Learning to Co-Write Life

I try to hear what God is saying in each season, so I can continue learning and growing. Then I like to pass on those lessons to whomever will receive them.

Co-Writing Songs, Co-Writing Life

Recently, I’ve been growing in community. Here are three things I’ve learned through working with others as a songwriter and a family member. 

Prune and Pursue

Be willing to let some things go to pursue better things.

John 15:2b “[…] every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

“I could choose… but I choose you. You’re worth it all.” (I Choose)

songwriting teamIn January, my church’s songwriting team looked back on 2018 and found we had almost 40 songs available to develop or finalize. But in the whole year, only 1 was used, and about 5-7 songs were in the production process. Part of this was because excellent songwriting takes time, but we also had to figure out what was most worth pursuing. In our first 2019 meeting, we had to humble ourselves to sideline a lot of songs. As hard as it was to let go, this allowed us to focus on developing our strongest few songs (the ones right for our congregation now) into the best songs they could be. Personally, this helped me edit two songs in one week!

sandyAround this time, I had a choice to make: I could be concerned about getting Sandy, my cellist, in to record her final two songs before moving to Seattle, OR I could live my lyrics. After 4 years of preparing to record, I finally was able to start… but then my Grandpa began the dying process late-January, up in Rochester. As I was praying about what to do, the phrase “ministry of presence” came to mind. I knew God wanted me to go. My cellist affirmed it, reminding me that it’s good to live my lyrics. As hard as it was to let go of the recording goal, I was glad to obey… knowing I was in the center of God’s will for me gave me peace, and I had joy that I was able to show love to my Grandpa and my family by setting aside my everyday life in order to help in his care. This has been a fruitful time in so many ways. I’m trusting even more fruit will come from this time, and from the music because I allowed the pruning, and pursued the better.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Better things come from collaboration.

Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

“We’ve all got a lot to say… but who’s gonna listen?” (Heartbeat)

I brought in a song. With a few minor tweaks, we all thought it was basically done. But then, little by little, more tweaks came… until it became a very different song altogether. Bekah noticed something didn’t quite flow. Ryan noticed the concept could use some developing in consistency. Josh suggested simplifying the verses. Bekah suggested a couple melody shifts. Each of these critiques not only improved the song, but challenged me to dig deeper to figure out what God really wanted to say through the song. The concept went from simple declarations of trust, to exploring the purpose of God calling us out into hard places. I’ve learned a lot about this by experience, and, looking back at the process, I believe God wanted me to share these Scripture-based insights through this song, so people can know Him better. Had I not opened this song up to serious critique from my church family, and just left it at the initial feedback, I never would have written the very thing that I needed to share through this song.  

togetherMy first night in caring for my dying Grandpa was a bit rough. I had only been there a couple days and was just getting the hang of his needs. But I felt ready to do what I had come here to do. My Uncle slept in the chair next to Grandpa. I was on the other side, praying I’d be awake when Grandpa had a need. There were a few times when I tried to do something, but my Uncle either questioned my choice or told me after how I could’ve done it better. I could’ve gotten defensive and angry, allowing my pride at being grown and an experienced caregiver to dictate my response. Instead, realizing his heart for Grandpa to receive the best care possible, God helped me choose to listen and respect his correction for next time. Following that night, it got a lot smoother.

Beauty of the Body

We all play our part.

1 Corinthians 12:14 “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”

“You’re not good enough, and I’m not good enough… but love can make a way.” (Love Can Make a Way)

chordEven though we all go to the same church, and we’re writing for the same church, our songs are as diverse as the people on the team. Cultural background, church history, theological understanding, music interest, and passions all play a part in bringing a unique song. Ryan’s songs sometimes have a bit of an Irish flavor, and he is incredible at writing modern hymns. In editing, he’s been my chord variation and lyric critique guy. Bekah’s songs have been great at portraying profound truth in simple phrasing. She’s my melody critique. My songs tend to be filled with story and imagery. I mostly help with lyric improvements and making songs more congregational-friendly. Other team members have written differently and added editing value in unique ways. Critiques are all done with love for each other and our city, and a commitment to excellence that reflects how incredible our God is. Once a song goes through our team, it might have a slightly different flavor than the writer brought, but it’s usually a much better version in the end. If any of our teammates are missing from the process, we feel it, and the song suffers. BUT when everyone comes together, it’s a beautiful thing, with powerful results! The variety of songs that are developing is a picture of the body of Christ at work; the diverse work will reach way more people that one person could alone!

