We still need you…

 

Mentor-Image

Because I’m teaching confirmation right now, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of mentors in our lives and in the church. Often when we talk about mentorship- we are talking to adults about being present in the lives of children. We mention training up children in the way they should go, so that they will not depart from it. We mention being examples for the next generation of believers. And none of those things are bad things. But it has been troubling my heart lately that this is often the end of the conversation. And when we end here, when mentorship and the need for spiritual examples end at graduation- I think we are selling short this beautiful opportunity to be the beloved community of faith.

We tell the adults in Children and Youth ministries to be very careful about how they live because young people are watching them. But I am 31 years old (not that young) and if we’re being very honest- I am still watching. I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate this crazy life we’re all living.

I’m watching the parents of the little kids in my ministry area, I’m in awe of how they balance, how they make time, how they teach their little people and raise them through even the toughest stuff, how they pour out patience, how they keep it real, how they are vulnerable and authentic. I am watching these amazing men and women only one step ahead of me in life stage, and I am grabbing up every lesson I can about how to faithfully live through the crazy of “new parenthood” and how to be the kind of parent that I want to be some day. And so even in the moments when they aren’t winning, when the #parentingfails are stacking up, I am cheering for them, I am praying for them, and when the opportunity arises- I am ALWAYS ready to speak affirmation over them. They are invaluable teachers.

But it’s not just them I’m watching, I’m also watching the parents of the older kids, the ones who have been in the game a little longer. I’m watching how they guide their kids through teenage decisions and drama, how they have solidified their family units, how they teach their kids who they are, and who they’re not, and how they’ve stayed true to themselves. They haven’t lost themselves in parenthood, and as they’ve gained more time and stability- I watch them use it to dream new dreams, to have big vision, to grow interesting things, and to build community anew. I watch them, I gather all those lessons up, and I tuck them in a box labelled “before you know it.”

And I’m watching my parents, and the people their age in this new season of life and family, with their kids grown. I watching them reinvent themselves, reconnect with old friends, explore new places and interests, and rediscover who they had been before they were constantly driving around their 2.5 children. I’m watching them delight in becoming grandparents and learning a new way to embody love. And this, this commitment to not tapping out, to continual growth and learning- I’m watching that too. And I’m in love with it, and so it’s getting packed away and marked “some day”

Finally, I am blessed to be part of a community that puts me in close proximity (and a good view) to many people who have retired. I watch them love life. I watch them pour out generously to the community around them. They run soup kitchens, they do altar guild, they plug in with kid ministry, they hang whiteboards and build wheelchair ramps, they are everyone’s grandparent and they have time for coffee and a chat. They teach me about building marriages that last decades. They teach me about slowing down. They teach me about how to know what’s most important. They teach me about not getting so lost in the hustle that you lose yourself. They teach me about asking for help when you need it. I do not have a week go by where I do not find myself thinking, “I hope when I’m that age, I’m still as funny/sharp/kind/present/in love as …….” and so I gather up all the lessons from them, and I put them in a box labeled “I hope..”

And so I watch all these people go about their daily lives, living them as best they can, as faithfully as they can, and I learn from them. Too often when we talk about mentorship, we talk about giving advice, or telling people (kids) what to do. My deep love of adult mentorship has taught me that no one wants advice, because talk is cheap and advice is often inauthentic. It is an expression of what we WISH we had done, or what we think this person should do- instead of the vulnerable truth lived out. In our best mentoring relationships, we learn from the people who will share their lives with us, who spend time with us, who work alongside us, who will let us see them struggle, who will cheer us on without judgement when we struggle, and when the world tries to crush us, or break us down, who will encourage us and speak words of affirmation over us.

Kids need that. We all need that. No matter who you are, or which stage you’re in, don’t tap out. Don’t turn away. Don’t unplug from the community of faith. We still need you. We become a better community with you. You have things to teach just by being here. So be here, and know, we’re still watching…

“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:8

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On VBS and making a good day.

Monday morning came early that week. I had been working tirelessly to set up and prepare for our annual Vacation Bible School extravaganza. Sometimes it was 12 hours a day, sometimes it was 16. I was burning the candle at both ends and in the middle. I was tired and stressed in a way that I have rarely experienced before.

