Money Can’t Buy Happiness

Today I turned down a great job offer.  The position offered a great salary, with great benefits (that my health-burdened family really needed), serving a population I love, that was a mile from my home.  I fell in love with the person who would be my boss and I know and love several individuals I would have been very happy and proud to work beside.  And it was a faith-based organization. 

It was an agonizing decision.  For the two days I was allowed to make the decision, I experienced a high level of anxiety and interrupted sleep.  Boy the money would have been great.  We could have made some much needed improvements on the house, pay the balance of my PhD tuition, and had some great travel experiences.  But when it came down to “pros vs. cons”, I realized that the vast majority of “pros” came down to money. 

While the biggest decider came down to the fact that I’ve made commitments to writing, teaching, and a larger private practice caseload that would prevent me from working 40 hours/week at least until the end of this year, another surprising revelation came from the last two days of decision-making. 

Since developing our local homeless outreach, Fortitude Canteen Outreach, I have had the absolute honor of meeting and partnering with so many individuals and organizations within my community who have all pitched in to serve our most needy.  I have recognized the need for community-led efforts for making a difference, and simply cannot believe the response from my community. 

Since starting Fortitude up in January, I’ve had a small nugget of desire to formalize the process of developing community missions so I can share the model with those who also desire to make a difference in their own communities.  Those of you who know me well know that I am a huge proponent of backyard missions.  While mission work overseas is needed, is a great growth opportunity, and some are certainly called to this type of ministry, I believe we do tend to ignore the mission field in our own backyards.  It is now very clear that God needs me to keep my schedule clear (well, clearer…it certainly isn’t clear!) to move in that direction.  I’m not sure yet exactly what that will look like, but I will say that in the process of making this decision about a future career, my mission has taken firm root in my mind, and I’m convinced God placed it there. 

Money can’t buy happiness.  It certainly helps, but I do believe God will provide.  Today I feel very much at peace about my decision, and I thank God for a husband who understands and supports wherever God leads me.  Thank you to all who helped me process over the last couple days!  It takes a village…and I’m excited about bringing our villagers together!  =)

What if Hannah Baker had Jesus?

I, like many others, recently finished watching 13 Reasons Why.  If you haven’t seen it, you’ve likely heard of it.  A teen girl commits suicide, but leaves behind her 13 reasons why for those she considers responsible.  While certainly some useful themes and lessons can be gleaned from the show, there are just as many harmful themes: like blame, uncommunicated expectations, and retribution.  Clay is right, we need to treat each other better, but the reality is: we all hurt and disappoint others, and we are all hurt and disappointed by others.  Some things are way worse than others, but we are fallen, broken humans and can expect to be let down. 

What is completely lacking in the show is Jesus.  Lots of fallible human beings making lots of stupid mistakes and horrible decisions, but no Jesus.  Which inevitably begs the question:

What if Hannah Baker had Jesus?  Would the outcome have been the same?

Hannah’s suicide was hard for me to grasp because I have Jesus.  In the perceived absence of any caring individuals in my life, at times when it seemed there was no hope for happiness or success, at times when it seemed that, as Hannah pondered, feeling better meant not feeling at all, I’ve always known that I have One who never leaves, never forsakes, never gives me more than I can bear.  I trust that tough times lead to lessons learned and growth, no matter how much I hate the way it happens. 

I wonder: are there any of us who have not had at least a fleeting thought that not living anymore seemed better than living?  Almost everyone I’ve talked to on the subject has admitted to this more or less at some point in their lives.  We don’t like to admit these thoughts, but let’s be honest, life is hard sometimes.  If I’m honest, I would have to admit that the day I found out my position was being cut at ONU, I was sitting on the floor with my husband that night, next to our Christmas tree, sobbing uncontrollably, admitting to him that I would rather be dead than to face such a loss.  I meant it at the time.  I felt literally incapable of facing that reality.  I felt deceived, abandoned, betrayed, disappointed, rejected, and so much more.  I was more than let down by the people I surrounded myself with every day.   Beyond that, I had a family of 6, one of those with epilepsy and one with Crohn’s Disease, who relied on my insurance for the extensive health care they needed.  How would I provide for my family?

But the difference between Hannah Baker and I is Jesus.  I felt that way…for a day, maybe two, but soon found comfort in knowing that Jesus never leaves and never disappoints.  Even when I don’t like His plan, I know He’s got something good planned for me.  Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  He doesn’t say that people, disease, war, hunger won’t harm us…He won’t harm us.  Not only that, but He actively looks after us.  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:25-26.

We are more valuable than the birds.  We get to make a difference.  We get to be Jesus’ hands and feet.  We get to take our trials and redeem them for something that advances someone, or something, or His Kingdom.  That’s exactly what I’m trying to do right now, as I type this very raw and transparent testimony.  If Hannah Baker had Jesus, I’d like to think that as difficult as her situation was, she would have found hope and comfort knowing that in the absence of what she craved from humans, she always had Him.  And then, she could have used her experiences to help others, having intimate knowledge of pain, loneliness, and betrayal.  She could have advocated for bullying prevention or volunteered at a rape crisis center.  She could have been the friend to others that she wished she had for herself.    

