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.

Never Would Have Thought….And What I Have Learned Thus Far

As I have mentioned before, I graduated in December with a Masters Degree in Counseling.  I knew it would take awhile to find a new job in my field because of the “outside” requirements placed by the state (professional licensing certification, etc) as well as the timing of the year (finding a school counseling job mid-year is pretty tough).  So I was anxious yet very excited to begin this part of the journey in my life.

Well, January began and I continued working my part-time job as a children’s ministries coordinator at a local church.  However, I decided to pursue trying to sub and lo and behold, a counseling sub position was open as the current counselor had health issues.  I also was contacted to teach a 2 hour graduate course on Family Issues at the most shocking university around this area!!!!  (the full-time professor was facing health issues too and is ending up being out of pocket for the semester).  Both have been in my prayers as they seek healing.

I would have never thought about these opportunities floating my way.  Although I know they are only temporary, they have caused a ripple effect in the job I have done most of my life.  I love working with children and having one foot in the professional ministry and the other in public education has given me a very unique perspective.  And this is what I have learned thus far:

1) Despite all the attacks lodged against public education, commitment to the children remains high.  I have witnessed great compassion come from educators who are never thanked enough.  They have a very high tolerance for putting up with a great deal of “crap” from all sides and still are there for the kids.

2) The church has a significant role to play especially today in regards to public education.  The church does not quite realize its potential to be a moving force in shaping young compassionate people.  I am not just talking about advocacy either. Church still sees its role as providing opportunities to “share the story” (which is important) in a separate part of the building, but only a few are willing to sacrifice time to make an impact in the lives of young children.  The church is missing the opportunity to build relationships with the future.  No one hardly ever remembers the Bible stories, but they always will remember the relationship and I am saddened to see fewer people engaging with the kids in this environment.

Just like at school, (and by the way, most kids by kindergarten decide if they like school or not and it is a sorry state of affairs when children are burned out by second grade), kids know who really is there for them.  I would love to say the church is but somedays I have my doubts.   As the gap between the have and have nots continues to rise, the church needs to be poised to work alongside the have-nots to make sure they have the same opportunities as the “haves” and this will require ingenuity and creativiity.

3) Children are complex.  As I have worked with children is a variety of environments, I have discovered what you see is not always what is really going on.  Most have chaotic home lives.  This plays out in the classroom.  Ask almost any child to describe their family to you and it is very complex.  What I have discovered is because of the chaos of the world, many children do not develop the adequate skills needed to navigate elementary school (let alone life).  We have taken for granted, such as working with others or dealing with struggle (whether it is academic, emotional, physical, social, or mental) that we seem to react to their behavior rather than seeing a skill is missing that needs to be developed.

And finally, although I am having a blast at teaching my peers, I find the most joy in working WITH the kids.  They really do not ask for much…love and attention.  Immense pressure is placed upon children to perform and biologically children really don’t do well under stress especially if they haven’t learned some of the basic skills fundamental to healthy development.

So as this journey continues I look forward to being touched by the most important people in the world—children.  They can never have too many people in their lives that are involved modeling care, compassion, and love.  Nothing lights up my day more than when a child hugs me even after meeting with me one time.   It is pure love and joy given freely and it doesn’t get any better than that!

Don’t Be Scared

Recently I discovered the video that Pauley Perrette put out entitled “Beautiful Child”.

It has become a favorite that I watch almost daily.  As I listen to it, I marvel at the truth contained in the words sung.  Her ability to reach the masses with this is beyond comprehension.

It is however not the first time I have heard this message.  The church (of which Perrette is a member of the United Methodist Church) has a Biblical promise to claim and proclaim “don’t be scared” or “do not fear” with the same intensity that Perrette and her crew of singers and musicians share in this song.  Unfortunately the church’s message somehow gets muddled and the message gets lost.

As I write this short blog for today, I listen to it and think of all the children I want to hear this song  I want them to come to know that each one of them is a child of God, who is loved!  In a world full of hatred and pain, this message should ring loud and clear from all the churches—no matter what: you are beautiful, you are loved, and you are not alone, don’t be scared.  Oh, how I pray it will one day be a promise claimed and not just heard about by all children of the world.

So if you have not yet taken the time to listen to it, please do so!  Church:  we have work to do to make this an everyday reality for all God’s children!

PS:  I also love who Pauley has singing with her!  It is too awesome!

The Power of the Crayon

As I have begun the transition vocationally, I am discovering for myself something that others may already know.  The discovery is this:  the power of the crayon.

Let me explain.  Over the last month or so I have been working part-time as a school counselor sub in a couple of local elementary schools.  I have students I meet with every time I am at the school.  The issues bringing them into my office are diverse.  Over the last year while doing field experience and practicum, I have come to rely on the power of the crayon.

Studies have shown the effect coloring has on a person.  It is a way in persons can lose themselves in a creative and yet mediative practice that allows for stress reduction.  One can lose oneself in the process of watching a design come to life with color.