In addition to just the sheer busy-ness of this week, there was external pressures and voices telling me that VBS was one of my church’s biggest outreach points, that it is the highlight of many people’s summer and year, that we always have a huge production where kids have a great time, and without saying as much- these people had also told me that to do anything less would mean disappointing people, it would be a failure. If the busy and the external pressure weren’t enough to insure I wasn’t sleeping much, I was also letting my internal pressure build- with some voice inside me saying that if this didn’t go well, not only would IT be a disappointment, *I* would be one. That maybe if I couldn’t even make a week of day camp go off well, maybe I shouldn’t be leading a church, maybe I’d gotten this whole call thing wrong all along.

So at 6 am on Monday morning, waking from my  3 hours of sleep, 2 hours before the volunteers would start arriving, I got in the shower and cried. Thought about the mounting pressure, and cried. Thought about how many things were left undone, and cried. Thought about how hard I had tried, only to come up just a little short and a little desperate and cried. Snot-nosed and sobbing in the shower isn’t a good look for anyone- but I believe there is a holiness to being naked, vulnerable, and alone. We get real there in a way that we often can’t in the rest of our lives. So, in that early morning half light I prayed the only things I could pray,

“God, this thing has to belong to You. Because it can’t belong to me. It has to be Your work, because it’s too much to be mine. There is too much riding on this for it to be about me, so it has to be about You. So if it goes well, we will praise you for blessing it. And if it goes poorly, we will remember that ANY day where the Your word is spoken, and Your love is shown, is already a good day.”

And then I got out of the shower, put on my VBS T-shirt, athletic pants, and my tennis shoes, and did the thing. And you know what? It went GREAT.  People stepped up and stepped in. People showed up just when they were needed. Kids had a great time. We got to talk about God’s INCREDIBLE love a LOT. vbsfinal

And in the days since then, I find myself wondering, what if this is how we started every day? What if that prayer was how we treated ALL the things in our lives- as work that we do with God, for God- not belonging to us and not a reflection of our worth as people.

What if we could trust that any day where we speak the word of God, and show the love of God- is a good day.

About Birthdays…

It’s Chelsey’s birthday this week, and so our group of friends decided to throw her a surprise party. We had failed to surprise Kirsten on her birthday, so we felt like we had something to prove. When we brainstormed themes and ideas, here’s what we knew Chelsey liked:

– puppies (really, all cute animals)
– peanut butter cups
– Purple

It’s not a lot to go on, but we were committed to making it work.

Before I go on to tell you about Chelsey’s birthday cakes (complete with pictures and directions), first I want to talk about birthdays. I love birthdays. Not only my own, I like other people’s birthdays. It combines my love of planning things and mischief with my intense love of telling people how special they are. No one should ever age out of birthdays! I know there are some people who do not want their age celebrated past a certain time, but to those people I say, “Suck it up, buttercup.” We all age. And I firmly believe that the older we are, the MORE we need the people around us to affirm us.

When you’re turning 5, a day that celebrates you seems great- but not unusual. When you are 5, lots of people tell you that you are smart, strong, brave, and kind. Lots of people love you in lots of really obvious ways.

The older we get, the fewer of those people we have, the fewer of those moments we have, and the thing is- we still need those people. When I turned thirty my mentorbossfriend and my first Mississippi friend, threw me a dinner party (in cahoots with the husband of course), and people came. People I didn’t expect to come. People I was thrilled to see. Later that night I cried, because I remembered how often 20 year old me really believed that she would never make it to being 30 year old me. Not only had she made it, people cared. Not only had she lived, but she changed, and grew, and thrived… and people saw it, and people named it, and people…. showed up.

May we never miss an opportunity to celebrate one another. May we always take the moment to be glad for the people we are blessed to share a planet and time with. May we always have happy birthday wishes!

And so to Chelsey, who’s birthday is Thursday, I’m glad to know you. I love the laughter you bring to my life. My life is better because you are in it.

And to all my other readers- invite me to your birthday, I have some affirmations for you too!

Now, on to cake!

First. I made my chocolate cake from scratch- using this recipe. I didn’t have dark chocolate cocoa, but I just used regular, and it turned out just fine.

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Also, because we knew Chelsey liked peanut butter cups, I pulled these cupcakes out around the 10 minute mark and shoved a mini cup in them. Then put them back in for the other 8 minutes.

Ok, on to frosting.

I make my frosting from scratch, because my mother taught me that it was THE ONLY WAY. And now, I’ve been doing it long enough that I have a go-to recipe that I can tweak however I need.