Mom BumpaIn caring for my dying Grandpa, the beauty of a family (and community) coming together is unmistakable. We could all focus on saying our goodbyes to Grandpa, the family home, and generations of memories within, because of everyone doing their part. My sister took care of chores at Mom’s house, and I stayed at Grandpa’s to do “night shift” care. My mom came between bus runs, led medical care, and stayed some nights. My Aunt Sue came in from Florida to help, my Uncle Kerry took a leave of absence from work in order to spend nights (and days) with him, and my cousin Craig and his wife Emilee spent almost every day helping. Family members and friends came evenings and weekends. North Greece ambulance brought oxygen tanks when our power went out, and our community provided abundant meals to us throughout the process. Hospice care tried discouraging our family from taking on Grandpa’s care at home, but we have lived like the body of Christ, each doing our part to honor our Grandpa’s wishes and give him loving care at home in his final days this side of heaven.

Just like songwriting, life is done better together, isn’t it?

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Caring about Black History Month as a White Woman

February is Black History month… did it pass you by without noticing?

Other years, it did for me.

Why would I, as a white woman, care to write a post for Black History Month?

Because I’ve been listening to my black friends, and I think it’s time I shared what I’ve heard.

Because for most of my life, I thought that black history was just that… history. That having a couple black friends was enough to say racism didn’t affect me.  I thought a fluffy color-blind approach made a difference. That I didn’t actually need to enter into the stories and pain of people who don’t look like me. That just talking about love and unity and being nice was enough. It’s not.

Because for most of my life, I haven’t gotten to know my black friends just as much as I’ve known my white friends. I haven’t sought out and listened to the voices of black leaders. I haven’t done my part to change the perception of black people in my spheres of influence.

Because even though I’m half German (just think of my people’s past…), upon first glance, the majority of people in the US would probably trust me. My black friends (whose people have been victimized by this country over and over again), don’t have that same luxury.

 

Why do I care to write this post?

 

Because if my friends and I lived here just one or two hundred years ago, I would have been told that these same people were only 3/5ths of a person… as a compromise. I would learn to read and write, as they worked in harsh conditions, fearing beatings from people that looked like me.

Because in Philadelphia in 1787, people who looked like me came to people who look like my friends and, while they were in prayer, forced them out of the church. So they had to start their own, with a “Slave Bible” that people who look like me edited to cover the fact that God wanted them free.

Because right when blacks were finally starting to thrive as free people, people that look like me burned their houses and businesses, and put them in jail without proof of wrongdoing. All to keep them down. People that look like me terrorized of my friends’ grandparents. 

And people who looked like me looked the other way. 

No more.

Because one of the last KKK lynchings of a black person (19 year old Michael Donald in Alabama) occurred just 5 years before I was born. I have friends from Alabama. This man could have been my friend.

Because American slavery lasted 246 years, segregation lasted 89 years (longer than the Babylonian exile — a major part of the Old Testament), and we’re only 65 years post-segregation. My Grandpa was about my age when integration started.

AND YET people that look like me ask my black friends to forget about this traumatic past (where we treated them as less than human), and not notice the residual effects of these times, and not have gut responses to these residual effects (including continued traumatic events) that resemble PTSD. What?!

Because reconciliation and overcoming systemic injustice takes a lot more than nice words.

 

Why do I care to write this post?

 

Because I have heard stories of black children wishing they were white. I want them to know that they are made in the Image of God, just like me.

Because many black people have felt they have to put aside their culture, and dress, do their hair like, and talk like white people to show their value.  Even then, they still get type-casted (or worse) by people that look like me.

Because I have heard countless stories of black people doing little things wrong, and people that look like me overreacting out of fear and anger, causing even more pain to black people.

