Strengthen My Hands

I have been deliberating all week, knowing that I need to write about the current state of our nation, but unable to find just the right words that skirt the line of an “appropriate” response that also attempts to avoid offending or criticizing.  I doubt it’s possible, yet I now sense the call the share. 

But first, a warning.  I work very hard to avoid melodrama.  I’m annoyed by it when I see it and probably err on the side of underplayed most of the time.  I see drama like a pain scale—I reserve the elevated levels for those moments when things are really, truly terrible, so people believe me when it happens.  So if something here sounds like melodrama, it isn’t meant to be, and I’ve put much thought and prayer into the decision to share. 

These are my thoughts, my feelings, my story. 

I, like many others over the past week, feel anxious, devastated, sad, angry, frustrated, and many other emotions, over the behaviors and decisions of the highest leaders in our country, perhaps the world.  Layered on top of that is a tremendous disappointment in some fellow Americans.  America was founded on principles of individual freedoms—freedom to worship, freedom to speak our opinions and to fight for what we want, freedom to find fault with our leaders and express our dislikes.  We have never and will never all share a common groupthink, and that is good!  That exemplifies the diversity that is the foundation of an ever-evolving democracy of the people and for the people.  We are blessed beyond what we almost always understand to live in this unbelievable country where I have these freedoms…is it a surprise to us that the rest of the world would literally risk their lives (and often lose them!) to be a part of us??  We can’t really understand it, unless we’ve been there.  Most of us are privileged beyond measure. 

While differences are nothing new, we seem to have crossed a threshold in the way we treat each other that I have not seen in my lifetime.  Now that’s not to say it’s never happened before.  I absolutely hate seeing documentaries on how we treated racial minorities in the past.  Whites using scripture to justify slavery and later, oppression and violence toward minorities, hate speech and threats to others who have differing opinions or choose to stand up for the rights of others.  Civil rights activists jeered, brutalized, killed.  In our history books, in school, we learned those were dark times in America.  Times when things were different, we just didn’t know better back then, but now we are enlightened, we are better, we are now an America where those in the past who have had to say “I have a dream” can say I no longer have to dream… 

This is the America I was born into in 1973.  Far from perfect, but something to be proud of. 

I cannot say that today, on January 29, 2017.  I am not proud of us as a nation.  I am appalled by many of my fellow Americans and my sisters and brothers in Christ.  I want to share a few things that seem to be misconstrued when we approach this area:

  1. Most of us who feel this way are NOT sore losers. Many of us didn’t vote for either primary candidate, and many voted democrat as the better of two options.  Our displeasure with the current administration has nothing to do with “losing” the election
  2. Most of us are not “whiny liberals” and we are not “having a tantrum” because one candidate didn’t win. There probably are some…I don’t personally know any.  Wanting to care for those who are the least among us is not only a Biblical imperative, but a Constitutional right.  Remember that part about promoting the general welfare of our people?  Yes, that means all of us, and please don’t forget that America was founded by people who sacrificed much and committed a great many moral wrongs to take for themselves a land that was not theirs so they could escape tyranny and live with rights and freedoms.    
  3. Protesting has been an acceptable and effective method of civic engagement since before our country was a country. Boston tea party anyone??  Calling this un-American is, well, un-American.
  4. I believe it is flat out unacceptable to lie. I’m not naïve enough to think our leaders have never lied to us before, but I think it may be safe to say never at this level.  It’s not okay.
  5. We must treat each other with respect. When I share my opinion, whether on social media or in person, I do not understand the persistent need to bully, tease, tear down, call names, repeatedly point out the faults of other candidates, etc.  We are human beings, on all sides of this, and it hurts.  Guilt may be assuaged when the comments are made behind the glowing screens of our smartphones, but it does not hurt less when it is read on the other side. 

And now for what some will likely see as a melodramatic pivot, although this is very real to me. 

I have lived in relationship plagued by narcissism.  I do not say that to hurt anyone, it is simply a reality I had to live with for a long time that few people know about.  When people talk about gaslighting, I know exactly what it is because I lived it.  It is a nightmare, and it steals your sense of reality and self.  You stop believing in your own ability to think and examine what is real.  Lies are a part of your fabric of life and you are no longer able to determine truth from lies.  Every waking moment is spent trying to avoid disturbing the waters, because once disturbed, the boat isn’t rocked, it is hit with a tsunami from which you must crawl out of, choking, gasping for breath, rubbing sand out of your eyes…so you can get back in the boat, and wait for the next wave to hit. 

Think this is melodramatic yet?

From the beginning of the primaries last year, I instinctively knew what we were dealing with…because I had seen it all before, had lived it.  I understood that the charismatic personality and promises, carefully drafted to address the deepest hurts existing in America, would entice those who felt let down by the powerful few making decisions in the country.  And let me say, I get it!  I get that we have problems!  I get that there are too many factories closing!  I get that taxes are too high and that our elite live in privilege and grandeur while the other 99% of the country bears the burdens.  I get why a D.C. overhaul sounds appealing and given the right candidate, I would absolutely support that.  But I also get that we must still take care of ALL Americans, stay true to who we are as a country, and do so as morally upright and transparent as possible. 