So I start with a stick of butter, softened but not melted. I add to that a literal pinch of salt and a dollop (maybe a tsp) of good/real vanilla. Then you start adding powdered sugar and little dollops of milk. Too stiff? Milk. Too wet? Powdered sugar. Easy peasy. Until you have a texture you like.


I did this at first and when I had a pretty stiff frosting, I pulled a scoop to use for piping the letters. Then, I added a GENEROUS scoop of peanut butter to the remaining frosting, knowing (let’s be real here, hoping) that it would act kind of like the butter did.

I wanted a fudgy, peanutbuttery frosting to go with that chocolate cake, but realized too late that I’d used all my cocoa powder in the cake batter. No worries. Wing it.

I melted a big handful of chocolate chips with a couple Tbs of milk until I had a very loose ganache- then chucked that all in too. (What? I was going to add milk eventually, now it’s just really chocolatey milk)

Beat that up together, add powdered sugar to consistency, and you have a pretty good peanut butter cup frosting. I rolled the cupcake edges in sprinkles and piped on some purple letters, and viola! A batch of cakes fit for the surprise party of a dear friend!


Give it a try and let me know how yours turn out.

Also, this week, affirm a grown up in your life. Tell them they’re doing ok and you’re glad they’re here.

And know that you are smart, strong, brave, and kind, and I’m really glad you are here.

More like Magdalene every day.

I couldn’t figure out how to explain to you what happened to my Lent project until today.

Possibly, because it is Easter, and Christ has risen, and that resurrection should make us bold. Or possibly because I just heard a sermon about my girl, Mary of Magdala. Or possibly, because the chaos that is working at a church during holy week is over and I am relieved. Whatever the cause- I think I have found a way in.

If you know me at all, or we’ve talked Bible at all- You know that I love, love, love the story of Mary Magdalene. There is something about her that I relate to and see myself in. Maybe it’s that she’s got a bad rep? Somewhere along the lines of history, people decided that not only was she a stubborn, loud mouth- she was also a whore. (That’s not true. We have no reason to think that was true other than a lot of people are named Mary during this time, and we’re not as careful of a reader as we should be.) As a loud mouthed woman myself, I know that people talk, and so… I get it.

But I think more than that, I see myself in her claim to fame. In Luke 8 she is introduced as “Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons.” I love that about her. Not that she had demons, but that she lets them put it in the book. While she is bossy, and wealthy, while she hangs out with the disciples and bank rolls their ministry, she lets her tagline and introduction to the reader be, “Before Jesus, I had seven demons.” I think she could have gotten a re-write, but in my head at least, I like to think of her as someone who was not ashamed of the demons, someone unafraid of people knowing where they had been. Today at second service I performed a slam version of Marie Howe’s Seven Devils poem, in which she plays with the idea that Mary’s demons might have been things we today consider very innocuous, like being busy, or being distant, or having faced great tragedy, or feeling alone.

I think there is power in naming our demons. I think there is power in being honest with people about who we are, how we struggle, and how Jesus is getting involved in our lives. She could have been “Mary from Magdala, who owned a lot of stuff, and paid for this Jesus experiment,” but instead she was the woman from whom, not one or two, but seven demons were driven out.

And so today, as a means of talking about being Easter people, and the “failure” (but not really) of my Lenten project, I’d like to talk about some of my devils. My name is Kim, and I’d like to talk to you about what Jesus is still driving out of my life.

First. I have depression. It’s clinical, my brain chemistry is not as well put together as many other people’s, but it also goes through good and bad seasons, months, weeks, and times. There is a difference between a “having a bad day” and the cold hand of depression reaching out to grab one’s ankle to try to pull one into the pits of despair. If I keep a close eye on mine, I can fend it off for good long streaks, sometimes months. I do all the things they tell you to do, (which feel impossible when you’re IN the pit) and can go a really long time between battles. But some of those things are sleeping like a normal human, eating a well-moderated and diverse diet, exercising periodically, and taking some time off. As you can imagine, during grad school- this particular “devil” ran a muck, and almost trashed the whole system.

Second. When I am depressed, I will often feel ashamed of feeling that way (because there is no obvious cause for this despair). Depression’s right hand man is Shame, and it assures that we will all suffer in as much silence as possible. Even when good or interesting things are happening, we become convinced that the things we love are worthless and the people we love do not care about us. Shame is a brutal demon to fight because it lies- all the time.

