Learning from those you’ve taught

When our children were young it was hard to imagine them taller than ourselves, driving a car, waking up to their own alarm clock without our knock on the bedroom door as the back up, getting to work, on-time, 5 days a week, paying rent, deciding where to live and with whom without your time, effort or approval.  It’s hard to imagine them as an adult separate from yourself, living a life that is full, vibrant and apart from your care.   And even harder to imagine that they would be my teacher, my  mentor and a model in areas of my life.  Inconceivable in the early years.  Getting a daily shower was inconceivable in the earliest years.  I find myself beyond the disbelief of imagining my children as adults.  I am there.  And what I’m finding is that I’m learning from them.  They are going places in their lives I never dared or dreamed for in my own.  Perhaps I was never brave enough to risk because of my own insecurities.

How often do I admit I don’t know how to do something, I need help and then ask the one person that I have alienated for that help and in so doing build a bridge of relational restoration?  Watching a child, my child, my emerging adult child take that step of vulnerability, risk and humility I will not soon forget.  This was a moment when I was challenged by the example I saw in my child to examine my willingness to humble myself with those I need to rebuild a bridge of relationship with.  I don’t recall ever teaching or modeling this myself.  In fact I have said and done things in his presence that would have led to the opposite behavior.  How did he get farther than I have ever been in this arena?  He is humbly leading me now.

I hear a young adult navigating their way through a world of needs, hurt, pain and sadness in the lives of those around them.  Speaking words of compassion, truth and comfort into their lives.  I see the tangible acts of love and care extended through simple ways of listening, remembering, including, seeing the dignity in the most needy all around them.  Where did she learn that?  I was quick to dodge and ignore the needy, for fear of my safety, for fear of  her safety, for a host of selfish reasons.  She was there to watch and observe those things in me.  And yet she’s taking a different path.  Stopping to listen and engage the stranger, including the weak and frail.  How did she get farther than I have ever been in seeing, really seeing, others?  She is teaching grace and compassion to me now.

Each week they are hosting coffees, deserts, dinners, bbq’s, impromptu gatherings of the newly formed relationships in their home.  They are practicing a way of life that includes others, generous with their time and resources and willing to continue to expand their relational circle beyond the familiar and comfortable.  Their home is a bright spot on their street, where others come uninvited to join in, and they are welcomed.  Where did she learn that?  The home she grew up in did not feel this way, though now I wish it had and did.  The standard she sets is high, maybe more than I can see for myself.  She gently coaches me with her encouragement, experience and wisdom.  She is modeling generous hospitality to me now.

Our children come to us as babies and we teach them everything.  How to eat, walk, play nice, clean up, read, spell, work hard, forgive, speak truth, be honest.  As a parent when I was caught in the day to day of teaching, leading and coaching them it was hard to imagine that they would someday out pace where I was.  But they are.  I wish I had known then that perhaps all my shortcomings would not “ruin them”.  I wish I had rested in knowing they were not destined to be limited by my own limitations.  I wish I had known then to be easier on myself and my expectations for them and for me.  But I am learning now.  From them.



August 1, 2013 · 1:52 pm

My day in The Army

The text came late Tuesday evening, “This is Jon. You’re on for tomorrow morning…details to come.” And so began my day in The Army, The Salvation Army.

My only experience with The Salvation Army had been to drop a bit of money in their red kettles at Christmas time or visit their Thrift Store on occasion.  I had no idea of the scope or depth to their service in the community.  But that all changed yesterday.

I drove to Oneida where 5 days ago a rain swollen Oneida Creek  flooded the nearby streets and neighborhoods known as The Flats. I was greeted by the Salvation Army’s Major Stan and the mobile meal canteen truck.  After a few introductions I was given rubber boots, a shirt, a badge and we were on our way.  Today’s task was to distribute Clean Kits.  But I found the Salvation Army is concerned about so much more than just the task at hand.

Riding to the impacted area I got to know a second generation Salvation Army volunteer Josh.  He told me about the trauma experienced by flood victims and the importance of listening to their stories, encouraging them to take a positive step forward no matter how small and most of all connecting with them by name, looking them in the eye and seeing them – he called it practicing the power of presence.  And I found Josh tireless in practicing this power of presence all day long.  Beyond the muddy clothes, sweat soaked shirts and needs of water and supplies lie people in need of hope.  He saw that need first as he greeted each person, ask their name, listened to their story, encouraged them, pointed them in a positive direction, carried supplies to their cars and waved as they drove off.  His presence in the midst of the situation brought hope and encouragement needed just as much if not more than the cleaning supplies that were distributed.

Our tent was shared with the American Red Cross, National Grid, the Oneida City Council and the Salvation Army and located within the impacted area of homes and businesses.  Collaboration between these organizations was selfless as they worked with one another to best serve the community.  People came throughout the day for water, cleaning kits, food, information, medical help and just to find a place to rest from the daunting work of clean up.  This was also a place where people from the surrounding community dropped by with donations of supplies, offers of help and just to voice their gratitude for the help being giving to the neighborhood.  The collective efforts and cooperation under that tent were a tangible reminder to the victims of the flood that people outside their neighborhood cared.  On several occasions after receiving their cleaning kit or water I heard people say, “thank you for being here, it means so much”.  There it was again, the power of presence.

