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!

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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