Third. I’ve known a lot of death. I’ve known too many dead kids, dead teens, dead young adults. I know too many people who ended before living the fullest parts of their lives. Sometimes we lost them to violence, sometimes to drugs, sometimes at their own hands. I know a lot of dead people, and every single loss has ripped me apart. Only by the grace of God do I ever get sewed back together, but even then- it isn’t the same as it was before.

And here’s the thing Mary Magdalene knew about death. Because she had fought demons, because she was freed, because she was honest with people about where she had been, she was specifically equipped to do the ministry to which she was called. She was the kind of tough that could hang with this roving band people who wanted to learn from Jesus. She was the kind of open that would make her someone people loved and trusted. They knew where she had been, so they could tell her where they had been. Vulnerability begets vulnerability. And because she had lived a life of demons, because she been broken and cast out, because she had been alone- the evil of this cross didn’t scare her. When the men fled- she stayed. When it seemed as if the killing machine of evil was about to win, her savior, her friend was hanging on a cross, dying- She didn’t flinch. Because she’d already known evil, she had already been close to it, lived with it day in and day out, it didn’t rattle her. Like a virus she’d built an immunity to, in uniquely positioned her to stare into the face of suffering and not faulted. She might have even suspected how the story might end, because she had already seen evil be defeated by this man who was also God.

And so when I talk about my own demons, when I talk about what pulls me into the pit of hopelessness and urges me to keep my distance from others, I try to remember the other half of Mary’s story. She’s the loud mouth girl who not only sees the risen Christ- but tells EVERYONE. She knows they won’t believe her, and she still tells them. She knows that she won’t be a trusted source and she doesn’t care. When evil loses, every time God reigns, we are called to enthusiastically tell people around us. Even if they won’t get it. Even if they don’t believe us. Even if they think we’ve lost it. As resurrection people, we have a story to tell, and a testimony to give.

So that’s what I’d like to tell you. For a while back there, the darkness had me.

But morning is coming.

And the Son has risen.

Alleluia, there is hope for us yet!

 

March 24: Love

My sweet baby-brother, Ben is getting married this summer to the tough, funny, brilliant woman he’s been dating since they were kids, and I was honored to be asked if I’d speak at their wedding (no, not “DO” their wedding- I’m not covenanting anything, don’t go running off to tell the Board of Ordained Ministry, no rules will be broken here. I won’t assume authority that I don’t have. Settle down. Don’t get so worked up) But as I’ve started working on what I was going to say, I knew exactly what jokes I wanted to make, which story I wanted to tell, and how I wanted to welcome them to the family as their own new family. But where I began to struggle was in how I was going to talk about loving each other the way that God loves us. I’m not the only speaker so I have to keep it short, but the love of God is huge and all-encompassing! Also, I’m no love expert- remember that The Nerd and I have only been married for a year and nine months.

But then I gave up on writing this post and went to work on Children’s church plans. We’ve been going through some of the stories of Jesus and his buddies (disciples is a hard word when you’re 3). I couldn’t help but this week’s installment, the feeding of the 5000, might be considered the next installment in a series that could be called “Jesus loves you, but also thinks you’re being an idiot.” Last week’s story was the calming of the storm, in which Jesus asks, “Have you still no faith?” The week before that, we had the story of the paralyzed man lowered through the roof, and Jesus gets to ask, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?” This week we will hear “No, YOU give them something to eat”

If this had been a sitcom, Jesus could have had so many “I’m surrounded by idiots” moments. He could have left them, he didn’t need them and often the were holding him back- but he doesn’t. So this is a friendly reminder that loving someone does not mean that you believe or pretend they are perfect. It does mean that you’re aware of their imperfections and have decided not to focus on them. We all have idiot moments. You can ask my husband about how often I lose my wallet or store things in the infamous “someplace safe” only to lose them. But those shortcomings are neither ignored nor are they the focal point of our relationship. (And I do the same for him, but decided long ago not to blast him on the internet #marriagetips)

So today, if your spouse, or kids, or parents, or coworkers, or students are on your last nerve- remember that Jesus might have been annoyed too, but he still would have loved them, and so should you.

March 23: Rest

SPOILER WARNING: This is a longer version of the devotional I wrote for the SPUMC devotional booklet. So if you’re following along with that, maybe don’t read that one. However, I decided that I could use it twice to buy myself a little time off today- appropriately, the word of the day is rest.