Because by contrast, someone that looks like me shot nine of my black siblings in a church less than 4 years ago… and by the strength of God a son of one of the nine, Chris Singleton, still preaches love and forgiveness.

Because black people are still discriminated against in education, in housing, in hiring, in the criminal justice system, etc. These are researched facts. Our systems hinder my black friends from progressing as far as people that look like me. Some of them result to decisions out of hopelessness that perpetuate the cycle. I mourn our history and our present situation.

Because black people are trying to share their pain and sorrows, but people who look like me are getting defensive, rather than listening and mourning with them.

Because within the last month, I heard someone in my hometown once again dehumanize a black child, referring to him as a “black monster.”

Because meanwhile, my black friend regularly heads from the inner city all the way out to my small hometown church, to serve a nearly all-white community with his gift of music and worship leading… and he does so humbly and with joy.

Because we fear what we don’t know. It takes knowing to love. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

Because I believe God cares about this.

 

Why do I care to write this post? 

 

Because people who look like me need to start listening to voices that don’t look like me.

What if I listened instead of trying to change your mind?

What if I took the time to see life through your eyes?

How can I love my brother if we don’t understand each other?

And help to heal the pain.

Heartbeat

Because the black Church and its leaders are INCREDIBLE! I could write a whole post on this, and I’m just scratching the surface with what I’ve seen. They show the rest of the world what Christ-like LOVE looks like in action, on so many levels. I want to sit at their feet and learn from them.

Because the black Church has led the way in meeting the needs of the poor and oppressed and empowering suffering communities.

Because the black Church has forgiven us again, and again, and again, and again…

Because people like Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks could have justified fighting the hundreds of years of mistreatment of their people with weapons, yet even through persecution, they chose the high road.

(Because as a white woman, there are more black leaders that I should have remembered learning about than just these two and a few others.)

…Have some black people not chosen the high road? Has there been negative behavior by black people? Absolutely. But this is true for white people as well. For every race.

Because I’ve been learning from black preachers and listening to gospel artists… and it’s been different, and beautiful.

Because my dance ministry leader taught me to battle from a place of peace and live in a spirit of freedom. My other dance ministry sisters taught me what it means to live in the power and authority of being a daughter of the King.  Other church leaders I’ve worked with have taught me about humble servant leadership, and boldly declaring truth.

Because when my team and I started joining a primarily black Christian community in worship, our brothers and sisters welcomed us with open arms. 

Because I love these people, and I wouldn’t be who I am without them.

Because I spent 4 years in ministry school, 2 years in social work school, a few days at conferences, the last 5 weeks reading Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice by Pastor Eric Mason alongside people from a variety of backgrounds, and I am only just beginning my learning journey… and I want to take you along. 

You know what I learned?

 

Black history is our history. We are family… it’s time to start acting like it.

20597117_10213319157910636_6312277301565208416_n

So here is my post:

 

I, Stefanie, as a white, social working, community-welcoming, worship leading, co-creating child of God, am going to demonstrate justice as an outworking of my faith by:

  1. Teaching the truth about Imago Dei and the Kingdom of God through my creations,
  2. and continuing to:
    1. Welcome people who don’t look like me into my home, and celebrate their voices in my worldview and work.
    2. Not be silent, but echo and advocate for the voices of the downtrodden.
    3. Support empowering work done in the lives and communities of the oppressed.

When conflict arises or it feels too hard, I will focus on Jesus’ sacrifice and sufficient grace for me, and seek community support. I will not go the easy route, submit to the lesser mission, ignore the call, or become distracted.

My plan to stay accountable is to make ongoing creation goals, and partner with my family and my Woke Church family.

 

Will you join me?

Signs of God in Grandpa’s Dying Journey

Death is a strange thing. It causes even the surest of men to break, and to contemplate things typically pushed aside.

It’s counterintuitive to realize that through my encounters with dying loved ones over the past few years (including a personal near-death experience), it’s in my grief that I’ve actually grown to experience more hope, peace, and joy than ever before. That’s the power and grace of God.

That’s what I want to share today… moments when I saw God’s power and grace shining through as my incredible Grandpa went through the dying process. Things that, to me, were undeniably God showing His infinite love.

