7 Tips for Better Relationships

Relationships… not easy. 

Recently I had a friend tell me that I have a way of making new people feel welcomed.  I can tell you that I’m not always great at these things or connecting with people.

However, this is something I really care about.

Because I know how it feels to be ignored while good friends chat away.  I don’t want to be that way to another person.  I know how it feels to not be included because they have enough friends already, or maybe my different way of living makes it harder to connect with me.

I know how it feels for people to give up on getting to know me because they don’t know what to talk about beyond the relationship-builder for most women my age: “Do you have kids?”  (“Nope” …makes awkward excuse to end conversation. THANK YOU if you’ve never done that!)

But I also know what it feels like to have someone take the time to get to know me.  To ask about the way I’ve lived and the things I’ve gone through. To hear my story and hopes for the future. To get to know my passions and my heart. To really care about who I am. This is pure treasure. To those that do this: I see you. I notice.

It’s beautiful in friendship, but even more beautiful when it’s family. When we don’t take for granted those relationships, but seek after the other person’s ever-changing heart to know who they are. This is where solid relationships come from.

Length of time knowing someone doesn’t make the difference. We can “know” someone our whole lives, and still not have a clue as to who they truly are or how to have a good relationship with them. There are also beautiful moments of connecting with someone who really gets our heart, making it feel like we’ve been lifelong friends.

Sure, we can’t be close to everyone, but I think we can always improve in relationships… no matter the type. Because they are hard. 

In a world of broken marriages, growing that relationship is worth the effort.

In a world of catty workplaces and power trips, knowing how to connect with a wide variety of people makes a difference.

In a world of friendship break-ups and family distancing, how do we stand strong together?

The theme of my CD is true love in relationships of all kinds. (In case you missed it, I’M RECORDING!!!) So, naturally I’ve been thinking about it, studying Scripture, observing others, and growing in relationships. Of course my social work and ministry degrees/experience help my understanding as well. 🙂

We can all use relationship/friendship tune-ups, no matter how good at them we are. So here are seven things I’ve seen improve relationships of all kinds.

relationship putty

You’re not good enough

and I’m not good enough

but love can make a way

Video // Behind the song

7 Tips for Better Relationships

The key to being a better spouse, friend, family member, co-worker, etc., is learning how to love better. Usually if a relationship is bad, some healing and growth needs to take place. Genuine connection helps with this process as much as with building new relationships.

  1. Ask Questions: Good questions are the hidden treasure of good relationships of all kinds (close or not). People like to feel known and cared about. “Tell me more” is almost always a good response. Be a friend. Get to know them better… they’ll respond and connect better with you. Let them share their stories honestly. Good questions are extra helpful for introverted background-voiced people like me that don’t tend to run conversations in big groups.

 

basileia hug

  1. Listen: Tune in to their words, tone, and body language; care about their preferences, history, and emotions. Seek first to understand (without responding).

 

  1. Learn: Figure out how they feel loved (5 love languages: touch (careful), gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service) and do it!

 

  1. Offer Grace and Mercy: This can range from forgiving them for ways they’ve hurt you (whether or not the close relationship should continue), to offering to meet needs. Be specific: “Can I make you a meal tonight?” “Can I help you clean?” 

 

  1. Be Responsive: Respond to their words. Respond to texts. (HEY 21st century people — let’s do better at this!) Speaking of phones, let’s put our phones down so we can engage with the people right in front of us! (Thanks to my cousin Kara [Fashion expert/blogger Kara Beck Style] for that addition to this post!) Overall, let’s respond to efforts to connect in person. This shows you value the person, even if you don’t intend on being their best friend. 

shoes1

  1. Empathize: Laugh with those who laugh, rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. Don’t squash their excitement of something new, with your experience of difficulty. Don’t use silver-lining/”at least” talk in hard times; be sad with them and amplify their ways of feeling hope. 

hands

  1. Value: Help them keep their dignity. No matter if their physical, social, intellectual, etc abilities are lacking, don’t patronize or look down on them. Do everything in your power to listen to them, empower them, and value them as an individual.
1 Cor

(Calligraphy I did about 10 years ago for Chris.)

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12 Keys to Freedom: Unlocking Peace and Joy

If you’ve ever seen me in a worship context, some of the descriptions of me that might come to mind are: freedom… joy…

Well, I wasn’t always this way.

I remember a few years back attending a marriage conference, and we had time to reflect on areas we needed growth in. It was hard for me to realize that I was sorely lacking in peace and joy.

I spent a significant amount of time on psychotropics and in therapy for anxiety and panic attacks, being imprisoned by my own fears.  I was bound in chains by my mind and emotions, and kept from living fully.

I was writing songs of love, and yet not fully experiencing it. My mental health suffered.

The medication and counseling helped some, but it wasn’t those approaches that set me free. It was actually through abundant grace in seasons of suffering that Jesus brought me to a place of PEACE, JOY, and FREEDOM! During the marriage conference, I had prayed for an increase in those, and God has been faithful to do so… although the journey was difficult and only something that only God could do.

Mental health, anxiety, depression, personality disorders… all these are things that people inside and outside of the Church struggle with. Counseling is almost always a good idea… no matter where you’re at in the journey.  If you feel you need medication to calm your body and brain connections while you walk toward freedom, there is no shame in that either! There is no shame with me, or with Jesus. Come as you are, so we can talk about it openly, and walk together toward victory and freedom. 

I had a couple of HARD years, yet God has given me more peace and true joy (not just happiness) than I’ve ever known before.

