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Suck it In, Suck it Up

“Suck your belly in and stand up straight.”

“Why, Mom?”

“Because that’s how you put on dresses. Come on. Stand taller.”

Once she was all zipped up I stood behind her and looked in the dressing room mirror. She was looking straight into my eyes, with the betrayal and wounding of someone who was just slapped in the face. I paused, but then chalked up her sourness to tween melodrama.

I looked her up and down in the form-fitting black dress.

“Wow. You look beautiful, honey! Like a woman!”

She shrugged.

“What? You don’t want it? You look fantastic!”

“I don’t know, Mom! Okay? I don’t know what I like, or what I’m supposed to like, or what I’m supposed to look like. Just get the dress if you think that’s what I’m supposed to get. I don’t care. Can we be done?”

She pulled her school uniform back on and left the dressing room. I held the black dress up over my tired outfit and turned side-to-side. I wished my body was as good as hers.

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photo by Gemma Evans

Brushing my teeth that night it hit me how gross that whole scene was: I told my 12 year old to suck it in. I implied she better get used to it. I maybe bought her a dress too old for her. I envied the body of a 12 year old. I envied my daughter’s body.

So wrong in so many ways.

But that’s life, right? You become a woman, you better dress and stress like a woman. It’s inevitable. Thoughts of my girl in sparkly pink t-shirts, muddy playground pants, and gap-toothed smiles whisked by. Those were sweet days. But they were over. It was time for her to get in the game. I spit out my toothpaste.

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photo by Annie Spratt

Months later I got an advanced copy of Compared to Who? A Proven Path to Improve Your Body Image I knew exactly what it would say:

  1. God loves you.
  2. God created you.
  3. Remember this and you’ll always feel beautiful, never think of food in an unhealthy way, always know how to dress, love being a woman, dating will be easy, marriage will come, and sex will be wonderful.
  4. If you struggle with any of those things it’s because you don’t have enough faith to believe that God is who He says is.

Every Christian book on women, health, and body image says these same things. Some include recipes, workout plans, BMI charts. Lots talk about princesses. All talk about our bodies being a temple of the Holy Spirit, and how diligent we should be in keeping God’s house neat and tidy. And pretty.

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photo by Jared Sluyter

So I opened the book up and wasn’t surprised: Page one of the Introduction: already talking about weight loss. Page one of Chapter One: already talking about cellulite. Yep. No surprises here.

But I kept reading, because receiving an advanced copy is like a book report assignment —  I needed to finish it.

Creekmore uses all of Part 1 to say that she gets it. She’s not going to sugar coat it: we all check each other out, we all wish we looked better, we all try everything at some point to feel better about ourselves, we are all tired of not looking and feeling better. I nodded along.

Then Part 2 came, the “Proven Path to Improve Your Body Image” section. If she mentioned praying before workouts or trips to the grocery store, I was going to put the book down with a resentful huff. But instead, because she’s built a lot of trust to say she totally gets us, she goes where Christian-Lady-Body-Health-Diet people don’t go:

She talks about sin.

But not about “fatness” or “being out of shape” or “unhealthiness” as a sin.

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photo by Neslihan Gunaydin

She specifically talks about the sin of idolatry, which is a pretty dusty, old school, King James topic. That makes us think of a golden thing Indiana Jones might steal, snippets of the 10 Commandments, or world religions far away where they pray to a lot of little gods.

Creekmore defines idolatry as when you want something more than you want Jesus. That doesn’t feel like a bomb drop to me, because I hear stuff like that all the time. But read and consider her questions:

  • What can’t I live without?
  • What makes me crazy?
  • What do I think about when I’m alone and all is quiet?
  • What does my heart really, really long for?
  • Who am I following other than Jesus?
  • Whose opinion matters most to me? (p. 130)

I can answer all these questions with A+ Sunday School answers, but I have a strong, real, honest, undercurrent of less holy answers. I want to be pretty, comfortable, healthy, happy, well-liked and successful. Don’t we all? Isn’t that normal?

“Do you envy that person’s size, shape, look, or life? Then, my friend, call it a sin and realize that it needs to be brought to the light and confessed.” (p. 132)

Creekmore pushes further later saying the we wouldn’t leave Playboy magazines around the house if we thought it would make our husband’s fall into porn, lust, and crazy thinking. Makes me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t read magazines and watch certain TV shows with women that make me hate myself in comparison, not want to be naked with my husband, or not go to the pool with my kids the next day?

“How many times a day do you look at images of other women that trigger thoughts for you that are neither healthy or holy?” (p. 164)

Oh my gosh. Maybe 50? 100? I’ve gotten good at admitting and confessing when I’m envying other women’s purses and other families’ luxury vacations, but I don’t apply that practice to how I feel when I close the very tame Athleta and Soma bathing suit catalogs.

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photo by Annie Spratt

But aren’t I supposed to care about my body? Isn’t it wise to be healthy and strong? Can’t I do whatever I want with food and exercise? Where is the line? Creekmore addresses the tension:

“The trickiest part of battling beauty and body image idolatry? Seeking a better physique may actually be a good thing. It may feel like you aren’t doing anything wrong. For example, losing weight may be exactly what you need to get healthier, live longer, or fight disease. Similarly, exercising can be really good for you and have a postive effect on your overall well-being. But when diet, exercise, or any other avenue we pursue to change our outward appearace becomes of the utmost importance, we are trapped in worldliness, and it shifts to idolatry.” (p. 113)

Again, those old school words of “worldliness” and “idolatry” feel as stiff and irrelevant today as a starched high-collared prairie dress. I could play dumb, but I know what Creekmore is talking about. I know when I’m running to look better in a date night tight dress vs. running to be healthy. I know when I walk into a restaurant and hope to be looked at, maybe even envied. I know when I hope my gluten- and dairy-free life will also make me lose weight.

But we pray about it, so that makes it okay, right? We might think we’ve got our body image and faith under control, because we’re praying for wisdom about what to eat, self-control when we shouldn’t eat, discipline to exercise, perseverance to be a healthy example – but that just might be asking God “to help me serve my idol of beauty so I could finally be happy and free.” Instead of praying “help me apply your gospel to my weight and my body image.” (p. 112)

If we admit that we idolize beauty, then everything can change.

That’s the first of the five steps in Creekmore’s proven path to improve your body image. I need to admit I idolize beauty. That almost feels impossible. That’s a whole lifestyle change, a completely different way to look at myself, all other women, and how I fit in the world.

That’s major. Could it be possible?

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photo by Annie Spratt

Creekmore gives practical action items including the right kind of confession and repentance and the need for honest community, along with nowhere-to-run Bible study and heart questions at the end of each chapter.

I’m going to go back through Compared to Who? and write some notes in my journal. There were a few verses I thought of in new ways, and some key questions I want to ask when I buy clothes and look at pictures of myself. I think I’m going to write out my confession of beauty idolatry and read it aloud to my best friend. I’ve got some soul searching and praying to do. I think I want this freedom.

Not just for me. But for my daughter, too.

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Photo by Noom Peerapong


Book-cover-for-iconTo purchase the book: Amazon

To learn more about the author: Compared to Who?

[Note: I received a copy of Compared to Who? from Leafwood Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]

Related Posts:  The Comparison Game, 6 Different Ways to Be Beautiful, Valentine’s Day Sucks


@Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

I Want to Be Her

I am one of the women who unexpectedly cried watching Wonder Woman opening weekend.

I fell asleep during every Avengers and X-Men movie for the past three years. I assumed this DC movie would have the same nap-triggering formula, but with Xena: Warrior Princess costumes.

Then the beautiful, strong, united, Amazon women of Themyscira descended on the beach to fight invading German soldiers, unafraid and victorious. I didn’t wince, cringe, or worry while they were fighting, because they weren’t victims or reactors. They expected to win and they did.

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©Warner Bros. Pictures

Maybe this is what men always feel like when they watch battle scenes, but for the first time I felt like I just won with them on that beach. Tears sprung into my eyes. What a proud, exhilariating moment!

A tiny flame ignited in my heart.

Later in the film, Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) climbs out of one of the trenches on World War I’s Western Front, determined to charge through No Man’s Land to liberate a village. She doesn’t look scared, make jokes, cross herself, or ask for help. She just goes. She heads directly into danger. She deflects bullets and machine gun fire with constant forward progress. She is certain she can and will win.

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©Warner Bros. Pictures

I cried again during that long fight scene — from the trench, all the way to the village, and the climax at the bell tower. Diana was strong, confident, powerful, graceful, effective, accurate, and victorious. She saved that village. She stopped evil that day.

I wanted to stand up, point at the screen, and say, “Did you see that?!”

The flame in my heart grew.

The tears came again in the final battle scene, when the stakes for her heart, her identity, and her purpose surprise and almost destroy her. Her resolve, conviction, love, and grief reflected all I’ve felt at my highest and lowest moments.

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©Warner Bros. Pictures

I never cried watching a fight scene before, though I’ve seen women fight valiantly on film. I loved Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Her wisdom, beauty, patience, and fighting skills unlocked a brand new pride and aspiration in my heart. I had a major crush on Trinity in The Matrix. I loved watching Sydney Bristow take control on Alias every week. I felt huge, victorious, in-your-face pride when Éowyn slayed the Nazgûl in Lord of the Rings. Katniss was clearly the protector over poor Peeta in the Hunger Games. My daughter carried a broomstick around to fight like Rey after The Force Awakens. But none of those characters and stories revealed the raw pride and longing I felt watching Wonder Woman.

This new movie made me like a 6-year-old fangirl. In every scene I thought, “I want to BE her.” By the end of the movie I was convinced, “I AM her.” I strode out of that theater ready to take on all of society’s problems.

This tweet, which has been liked more than 292,000 times and re-tweeted 78,900 times, sums up how I felt driving home from seeing Wonder Woman:

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A few hours after the movie I had enough squabbles in real life to know I AM NOT like Wonder Woman afterall. I haven’t been trained “five times harder than any warrior” my whole life. I wasn’t raised on an island of women, protected from intentionally and unintentionally demoralizing men. I’m often afraid and avoid danger. I don’t have good aim and I’m back in physical therapy for a pulled hamstring.

But then I thought of Diana Prince’s solo charge through No Man’s Land and got teary again. The flame still flickered and swelled with pride and longing. I WANT TO BE HER.

Like most women, I’ve learned to hide and hinder my power. As a smart girl I was often told that men are afraid of smart women, so I should “dial it back.” I learned how to lead colleagues and clients toward the outcomes I wanted by asking questions I already knew the answers to, nodding a lot, laughing at terrible jokes, and grinning silently through varying degrees of sexual harassment.

As an independent girl I learned that men like to feel needed. So I asked for help opening my locker, parallel parking, and reading a map, even though I could do that all myself.

My 13-year-old daughter asked, “Why do women get in trouble for wearing certain clothes? Why don’t men get in trouble for not controlling themselves just because of what a woman is wearing? I don’t get it.” I’m sad that one day I may have to tell her that she’ll get better service at the Genius Bar and the Auto Shop if she smiles a lot while wearing make up and tight jeans.

That doesn’t feel like charging toward the enemy through No Man’s Land, sword and shield in hand. That feels like muddy compromise and wary surrender. Trapped and small.

So my hunger persists: I WANT TO BE LIKE HER. I want the courage and confidence of a strong, well-trained woman in charge on the battlefield. I want to know who I am and what I’m made for. I desperately want this for my daughters. I want us all to fight hard and well, certain that our identity and training will bring victory.

But I’m not literally going to in battle, am I? I’m not literally going to kill anyone, am I? I don’t want to literally fight with my bare hands, do I?

This is the part where Christian women talk about how Deborah lead the Israelites, Esther saved her people after winning a beauty contest, and Mary said yes to carrying the Son of God inside her body. There’s a certain place for women, with few exceptions.

This is where Bible teachers talk about how “our battle is not against flesh and blood” and how we need to put on “the full armor of God.” There’s a certain kind of fighting appropriate for women.

This is the part where sensitive women say, “everyone is fighting a hard battle” when we’re referring to the ravages of mental illness, poverty, domestic violence, divorce, or cancer. Because women know what it’s like to be fragile.

And that flame inside me grows bigger. I know all that. I believe all that. But still. I WANT TO BE LIKE HER.

I want to fight. I want to fight and win.

But how?

When I picture Wonder Woman, Jesus, and me sitting around a café table with my resumé and flaming heart, we keep coming back to Diana Prince’s movie line: “I will fight, for those who cannot fight for themselves.” So far, we’ve come up with these ideas:

Maybe, with the history and training I have, I can walk into danger with bolder compassionate service? I could build deeper relationships with refugees with hard pasts and big needs, distribute clean needles on the streets, pursue downward mobility, and speak truth to power.

I could fight like that.

Maybe, with the experiences and expertise I’ve slowly earned, I can walk into danger with my words? I can research, write, and advocate through letters, blogs, articles, books, speeches, lessons, and sermons. I could take on evil and injustice with confidence, certainty, and courage.

I could fight like that.

Maybe that longing and pride I felt in my heart watching Wonder Woman fight is a gift from God? Maybe I could own my own my identity, past, and desires? Maybe I could help my friends, colleagues, and daughters identify their own longings and battles?

I could fight like that.

Maybe when my girls are my age and they flip through history books, web archives, and personal journals they will realize tears are rolling down their own cheeks. And they will pick up their swords and shields, and run toward danger, just like we trained them.

Lord, make us like Wonder Woman. We can fight like that.

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©Warner Bros. Pictures

A special thank you to Wonder Woman Director, Patty Jenkins –

Dear Patty Jenkins,

I saw Wonder Woman this weekend and loved it. Thank you for making a totally different movie for me and my daughters. Several differences stood out:

Thank you for not slowly panning up and down Gal Gadot’s body in way that invited devouring gazes.

Thank you for not including any rape or sexual assault.

Thank you for not making this heroine a former victim.

Thank you for not including lewd jokes about women, men, or sex.

Thank you for showing women working together, instead of competing against each other. 

Thank you for not denigrating men to artificially build up women.

Thank you for showing several examples of men respecting women.

Thank you for making me proud to be a woman in culture.

Thank you for giving my two daughters a quality night at the movies and a fun, powerful role model. 

We are so excited for the sequel!

Sincerely,  Aimee Fritz

wonder woman 3


 

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

Lying is Fun

Everyone at the crowded table was laughing. My cousins could hardly breathe. Their friends were throwing their heads back and clapping. I was beaming, almost standing on my chair, gesturing wildly, telling them all about what happened when a squirrel snuck into my sleeping bag at summer camp.

It truly was a hilarious 20-minute story, fill of dialogue, descriptions, character development, suspense, plot twists, and a satisfying grand finale.

But it wasn’t true.

I had lived in fear of finding a squirrel in my sleeping bag at camp. I obsessed over it all week: imagining all the places he would accidentally bite me, how his fluffy tail would feel on my mud-caked legs, and how his chittering family members would cheer from the rafters. Would I scream and run, or freeze and slowly be nibbled to death? Would the pretty counselor come to my aid, or the mean one? What would my seven bunkmates do?

I still worried about a squirrel attack when I got home, ripping back my sheets at night before bed. Then very alert and awake in the dark, I imagined all best and worst case squirrel sleeping bag scenarios. In time, that fear morphed into an epic, outlandish tale, perfect for middle school bragging rights.

I was so in zone that night at my cousins’ with that story. I glowed in the cloud of laughter and approval. Until my cousin’s friend wiped her eyes and breathlessly asked, “Oh my gosh, is that story true?”

My heart raced, but I was committed. I took a sip of pop, laughed, and declared, “Oh yeah. It’s 100% true.”

The whole table laughed harder, satisfied.

Lying was fun.

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©unsplash

The June 2017 National Geographic cover story is ”Why We Lie: The science behind our complicated relationship with the truth.” When I pulled the magazine out of our mailbox, the first thing I thought of was my Squirrel in the Sleeping Bag story. Why did I lie that day? Why did it feel good? Why did I keep telling tall tales after that, for years?

Researcher Tim Levine states:

We all lie, but not all lies are the same.

People lie and tell the truth to achieve a goal:

We lie if honesty won’t work.” (p.39)

What was my goal? And why did I think honesty wouldn’t work?

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©National Geographic, Dan Winters

Like every kid, I wanted as many people as possible to like me. That was my goal. Adults liked me because I was a good student, polite, and consistent. I had friends that liked me, but I always thought I needed more. Figuring out how to keep everyone liking me like work.

But taking a true story about my own life and adjusting it for laughs was so easy. Holding court at recess, a sleepover, or family dinner I easily changed words, tones, emotions, and endings of my stories based on the body language of those listening. It was absolutely my favorite thing to do.

“Lying is so easy compared to other ways of gaining power,” observes Sissela Bok, an ethicist at Harvard (p. 38).

Telling stories about homework and the dog wouldn’t work because they were boring. People would lose interest and focus on someone else. I needed their attention and approval. More than anything I wanted to hear, “Tell another story! You are hilarious! Your stories are the best!” That’s the power I wanted.

But when I was alone, I worried. What version of what story did I tell to which people? Who knew about when I was asked to sing “on broadway?” What about when I fell through the ice and was “almost paralyzed?” Was the shark on TV, a fin in the distance, or “right under my boogie board?”

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©Chris Lawton

In the National Geographic story writer Yudhiji Bhattacharjee highlights scandalous liars we all know: Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, Bernie Madoff, and PT Barnum. He included those who lie for a living: CIA agents, poker players, magicians, and art forgers. I looked at all their glossy pictures and wondered, could that have been me?

As a girl I sometimes wondered if I was becoming a con artist, like I saw on TV. I began to steal gum from the Jewel-Osco after reading the novel Pinballs because I wanted to practice shoplifting so I could take care of my sister if we suddenly became orphans. I read The Hiding Place and learned that in order to hide Jews in World War II you had to be a very good liar. Maybe lying was okay sometimes.

Living in a church-going home I knew the 10 Commandments and that lying was a sin. But I didn’t think my lying was really a sin. My stories were just embellishments, exaggerations. I wasn’t lying to get food for orphans or save lives, but I was making people happy. So, no big deal.

When I look at this chart, I see that most of my childhood lying was “to promote myself.” I never got any money from my stories, but it did bring me friendship and acceptance (15% of people lie for personal advantage), it did help me see myself as likable and fun (8% lie for self-impression), and I definitely made people laugh (5% lie for humor).

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©National Geographic, June 2017 (p. 39)

**If this is hard to read, I list the categories at the end of this post.

I was totally in denial about how often I lied to protect myself. I definitely didn’t want to get in trouble (22% of people lie to cover up a mistake or misdeed). I wanted to get away with teasing my sister and gossiping in the hall. I wanted the kid next to me to get in trouble for talking in class, not me. These protecting lies were efficient and effective for keeping me out of trouble, but after a while I started to not like myself, because I was being unkind. So I had to tell more stories, to get others smiling and laughing, so I could feel good again.

I told stories for a long time. Even after I chose to become a Christian and pursued a spiritual life. The stories I told God about myself when I was praying were unintended exaggerations, because I thought I was the worst sinner ever when I was 17. The stories I told my Christian friends were true, but the emotional intensity was magnified, because that showed how I really really felt in spite of the ordinary thing that happened.

I didn’t come to understand the concept of grace until my mid-twenties, and with that, my tall tales started shrinking. Somehow being loved just as I was, by my husband and God, filled those hungry places for approval. Sometimes when a night was really dragging I’d be tempted to spin a yarn, but it didn’t give me the thrill it once did. I confessed my exaggerations when I prayed, until the habit eventually lost its grip.

I started to wonder if people even believed my stories when I was younger. I admitted and apologized to some old friends for my amplified stories, but no one seemed to care, or be surprised. I think they just truly enjoyed being told good stories.

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©Dorota Dylka

The crazy adult world of bosses, commuting, landlords, and in-laws soon revealed that the truth is indeed stranger than fiction. The facts were entertaining enough and kept us all laughing.

Then I had children. There is nothing more gross, ridiculous, and absurd than parenting. I didn’t have to embellish anything. The poop really did stink that bad and really did explode onto all those surfaces. I really only slept two hours. My daughter really did keep sticking beads up her nose on purpose.

Before I had kids I wondered if my relatives and friends were just awful parents, because their kids lied all the time. I laughed at their big eyes, wagging heads, chubby pointing fingers, and other obvious tells. I heard about the fastballs they caught and the dragons they pet. That was cute. But now when my own children lie about hand-washing, homework, and contraband candy I want to pull my hair out.

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©Remi Skatulski

But Bhattacharjee states that all kids are liars, if they are smart.

He points out, “like learning to walk and talk, lying is something of a developmental milestone….a reassuring sign that their cognitive growth is on track” (p. 38).

Improving as a liar is also positive sign, Bhattacharjee explains: “What drives this increase in lying sophistication is the development of a child’s ability to put himself or herself in someone else’s shoes” (p. 42).  This is an interesting spin. One of my highest goals as a parent is to teach my children empathy and compassion. So maybe the next time my son lies in my face I can study the situation and leverage his sophisticated skills for future good instead of deception?

This is a hopeful spin on an addictive vice. It also helps me be gracious and forgiving to my childhood self. I feared for a long time that I was some sort of bad seed because lying came so easily for young, tall-tale-telling me. But I wasn’t malicious. I was just a normal kid with a smart, developing brain, looking for love and laughs. Maybe that ultimately helped me understand people? Maybe it helped me become a writer? Maybe God’s grace is redeeming all that impulsive imagination for good?

In celebration of this transformed understanding of my past I’m going to finally tell my kids “The Squirrel in the Sleeping Bag” story this weekend. I can’t wait.

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©Cristina Schek

1. What’s the biggest lie you ever told? Did you get away with it?

2. Using the National Geographic chart above (and below), what category of lying was it? Were you protecting or promoting yourself? Were you hurting or helping someone else?

3. What’s the craziest lie someone tried to tell you?

4. When are you tempted to lie now? When does it feel like being honest won’t help you reach your goal? How important is that goal to you this moment?

5. Do you need to ask a friend, parent, spouse, teacher, coach, partner, boss or employee to forgive you for lying to them?

6. Do you need to forgive someone for lying to you?

* * * *

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©National Geographic, Dan Winters

**Why We Lie Chart from ©National Geographic (from photo above)

  • To Protect Yourself:
    • 22% – Personal Transgression – cover up a mistake
    • 14% – Avoidance – escape or evade people
  • To Promote Yourself:
    • 16% – Economic Advantage – gain financial benefits
    • 15% – Personal Advantage – bring benefits beyond money
    • 8% – Self-Impression – Shape a positive image of ourselves
    • 5% – Humor – make people laugh
  • To Impact Others:
    • 5% – Altruistic – help people
    • 2% – Social or polite – uphold social roles or avoid rudeness
    • 4% – Malicious – hurt people
  • Unclear:
    • 2% – Pathological – ignore or disregard reality
    • 7% – Unknown – motives are unclear, even to ourselves.
  • Quiz from National Geographic about lying: online quiz
  • Article from June 2017 National Geographic: Why We Lie

Related Posts by Aimee Fritz:


©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

 

 

Ostinato

“For I have known them all already, known them all: 

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, 

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; 

I know the voices dying with a dying fall 

Beneath the music from a farther room. 

               So how should I presume?”

– T.S. Eliot – The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The stack of purple and blue pill organizers crushed me. Seven doors on seven organizers, each filled with different vitamins and prescriptions. Open the seven doors, drop in the tablets and capsules, close the doors, empty them in little bowls for each person at breakfast. Every day. Every week. Every month. Every year. Maybe someday we wouldn’t need to take pills.

Maybe someday would be different. But not today.

I tossed the clothes in the dryer, filled the dishwasher, looked for my wallet, yelled for the kids to get their shoes on, and loaded the car. Maybe someday the kids would empty the dishwasher without breaking anything. Maybe someday my youngest would tie her shoes.

Maybe someday would be different. But not today.

We pulled out of the driveway, squinted under the heavy sun, closed the garage door, went up the street, turned right, turned right at the manatee mailbox, went down the hill, over the lake, up the hill, all the way to the light, and turned left by the Target. Maybe someday we’d have somewhere else to go.

Maybe someday would be different. But not today.

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©Kevin Niu

A guy smiled on the radio, singing (again) that he Can’t Stop the Feeling. That song was always on the radio. I agreed with him. I couldn’t stop the feeling–that hazy despair, empty disappointment, and electric anxiety. That heaviness on my chest, invading my thoughts. Maybe someday there’d be a new song, and the feelings would stop.

Maybe someday would be different. But not today.

I changed the channel. And there actually was a new song — the Jaws theme. We all went silent and waited. The chase and crescendo. The wild strings. The climax. We laughed with relief.

The song was an example of ostinato in the middle of a radio interview with a music professor. He played and discussed the repeated rhythmic patterns of Ravel (Bolero*), Beethoven (Moonlight Sonata), Holst (Mars-Bringer of War), and Williams (Star Wars’ Imperial March). He said ostinato is a “stable foundation and launching point for change on top of it.” He taught that constant repetition is instinctual and unifying, builds suspense and energy, feeds our need for routine and dependability, creates a foundation, and sets the stage for a reveal.

I thought of the pill cases, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and the car route. The unanswered prayers I repeated everyday anyway. The constant repetition.

The song of my days was ostinato.

What foundation was I building? What was the reveal?

I thought of ostinato for months. In the middle of researching other writing projects I’d detour to find more examples of these musical patterns in Led Zeppelin (Black Dog), Donna Summer (Love to Love You Baby), and The Verve (Bittersweet Symphony). I read old articles about music and memory. I filled more pill cases, did more laundry, and tied more shoes.

“Repetitio mater studiorum est.” 

(Repetition is the mother of all learning)

Months later I wrote my pianist friends, asking what it felt like to play and teach ostinato with their dexterous fingers. They said students learn their craft with ostinato, like Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. As professional performers, they don’t question ostinato, or complain. They play the music they are given.

I wondered if my feelings were too much. The composer wrote my music and it was my job to play it. But I didn’t like this song. Was I disobedient? A despairing drama queen? A bad mother?

What foundation were we building? What was the reveal?

I wrote my opera friends and asked what they thought of ostinato, singing the same thing over and over with their mouths, lungs, and diaphragms. They said it’s satisfying to be part of the foundation of a complex song. It’s exciting to build to the climax, like in Orff’s Carmina Burana.

I didn’t think it was exciting to be scared or disappointed. The climax was usually horrible: the shark attack, the marching enemy, or the villain jumping out at the top of the stairs.

My friend gently disagreed. She said ostinato could sound scary and depressing when it was in a minor key. Didn’t I know ostinato could be in a major key, like Pachelbel’s Canon in D? The reveal can be beautiful: love, discovery, reunion, or celebration.

I didn’t know that.

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©Gabriele Diwald

“Hope is the thing with feathers  

That perches in the soul,  

And sings the tune without the words,  

And never stops at all”

Emily Dickinson (254)

I bought more pill cases. The others were worn out from years of use. I laid the paper towels in front of me, ready to pour out all the pills for sorting. I opened all seven doors on all seven cases. Some vitamins and prescriptions were new. Some prescriptions were no longer needed. I cut pills in half. I made notes for refills and doctor calls.

The dishwasher chimed it was done. The dryer stopped tumbling. My daughter started cutting the peppers for dinner. My son started folding towels. My youngest untied her shoes at the back door.

I clicked all seven doors shut on the pill case: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Click, click, click, click, click, click, click. Seven times. Forty-nine times. My ostinato.

My daughter laughed at my son’s joke. My youngest zipped up her kitty cat lunch box. I piled the pill cases in the bin and stared at them. Quietly I prayed a brand new prayer, a new song:

“Thank you, God, for all this.

For the vitamins, medicine, and doctors.

And three kids.

And this day.

And the next seven days.