I am never without coloring sheets in my office.  Not just any coloring sheets but mandalas specifically.  I always have a couple of different designs for the kids to choose from.  What is so profound to me, is the power it possesses to connect with a child.  In my other part-time job (which I have been doing for about 20 years), coloring seemed to fall out of favor.  Or maybe it fell out of favor for me–not sure which.  But I have changed my mind

What I failed to realize and now am so aware of is coloring with a child allows them a venue to share what face-to-face conversation cannot.  I have had many profound insights into a child’s life simply by coloring with them.  Here are some of the revelations I have had:

*Coloring with crayons invites conversation

*Coloring allows a child to relieve stress so that they might just be able to make it through the day

*Coloring (sometimes the color of crayon is significant) empowers a child to tell a story

*Coloring signifies a level playing field for a child.  Oftentimes when we just talk to rather than talk with a child, it is done so to signify who is in charge (the adult).  When wanting to get inside the heart of a child to help them cope with the world, this is not helpful.

We as a society expect too much out of our children and rush them right past this opportunity to connect with themselves and those who are significant in their lives.  We schedule them with all kinds of activities and yet lose our way in getting to know them–really know them.  In schools we push academics (which is important) but don’t give them the skills needed to handle the pressure (and I don’t blame the school system for this, I think the fault lies within the political realm–but that could be another blog entry).

So from now on, I will always have crayons and paper handy.  The power the crayon possesses is really underrated.  Take of advantage of this power and connect with a child.  Both of you will not regret it!

Change of Heart- Thank You Son!

As I approach another birthday at the end of the month (which is inching closer to the half century mark) I have realized I have softened my heart as I have aged.  I don’t know if this is normal or not, but I have always tried to stay open to new ways of thinking and being in the world.  When I was young (in my 20’s) I was pretty obstinate in my beliefs.  But life has a way of making you change those beliefs so that you can sleep at night.

I think what is surprising is that it is still happening—having a change of heart, I mean.  Our son moved back home from the East Coast shortly before Christmas.  It was and is hard on him to be away from his son.   He has a good job and will be starting to school hopefully next month.  He also is a pet lover.  When he was younger, if there was a stray in the neighborhood he would want to stop and try to find its owner.  As he has gotten older too, he has a special heart for a breed of dog that many communities do not allow (such as ours).  Well of course, a friend of his found one such dog along a highway, and yes, he ended up at our house for about 3 days.

And this is what I learned.  I too had a not-so-good opinion of this breed of dogs.  We had told our son from the very beginning when he decided to come back home he could not bring his dog because they were illegal in our community.  Yet, we found ourselves in this quandary.  Also we have a smaller dog that we have had since 2007 and knew it would not be in Wesley’s best interest to have the dog here.  But all this is not the point.  What I learned was that someone somewhere had taken care of this dog.  He is not a puppy but not an old dog either, is very active and strong.  My son kept him in his room at night and in the garage at night.

I did not come to love this dog but I did get an affinity and an appreciation for why my son loves them so much.  I compared it to fostering children.  I loved all the children that stayed with us; but for a variety of reasons we could not keep them with us.  It is the same with this dog.  He was gentle with all of us, would lay at my feet, and put his head on my chest.  Yes, this is how I fell in love with our dog, Wesley!

My son made the decision today to take him to the humane society.  He knew that he could not devote the time and energy this breed requires and was dreading it because he is convinced the dog will eventually be put down.  My heart aches for my son as he did this; because he loved that dog and it is the second time in less than a year that he has had to leave such a pet.

So why am I sharing this?  It is because just like people, how dogs are treated is HUGE in their early years and I learned that over the last few days with this dog.  Yes, is it part of their nature to be aggressive however, we all have that nature at times.

So, although he is hurting and I am too because of his grief, I am praying he is adopted.  And I am thankful to my son for helping me change my heart and grow in compassion to a breed of dogs that are considered very undesirable by most people.

Kids, Books & Faith

On Wednesday evening at my church, we have a time of music and storytelling.  Since the time is limited (1 hour total), I have developed lessons using storybooks.  I have used a couple of websites to help give me ideas (such as Storypath, and Picture Book Theology,  I have discovered this approach lends to simplicity.

Mid-week ministry is getting more and more difficult to do with all the societal pressures facing kids.  What I have discovered over the last year is this allows for creativity yet delivers insightful lessons that impact their world.  So today I thought I would share the one I am using this week.  This is the handout I create to send home with them.

Christian Theme: Listening                                  Reading Level Preschool-3 Grade

Scripture References:

Matthew 11:15 English Standard Version (ESV)

15 He who has ears to hear,[a] let him hear.

God Connection Moments:

This book focuses on listening.  It is a delightful read on an old game called “Telephone”.  The pictures are funny but the point it still relevant today.  Listening half-heartedly is what most of us do and so we only get the story or instructions partially right.  This is a great read to use with children of all ages, talking about the importance of listening before sharing information with others.  It is important to stress that listening is what is best sometimes, rather that talking and not telling a sentence correctly.  This book could also lead into a discussion about gossip with older children.

Activities you can do together: 

Play the game Telephone together, where a simple sentence is twisted and confused as it passes from person to person. Talk about how hard it is to keep the sentence from becoming twisted.

Most of the books for Kids, Books, and Faith are available at the public library or school library.

Maybe not the most profound book, but I know lots of people have experienced Telephone in their life, so read it together and cherish the time!