Everything inside of me is ROARING like a lion to set you free! BUT, my wisdom can’t do that. 

HOWEVER, “If the son sets free, you will be free indeed!” (John 8:36)

Worship leading

Here are 12 keys* I’ve learned from Him in the journey to my freedom. I hope you will seek His guidance to freedom as well! Maybe take one key each day for the next two weeks to consider and pray about. 

1. Peace and joy are fruits of the Holy Spirit. Build your relationship with God, ask to be filled with the Spirit, and for wisdom to overcome fear and hopelessness.

2. Remember Scripture calls fear a spirit: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). We who are in Christ have authority over spirits! You can command him away in Jesus’ name. Replace that spirit by asking the Holy Spirit to fill that void.

3. Forgive yourself, forgive others. Allow Christ to forgive you and others through you. Love them. Ongoing forgiveness leads to true freedom on so many levels! Think specific. (For example: “Forgive this filmmaker that made this disturbing scene that is opening up a gate in my mind for fear to come in.” “Forgive me for not remembering that I am a beloved daughter of the King and so allowing fear of people’s thoughts about me to bring shame into my life.” “Forgive my parent for not speaking hope into me as a child in this instance […].” “Forgive this leader in my life for not leading me from a place of security and joy.”)

4. Worship… not just on Sundays, but in every moment. Focus on how God loves you and has been good to you. Love others out of this love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18a).

5. Don’t fear suffering. Remember God works all things for good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), grace is sufficient for weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and mercies are new every morning:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:19-26 (NIV)

 

6. Remember how God faithfully led you in the past, and trust He will continue in the future. As you depend on God, He will give you enough strength for just what He’s calling you to do in each season. (Let the rest go.)

7. Fix your spiritual eyes on Christ. Meditate on Scripture. Ask God to keep showing you the good way to go.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)

8. Allow yourself to live… allow yourself to let go… allow yourself to have sabbath rest. Cast your cares on God. You can’t control it all, and you can’t solve all the world’s problems. 

9. Take authority in Christ. Claim victory in Jesus; don’t live as a victim in defeat. Remember that angels are fighting for us. 

This is the last thing I want to say: Be strong with the Lord’s strength. Put on the things God gives you to fight with. Then you will not fall into the traps of the devil. Our fight is not with people. It is against the leaders and the powers and the spirits of darkness in this world. It is against the demon world that works in the heavens. Because of this, put on all the things God gives you to fight with. Then you will be able to stand in that sinful day. When it is all over, you will still be standing. 

So stand up and do not be moved. Wear a belt of truth around your body. Wear a piece of iron over your chest which is being right with God. Wear shoes on your feet which are the Good News of peace. Most important of all, you need a covering of faith in front of you. This is to put out the fire-arrows of the devil. The covering for your head is that you have been saved from the punishment of sin. Take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

You must pray at all times as the Holy Spirit leads you to pray. Pray for the things that are needed. You must watch and keep on praying. Remember to pray for all Christians.

Ephesians 6:10-18 (NLV)

10. Live in the moment. Pay attention to things, big and small, that are beautiful to you. Thank God for them. “Gratitude breeds joy.”

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)

11. Surround yourself with life-giving people who are full of the Holy Spirit. Connection helps everything.

12. Remember the ultimate hope is the reign of God on earth and in heaven… someday ALL will be made new!  Ultimately we cannot work our way to freedom. Freedom is a gift… receive it as such!

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

*One important disclaimer: These are all keys… but NOT the door.

Jesus said:

 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

John 10:9-10 (NKJV)

Principles don’t save us; Jesus does.  All of these keys are simply relationship builders to help us trust the one who can give us an abundant life filled with peace and joy. So above all, we seek to know and love Him as a person, and we simply receive the mental, emotional, and spiritual freedom that He offers us.

But we don’t do this alone. I pray as you walk toward freedom, you take others along on the journey as well!

Much love.

Songs about Justice written by a Social Worker

In March, we celebrate that fact that every day, some 682,000 social workers across the nation act as advocates, champions and leaders who make our society a better place to live.
– NASW / socialworkers.org
When most musicians write songs about justice, they might be drawing on a few small experiences…. a sad story on the news here, maybe encountering a homeless person there, supporting a relief organization somewhere else, etc. The lyrics might move us emotionally, but do little to help us understand what is needed to make a difference.
When I write songs, I have a deeper understanding of social issues from being a social worker… actually going into dark places myself, looking into the eyes of the oppressed, and trying to bring some light to their world. From serving refugees to survivors of severe abuse, to people without homes and people with dementia, I bring a unique perspective to my writing.  I approach my songwriting from a place of actually loving people, knowing their stories, and reflecting on things I’ve learned along the way about what is needed to actually help.
Songwriting
Nearly all my song bring some level of being influenced by my social work, but there are a few that are the most obvious…
 – Blog post – Behind the Song
 – Blog post – Behind the Song
 – (coming… on my next CD!)
 – Blog post – Behind the Song
Other Writing
I’ve also written a book, because I didn’t want to just leave you at inspiration.  I wanted to go to the next level of equipping (blog post about that), knowing that even the most inspired compassionate person needs to learn what it actually takes to make a difference in justice.

book cover

Surviving Service: Effective Response to God’s Call for Justice
(paperback / ebook / also available through Amazon, Apple, etc.)
I’ve also been writing a number of follow-up blog posts (Surviving Service) for further equipping of those who are inspired to respond with compassion and hope to various social justice needs all around us.
I hope you will come along with me as I share stories all around me that we can all learn and grow from!
#SocialWorkMonth

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?

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!