Maybe someday will be different.

But that’s not today.

I guess You are the foundation?

And You are building something on it?

And You know the future, the big reveal?

I believe.

Help my unbelief.”

I put the heavy bin away, joined my kids in the kitchen, and started cooking dinner.

Again.

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©Brigitte Tohm

“Something, something’s coming good.

Something, something’s coming fine.

Something, something’s coming yours.

Something, something’s coming mine.

Maybe it’ll come on wings.

Maybe it’ll come on wheels.

Maybe if it touches you, you’ll find out how it feels.

Maybe it’ll come by day.

Maybe it’ll come by night.

Something, something’s coming right.”

Harrod & Funck – Something

* * *

Your Ostinati:

1. What’s your repetitive pattern these days? Is it an honest slog through the essential and mundane? Is it an angry refrain in a tense and broken relationship? Is the unexpected trust in a season of gratefulness? Does it bring you stability or tension?

2. What do you think your ostinato is building toward? Certain death? A big epiphany? New love? Why do you think that? Do you think God has a hope and future for you?

3. Ostinato means “obstinate.” In fact, if you type “ostinato” into your phone or computer auto-correct will automatically change it to “obstinate.” Try it. Are you stubborn? Is God stubborn? Is the pattern of your days stubborn? What message do you keep hearing over and over and over again?

4. What key are you playing in? Is it a somber minor key? Is it snarky? Is it hauntingly beautiful? Is it hopeful? A consistent looking up? Do you like your song? If not, what would it take to change one note?

5. What is your favorite song? Does it reflect your current ostinato? Is it something you hope will feel authentic someday? Do you need a new theme song?

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30

*Note: All song titles are linked to iTunes audio files, click on them to hear what different ostinati sound like.

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©Christian Bisbo Johnsen

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©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

Buried Bulbs and Prayers

[Published at (in)courage May 19, 2017]

When I saw the lumpy bags of daffodil bulbs at the store I was skeptical. The eager garden center employee hovered nearby, so I asked her, “Is it worth all the kneeling, getting dirty, and waiting? Are flowers really going to come? Is there any guarantee?”

She promised the bulbs would bloom. I bought four bags and rushed to pick up my kids from school.

Before she even got in the car, I could tell my daughter was angry, like she always was these days. She saw her classmates doubled over laughing on the school lawn as we drove by. She crossed her arms and set her jaw. When we got home she slammed the car door and followed her siblings into the house.

I stayed quiet in the driver’s seat. I knew she didn’t want to talk about it. She refused to pray or be prayed for. She despised my hugs. I sighed. I’d been praying for her for so long. Would it ever get better?

I remembered those daffodils in the back of the van.

I mixed black soil and bone meal with my bare hands in the big pots in front of the porch. Then I carefully laid the bulbs pointy side up in concentric circles. I covered them with more soil and patted it all down firmly with my whole palm, just like I patted my baby daughter’s back at bedtime over a decade ago.

Already kneeling, I suddenly prayed, “God, I believe these bulbs will bloom. I believe something beautiful will come. In this pot. And in my daughter’s heart. I bury my hopes for her here, right now, in this dirt. Only You can do this. I will wait.” I wiped off my palms in the grass and walked away.

Finish the story at (in)courage

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©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

Never Alone

Several years ago my sister and I ran away to Florida. We were both reeling from unexpected heartbreaks – my infertility, her disbanded circle of friends. We felt lonely and untethered. We didn’t know what to say anymore. But we could be together.

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by Jorge Flores via unsplash

And we could read books. Stacks of books. We read at the airport, beach, bookstores, coffeeshops, and in bed until we fell asleep. Sometimes reading passages to each other. Sometimes swapping books. One late, long drive we took turns reading short stories to each other. We forgot our regular lives and entered into fictional strangers’ new schools, first dates, secret obsessions, trespasses, and crimes. When we surfaced from that collection of stories, on that dark highway, our own lives felt different.

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by Glen Noble via unsplash

I just finished Everbloom: Stories of Living Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives, a collection of essays, stories, and poetry by the Redbud Writers Guild. This would be have been just the right book for that weekend away with my sister.

We were both at a crossroads, longing for change, to be in different roles, to be loved by different people, to walk in different directions. But we didn’t feel like it was in our power to create those differences, and if it was, we didn’t know really know how.

The stories in Everbloom would have encouraged us. Women are longing for, processing, grieving, and celebrating all kinds of changes in these pages: Cara doesn’t want to move, Dorothy is learning to how to cry, Amy is single again, Mallory has a huge scar on her back, Ruth is finally adopting, Suzanne is falling in love with her exchange student, and Leslie is buying a padded leopard-spotted bra. I was captivated.

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by Les Anderson via unsplash

I felt welcomed and encircled reading Everbloom. These women wanted to share their stories with me. For me. They wanted me to find the same hope and truth they did. No one was teaching at me with a pointed finger. No one wrapped their stories up with a bow. No one was waiting for thumbs up at the end of her piece. They were offerings for me to do with whatever I wanted.

If my sister and I read this collection that Florida weekend I’m certain we wouldn’t have liked the same pieces. She would have rolled her eyes at some sentiment about marriage. I would have rushed through some section about finding one’s voice. One of us would skip all the poetry, the other would analyze it. I felt freedom, not obligation, reading this book.

I think that comes from the Redbud Writers Guild’s deep purpose to create authentic community among women. As a Guild they equip and inspire all levels of writers, without competition or comparison. It sounds hokey and hippy, but as a new member of the Guild I can say they are pulling it off. That warm intention is evident throughout Everbloom.

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by Jiri Wagner via unsplash

This would be a great book for anyone in transition this summer. Because we know transition often leads to transformation, and that’s what Everbloom is all about. And we know transition often makes us feel alone and unsteady. High school graduates, college graduates, summer travelers, empty-nesters, mid-life wanderers, young mamas – it would be fresh for all of them.

When I give this book to my friend next week I’m going to say,

“Hey, I know you’re trying to figure a lot out right now. I think this Everbloom book would bring sweetness to you. There are 41 pieces in here. You don’t have to read them in order, you don’t have to read them all, you don’t have to like them all. But I’m certain there are words in here that will echo your heart, and you will feel known and understood. I think you’ll find hope. I love you.”

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By Prasanna Kumar via unsplash

[Note: I received a copy of Everbloom from Paraclete Press in exchange for an honest review.]

* * * *

everbloomTo purchase Everbloom: Amazon, Paraclete Press

To learn about the Authors: Redbud Writers Guild

To read other book reflections: Brave is the New Beautiful, Keeping Place, Still Waiting, Long Days of Small Things, Redeeming Ruth, Slow Kingdom Coming


@Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

Six Different Ways to Be Beautiful

If you are looking for an article about crunches, the Whole 30, or eyelash lengtheners, this is not the piece for you.

This is about being Brave.

I bet you’re rolling your eyes. Is this going to be about “beauty on the inside”? Probably written by woman who could benefit from some airbrushing? Is she going to talk about our “good personalities” or how much “Jesus made us and loves us”? No thanks.

I really am just going to talk about 6 Brave things I’ve done that make me feel more Beautiful, whole, and strong. I’ve been walking toward this kind of beauty for a long time, with lots of counseling, prayer, and reflection.

I was flabbergasted to find my story written out by someone else.

Lee Wolf Blum’s new book, Brave is the New Beautiful, is compelling, encouraging, and relatable. I read it cover to cover in one very long bath. I smiled and cried reading stories so similar to mine (and similar to yours, I guarantee it).

There were 6 things I learned about being Brave, that must be universal, because Blum and the women she writes about discovered them, too. Here you go:

1. Toss aside the measuring stick.

There will always be someone smarter, skinnier, richer, and prettier than me (and you). There will always be a better mother, daughter, sister, friend, and co-worker out there. I’ve tried to prove this wrong, but in my years of effort, I rarely held on to that top spot for more than a day or two.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Isn’t that the truth? I’ve had so many great dates, family gatherings, parties, and girls nights out ruined by comparing myself to everyone else in the room.

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photo by Jennifer Burk via unsplash

Blum starts her book by asking, “how do we toss aside the measuring stick?” (p. 26)

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine walking on the beach this summer and NOT CARING what you looked like. And not caring what they looked like. And not caring what they might think you look like.

What about walking into church? Or Christmas with the extended family? Or the big presentation in the board room? What if who you were, just as you are, was enough?

That’s the kind of Brave, the kind of Beautiful, Blum wants us to find in ourselves.

2. Disconnect the U-Haul of Shame

We remember all those times we’ve been compared and fallen short, and carry them with us in heavy backpacks, steamer trunks, or long U-Hauls. We can categorize these failings by time (5th grade, Freshman Year, 30th Birthday), place (school bus, gym class, locker room, bridal shower), type (too fat, too loud, too mousy, too emotional), person (that teacher, parent, frenemy, boss, famous icon). But it’s all the same thing, that vicious bully, Shame.

Blum writes, “disconnect that U-Haul of shame from [your] lives and take steps to move on.” (p. 59)

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Maybe with the U-Haul gone we’re free for adventure instead?  photo by Jan Erick Waider via unsplash

I imagined flicking on my turn signal, rumbling into the gravel on the shoulder of the highway, getting out of the car, slamming the door, putting my hair up, and standing over the tow bar between my little car and the overstuffed U-Haul of Shame. The tow bar had been soldered, rusted, and locked to my car. I imagined bashing it with a sledgehammer, over and over, until it cracked and crumbled. I wiped my brow with my forearm, shoved the U-Haul with a big kick, and watched it roll backward into the ravine. I cheered. Then ran back to the driver’s seat, peeled out, and sped away, light and free.

That’s how I want to live. No more U-Haul of Shame. Blum’s book shows us how to be this kind of Brave and Beautiful.

3. Get Your Story Out

When we come up short in comparisons and are shamed by it, we are conditioned to hide. Definintely don’t call attention to it. Definitely don’t expand on it. The risk of being misunderstood is scary–Are you trying to defend what makes you gross and inadequate? Are you trying to play the game without following the rules? Are you trying to change my mind? Who do you think you are?

Blum tells us we’ve got to talk.

“The stories burning a hole inside you are the stories you need to get out of your body, where they are no longer hold any power over you.” (p. 61)

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I’m a journal. photo by Simson Petrol via unsplash

I’m a verbal processor, so I have tell my stories to a trusted friend. But I also needed to tell my stories to a trained professional. When I unspooled my secrets so many of them withered and died in the light of day. I got less headaches and stomachaches after telling my stories. My posture changed and I became physically stronger.

If we want to be Brave, and truly Beautiful, we’ve got to get our stories out. Journal them, talk about them in session, teach them, publish them, but take control of your story and get it out from the dark, musty, creepy corners and into the bright light.

4. Make friends with your needs

We all know being needy and clingy is gross. We don’t want needy people hanging all over us either. At the peak of my self-loathing I thought of my needs as ugly street dogs, whining, howling, and following me everywhere I went. I hated them.

Blum quotes Cloud and Townsend’s book Safe People, “Make friends with your needs. Welcome them. They are a gift from God, designed to draw you into a relationship with him and with his safe people. Your needs are the cure to the sin of self-sufficiency.” (p. 49-50)

Make friends with my needs? My needs are from God?

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photo by Anoir Chafik via unsplash

I turned around and looked those street dogs in the eyes. I pet them. I bought them jangly name tags. One puppy was called “Being Understood,” another was “Being Important,” and the other was “Being Needed.” They were slobbery and yippy. I could have used all those papers from the boxes in the Shame U-Haul to potty train them.

Blum later quotes Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Our brokenness and imperfections are the spaces where we stand in need of God in a way that we don’t in our excellence.” (p. 97)

So I can’t be Brave or Beautiful without the puppies?

When I stop comparing, disconnect from shame, and get my story out, I can then accept my needs. Instead of shooing away those ugly street dogs, I see that God is showing me how to properly train them, because he sent them to help me. They are becoming excellent guard dogs, service dogs, and companions.

When my needs keep me connected to God, they don’t make me weak or ugly, they make me Brave and Beautiful.

5. Set limits

A lot of our journey to be Brave and Beautiful is private. We quietly re-order our thoughts and habits as our pain is redeemed. We begin to thrive. We begin to act and relate differently.

And some people don’t like it. They want everything the old way.

But we can’t go back to the old way. We can’t be in loving relationships with someone who always pulls a measuring stick out, re-attaches the U-Haul, mocks our stories, or kicks our puppies.

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“Good fences make good neighbors” – Robert Frost – photo by Nick Niemeyer via unsplash

Sometimes we have to set limits with people we desperately want to love, and leave places we thought were forever homes.

Blum tells a really hard story in Chapter 8 about strong woman who has to separate from a very bad relationship. The grief and loss this brings the Brave and Beautiful woman in the story is palpable. Blum reflects on the bravery it takes to set those limits:

“God didn’t make me quiet and demure, and he didn’t make me to conform. He made me uniquely me….I know it and believe it. I no longer try to be someone I’m not, and I can tell you for sure that not everyone likes the authentic me.” (p. 124)

I cried when I read this paragraph, because not everyone likes the authentic me either. I remember cherished relationships that died when I began to heal. God has provided rich friendships in their place, but sometimes I still grieve the loss.

Standing firm in loving boundaries is one of the Bravest and most Beautiful things God has taught me to do. It changed my life.

6. Surrender

Even though I’ve done a lot of inner work and I’m more whole than ever, I still sometimes struggle to believe God loves someone who is *so much work.* I got lost in recent months, and forgot a lot. After reading Brave is the New Beautiful, I realized that I needed to go back to counseling.

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photo by Swaraj Tiwari via unsplash

Blum shares that she was stuck, too, and paves the way for women like me to continue on our healing journeys. She admits to her counselor, “I’m afraid to believe something new.” (p. 143). That new thing is “to believe God adores me despite me is a deeper and richer kind of love than I’ve ever known.” (p. 146)

Even though she’s been so Brave, and so bolstered by the stories of dozens of Beautiful women, it’s still hard. I don’t just need to surrender to another season of soul-searching, confession, radical acceptance, and counsel. I need to surrender to God. I can let go of self-help, gimmicks, and pep talks when instead I grasp tightly to the believe that the Master of the Universe tenderly and relentlessly loves me no matter what.

By the end of Brave is the New Beautiful I felt deeply understood, far from alone, and loved. I felt hopeful that God was never going to stop loving me, and all the women I know searching for love. I felt Beautiful. Because I was going to be Brave.

thumb_nonfiction_brave-is-the-new-beautiful* * * *

I hope you will read Brave is the New Beautiful. I know you will find your own story in it’s pages.

  • This would be great for your small group. Read the book and gather together to share your own Brave stories.
  • Maybe you’ll order it today for your mom, daughter, sister, or friend in time for Mother’s Day. Perhaps include a note stating one Brave thing you love about her.
  • If all I’ve shared seems foreign and crazy, yet somehow appealing, order it for yourself and ask God, “I want to be the woman you made me to be, Brave and Beautiful. Will you show me how?”

To buy Brave is the New Beautiful: Amazon

For a free 4 day Bible Study to accompany Brave is the New Beautiful: YouVersion

To visit the author’s website: Lee Wolf Blum

[Note: I received a copy of Brave is the New Beautiful from David C. Cook in exchange for an honest review.]

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©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

Six Different Ways to Go Home

After being chased all day by work deadlines, kid drop-offs, online and in-person misunderstandings, and perpetual obligations, I just want to go Home.

Jen Pollock Michel, in her new book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home writes, “we are hardwired for place and permanence, for rest and refuge, for presence and protection” (p. 33). That’s how I feel when I pull in the driveway for the the last time each day–it’s like lunging for base in game of tag.

I’m safe. I’m Home. 

I experience the hardwiring for Home in 6 different ways, some temporary, some satisfying, some internal, some external, sometimes all of them all in one day.

1. Home is Where I Keep My Stuff

That’s the first layer – my stuff. It’s the collection of what I need, want, and what’s important to me. My bed. My special pillow. My selected foods put where I like in my cabinets. My wedding album. My books. My boxes of my kids’ keepsakes tucked away in the basement. My guest room where I can invite you to leave your home and stay in mine. Home is where I keep and protect all that’s precious to me. I feel content and in control.

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by Erwan Hesry via unsplash

On long trips growing up we joked that “Home is where the majority of your underwear is.” On those trips I also had my favorite clothes, books, music, and makeup, so a hotel room, Gramma’s house, or friend’s basement could also be Home, the base to catch my breath, while we were away.

In Keeping Place, Jen Pollock Michel doesn’t talk much about Home as Storage Facility and Control Center. She takes us far deeper, past the stuff, and into the longing: “Biblical words related to home can denote a physical dwelling, family household, material possessions, as well as geographical and social connections, but these words only hint at the emotional dimensions of the English word home and it’s cousins in German, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, and Dutch. In these languages…home also describes an emotional state of being” (p. 28).

I might feel happy and safe at home, but deep down I know I need more.We_groan_for_permanence._We_long_for_home.

2. Home is My Address

Home is literally where I live. The first line in my GPS, the center pin on my map. The place I receive amazon boxes and Christmas cards. What I type into evites for birthday parties, holiday meals, and lip sync competitions. When I give you my address, I’m telling you where you can find me.

Addresses are also an shortcut to knowing someone’s presumed status. Anyone can type  my address into google for an aerial and street view of my house, the value of other houses on my street, the closest schools, and the nearest grocery stores. They might use that information to inaccurately determine my family’s worth and identity.

When a new friend is on their way over I sometimes wonder what they’ll think of my address. Will they think I’m too poor, not good enough, for us to be friends? Will they think I’m too rich, too snotty, for us to be friends? It reminds me of Lorde’s classic, Royals:

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by antonio grosz via unsplash

“And I’m not proud of my address, in the torn up town
No post code envy

But every song’s like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
Bloodstains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams…”
– Royals lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Songs Music Publishing

In Keeping Place, Michel begins chapters and sections with specific addresses. I love this device. I love inside scoop into an author’s real life. Especially when I’ve been in or near the same places, like Illinois, Ohio, and Canada. I can instantly know if it would snow there, how tall the trees get, how early the sun goes down. The quick sense of place grounds me and loops me into the story. (If I chose to google those addresses maybe I could see her old houses, and make snap judgements about her parent’s income or what kind of education her kids might have, but that’s never been my thing.)

3. Home is My Child

I think I might be in the minority with this one, but my Home is like one of my kids. When we buy a house I name her, like I name my houseplants (Mickey), and major appliances (Rosita) and our golf cart (Lil’ Wayne). Once I figure out my Home’s personality I give her my attention and affection. I think about my Home when I’m away and pick out souvenirs for her along with my kids: what might my Home like and need? who might she become someday, with the right amount of love, preparation and investment?

Keeping my Home costs the same as raising a child, if not more. A new roof is the same cost as braces and ongoing retainers. New windows are equivalent to a year of college. Our second house, named the Bluebird, was a 105 year old Sears Home. She was like a pretty elderly woman humming in the corner. I loved freshening up her lipstick and buying her new clothes. But she was also a bit mischievous, wetting her pants when it rained, and often needed major medical attention from the plumber, electrician, and handyman. I loved her anyway.

by arno smit via unsplash

by Arno Smit via unsplash

Keeping Place refers to God as Homemaker. As a woman, equally embracing and despising that role for myself, I was delighted. Imagining for a moment God vacuuming, doing laundry, setting the table, and checking the roast expanded my understanding of his intimate care and my importance in our Home. I delighted in the Bluebird and in the family and friends who worked, rested, and played there.

Michel made the creation stories in Genesis come alive in new ways. First, the Homemaker God makes the world “as joyful preparation for [His] children, who arrive at the threshold of the world on the sixth day…he created an oxygenated world–because it suited us” (p. 64). This happy anticipation reminded me of my nesting seasons, repainting the nursery and organizing tiny diapers in rows. And it reminded me how my mom buys our favorite foods, makes up the beds, and puts fresh cut flowers on our nightstands when we fly out to visit. God was intentional and excited to prepare a place just right for us.

Then Michel hones in on God “putting” things in places. “Much like we put our shoes in the closet…God put Adam in a garden” (p. 65) In Genesis 2:8 and 2:15 the Hebrew word represents “rest” or “safety” (p. 66). When I’m preparing for friends and family I put things in their place, in anticipation of my guests’ likes and dislikes. I put the fragile vase up high and the safety gate up with toddlers are coming over, I put a towel on the floor for wet boots, I put extra blankets in the guest room on cold nights.

Receiving the intimacy of God as Homemaker makes me more grateful for his love, sovereignty, and care.

4. Home is When I Feel Loved

I remember flying Home from college and standing on my tiptoes to see my dad waiting for me at the gate (back when you could do that). I was finally done with finals, the long plane ride, and the interminable taxiing to the gate. When my Dad hugged me, and took my dark teal messenger bag off my shoulder and onto his, I was Home.

Then I fell in love and got married. That amazing man and I made our Home in each other, and every day was like greeting each other at the airport. Decades later, when I see my husband across the room, hear his voice on the phone, or stare at him from the passenger seat, I know I’m Home. Thanks be to God.

Several years into our marriage I found the old Billy Joel song, “You’re My Home.” (If you don’t like Billy Joel you’ll think this song is cheesy.) The sheltering love my husband offers makes me feel safe and warm, understood and delighted in, welcome and wanted:

by bekah-russom-via unsplash

by Bekah Russom via unsplash

“Long as I have you by my side
There’s a roof above and good walls all around
You’re my castle, you’re my cabin
And my instant pleasure dome
I need you in my house
‘Cause you’re my home
You’re my home”

– Written by Billy Joel • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

Once again, Michel takes the idea of Home=Love much further in Keeping Place. She reminds us, “The nuclear family cannot bear the full weight of human hope and expectation, struggle and need. It’s too fragile and human and entity” (p. 137). That’s both disappointing and a tremendous relief. I’m deeply thankful for my husband (and kids), whom I adore, but we’ll never get all we need from each other. We’re not supposed to. Michel’s descriptions of the role of church and marriage remind me that that Home is far bigger than anyone can rent, tithe, or marry.

5. Home is Myself

St. Catherine of Sienna, the 14th century Italian mystic, said, “Make for yourself … one actual home … and another spiritual home, which thou art to carry with thee always.” When I recently re-read this I felt unsettled. Do I feel at Home with myself, my true self? Do I take care of myself as well as I take care of my house? Am I more welcoming to people that are not me?

by ehud-neuhaus via unsplash

by Ehud Neuhaus via unsplash

I’m working on everyday acceptance of the person God made Aimee Fritz to be. I’m thanking God for my personality, gifts, talents, mind, spirit. And body–the external part being Home with myself. It feels rebellious and exhilaring. I don’t look 20 because I’m not 20. I look exactly like who I am, a suburban mom in her 40’s who likes to cook and have people eat over more than she likes to run. When I look in the mirror these days I laugh remembering this wonderful story from Anne Lammott:

“I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly whenever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach, that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way.” – from Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on  Faith

This self- and body-centered idea isn’t a part of Keeping Place, but it is an important part of my own understanding of Home. In Michel’s chapter “Perished Things” I resonated with her intentional decision to visit the places she grew up, where her father died, and where her brother committed suicide. She went to remember, learn, and grieve. It brought her healing, understanding, and redemption.

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by Erwan Hesry via unsplash

The prelude to my journey of self-acceptance, receiving with joy the gifts God purposefully gave to me, is all the moves I made growing up. It’s not as horrific as death, but it was traumatic for teenage me. Four different states and five different schools in six years caused me to question, experiment, re-invent, celebrate, and sadly sometimes loathe the woman I was becoming. I didn’t rest. I didn’t feel at Home with myself for a long time.

But I do now. I’m thankful for Christ’s continual healing work.

6. Home is Jesus

With this newfound freedom and boldness I feel even more hospitable than my generous parents raised me to be. If God made me, loves me, forgives me, and heals me, then who really cares what everyone else thinks? I want to hug more people. I want to have them around our new table (that extends to seat 16 comfortably, 20 not as comfortably). I want to hear their stories. I want to serve them too much Thai take-out and too many of my daughter’s homemade desserts.

Our Family Compassion Focus this year is “Create Refuge” –  for our friends, classmates, colleagues, grandparents, refugees, neighbors, and each other. We want our Home to be a big umbrella to rest under when the questions, inconveniences, and tragedies of life come pouring down. We want to be bridge to love, understanding, and God.

Home is not just where we live and are loved. Home is what we offer, especially as Christians. I’m going to give you all the love I’ve got as a friend, but that’s not enough. You’ll need Jesus to fill in the gaps. I’m going to give you all the food and free place to sleep in your travels, but let’s admit that God provided it all. I’m going to listen to your worries and secrets, but the only hope I can offer, that I’m certain will work, is Jesus Christ, the Savior of Your Heart and the Whole World.

This is the primary message of Keeping PlaceGod has created a Home for us, because he loves us. We live in that Home, celebrate it, keep it, and invite everyone we can to live there with us, with Him. We do that through church, marriage, feasting, and resting. Michel writes:

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by Dave Lastovskiy via unsplash

“Our redemption story is bound up with the housekeeping of a table. In our homes we keep the feast by offering God’s welcome to others: not only family and friends, Jesus said, but the needy stranger (Mt 25:35-36). Around our tables we feed Christ himself, and our shared feast-keeping is sure measure of our love for him.” (p. 165)

Where’s Home for you? How do you get there? Is it when you’re surrounded by your favorite things? When you order your first return address labels? When you learn to keep house? When you fall in love? When you like yourself?

I pray you revel in each kind of Home, because they all are pointing us toward our true Home in Jesus.

* * * * *

My reflections about Home were ignited by Jen Pollock Michel’s beautiful, thoughtful, new book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home. It is rich with profound but accessible ideas about the physical, relational, and spiritual Homes we make.

I wrote about the increasing depth on my own understanding of Home in this post, and Michel will take you much farther. In her book you will learn about nostalgia, grief, women’s rights, church, marriage, sabbath rest, and heaven.

I have many ideas scribbled in the margins of my copy of Keeping Place. I need to spend much more time praying and writing about them. For now I can only imagine writing them in a journal, because Home is a deeply personal. My list of things I need to explore to re-order/redeem my thinking about Home:

  • To_be_human_is_to_be_homesick.My 11 Addresses – What roots have I dug up and transplanted in each Home? What have I left behind? What have I lost? What can be found again to make my current Home thrive?
  • Can Home be more than one place? – Will my kids say they are from Georgia when they go to college? Or will they always say they’re from Wheaton, Illinois? Have I finished grieving my (almost 2 years ago) move away from our Wheaton Home?
  • Can I honestly say the Lord is my Home? That all my stuff, my identity, my love, and my service all fits into and under my relationship with the God who loves me?
  • How can I make my Homemaking more worshipful as a creative, steadfast, and welcoming woman with generous service and firm boundaries? What new things can I try? What old things could I stop?

I enjoyed quietly reading Keeping Place by myself, carefully answering the study questions in the back, and praying through the tough answers. It also would be great for small groups, with or without the DVD. I’d love to hear your thoughts after you read it.

* * * * *

keeping place coverTo purchase Keeping PlaceAmazon, IVP

**[Keeping Place is already out of stock on Amazon. Here is a 30% off code to buy the book (and DVD) at IVP – code is READKP]**

To read more – Jen Pollock Michel’s Q&A about Keeping Place

To learn about the author – Jen Pollock Michel’s website

To read other book reflections and author interviews: Slow Kingdom Coming, Long Days of Small Things, Still Waiting, 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations, Redeeming Ruth, and Seeking Refuge

[Note: I received an advanced copy of Keeping Place from InterVarsity Press in exchange for an honest review.]


©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

Love and Loss – a Comparison of Redeeming Ruth and Arrival

[Warning – this post contains spoilers for the 2016 movie Arrival and the brand new memoir Redeeming Ruth.]

