Saturday, May 09, 2015

My new life

Last time I posted, I mentioned the changes that I was making in my life and this is a follow up to say thank you to God for the direction and discernment to make those decisions. It has been an amazing year. I continue to work as Program Manager for Lazarus Ministries and find that I really enjoy working with the Sojourners and volunteers each weekend. I've always loved people through food (going to point to my family culture for this one) and this job encourages that and uses the skills I feel I've developed for my whole life. I've gotten to know Harvester Food Bank better than ever and am SO appreciative of the things they do for and in our community - I seriously couldn't feed the hundreds of people who come to us each weekend without them! I've become a pro at shopping Harvesters, Costco, Restaurant Depot and sales at my local grocery stores to put together menus that offer some variety, decent nutrition, and special treats every now and then (some of my favorites have been an ice cream social, fresh made blueberry cobbler and soon to come fresh baked chocolate chip cookies).

In addition to my position with Lazarus, my wife and I completed another deployment to Afghanistan - what was possibly our last - and this time we were legally married and I was a recognized military dependent. I learned how to shop in the commissary (yes, we have one in Kansas City even though the base closed years ago) and handle military health insurance. I was elected Board Chair for my position on the Board of Directors at The Surplus Exchange, an environmental nonprofit that recycles and refurbishes electronics in the KC region. That has been a HUGE learning experience and continues for the rest of 2015. I've also become an independent contractor for CWS, the organization that sponsors CROP Hunger walks all across the country and does ecumenical hunger and relief work around the world. Working with the KC CROP Walk committee has been another educational - and entertaining - venture as I draw on my skills in nonprofit work, fundraising, relationship building and social media. I feel like I've got a great variety of things going on. Yes, they're all part time jobs, essentially, and only a couple of them pay me anything (and it doesn't add up to much), but I'm immensely fortunate to have a spouse that works in a job that offers us the financial stability for me to do these things and the health care to not worry about having a full time job myself. It's letting me explore things I wouldn't have done otherwise and I'm learning and growing in confidence each day.

As this is Mother's Day weekend, I of course want to give a shout out to my mom and the opportunities she gave me while growing up and the ways that she helped me develop into the person I am today. I also want to give a shout out my mother-in-law, grand mothers on both sides of our family and aunts and cousins who are all scattered around the country but have all taught me things about what it means to be a woman and have relationships and care for other people. Most of all, I want to thank my wife, who isn't technically a mother (although our two cats might allow her to claim the title some days) but who loves and supports me in ways nobody else could, encouraging me and enabling me to do some things that others might not ever understand. Life is an adventure and I'm glad I get to do mine with you!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

At a crossroads

I've been quiet on the blog for a couple of years, and don't have so many followers that I think anybody has really noticed, but it was a busy couple of years.  I was working as a manager for a Habitat ReStore and that job, while rewarding, exhausted me physically and mentally. I just didn't have the energy or mental capacity to think about things and process questions the way I did when I was in seminary. And I really missed it.

I left that position in June. Due to a variety of changing life circumstances, I'm taking an amazing opportunity to go off on a new adventure. I took a part time job working as Program Manager for Lazarus Ministries at Grand Avenue Temple UMC - an organization that works with the Sojourner community (aka the homeless community) of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. This gives me (1) a chance to learn about a new kind of ministry and work with a respected group of people doing what they do, (2) income, even if it is significantly less, and (3) a way to structure my time. The role of a Deaconess is "full time ministry of love, justice and service" so the remainder of my time is not being spent watching soap operas and eating bon-bons. I am working to start a new chapter of Project Transformation in the Missouri conference. I have a team working with me to help bring this amazing program first to Kansas City, and then, once it's stable and successful we can hopefully spread it to St Louis, Springfield, Columbia and maybe rural areas. Other conferences are doing amazing things with this program and ever since I interviewed for an executive director position with one of them, I've felt this a program where God was nudging me to go.  The last couple of months have involved many conversations with many people and it never ceases to amaze me the way that things just work out and come together. I know it's more than coincidence, although I hesitate to put God in the "micro-manager" role.

In the bigger decisions of my life - choosing a college, changing my major, marrying my partner, going to seminary - I have felt like there were lots of questions that weren't answered but those were clearly the "right" decisions. I may not have known how I was going to pay for it, or what would come next, but they felt like the places I needed to be or things I needed to do, and it always worked out. Not just worked out, but made me happy and worked out well, even if it was a lot of work and struggle in the process. Seminary wasn't a breeze and I had no clue what would come afterwards; marrying my partner meant a lot of struggle with my biological family. Leaving my full time job with an organization I of which I was proud to be a part was the same - I didn't really know if I could pull it off or what would happen when things like health insurance went away, but so far it's all working out beautifully. I have to put my desire to plan to the side and trust in God that things will continue to work out. And I thank God for a partner who encourages me to do these things and walks by my side through it all.

