can go where violence doesn’t come crashing in.  Schools, temples, churches, movie theaters, airports, daycares….and what really tears at your gut is that our children are no longer safe.  As adults, we don’t expect violence to enter into our personal reality but as parents we desperately seek places of safety for our children.  Places of worship and elementary schools were some of these safe places.  No place is exempt.

Lots of people are asking “why” and that is what we do when something this tragic grips us once again.  It is beyond our comprehension to understand and for me, it is hard to believe this will be the last time we are faced with a tragedy of this kind.  So where do we go from here:

Spread love.  I know it sounds simple but obviously given the current affairs of life in the United States it is much more difficult that we would like to admit.  I have believed and will continue to believe love is stronger than hate.  People are not born to hate, it is taught.  Love and empathy are taught…take the time to show and teach love to the young people in your midst, to those on the fringes because it has the power to change a person’s path.

Advocate for gun control.  I realize that this one will cause many to respond that I am tramping on your constitutional rights, but the reality is if it is easier to purchase something that has as its intended purpose to kill (whether an animal or people) and if you can give me another purpose they serve (protection doesn’t count because someone else will eventually get hurt), than we are in one screwed-up society.  Somehow we have veered way off course.  If we need a license for everything else in this country, why not guns?  I am not saying people shouldn’t own guns.  Everyone has a right to own a gun if they choose.  HOWEVER,  I am saying if we need Identification to vote, fly on airplanes, when getting a driver’s license (because we don’t just want anyone behind the wheel of a car that would be deadly—yes that is sarcasm), seeing certain movies, getting a job….well hopefully you get the point, than guns shouldn’t be off the list (at the very minimum showing legal age and just like we would never dream of letting persons getting a driver’s license without training and a permit, we should have the same requirements for owning a gun).

So tonight as I grief once again the unnecessary loss of life, I also grief the loss of safety.  Sanctuaries are no longer exempt and as when Sandy Hook occurred, our elementary schools aren’t either.  The question is:  Is there such a place in America today that is exempt? I am not sure there is a place.  Please correct me if I am wrong….it is one time I will welcome such a correction.

Living on the Edge Wherever God Shows Up

“Although I never found a church where I felt completely at home again, I made a new home in the world. I renewed my membership in the priesthood of all believers, who may not have as much power as we would like, but whose consolation prize is the freedom to meet God after work, well away from all centers of religious command, wherever God shows up.”
― Barbara Brown TaylorLeaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

Lots of things are swirling around in my head.  At times, it is overwhelming to hone in on one particular thought or experience.  For the last half of this week, I participated in the Great Plains Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.  Next week, I will spend a couple of days in training for my new job as a school counselor.  I have worked inside the church walls for over 20 years.  In six weeks I will embark on working, as we say in the UMC– “beyond the church walls” in the world.  These two worlds are very similar (the institution of education and the institution of church).   Money is always moving and shaking the reality of the institutions.  Power and authority are the name of the game, and whoever holds the power and authority shapes the direction.

This year at annual conference I carried with me another perspective…..the perspective of the child.  As I think back on what we spent time on, I realized I was looking at things with child-like eyes.  I know you might think I am a bit crazy (and that is true to a degree), but I thought about the children I had counseled over the last six months and wondered……..well, I wondered lots of things.

While in the church, pining away at finding volunteers to teach the children who came through our doors (which is important I know because I have spent the last 20 years doing just that ),  I came to realize that as important as that ministry is, it no longer held the joy and energy it once did.

I also realized, science has greatly broadened my understanding of children and thus can see where as a church we are missing the boat (in fact the boat is filled to capacity and overflowing, and we are still stuck on the shore).  Yes, as Annual Conference we are involved with organizations that work with and for children, such as public education, child welfare, and human trafficking (UMW) to name a few.  All of this is important and great work!  But as always, new arenas await the church and sometimes the church is a very slow moving vessel.