 

Is it better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all?

 

I finally watched Arrival, the award-winning, thought-provoking alien movie, starring Amy Adams as a linguist who saves the world.

arrival poster

©Paramount Pictures

In the beginning of the movie there’s a montage of Louise (Amy Adams’ character) and Hannah, her cherished child who becomes very ill and dies. Later we find out Louise is remembering/forseeing her child, and her fate, before she even becomes pregnant. She chooses the relationship that will create her daughter, and to bear and love her fully, even though she knows the the suffering and loss that lies ahead.

arrival via twitter

©Paramount Pictures

I had just finished Meadow Rue Merrill’s powerful new book, Redeeming Ruth:Everything Life Takes, Love Restores. I couldn’t help weaving both stories together as I watched Arrival.

Redeeming Ruth is a fresh, clear, beautifully written memoir about adoption, courage, special needs, provision, faith, hope, and suffering. 

redeeming ruth book

©Hendrickson Publishers

One day a beautiful toddler with cerebral palsy is placed into Ruth’s arms at church. This orphan was sent to the States for medical treatment, and possibly adoption. Meadow and her family fall in love with Ruth, long to spend more time with her, begin to take care of her, and then begin a lengthy, costly, adventure (including a long, perilous trip to Uganda) to finally adopt her.

Doors close and open. Financial gifts come at just the right time. Favor is granted. Ruth learns to hear and communicate. It’s beautiful and victorious, over and over again. As a devoted adoption advocate I was cheering the Merrill Family every step of the way. I wanted the love and courage they poured out.

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©Meadow Merrill

From the beginning, though, we know Redeeming Ruth is going to be a hard story. The subtitle “Everything Life Takes, Love Restores” makes that clear. We read in the prologue that Ruth is gone and Meadow is grieving. We know we’ll be getting the whole story of her joy and suffering.

That is Louise’s story in Arrival, too. The heptapods, the aliens visiting from the future, reveal her future to her. She chooses it anyway, knowing the life of her daughter, and the love she already has for her, is worth it. We see Louise’s powerful, silent acceptance to proceed in spite of what will one day come. That’s the only version of grief we are shown in the movie.

arrival via vox

©Paramount Pictures

In Redeeming Ruth, we are shown the full reality of the grief that comes from loving so fully. We get glimpses of Meadow’s deep sorrow at the beginning of every chapter through dreams, memories, and songs. When we later read the story of Ruth’s death it’s awful. We witness Meadow’s raw and real grief–the anger, second-guessing, self-blame, and despair. We understand, and we join in, because we’ve fallen in love with Ruth now, too. 

redeeming ruth via ct

©Meadow Merrill

One key difference between Arrival and Redeeming Ruth is the deep foundation of love, joy, and coming-soon redemption. When I finished the book I immediately thought, with grateful tears, “Thank you, God, for this beautiful story of life, hope, provision, and love. Thank you for Ruth’s life. Thank you for entrusting the Merrill family with her.” We can tell that Meadow, her husband, and kids are living with an uncommon gratefulness and abiding sense of God’s goodness because of Ruth.

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©Meadow Merrill

When I finished Arrival I was agitated with sorrow. The foundation wasn’t joy or redemption, but fear and perhaps too much knowledge. Was it worth it? Would Louise be okay? How could she be?

abigail-pniowsky-via teenidols4you

@Paramount Pictures

I watched Arrival, contrasting it with Redeeming Ruth, on Good Friday, as it so happens. The strong parallels kept me up late, long after the movie ended, braiding together the beauty of the movie, book, and Jesus’ death. Just like Louise in Arrival, Jesus knew that suffering and death were coming. He knew the past, present and future all at the same time. Just like Meadow in Redeeming Ruth, Jesus knew that death is not the end of the story. He knew that suffering is never in vain.

One of my kids is suffering through an incredibly difficult season. It’s heartbreaking. I thought about it all through Arrival and Redeeming Ruth. Aliens didn’t reveal my child’s life story and struggle in advance. I didn’t choose or expect a child that would endure so much struggle. I’m unprepared and overwhelmed. I often wonder how much more we all can take. I beg God to take this suffering away.

But sitting alone in the dark, late on Good Friday, I found my resolve, my faith again. I considered with deep admiration the courage of Louise, Meadow, and Jesus. I slowly prayed, with whispered conviction,

“I see the suffering, God. I see that it might not end for a long time. But I will keep going. Because of love. The love You have for me. The love You have for my kid. The love I have for my kid. The love they have for me. I see You in all this, Lord. I trust You to redeem it all. Have mercy. Thank you. Amen.”

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redeeming ruth bookPlease buy the beautiful Redeeming Ruth wherever books are sold: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, TargetChristianbook, and Hendrickson.

Note: I received an advanced copy of Redeeming Ruth from Hendrickson in exchange for an honest review.

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

 

Sign of the Times

[Published on Evangelicals for Social Action 4/19/17]

“I think I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think we should do this.” I bit my lip and put my hands in my pockets.

“Don’t be nervous. Be proud. This is who we are,” my husband said. He’s used to my last-minute jitters.

“What’s the point? Are we trouble-makers? Are we show-offs? I don’t know.” I glanced at the sign on the counter, threw my head back, and sighed.

“Come on. Let’s do this.” He headed out the front door.

That afternoon I had gone to Clarkston, Georgia with a friend of mine and all our kids to Refuge Coffee Co., the place we adopted during our Family Compassion Focus last year. I chatted with our resettled refugee friends working on the coffee truck, tried a new tea, bought some new mugs, and brought home a sign offered by World Relief Atlanta that said in clear black letters REFUGEES WELCOME HERE.

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But when I saw the sign in my trunk when we got home my stomach twisted. I have never had a sign in my front yard for any reason. We sometimes fly an American flag, and a “W” flag when the Cubs win, but never anything that could be seen as remotely political or religious (well, the Cubs flag might border on religious).

We live in a beautiful, safe suburb, far away from the city of Atlanta and all public transportation. It started as a planned community almost 50 years ago, and affectionately refers to itself as “The Bubble.” It’s known for its golf carts, good schools, and die-hard conservative Republican values. I didn’t see one Clinton sign anywhere in town during election season, but I saw dozens of Trump signs. There were four in my picturesque, tree-lined neighborhood.

What would The Bubble think of a sign proclaiming REFUGEES WELCOME HERE?

My husband slid the skinny metal stakes into the Georgia clay.  I pleaded, “No! Not like that. Not head on! Our neighbors across the street didn’t ask for this. I don’t want them to have to see it every time they look out the window.”

He adjusted the sign.

“No! Not like that either. I don’t want to shove this in anyone’s face. Let’s move it over a few feet, and at an angle so it doesn’t point at anyone’s front door?” I paused. “Or how about we don’t do this at all?”

He waited.

I knelt down, pulled the sign out of the ground, moved it over, and pivoted it to face in between two houses. My stomach flipped again. Our neighborhood’s very active, vocal HOA is not a big fan of individuality. I didn’t want any trouble.

My husband helped me up. We stepped out to the sidewalk and stared at the sign. My husband then walked back to it, and shoved the stakes deep down in the ground. We held hands and prayed.

“Lord, help us live out what this sign says. For refugees we already know. For refugees we don’t know. For neighbors. For new friends. Our house belongs to you.”

We called our son out to take our picture. We posted that picture of us holding hands over the sign on Facebook and Instagram. Friends of our family and and allies of refugees liked, loved, and commented on it. It got more attention than our 20th wedding anniversary picture. It’s just a sign. But it’s also statement.

I hardly slept that night. I fitfully dreamed about the sign being stolen, neighbors pounding on the door, angry emails, and my house being set on fire. When I got out of bed in the morning I ran down the stairs, opened the front door and checked to see if the sign was still there. Please continue reading at Evangelicals for Social Action

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by Jez Timms via Unsplash

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©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

Home-Grown Liturgy

[Published on The Mudroom on 3/7/17]

It all started when the priest’s wife hugged me under the tall trees in my front yard and gave me her secret recipe to make Church of the Great Shepherd’s communion bread. Even though I wasn’t ordained, didn’t have a fancy robe, and didn’t own a Book of Common Prayer, I was invited to be a part of the sacrament and splendor of our young Episcopal church.

Unshowered in yesterday’s workout clothes I whisked warm milk and honey together, rolled dough on my floured kitchen table, cut circles with a biscuit cutter, and marked crosses on each round with a serrated knife.

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My bed-headed twins followed me to the oven in their footie pajamas.

“Mama, is that bread?”

“Yep. Bread for Jesus. For communion. We remember Jesus loves us when we eat communion bread.”

“Mama, can we have that bread today?”

“This bread is for church tomorrow, bunnies.”

When the timer went off I held my toddlers back with one hand and opened the oven with the other. The cozy smell of warm wheat and honey enveloped us. My kids begged, “Oh, Mama, the bread smells so good! Can we have some? Pleeease, Mama!”

I shook them off, laid the trays on the cooling racks and counted. We needed at least 25 rounds for the service, 28 were preferred. I had 28. I looked at my babies’ faces.

I broke a round in two and gave them the pieces declaring:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Jesus loves you, Caleb.

Jesus loves you, Zoë.”

I added butter to the next one and repeated our brand new home-communion prayer. I put butter, honey, and the prayer on the one after that. They smiled and licked their fingers. “The Jesus bread is so good, Mama.”

“Amen, kiddos. Jesus is good.”

I didn’t know if I was allowed to share the church’s bread with my kids without the liturgy that preceded it on Sunday mornings. But I couldn’t resist. We tasted and saw the Lord was good every time I made those milk and honey rounds in our sunny little kitchen.

I loved going to church even more then. It was like meeting with God under a lush, broad tree. Ancient prayers, new songs, Scripture, and truth hung like ripe fruit all around me. I loved the taste of that fruit. I plucked all I could carry, hoping it was enough for me and my family until we gathered under the tree again.

I ate it all week. I shared it with the people I loved. I found myself reciting the church’s Prayer of Confession on the treadmill, singing the Doxology when I tucked my kids in, and making little crosses on my family’s heads, chests, and hands all the time, even though I didn’t have holy water or anointing Chrism oil. After participating in a few Baptism services I silently renounced Satan, wickedness, and sinful desires during my kids’ baths. When I shampooed little Greta’s hair I told her:

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism

and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” (Book of Common Prayer)

The truth of Christ’s love was so sweet and bountiful in the liturgy at church. The tree was never bare. I smelled, tasted, chewed and swallowed it. Those words and practices restored my soul.

All those years of liturgical fruit planted seeds in my own yard. God grew new trees, for new fruit, to feed us in the hard times that inevitably came between church services. Like when we tried to get out the door for school.

One particularly bad day, when shoes, scarves, and punches were flying, I loudly begged read the end of this story on The Mudroom

french-white-enamel-pitcher

via Omero Home

Related Stories about Liturgy & Family:aimee fritz bio pic


©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

Still Waiting by Ann Swindell

I’m not good at waiting. I rip open the new bag of chips in the Kroger parking lot, love reading spoilers for TV season finales, weave in and out of the fast lane, and almost die waiting for my kids to get to the point of whatever story they’re telling.

I’m definitely not good at waiting for big, important things. I writhed, groaned, swore, cried, doubted, and yelled at God in the hard, long seasons of waiting before I finally recovered from a car accident, finally got pregnant, and finally popped the champagne when my husband got a new job.

I’m still waiting for lots of things. I’m back in physical therapy for a running injury and back in counseling for heartaches. A beloved friend might be on the verge of finally beating her decades-long illness. My kids pray everyday for me to stop being allergic to dogs so they can get one. We can’t find a church that nourishes and challenges us.

Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m supposed to change my prayers or just give up praying. I wonder what I’m doing wrong. I wonder what God is up to. I question who He is.

I’m not good at waiting.

So it took some courage for me to open Ann Swindell’s book, Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want. Because I sometimes don’t want to learn how and why to keep waiting. I just want what I want when I want it. And I was afraid this book would condemn me.

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I was deeply wounded in past seasons of waiting. My beautiful youth group leader, who didn’t know how I often I begged my new Savior to be healed of my insistent acne, declared “I don’t know anyone walking with Jesus who has bad skin.” My friend’s friend called me for the first time just to diagnose, “Do you have any unconfessed sin in your life? Because that’s probably why you can’t have a baby.” They assumed my waiting was part of God’s punishment, and that He wanted to see me squirm until I relented, repented, and proved I was worthy of His healing.

It messed me up for years – because I believed it. I believed Jesus withheld healing in some menacing power struggle. I sometimes fell into a bleak and grace-less living because of this insidious rewards-and-consequences thinking.

In those seasons I was a like a eager woman in a pretty dress still waiting for her blind date to show while the severs swept restaurant floor. I was like the shivering, cold, hungry woman at the bus stop, looking down the street for a bus that might not come. I hate feeling like that. I want to avoid all the pain, uncertainty, embarrassment, and shame of that kind of waiting.

But I am still waiting for many things. So I took a deep breath, said an “Okay, Lord, I’m listening” prayer, and opened Still Waiting.

The book starts with this profound truth:

“We wait because we are broken, 

and we are broken because we are waiting.” (p. 12)

She starts her story from the very beginning, when she was a little girl, when she first knew she was broken, and when she first started waiting. She lets us see how hard waiting has been. I underlined it all in solidarity: feeling defeated (p. 14), feeling like a disappointment (p. 22), a nagging feeling of constantly failing (p. 30), a deep soul weariness (p. 59).  I was so thankful this wasn’t going to be some pollyanna book about grinning and bearing it. I was so glad I wasn’t alone.

My heart softened, more ready to hear whatever God wanted to reveal next through Ann’s words.

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Then, like an apologetic, rain-soaked, pants-ripped blind date, or a warm and well-lit bus, God showed up with this extravagant, new-to-me truth:

“God does not equate evil with weakness.” (p. 38).

That’s not what my youth group leader said about my skin, or my friend’s friend said about my infertility. They equated my weakness, my inability to fix what was broken in myself, with sin and evil. But God does not.

I stopped reading, leaned back on the couch. I prayed, “O God, is this true? Really true? Maybe my acne and infertility weren’t punishments? I feel like I know it’s true, but sometimes I don’t know how to live like it’s true.”

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That’s what shame does. I struggle to trust the deep love of Jesus while I wait for my prayers to be answered because I carry a very heavy backpack of shame (more on this later). Throughout Still Waiting, Ann weaves in a re-telling of the shunned and outcast Bleeding Woman (Matthew 9, Mark 5, and Luke 8) from the gospels. I have felt shunned and outcast, rejected and misunderstood, too. It’s hard to shake that off. Ann explains,

“Because once you see yourself as an outcast or as someone who doesn’t fit in, the stigma doesn’t need to come from anyone else. You carry it in your mind, in the folds of your person.” (p. 82)

Then bitterness and anger can take root. Ann shares her own despair with unanswered prayer, and again it’s like a page out of my own journal:

“The tears ran down my face, wetting the pages of my journal, blurring my vision. I was crying now, but not with God. I was crying at him. I wanted to push him away — this God who is all places and everywhere– and I wanted to run from him.

That was how I started to understand how people became bitter, how the seeds of anger turn into deep roots of dismissal when it comes to trusting God. Petty as my own little world might have been, it was the only world I had. If God wouldn’t show up there, in the middle of my life, how else could I know him?” (p. 103)

Ann then clarifies the choice I’m going to have to make next time I’m in that desperate, confusing place of unanswered prayer:

“And while it’s good to be honest with God, there is a distinct difference between heartfelt honesty and hostile honesty. Heartfelt honesty comes to God on its knees. Hostile honesty comes to God pointing a finger.” (p. 105)

Deep in my season of infertility an older friend told me my prayers sounded like resignation more than relinquishment. I didn’t know the difference. She recommended an old classic from Catherine Marshall called Adventures in Prayer. I found a large-print copy with yellow brown pages at the Wheaton Public Library. In it I discovered this treasure:

“I RELINQUISH THIS TO YOU:

Father, for such a long time I have pleaded before you this, the deep desire of my heart: _____________________________. Yet the more I’ve clamored for this, the more remote You have seemed.

I confess my demanding spirit in this matter. I’ve tried suggesting to You ways my prayer could be answered. To my shame, I’ve even bargained with You. Yet I know that trying to manipulate the Lord of the Universe is utter foolishness. No wonder my spirit is so sore and weary!

I want to trust you, Father. My spirit knows that these verities are forever trustworthy even when I feel nothing…

That you are there.    (You said, “Lo, I am with you always.”)

That you love me.    (You said “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.”

That You alone know what is best for me.    (For in You, Lord, “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”)

Perhaps all along, You have been waiting for me to give up self-effort. At last I want you in my life even more than I want _______________________. So now, by an act of my will I will relinquish this to You. I will accept Your will, whatever that may be. Thank You for counting this act of my will as the decision of the real person even when my emotions protest. I ask You to hold me true to this decision. To You, Lord God, who alone are worthy of worship, I bend the knee with thanksgiving that this too will “work together for good.” Amen.

 – p. 70-71, Adventures in Prayer by Catherine Marshall

“Hostile honesty” unleashes my offended, defensive resignation, while “heartfelt honesty” unfurls into open-handed, trusting relinquishment. I had forgotten this profound lesson. I stopped reading and prayed. In my heart I braided Ann’s story, the Bleeding Woman’s story, my story, and Catherine Marshall’s prayer into a thick, strong rope. This rope is going to pull me back into soft-heartedness the next time my hearts gets hard from waiting for what feels like too long.

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One of the most powerful chapters in Still Waiting is the chapter about Shame. Shame is a liar (p. 132), pairs itself with struggle (p. 128), prevents us from seeing through the lens of grace (p. 129), makes us ashamed of our need for grace (p. 129), makes us want to hide our brokenness (p. 129). Ann proves she’s wrestled with the shame that comes from waiting:

“Shame makes it feel impossible for us to extricate ourselves from our struggles.

Shame makes it seem that our value is tied to our brokenness.

Shame pairs our worth with our weakness.

Shame yokes us to lies.

Shame tells us that our identity is only as whole as the image we can put forward.” (p. 131)

Like I mentioned earlier, I have a long history with shame. Others put labels on me like “ugly,” “barren,” “too much work,” or “too sensitive.” Jesus bent down, tenderly peeled the labels off and threw them away. But shame/Satan likes to find those labels in the trash, licks them, and stick them right on my forehead again with a snicker. In some seasons, I looked in the mirror, sighed, pressed that label harder onto my skin, slumped my shoulders, and shuffled away lugging the huge backpack where I kept all the dirty labels ever put on me.

I agreed with shame more than I agreed with God.

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All that self-condemnation, swallowing shame’s lies whole, especially in those vulnerable seasons of longing and waiting, is no way to live. Lord have mercy, I do still fall into believing and living those lies on dark days. I sometimes forget the precious Bible verse Ann proclaims to bring new hope and redemption:

“Whenever our heart condemns us,

God is greater than our heart,

and he knows everything.” – 1 John 3:20 (p. 135)

Hallelujah. Oh Lord, help me to live in this glorious, shame-erasing truth as I wait.

The rest of Still Waiting features the beautiful climax and denouement of the Bleeding Woman and Ann’s understanding of what suffering, waiting, healing and faith really mean. I read this book in one day, unable to put it down. How would Ann describe what Jesus looked like when he saw the Bleeding Woman? How would she show us what healing felt like, and how that changed her whole life? How would Ann’s story end?

There are profound statements about identity, encountering Jesus, grace, and trust, but I’d like you to read all those pages for yourself. I’m confident God will speak something unique and life-changing to the places in your heart that are weary of waiting. Because, like me, I’m sure you are still waiting for something.

Please keep reading below to find my email interview with Ann, her author page, a video from the publisher, and links to buy Still Waiting.

You are not alone in your waiting. You are seen. You are heard. You are loved.

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Hello Ann! I’m thrilled to have you here, and to celebrate your beautiful book. Please tell us about yourself.

I’m a goofball at heart with a deeply pensive streak; or maybe I’m a deeply pensive person with a goofball streak. Either way, I’m highly passionate and contemplative, but I love to laugh and have dance parties with my little family! Speaking of them, I’m a wife of ten years to a wonderful man and a mom to a sweet little girl. They are the joys of my life! Professionally, I write in various publications and also teach online Christian writing courses at WritingwithGrace.com.

View More: http://annwhitephoto.pass.us/swindell

What is your new book, Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want about?

Ultimately, it’s a book about learning to trust and love God more—even in long seasons of waiting when our prayers aren’t getting answered the way we want them to be answered. In sharing my own particular story, my hope is that the reader will be able to experience the truth that right here, in the middle of the mess and the hurt—this is where Christ is with us, and this is where we can experience his love and goodness.

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I love how you imagine the Bleeding Woman’s story. Of all the stories about longing and faith in the Bible, why did her story resonate strongest?

Still Waiting is threaded through with the story of the Bleeding Woman from the Bible, in large part because the longer my own prayer for healing wasn’t answered, the more I became drawn to her story. She had been bleeding for over a decade before Christ healed her; she had seen a lot of doctors, and no one had been able to heal her. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that she had only gotten worse. Christ alone was the only one who could make her well.

While my story isn’t the same as hers, Still Waiting details my journey with a physical condition that also didn’t have a “cure” in the traditional sense. Both of us had conditions that doctors didn’t fully understand and couldn’t fix.

And there, in that overlap between our experiences, I found emotional and spiritual connections with this woman in Scripture. Although she was at the end of her proverbial rope, with no earthly hope of healing and no way to change her circumstances, she clung to hope. When Jesus walked by, there was still a spark of faith and tenderness left inside of her; she had not shut her heart down or walked away from God. Instead, she was willing to reach out and try again—and that is why I love her story. I want to be like her in this way: I want to keep my heart tender toward Christ and full of faith even when my circumstances aren’t changing.

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You talk about shame in Chapter 6 of Still Waiting. I resonated strongly with your words. Why does shame taunt us while we wait? Is there any way to avoid it?

We’ve all experienced shame, and it’s hard to fight against those emotions. But I also know that as a child of God, I do not have to live with shame; Christ defeated shame once and for all at the cross. I have learned to walk in this freedom and silence shame as I read the Word and discover my true identity there, as I pray and encounter the presence of Christ, and as I share my story with others. Surprisingly, the thing I was once the most afraid of—others finding out about my brokenness—has become a place of great grace and freedom in my life. As I’ve opened up and offered my story to others, I have found that instead of feeling more shame, I have been able to experience the grace of the Gospel afresh, because everyone else is waiting for something, too. Whether they’re waiting for healing, or for wholeness, or for relational reconciliation, all of us have weak places in our lives that still need God’s touch. When we share our stories, we help one another put our hope not in our circumstances but in the God who is making us more like himself and has purchased our freedom through his blood on the cross.

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What is your dream for your book, Still Waiting?

My hope and prayer for Still Waiting is that it will point readers to the goodness and trustworthiness of Christ as they are in the middle of their own waiting seasons. I want them to read this book and know that they’re not alone, that they’re not forgotten, and that God is with them in their journey. That’s my biggest dream!

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Thank you, Ann! 

I strongly recommend Still Waiting, friends. This is a beautifully written book about the tender struggle to trust God when He doesn’t give us what we want. I saw myself in Ann’s story, and the Biblical story of The Bleeding Woman. I remembered my long, painful seasons of waiting, and how it pushed me to the very edge of my faith, where I sometimes lost my way.

In Still Waiting Ann gives us permission to admit we’re broken, weak, ashamed, and suffering. We all feel that way, especially when we risk believing that God really loves and sees us even when He won’t heal us. That’s a deal-breaker for many of us. 

But Ann reminds us that grace, hope, sweetness, identity, and redemption are lavishly provided for us while we wait. Not in a greeting card, fake, forced way. Not because we will it to be okay. But because God is there with us while we wait.

I’m still waiting for many things. I trust you, Jesus. 

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Here are links to buy Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want and connect with Ann all over social media:

* I recieved a complimentary copy of Still Waiting from Tyndale Momentum.


©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

I Confess: I Don’t Want Donuts

[Published on the Redbud Post on 4/1/17]

Last weekend, I had eleven 12-year-old boys in my basement for a youth retreat. It was chaotic, gross, and perfect. We heard unhindered laughing, chasing, yelling, and body noises through two floors and closed doors. The leaders talked straight about God and good choices. Our doorbell rang at all hours, announcing the arrival of more volunteer drivers, youth mentors, and meal makers from the church.

My son glowed with testosterone and belonging.

On Sunday afternoon, I pulled on a hazmat suit and headed down the basement stairs to survey the damage. I picked up Slim Jim® wrappers, vacuumed millions of chip crumbs and rainbow Nerds candy, and looked away gagging when it came time to clean the toilet. But the entire time I smiled to myself and thanked God.

This retreat was so much better than the last one.

* * *

When we moved to a new state a couple years ago, we knew we needed to find a church right away. We were deeply invested in the charismatic liturgical Anglican one we left behind. Her rhythms and traditions were thickly braided into our family’s social and spiritual life.

We soon discovered there was nothing like our former home in our new town. We visited many new places, and every one made at least one of us cry on the ride home. We sighed a lot. We took a lot of Sundays off.

One church was always recommended. It was by far the most popular church in the area, especially for middle school and high school kids. We were constantly warned, “If you go there be ready to stay because your kids will never want to leave.”

They were right. At first.

The morning we visited that church my sixth-grade twins were welcomed with unlimited soda and donuts in a hipster lounge complete with pallet board walls, minimalist furniture, and flat screen TVs. The staff smiled broadly in their matching shirts. Our kids begged us to get out and not embarrass them.

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by Bethany Newman via unsplash

We took our youngest up to the elementary school section. It was a brightly painted carnival with cheery music and cuddly volunteers. They gave out free candy when she checked in. Our daughter hugged us tightly when she said goodbye, cheeks full of Starbursts®.

My husband and I then found a seat in the back of the dark balcony. It was so much like the megachurch from my childhood, where my parents found Jesus. I felt like a 90-year-old crank. The music was too loud, the fog machine was thick, the flashing lights were bright, and the singers’ names, and twitter handles were posted on the screens. The sermon was a video projected life size onto the stage. It was entertaining, and I wished I had popcorn and some of the sweets my kids were given.

On the ride home our son, amped up on more sugar than he’d had in weeks, led our debrief: “Is this really a church? I’m not sure it’s really a church. It’s more like a concert or something? The music was so loud! And there were lights. I don’t remember anything about God. And there was smoke! I couldn’t figure out the smoke. Wait! Is it like in the Bible?! Like when they laid their offerings on the altar for the Lord? So the smoke machine is supposed to remind us to make sacrifices?!”

Our former church, with her sacraments and incense on high holy days, would have been so proud. How dear that this boy assumed that the fog machine was a nod to ancient worship practices. We burst out laughing.

But we went back. More soda, donuts, and Starbursts®. More lights and fog. More exuberant entertainment. It still didn’t feel church, but our tweens in their formative years didn’t complain, so we kept going back.

They begged to go on the big youth retreat. We prayed hard and released them onto one of the ten buses that would carry them off to zany adventure and promised encounters with Jesus. I gave the leaders my cell and begged them to text/call if they needed anything.

They looked wrung out when I picked them up two days later. They told me the weekend was “fine.” I assumed they just needed long naps, lots of water, and some protein. Desperate for details, I asked my son later if he learned anything new during the weekend. He fought back tears and answered, continue reading at the Redbud Post

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by Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

Related Posts:

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

Long Days of Small Things – World Changer Wednesday

The day I received Catherine McNiel’s new book, Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline, I was too tired to even open the package. I already read tons of books on parenting and spiritual disciplines, and I didn’t think this would be much different. I didn’t have it in me to read a couple hundred more pages of obligations and aspirations.