I know where we are likely headed…and it terrifies me

Melodramatic?  Not to me. 

So as I struggle in not only my sadness and distress over the daily news, but also a sense of repeated retraumatization as I again experience daily lies and manipulations from a man with power over me, what I don’t need fellow Americans teasing and bullying as if all of this is okay and we’re just being whiny.  You are absolutely entitled to your opinion… but so am I.  I can share it, in person or on social media, and you do not need to attack it.  In turn, I do not attack yours. 

Finally, I am reminded of one of my favorite passages of scripture.  I use this in a devotional for my students at the beginning of their internships, when everything seems insurmountable to them.  At the beginning of Nehemiah, the Israelites have returned to a destroyed Jerusalem.  The walls of Jerusalem have been demolished and they are devastated.  Nehemiah finds himself in a position to do something about it and is granted permission to rebuild.  He mobilizes volunteers from his own people, but they are constantly bullied and manipulated by those inhabiting the land who want to see their efforts fail.  In fact, Nehemiah 2:10 states, “…they (the Horonites and Ammonites) were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites”.  Sound familiar?  Finally, in the midst of trickery, Nehemiah turns once again to God and pleads: “Now, strengthen my hands” (Neh. 6:9b).  This is striking to me in its simplicity.  He does not ask for the burden to be lifted, he asks for strength to endure

We are in difficult days and this burden may not be lifted, but our voices and our actions certainly can…and should.  I write this for me as much as for anyone else who finds it helpful: I cannot simply throw up my hands and say the opposition is too strong and I cannot make a difference.  I cannot say (like so many I’ve talked to lately) that the daily news is too hard to watch, and bury my head in the sand.  I cannot say that as a faculty member and a Christian I must not speak up.  I have to plead:

Strengthen my resolve.

Strengthen my will.

Strengthen my voice.

Strengthen my love for all people regardless of our opinions.

Strengthen my patience.

Strengthen my ability to listen.

 

Strengthen my hands.

UNO and PresUNidentsUN

 

 

UNO and Presidents

This morning I had the privilege of helping on the School Crisis Assistance Team at our local high school, BBCHS.  Sadly, they lost a teacher (my age) last night, so we were there to help the incredible counselors, social workers, and psychologists support students as they grieved the sudden loss of a clearly beloved teacher.  As the advanced Spanish teacher and Spanish Club sponsor, she was able to pour into the lives of a smaller group of students, but most had her for multiple years.  As I was reading the notes students left on the banner for her family, I particularly noted this gem:

When I worked as a school social worker, and still now in private practice, we often employ(ed) the use of games when working with children.  UNO is an absolute imperative for any therapist.  Connect Four, Trouble, Chutes and Ladders…these are critical tools of the trade!  From time to time we would find out that other school staff don’t always understand how vital this is in the therapeutic process.  “They just play games in social work…”  For a long time I focused on using therapeutic tools, teaching skills, and measuring goals because there is such a focus on change and progress, but I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted.  It wasn’t until well into my career (sadly—I’m not proud to admit that!) that I realized relationship accounts for a huge part of change.  Relationship happens when two people get to know each other, respect each other, know each other’s names (unfortunately anyone who knows me probably knows I stink at remembering names!!).  Relationship happens when you’re present, and stay present in someone’s life.  Ultimately, relationship happens when you show someone they have value, that they are worth your time, your smile, your interest, your willingness to share a little of your life with a little of their life, knowing you are each a little richer because you have crossed paths.  With children, relationships can be built over Draw 4s and skips: laughing, talking, showing them we value them enough to set the time aside to engage and let them teach us who they are. 

I am so blessed to be a part of a helping profession where I get to make a difference in people’s lives often.  It’s more rewarding than I have words to express.  We in helping professions don’t have a monopoly on making a difference: teachers, doctors, nurses, pastors, etc. all regularly make a difference in people’s lives too.  But we do not need to be paid or be a formal volunteer to make a difference.  We simply need to show someone they have value

Think about some people in your life who may have had a tiny or a large role but who made a big difference in your life.  Why did they make a difference?  My bet is not that they made a difference because they taught you a lot or because they gave a lot to you.  My bet is that they showed you that you have value and they invested something in you.  We give a little or lot of ourselves to those we encounter and that gift has the potential to change someone’s life. 

“Sometimes, we come across people who touch our hearts and our lives, and it only takes a moment.”

I hope I’m there in that moment.  I hope you’re there.  I pray we see those moments, and that we make the choice to use that moment.  Make a difference.  You can change lives. 