It was the power of God in our weakness that gave my family strength to bring Grandpa home for his final days. The hospice agency tried to discourage it at first, but out of love and respect for Grandpa’s wishes, the family moved ahead with the plans. It was the grace of God (and the willingness of family) that made it possible for us to care for him with very little assistance from outsiders.

Mom BumpaIt was the grace of God’s timing that allowed my Aunt Sue to be retired and able to come up from Florida, my Uncle to take family leave to stay by his side each night, my Mom and cousins to have more flexibility in their schedule to be there more (including Mom’s nights by his side), and my sister and me to be able to come up from Charleston to help.

aunt helenIt was grace that got Grandpa’s sweet 95-year-old sister Helen (who is normally too anxious to leave her house) over to say goodbye while he was still able to interact some.

I saw the gracious beauty of family love, as we all took turns caring for and showing our love to Grandpa. When the power went out on Saturday night, it was the grace of God that kept us warm and supplied enough oxygen to keep Grandpa on it until the power resumed. On nights when Grandpa cried out or writhed in pain, my Uncle Kerry would hold his hand and say, “I’m right here, Dad,” reminding me of God’s presence even in our worst times. It was a heartbreaking yet beautiful sight of Father and son.

GinaIt was grace that gave us medicine, a cat that never left his side, and our presence to comfort him. It was grace that showed his body changing so his loved ones could prepare for and be present in his journey home. It was grace that gave me opportunities to love my Grandpa through practical care in his final days, and to minister to my family in various ways as we sat together.

It was the power and grace of God responding to our cries for help that allowed him to get some rest after a terrible time of what seemed like hours of coughing and not being able to catch his breath (medicine was just not helping!).

book

After telling Grandpa he can go with Jesus whenever he’s ready, it was the power and grace of God that revealed to me the day and time that Grandpa would be going home.

The Day:

One night as I stayed with Grandpa, the clearest thing I heard from him that night was a conversation with George.

“Hi George!”

[Is he dreaming or getting a visitation from the other side?]

He finishes the conversation. All in a happy tone.

“Yeah, I’ll be there in a couple days.”

I asked mom and her siblings the next day who George is. They had no idea.

That night, my cousin, sister, and I were snooping around the house like we used to, reminiscing over our childhood memories there. We stumbled upon a pile of photos. We decided to bring them down since we’d been going through photos together. One of them was a black and white photo of a young man, with “George” written on the back.

We still have no idea who exactly George is, but Grandpa went home when he told George he’d be there.

The Time:

Friday morning, we heard from the hospice nurse that he probably had about a day left. That afternoon I heard the song “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman, which is about a Father/daughter relationship. This was my father-daughter dance at my wedding reception, so I started to get emotional. Then I thought of my own Mom saying goodbye to her father, which is around when I heard the lyrics:

I don’t want to miss even one song

‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight

And she’ll be gone

The Holy Spirit revealed to me that I’m not just getting emotional, but that this was a message from the Lord that Grandpa would be leaving us around midnight.

Screenshot_20190218-183525We watched for the traditional signs, but nothing really seemed obvious all night that he was in his last few hours. Many in the family figured he’d pass sometime the next day.  But I couldn’t get that message out of my head, so I texted my sister.

(Of course doubt crept in: What if I’m wrong? Maybe it’s tomorrow! …so I was nervous to say it out loud to other people. But the Lord has been reminding me over and over again lately that I belong to God, so I know Jesus’ voice, so I hear him when he speaks! [See John 10.] I’m trying to walk in confidence about that.)

Our last cousin (Erika) to come was due in that night from Florida. Ohhh was I praying hard that she’d make it in time!

It was a couple minutes before midnight that I noticed my cousin Emilee (who was holding Grandpa’s hand) looked up at her husband Craig to signal something. I noticed the time and so casually walked over to give Grandpa a kiss and stroke his head a little. His breathing suddenly changed to be shallower.

That’s exactly when Erika walked in!

We walked her right over and all stood by his bedside.

Through heavy sobs, Erika said her goodbyes to Grandpa. Peacefully, he took his last breath.