Several long days later I slit open the package and skimmed the table of contents. It included Eating, Menstruation, Sex, and Sleeping. Hmm. Those are not the regular spiritual disciplines I keep trying to practice (like Silence, Service, Secrecy, Prayer). Those are things I already do. Intrigued, I excused myself from family movie night, grabbed my take-out sushi and hot tea, snuck upstairs, and started reading.

A few hours later I finished the book. The pages were marked with underlines, circles, arrows, and notes. The edges of my sleeves were wet from my tears. I felt understood. I felt empowered. I felt respected and valuable as a woman and a mother. I wrote the author that night to tell her that her words were already healing my weary heart, specifically in the areas of calling, femininity, order, and perfectionism.

I’ve been a mother for 13 years, and I struggle with the noisy, anonymous, labor-intensive costs of this calling. I compare myself to women who seem to do so much more. I compare myself to spiritual and corporate leaders who bring epic glory to God in world-changing ways. Catherine offers an alternative in the first chapter called Redemption,

“Some religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, have a name for people in this predicament: householders. Recognizing that people can’t just up and leave their spouses or children, these religions give householders a different set of expectations. Rather than become meditating monks, studying under gurus and wandering alone through the forest, householders are asked, for now, simply to be faithful in responsibility.” (p. 9)

Maybe instead of my comparison, envy, fatigue, and shame, I could revel in this season of holding up my house? Maybe that would be good enough? She had my full attention already in the first chapter.

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With Menstruation and Breastfeeding in the table of contents I knew that meant we were going to talk about our bodies. That made me edgy. Having a woman’s body has made it harder for me at work. I know in this post-feminist age I’m supposed to feel empowered, equal, and important wherever I go. But I often don’t. I’ve been sexually harassed, ogled, and touched by inappropriate men. I’ve been discredited and dismissed in corporate and Christian places because I was a woman, the person God made me to be.

Sadly, my body made it hard for me to be a mother, too. In my long season of infertility my (male) doctors rhetorically asked, “What’s wrong with your body?” as I lay prone in the stirrups. When it came time to deliver my long-awaited twins the (male) doctor scoffed, “You don’t even know how to push? Your body is supposed to know how to do this.” When I tried to nurse my preemies in the NICU the earnest lactation specialist pleaded, “Just relax, your body knows what to do” as she held my hurting breasts in her hands. I felt shame constantly. Why did God make me this way?

But Catherine’s chapter on Creation reminded me “creation is a sacred center of being female” (p.36). I had somehow forgotten, despite my stretch marks and the baby pictures around the house, my body grew three babies. And then my body made milk to feed those babies. In those things I was mirroring the God who creates and nourishes. Catherine shows us how God did those uniquely feminine acts in the very beginning of the Bible:

“In the first two verses of Genesis, God – in Hebrew the grammatically masculine Elohim – is about to begin creating. Meanwhile, Ruach is hovering over the waters. Can you imagine it? That silent moment before it all begins, and God’s breath of life is ready. Elohim about to command, Ruach hovering as a mother bird prepared to receive and shelter her soon-born offspring. These metaphoric images are deeply evocative of the moment of creation.” (p. 43)

How incredible. My strong, sweet, dedicated husband literally cannot bear, birth, and nurse a child. Only a woman can do that. I did that. And when I form, feed, and grow my children I am like the Lord. Amazing.

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Now that I have my children one of my greatest challenges as a householder, a mother, is keeping order. I’m also sensory averse to things that are sticky and smelly, so I’m always buying baskets, shelves, Lysol wipes, and stain sticks to try to keep my life tidy and clean. Entropy always wins, and feelings of futility and anger taunt me. Catherine offers a different perspective in her chapter on Incarnation,

“We are hungry, our hair is oily, our hands are dirty. We are creatures surrounded by creation. We are alive. We are creative and fruitful and fertile. Motherhood is the opposite of sterile.” (p. 59)

I need that reminder. I would rather my children’s friends (and their parents) see our home as a safe place where life, creativity and mistakes happen, instead of a sterile, silent place where order and perfection are demanded. I want to reclaim that freedom and grace in our everyday lives as an intentional spiritual practice.

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And, speaking of grace, Catherine’s chapter on Nurture gently confronted the perfectionism that haunts the edges of my view of God. Deep down I still sometimes fear that God is demanding, far-off, and exasperated when I don’t know what I’m doing. But Catherine reminds me God is not like that at all:

“God did not describe himself as someone who arrives promptly to every church service or makes it to the office without ketchup on his jacket. No, God describes himself as compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and forgiveness – like a mother with her child….As a gentle parent who teaches a baby how to walk, who leans down to feed and hold her. As the mother who gave birth and nursed her infant, who comforts and protects her child like a mother hen.” (p. 87)

It’s been eight years since I nursed my last child, but my whole family still needs a gentle parent to guide us with encouraging smiles as we learn how to walk into soccer games, middle school dances, and pop quizzes. Our family life is always going to be ketchup-y and messy, and our patient nurturing God is going to stay with us the whole time, like a nursing mother. That constant grace will cushion and comfort my kids as they make mistakes and me as I make mistakes parenting them.

We are going to be okay.

These are just a few of the ideas that resonated with me from Long Days of Small ThingsThere are nine rich chapters and 27 practical ideas to try. I will continue to go back to this book for encouragement. I strongly recommend it.

Please continue reading for my interview with Catherine McNiel, author of Long Days of Small Things: The Spiritual Discipline of Motherhood.

[Links to buy her book and visit her website are below.]

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Thank you for joining us at Family Compassion Focus, Catherine! Please tell us about yourself.

Hey there! I’m a mom with three kids, and a few part time jobs. I’m a book worm and I’m always trying to learn something new. I love everything about words…reading, writing, researching, talking, listening. I’m entirely addicted to the creation of new life but I find that helping things grow in the garden is less exhausting than pregnancy. 🙂

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What is Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline?

Long Days of Small Things is a book that looks at the real life work we do in our everyday lives, and finds God right there in the midst of it. We think of spirituality as something that happens in our minds, in silence. We are taught that our bodies, our mess and complications and noise hold us back from being with God. That doesn’t leave a lot of hope for moms, whose pregnant or post-partum bodies, newborns, toddlers, and van-full of carpool kids have no end of loud, messy, physical, chaotic needs.

But God made us, didn’t He? Genesis describes Him getting in the dirt and forming us from the dust by hand, then breathing His own breath into our mouths. That’s pretty physical and messy! Then He actually took on a body Himself. The King of Kings wiggled around in a woman’s womb, surrounded by amniotic fluid. He entered the world through her birth canal. God was born, you guys. That’s our Good News.

All this physical stuff that we feel keeps us from Him is the same stuff He used to meet with us, to speak to us, to save us.

So Long Days of Small Things is a book for moms “who have neither quiet nor time” as the cover says—though dads, grandparents, and other caregivers have enjoyed it as well.

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©NavPress

 

When did you know you needed to write a book about motherhood and spiritual disciplines?

A few years ago I was a work-from-home mom with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. These precious children took me all the way to the end of my rope and left me there indefinitely.

But even though my life changed in every way, the spiritual prescriptions I heard were the same: Spend quite time each day with God. Find 30-60 minutes each day to be in silence and solitude before the Lord.

But I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself!

As I considered the classic spiritual practices (which I love!)—prayer, study, worship, fasting, meditation, service, solitude, etc.—it became abundantly clear that the realities of motherhood meant I was likely to fail. Or, more likely, opt out entirely.

But my spirit didn’t allow me to do that. I heard a lament rising in the hearts of the women around me—I have nothing left, nothing left to care for myself or give to God. And that is 100% true. But as I walked through the actual seasons and tasks of motherhood, I became convinced that there is no better “boot camp” for my soul.

Each day we mothers create, we nurture. We are pushed to the end of ourselves but we carry on, we persevere, we keep giving, surrendering, sacrificing, pouring out. We empty ourselves for those in our care. And isn’t this place of desperate emptiness, where we must fall back on God, the same place that the spiritual disciplines are designed to take us?

I’m convinced that motherhood is doing an eternal work on my soul, even if I’m too exhausted and overwhelmed to notice just now.

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©Catherine McNiel

 

What spiritual discipline is drawing you in most these days?

I end each chapter of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline with three “practices” that, while perhaps not listed in Foster’s classic (and wonderful) book on Spiritual Disciplines, can be practiced in our actual mommy days. And I confess, I wrote the book but like St. Paul, it’s “not that I have already attained all this.” I’m still trying to remember to practice each of these. The ones that call to me the most are the simplest: Breath. Walk. Be.

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What’s the hardest part of mothering for you?

Oh, the chaos. I think I’m a pretty good mother one-on-one. But as soon as there’s a gaggle of people all yelling and crying and peeing at the same time…well, I just unravel.

What’s your favorite part of mothering?

The snuggles! I describe in Long Days of Small Things how stubbornly my kids and I pursue The Good Snuggle, even though we know it always ends with an elbow in someone’s eye. I just love those rare moments of peace and sweetness and softness. I am storing them all up in my heart.

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©Catherine McNiel

How does the message of Long Days of Small Things relate to compassion?

Well, a few different ways. In Long Days of Small Things I talk about how there is a place in the Bible where God introduces Himself. That’s a pretty big deal, right? I’m more interested in how God describes Himself than in whatever anyone else has to say about Him. And He begins with “The Lord, the Lord, compassionate and gracious God…”

The compassion God has for all creation is analogous to the posture a parent has to her child. And in nurturing our children we are not only surviving the day and fulfilling our tasks—we are living icons of God’s nurturing, loving compassion. I’d say representing God’s compassion each and every day is kind of a big deal, too.

Also, my heart brims over for moms. Moms are just buried in messages of “shoulds” and “ought-tos.” Nothing is ever good enough. We’re always just one less-than-optimal decision away from ruining our children entirely. We had a natural birth but didn’t breastfeed. We breasted but didn’t’ co-sleep. We co-slept but we should have done sleep training. We did sleep training but couldn’t afford organic food. We bought organic food but we went to work and we should have stayed home. We stayed home, but we should have gone to work. There’s just no way to win.

I’m convinced that if moms can feel the reality of God’s compassionate presence, and the value that He placed in our bodies and their tasks, then we will have enough peace to approach the world around us with compassion as well.

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©Catherine McNiel

What’s your dream for this book? What are your hopes for the moms reading Long Days of Small Things?

I told my publisher and editor so many times: I want the title, the cover, and every word to convey that I’m not saying you should do more. You are enough. You are doing so much, and there is value here already. God is here already. These long days of small things make us feel shunted to the side, second class, invisible.

But I’m certain of one thing: this is the very place God meets us. That’s why we practice spiritual disciplines—to arrive at this place. I’m confident that every flowing, bleeding, dripping, sticky, crying, dirty, wet, exhausted piece of motherhood is a piece that God made and loves, a place where He came, and place where He is.

If moms can hear me say that, and accept the invitation, and find Him there—my dream will be complete.

Anything else you’d like to share? 

Hang in there, Mama! May you see God’s own dignity, strength, and beauty in your body and spirit as you courageously take on this wonder-woman task He has given you. May you sleep through the night, and may you have time in the bathroom without interruptions.

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Thank you, Catherine!

I have read dozens of books on parenting and spiritual disciplines, but none that explain, simplify, and expand both topics with the clarity, grace and liberty I found in your book, Long Days of Small Things. I feel empowered and ennobled. I feel respected and valuable to my family and the world. I’m thankful for my body, my story, and my role.

Your words are helping me redeem, reclaim, and rename my history and dreams as a mother and a woman.

 Friends, I encourage you to buy and read Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

  • If you are in a small group with mothers, read this book together.
  • If you go to a group like MOPS have them bring Catherine to speak.
  • If you are going to a baby shower, include this book in your gift. And read it beforehand, so you can pick one of the passages to read to the women gathered.

 

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aimee fritz bio picMore hope for moms: I Stopped Praying for My Kids,  Moms: World Changer Wednesday

More reviews for books I love: Kent’s Slow Kingdom Coming, Crilly’s 9 Arts, Matt’s Seeking Refuge


©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

Update – The Long Family – World Changer Wednesday

Last Fall I was thrilled to feature the Long Family on a World Changer Wednesday. They have a beautiful story of seeking, obeying, risking, and now welcoming a new daughter into their family. You can read all about it below, or at this original link here.

The Long Family has a big update: Camilla is coming home very soon! They are thrilled, and are desperate for more families to explore adoption through Kidsave, and support adoption through Camila’s Candles. Here’s the scoop from Mary Beth:


For those that are intrigued by the possibility of helping orphan children who have little chance of being adopted in their own country, there is an opportunity for you to help and possibly take action:

Kidsave, the organization referenced in an earlier blog post, has begun recruiting for their Summer Miracles Program. It is an amazing 5-week summer program that matches orphan children ages 10-14 with host families. The children come to the United States for this brief period and enjoy a once in a lifetime experience of living with a family, learning about American customs and feeling loved. Most of the children end up finding a forever home either with their host family or a family they meet during the summer.

We participated in the Kidsave program last year and hosted our soon to be daughter, Maria Camila (Cami). It was an amazing, life changing experience. Cami traveled with 16 other children this summer who also stayed with families across the United States. 7 of those children were hosted in our area (Washington, DC/Baltimore). Every weekend that the children were here we attended events so that the children could meet other families and experience fun activities with their host family. We had so much fun together and as a side benefit, we ended up forging very strong bonds within our little host community.

I ask that you prayerfully consider whether or not your family could open their home this summer to one of these children. Kidsave holds your had the whole way through the process and I promise you will never be the same! http://www.kidsave.org/programs/orphan-hosting/

Another way you can help is by providing donations to kidsave or to one of the families that are in the adoption process. I believe that part of the reason more people don’t adopt is the shear expense of funding it. An international adoption can cost nearly $40,000 to complete. Another wonderful way to help these orphan children is to make it possible for more families to adopt. For more ways to make donations you can contact: Ellen Warnock of Catholic Charities in Baltimore.

A different way you can help Maria Camila in her transition to the United States is by supporting Camila’s Candles. I make homemade soy candles for all occasions to help create awareness and support for older children searching for homes. Part of the proceeds will help Maria Camila directly as she settles into her life in the United States and launches her life.


Thank you MB! 

Friends, please consider hosting a child with Kidsave, donating to an adopting family, and/or buying some Camila’s Candles today. (I bought the soy candles in the small tins for all of my neighbors for Christmas. MaryBeth wrapped each one and included a informational card about Camila’s Candles and adoption. My neighbors were delighted by the gift, the packaging, and the non-cloying, original scents. Check it out!)

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Aren’t these candles perfect for Valentine’s Day?

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


**Here is the original post about The Long Family from 10/19/16:

I met Mary Beth years ago. We were both going through soul-crushing infertility. Our friendship was a gift from God in that long, hard season. We kept each other laughing and praying as we shared the absurdities, humiliations, disappointments, and hopes of trying to have babies. We desperately wanted to be mothers. Oh, how I thanked God not to go through that alone!

If you told us we’d have 6 six between us we would not have believed you.

I love Mary Beth’s frank common sense, strong faith, and contagious humor. You’ll love reading how this led her family to a brand new, exciting, life-changing adventure.


Hi Mary Beth, please tell us about your family!

Carter, 12: Our first born. A miracle because there was a time we thought we would never be able to have children. He is funny, witty and has a heart of gold. He is as wise as an 80 year old man and can make you laugh as hard as you did when you were a kid.

Mary Grace, 10: She has a big swelling heart and is a lover of all babies, animals and grandpas. She hurts when others are hurting and would do anything to make you stop crying (including cry herself). She is loyal, loving and girly and she will tell you the truth whether or not you want to hear it.

Bill: My husband/my rock and indulges all my wild ideas and tempers the ideas that are truly insane. He is a devout Catholic man with a mantra that men must be the spiritual leader of their family and be a reflection of God in the home. He is a great father and is obsessed with coffee and listening to podcasts (ask anyone if they have ever received advice from Bill and they will tell you that he forwarded them a podcast).

Me: It is tough to talk about myself. Bill calls me the heart of the family but I often feel like I fall short of this title. I love being a Mom, I love my faith and for the most part I have a zeal for life. I have been blessed with an amazing family both extended and immediate but have always had an itch inside where God was telling me that I wasn’t quite done being a Mother.

I spent a lot of time since January reflecting on what God was asking from me. We were not blessed with more of our own biological children and I struggled with why I had such a strong yearning and desire to grow in my vocation of motherhood. I guess I simply lacked patience in discerning what God had in store for me. It is now abundantly clear that God was slowly preparing me to open my heart to the possibility of adoption and to welcome into my family our soon to be new 12 year old daughter, Maria Camila.

The Long Family

How is your family showing compassion this year?

This year the Catholic Church is celebrating the Jubilee year of Mercy. Many people in the world are familiar with Pope Francis and the incredible inspiration he has been to the world over the past few years. When he visited Washington last fall I took Mary Grace and Carter to see him speak on the Capitol Lawn. It is an experience that we will never forget. We were literally moved to tears. Because of his visit and this being the year of mercy our family has been reflecting on what this means and what we are being called to do.

The Holy Father said that “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life.  All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy.  The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”  Our family has interpreted that to mean that we need to come outside of ourselves to acknowledge the suffering around us and try to bring compassion to others.

We have found that it can be as simple as visiting our sick neighbor or as hard as hugging my Aunt tightly moments after the love of her life passed away. As a family, however, our most important act of mercy this year will be to welcome our soon-to-be daughter, Maria Camila into our home and make her part of our family.

via www.missionsandiego.org

How did this all happen?!

We did not plan on adopting a child and in a million years and I never imagined us adopting a preteen, but God has a great sense of humor. During the big winter blizzard last January we were virtually trapped in our little section of the neighborhood and crawled through the ice and snow to go to our neighbor’s house for dinner. Anyone who could get there was invited. As we broke bread and shared some laughs I found myself engaging in a fairly serious conversation with my next door neighbor. She began to tell me the story about Kidsave.

The Kidsave Summer Miracles program brings older, harder to place orphans to the United States for the summer so they have a chance to see the world but to also meet a forever family. We eagerly signed up as advocates hoping that we could help give a child a fun summer and find them a home. I don’t think we realized that she would literally turn our lives upside down and help us see that her forever home was with us.

©KidSave

How did you choose your plan of action?

Honestly because Kidsave led us to Maria Camila we did not have to do a lot of work developing a plan of action. Kidsave was (and still is) an incredible blessing. They made everything so easy for us. They continue to support us and help us find the way.

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Why are you doing it?

Ultimately because God is calling us to. We have been so blessed and we know it is our turn to give something back. Maria Camila is a little girl not that different than my daughter Mary Grace. She loves to draw, swim, sing, and have fun. The only difference is that her parents abandoned her when she needed them most. She did nothing wrong, but has no one. It is hard to sleep at night knowing that you could make a difference in this child’s life and give her the same chance that we have given to our own biological children. We could possibly change the entire direction of her life by opening our home.

Carter, M, and Maria Camila

What’s been the hardest part?

To be truthful it is easy to be selfish. It is much easier to say “I like my world the way it is” and not take this on. It is hard to admit that there are those selfish moments when you think it would be easier to just walk away but it never lasts long. We get back to the drawing board and figure out ways to make this work, to make her part of our family and to get all of that paper work done!

The Long Family before they knew Marie Camila would be their daughter and sister.

Do you have any advice for other families?

Yes, don’t forget to ask God what he wants from you. I think we so often pray for what we need and want and forget to find out from God what he has planned for us. Once you have a better idea of what God has in store it is a lot easier to live in peace. I don’t think adoption is for everyone. We each give what we are able to and we each have special talents that we can share. However, I will say this, whatever it is that God is asking you to do, God will not be outdone in his generosity. He will make sure you have the tools, friends and resources you need. I can promise you that.

Summer Miracles 2016

How can we join you?

You can join us in praying for Maria Camila. There is long road ahead for her. Before she ever leaves Colombia she must have surgery on her arm (a terrible infection that would never have progressed if she had good medical care). She needs to learn the language and she needs to adjust to life in a family. So do we for that matter. Your prayers are helpful! You can follow the story as well at our blog www.asummermiracle.wordpress.com. Now that we are moving forward with this adoption we have a lot more to tell.

Also, I know there are other families out there who would be perfect as host families for the summer miracles program. Let’s find them. I had no idea this program existed until this past year and I am sure that there are many others who don’t know but would love an opportunity like this to help a child. Maybe you’re one of those families? http://www.kidsave.org/programs/orphan-hosting/

Finally, I have started making candles to raise awareness for older orphan adoption and to raise money for kidsave and for Maria Camila’s transition. Here is the link to read more and order: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CamilasCandles?ref=l2-shopheader-name

Let God’s light shine upon you in all that you do and let’s bring a little bit of that light to others.

Camila's Candles are made with love by the Long Family

Camila's Candles - you can order some today!

Thank you, Mary Beth!

Team Fritz bought a few candles and had them shipped to us. They smell terrific and are so well done. I encourage you to buy some, too! They would make excellent additions to the Christmas, and end of year cash gifts you give to teachers, doormen, doctors, house cleaners, mailmen, pastors, etc. Check it out on their Etsy page!


Related Links:

  • An article in the Catholic Herald about the Long Family is here.
  • Read about more World Changers here.
  • Read the Farrell Family’s and Berger Family’s adoption stories here and here.

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

Same Home Different House

“Mom, are you mad?” She handed me another stack of dirty plates.

“I just don’t agree, hon. I don’t think it’s true.” I took the plates and glanced up quickly to her earnest eyes.

“Mom, it’s who I am. Don’t you see it? It totally makes sense.” She picked up a handful of  dirty silverware.

Of course I saw it. In the clothes she wore, the books she read, the memes she laughed at. Her identity had been uncoiling in front of us for months. It scared me.

“Honey, you’re in 6th grade! I think it’s, like, a phase, you know? I don’t think you have to make a declaration for your whole life right now.” I scrubbed a platter with anxious vigor.

“Mom. Don’t tell me I’m going to outgrow it. This is who I am.” She stopped clearing the table and looked at me.

Honey, please. It can’t be true. Why would anyone choose that for themselves?” I looked down at the sink.

“Mom, I didn’t choose it. It’s how I’m made.

I turned off the water and looked up at my beautiful 12 year old’s face. She was standing straight, strong, and sure looking at me with defiance and hope.

“Mom, I’m a Slytherin.” 

* * * * *

Slytherin? The wizards at J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore website had sorted my daughter and declared her a member of the House of Slytherin. She was now in the same clan as the notorious, vengeful, selfish, evil, bullying villains of my kids’ beloved Harry Potter books. They want world domination at any cost. Their symbol is a snake. They delight in killing the good guys. I was appalled.

It was like finding out your daughter was in Stormtrooper training and wanted to be Darth Vader. Or that she liked Tolkein’s Orcs and didn’t think Sauron was that bad. Or that she was happily dating Johnny, the guy who “sweeps the leg” to cripple Ralph Macchio in Karate Kid.

No thanks.

I wanted a cheery Hufflepuff girl to find the good in the world and help multiply it. Or a courageous Gryffindor girl to go after what’s wrong in the world and fix it. Or an intelligent Ravenclaw girl to revel in the witty intricacies of life and teach us all. Any of those would be fine. I wanted daughter that’s easy to like and easy to understand.

But we don’t always get what we want.

I don’t think my mom did.

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via playbuzz.com

I was dearly and deeply loved in my home growing up. But I was definitely in the wrong House. In all the different ways we could be sorted, I didn’t match anyone else in my family.

  • “We’re all Second-Born’s, Aimee. You’re a Firstborn.”
  • “You’re such a Choleric Melancholy. We’re all more Phlegmatic.”
  • “Well, you are the only Red Head.”
  • “I think you’re in the only Extrovert in our whole family.”
  • “So you want to study Literature? Why not Medicine or Business like everyone else?”
  • “Why do you like the Liturgical church? We are Non-Denominational.”

In a family that prized peace, quiet, and going with the flow, I was a boat rocker, questioner, and instigator. I liked to dig deep, pick fights, and tell the truth. (I was also a melodramatic exaggerator.) The times I felt most myself were also when I felt most misunderstood. The things that came naturally to them were almost impossible for me. Sometimes I cheated on assessments make my answers come out to match my family. But I always cringed at the summary pages – I couldn’t be like them no matter how hard I tried.

I assumed all my differences were probably sins. I begged God to fix me.

When I left my loving home to grow up, I found my House. I found friends, teachers, mentors, counselors and a husband who got me. They called me more into my true self. I belonged.

I learned the things that made me different were actually God’s gifts, for my own soul and the whole world. What I assumed were my weakness and faults were strengths and callings. I re-took and re-read all the assessments with different eyes. This is how God made me. And it is good.

But was that true for my daughter? Did God make her a Slytherin? 

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“Harry Potter Thematic Park” by rpphotos via flickr

I wish I could tell you the night my girl came out I dried my soapy hands, opened my arms up to her with a smile, held her tight, and said, “I love you.” But I didn’t.

I refused to believe it. I actually cried about it with my husband behind closed doors. I prayed, “God, please don’t let my daughter be a Slytherin. Please change her.” I didn’t want her to tell anyone else about her House. I talked about it with her counselor. I wrote former babysitters and asked them to tell me if it was possible for a good Christian girl to also be a Slytherin. They were not encouraging.

I know it doesn’t matter. I know this arbitrary label from a website about a young adult fiction series doesn’t matter. What matters is my daughter. 

My job as a mom is to make an unconditionally loving home for my kids, regardless of their House. That means creating a refuge so vibrant that all the Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws and Slytherins who enter are sure I’m in the same House as them. How did I forget that?

I needed to fix that right away.

I ran upstairs and opened her door quietly. She lay in the dark with her hair in a messy topknot and Twenty One Pilots blasting on her nightstand. I silently crawled on the bed and lay next to her. I reached for her hand and held it tight. I whispered, “Thank you, God, for my Slytherin daughter.”

I’m not sure if she heard me and pretended to stay asleep, or if the conversation was just between me and my daughter’s creator. Either way, it was a turning point. A first step. I stayed silent next to my daughter a long time, smiling in the dark.

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via ilovehdwallpapers.com

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Aimee Fritz is a Firstborn, INFJ, Ennegram 4, Melancholic, in the House of Gryffindor. She delights in telling long, true tales about everyday absurdities in her suburban life. Read more of her stories about world changers, souls, and big mistakes at familycompassionfocus.com


© Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

Our 2017 Family Compassion Focus

I finished 2016 bone weary.

After several weeks of intentionally wringing joy, welcome, service, compassion, and celebration out of our days I was exhausted. We hosted 4 big parties, 7 family members for 8 days, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years Eve. We deepened a lot of relationships and reignited our vision as a family. We laughed, vacuumed, and ate a lot. It was totally worth it. On the way to school the morning after we hosted 18 people from my husband’s work team for dinner, my kid prayed, “Thank you, God, that we could have a party in our house last night. Thank you that everyone seemed happy and had fun. Thank you that we are getting back to normal. I like it. Amen.

Amen. I liked it, too. But I could not imagine summoning the meal prep, parenting expertise, negotiating tactics, spiritual soft-heartedness, and joy necessary for one more day. 2017 loomed large and daunting.

This is our 7th year choosing a Family Compassion Focus. It’s become our tradition, our habit, our liturgy of the New Year. Thankfully the kids seemed more into it than ever. No one complained or made fun of it. Greta wanted to plan the meal. Caleb wanted to plan the cake. Zoë wanted to make sure we had markers for Word of the Year. Their enthusiasm lured me back in.

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After Christmas we put 3 pieces of paper on the fridge. Greta wrote in her flowing, fledgling cursive:

  • What makes you sad?
  • What do you love to do?
  • What part of the world intrigues you?