Tomorrow we begin the 45th presidential administration.  I have unlimited and strong opinions about it, but will keep those to myself (so much for transparency!).  But this is the message I think about when I feel anxiety about what’s ahead for us: each of us has opportunities to treat others like the valuable human beings they are.  It only takes a moment to make a difference

What are you doing with your moments?

Who am I?

A fundamental, primal trait of the human race is an intense need to belong, to create a personal identity through a social identity.  We first identify as a family member: a son, a daughter, a sister, a grandchild.  Then we begin searching for our own places to belong.  The sports team, the band, the youth group.  Sometimes we’re lucky enough to identify with a tight group of friends: a “squad” my son calls it.  Sometimes we identify with a group of people who build us up, and sometimes not.  We begin to call ourselves those things we become: a runner, a pianist, a BBCHS Boilermaker, a social worker.  We are unique in the collage of identities we create for ourselves, some more prominent than others, some we’re proud of, and some we keep to ourselves.  Our identity is fluid and evolving.  Some we leave behind while we pick up others.  Our identity is our foundation, the roots we grow that secure our special place in this world.  Like the Dewey Decimal code that allows us to locate one book in a library of millions, we create our own code, and we get to choose who, how, and when we let others know it. 

We don’t always get to decide if we take on an identity, nor when we have to give one up.  In relationships, we get to be girlfriends or wives, but lose it the second our partner chooses to end the relationship.  Sometimes we are suddenly someone who is disabled.  These shifts are transformative, rocking our worlds as we make the journey from old to new.  Sometimes the journey passes quickly, easily, happily, and other times, the journey takes a long, slow, painful path from which some never really emerge.

Just like most of you, there are many points in my life that were transformative.  Becoming a mom was certainly amazing.  Becoming a licensed clinical social worker was also a highlight.  I remember coming home from the test knowing that from that day forward I was Dawn R. Broers, MSW, LCSW.  Becoming the mom of a child with epilepsy 13 years ago was one of those long, slow, painful journeys that is now quite normative for me.

Becoming a divorced mom of two challenged many identities I held dear.  Not only was I no longer a wife, but I was no longer a “traditional” family in the church.  I no longer considered myself worthy of ministry work, and I gave up my dream of obtaining a full time university teaching position.  I was damaged goods.  It was this lack of identity that caused me to crave a new relationship, to have someone, anyone, make me a girlfriend or a wife because I wasn’t sure who I was without that.  But this craving was also what drove me straight into the arms of Jesus, and a quest to relinquish all earthly needs for identity with another person in exchange for acquiescence that God is the only one I need

Almost as soon as I handed these needs over to God, He brought me the husband I have today, a wonderful God-fearing man with whom I am proud to identify as a wife again.  And four years later, when I received a phone call out of the blue from my alma mater that they would like me to interview for my dream job, a full-time teaching position in social work, I was overwhelmed by God’s grace and redemption.  I was not damaged goods.  I was still good enough to take on the identity I believed God wanted for me.  I became Associate Professor and Field Placement Director Dawn Broers, teaching a subject I loved, to students I loved, and ministering at the same time. 

And then two months ago, a text message from the human resources director at 9am on a Monday morning led to me sitting at a table an hour later hearing that my dream job, the job God blessed me with, the career goal I thought I had lost and then found, was lost to me again.  The university, in the middle of a flood of position eliminations, had decided that my position as the Field Placement Director, was no longer vital.  And almost immediately it hit me: I am that job.  I invest everything in that position and my students.  I spend inordinate amounts of time being the best professor I can be.  I live and breathe that job.  Who am I? I am a professor of social work.  I’m not losing a job…I’m losing my identity. 

Or am I?  It didn’t take long for me to realize that no matter what I feel about losing this dream, this part of who I am, it is insignificant compared to what should be the only identity I really need.

Who am I?

I am a child of God. 

The titles and memberships of this world are fleeting.  Change is inevitable and transitions are hard.  We get broken and it hurts.  There is an old Japanese tradition called kintsukuroi, or “to repair with gold”.  When pottery was broken, they repaired it with gold or silver, understanding that it became more beautiful from its brokenness.  We too have this option…though it is a choice.  My identity as a child of God will never be taken from me, and I can lay a solid foundation on this knowledge.  But when the trials of this world break me, I choose to gild the edges with gold and call myself a treasure.  I choose to redeem the parts of the life that break me, the experience that teach and grow me, for something better for me, others, and God.  I am not damaged goods…I can create good from my damage.    

Transparency has never been a strength for me.  I’d prefer to keep my personal challenges close to my heart.  I find myself today in a position of great challenges and transitions and my thoughts and feelings outgrow the capacity of my heart and mind.  Writing is my therapy.  I know that I am not alone.  I know, because as a therapist I intimately know that none of us is immune to these struggles, these journeys.  And so I am choosing to share mine here, in the hopes that my journey might be helpful to someone else. 

We are all broken.  Gild the edges with gold and call yourself…a treasure!