Yesterday I found the Salvation Army to be more than an organization.  Melinda is a volunteer who lives in Oneida herself.  She summed it up best for me.  She has been served by the Salvation Army, she’s a member of the Salvation Army church, her son works at the Salvation Army Camp and she volunteers when she can. As she handed out cleaning kits, spoke words of encouragement to people, gave water, food and medical aid she shared with me that her giving comes from a life that is “rich in love” as she put it.  When I asked what do you know about the Salvation Army from your experience, her reply – “The Salvation Army is family.”

Family shows up when times are hard with supplies, food, support and most of all their presence.  I agree with Melinda.  The Salvation Army is no longer a red kettle to me.  It’s a picture of family.


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May Day with Bessie

A little nostalgia today. May Day was my Grandma Bessie’s holiday. And she only shared it with me. It was our special tradition. Bessie had a lot of special traditions I remember fondly. The iridescent red candy dish filled with cold M&M’s for each of us around the kitchen table while the adults talked for hours after dinner in the living room, the mirrored vanity with drawers full of clip-on ear rings and beaded necklaces for trying on and admiring and the annual summer day trip downtown which included a bus ride, a movie and a treat at Brown’s Department Store lunch counter. But May Day was reserved for just me. (First grand child does have it’s benefits.)

Early in the day I was dropped off at Bessie’s house and it was just the two of us. We were on a secret mission each May Day to assemble several simple baskets made of construction paper and tape, fill them with the spring flowers, honeysuckle and dandelions from the yard and then secretly hang these baskets on her neighbors door knobs as an anonymous celebration of spring, neighbors and friendship. Looking back those baskets were nothing more than a sheet of construction paper folded in half and taped down the side. A simple handle was attached from a strip of ribbon. A child’s scribbled message and simple drawings of flowers and sun rays decorated the basket. And the flowers were just a handful of bright yellow weeds, nothing fancy. But the real fun came as we hand in hand quietly made our way to the neighbors door. Whispering so our identity would be kept secret we left our baskets and hurried home, laughing and wondering if they would find them soon. Later in the day Bessie’s neighbors would come by for a visit mentioning they had found such a wonderful surprise on their door, a little May Day Basket. Bessie would get out that beautiful red iridescent candy dish, fill it full of cold M&M’s and settle me at the kitchen table with that small treat while she made a pot of coffee and spent time with her friend, her neighbor, our secret mission.

Looking back this May Day on my Grandma Bessie’s tradition I see she was teaching me much more than how to construct a paper basket. She was teaching me how to love my neighbors.

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May Day with Bessie


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May 1, 2013 · 11:56 am

On going home

Visiting my aging parents brings a myriad of emotions, thoughts and reflections.  I reminisce with them of funny stories, vacations taken and camping trips soaked in rain.  There are the stories they can’t seem to recall, the ones they will never forget and the tales that grow over time with each retelling.  I observe their habits, how they manage thru the daily routine and try to get a sense of what life is like when it’s just the two of them at home alone.  When I slip away from the lunch table and busy myself in another room they forget that I am there. It is then that their conversation ranges from the mundane of the weather, the escapades of the squirrel’s routine visit to the yard (they’ve claimed him as their own and named him Speedy) and sometimes even a glimpse of their warm conversation with one another that displays a shared life of 58 years and the love and deep concern they have for one another.  This is the moment that I cherish and know that their love does run deep and strong, in spite of the rhetoric, bickering and “show” that is displayed for us, their children.  it is then that I begin to ponder my own path that I am carving out as I travel down that road of age and decline.

Several years ago as I thought back over my parents aging process I could see some very definitive choices they made.  In their 50’s and 60’s they were mobile, traveling, engaged and still expanding their world.  But somewhere along the way as they approached 70 and beyond they began to “circle the wagons” as I used to call it. Their world became smaller and smaller, less travel, the adventurous spirit was gone, no new friendships, and they became disengaged with the world and their contributions to it.  And I would say even their contributions to family, grandchildren. The circling of the wagons was to keep out change, vulnerability and danger.  To protect themselves from uncertainty, dangers and calamity.   As I watched their lives over the last ten – 12 years now I have seen their health decline, their mobility lessen,  nothing uncommon as we age into our 80’s.  But what about me.

I was just past 50 when I started to reflect on all this.  And I could often be heard saying, “I’ve got 20 good years left, maybe.  What am I going to do with it”. Some of my friends thought I had a death wish.  Some thought I was being presumptuous. But as I explained, if my life and health went as my parents had, then I have until about 70 to be active and healthy, if I get that long.  No guarantees.  So what did I want to do with my 20 good years, where I was engaged, involved, contributing, expanding my life?  I never wrote it down, but I made a mental list.