Please note that my 12 year son said AnFARTica intrigued him. He totally cracked himself up with this. His own gas is totally hilarious to him.

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The days between Christmas and New Years I asked everyone to put at least 2 things on each piece of paper. They didn’t have to hurry and do it that second, but it had to be done before New Year’s Eve. It’s interesting how this changes the tone in the kitchen. There are still fights, rolled eyes, and spilled cereal, but there are also deep questions and big ideas floating around.

I was too tired to make a big production for our big New Year’s Day dinner, which I normally love to do. So I declared we would be eating some of the 6 pounds of homemade carnitas we had left over from the New Years Eve party. Greta (and Chris) made homemade guacamole and cut out star chips from tortillas.

We gathered around the table and started our time with The Questions. I change 2/5 of them every year. Even though the kids get too loud, and talk over each other, and I still always try to edit and shape their answers, we somehow grow in trust and creativity as a family. I love it how we all get more into it each year.

I write the questions in advance and put everyone’s initials under the questions. I fill them in as people answer. The kids get a big kick out of re-visiting the answers later in the year. Here were our 1/1/17 questions:

  1. Which One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World were you like in 2016?
  2. What’s the Favorite Place you visited in 2016?
  3. Who is the Favorite New Person you met in 2016?
  4. What’s your Favorite Book of 2016?
  5. What’s 1 New Thing you Learned in 2016?
  6. What 1 Moment would you like to repeat in 2016?
  7. What 1 Moment would you like to erase from 2016?
  8. What helped you get through your hardest day of 2016?
  9. Where do you want to go in Georgia in 2017?
  10. What food do you want to try in 2017?
  11. What book character do you want to be like in 2017?
  12. What is your Word of the Year for 2017?

Highlights: Chris said he’s like the Northern Lights “because I’m hard to pin down.” Greta said her her favorite person was Mrs. Redahan, her 3rd grade teacher. Caleb’s favorite book was something he pulled off his dad’s airplane reading shelf called Off Armageddon Reef (I have to say it sounds LAME). Zoë learned that “music is a lot better than I thought it was” (thanks Twenty One Pilots and Hamilton). Let the record show that one of my children said the thing that helped them on their worst day was “Mama.” And even though Greta tried pizza for the first time in 2016 and HATED it, she wants to try shrimp in 2017.

We cleared the dinner dishes and got out the New Year’s birthday cake. Caleb wanted the cake to say “COME AT ME, BRO” but I was afraid to invite a fight, as depleted as I felt. Greta suggested we all try to slay our dragons. This was our 2017 Cake:

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SLAY YOUR DRAGONS IN 2017

We sang happy birthday to the year, passed out cake and the rest of the homemade candy cane ice-cream my dad made when he was visiting. Then we dove in to the Family Compassion Focus discussion.

It must be hard being the children of an MBA Dad and former Change Management consultant mom. We had the fridge questions taped on the china cabinet, markers in the middle of the table, pens and index cards on hand, and 2 people co-facilitating the discussion. Let’s get to work, people.

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Everyone shared what made them sad, what they loved to do, and what part of the world intrigued them. We asked probing questions. We insisted there were no wrong answers. We tried to listen without interrupting. Kids jumped up and added more ideas and arrows (Caleb added Farting to the “what do you love to do” list, of course). We talked about the outlier responses and the commonalities. We looked for themes (besides flatulence).

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Chris and I noticed something felt different this year. We all still love to do very different things (baking, running, snuggling/”sleep hugging”, talking). We are intrigued by people from all over the world (India, Japan, Southeastern US). But we didn’t have a lot of new ideas. Chris wondered aloud if that might be because we didn’t feel like we were quite done with what we started in 2016. We agreed that it did seem that way.

We are all still saddened by:

  • loneliness, feeling alone
  • war
  • fighting
  • bullies
  • refugees

We loved working with Refuge Coffee Co. and Habitat for Humanity in 2016. We were all sad about that being over. Chris suggested we go for a broader focus in 2017. [In the past we’ve done Haiti (2010, 2015), Orphans (2012), Clean Water (2013), Homelessness (2014), and Georgia (2016).] For our 7th year he suggested CREATE REFUGE be our actual compassion focus.

Everyone was ready to go with that right there, but Daddy made us all vote for our top 3. One index card had the same thing written 3 times, another included farting. In the end

CREATE REFUGE won as our official 2017 FAMILY COMPASSION FOCUS.

The five of us will all lead five different ways of living that out this year. Greta and I want to keep learning and growing with Refuge Coffee Co. Greta also wants to help abused animals. Caleb wants to help build a house with Habitat for Humanity with Chris. We all want to learn how to create refuge for our little neighborhood and for each other (“like, maybe you could stop yelling, mom?”).

We are excited. In fact, Greta and I went down to Refuge Coffee Co. yesterday because she wanted to tell Kitti Murray (the founder of Refuge and G’s BFF/crush) in person that “we were going to keep creating refuge in 2017.” 

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This is what Greta looked like when she told Kitti we wanted to keep focusing on Creating Refuge in 2017. They are holding hands. Kitti said, “I’m so glad you’re not done with us.” 🙂

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Team Fritz has totally run with Refuge Coffee’s hashtag #CREATEREFUGE.

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Kitti and G at Refuge Coffee Co. in Clarkson, GA, 1/3/17.

Okay, so when you read this are you like, “Omigosh! That seems like so much work! We could never do that! I don’t want to do that. Good luck Fritzes, but I’m out!”

If so, I understand.

I’m tired a lot (so much that I got a lot of medical testing done at the end of 2016), but don’t let that fool you. It’s so worth it. Please consider trying something like this in your home. You and your roommate/husband/parents/kid could put post-its on the bathroom mirror, or print out this free download (Family Compassion Fridge Worksheets mops) to get a conversation going. You could chat about it in the car or at breakfast. You don’t have to do a grand meal and 2 hour conversation, that’s just what ours became this year with older kids and our 7th time doing this. This is definitely a time to remember my perfectionism-busting mantra:

Better a little bit, and late, than nothing, never. 

I hope you’ll try your own version of this and let me know how it goes. If you have any questions, please ask away in the comments below.

More resources and background for you:

Coming Soon:

  • Team Fritz 2017 Words of the Year
  • 2016 Lessons Learned in Compassion

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You are loved.


©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.

Comparison Game

[featured on Perissos 11/23/16]

My first job out of college was at a Chicago homeless shelter. They provided drop-in services on cold winter nights and a year-round residential program for recovering homeless addicts. I did donor relations and lived in a crowded apartment above the shelter. I was invited to hang out with the residents whenever I wanted, including daily breakfast downstairs before work.

Every morning, 13 residents would get up from the tables to form a circle in the warm cloud of Cook Lula’s spicy potatoes and onions. The tallest resident would boom, “Hook up the cables! I need a jump start!” We joined hands and closed our eyes.

They thanked God for their warm beds and the roof over their heads. They thanked God for Mr. Jay and Mr. Brian teaching them how to stay clean and get jobs. Then one morning one man earnestly prayed, “I thank you, God, for the use of all my limbs.” Everyone nodded, murmured, and moaned their agreement.

Never, ever in my life had I passionately thanked God for the use of all of my limbs.

Continue reading at Perissos

Brass Scales via flickr

Brass Scales via flickr


Related Posts:

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

Zoe’s Visit to See “Refuge: An Exhibit by Photographer Ezra Millstein”

This essay was written by my daughter, Zoë Fritz, after spending an evening in Clarkston, Georgia, in October, 2016. 


I got to see Refuge: An Exhibit by Photographer Ezra Millstein on Saturday, October 22. They filled the old Refuge Coffee Company garage with 20″ x 30” photographs. There was Middle Eastern music and food. There were people from many different countries in one room.

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I can’t believe I got to talk with the photographer! Ezra Millstein is the International Photographer for Habitat for Humanity.  I asked him if the parents of the children he wants to take pictures of say “No, you can’t do that.” He said that doesn’t usually happen. He said that kids love the camera and their parents want people to know what they’re going through. He has a 5 month old daughter and wonders if that’s why he’s been taking pictures of so many other daughters around the world.

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Me talking with the photographer, Ezra Millstein.

I really liked the piece with the man looking out his tent towards his old home. I’m sad he lost his home.

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iPhone picture of ©Ezra Millstein’s picture

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I like this picture with this little girl and her dad. It shows how such young people are affected by this time of turmoil and hardship. Such people are called “the lost generation” because of the amount of time they spend wandering, looking for a safe place to call home. They seem so scared, or too young to understand what is happening. Such things are very sad to me. I love small children, and don’t like to hear of any of them harmed.

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iPhone picture of ©Ezra Millstein’s picture

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Refugees in America have become more and more commonplace. Refugees are people who flee their countries of origin, because of terror or conflict in their homes. Remember, almost half of these eleven million people are children under the age of thirteen! (Here is an article my mom found:  https://www.cato.org/blog/refugee-program-accepts-three-syrian-women-children-every-syrian-man )

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© Wall Street Journal

Most of these people come from places like Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Myanmar, and The Democratic Republic of the Congo. People leave these countries because of terrorism, violence, religious persecution, and war. Some settle down in Clarkston, Georgia (east of Atlanta) where they are welcomed by others who have lives like theirs.

Clarkston has a population of 7,791 people, a good half of which are refugees. This town was called “the most ethnically diverse square mile in the country.  I’ve visited this place a lot, and it is very fun. Why people consider it a “rough” neighborhood, I have no idea. The people are generally very friendly. You can get food right next to Refuge Coffee Co. at Merhaba Shawarma. I don’t understand why more people don’t go there! Honestly, Manna, the owner, should open up a restaurant near where I live.

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Some organizations that help refugees in my area are Refuge Coffee Company, World Relief Atlanta, New American Pathways, and Friends of Refugees. Refugee Coffee Company gives these people basic job training, a hope, and a future. It helps resettle people who would otherwise be unable to get a job anywhere else. To me, it is the best organization because not only does it help people as a whole (as I’ve described above), they make great drinks. My favorite is the Milk Shaker, because it is basically a non-thick milkshake. It’s a very good drink!

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One of Refuge Coffee’s 2 Trucks. The lines were long because it was so crowded for the Photo Exhibition. Two brand new employees (resettled refugees) were working that night.

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My sister in her new Refuge Coffee beanie drinking the Milk Shaker I was talking about!

Some ways ordinary people can help refugees involve donating money, donating food, clothing, and basic hygiene supplies to organizations. You could volunteer your skills to help make homes for the refugees, you could volunteer your house to help these people in need. You can employ refugees, and host awareness meetings. Most of all, help them fit into a new culture. They need a lot of help if they’re going to become settled in a completely new country! Imagine how you’d feel. You’d be scared, worried, alone. Welcome them into your lives.

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My sister and brother playing chess in the middle of the exhibition.

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Creating refuge means people feel safe and have fun. My brother played bag toss with a kid he never met before.

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I liked talking with this girl playing chess while eating the delicious Middle Eastern food.

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My sister talking to the founder of Refuge Coffee Co, Kitti Murray.

I’m glad I got to go to a place that was really fun with good food and good people. I learned a lot there. And I’d like to go back. I’d like to learn more about the exact circumstances that make people have to flee their homes. It makes me sad.

My parents are trying to figure out how we can help refugees when we live in a town that doesn’t have any. We might invite some refugees over for dinner. We might sell some pallet stars my brother makes and little painted houses my sister is making for a Christmas Market at Refuge Coffee Co. Leon, one of the Refuge Coffee Co. employees we met this summer, is trying to find his 4 children, they all got separated in the the Democratic Republic of Congo. We pray about that almost every morning. Maybe we can help him with the DNA tests and processing fees. We’ll see.

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iPhone picture of ©Ezra Millstein’s picture

Wow. I (Aimee) just love reading Zoë’s reflections on that evening. I learn so much from my kids. I was surprised by the pictures she liked best, and the stats that crush her. Good things are happening in that brain and heart.

I’ve been down to Refuge Coffee Co. five times since we learned about them. And every time I go I feel happier and more hopeful. It’s not just because I got a great drink that wasn’t from Starbucks. I couldn’t articulate why, but Zoë did the night of Ezra’s photo exhibition.

I pulled Greta’s arm to prevent her from crossing the street without checking for traffic. She looked both ways, then at me, and asked, Mom, are we in a bad neighborhood?

I looked around at the cracked, sloping sidewalks, dead weeds, empty store fronts, and people that don’t look like they’re from Peachtree City, Georgia. I answered, “No, it’s not a bad neighborhood. It’s just a new neighborhood to us. It’s just different than what we’re used to.

Zoë said, “I know. It is different. And I like it so much more. Here everyone is so kind and friendly and helpful. It’s not like this where we live.”

As we walked across the street I said, “You’re right. It does feel different here. I wonder if that’s because people here know they need each other? And when everyone knows they need help, everyone’s more willing to give help? I’m not sure. Where we live it’s not socially acceptable to need anyone. We have to act like we have it all together.”

Yeah. I like it way better down here. Bye, Mom! and she ran into the crowd, smiling with a skip in her step.

We were able to get one of Ezra’s prints that night. Once it’s framed and hung, I hope it will remind my daughter that we live in a world where we need each other, that’s is okay to need each other, and that because of God’s great love, we can help each other.

You are loved.

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iPhone picture of photo by ©Ezra Millstein


Related Links:

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016. 

Mary’s Socks – World Changer Wednesday

Last October we featured World Changer, Mary Reczek. She’s a little girl in Wheaton, Illinois who set a goal to collect 800 socks for SOCKTOBER. But she received 1370(!), and with plenty of October left to go, she upped her goal to 2000(!).

Last year Mary received 2635 pairs of socks for Chicago’s homeless!

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After that, Mary, and her brothers, Charlie, and Sam, went with World Changer Warrior Gayle Bloink several times into the city to feed, clothe, and pray with the homeless there.  The socks lasted almost an entire year.

Because they had so many socks generously donated  last year, they were able to always have socks with them when they brought food on Saturdays. The socks were almost more important than the food!  So many homeless friends have come to hope for socks each week. It is difficult to turn them away.  Mary hated when she would run out on any given week.

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This was during the first delivery of socks last year. Brian was so thankful for a clean, dry pair of socks! He said ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you!'”

So for Mary’s birthday this year she would like to collect **3000 pairs of socks** for Chicago’s homeless by 10/31/16. (Here is a link to send socks asap: mary’s sock drive.)

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Here’s the full story:

Who is Mary?

Mary is 8 years old. She has two older brothers, Charlie and Sam, a cat, and a bearded dragon.  She loves people, is brave (had two open heart surgeries as a baby), and has a tender heart for suffering.  She’s naturally outgoing and has a smile always at the ready.

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What does she like to do?

Mary and her brothers go regularly to Chicago to feed and pray with the homeless. They go more often in the winter because the need seems greater in the bitter cold of the windy city. ***Now Mary is collecting 3000 pairs of socks to personally distribute in the next year.***

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How did she get this idea?

Our family has long had a heart for the homeless. When our oldest two were little (Mary is the youngest) we helped with PADS (a ministry that coordinates local churches providing nightly shelter to the homeless). We would bring food, and when dropping that off, we would help set up the sleeping mats and blankets. We love PADS because it is something you can do with any aged child. Young children (and parents wearing babies) can help assemble lunches, decorate the brown paper bags, set up the sleeping mats and help serve food.

A few of years ago, a friend from church (Gayle) invited our oldest to go with her downtown to feed, and pray with, Chicago’s homeless. This is a a grassroots effort. They just walk around the Loop seeking need. Mary begged to go, and finally on Christmas Eve 2013 she was able! She loved it and goes as often as possible ever since. She sees a lot of “regulars” so knows some of them more personally.

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Why did she choose Socks?

Our friend put out a plea asking for 100 pairs of socks for her homeless friends. When Mary saw that, she wanted to help. We thought we would ask a few friends to contribute, and people did! When the request for the first hundred pairs was quickly met, Mary changed it to 200, and then 800 then 1000, then 2000. This year she’s going for 3000! We’ve found that lots of people are happy to help. Most people who have donated socks have said they are happy to help in this small way. Many notes have said, “If Mary is willing to walk around and distribute, I am happy to donate the socks!”

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Why does she want to do this?

Mary knows how cold her feet get when she is walking around the city – and she has warm socks and waterproof boots. She also has a safe car with heat blasting and a house to come home to with a cozy bed to snuggle in. She has seen them in the winter and knows they are freezing.  Socks are a big deal because if your feet are wet and cold, the rest of your body is, too.

It’s not hard for Mary to be a World Changer because she isn’t thinking about facts and numbers. She is remembering real people that she actually talks to. She is thinking about their cold, wet feet. She loves them because she knows them.

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How do the homeless people in Chicago get the socks?

Mary and her friends are writing notes to go in each pair of socks. They aren’t just going to drive by and toss them out the window. They are going to hand out the socks and look everyone in the eye. They are going to connect.

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Please help Mary get 3000 pairs of socks for the homeless in Chicago by 10/31/16!  

Right now she has 2189 pairs. 811 pairs to go!

Here is the amazon link to send socks directly to Mary.

I will keep you posted on Mary’s final count. It’s going to be great!

Lord, thank you for Mary! You are shaping a tender, strong, beautiful, inspiring World Changer in this 8 year old girl. She is inspiring and teaching us. Please soften our hearts to see and hear the people you put in our paths. Thank you for your mercy and grace. Amen.


If you are reading this post after 10/31/16 and want to love homeless people in your area, Mary and her mom, Gabi, have these ideas:

  1. Volunteer at PADS or other shelters (google “homeless shelter” and your town/county name to get started)
  2. Carry snacks or $5 gift cards with when walking in heavily populated areas.
  3. Carry socks in your car in your car to share.
  4. If you have any old purses, put in some tissue, chapstick, hand wipes, feminine hygiene, and perhaps some beauty items. Keep them in your car to share.
  5. We’ve made these backpack kitshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6fkyf9UGAE
  6. If you’re crafty, we’ve made three of these sleeping pads over the last 2 years. They are highly sought after, and cost nothing but time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQtcpPBJc70
  7. Here is a link to a Chicago church that makes the mat as a group – join them, or start your own group:  http://www.unitedinfaith.org/newlifeforoldbags.html
  8. If you don’t have anything to give, or are just caught unawares, you can always stop and talk with a homeless person.  The vast, overwhelming majority are NOT criminals or dangerous.  Ask them how they are doingHear their story.  If you are able, take them someplace warm for a cup of coffee.

 


Do you know a World Changer?  We’d love to learn from them!  Send me a message in the comments below, or at familycompassionfocus@gmail.com

To read about Mary’s adventures last October you can read Mary1 and Mary 2.

To learn from other World Changers, you can read about the SeversonsBergersFarrellsEvansPowells, and Greta.

To learn how the Family Compassion Focus got started, read Our Story.

To get ideas for how to start your own Family Compassion Focus, read Getting Started(Remember, it’s never too late and there are a thousand ways to do it.)

You are loved.

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

The Stupid Cupcakes

[featured at The Mudroom 10/20/16]

He found me lying there on the ground, spread eagle in dirty yoga pants, my back brace, and an apron. The TV sounded faint and tinny in the basement where the kids ran and hid when I started yelling.

“What happened, honey? Are you okay?” Chris rushed to my side.

“I can’t do this. Why are we doing this? I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“How many cupcakes did you make today?” he sighed.

Photo by Shellah Brennan via Unsplash

Photo by Shellah Brennan via Unsplash

“264. But I need 300. I miscounted. I have to make more for that damn baseball team. I promised.”

“Why did you promise to make 300 cupcakes? We can’t do that.”

“We’re doing it for ORPHANS! Because God loves orphans! Remember?! They have a crappy life and no parents and big diseases and we can’t even make cupcakes! We suck!”

He pulled me up and hugged me. “Aim. You can’t keep doing this. We don’t have an industrial kitchen. We don’t have a staff. We have a tiny 90 year old kitchen and really intense kids. This is too much.”

I glared at him and ripped open another box of devil’s food cake mix. He left to take off his tie and find the kids.

Why do I always do this?

My friends and family raised their eyebrows and pursed their lips when I announced we were doing a bake sale to help orphaned and imprisoned children in Uganda. Even though the last one was an astounding success ($37,000 for Haiti after the earthquake), no one wanted to endure my preventable breakdown afterwards.

But this time would be easier. I promised. It would just be cupcakes. From a mix. With a few enhancements. Definitely homemade buttercream frosting. And customized decorations. And not $37,000 again. Just $1000 would be fine.

“Wait. You want to raise $1000 from cupcakes?” my husband challenged. please continue reading at The Mudroom

Cupcakes by Rose Davies via Flickr

Cupcakes by Rose Davies via Flickr


Related Posts:

  • If you’d like to know why we even bothered to make over 1000 cupcakes in 2 weeks you can read Our Story. It ended up changing our lives.
  • If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by regular life + the needs of this world, please read Moms – World Changer Wednesday to remember that you are already an compassion expert.

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

The Long Family – World Changer Wednesday

I met Mary Beth years ago. We were both going through soul-crushing infertility. Our friendship was a gift from God in that long, hard season. We kept each other laughing and praying as we shared the absurdities, humiliations, disappointments, and hopes of trying to have babies. We desperately wanted to be mothers. Oh, how I thanked God not to go through all that alone!

If you told us we’d have 6 six between us we would not have believed you.

I love Mary Beth’s frank common sense, strong faith, and contagious humor. You’ll love reading how this led her family to a brand new, exciting, life-changing adventure.


Hi Mary Beth, please tell us about your family!

Carter, 12: Our first born. A miracle because there was a time we thought we would never be able to have children. He is funny, witty and has a heart of gold. He is as wise as an 80 year old man and can make you laugh as hard as you did when you were a kid.

Mary Grace, 10: She has a big swelling heart and is a lover of all babies, animals and grandpas. She hurts when others are hurting and would do anything to make you stop crying (including cry herself). She is loyal, loving and girly and she will tell you the truth whether or not you want to hear it.

Bill: My husband/my rock and indulges all my wild ideas and tempers the ideas that are truly insane. He is a devout Catholic man with a mantra that men must be the spiritual leader of their family and be a reflection of God in the home. He is a great father and is obsessed with coffee and listening to podcasts (ask anyone if they have ever received advice from Bill and they will tell you that he forwarded them a podcast).

Me: It is tough to talk about myself. Bill calls me the heart of the family but I often feel like I fall short of this title. I love being a Mom, I love my faith and for the most part I have a zeal for life. I have been blessed with an amazing family both extended and immediate but have always had an itch inside where God was telling me that I wasn’t quite done being a Mother.

I spent a lot of time since January reflecting on what God was asking from me. We were not blessed with more of our own biological children and I struggled with why I had such a strong yearning and desire to grow in my vocation of motherhood. I guess I simply lacked patience in discerning what God had in store for me. It is now abundantly clear that God was slowly preparing me to open my heart to the possibility of adoption and to welcome into my family our soon to be new 12 year old daughter, Maria Camila.

The Long Family

The Long Family

How is your family showing compassion this year?

This year the Catholic Church is celebrating the Jubilee year of Mercy. Many people in the world are familiar with Pope Francis and the incredible inspiration he has been to the world over the past few years. When he visited Washington last fall I took Mary Grace and Carter to see him speak on the Capitol Lawn. It is an experience that we will never forget. We were literally moved to tears. Because of his visit and this being the year of mercy our family has been reflecting on what this means and what we are being called to do.

The Holy Father said that “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life.  All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy.  The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”  Our family has interpreted that to mean that we need to come outside of ourselves to acknowledge the suffering around us and try to bring compassion to others.

We have found that it can be as simple as visiting our sick neighbor or as hard as hugging my Aunt tightly moments after the love of her life passed away. As a family, however, our most important act of mercy this year will be to welcome our soon-to-be daughter, Maria Camila into our home and make her part of our family.

How did this all happen?!

We did not plan on adopting a child and in a million years and I never imagined us adopting a preteen, but God has a great sense of humor. During the big winter blizzard last January we were virtually trapped in our little section of the neighborhood and crawled through the ice and snow to go to our neighbor’s house for dinner. Anyone who could get there was invited. As we broke bread and shared some laughs I found myself engaging in a fairly serious conversation with my next door neighbor. She began to tell me the story about Kidsave.

The Kidsave Summer Miracles program brings older, harder to place orphans to the United States for the summer so they have a chance to see the world but to also meet a forever family. We eagerly signed up as advocates hoping that we could help give a child a fun summer and find them a home. I don’t think we realized that she would literally turn our lives upside down and help us see that her forever home was with us.

©KidSave

©KidSave

How did you choose your plan of action?

Honestly because Kidsave led us to Maria Camila we did not have to do a lot of work developing a plan of action. Kidsave was (and still is) an incredible blessing. They made everything so easy for us. They continue to support us and help us find the way.

kid-save

Why are you doing it?

Ultimately because God is calling us to. We have been so blessed and we know it is our turn to give something back. Maria Camila is a little girl not that different than my daughter Mary Grace. She loves to draw, swim, sing, and have fun. The only difference is that her parents abandoned her when she needed them most. She did nothing wrong, but has no one. It is hard to sleep at night knowing that you could make a difference in this child’s life and give her the same chance that we have given to our own biological children. We could possibly change the entire direction of her life by opening our home.

Carter, M, and Maria Camila

Carter, Mary Grace, and Maria Camila

What’s been the hardest part?

To be truthful it is easy to be selfish. It is much easier to say “I like my world the way it is” and not take this on. It is hard to admit that there are those selfish moments when you think it would be easier to just walk away but it never lasts long. We get back to the drawing board and figure out ways to make this work, to make her part of our family and to get all of that paper work done!

The Long Family before they knew Marie Camila would be their daughter and sister.

The Long Family before they knew Maria Camila would be their daughter and sister.

Do you have any advice for other families?

Yes, don’t forget to ask God what he wants from you. I think we so often pray for what we need and want and forget to find out from God what he has planned for us. Once you have a better idea of what God has in store it is a lot easier to live in peace. I don’t think adoption is for everyone. We each give what we are able to and we each have special talents that we can share. However, I will say this, whatever it is that God is asking you to do, God will not be outdone in his generosity. He will make sure you have the tools, friends and resources you need. I can promise you that.

Summer Miracles 2016

Summer Miracles 2016

How can we join you?

You can join us in praying for Maria Camila. There is long road ahead for her. Before she ever leaves Colombia she must have surgery on her arm (a terrible infection that would never have progressed if she had good medical care). She needs to learn the language and she needs to adjust to life in a family. So do we for that matter. Your prayers are helpful! You can follow the story as well at our blog www.asummermiracle.wordpress.com. Now that we are moving forward with this adoption we have a lot more to tell.

Also, I know there are other families out there who would be perfect as host families for the summer miracles program. Let’s find them. I had no idea this program existed until this past year and I am sure that there are many others who don’t know but would love an opportunity like this to help a child. Maybe you’re one of those families? http://www.kidsave.org/programs/orphan-hosting/

Finally, I have started making candles to raise awareness for older orphan adoption and to raise money for kidsave and for Maria Camila’s transition. Here is the link to read more and order: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CamilasCandles?ref=l2-shopheader-name

Let God’s light shine upon you in all that you do and let’s bring a little bit of that light to others.

Camila's Candles are made with love by the Long Family

Camila’s Candles are made with love by the Long Family

Camila's Candles - you can order some today!

Camila’s Candles – you can order some today!

Thank you, Mary Beth!

Team Fritz bought a few candles and had them shipped to us. They smell terrific and are so well done. I encourage you to buy some, too! They would make excellent additions to the Christmas, and end of year cash gifts you give to teachers, doormen, doctors, house cleaners, mailmen, pastors, etc. Check it out on their Etsy page!