If God doesn’t build the house,

    the builders only build shacks.

If God doesn’t guard the city,

    the night watchman might as well nap.

It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,

    and work your worried fingers to the bone.

Don’t you know God enjoys

    giving rest to those he loves?  (Psalm 127:1-2)

When I was a college student, I used to babysit for this family who has three kids. The older two were 7 and 9, but the youngest was a curly haired three year old named Nona. The thing about Nona is that she wants to do everything her older siblings do. Everything. She has what the internet would call “Fear of Missing Out.” Even though they are much bigger than her, faster, and stronger, she wanted to go everywhere they went and do everything they did. And most of the time, it was fine, they were good sports and she loved being with them. 

The real trouble came at nap time. Nona would be so dedicated to staying with her siblings, who had outgrown naps, that she would struggle to stay awake, insisting “I no sleep!” Putting her into her bed would be met with crying, and screams. But the longer she struggles to stay awake, the uglier her attitude gets, the more she fights with the big kids, and the worse time we’re all having. Until sleep finally wins her over and she drifts off, usually somewhere weird (next to her toy box, on the dog bed, halfway under the couch, etc).

toddler

This is not her, but this was a common position to find her in. 

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that too often, I approach the world like Nona, and maybe you do too. Too often I am so determined to do it all, to be the perfect spouse, employee, student, daughter, sister, and friend that I work hard and drive myself to always be thinking about what more I could be doing, what’s coming next, and where have I failed today. Whether God’s blessing is on my labor or not, is often not even something I’m thinking about. Instead I am ruled by fear, of letting people down, of missing out, of not doing enough or being enough for the people who love me. And in those moments, as I wear myself thin, and begin to get an ugly attitude to the people around me, it is often that I have forgotten the truth.

 

I have forgotten that rest is a gift God loves to give us. The same tenderness that we feel when that screaming toddler turns into a sleeping cherub, is the way that God looks at us. Like “I wish you would stop doing this to yourself. This will be better, easier, more tolerable after you sleep.Our relationship will be stronger, if you would stop fighting the rest I’m trying to give you.” God wants us to fight courageously for the things that are righteous, and to work hard to build the kingdom of heaven on Earth, but at the same time we are meant to receive the good gift that is rest.

Today, find some time, even just a minute, to really rest.

March 22: Joyful

I hated today’s word. I still kind of do, if we’re being honest. Partially through my own bitterness and exhaustion. You see, today is Wednesday and while that might not mean anything to you as a reader- around here, we know that it is also Lent, and Wednesdays somehow manage to be both a marathon AND a sprint. (Is that actually a thing….Nope, Google says no.) These days are long and full, full, full. And as I checked my blog list this morning while brushing my teeth, as has become my custom, (so as to have as long as possible to pull a story or connection out of my brain or my day) the word “joyful” on that page was anything but. It was old. It was worn out and maybe even a little cliche. And more than any of those things, it was far from my tired heart.

So as I bopped around my day, I tried to think of what I might talk about or connect with. But when I thought of “Joy” I thought of the long rambling Easter sermons of my youth that were proceeded with zombie-esque renditions of “Christ the Lord is Risen today”and enthusiastic calls of “He is risen!” being met with the half-hearted mumblings “He is risen indeed.” Lesson one: You cannot compel or coerce someone into feeling joyful who doesn’t. And performative, compulsory joy lessens our experiences and expectations of how big real joy is.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on that, because well- it is a downer. So then I found myself thinking about an article I read about how our experience of joy is not situational but personal. They had done a study where they asked people whether they considered themselves to be joyful people- then asked them to react and respond to a series of hypothetical situations. They found that the people who thought they were joyful tended to react positively regardless of the hypothetical situation. They tended to make the best of things and search for silver linings. While the people who identified themselves as not joyful, tended to react negatively even in positive situations.

“You are walking in the woods alone and find a $20 bill” “I assume someone has lost it and I leave it there.”

“Your friend tells you how much you mean to them” “I assume they need a favor or have done something wrong.”

And while that study was interesting, I HATE the idea that there are some people who experience joy and others who don’t, and that this has already been decided for us like some sort of weird malfunction in our design.