Grace. Power. Beautiful love of God to allow that moment.

That night, the wind chimes on his porch sounded as though angels were playing them… a beautiful peaceful sound to remember the honor and gift of walking Grandpa home.

wedding kiss

An image came to mind of Grandpa, with enthusiasm, laughing and saying “We did it! Nice job sweetie!” with a big smile on his face.

I can only imagine the beautiful sights he saw for the first time, the joy he felt, and the overwhelming love from the Father he experienced as Jesus said, “Well done, my good and faithful one.”

Life Lessons from Dementia

James 1:27 New International Version (NIV)
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

 

Over the past 9 months I’ve had the honor of getting to know, serve, and love people who have dementia/Alzheimer’s.  My beloved beautiful Grandma, and Grandma-in-laws, also have/had the diseases.  This is part of what inspired one of my songs: Legacy of Love.

Some people talk about how terrible of a disease it is, and how sad it is getting old.  Trust me when I say, I’ve experienced the reasons people say this.  Changing personalities, difficulty communicating, loss of life skills, anxiety-driven suspicions and anger are only the tip of the iceberg. So I agree, but only to a certain point.

I’ve seen how God can actually use dementia to redeem the world around us.

Personally, working with people with dementia has taught me a new level of compassionate, Christ-like love.  Caring for many people up until their last day on Earth, I’ve learned the value of life up until the very end.

They may change dramatically, but there is still life to be lived and loving relationships to be continued. Even if they forget exactly who you are, you can still have years of enjoyment.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from people with Dementia… 

These lessons can help caregivers, but also can be applied to the rest of life for every person as well:

Social connection is essential for every person.

People with Dementia still get lonely. Even if they forget who you are, it’s important to spend time with them. The emotional memory makes a difference in their day.  Sometimes people change to be almost unrecognizable, but there’s always a way to connect.

Certain things are almost universal:Alzwalk

  • Smiles and laughter
  • Love for family/friends
  • Reminiscing about earlier times
  • Looking at photos
  • Enjoying a sweet treat together
  • Enjoying good music and dancing
  • Enjoying the scent of flowers, delicious food, perfumes, etc.
  • Enjoying the beauty of nature or art
  • Caring for animals or children
  • The satisfaction from purposeful work, such as setting a table, cleaning, baking… even if it’s not quite perfect anymore.
  • Friendly touch: back-rubs, holding hands, hugs

Kindness goes a long way!

People that have no (or confused) memory of who I am or how they know me can still remember that I’m a person they want to be around. They remember that I care, I’m playful and fun, and that I’m full of joy and love! May this be true for every person I meet.

Most of communication is nonverbal.

Communicate accordingly.

Probably about half of the residents I work with don’t have clear verbal communication (either jumbled words, repetitious phrases, not understanding others, or mostly yes/no responses). I can still sense the emotions behind what they’re trying to say, and have a meaningful “conversation” …comforting the sad/confused/anxious, laughing with the joyful, and guiding through next steps if they have a need.

A friendly approach (slow, non-confrontational, not hovering over, greeting) helps tear down defenses. This is made SO obvious by people with dementia (resisting help, aggressive responses, etc.), but emotional defenses are common in everyone, the rest of us just hide it better. If you approach people with respect and care, like you’re on their side, they’re more likely to treat you as an ally rather than an enemy.

Smile! Laugh! Dance! Use friendly touch to show love and care. 

Respect works.

Any. other. way. does. not.

Treat adults like adults, even if you have to guide them through things step-by-step. Scolding, belittling, or patronizing is offensive to any adult (no matter the age or ability), and puts up walls that prevents people from working as a team.

It’s important to get to know people as people, rather than treating them as means to an end. Getting to know someone’s preferences and personality can go a long way towards interacting with them positively.

People like to have choices. If you can help it, always give a choice. This especially helps people who feel like they don’t have much control over their situation. It tells them that what they think, want, and value, matters.

The desire to be useful never goes away.  Allowing people to help, teach, and guide you brings joy at any age. Don’t do for another what they can do for themselves. If they need help, do it with them.

It’s ok to live life at a slower pace.