Related Links:

  • An article in the Catholic Herald about the Long Family is here.
  • Read about more World Changers here.
  • Read the Farrell Family’s and Berger Family’s adoption stories here and here.

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

Crows

Once I was held prisoner in my room for 10 weeks. Preterm labor demanded bedrest if I wanted to give my unborn babies a chance. I lived in fear of losing them.

I also lived in fear of crows.

*****

"Crow on Tree by Oliver Degabrielle via flickr

“Crow on Tree” by Oliver Degabrielle via flickr

Almost every day of my bedrest crows came to haunt me. They curled their talons and straightened their black cloaks on the bare winter branches outside my window. They stared in my room with sinister eyes and cawed menacingly. I trembled. There was no roadkill in my room for them to eat.

Whose death were they waiting for?

Were they circling over the twins I was desperately trying to grow inside my huge belly? Did they think my babies weren’t going to make it? Did they know something I didn’t?

One day I couldn’t take it anymore. I untangled myself from the contraction monitor, subcutaneous terbutaline pump, long white compression socks, and twisted blankets and heaved myself out of bed. I punched at the window with one hand and guarded my babies with the other. “Go away!” I shouted tearfully. “Get out!” They laughed with disdain and flew to the next tree. The neighbor’s dog barked.

My heart raced. I knew they’d be back.

*****

My babies were born and they flourished. But I couldn’t shake the fear of death whenever I saw crows. I didn’t want to see the flattened carcass or droopy pink baby animal near their beaks. I didn’t want to hear their caws and remember the weeks they mocked me.

*****

When we moved to Georgia last year I started running in the woods. I often shared my runs with deer, ducks, sparrows, and happy dogs. Except for the lonely day I was ambushed by crows. When I emerged from the protective canopy of the forest they were waiting for me please continue reading at Perissos

"Crows Flying" by British Pest Control Association via Flickr

“Crows Flying” by British Pest Control Association via Flickr

[featured on Perissos 10/17/16] 


Related Links:

  • Before this epiphany, I always saw crows as Bullies and associated them with shame.
  • I’ve encountered God often while running in the woods, often I’m Running Away from him.

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

No One is the Boss of Us

You know how to light a match, don’t you?

I looked up at her and lied.

She gave me the book of matches and watched me slowly draw the bud against the scratch. She grabbed it back, You’ve got to go fast, see? Boom! Zip! She laughed and gave me the lit match with her brown wrinkled hands.

Put it in that hole there. See the flames? You just lit the grill! Now you can cook steakettes whenever you want. I confidently dropped the frozen patties from the butcher paper onto the grate.

Little girls aren’t allowed to touch matches.

please continue reading at You Are Here Stories

Matches by Simon D via flickr.com

Matches by Simon D via flickr.com

[This story was featured at  You Are Here Stories 10/11/16.]


Related Posts:

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

Jodie Kitchens – World Changer Wednesday

What if you wake up one morning and realize you’ve been only listening to your brain, and not your heart? What do you do? How do you start something new?

I have come to know Jodie Kitchens through the magic of Facebook and our shared love for Haiti Partners. She is intelligent, passionate, fierce, hard-working, and from what I can tell, inexhaustible! After decades in corporate financial services, she joyfully changed her focus toward active compassion. I love her story. I’d love to hear what resonates with you!


Thank you for being with us, Jodie! Please introduce yourself!

My heart is all about “Helping Families in Crisis While Having Adventures and Learning.”

About 2 ½ years ago, I had my moment. On a hillside near Fort Jacques,in Haiti, I reached my limit and sent my son James and Haiti Partners Director John Engle on up the hill to our original destination of a fort. As I sat, I watched the ants and a lizard go about their day, then I heard church singing waft through from hillside to hillside. Funny what you notice of the world around you and what is in your heart when you are far outside the realm of cell services.

Shortly after sitting down on my rock perch, four young Haitian ladies walked by me and I tried in my best Creole to greet them. I must have faked it at least reasonably as they began a full conversation. I was lost but pulled out my one useful phrase “Mwen pa konprann kreyòl. English?”

Though the girls didn’t speak English, I dug deep for some of my high school French after one of the girls spoke some French. But again, we quickly exhausted my memory.

The young ladies went on their way but shortly after I heard them call after me to sit with them in the shade of the tree. Again, I dug deep for words for arms, eyes, head, ears, as they shared the matching Creole words. Something caught my eye, a book that they young girl named “Love” was holding.  Now remember, I am in an area where houses are beyond modest, and are haphazardly covered by tin roofs. So, to have a book in that area, was an extreme extravagance.

It was an English-French/French-English dictionary, just what we needed to spark a much deeper exchange. So we sat for the next hour or so, practicing phrases like It’s a beautiful day” in English, French and Creole.

This simple moment, in a place I never expected to go, with new friends I never expected to meet, this moment started my journey. I knew I was meant to be in Haiti and to meet my dear girls. I knew  I was meant for something different than the 30+ years of corporate financial services work I had been focused previously.

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James during our first trip to Haiti – what sparked this all

When did compassion catch your attention? What kicked off your journey? 

Both of my parents were very generous individuals whether it was with coaching, 4-H or patiently sitting through any of the many band and orchestra concerts that goes with 5 kids playing 5 different instruments. It was after my mom’s Dad, Pappy, died that she began to search for meaningful ways to serve, in ways she was not able to with him. This began my parents’ 30-year journey in support of Hospice of Central Pennsylvania. It was in a Hospice supported house that my mother took her last breath, surrounded by family, in a location she helped make happen.

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Me and my mom.

Their example dovetailed with my own cancer diagnosis when my kids were little: James was less than one and Selena was three. After my surgery and a few years of follow up, I was pronounced “done” and looked for ways I could support others going through something similar. It was hard as the adult in this situation, in contrast, it would be brutal to watch your child go through a cancer diagnosis.

I was lucky enough to have a friend serving on ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation and I was brought in. ASK – Assistance Support and Kindness – provides support for families going through a child’s cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. I’m proud to now serve as the Board President and cherish the moments that exemplify the work we do, whether its after school tutoring for kids that have missed school, our annual walk and baseball day at the Richmond Diamond or when we help Virginia Commonwealth Hospital gain an MRI dedicated to pediatric patients.

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The Yellow t-shirts are our ASK cancer survivor kids!! At our annual Walk.

But non-profit work didn’t become a full time part of my life until a few years ago when I accepted an opportunity to work with Haiti Partners as their Entrepreneurship Grant Program Manager. In this work, I continued my coordination of language hangouts and launched the Entrepreneurship Training Pilot, educating 8 students in Haiti on the basics of creating a business plan and saving money. Although I was not around to see the Bawosya Handmade Haitian Paper business develop it’s final product, I was influential in getting paper expert Hector to the school, and starting this community business by providing training and creative structure to develop paper art.

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A mango break after visiting Haiti Partners donor schools – Harold and Franzy.

Recently, I accepted a position with Goodwill of Central Virginia as a Contract Recruiter, helping people in our area overcome obstacles to finding jobs. I screen applicants for jobs at Goodwill and through partner organizations.

goodwill_industries_logo-svg

Why are you doing all these things?

I’m doing this work because I have to. I’ve been so fortunate in what I’ve been given, others that supported me and the gifts I have, that I want to level the playing field for others who, just because of where they were born or things outside their control, are disadvantaged in ways that can be difficult to overcome.

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How has compassion shaped your life? 

As an overly analytical person the first half of my life, I relied heavily on my brain to make my decisions. Pro and con lists dominated every decision and my family would joke that I never did anything new without reading a book about it first.

But these last few years, as I’ve tapped more heavily into my compassion, I am looking to my heart as a guide more and more often. I now take jobs based on what aligns with my mission of helping families and am able to say “no” to things that don’t align.

This journey was not easy. I hit what I can only call a “mid-life crisis” with my mom’s death, problems in my family, health issues. I saw this as a wake up call from the universe that I needed to do something different. I had to create the quiet and the space to listen to my heart with a least as much attention as I was listening to my brain.

The shift has been worth it. I have more dedication to the work I do, my family is happier and I have more energy and hope for myself and for the world around me.

Also, I see that my focus on service has had an impact on my kids. As they talk about what they want to do in life, service is a strong dimension of what they want to accomplish.

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My proud moment! Proud of James for finishing the Appalachian Trail – Proud of myself for getting up the mountain – NO JOKE!

Selena and I enjoyed NYC where she had a law internship this past summer.

Selena and I enjoyed NYC where she had a law internship this past summer.

Randy and I - 26 years of marriage!

Randy and I – 26 years of marriage!

 

What’s been the hardest part?

In order to take on this work in my life, I had to redefine the term “work.” My focused has shifted away from the “job” being the value to the “work” being the value regardless of the amount or if I am paid for it. My resume is now full of successes that had little to do with the paycheck I brought home. This has been freeing, but I’m not naïve to the fact that I worked all those years in hard corporate work to save enough to have this luxury.

In Haiti.

In Haiti.

Do you have any advice for other people considering a re-direct?

I’ve talked to many groups of teens about this, and have the advice to follow your energy. As a teen, I know adults would say to “do what you are passionate about” but I could never tap into that word and see it in action for me. But as I slowed down and looked for energy, I could suddenly note that and then see what the common thread was for those “energy” activities. And through that I created my mission.

When you are able to clearly state a mission, others come out of the woodwork to help because they can easily align their own passions to such a clear statement. It’s been amazing how many happy accidents have resulted in help for any of the organizations I support!

Getting dirty in Haiti with Haiti Partners.

Getting dirty in Haiti with Haiti Partners.

How can we join you in your journey?

The obvious answer is to help ASK, Haiti Partners, Goodwill or similar organizations in your community (see links below). Or find your energy and give back.

In a few weeks, I’ll be launching “Live Joy Creations” on Etsy where I will sell heirloom knitted products that I have made. The name comes from my grandmother, Olive, (Live) who was a joyous and crafty woman who was rarely without a crochet hook in her hands. I cherish the blankets I have from her and want to give others the experience of that virtual hug! Joy comes from my mother’s name, Joyce, for her example of service.

A portion of the sales will go back to ASK and Haiti Partners to support their programs. Friend me on FB and you will receive notice when I’m up and running!

Thank you, Jodie!

Friends, are you listening to your head and your heart? Are you slowing down enough to catch the magic moments of connection and clarity? Are pursuing and following the God-given things that bring you joy (or as Jodie says, “energy”)? Consider turning off the music or podcast in your car, or going for a half hour walk and ask yourself the question, “Am I doing what I’m meant to do?”


Related Posts:

  • World Changers – a link to our complete list of authors, directors, organizations, and families doing their own thing to change the world.
  • This is What I’ve Got – How Aimee began surrendering and discovering how God might be wanting her to be a part of changing the world.

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

The Home Inspector

[featured on Perissos 10/7/16]

I thought we were going to live there forever. But a week after the new windows were finally installed my husband took a new job across the country. After crying for days about leaving our best friends and favorite grocery stores, I focused all my energy on selling our beloved 90-year-old home.

We went room by room, writing down 63 things that needed to fixed and finished before we could sell it. The hole in the wall where my son smashed the doorknob every day. The moldy splotch on the ceiling where the tub above leaked. The bent screen door. The missing rungs on the back porch. The peeling paint.

We spent our weekends and evenings working on that list. Tacking up pieces of trim, painting over scratches and stains on the walls, replacing mirrors. We couldn’t fix it all, but we tried.

We sold the house very quickly to great buyers with no legal or financial issues. All that was left was the Home Inspection.

photo by Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

photo by Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

They say that Home Inspectors aren’t looking at any messes, just the house itself. That’s what I’m afraid of. When I sell a home I want to tip toe behind the Inspector and explain everything: why the floor is a little slanty in the kitchen, why the walls aren’t plumb in the renovated attic. I want to wow them a bit: Did you notice the electric, appliances, and exterior doors are new? Did you notice the heritage quality tile we used in the bathroom? I pray the Home Inspector is gracious and kind. Please look over the flaws, it’s working just fine! It’s a great place. Your clients will love it here!

But when I buy a home I want to meet the Inspector in driveway with white gloves, a magnifying glass, and a lie detector test. I want to know why the grout is a different color right there, what that smell is, and if that’s a water stain in the basement. I want the Home Inspector to be ruthless. I want to know everything that is wrong and could go wrong. I don’t care if this home worked for them. I’m investing a lot here. I want it perfect.

When I confess my sins, it sometimes feels like I’m letting the Home Inspector in. I take a deep breath and open the front door with a forced smile. I’m already panicking about the hole in the fence, the leaky washer, and those critter noises I heard once in the wall….continue reading at Perissos


Related Posts:

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

photo by Roman Mager via unsplash.com

photo by Roman Mager via unsplash.com

Dr. Jamie Aten – World Changer Wednesday

I am so thankful for the timing and content of this World Changer Wednesday post. We’re all watching Hurricane Matthew. It’s ravaging the Caribbean, and we are bracing for impact in the southeastern US. What a gift we can feature Dr. Jamie Aten, the Founder and Co-Director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute.

Jamie survived Hurricane Katrina and late-stage cancer. He is an expert on serving those going through trauma and disaster. He teaches, speaks, travels, serves, and writes. I’m so grateful he’s here to share his personal story, big ideas, and practical resources for coping with personal and natural disasters.


Please tell us about yourself, Jamie!

I am a disaster psychologist, author, and speaker. I help others cultivate faith and resilience amidst personal, mass, and humanitarian disasters. I don’t just study disasters—I have lived disasters. I am a Hurricane Katrina and a late-stage cancer survivor in remission. I channel these experiences into helping others live more resiliently and into helping churches minister more effectively.

I hold an endowed research professorship and help train clinical psychology doctoral students at Wheaton College (IL). I’m also a bit of a social entrepreneur. I founded and direct the Humanitarian Disaster Institute and Disaster Ministry Conference.

Presently I live in Wheaton, Illinois a suburb outside the city of Chicago with my family. We reside in the middle of suburbia with our dog Buddy in a farmhouse built over 100 years ago. I enjoy going to the city, especially to watch the Cubs. Yet, having grown up in a small rural farming community Oblong, Illinois in the middle of cornfields I try to get out to the country whenever I can.

aten-headshot

©Dr. Jamie D. Aten

Why did you pursue this line of work?

I didn’t set out to study disasters. I took a teaching job at the University of Southern Mississippi to study rural health disparities right out of graduate school. Then just six days after moving to South Mississippi Hurricane Katrina struck my community. I saw first hand the important role that faith and churches play times of disaster. Within weeks I was studying faith and disaster resilience and supporting church recovery efforts. I found that faith played a vital role in the lives of many survivors and was linked to greater resilience overall. I saw a need to better equip churches and faith-based organizations to prepare for the unthinkable, care for the vulnerable, and cultivate resilience in times of disaster. Little did I know this would turn into my life’s work.

Since Hurricane Katrina I’ve gone onto research, train, or mobilize church leaders after numerous disasters around the globe in 10 different countries.

Somewhere in the mix of all those mass disasters I encountered a personal disaster. I was diagnosed with late stage cancer at the age of 35. I underwent a yearlong cancer battle that included surgeries and multiple forms of treatments (e.g., chemotherapy). In many ways I saw what I had spent years studying in disaster zones play out in my own life spiritually and emotionally. This was by far the scariest and most difficult time of my life. My cancer has been in remission ever since. This personal tragedy taught me more about suffering and adversity than I liked. However, this painful experience taught me spiritual and psychological lessons I don’t think I would have ever been able to learn from just my research. I’ve tried to follow Rick Warren’s advice, “Never waste your pain.”

Jamie spoke at Wheaton College about his cancer disaster experience today, 10/5/16 at Wheaton College. Here is a link to watch it:

 

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©HDI

What is the Humanitarian Disaster Institute? Who does it serve? What are it’s goals?

HDI is first social science research center in the country devoted to the study of faith and disasters. The Institute is housed in the Wheaton College clinical psychology doctoral program. Our mission is to help the Church prepare and care amid disasters. Our mission is carried out both domestically and internationally through psychological research, training, and resource development (free tools, resources, etc.). We focus on psychology of religion/spirituality disaster research, disaster ministry, disaster spiritual and emotional care, and refugee and trauma care. We don’t do research just for research sake. Rather we do research that helps empower and equip churches and communities do their work better and with greater resilience.

I’m grateful everyday for the talented HDI team of colleagues and students I get to work with. HDI is comprised of a college-wide interdisciplinary team of scholars, educator, and students committed to helping underserved and vulnerable populations challenged by disasters and humanitarian crises. Our students are engaged at every step of the way in our work to help churches and communities rally around those in need due to crises in our backyard, across the nation, and around the world. We’ve also gathered a top-notch group of researchers from across the country to help us delve into some of life’s biggest questions regarding the impact that adversity can have on psychological and spiritual resilience and growth.

Our annual Disaster Ministry Conference is another way we help others learn how to prepare, respond, and recover from disasters. The Disaster Ministry Conference is a national conference that is quickly turning into a global event. We had participants from 15 countries in attendance at our 2016 conference. The purpose of the Disaster Ministry Conference is to equip church and lay leaders to serve amid disasters (e.g., natural disasters, refugee crises, mass shootings, acts of terrorism) domestically and internationally. The event features global leaders in disaster ministry, emergency management, humanitarian aid, public health, and mental health fields. Participants gain new knowledge, skills, and networks for effectively leading their congregations in developing disaster ministries. For me personally, my favorite part is getting to meet and learn from all the incredible people that attend and speak at our conference. For example, bestselling author Philip Yancey was our keynote speaker a couple years ago. The conference is more than just a couple days of training, it’s developing into a community.

hdi-logo

 

Can you tell us a bit more about your latest book? 

The Disaster Ministry Handbook provides a practical guide for disaster preparedness. Disaster ministry is a critically important work of the church, preparing for the unthinkable, providing relief to survivors, caring for the vulnerable and helping communities recover. Filled with resources for emergency planning and crisis management, this book provides best practices for local congregations. By taking action in advance, your church can help prevent harm, save lives during, and learn how to care for the vulnerable amid disaster.

I actually co-wrote my latest book Disaster Ministry Handbook while battling cancer. The idea for the book “hit” me on a night I couldn’t sleep because of chemotherapy related side effects. I slowly made my way out of bed and to the computer. I made a brief outline and for six hours straight I started cutting and pasting all the materials and resources my colleague Dr. David Boan and I had developed through the Humanitarian Disaster Institute over several years.

At this point I was still feeling sick, sleep deprived, and not thinking to clearly from the medicine. Impulsively I sent off what I had pulled together to my editor at InterVarsity. I eagerly waited to see if what I had sent might be the makings for a book someday. Not long after we had a contract in hand.

I struggled to write during my cancer treatment. I’d sometimes go long stretches without being able to write anything tangible—but I kept writing. Writing, though difficult, helped take my mind off the fact I was going through my own personal disaster. We actually sent in our first full draft near the time I wrapped up my treatments. Once I finished treatments, found out I was cancer free, and finally recovered from chemo brain, we jumped back into full-blown writing mode. Several drafts later here it is!

Disaster Ministry Handbook from InterVarsity Press

Disaster Ministry Handbook from InterVarsity Press

I know it’s impossible to generalize, but what are Christians doing right in their default responses to disaster and trauma? What are we doing wrong? 

The Church is better equipped to offer hope, meaning, and support than any other group responding. If your church doors are open after a disaster, and quite honestly even if your church is no longer standing, people are going to turn to your congregation for help. Local congregations are uniquely positioned in their communities to assist with disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. The local church is often among the first to respond and among the last to stop working amid disasters. I would encourage churches to be the church, to be the hands and feet of Christ. For a top ten list of ways local churches can help check out my blog post. [add link: http://www.wheaton.edu/HDI/Blog/2016/01/Every-Church-Should-Have-a-Disaster-Ministry%5D. If your church doesn’t already have a ministry in place to address catastrophes, crises, and emergencies then the time to start is now.

I’d recommend that churches avoid being a S-U-V –that is a spontaneous unaffiliated volunteer. I can relate to wanting to just pick up and go help right after a major disaster event.  However, you need to resist the urge to self-deploy. From researching numerous situations around the globe I’ve found this causes more harm than good. After Hurricane Katrina I interviewed a local leader for a study who shared, “Volunteers were one of the biggest blessings after Katrina, and volunteers were one of the biggest curses after Katrina.” By “curse” he was referring to spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers that just show up on their own accord and end up adding to the havoc. If you don’t help through the proper channels, such as established relief groups, you are more likely to get in the way of trained responders, divert resources from survivors, and contribute to the already taxed local infrastructure. Wait until volunteer opportunities become available instead of “parachuting” in on your own. Work with local authorities and see how you can best help the cause.

©HDI

©HDI

How do you avoid compassion fatigue, trauma fatigue? How do you refuel?

A while back I was flying and was reading a book called, Who Survives When Disasters Strike? I could feel the woman sitting next to me starring at me. When I looked over she asked if wouldn’t mind putting my book about surviving disasters away for the rest of the flight because it was making her fear of flying worse. I spend a good portion of my day thinking about disasters and sometimes forget that’s not the case for most people. Because of this, I try and am intentional in taking steps to help prevent compassion fatigue, trauma, and fatigue. Sometimes I think it’s easier to help others than to sometimes help ourselves. At the end of the day I struggle with these issues just like everyone else. However, here are a few things I try and do to refuel.

Spending time with my family and playing with my daughters is true soul care for me. I’ve jokingly, or maybe not so jokingly, been called pathologically optimistic. I think this has served me well in my line of work, I can’t imagine being involved in disaster work without hope. Though I spend a lot of time helping after or thinking about bad things, my belief that God is good and with us in our our pain helps sustain me.

  • I try and pay attention to what my thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations are trying to tell me.
  • As best as I can I try and mindful that helping others affected by disasters can sometimes unearth previous hurts and struggles, like pulling up challenging times from my cancer disaster for example.
  • I also look for ways to bring some “normalcy” to my daily routine even if deployed in the wake of disaster.
  • I’ve also learned it’s okay to establish some boundaries to ensure proper self-care when helping after a disaster. I try and set boundaries about watching how much media, especially images that I let myself take in at any given time. It’s good to be informed, but there’s a limit to how much exposure is helpful versus possibly hurtful.
  • When I was going through my cancer battle a friend encouraged me to do what is life giving. Listening to my favorite jazz album, drinking Intelligentsia coffee at my favorite coffee shop, and watching the Cubs (especially this year!) doesn’t hurt either.

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If you could convince every person who gets diagnosed with cancer (and other disasters) of one thing, what would it be? Is there a silver bullet?


Probably the biggest lesson I learned from my cancer disaster experience that I hope others might be able to hold to is this: God can redeem our pain no matter how difficult the struggle. This does not mean that the healing process will be easy, nor does it mean our lives are guaranteed to go back to “normal.” However, I truly believe God is there with us through it all. My cancer disaster helped me realize that no matter what we may be going through, Christ has gone ahead of us to clear a way for our healing, whether it takes place in this life or the next.

For example, early on in my cancer treatments I remember getting ready for radiation. I was really struggling that day with feeling like no one could relate to what I was going through. Then the radiation technician started to slowly move me into position into what looked like a small sterile white “cave-like” machine. In that moment I pictured Christ being laid to rest in the tomb, but also being resurrected with a new body. I felt an incredible sense of peace wash over me as I realized Jesus could relate to the pain I was going through.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a “silver bullet” to helping people through cancer, as needs are different person to person.

What is the most rewarding part of your work? 

I think the most rewarding part of my work is, not to sound cliché, but helping others. I feel incredibly blessed to this day by all the people that came and helped our community after Katrina and also around our family through my cancer disaster. To be healthy again and able to help again is incredibly meaningful to me. I feel humbled to have been the privilege to walk alongside and listen and learn from countless people and congregations affected by disasters. We often think about disasters bringing out the worst in people, but they can bring out the best in others, too. I feel privileged to see how God is working through His Church to meet the needs of those affected by disasters. One of the other parts I enjoy is getting to work with such an incredible team at HDI and all our collaborators.

©HDI

©HDI

How is compassion part of responding to disaster? 

If there is such a thing as an “X” factor to what distinguishes helpful disaster response from hurtful disaster response, it may just turn out to be compassion. We see examples and stories throughout scripture of Christians tackling what looks like impossible missions to help others. I see compassion as driving force behind those examples. I think our differences can make it hard to offer compassion, especially in really difficult or challenging disaster contexts. The problem happens when we let our differences divide us instead of unite us. I realize it may sound strange, but I think sometimes it’s often a lot easier to show others compassion than ourselves. To combat this, I’d recommend those getting involved in disaster work make sure they have a strong and supportive community around them. This will make more of a positive difference on cultivating compassion than you can imagine.

©HDI

©HDI

How can children and families love and serve those in disasters? And should we even try, or is it too traumatizing? Is it worth it, for us, and those we’re trying to serve?

I think this is my favorite question if I’m allowed to have one. YES, I think children and families can help others affected by disasters. If you are the parent or caregiver, remember to always take an appropriate development approach.

My three young daughters always have lots of questions and want to know what I’m working on or how I’m helping. I try and share with them, but again, only in ways that are fitting to their age, interests, and personality. For example, I told them how our team was going to help after the Louisiana flood and shared stories with them after I got home. I even told them a lot of people were hurting, but I didn’t go into the images of this or great detail. I kept it pretty generic, like, “Dad was helping people who were really sad because of the disaster.” I try and balance this with sharing encouraging and uplifting stories of faith and altruism. I want my kids to see there is beauty even in brokenness. I also try and communicate regularly why I help and why we as a family should help.

Another thing you can do is to look for ways to actually get your children involved. One way might be to even get your kids to help you make a preparedness kit. You can actually find some really interesting and fun videos on disaster preparedness on Disney’s website or Ready.gov. The goal is always to select ways to learn about disasters or get involved that don’t make children feel fearful or distressed. For example, I’ve talked some about the work I did in Japan after the 3/11 tsunami. To show my youngest daughter the unbelievable destruction left behind by this disaster would have been way too much for her to take in at that time. Thus, to teach her about tsunamis I took her to see the exhibit on disasters at the Chicago Science Museum. Sometimes we will also pray for those affected by disasters or humanitarian crises together too and remind our children that God is still good and still loves us and loves others.

Your kids might also just surprise you. For example, after sharing how I was helping with the GC2 Summit on Refugees last January, my girls started to get really interested in refugee issues. I encouraged them to reach out and befriend the refugee children attending their school. When my children tell me they want to help, I work with them to brainstorm ways that they might get involved. For example, my daughters have set up a lemonade stand a couple of times and donated the money to World Relief to help refugees. My girls have also drawn pictures and sent with me to give to those affected or helping before too. They’ve even sent money with me to give to groups I sometimes work with like Medair. One of my daughters even started a helping society for a while at school to help kids with everything from learning how to do the monkey bars to writing encouraging letters to spending recess with kids that may not have very many friends.

Disasters often reveal deep injustices and suffering. However, getting involved in disaster ministry reveals God’s grace, mercy, and compassion. By getting our children involved in helping after disasters our children can learn some very important life and faith lessons.

©Aimee Fritz

©Aimee Fritz

Please tell us about the White House award!

Three years ago I thought my disaster ministry was over. Receiving this award from FEMA on the other side of my cancer disaster and literally flying in to receive this award at the White House from Louisiana after helping has been incredibly meaningful and humbling.

A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2016 FEMA Individual and Community Preparedness (ICP) award ceremony. I received the Community Preparedness Champion award and a signed preparedness proclamation from President Obama for my disaster ministry work.

During my time in Washington, D.C, I had the opportunity to hear from some of our country’s top emergency management leaders. I learned a lot from getting to participate in two full days of activities split between FEMA Headquarters and the White House. In fact, I had writer’s cramp from taking down so many notes during the meetings I attended!

jamie-aten-fema

@JamieAten

Lastly, what advice would you have for our readers anxious about Hurricane Matthew?