Tonight after work, I was looking through my library list, (because it’s library day tomorrow! Everything is due and I finished 2 books), and scrawled across the bottom was this quote:
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It’s from a longer passage, which reads, “Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”

I haven’t read the rest of the book yet (“Surprised by Joy”), but it seems to me that Lewis sets up this contrast between pleasure, which is something we have as humans in this world, and joy which is only available to us as a gift from God. We cannot build authentic joy for ourselves. We cannot fake joy until it becomes real. We cannot be shamed or punished into being joyful. We cannot We can only ask for it with our hands open to the God who has always been in the business of giving good gifts. We can only desire it and hope in it, and because of this, in it’s very nature- joy reminds us of our deep and abiding need for a connection to our creator.

So today, let’s start making a conscious effort to separate the power of pleasure from the power of joy. Because the things of God will always make the things of this world seem small. Love the world you live in, be present in it, but never stop asking for Joy. Never close your hands to what God wants to give us.

March 21: Go….stay. 

One summer I created a day camp in inner city Detroit. Well that’s not really fair, I was hired to be an intern at this camp, but when I showed up for my first day, the director had quit 4 days before.

There was no staff. There was no plan.

There WAS a secretary with a stack of sign up forms for 60 kids who would be showing up one week later, but “it will be fine” she assured me.

I can’t abide “no plan” and so I called up my friend Rachel and got her transferred to my site (hey there, co-coordinator).  Then started calling high school programs to recruit some counselors, and local schools to recruit some off teachers on summer break. But all of that is background to what I want to tell you today.

When we got that camp on its feet (just in the nick of time) kids had days that went like this: Breakfast, tutoring, lunch, bible study, play outside, craft, pick up.

One day, I noticed that when we came outside, one of our kids, Devonte was going to the far end of the playground and passing things over the fence to a man sitting on the ground on the other side. They would talk for a minute and then Devonte would run off and play with the other kids. This happened a few days in a row and we hovered. We watched this interaction closely, worried about what might happen. Finally one day I asked Devonte “do you know that man?”

“Yea, I give him a snack from my lunch every day”

“Did you know him before?”

“No. I just met him”

“Then why are you giving him part of your lunch?”

“Last week our memory verse was ‘go into all the world and make disciples of all nations’ and we talked about missionaries, and how go all over the place, like to China, and Africa, and Mexico, and they feed people and tell them about God.”

“Right, but why are you giving that man your lunch?”

“Because I’m only 8! I can’t go to China! My mom won’t let me!…. so I thought I’d start here…… with that guy.”

He thought he’d start here. He thought he’d start with the person right in front of him whose needs he could meet, even though he is 8.

I was humbled. I was quieted.

I was reminded, that while we are called to cross the globe with and for our faith- we are also called to cross the street, cross the fence, cross the aisle. We are called to be good and compassionate care-takers and disciple-ers at home. We are called to be Jesus, not only in the far away experiences, but in the daily grind.

We are called to start here.

 

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March 20: Afraid

When I was in college our Wesley foundation always spent one weekend in October volunteering for Cass Community’s “Holy Haunting” a haunted house built into a church gym and basement that raised money for the church’s homeless ministry. It was here that I began to really understand the power of being afraid.
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In this darkened labyrinth we set up all kinds of scary scenes, then around dinner time we donned masks, painted our faces and went to terrorize people in the haunted house. Before every group was let in, they were reminded of the one rule that most haunted houses abide by, “The haunters aren’t allowed to touch you, and you are not allowed to touch them.” Then with those words and a good luck, groups of 2-4 were released into the darkness where we waited for them to come to us.

Here’s the thing about scaring people. When you slam the door behind them, claw at the glass and laugh maniacally, sit up suddenly on a fake operating table, when you are the scarer- you have all of the power in the situation. That person who is afraid is suddenly no longer thinking, they’re panicking and reacting. They are on the defensive and unable to process, this inability to stop or consider makes what they are experiencing even more scary. The second that haunting victim allows themselves to be afraid, the haunters are in control.

In this world, everyone from advertisers to politicians to artists and musicians have learned that fear is a way of getting people to stop thinking and just react. When we are afraid, it changes how we spend our money, how we vote, how we talk to and about our neighbors, how we interact with our communities. When we become afraid we give our power up in the world, and more than that, because we are Christians, our lives are not our own, so we take power over our lives out of God’s hands and in fear give it to governments, corporations, and individuals hoping that if we could just buy the right product, or pass the right law, then, then we could stop being afraid. When we do this, we’re making God small, and refusing to trust him. We have forgotten the one rule.