Jesus is not the antidote to suicide, sadly I’ve known many believers who felt they could not live to face another day.  Perhaps for them they just needed to see and feel Jesus more concretely in those moments, a role Christians can and should easily fill. 

I pray that any Hannah Bakers that cross my path will see and feel Jesu.  I pray they see something in me that makes them wonder what’s different…what keeps me going through the tough times…what maintains hope in a dark world.  We may never know it, but beyond saving souls, we can save lives. 

Alignment.

I’ve been encompassed by the idea of alignment lately.  I’m writing my dissertation, so ensuring the alignment of my problem statement, purpose statement, research questions, hypotheses, theoretical framework, etc. has been encompassing my thoughts lately.  One sets the foundation for the next, which defines another, and so on.  When one doesn’t align with the rest, the whole thing goes off course.  But the idea of alignment has been palpable in other ways also.  A recent community issue has me scrambling to define where my priorities and allegiances align—something I must establish before a decision can be made.  I can also recognize that many things that should be better aligned in my life are not.  Like I really want my eating habits of late to better align with my beliefs about health, and I would like my house to better align with my ideas about tidiness, but…they don’t.  And I sense that in the chaos of my brain. 

But more importantly than any of that is my spiritual alignment.  Pastor Derick, my pastor at River Valley Christian Fellowship, killed it in this morning’s sermon by hitting on this exact point.  Not only do we each need to align our every thought and action to our spiritual beliefs (something that I constantly strive…and struggle…to do!), but we must be aligned as the body of Christ.  From John 17: 20-24, Pastor Derick, expounded on Jesus’ prayer, His plea, to His Father, that the people of God be unified. 

Boy are we not unified right now.  Not that we were ever great at it, but we truly suck at it right now, and I’m not excluding myself!  Social media is a great example of Christians eating each other alive.  Mike Pence has a rule that he doesn’t have dinner alone with other women without his wife.  I saw some Christians vehemently defend the importance of such “affair-proofing” measures for a Christian marriage, and others (including me…it’s out there, I can’t deny it) poking fun of the (alleged) absurdity of such a practice.  This morning someone posted wondering if it was okay to wear a Slipknot t-shirt to church.  At least one person said “probably not” while I (had I had the time) would have responded that I think Jesus would really just have wanted him at church, devoting a couple hours just for Him.  We airstrike Syria, and Christians start in with judgment…right to bomb, wrong to spend the money and cut Meals for Wheels, wrong to protect them while simultaneously not allow them into the country.  I am just as guilty as many others for having strong opinions that I share that probably sound divisive and judgmental, and probably are.  It’s meant to present one side of what always turns out to be complicated issues, but in many cases may end up divisive.

But, as Pastor Derick aptly pointed out this morning, unity does not mean uniformity.  We are not required to be one in every behavior, every thought, every opinion.  We are only asked to be one in Spirit.  Like pretty much everything, this starts with each of us.  When I am spiritually aligned in my relationship with Christ, with the scriptures, and it is “well with my soul”, then unity with the body of Christ flows out from that.  My thoughts, beliefs, and actions don’t have to be exactly the same as every other believer, but when I am aligned spiritually, I will know what is right for me, and can display the patience, tolerance, and understanding to respect when others live their aligned lives differently than mine.  And when others don’t appear to be aligned spiritually yet tout spiritual fervor as a justification for their actions?  Well, I guess if I’m to be honest, that’s God’s business and not mine, isn’t it.  (This is hard for me to accept too!!!)

As I was listening to the sermon this morning, I was thinking that alignment is really the foundation of pretty much everything, right?  We need our spines aligned, our brakes, our bookshelves, our paragraphs and margins…things work best when perfectly aligned, right?  But then I realized that this isn’t true in aesthetics—design, photography, floral arrangements, etc.  In other words, in most situations, things not perfectly aligned are more beautiful to us.  As a general rule, you should never have a horizon in the center of a picture, you should have the focal point of a picture or film off to the side, and arrange items on a hearth so the highest point is on one side or the other. 

I was wrong, though.  I was thinking of alignment as tantamount to parallel and straight—the same.  But alignment actually means placing things so they line up…in some purposeful way.  A Pythagoras alignment lines things up like a Pythagorean triangle, not parallel or straight at all!! 

Things can be more beautiful by a non-uniform alignment. 

 WE can and ARE more beautiful as a body of Christ when we accept our non-uniform alignment.

 My job is to keep myself aligned with God, and my alignment within the church will form around me. 

Pastor Derick left us with a challenge: What am I doing to promote unity?  And how can I be part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer that His church, His people, be unified?

Well, for me, writing this is a start.  Now the real work begins…

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!