Here are some tips for how you can help after Hurricane Matthew:

  1. Pray – In times of disasters we shouldn’t see prayer as an afterthought, but rather as one of the most powerful things we can do to help.
  2. Don’t self-deploy – Don’t just hop on a plane to go to help during the immediate disaster response phase, you’ll like just add to the havoc.
  3. Help through proper channels – Look for ways to help through established relief groups, ministries, community organizations and the like.
  4. Match aid to need – Make sure your efforts to help on the survivors’ needs and not your own, a good rule of thumb is, “Aid happens where need meets resources.”
  5. Give financially – Giving money now is one of the most effective ways you can help in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe.
  6. Don’t forget those affected – Once Haiti is no longer making front-page news it’s easy for us to forget that disaster recovery takes a long time. Look for ways to support long-term recovery efforts. This may also be a good time to consider volunteering.

Thank you so much, Jamie!


Links related to Dr. Aten, HDI, and his books:

Dr. Aten in the Media:

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

Heroes or Neighbors?

(featured on Evangelicals for Social Action September 13, 2016)

“So what does this have to do with refugees?” I asked my kids at breakfast.

“I don’t know. Maybe the naked part?” my son offered.

“He’s naked? That’s what ‘stripped him of his clothes’ means? He’s lying naked on the road all beat up?!” my youngest daughter asked, shocked.

“Yeah, it makes me think of those people washed up on the beach. The ones trying to get away from ISIS,” my oldest daughter thought aloud.

I swallowed hard. We were reading the Good Samaritan story for clues about how God might want us to treat refugees for our Family Compassion Focus this year. This graphic imagery wasn’t on a webpage or TV news; it was in the Bible. That day we weren’t going to rush past the hard parts of the Jesus’ teaching. We were going to stop and stay there all summer, copying and memorizing every word, reciting them to each other in silly voices to make it stick, and asking each other what it really means.

It's hard to hear my kids quoting words about a person being stripped, beaten, and left half dead. But it's really happening in the world. Lord, have mercy.

It’s hard to hear my kids quoting words about a person being stripped, beaten, and left half dead. But it’s really happening in the world. Lord, have mercy.

“Why do you think the first two people just walked by the naked, bleeding, hurting man?” I continued.

“Because they thought he was a terrorist?”

“Because they’re scared. Maybe the bad guys are waiting nearby to hurt more people?”

“Because they don’t want to get dirty?”

I pushed further, “If you were driving in the dark at night and saw a body lying on the side of the road, what do you think you would do?”

“I would call 911!”

“I would run to help him to see if he was alive.”

“I would wonder if it was a trick.”

I probed deeper, because I know my own heart. If I was alone on a street with no lights and saw a body, I would be terrified. I would want to be a hero: ripping the bottom of my skirt for a tourniquet, dragging him to my car, driving to a hospital, staying with him all night in my stained clothes, then paying all his medical bills. But if I’m honest, at most, I would pull over, lock all my doors, call 911, and wait. I’m not sure I would even do that if I had young kids in the car.

“So, we’re making fun of people for not helping the man on the side of the road, but we’re not sure if we would help him ourselves? You guys, this is hard.”

“I would feel bad about not helping, but I would be… continue reading at ESA

©Evangelicals for Social Action

Photo by paulaphoto / iStockphotography.com


Related Links:

  • aimee fritz bio picA practical, encouraging, applicable resource on the refugee crisis is Seeking Refuge. Read an interview with one of the authors here.
  • We are learning about refugees for our 2016 Family Compassion Focus. Read a story about our new friends at the Refuge Coffee Co. here.

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

CAC – World Changer Wednesday

Are you compassionate? I’m not.

My heart doesn’t naturally bend toward suffering with other people. My heart bends towards whatever is going to make my life better in that moment. For me, compassion is an often hard choice, that through years of slow practice, I’m learning to make more often.

I started making these choices after a long season of reflection, contemplation, and yes, counseling, under the big fat umbrella of God’s grace. Because only there I can bear to see the true state of my own heart, and my own aching need for others to be compassionate with me.

My friend Sam recently completed an official program for spiritual formation. Once I heard he graduated I pounced and asked if he would share some of the things he learned, and how they could help us all be more compassionate. I’m so thankful he was willing to do it.

In the interview below Sam generously and bravely shares the who, what, when, where, how and why of his journey toward contemplation and action, and how that might help us be more compassionate. Warning: this will stretch you. You will be challenged by some of these ideas, names, and concepts. Please stick with it. 


Thank you talking with Family Compassion Focus, Sam. Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Sam Ogles. I’m a writer and editor by profession, and I currently work at Christianity Today [the company, not the flagship magazine]. I’m a white male nearing 30, and I consider myself a feminist and ally to the oppressed in our society. Even so, I have to admit a wealth of ignorance in many areas of compassion, let alone life.

I tend toward being a serious, justice-oriented person, which is why more and more I try to find ways of being that make me “lighter,” more playful, and more able to access joy. I tend toward curiosity and being a “jack of all trades” more than an expert, which is why my interests are constantly shifting and why I couldn’t decide on just one major in college (“I’ll do all four!…”). But what I keep coming back to in order to pursue seriously is a deep interest in spirituality, inner work, and a radical need for transformation. 

My Christian faith has been saved through contemplation. I grew up in a Pentecostal, fundamentalist, evangelical church. When I got to college, I experienced something of a spiritual awakening by falling in love with Catholicism. I was the most faithful convert you’d ever seen for about the first five years. Then, slowly, my experiences began to change my view of faith. My faith didn’t unravel, but I began to see how my faith community’s engagement, teachings, and emphases were, in various ways, inadequate for my experiences. And I saw how Christian communities today, on the whole, were not creating transformed people, myself included.

When I became Catholic, I felt like the theology had saved me by giving me something firm to grasp onto. I didn’t realize, however, that God wanted me to go much deeper than the layer of theology. I was called to go into the realm of mystery and a direct experience of God, which is to say, the realm of contemplation. I’m still on that journey, but my inner world of religious turmoil has given way to a serene stillness, even as I become more aware of the myriad problems around me (and within me). That such a stillness has developed is, I know, the result of being in the Living School for Action and Contemplation for the last two years.

What is the Center for Action and Contemplation? How did you hear about it? What attracted you to the Living School?

The Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) is a nonprofit organization in Albuquerque, New Mexico, founded by Franciscan priest Richard Rohr. The CAC offers retreats, learning materials (books, CDs, webinars), and now a spiritual formation program called the Living School for Action and Contemplation.

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Years ago, my best friend passed on these audio lectures for something called the Enneagram, which is a sort of personality-typing system for spiritual transformation. (That last part is often forgotten.) Those CDs were of Rohr. I listened to the lectures, and I felt like I woke up. It gave me a way of observing myself, something I’d never done before. That started an immense process of inner work, which included me looking into other things Rohr had written and subscribing to his Daily Meditations emails (which I highly recommend, by the way). It was through those emails that I first heard about the Living School. After looking into it briefly, I realized it was the perfect way to continue the process of humbly being transformed. I began the program in 2014 and graduated last month in August 2016.

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The Living School via patheos.com

What was the Living School experience like? How did it compare to college and/or job training?

The Living School is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. On paper, it’s a two-year, part-time program of spiritual formation–a bit like a seminary, but without any sort of degree or job certification. It’s done mostly online with a few in-person gatherings.

Richard envisioned the Living School as an “underground seminary.” It’s purpose isn’t to create pastors or people of privilege but to create ordinary people transformed in extraordinary ways to be Christ’s presence in the world.

There are two components to the program: study and practice. There is a somewhat rigorous curriculum for the study component, though it is a bit fluid and there are no grades or progress reports.

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The curriculum is based on the Christian mystical (contemplative) tradition while being open to the authentic mystical heritage of all traditions. We read well-known mystics like St. John of the Cross. St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. We also read not-so-well-known mystics and were exposed to Jewish, Sufi, and Zen contemplative writers.

The practice component is a personal, daily contemplative practice. You can choose any contemplative practice that suits you: the rosary, yoga, Lectio Divina, transcendental meditation, centering prayer, the Examen, and so on. I use “Christian meditation” as articulated by James Finley. It’s hard to summarize the thrust of “what you learn” in the Living School, but it’s best summarized as contemplation. The program does this through Franciscan spirituality, modern cosmology, ecology, and theology.

The school is founded on what has been called “the alternative orthodoxy.” These are teachings still solidly within the historical orthodox Christian tradition but that have been neglected or de-emphasized by the tradition. For example, Thomas Aquinas thought that without The Fall, there would have been no need for the Incarnation. Duns Scotus, a brilliant Franciscan theologian and contemporary of Aquinas, argued instead that the primary (first) purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was love, not atonement, since the Incarnation was destined to occur even before time began. That’s a monumental shift in emphasis for most Christians, and it has major implications for how we view God. Which means it has major implications for how we regard one another.

© cac.com

©Center for Action & Contemplation

What learning was most impactful for you? What was the hardest part? What was your favorite part? How are you going to use the Living School in your everyday life?

I’m still trying to process my own experience in the program, but the teachings about how we naturally think blew the roof off for me. I never realized how closed, repetitive, self-serving, judgmental, and dualistic I was in my thinking. One of the foundations of the Living School is nondual thinking, meaning the rejection of reality in binaries. This does not mean rejection of morality or fuzzy thinking, but it does mean the rejection of fitting all of reality into categories with simple, polar-opposite labels, the “good” side, of course, always belonging to me and my group. Non-dual thinking means we hold the tension of opposites and open the field of our vision wide enough to take everything in as is, reflecting everything just as it is, like a mirror, without judgment or distortion. It’s an immensely compassionate to view the world this way. It frees you from having to always sit in God’s place of judgment.

The hardest part of the program was that it was online and finding community was very difficult. I tend to feel very out of place in spiritual communities, even the ones I regularly participate in today. The Living School’s in-person events were the first time I felt completely at home with people–all of them strangers–like I knew their hearts even if I didn’t know their names or belong to their same religious community. Knowing that community exists but that we’re all separated by circumstance is really hard. That’s why my favorite part was spending the week in Albuquerque with fellow classmates. It always felt like home.

I carry the Living School’s footprint in most everything I do now. I’m continuing daily meditation, I host Enneagram groups periodically to pass that on, and I’d like to write more based on my experiences.

living-school-via-national-catholic-reporter-publishing

“The Living School” via National Catholic Reporter Publishing

What is transformation? Can we make it happen? Can we stop it?

I would define “transformation” in terms of a transformation of consciousness. My worry in Christianity is that too many of us think the New Testament’s “dying to self” is a radical transformation of behavior or allegiance, neither of which mean you are at all a different kind of person. Ken Wilber, a brilliant philosopher of religion, says that only about 1 person in 100 is serious about the work of transformation, and even then, we can only change consciousness about 5% at a time, at most. Unfortunately, I think those estimates are accurate. Wilber says “transformation is not a matter of belief, but of the death of a believer.” The Christian hurdle is realizing dying to self isn’t limited to behaviors and allegiance; it extends to even the most cherished and dreaded illusions we have about ourselves. And the tools and experiences to do that are pretty hard to come by. Rohr would say the path of transformation is either through great love or great suffering. (Unfortunately, that holds true for me: I started on my current path through my own great suffering with mental illness.)

So I don’t think we can make transformation happen, but there is something amazing that we can do. We can open ourselves into a posture that is most conducive for hearing the authentically transformative voice of God in our lives. The gateway for this is contemplation–some meditative practice where you open yourself to a direct experience of the divine. We can’t make it happen, but we can position ourselves to receive it. And if it authentically happens, we certainly can’t stop transformation. James Finley says the mystic isn’t someone who says “Look what I’ve accomplished. Look what I’ve become.” The mystic is someone who says, “Look what love has done to me.”

"Religion is not something we do with our better moments; it's not a persona. It comes out of authenticity." ©Center for Acation and Contemplation

©Center for Action & Contemplation

How are action and contemplation braided together?

I think action and contemplation are two complementary components of a transformed life. Contemplation lays the groundwork and provides the basis out of which right action can follow. Our culture is action-oriented, so I think the greater danger is for us to skip over the contemplative dimension to get to the “more important” work of doing. I attend a contemplative church service once a week that teaches different contemplative practices. At the end of many services, someone will ask, “So what do we do with this?” Ours is a culture of doers. I have the same inclination, too, but contemplation is like learning a new language. We can’t expect to take one or two language classes and then have a nearly fluent conversation. I’ve noticed for myself, I often have a much stronger desire to be a contemplative than to actually do the work of sitting quietly with God. But there’s no shortcut to transformation, and actions not based on a transformed way of seeing will not be authentically open, liberating, real, and compassionate.

I think one amazing thing, though, is that you can find people with contemplative mindsets in one area of their lives, even if they aren’t the next great Christian mystic. Take a normal, conservative Christian parent. All of a sudden their teenager comes out as gay, and the parent has to wrestle with what that means and how they’ll view their child now. The parent might be just as untransformed at their office or with friends or in their politics, but in this one area, they will find a way to hold the tension with compassion and equanimity and come to a contemplative/nondual understanding of their child’s sexuality. In this one area, this parent has a transformed consciousness. That God breaks into our lives that way gives me a lot of hope. 

cac-vista

©Center for Action & Contemplation

What did you learn about compassion through the CAC? Anything surprising?

Interdependence is a huge theme of the Living School. We learn about it through the natural world (ecology, biology, etc.) as well as theology. More and more the world is waking up to the fact that one factory’s emissions in Chicago affect a farmer’s rainfall in India; losing wolves in Yellowstone changes the shapes of rivers; that each person’s story is inherently precious and connected to the inherently precious stories of everyone else. Interdependence and interbeing mean we cannot ignore the other. We are united in real ways beyond just metaphysical connections. I in them and them in me and we in Thou and Thou in them (John 17:23). There’s a unity to all of us and everything that has one very practical result: compassion.

Thomas Merton, at a conference with Buddhists just before he died, said “We are already one. But we imagine we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” If we can realize this oneness with each other then your problems stop being just “yours.” My problems stop being just “mine.” We’re responsible to and for one another because we’re not intrinsically separate; we’re intrinsically linked in a field that is entirely level.  “Compassion” means “to suffer together.” This unity brings both a sense of suffering together and a thirst for true justice.

The program also demands a great deal of inner work. You might say the whole program is working on your inner self, exposing the false self and revealing the true self. The more work I do on myself, the more compassion I have for other people.

When you read the mystics and saints, you find a surprising thing: they were more aware of their shortcomings and failures than you or I am aware of ours, even though we hold up their lives as shining examples or morality and near-perfection. I think the more mature we are and the more we know ourselves, the more compassion we have for others because we know just how hard it is to be a human with entrenched, habitual, damning shortcomings we just can’t seem to shake. It’s probably similar to liking someone because you see yourself in them.

If you truly explore your inner world, a lot of it isn’t pretty. But you also find the ground of your true self in God. Both will make you love and respect other people without first needing to determine culpability or putting them through your own litmus test of the types of problems you can forgive or live with. With God there are no categories for compassion, warranted or unwarranted; there’s just infinite compassion. That’s our model.

nminterfaithdialogue-org

via nminterfaithdialogue.org

What ideas do you have for how children and families can grow in action and contemplation? What questions, prayers, and/or practices can set our hearts in new directions, to equip us as world-changers?

Simple techniques and actions are best for kids and parents of all stripes. It’s best not to be too ambitious in trying to pass on a spiritual exercise or method that you yourself are not well-versed in. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You also can’t expect a child, even a teen, to get very serious about deep inner work, which is why something like the Enneagram is virtually useless as a tool for children; they haven’t progressed enough spiritually to even see their egoic self, let alone wish to transcend it. I think with kids, keeping it simple is best.

The action component of a child’s formation is simple to understand, even if it’s hard for them to do. Social service is a wonderful way to teach people compassion and community. In the 4th grade, my school teacher paired all of her students with a person living at the local nursing home. We’d visit them regularly and do activities. I was paired with Dorothy, a woman who had suffered a stroke. She couldn’t speak and could only write a few scribbled words on a pad of paper. Halfway through the school year, she passed away. I learned so much about tenderness and compassion from that experience. I can’t tell you one thing I learned in class in the 4th grade, but I’ll never forget my time with Dorothy.

On the contemplative side, if I ever have children, I plan to teach them a few things. One of them is koans, the Zen practice of riddles without an answer. We seem to teach children that every problem has an answer, which is partly why we all grow up to be so judgmental of people whose problems are on display to us. Many problems like suffering don’t have easy answers. I like the idea of raising my children to see nondually through koans.

I also think we need to teach children (and adults) mindfulness. It’s another great nondual method. At Plum Village, the Buddhist community of Thich Nhat Hanh in southern France, children are given oranges and told to peel the fruit very slowly and intentionally, taking in the tactile sensations on their fingers, the fragrance in their noses, the beautiful colors through their eyes. There’s no theology lesson. No doctrine is taught. The purpose is simply to experience that orange. Learning how to be present opens the contemplative dimension to us and gets us out of both reliving the past and worrying about the future, which are both dualistic. Something like the orange practice for kids would be wonderful.

Last, I think everyone, including children, should meditate, even if it can only take the form of two minutes of silent time. In fact, some under-resourced San Francisco schools have implemented mandatory, twice-daily meditation for their students. They saw a rise in attendance, a decrease in fights, a decrease of 75% in suspensions, and a rise in academic performance. Why? Because meditation gets kids (and adults) in touch with what’s going on inside themselves. Are they feeling angry? Frustrated? Happy? Observing feelings is not itself a feeling. Noticing you are angry is not itself anger.

Meditation allows a safe way to observe ourselves and not to identify with feelings by thinking we are our feelings. I wish every child could have quiet, reflective, meditative time, especially considering the tendency toward stimulation today. If you’re an adult and thinking of meditating, shoot for just 20 minutes a day. Just sit quietly and focus on your breathing will help immensely. Work up to it if you have to, but find some regular time. You’ll soon find your cup filling up. And then you’ll be able to pour for others.

What resources would you recommend for people interested in action and contemplation?


Thank you so much, Sam, for sharing your heart and your thoughts!

Okay friends, this was a lot of information and big ideas. I love it.

  • What ideas are calling out to you?
  • What here encourages and inspires you?
  • What makes you feel cautious, suspicious, or angry?
  • What did you learn about compassion?
  • How do you prepare you heart before you take action now? What new ideas would you like to try?

You are loved.

 

 

Related FCF Links:

  • aimee fritz bio picFor a free resource to help your family pursue justice and mercy through contemplation and action check out the Family Tool Kit – Slow Kingdom Coming.
  • To read about all different kinds of World Changers, check out our list of previously interviewed friends here.

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016. 

The Waves – 20 Years of Marriage

One hot night in late July, a few weeks before our wedding, 20 years ago, I could hardly look at my handsome fiancé at dinner. He was happily talking about our new apartment, new jobs, and our honeymoon. I was trying to keep my food, and my long-held secret, down.

He grabbed my hand, rubbed it with his calloused thumb, raised his eyebrows, and said, “You okay, Aim?” I felt the waves crash hard.

Me:  “I don’t think I can do this.”

Chris:   “Do what?”

Me:  “Get married.”

C:  “What do you mean?”

Me: “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to get married. I’m a lot of work. I don’t take very good care of myself, so I know I wouldn’t take very good care of you. I really don’t think I should get married.”

C: [Silence]

"Stormy Sea" - Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky - via sothebys.com

“Stormy Sea” – Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky – via sothebys.com

His face went gray and slack, he searched my eyes and then the floor. He listened to me repeat sorrowful variations of “it’s not you, it’s me.” After a couple minutes he said he would give me all the time and space I needed, regardless of what our wedding invitations said. He said he loved me. He would wait.

When I went home I told my housemates that I may have just called off my wedding. They told me I was afraid. Afraid of good things. Afraid of love. Afraid of success. We sat in a circle on the bedroom floor and they prayed for me. They pulled me back in the boat.

At 2a.m. the waters stilled. I was drenched with regret. I called Chris, apologized 400 times, and told him I definitely wanted to get married, definitely to him, and I wanted to see him that minute and kiss him a long time. To my surprise, he said, “No. You said you wanted to be apart. You take some time to be apart. I’ll see you in a week. I love you.”

I was stunned. I spent those lonely days scanning the horizon, longing for Chris. I was so in love and so scared. I prayed I would not be a terrible person in the years to come. I heard the roaring waves in the distance.

We had a lovely, exuberant wedding. We were happy. Our wedding program said, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” Psalm 126:3

"The brig Mercury encounter after defeating two Turkish ships of the Russian squadron" - Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky - 1848 - via wikipedia.org

“The brig Mercury encounter after defeating two Turkish ships of the Russian squadron” – Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky – 1848 – via wikipedia.org

Several years later, in late July, I realized I was right after all, that I shouldn’t have gotten married. The day at the Michigan Dunes was too long, the waves felt cold and spiky. On the long ride home I decided I never wanted to be in that van with that man and those three kids again. I couldn’t care less about whatever epiphany my husband was sharing about work. I winced at my toddler’s whines. I was dreading the moment my twins would turn off the movie and take off their headphones. There was no way I could be kind to these people one more time. I couldn’t remember if I was ever kind to them.

When we pulled up to the house we were renting during our new house’s renovation I stared straight out the window and said, “I can’t do tonight. I can’t do the kids and the dinner and the bedtime and the stuff.” I left the car without eye contact, picked up a book and ran a bath. I stayed in there for hours. Chris occasionally knocked on the door to see if I was all right. The kids knocked on the door and said, “Good night, Mama?” I stayed still and silent in the water.

When I got out Chris was sitting at the foot of the borrowed bed. He asked if everything was okay. Wrapped in a towel I was drenched in the same sorrow and fear as I was so many years before. The waves were rushing, deafening, smashing.

"Wave" - Ivan Aivazovsky - 1889 - via wikimedia.org

“Wave” – Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky – 1889 – via wikimedia.org

Me:  “I don’t think this is working.”

Chris:  “Don’t think what’s working?”

Me:  “You know. This. Us. Being married. Me. Being a mom. It doesn’t seem to be working.”

C:  “What are you saying?”

Me:  “I think you guys deserve better. A better wife. A better mom. A happier, joyful, patient, smiling person. I’ve never been that and I never will. I think if I leave, you guys can have a fresh start. You can marry someone else young and fun, and the kids will get the real love they deserve.”

C:   “You’re going to leave?”

Me:  “I don’t want to, but if I leave I can’t hurt anyone anymore. You guys will be so much happier.”

C:   “So, you’re going to leave. Where are you going to go, Aim?”

Me:  “I don’t know. Far. Somewhere far.”

C:  “Do you have someone else you’d rather be with?”

Me:  “Ew. No.”

C:  “So, you’re going to abandon your kids? You’re going to leave them?”

Me:  “Yes. Because I love them. You will find them a new mom that does a way better job. They will be so much happier. You will be so much happier with a better wife. I promise.”

C:  “Aim, what are you talking about? This is bad. This is really bad. This is selfish. This is wrong. You cannot just leave us.”

Me:  “I’m sorry, but I think you will be happier without me.”

He stared at me, stricken and gray again. I put on my pajamas and rolled away in the undertow. I had to get out of the way so somebody could come in and love my husband and kids they way they deserved to be loved, in all the ways I could not. I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night with a twisted stomach and a tear-soaked face, thinking about kissing my family goodbye. I prayed they would understand eventually.

"The Wrath of the Seas" - Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky - 1886 - via wikiart

“The Wrath of the Seas” – Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky – 1886 – via wikiart

The next morning there was church. I surfaced from a wave, gasped, and I told Chris I would go with them.

When we got to church I discovered the sermon would be given by a beloved older man who preached once a year about the Chicago Cubs. I looked at Chris and threw up my hands hissing, “I need help, and God gives me this?” I left, the waves chasing me to the shore.

I roamed the linoleum halls of the high school where our church met looking for a quiet place to think. I found a stairwell, flopped down in my sundress, rested my chin on my hands, a looked blankly out the window.

That spring my family had started saying God is Good!” every time we saw a robin. On this day I threatened, “If there are robins outside this window, God, I will not say ‘God is Good.’ I won’t. I don’t think you’re good. You’re not making me good. You’re not helping my family. You are not good.”

But, of course, there were robins in the window. A family of robins in a crowded, busy nest. The mom and dad took turns finding food and guarding the babies. Of course there were exactly three baby birds. I stood at the window, silent, taking in this wordless sermon: Mothers stay. Good mothers stay. They don’t go. God is Good. Good mothers stay. The waves and wind stopped. I heard the birds.

I watched the robins for a while and then found Chris wrangling the kids in the hallway. He looked wary, and angry. I went up to him, smiled quickly and gave him a fast kiss.

Chris:  “So, where’d you go? I wasn’t sure you were coming back.”

Me:  “I think I’m ok. I’m going to stay. I’m sorry for all this.”

C:  “You think you’re going to stay now?”

Me:  “Yes, I saw these robins. A whole family. God showed me. Good moms stay.”

C:  “You are going to stay with us because you saw birds?”

Me:  “Yes.”

When we got home Chris informed me that he wasn’t going to work the next day. I told him he should, that we’d be fine. With a thin laugh he said, “Nope. Tomorrow we’re going to talk with your counselor. And your doctor. And we’re going to find a marriage counselor. If you think I’m going to work after you said you were leaving me and the kids, you’re crazy.”

We did all that the next day. My counselor cried with me at my despair, pulling seaweed out of my hair. My doctor started me on a children’s dose of Zoloft. We signed up to see a marriage counselor. We started over in our new renovated house and new school. We stayed afloat.

“Deep calls to deep in the roars of your waterfalls. All your waves and breakers have swept over me.” – Psalm 42:7

"Bracing the Waves" - Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky - via wikimedia.org

“Bracing the Waves” – Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky – via wikimedia.org

Twenty years to the day I called off our wedding, and six years after I gave up, I sat overlooking the Pacific Ocean with Chris. We had an exquisite room, with our own secluded fire pit and perfect view. The waves roared, crashed over the black rocks, and then ran away. Over and over the waves hit the rocks and slapped the cliffs.

I looked over at my husband, quietly reading a book and drinking wine. I looked back at the waves.

I remembered telling him I couldn’t get married. I remembered telling him that I simply had to leave him and our kids. I remembered all the times I told him I was a bad person, and then proved that with my actions. I remembered all the times he said and did the wrong things. How the waves pushed us down, and our bodies were thrown hard against the rocks. The mornings we lay shipwrecked, sore and coughing on the beach.

I remembered falling in love. I remembered how he taught me how to forgive. I remembered how much we made each other laugh on our first date. I remembered his long love letters. I remembered him kissing our babies with tears. I remembered holding hands with him in silence on long, dark nights.

I remembered how we held on to each other in our tiny boat. All the times we jumped in after each other. How we took turns pointing to the distant shore and the North Star, certain we’d be safe again soon. How we called out joyfully to the gulls. The nights we dove down deep and found secret treasures.

I looked at the waves. I looked at Chris. I thanked God.

You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.…The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.” – Jonah 2:3,5,6

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

"The Brig Mercury in Moonlight" - Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky - 1874 - via sothebys.com

“The Brig Mercury in Moonlight” – Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky – 1874 – via sothebys.com


Related Posts:aimee fritz bio pic

Seeking Refuge – World Changer Wednesday

Every time there’s another terror attack, my primal fears are flared up. I do a quick security screening on my life:

  • doors=locked
  • kids=safe
  • neighborhood=safe
  • poverty level of my town=low
  • everyone around me=looks like me
  • travel plans=none
  • closest mosque=don’t know

Then I breathe easier and thank God that I live an ocean away from ISIS.