People have told me I have a lot of patience. Working with people with dementia has grown this fruit of the Spirit exponentially. It’s a beautiful thing.

But, just as important… in this fast-paced culture, they remind me to slow down. To take time to experience things fully through the senses. To really appreciate sweet treats, a nice walk outside, and the process of gardening.  This is something I need.  They help me in this way.

Alzwalk2

Your life doesn’t lose value at the end.

Think about where you think the value of a life comes from.

Is it simply the ability to work?

Or just bring joy?

Can it come from simply existing and so teaching another person to love better? 

Dying well is important.

Hospice can sometimes bring more life to the last part of a loved one’s life. I’ve seen countless people go from totally out of it, to being able to participate in activities and conversations, once hospice gets involved.  It’s a really great service that can help make the end of life better for everyone.

I’ve learned more about the phases of the end of life through this process, and how much better it is to walk through each step with a dying person, accepting however they want/need to walk through it.

We’re all going to die. If given a choice, how would you like to enter eternity? How would your loved one like to? If we face the reality of death early, it will help us to live abundantly and die with grace. 

John 10:10 New International Version (NIV)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

I believe with certainty that if you accept Jesus’ sacrifice for you on the cross, death will be a door to everlasting beauty, joy, and goodness. Will I see you there?

Romans 10:9 New International Version (NIV)
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

15 Life-Changing Perspectives on Marriage

“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” – Mother Teresa

My hubby and I just celebrated 6 years as a married couple… time flies when you’re having fun! 😉

Over the years I’ve learned perspectives that have changed not only my marriage for the better, but my life.  I wanted to share the best of what I’ve learned so far, to help you on your journey.

  1. Marriage, and my spouse, is a gift from God! Treasure it and treat them as such.
    • (Card written by my friend Marissa Ruper… loved the shift in perspective from what culture tells us!)
  2. Marriage is not 50/50 give and take, it’s 100/100 giving. Always think of ways I can give more to bless the one I love and I’ll worry much less about what my spouse is giving.
    • (Pre-marital counseling with Mark Randall from Cru.)
  3. When I entered into marriage, I decided I would forgive and let go of 7 things my spouse does that I don’t like. I don’t remember what those 7 are, so when my spouse annoys me in some way, I figure it must be one of the 7 to forgive.
    • (Passed on from my friend Valerie Lind.)
  4. When I feel like he’s not being good enough for me, I think of the ways I’m not good enough for him. We both need grace.
    • (Straight from the Lord!)
  5. Having a good relationship is more important than being right.
    • (Ministry school.)
  6. We are on the same team. Fight like it.
    • (Marriage conference.)
  7. Don’t try to change my spouse. Love my spouse as is.
    • (Marriage conference.)
  8. Unmet expectations are the cause of most conflicts. Often these expectations go unexpressed. Express the important ones respectfully, and change the less important ones.
    • (Social work school and counseling.)
  9. Always speak highly of my spouse to others. This shows love and respect.
    • (Becky Arcadi in Cru.)
  10. God and my spouse comes before every other person and tasks. My time, talents, and treasures should reflect this.
    • (Marriage conference.)
  11. We are now one.  Every decision affects the other person. 
    • (Marriage conference.)
  12. There is safety in the covenant of marriage that exceeds all other relationships.  When we’ve confessed before God that our marriage is for life, our trust and unity will increase and we’ll work through challenges together as one. 
    • (Marriage conference and Amanda & Yvonne Gibson.)
  13. Value the differences in my spouse.  God designed them on purpose to refine me and to make us a powerful team that shares God’s love with the world.  The sum is greater than its parts. 
    • (Fellowship Church.)
  14. Love is not a feeling, it’s an interaction.  Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast.  Love is not proud, rude, or self-seeking. Love is not easily angered and doesn’t keep track of wrongs done. Love finds joy in truth, rather than evil things. Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails.
    • (Scripture.)
  15. We have God. If we seek first the Kingdom of God, all else will be taken care of.
    • (Grandma and Scripture.)

Gratitude and Celebration

What are you grateful for? Have you celebrated these things lately? It’s an important part of surviving service!

I love that my church has a culture of celebration, and embraces passionate gratitude expressed in worship!