So what has science taught me about the faith development of our children? Our brains develop early in life and neurons that fire together stay together and lots of these connections are made early in life usually by the time a child is five.  ALL of a child’s experiences shape the brain.  In other words, we are experienced based people.  How we view reality is based on our understanding of our experience.  It is a scientific fact.The implications of that for the church is that if we don’t broaden our faith experiences within the context of early faith formation experiences for children, than we have missed critical years as a church.  And yet, in most of our churches (not just in our denomination only) we exclude children from the ritual of church.  Thus, we exclude them from having religious experiences that can build resilience.

in thinking back on the kids I saw in my office over the last six months, as a church we don’t do well with mental dis-ease.  In fact, we don’t do well with squirmy or squirrelly people in our midst (children and/or adults).  All the children I saw and did play therapy with were with me because they were struggling with a multitude of issues–domestic violence, grief, depression, abuse, foster care, gender confusion, poverty, immigration,  trauma,  suicidal thoughts, and the list can go on.  (Please note, I work with elementary children).

I would love to believe the church is having an impact on children who are facing challenges such as these, but as I sat in the sessions I realized, this is an area of uncharted territory for the church.  God has called me to live on the edge and like every other institution, the church believes strongly in self-preservation.  Earlier I shared the quote from one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor.  Like Barbara,  I have realized I need to move beyond the church walls to be wherever God shows up. And whenever a child is around, God shows up!!!!  God has called me to enter into the chaotic lives of children whose daily realities are about survival, not only in school but in the world.   I am leaving behind the walls of the church to live on the edge,  working with those who the church is not quite ready for, and enjoying the God who will show up each and every day in the form of a child.

The Dreadful Invitation

There are few things I won’t discuss openly and one of them is politics, especially if I sense it won’t be a honest dialogue or someone just wants to debate me.  Well last evening we were dining with friends, whom we knew were of a different political persuasion than us, and enjoying our time together.  Then the conversation turned.  The question came if we had seen Rubio’s announcement for the presidential bid in 2016 (it was being talked about on one of the many televisions in the restaurant we were in).

Too be honest, I had not yet tuned into who is running because it is too early for me to think about it, so I did not see it.  Somehow it came out in the discussion that I was on the “opposite” side of the political aisle than our friends Being the kindhearted and inquisitive friend he is, he politely asked me to enter a dialogue with him because he had been unable to find anyone willing to do so.

Now, I tend to shy away from this topic unless I am pretty sure I am around those who agree with me, (because that makes us feel safe and that other people are thinking the same thoughts we are in regards to politics and policy.)  There are lots of reason for me to run the other way,  but mainly the conversation turns to bantering back and forth without really seeking to understand each other and that exhausts me.

Several things have stayed with me as I reflect back on the conversation.  First, neither of us are extremely proud of the political climate in the country.  Some of his concerns were the same as mine.  Second, it was a beginning.  It was a beginning to learn from each other rather than to defend each other’s beliefs.  And finally, it was an invitation. Sincere.  Genuine.  Seeking.  As he began to ask me questions, I carefully chose my words—not so much to not offend, but because it was an exercise for me to really clarify what I look for in a leader, especially a person who has the power to affect millions of lives.  It is so hard to get past all the hype to truly see what each candidate can bring to the country.

Not what I have not shared is that this man is the same age as my father and has lived an extraordinary life and makes me laugh.  He is my friend.  He and his wife will be embarking on a another journey fighting cancer together.  Yet while in the midst of waiting for final details about her upcoming surgery, he is wanting to dialogue with someone who differs from where he is politically.

So I am thankful and prayerful tonight as I write this blog.  Thankful for the invitation to share in a way that didn’t put me on the defensive but allowed me to share what I am passionate about and how that guides my vote.  Thankful for their friendship and support of not just my hubby and I but of our family.  Compassion and care radiates from them.  Prayerful tonight that what was offered in the invitation was a sign of hope.  It gave me hope that there are people who are willing to dialogue rather than debate so that learning can occur.  Our intentions are not necessarily to change each other’s minds, but to enlarge our perspectives.  I don’t know where the dialogue will go, but I am confident that if both of us proceed with the intent of learning from each other, than we both win.  It is not an either/or, but a both/and.  I always remember there is more than one right answer, and through his invitation, I am reminded of this wisdom.

I also lift them up daily in prayer as they travel the road ahead….it helps when friends can travel along.