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”. http://www.etonline.com/media/video/music_video_premiere_pauley_perrette_beautiful_child-159745/index.html

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, storypath.upsem.edu and Picture Book Theology, picturebooktheology.blogspot.com).  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!

Dystopia & Reality

I love The Hunger Games.  I’ve read all the books and have seen all the movies.  Tonight I watched Divergent even though I have not read the book.  These books are a specific genre called dystopia.  I think what is amazing to me is the appeal these books have.  So I decided to look up the definition of dystopia which is

dys·to·pia

 noun \(ˌ)dis-ˈtō-pē-ə\

: an imaginary place where people are unhappy and usually afraid because they are not treated fairly

What strikes me about this definition is that although these worlds are imaginary, they are not all that different than reality.  This thought hit me this evening as I watched Divergent.  In both of the imaginary places in The Hunger Games and the Divergent series, I can unfortunately see our current reality in them.  And for movies or books that are to transport us to other worlds, reality weaves its way into all stories.

As I  look at the second half of the definition, I think about our current state of affairs.  I believe lots of people fall under this description.  Usually the people rally around those who buck system (in the case of these books and movies) to gather the courage to fight for what is important.  But it always involves sacrifice on the part of the hero(es) who suffers a loss of significant magnitude and struggles with the role they have to play.

Outside of the fact that these books are well-written, in both storylines fear is a dominant factor to keep people in their place.  Fear holds people in imaginary chains.  To play on people’s fears is as old as time itself.  It is what makes politicians effective, keeps abusers in a position of power, and unfortunately keeps good people from being courageous.

So what does all this mean,  I guess for me I realized dystopia isn’t that far off from reality.  I just hope more people can be brave, kind, and loving to overcome the fear that dominates.

“We Didn’t Have Them (Kids with ADHD) in My Day” Myth #1

Having a child with ADHD has greatly altered how I work with children.  Lots of what I will share I wished I had known while my child was younger so I could have been a better advocate for him.  It is amazing how people form opinions and judgments based on little or no factual data.  When we received the diagnosis of ADHD, we had many of his teachers tell us they did not believe it really existed, as if it was an act of defiance or apathy rather than a true disorder.  We convinced them otherwise (another story for later).  So I begin this series of myth busting on behalf of all those persons who live with ADHD.  Statistics and/or data will be shared to enlighten those who still believe that ADHD does not exist.

I hear this comment quite a bit –We Didn’t Have Them (people with ADHD)in My Day!  Actually that is incorrect!  Symptoms of ADHD were described as early as 1798 by a physician named Sir Alexander Crichton.  He preceded to write three books on this topic.  The following section gives insight into what exactly he said in those books.

**The second chapter of book II “On Attention and its Diseases” is of special interest to the present subject (ADHD). Crichton begins this chapter with a definition of attention: “When any object of external sense, or of thought, occupies the mind in such a degree that a person does not receive a clear perception from any other one, he is said to attend to it” (Crichton 1798, reprint p. 200). Crichton emphasizes that the intensity of healthy attention varies within a normal range both between individuals and even within a person at different times (Crichton 1798). A distraction of attention does not necessarily have to be pathological, e.g. mental stimuli, volition, or education can have a great impact on healthy attention (Crichton 1798). Crichton distinguishes two possibilities of abnormal inattention as the oppositional poles of pathologically increased or decreased “sensibility of the nerves” (Crichton 1798):

The morbid alterations to which attention is subject, may all be reduced under the two following heads:

First. The incapacity of attending with a necessary degree of constancy to any one object.

Second. A total suspension of its effects on the brain.

The incapacity of attending with a necessary degree of constancy to any one object, almost always arises from an unnatural or morbid sensibility of the nerves, by which means this faculty is incessantly withdrawn from one impression to another. It may be either born with a person, or it may be the effect of accidental diseases.

When born with a person it becomes evident at a very early period of life, and has a very bad effect, inasmuch as it renders him incapable of attending with constancy to any one object of education. But it seldom is in so great a degree as totally to impede all instruction; and what is very fortunate, it is generally diminished with age. (Crichton, 1798, reprint p. 203) **Taken from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3000907

So, as we can see, ADHD has been around quite some time.  One term I believe we need to understand is prevalence.  “Prevalence” measures how common a condition is in a given population at a certain point in time or over a period of time.  No one would disagree that ADHD is more common now.

For example, one survey, the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), gathers data from tens of thousands of U.S. households on a variety of children’s health issues. Comparison of data from 2003 to 2007 shows a increase in the prevalence of ADHD as reported by parents. Here are some findings:

  • Parent-reported rates of ADHD increased 22%, and by 2007, 7.2% of all school-aged children had a diagnosis of ADHD.
  • Diagnosis rates varied by geographical region.
  • Higher rates were generally found in the Southeastern U.S. , with North Carolina and Louisiana having the highest rates.
  •  Lower rates were generally found in the Western and Southwestern U.S. with Nevada and New Mexico having the lowest rate.

Possible explanations for this are:  more screening by doctors and other primary caregivers, improved awareness among the medical community and parents, decreased stigma, and availability of better treatment options (this data is  prepared by the National Resource Center on ADHD: A Program of CHADD (NRC). The NRC is supported through Cooperative Agreement Number CDC-RFA-DD13-1302 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This myth has now been BUSTED!!!!

Christmas Tears

Today was to be the day!  Went to a couple of craft stores and got in the “spirit” of Christmas.  Or so I thought until I pulled out the ornaments.  But I was going to trudge through.  I put some Trans-Siberan Orchestra on Spotify,  took the Dr.  Seuss characters off the tree, and began to decorate.  I was doing fine until I got to “them”.

“Them” is my ornaments my children have made.  Almost all the decor for the tree is full of 26 years of memories and ministry, but the ones the kids made touch me in a special way.  Probably because we have entered the empty nest years and I realize the days of all of being together on Christmas will become less of an annual event and more of an every other year occasion.  And I cried!

When I look at the memories my son has given me through pictures used to create the trimmings of the tree, I realize how much has changed.  He has grown and is a dad with a young son, struggling to provide for his family.  He lives too far away that hearing his voice is the best we can do right now.

My daughter is entering her last semester of college and I cry tears as she looks to the awesome future ahead of her.  Her research (as an undergrad from this summer) is going to be published.  Her future is bright with lots of possibilities ahead.  Yet she is a applying to graduate schools that will take her out of state probably, and so I know the transition will happen again next year.

Christmas tears are nothing new to me.  All the trappings evoke memories that I tried this year to not let out, but to no avail.  For lots of years, I really didn’t enjoy Christmas as a youth due to the death of my grandma several days before Christmas.  So at a young age, I always knew there was more promise to this time of year than tears.  But it is easy to get lost in all of the glistening lights and colorful decor.  That is what I was hoping for this afternoon, yet it was not going to happen.

So, I will finish with the tree, continue to listen to the music, say prayers of thanks and prayers of intercession as I decorate and claim that is enough for now as I shed the Christmas tears.