My final year of haunting there was a man I remembered specifically. He was a hulk of a man, both tall and broad. He was with his girlfriend, who was tiny, and had been teasing her in line about what a cowards she was. He made it through exactly 3, of the more than 40 rooms, before he was using her as a human shield and releasing blood curdling screams into the air. He was scared, and he stayed scared the entire time. He had forgotten that as much as we would startle him, we were never allowed to touch him. Somewhere between mummies and the mad scientists kitchen, the fear had become real to him, and now in this panic he was willing to let someone he loved get hurt instead of him.

This is what fear does to us.

The man’s story is not a unique one, working a haunt, you always get people who are physically intimidating, but emotionally scared. What made that year one that still gets talked about in hushed reverent tones is that the next night a father came through and wanted to bring his 4 year old through the haunt.

Usually we have a 13 and up age limit, because we don’t want to be responsible for nightmares… or therapy bills. But he was insistent that she would be fine, he would carry her on his back the whole way, so after signing the releases and paying the donation. The gatekeeper let them in with a yell of “FRESH MEAT” which has always been haunt code for “There are younger kids here, go easy.” As she came through my station and I did my bit, I noticed she seemed bored, riding on her father’s back with her head resting on his shoulder.

We scared him over and over, made him jump scream and sweat, but try as we may, we couldn’t even startle her. At some point during their time in the basement dungeon, she fell asleep. It had never happened before, nor since, that we had someone so bored with our terror that they fell asleep in the haunt. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is who we are meant to be in the world.

That little girl had full faith that no matter what happened around her, her dad wouldn’t let anything hurt her. She knew she would be ok, he would carry her and protect her, and if you aren’t afraid, then haunted houses are really boring. She rested easy in the knowledge that we may stomp and snarl, but she was safe.

We are called in this life, to be not like the man who buys into the fear, but to be like the little girl who knows that the fear is not in control. We are to remember that we are carried by a parent who loves and protects us. There is a passage in Matthew, where Jesus is sending out his disciples, and he says to them, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;” He has just stated his own version of the Only rule, “Remember that they can’t touch you.” Remember that as you walk through things that are hard or scary, don’t buy that fear, this world is not your home, this body is not your home, and this evil, it can’t touch you. It may stomp and snarl and bear its teeth, but you are safe, you need not be afraid.

Kindred 

There is a story I like to tell, about my first year of teaching in South Dakota. (Well actually there are a ton of stories from that first year but this one sermonizes well so lots of people have heard it.) It was debatably the loneliest time of my life. I had moved and hadn’t gotten along with my roommate. I hadn’t yet found my niche in my school or community. I was in the middle of breaking up with the long-time, long-distance boyfriend who was definitely already dating other people. I was alone all the time- and it felt that way.

Then, I went to a party. Not because I’m a party girl but because I just couldn’t sit in my apartment alone for one more night. I ended up, not playing darts in the basement, or kissing on a couch, but walking around a neighborhood with another Teach for America corps member. Late night soul talks are one of my favorite things, and so she was telling me her life story and about how she came to be teaching here on the reservation.  She joined because she felt that God had wanted her to teach low income students. And so now a few months in, she had grown comfortable saying that she was “doing the will of God on the Pine Ridge Reservation.” 

Then it got quiet. The kind of quiet where you know not to break it because someone here is working on something big, and you suspect it might not be you.

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Finally, she broke,  and crying, said, “It’s just so hard. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. I did what I thought God wanted me to do, but now it just seems impossible, and I’m alone, and it feels like God has left me here. I haven’t felt his presence in the longest time and I’m beginning to feel totally hopeless.”  

She blushed, and started to apologize for blurting all that out, when I cut her off and said “yea, me too.”

Those three words, “Yea, me too”  are some of the most powerful in this world.

They have the ability to vanquish shame, and rip apart isolation. When we are honest and vulnerable with the people around us, we give them permission to be vulnerable with us. We commit to struggling together, to encouraging one another, to praying for one another. We decide not to be alone in our fears. And that is how God intended it. We are meant to share our souls with each other. We are meant to be kindred spirits who love both deeply and widely. When we wear masks of false certainty, we force those around us to put on their own mask. We stop others from knowing us, and declare that we have no intention to really know them.  

So in order to be authentically available to God and each other, we need to become comfortable with bringing our doubts and fears out into the open.

How do you “Yea, me too” the people in your life? How can you be more open going forward?