Have you felt like you were on God's path? How did you determine it was God's will for you rather than your desire for yourself?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

For Jerry

It's Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend and most people are reviewing their purchases from this huge shopping weekend, but I'm sad. I just watched the 10 pm news and learned that one of my former coworkers was shot and killed by police on Thanksgiving evening.  It's still a developing story but the gist of it is that two women were found dead in a house (Jerry's wife, Loretta, and a teenage girl who was helping her cook Thanksgiving dinner) and when police arrived on scene (they were called to a possible burglary) they shot a man who was firing at them, my friend Jerry. The news pieces report Jerry's financial problem and previous drug conviction, but what they don't report is the beautiful man that I knew from the Habitat for Humanity Kansas City office.

Jerry came to us through a work program of Catholic Charities and his job was cleaning up the offices - mopping floors, cleaning toilets, etc. It wasn't glamorous work but Jerry seemed to like doing it, doing his part to contribute to our mission. He was always smiling and usually whistling or singing a song (often church related), and every time I talked with him he would tell me about his wife, Loretta. They were an aging couple facing some health issues, as most of us will when we get into our mid-60's.  They didn't have a lot of money, and I know his salary couldn't have been much through a charity work program, but he was glad to have the job and was doing the best he could with what he had.  Perhaps what surprised me the most was learning that Jerry had been on drugs in his past and had spent time in prison. I'm a little embarrassed to admit how naive I am in this regard, but my picture of "felons" and "drug addicts" was generally of angry (possibly dangerous) or depressed people, and Jerry wasn't really either one of those. He was optimistic about things, a spiritual man, and always had kind, encouraging words for everyone.

I don't have any idea what happened Thanksgiving night, and I learned first hand when I was a 911 dispatcher that the news often doesn't get the details correct.  I'm not pointing fingers at the media or at the police, but I know that despite what I hear in the news, a good man was lost in addition to the women found dead inside the house.  It's been about a year since I worked in the Habitat KC office and I don't know if Jerry was still working there or what else may have changed in his life, but I will remember him singing a song while mopping the floors, smiling and nodding at me as I walked to the other bathroom so as not to walk across where he was working.  His was a great spirit and I'm glad I got to know him the little that I did. Rest in peace, my friend, with your Loretta at your side.  I pray you have the relief you were looking for.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Retreat (not the white flag)

I just got back from my first ever solo retreat, as in get away from people, technology, familiar surroundings, etc.  I've done retreats with groups in the past, but never just went away by myself and i was really anxious about it. What would I find in the recesses of my brain if I took time to just listen to it? What would I do with all of that time if I wasn't on Facebook or watching t.v.? Now that I'm back I have to say that I don't know what all the worry was for. I did basically what I felt like I needed and wanted to do that wasn't involving my cell phone, computer or t.v. I read some of the books I brought with me, I went for long walks, I played with animals (I went to a farm with alpacas, chickens, goats, cats, dogs), and I prayed and meditated.  I did things that I generally want to do but rarely actually find time to do, and it felt wonderful.
prairie wildflowers and moth

I'm normally fairly extroverted, so I think part of what scared me most was not having interaction with people, and while there were moments where I thought it was too quiet and really wanted to call someone just to chat, for the most part I enjoyed being by myself.  The books that went with me were wonderful and helped me do some introspection. Walking the prayer labyrinth at the retreat center was an amzingly spiritual experience in ways I can't even articulate.  I even took some time to explore a creative outlet I've always wanted to - I took a bunch of photographs and think some of them are actualy half decent (you can comment on the two that are included in this post if you'd like). For years I've wanted to take photography classes and do something like this. Thankfully, a Deaconess sister who runs this eco-spirituality farm and retreat center is also a fairly skilled photographer and was willing to give me some pointers.  It allowed me to explore something new and it felt liberating. I go back to work tomorrow, and having only been back home for hours, I don't know if my experience away made any profound difference in me. I do know that I feel glad to have gone and I hope that it did make a difference - only time will tell.

Turtle Rock Farm, Oklahoma
The point of this post then is three-fold. (1) If you are considering doing something like this yourself but have some reservations, consider this an edorsement to DO IT. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money and can be exactly what you need to rejuvenate body, mind and soul. You don't have to have a plan, or agenda, or specific goal.  (2) I'd like for you to share information and recommendations. Where do you retreat? How often do you go? Or if you don't go, why not? Are there negative implications? I personally went to Turtle Rock Farm in Oklahoma (a little more than an hour south of Wichita, KS just off I-35) and would heartily recommend it.  I stayed in the hermitage, which is basically a small apartment, for only $50 a night.  Do you have a particular book you'd recommend to read while away? Or do you follow a certain regimen when you retreat? (3) Finally, I write this post as in invitation to those who know me to let me know if you notice any difference, for better or worse.  I'm a little curious to see how things go back at work and in my daily interactions with people over the next week or two. I feel relaxed and better equipped to handle the so called "daily grind" but I don't know how accurate that is or how long it will last. I hope it lasts a while and that I get a chance to go on retreat on a regular basis in the future.