Excerpts from Surviving Service: Effective Response to God’s Call for Justice (pages 165, 167)

“The victims of injustice in our world don’t need our spasms of passion; they need our long obedience in the same direction—our legs & lungs of endurance; and we need sturdy stores of joy“ (Gary Haugen, International Justice Mission).

If we want to last in caring for other people, we need to know how to care for ourselves.

We know that the harvest is messy, people are messy, and change takes time. Therefore,
anytime we see even the smallest of victories, we need to celebrate them! Celebrate changes in people, circumstances, communities, and policies. Celebrate things you
helped accomplish, others helped accomplish, and God accomplished. Do so with zeal!

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Celebrate life! Part of actively pursuing self-care is remembering and recognizing the goodness of life, God, and people. Notice the good things out there. Celebrate however you like (as long as it’s not destructive, of course); dance, worship, or have a party! Be thankful. Thankfulness brings joy!

The Harvest is Messy – a lesson in hope and self care

This excerpt from my book, Surviving Service: Effective Response to God’s Call for Justice (pages 158-160), was a helpful reminder to me this month as I worked through some issues in my current (incredibly challenging) helping role.  I hope it encourages you as well!

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38)

I used to think of the harvest as a glorious final gathering from all the work that had been done. But it is actually pretty rough out there. There are thorns, snakes, muddy areas, and rotten crops to work around.

The harvest is plentiful, but messy. 

No matter how hard you try, you will be affected by those things. It will affect your life in both good and hard ways, so you need to be prepared to work through difficulties.  

A mission trip leader once put it like this: “If you’re not getting hit by the shrapnel, you’re not close enough to the war.”

You may end up taking some things home with you, mentally and emotionally. What you see may impact your relationships and how you view people around you. For survival and longevity in this type of work, it is essential not to allow the problems you encounter to take over your personal life. When you start to see that happening, step back a bit and make sure you take care of yourself.

We cannot bring hope to others when we do not embrace it ourselves.

A friend once reminded me, “People like us tend to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Our job is simply to join into the positive things around the world. Don’t doubt in the darkness what you learned in the light.” There is hope, and we need to hold onto it!

Above all, we need to hold onto the joy and hope of the Lord as our strength, rather than any fleeting feelings of success in helping people. 

God’s light is bright enough to illuminate the darkest places!

Supporting through Loss & Grief

I wish I had written about this in my book.  

But honestly I really hadn’t lived it until this year.  As I walk through my own losses and alongside others who have experienced a variety of loss, I’m seeing that people (including Christians) just don’t know how to handle it. I know I’ve grown a lot recently in my understanding! We all have good intentions… but few understand what’s truly needed.

I’ve had my fair share of “foot-in-mouth” moments over the years and even a few recently, but here are some things I’ve learned along the journey…

Don’t be silent about the loss or wait for them to bring it up.

Acknowledge the loss and mourn it with them.  Keep asking how they’re handling it… it will change over time.

Popular opinion is that bringing it up will remind them of the loss.  Trust me, they’re already thinking about it daily… and wishing someone would mention it.  Even if they look like they’re over it or doing just fine, bring it up in quiet moments.  Allow them the option to talk about it or not talk about it in the moment.  (Sometimes it’s just not the place or time.)

If it was the loss of a person, say the person’s name. Continue to honor the person’s life.  Imagine together what it would be like if the person was here. Do this for the rest of your life.

Avoid silver lining or comparison talk.

(For example: “At least your severance is better than others got.” “God has another job for you.” “There’s hope for another child.” “At least you didn’t lose your baby later in the pregnancy or after he was born.” “He lived a lot longer than a lot of people with this disease.” “He had a good long life.”  “We know he’s in heaven.”)

Don’t try to find magic words to make them feel better. There are none. Although your statement may be true… it’s not particularly helpful. Chances are the person grieving has already thought of these things.  They’ll feel your support more if their loss is validated. 

Allow the person to talk about it. Or sit in silence. Mourn with those who mourn. Ask how they’re processing it, and then empathize and affirm what they’re feeling… trust me, that’s the best thing.