  • Say yes as often as I could to opportunities.  Even if they were scary, I’d never done it before or it was unfamiliar. Say yes and try.
  • Make new friends.  I wanted to keep expanding my circle of friends, and not the FB kind.  And not the acquaintance type.  Real friends,  the kind you laugh and cry with and share life with.  I wanted more of them.
  • Plan to move. (don’t plan the going away party just yet) I want to be close to my kids wherever they are across the country (and at this point they are just that, CA, MI, IL) I want to visit them, spend time with them, in their lives and towns, not just mine.  If or when they have children of their own, I want to know them, which will mean going to them and welcoming them where I am.  Whether we move or not is still talk more than reality but I want to be mentally ready to start over, make new friends, learn a new town.
  • Learn new things.  I want to keep reading, listening to discussions, engage in thought, keep up with technology, try a new game.
  • Expand my world. The opposite of circling the wagons.  Embrace change, even create it if things seem too much the same.

The last 5 years have been full.  I have traveled, I took a class, I made new friends, I accepted a new position, I even dared to go onto the SU campus by myself, twice.  I have ventured to learn from some very bright people who allow me to be in the room with them and contribute.  Though I often wonder why, I am grateful they welcome me.  I have chosen to remain a learner, because I don’t know it all and never will.  And I have continued to grow in my faith as well.  My faith is not a destination but a direction that I choose to follow. One that takes me towards Jesus not away.  There’s no end in that.  I want to trust, reach, listen, obey. And that never stops.  I have seen others live ahead of me that have been great examples Doug B., Norma G., Jack M.  Their faith is real and continues to expand.  They have not circled the wagons and shrunk back, waiting for the inevitable.  They are pioneers pushing forward and I am hoping I can follow in the path they are walking.

I have invited my mom and dad to come to live in my town, in a house across the street  and their response was ‘that just wouldn’t work’.  Why? “We belong here.  In this house.”  They are tied to a place, a house, an address.  I told them I don’t want to be tied to a house, I want to be connected to people.  That is what home is, it’s who you belong to and with.

I come home to Fayetteville grateful for my husband, my kids and my life.  And determined to live it fully.  Because my 20 good years is down to 15 now.  If it is shorter than that, it’s ok.  I’m living it full on.  And if it’s longer, then that’s a bonus.


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Nothing to Envy

Korean Peninsula

When I first saw this photo of the Korean peninsula I was intrigued. How can a place so full of light be in such close proximity to a place cloaked in utter darkness. A friend and co-worker from Seoul, South Korea has told me of her life in a very modern city filled with technology, modern design and commerce. How could a country that shares a border and a common history be so different? And what must life be like in a place so dark, oppressed and isolated?

I read Barbara Demick’s book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, 2 years ago and it still haunts me today.  It tells of the everyday lives of several people in North Korea, their struggles to live, love and survive.  As I watch the news and see the rising tension surrounding North Korea I think not of the threat this country and its unstable leader poses to the world but of the ordinary people who suffer everyday, silently, in the darkness.  They are the forgotten people who are hidden behind the voices of a legacy of dictators.  They are the ones that are oppressed, starving, waiting.   This book reminds me that all conflict and war that we read, see and hear about through the lens of policy, government and the media have a vast array of people, ordinary people, that are suffering and forgotten amidst the rhetoric.  This book brings a sense of the humanity of the North Korean people and their need for truth and light.

It is a North Korean phenomenon that many have observed.  For lack of chairs or benches, the people sit for hours on their haunches, along the sides of roads, in parks, in the market.  They stare straight ahead as though they are waiting – for a tram, maybe, or a passing car, a friend or a relative.Maybe they are waiting for nothing in particular, just waiting for something to change.        – Barbara Demick, July 2010


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Take action against modern day slavery with a phone call today!

I got this email today. Join me in taking action in standing against modern day slavery.


The House of Representatives has scheduled critical votes on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act today and tomorrow. Your member of Congress needs to hear from you today. We’ve been working with you for a year and a half to get this legislation reauthorized and we are finally near the finish line.

Please call the Capitol Switchboard right now at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Representative. When you are connected, here is a sample script:

“My name is Kathy and I believe in a world without slavery. I am your constituent and I am calling to ask you to support S. 47 – the Senate-passed Violence Against Women Act, which includes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Please vote NO today on the Substitute Amendment to S. 47, which is narrower and does not include the vital anti-human trafficking legislation. Then vote YES tomorrow on the final passage of S. 47. Thank you.”

You know the facts: the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act is the cornerstone of American anti-trafficking policy. It sets vital funding benchmarks and increases our ability to protect victims, assist survivors, and prosecute traffickers.

Please make sure your Congressperson knows you support the final passage of S. 47.

We can do this today. Please call 202-224-3121 and follow up with an email now.

Mary Ellison
Director of Policy
Polaris Project

PS: You can let your friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter know you support the final passage of the S. 47. Thank you.

P.O. Box 53315, Washington, DC 20009
Tel: 202-745-1001, Fax: 202-745-1119
info@polarisproject.org | http://www.polarisproject.org

Copyright 2013, Polaris Project | Having trouble reading this email? View it in your browser. No longer interested? Reply to this email with “REMOVE” as the subject line or unsubscribe instantly.

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