Don’t put your timeline on the mourning or think they’ll get over it.

grief(“Gosh that was years ago, why is she crying? When will she move on?”  “It’s been a couple months, I’m sure she’s handling life just fine by now.”)

Recognize the loss will always remain. The experience will change but it will never go away. A new child doesn’t replace another.  A new spouse doesn’t replace another. The loss is still felt.

Offer to help months down the road.  The change will be felt and need to be adjusted to in countless ways for a long time.

Remember, even if you went through something similar, you don’t understand completely.

Reach out to offer your friendship, but listen more than you speak. Share your story if asked, without comparing.

“Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” is a good starting point, but don’t stop there.

That’s really sweet, but it’s better to offer specific tasks.

(With every loss, there is a ton to do and a ton to think through… Yet the ongoing task of grieving takes up time and energy, and is demotivating to the rest of life.  It also clouds people’s thinking. They’re in survival mode. Chances are someone in crisis or mourning isn’t going to have organized thought-processes enough to figure out what she needs and remember who to ask (or feel comfortable doing it.)

Reach out and ask if you can bring a meal after others stop bringing them. (Then only go in if invited.) Ask if you can mow the lawn. Ask if you can put on a low-key girls night (tentative to the person feeling up to it). Plan something to honor the person on anniversaries.

Check yourself to make sure you’re not turning the person into your personal project to make yourself feel good.

Treat them as a friend, not a charity case. Allow them to do for themselves what they can and want to do.  Allow them to just be and have fun if they’re not up for talking about it seriously in the moment.

If we forget everything I wrote here, it’s ok.  As long as we remember that God calls us to, “mourn with those who mourn” (and remember that mourning is a long process), then we’ll be off to a good start.

Feeling Small in a World of Disasters

Disasters have a tendency to humble us.  We realize how small we are in comparison to the storm, and how little we can do in comparison to the need.  But I assure you, God is big enough.

Excerpts from Surviving Service: Effective Response to God’s Call for Justice (pages 44, 45, 109) —

We know that God goes with us and that He is working through His people. Yet when I see people in need, I sometimes feel alone; I forget I am not the only person who can help.  The question of “Am I doing enough?” should ultimately be redirected toward the Church as a whole, with you as an active part. As the old adage goes, “I can’t do everything, but everyone can do something!” We need to remember that we are a part of the body of Christ:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:4-8)

hazmat

We need to get other people involved! We can only do so much on our own. Get to know other people in your church community who have a passion for [helping]. You may be able to collaborate on projects like fundraisers, donation gathering, [trips,] events, and more.

So, can you give $5 today? Great! That combined with the same donation from ten other people makes $50. You can adjust your budget to give more in the future. Can you use your talent to serve someone today? Awesome! Leave the rest to other people with different gifts. Can you advocate for policies that improve situations in places where you can’t go? That helps too! When giving of your time and talents, focus on doing one or two things very well, rather than spreading yourself thin trying to do everything. God wants to work through all of us. Don’t take joy away from other people by trying to do it all.

ladderOn one of my disaster relief trips, I was the only one brave enough to paint on a tall ladder. So that’s what I did all week! Some of my peers were gifted in caring for babies, which has never been my gifting. So when the homeowner was there, some of them stopped painting to talk with the woman and play with her baby. She appreciated it so much! Was one of us caring for the woman more than the other? Absolutely not! Both gifts met her various needs.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)

New Resources to Guide your Heart and Life of Service

(This is my first of many posts in my “Surviving Service” series, which is meant to be a resource for YOU, on various topics relating to living a more purposeful, abundant, and fulfilling life. I want you to become an artist of the heart: interacting with and serving the world around you in ways that inspire hope and compassion, for others and for yourself.)

I wanted to share my new resources with you, which are based on Surviving Service: Effective Response to God’s Call for Justice.

21-Day Service Challenge
Take small daily challenges meant to help you become the loving servant God has called you to be. Are you up for the challenge?

How Should I Serve?
A questionnaire designed to clarify your purpose as a servant and guide your volunteering/giving. 

Feel free to share these resources!

 

With hope & compassion,

Stefanie, artist of the heart