I’m not proud of it. But I do think this way.

Some people don’t get to live an ocean away from ISIS. Some people live in the nightmare of ISIS or Boko Haram or thousands of other places where evil and power and terror are the norm. They are literally dying, running for their lives, or dying trying. I might think, “O God, help them! Tell me what to do!” And then I think right after that, “Thank God my life’s not like that. Thank you for keeping me safe.” 

I’m not proud of it. But I do pray this way.

This year one part of our Family Compassion Focus is learning more about refugees. It hasn’t been easy. One of my kids is in the middle of a huge faith crisis because it looks to them like God doesn’t care about refugees at all, and some of the Christians they know tell them refugees are sneaky, evil people coming to kill us. My heart hurts.

Part of serving a group like refugees (or the homeless, or orphans, etc.) is to research, so we can pray and act in informed ways. The new book, Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Matthew Soerens, Stephan Bauman, and Dr. Issam Smeir, has been a tremendous resource. I read this book in one day last month. I was captivated by it’s clear, practical, compelling, and encouraging message. I wrote Matthew and asked if I could feature the book for a World Changer Wednesday.

I was surprised and touched by Matthew’s quick, generous response. In the midst of a very busy season he responded thoughtfully to my interview questions and follow up questions. It’s been a gift to have an expert in the refugee crisis help me begin to understand what my family might be called to do in times like this.

Please read through his answers below. It’s not a thorough summary of Seeking Refuge, but it’s a good start.  It will change your heart.


Hi Matthew! Tell us about yourself!

I grew up in Northeastern Wisconsin and moved to suburban Chicago to study at Wheaton College. I interned with World Relief as a college student in Nicaragua, and from there was hired by World Relief’s office in Wheaton in 2006, working with our Immigrant Legal Services program to help local churches host naturalization workshops for refugees and other immigrants who want to and are eligible to become U.S. citizens.

Around the same time, I began volunteering with a newly arrived refugee family from Rwanda that World Relief had resettled in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. They became dear friends, and when I graduated from college in 2006, I moved into their apartment complex, a vibrant community where most of my neighbors were refugees or other immigrants.

A few years after I moved into that apartment complex, a team from my church, Church of the Resurrection, became a Good Neighbor Team with World Relief and was paired with a refugee family from the West African country of Togo. Serving as a part of that team was the impetus for me to get to know Diana Wood, who joined the Good Neighbor Team in part because the family spoke French, and Diana was a high school French teacher.

Over time, as she fell in love with the community through frequent visits, Diana ended up moving into the same neighborhood as well with a roommate, as did a few other folks from our church and one or two other local congregations. We’d gather on a regular basis for evening prayer, for meals, and to host kids clubs and Bible studies for kids in our community. Diana and I became very close friends, and then we started dating in 2010. In June 2011, we were married, and held our reception right in the courtyard of our apartment complex.

Wedding Photo Parkside

Matthew & Diana Soeren’s wedding day

We were forced to leave that apartment complex (along with most of our refugee neighbors) in 2014 when it was purchased by a new company that dramatically increased rents and denied us the option of renewing our lease. That neighborhood is an incredibly important part of my story and our family’s story. I wouldn’t be in a position to write this book were it not for the relationships I formed in the eight years I lived there.

We’ve since moved further west, to Aurora, Illinois, and our family has grown to include two delightful children: Zipporah (now 3) and Zephaniah (1).

I’ve worked at World Relief ever since 2006. In 2009—in large part because I was troubled by the discrepancies between the stories of my immigrant neighbors whom I knew personally and much of the rhetoric about immigrants that I’d hear in the media and from politicians, and between what I read in the Bible about God’s heart for immigrants and the attitudes toward immigrants in many local churches—I worked with a friend and colleague, Jenny Yang, to write a book, Welcoming the Strangerseeking to provide a biblical perspective on immigration.

seeking refuge quotes

“By the count of theologian Orlando Espín, ‘Welcoming the stranger…is the most often repeated commandment in the Hebrew Scriptures, with the exception of the imperative to worship only the one God.'” – from “Seeking Refuge” page 30.

With that book’s publication, I’ve had a lot more opportunities to speak and consult with local churches around the country on immigration issues, which eventually became the main focus of my role with World Relief. My job as US Director of Church Mobilization is to make sure that our staff in our 27 offices around the US are well supported, equipped, and trained as they serve and empower local churches to care for refugees and other vulnerable immigrants in their communities.

Matthew Soerens, co-author of "Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis"

Matthew Soerens, co-author of “Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis”

What is your new book, Seeking Refuge, about?

When we wrote Welcoming the Stranger eight or nine years ago, refugees were so un-controversial that we barely mentioned them—at the time, illegal immigration was a big controversial question, but almost everyone was sympathetic (at least in theory) to the plight of refugees, and the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program always drew broad bipartisan support.

That changed suddenly last fall, beginning in September, when social media networks lit up with a horrific image of a lifeless 3-year-old boy, Alan Kurdi, washed ashore on a Turkish beach after a failed attempt to reach safety in Europe. Suddenly, the world began to focus on a refugee crisis in Syria that has really been happening for more than five years now, and which is a part of a larger global refugee crisis.

Worldwide, there are more than **65 million people** who have been forcibly displaced from their home by violence or persecution.

As these realities sunk in for a lot of Americans, the country—and also the Church within the US—was divided in its response to this refugee crisis. In fact, I think that divide strikes right down many of us as individuals: you can’t see an image like the one of Alan Kurdi without feeling compassion. I look at his little Velcro shoes, and they’re just like the ones I fasten onto my own son each day. My heart breaks for that father.

And yet, in a subconscious pivot, I also wonder: what sort of horror is he fleeing? What sort of terror compels a parent to get onto that raft in the first place? And how do we keep it from coming here?

Those conflicting emotions—compassion and fear—are the options before us. We wrote Seeking Refuge to speak directly into that tension, challenging those who profess to follow Jesus, in particular, to respond in ways that are grounded in Scripture, driven by a sense of mission, and rooted in the facts.

seeking refuge cover

When did you decide to write Seeking Refuge? How was writing it as a group?

After the terrorist attacks in Paris in November (which we now know were perpetrated by European nationals, not refugees, but which triggered a significant pushback to the idea of Syrian refugees being resettled to the US) we felt like there was a real need for a distinctively Christian approach to this question, as well as a way to help put a human face on the term “refugee” and to address some of the misconceptions that began to be spread. Moody Publishers agreed, and reached out to World Relief, because of our long history of empowering churches to serve refugees both in the US and globally, to ask if we’d consider writing a book on a fairly short timeline.

When Moody approached us, we knew we’d need a team to write the book on a quick timeframe. While I bring my own experience living among refugees in the US and working with many local churches, Stephan, who has served for the past several years as World Relief’s president and lived and worked internationally for many years before that, brings a unique perspective to the underlying root causes of refugee crises. And Issam is a brilliant psychologist who understands the impact of trauma on refugees probably as well as almost anyone in the world, and he also brings his personal experience, as the child of Palestinian refugees to Jordan. It was a joy to work together with these remarkable colleagues.

"Something is missionally malignant whenever we are willing to make great sacrifices to travel the world to reach a people group but are not wiling to walk across the street." - JD Payne, from "Seeking Refuge" page 46.

“Something is missionally malignant whenever we are willing to make great sacrifices to travel the world to reach a people group but are not wiling to walk across the street.” – JD Payne, from “Seeking Refuge” page 46.

What is your goal for the book? What do you hope to see changed in churches and culture?

Polling from LifeWay Research finds that American evangelical Christians are actually more likely to see the arrival of refugees and other immigrants as a threat or a burden of some sort than they are to say that their arrival presents an opportunity to introduce them to Jesus Christ. They also find that only 12% of evangelical Christians say they think about these issues primarily from the perspective of the Bible, and that only about 8% of Protestant churches are currently involved in serving refugees in their communities.

I find those statistics really troubling, and more than anything I fear that the Church—particularly in the US—is at risk of missing an opportunity to “let our light shine” as Jesus instructs us to, so that the world—millions of refugees and a few billion others beyond that who are watching our response—might see our Christ-like response and praise our Father in heaven.

Seeking Refuge Quote

“That there may be risk or cost involved is not relevant to the mandate to love.” – from “Seeking Refuge” page 35.

What is the most common misperception about refugees that you’d like to clear up?

There are many, but I think that the most common misperception right now is the idea that the US has no process to vet or screen refugees, that they’re somehow just showing up and we have no idea who they are.

In reality, every single one of the 70,000 refugees who came into the US last year went through a through screening process that involves the US Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, the FBI, and the National Counterterrorism Center. They went through multiple in-person interviews, biographic and biometric background checks, and a health screening. That process usually takes at least 18 months to complete and often much longer, and it’s actually the most thorough vetting that any category of visitor or immigrant to the US is required to undergo.

US Refugee Screening Process - from "Seeking Refuge" page 79. Used with permission.

US Refugee Screening Process – from “Seeking Refuge” page 79. Used with permission.

It’s simply not logical that a would-be terrorist would go through the most difficult screening process to come to the US when there are 70 million visitors who come to the US who are not required to go through nearly as strenuous as a vetting process (and, not to mention, the majority of perpetrators of terrorist attacks in the US post-9/11 have actually been US citizens).

The best evidence of the efficacy of this vetting process is the reality that, of more than 3 million refugees resettled to the US since the late 1970s, not a single one has ever committed an act of terrorism in the US. That’s a strong record, and it gives me a lot of confidence in the vetting process.

Refugees Admitted to the United States, by Fiscal Year from "Seeking Refuge" p. 86. Used with permission. (Note that the US admitted almost 3x more refugees in 1980 than we did last year.)

Refugees Admitted to the United States, by Fiscal Year – from “Seeking Refuge” page 86. Used with permission. (Note that the US admitted almost 3x more refugees in 1980 than we did last year.)

I should add that, biblically, I’m not sure this should matter—we are called to love our neighbors, not to love our neighbors so long as it is safe, convenient, and makes us wealthier. The Good Samaritan, Jesus’ example of neighborly love, did put himself at risk by stopping on a dangerous road to help a man (notably, a man of a different ethnicity and religion) who had been beaten. Jesus’ command is to “go and do likewise.” I worry that we’ve turned safety into an idol. But, in the case of welcoming refugees in the US, I think it’s largely a moot question, because the risks really are very minimal.

seeking refuge quote

“As Rick Warren notes, “The church must always show compassion…A good Samaritan doesn’t stop and ask the injured person, ‘Are you legal or illegal?'” Nor, we would add, ‘Do you meet the precise legal definition of a refugee?'” – from “Seeking Refuge” page 111.

What is the hardest part about working with refugees?

Refugees have, by definition, lived through situations that most Americans can hardly fathom. And it can be overwhelming—and in some cases even vicariously traumatizing—to hear their stories. It’s easier to live in a bubble of our own convenience, unaware of the suffering that many, including many brothers and sisters in Christ, are enduring. While we’re obviously really challenging the Church to step up to the opportunity to welcome refugees, I don’t want to sugarcoat the reality: it can be really hard, and there will inevitably be cultural misunderstandings, as well. But I think it’s both what we’re called to as followers of Jesus (who, after all, was a refugee himself) and ultimately incredibly rewarding.

File_004

According to Tim Keller, the strangers whom Jesus talked about ‘were immigrants and refugees, and they were…to be “invited in.” They were not merely to be sent to a shelter but were to be welcomed into the disciples’ homes and lives and, it is implied, given advocacy, friendship, and the basics for pursuing life in society.'” – from “Seeking Refuge” page 97.

What is the best part about working with refugees?

My first thought was: the food. I gained about 40 pounds in the time I lived in my old neighborhood, and I think that’s mostly from the remarkable hospitality of my neighbors, who would drop off food for me all the time and wouldn’t allow me to enter the apartment without eating something.

Seriously, though, I’ve learned so much from the resilience of my refugee neighbors, especially those who were persecuted for their Christian faith in their countries of origin. We might face some mild mockery in the US because of our Christian faith, but most of it don’t really know what it means to “pick up our crosses” and follow Jesus, but as we welcome refugees, some will be able to help us understand.

seeking refuge quote

17 years. What perseverance, grit, courage and hope. – from “Seeking Refuge” page 88.

How is compassion a part of Seeking Refuge?

Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite authors, writes that compassion is literally to suffer with. When we step into the lives of refugees in our communities—to serve them, yes, but also to learn from them—we can, in a small way, share in their suffering. But we also get to share in their joy, as well, to “rejoice with those who rejoice” even as we also “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). My life is so much richer for having had the opportunity to both lament and celebrate with my refugee neighbors.

How can children and families love and serve those Seeking Refuge?

That’s a fantastic question—when our daughter Zipporah was born, she actually opened up relationships with refugee neighbors we’d never really known before, because everyone loves an adorable baby. As she’s grown, just by being a fun-loving, creative kid, she’s been serving our neighbors in a unique way. Since moving to Aurora, we had an Iraqi refugee couple living in our house for about a year. They were quite elderly and facing some health problems, and also missing their own grandchildren who had found safety in Europe, but they loved having Zipporah and Zephaniah go upstairs to visit them. They’d feed them cookies (more than their parents would have) and play with them and it so obviously brought them joy. So kids have a very important role to play.

I also think—and I hope we’re doing this with our kids—that it’s so important to teach our children to be welcoming to those who are different. A refugee girl in my wife Diana’s Bible study used to share, as her prayer request on a regular basis, that she prayed she would have a friend to sit with at lunch. Kids at her public school weren’t necessarily mean to her—they just mostly ignored her, but she felt very isolated. I remember hearing that and thinking: where are all the nice 7th graders from our church and the dozens of other churches in this community? Those who profess to be Christians should be the first to welcome those who are new—in the Greek of the New Testament, to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13) literally means to “practice loving strangers”—and that can start with our kids.

Team Fritz has been working on memorizing the whole Good Samaritan story all summer. They began writing it out for us to read in crazy voices at breakfast. It starts with someone wanting to know what he can do to get eternal life.

Team Fritz has been working on memorizing the whole Good Samaritan story all summer. They began writing it out for us to read in crazy voices at breakfast. It starts with someone wanting to know what he can do to get eternal life.

It's hard to hear my kids quoting words about a person being stripped, beaten, and left half dead. But it's really happening in the world. Lord, have mercy.

It’s hard to hear my kids quoting words about a person being stripped, beaten, and left half dead. But it’s really happening in the world. Lord, have mercy.

The religious people ignored the half-dead person. They made effort to get far away on the other side. I've done that. I do that. (transcribed by Caleb)

The religious people ignored the half-dead person. They made effort to get far away on the other side. I’ve done that. I do that. (transcribed by Caleb)

"One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey of life's highway." - Martin Luther King, Jr. From "Seeking Refuge" pg. 170.

“One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey of life’s highway.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. – From “Seeking Refuge” page 170.

Thank you, Matthew Soerens! Thank you for living this intentional life, serving refugees, and teaching us a Christian response. Lord, may you be pleased with the way we love and welcome refugees. 


Options for Next Steps:

1. Listen to Matthew’s recent interview on NPR 

2. Purchase Seeking Refuge (for you and your church)

3. Try a 7-day online devotional about what the Bible says about refugees and other immigrants (I hope to do this during weekend dinners with my family)

4. Download this free small group discussion guide  (perhaps do it with friends, colleagues, commuting buddies, or neighbors)

5. Research the ways your state is welcoming or excluding refugees.

Refugees Resettled to the US in 2015 - from "Seeking Refuge" p. 92. Used with permission. (Were you expecting to see lower or higher numbers in your state?)

Refugees Resettled to the US in 2015 – from “Seeking Refuge” page 92. Used with permission. (Were you expecting to see lower or higher numbers in your state?)

Which Governors Oppose New Syrian Refugees? 11/16/15 from "Seeking Refuge" pg. 173. Used with permission. (Does this map surprise you? Make you feel safe? Make you feel distressed?)

Which Governors Oppose New Syrian Refugees? 11/16/15 from “Seeking Refuge” page 173. Used with permission. (Does this map surprise you? comfort you? distress you?)

6. Listen to Matthew’s more extensive interview on Moody Radio

7. Ask God, as you walk down the street or brush your teeth, “Do you want me to do something for Refugees?” Make sure you wait and listen for a response.

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

My Body Tells the Truth

[featured on Perissos 7/11/16]

My oldest friend was my biggest fan. She ran ahead to prepare the way for me. She’d say, “Have you seen Aimee? She’s so skinny!” Or “Isn’t Aimee cute? Those freckles!” Or “You can’t make red hair like that in a salon, you know!” She made people want to like me before I even met them. She made life easier.

Then she got mean. I heard she gossiped and turned people against me. “Have you seen Aimee? She looks pregnant!” And “Why is Aimee so shiny? Is she sweating? Ew.” And “She definitely doesn’t look like someone who runs a lot.” I kept my head down in shame.

I hated her. I wanted nothing to do with her. I cringed and curled into myself.

I’m a rational and forgiving friend. When problems come I’m not afraid to address them, get the bottom of them, seek forgiveness, and extend forgiveness. But betrayal is different.

This terrible old friend is My Body. She betrayed me.

I believe it’s My Body’s job to defend, protect, and promote me no matter what. It’s her job to lie for me, like a good agent. I don’t need to go through the charade of getting carded anymore, but I’d like people to be shocked that I’m 43. I want people to say, “You had twins?! Three kids?! No way! Look at you! You’re looking tight, honey.” I want men to look at me and think I’m pretty. But My Body lets me down.

I want to eat lunch in my bathing suit at the pool without apologizing for how My Body makes me look when I lean over to take a bite.

I want to be excited to go to parties, openings, and dinners without panicking about what to wear from the moment I’m invited. My Body sabotaged my wardrobe. She doesn’t get along with my favorite clothes anymore.

I want to snuggle without cringing when my kids lay their hands and faces on my tummy. They smile and murmur with their eyes closed, “You are the softest, warmest place on earth.” I lay awake with my eyes open, hissing at My Body, “Great. Our kids will remember us as fat. Nice.” Continue reading at Perissos….

"mirrors" by jessie jacobson via creative commons

“mirrors” by jessie jacobson via creative commons


Related Posts:

©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.

Por Que Parei de Orar por Meus Filhos

Algumas pessoas oram como um poeta. Se expressando radiantemente todas as grandes coisas que o Amado de sua alma tem feito. Seu amor é mútuo e glorioso. É dramático e florido, com gemidos e suspiros. Eu já orei assim, quando meu bebê bem gordinho sorriu para mim, e quando eu flagrei meu marido dando uma olhada em mim enquanto estava do outro lado da sala.

Algumas pessoas oram como um inquilino, deixando ‘recadinhos’ na porta da casa do proprietário. Eles “reviram” os olhos quando algo não funciona, sabendo que sempre que o dono chegar ao problema, vai ser tarde demais. Eles o espera vir com cheiro de cigarros e com um rolo de fita adesiva, mas normalmente, no fim eles acabam consertando o problema sozinhos. O que imaginam ser o que o proprietário estava esperando que eles fizessem. Eu já orei assim, quando o câncer da minha amiga não se curou, e quando o divórcio do meu amigo foi finalizado.

Algumas pessoas oram como uma criança, pedindo coisas grandes com grandes olhos inocentes. Eles pedem sentados no lugar seguro sobre os ombros do seu paizinho. O pai é sempre paciente e confiável. Ele pode corrigir alguma coisa, e ele o faz, enquanto sorrindo, assobiando, e tirando sua carteira gorducha e cheia de provisão. Eu já orei assim, quando o emprego dos sonhos foram oferecidos e casa que sonhei foi comprada.

Na maioria das vezes, agora que tenho filhos, eu oro como uma advogada. Eu recolho todas as informações e historias precedentes e jogo a minha história na mesa. Eu calculo o humor do juiz e tento obter tudo na língua que o tribunal gosta de ouvir. Argumentos exaustivos: “Nós entendemos que você pode estar permitindo que essa criança tenha um acidente de carro. Estamos prontos para aceitar este negócio se Você puder garantir a recuperação completa e torna-lo uma pessoa melhor”. Ou dizemos: “Estamos dispostos a aceitar sexo antes do casamento, se Você puder garantir que abuso sexual e estupro estão fora da jogada”.

Eu já ganhei muitos casos. Mas também estou muito cansada de perder alguns.

Grundtvig Memorial Church, by Jensen Klint. Photo by Seier+Seier

Grundtvig Memorial Church, Construído por Jergen Klint. Foto de Seier+Seier.

 

 

Eu tive um monte de almoços e vinhos com o juiz em seus aposentos. Ele é amigável. Ele é amigável com todos os advogados. Ele me convidou para ir à pesca e para ir jantar com sua esposa. Eu fui e apareci com uma enorme pilha de arquivos debaixo do braço. Ele dizia: “Querida, eu já ouvi o seu caso. Vamos apenas desfrutar deste sol”. Eu sentava inquieta na minha cadeira de balanço olhando para o meu relógio, ansiosa para voltar ao trabalho.

Quando meu filho parou de comer quando tinha um ano e meio, eu apareci no tribunal com a pilha mais alta de arquivos. Eu lembrei o juiz de todos os anos que eu implorei para ter um filho, da gravidez atemorizante, do parto com risco de vida, dos 12 dias na UTI, e todas das vezes ele rolou fora da minha cama e pulou do berço. Eu disse a ele que ele deveria substituir essa recusa em comer por respeito pelos mais velhos, crescimento saudável, e refeições agradáveis. Quando eu não estava no tribunal eu estava com os médicos, terapeutas e especialistas. Mas, principalmente, eu estava no supermercado, várias vezes por semana, porque meu filho só comia se fosse uma amostra grátis que davam la no mercado enquanto ele estava no carrinho de dois lugares ao lado de sua irmã gêmea.

Uma vez meu bebê caiu de uma janela de dois andares no nosso pátio de tijolinhos. A ambulância, os bombeiros, paramédicos e a polícia todos chegaram em volta dela. Corri para o tribunal para obter um mandado para prender quem foi o infeliz que deixou a minha menina cair para fora da janela. Imaginei o juiz cuidadoso, sorrindo e queria dar um soco na cara dele. Minha adrenalina estava em alta no momento em que viajava na parte de trás da ambulância em alta velocidade. Eu mandei dizer ao tribunal que estava aberta ao um apelo de negociação. Nós permitiríamos ossos quebrados ou uma concussão, mas nos recusamos a aceitar orgãos furados, danos cerebrais ou morte. Nossa filha estava rindo e dançando em sua segunda festa de aniversário no dia seguinte. Enviei ao juiz um cartão de agradecimento e alguns presentes.

 

Meu marido recebeu uma oferta de emprego em outra parte do Pais há um ano atras. Eu organizei uma equipe de voluntários para enviar petição ao juiz dizendo que a mudança para outro estado era criminosa e ilegal. Eu tinha centenas de pessoas para me defender. O juiz não bloqueou a mudança. Quando os homens da mudança chegaram e começaram colocar todos os nossos pertences naquele caminhão enorme, eu não os deixei tocar o contêiner cheio de arquivos que eu estava trabalhando. Era um arquivo em preparação para a lidar com crianças ansiosas em uma nova escola e cidade. Eu mantive os arquivos perto de mim. Eu ia para o juiz todos dia com pedidos específicos sobre os amigos, professores, vizinhos e grupos de jovens, que ele tinha que fornecer para nós. Ele ouviu meus argumentos apaixonados, sem fôlego, e lacrimejantes. Ele nunca me disse que eu estava sendo desprezada.

Grundtvig Memorial Church, PV Jensen Klint

Grundtvig Memorial Church, Construído por Jergen Klint. Foto de Seier+Seier.

Tem sido um ano terrível. É como se o juiz não tivesse ouvido uma coisa que eu disse. Ou ele está trabalhando contra nós com uma agenda totalmente diferente. Eu continuei aproximando-se ao tribunal com novos documentos, borrados com batidas de morango, vinho tinto, e as lágrimas dos meus filhos. Ele aceitou e leu-os com seriedade e paciência gentil.

Em janeiro eu dei um basta, aquilo era o suficiente. As coisas nunca tinham sido tão difíceis. Todas as crianças estavam em crise e o juiz não se importava. Então eu fui para a casa dele, sem ser convidada. Eu estava manchada de suores e com os óculos tortos. Talvez eu tinha bebido. Eu não tinha arquivos, movimentos, ou documentos de qualquer tipo. Sua mulher atendeu a porta com suas vestes e me abraçou. Ela me levou ao gabinete do marido. Eu pensei que ele estaria dormindo, porque era muito tarde. A mulher do juiz disse: “Não querida, ele nunca dorme.”

Eu entrei no escritório e o vi lendo arquivos em sua mesa, os óculos baixo em seu nariz. Ele não olhou para cima. Examinei as altas prateleiras cheias de livros. Notei que havia uma imagem que parecia familiar. Eu andei em direção a ela e vi que era uma foto minha com cabelo em rabos de cavalo e sardinhas no rosto. Havia fotos dos meus pais e minha irmã, e do meu dia de casamento. Em sua mesa, ao lado da foto de sua esposa, era uma imagem de meus 3 filhos. Eu o peguei e silenciosamente perguntei: “por que você tem isso?” Ele virou-se na cadeira, fechou os óculos, e olhou direto nos meus olhos:

“Eu amo seus filhos.”

The_Grundtvig_Church_no__1_by_herot

“Grundtvig Church No 1.” Foto de Herot.

Eu sabia que ele era gentil e que já ajudou crianças em todos os lugares com a sua riqueza. Ele ama todas as crianças. Mas ele era um profissional. Certamente ele não se envolveria pessoalmente com todos os casos apresentados a ele. No canto havia pilhas de caixas etiquetadas “Fritz” (meu sobrenome). Eu era uma defensora meticulosa e eficiente para os meus filhos. Defendi-lhes tudo o que eu tinha. Eu contratei especialistas para me ensinar a lutar melhor e preencher as lacunas quando o juiz nos decepcionava. Eu perdi o sono muitas noites tentando descobrir como convencê-lo a proteger os meus filhos.

Eu me joguei em uma cadeira em frente à sua mesa. Ele olhou para mim com expectativa. Eu perguntei, “você conhece meus filhos?” Ele abriu uma gaveta e me mostrou desenhos de giz de cera que meus filhos lhe fizera. Eu fiquei confusa.

Por mais de 12 anos eu estava pedindo e implorando ao juiz, colocava para fora todos os detalhes e circunstâncias especiais, pedia favores, proteção e garantias, preenchia as lacunas e negociava todos os dias. Ninguém poderia pedir uma advogada melhor.

Naquela noite, eu descobri que o juiz tinha planejado que meus filhos tivessem os médicos que precisavam, que ele mesmo tinha escolhido seus professores, e foi ele quem tinha arrumado o  trabalho do meu marido naquele novo estado. Todas as vezes que eu estava assentada em suas câmaras no tribunal, eu tinha perdido a oportunidade de o ver falando sobre cartões de Pokemon e bonecas com meus filhos. Quando ele me convidou para jantar em sua casa os meus filhos já estavam jogando no lago em sua propriedade. Eu nem percebi que o seu barco de pesca tinha o nome de meus filhos.

Ele não precisava de exposições e argumentos. Ele não precisava de provas apresentadas com direito a uma linguagem exata e perfeita. Ele não precisava de ser convencido. Ele já os conhecia e os amava. Ele estava intimamente envolvido. Eu simplesmente não percebi isso.

Todos esses anos o juiz me permitiu apresentar esta informação desnecessária para que pudéssemos passar tempo juntos. Eu não estava confortável com esse relacionamento familiar e especialmente quando eu estava com o trabalho de defensora e advogada dos meus filhos. Ele sempre me convidou para passar o tempo com ele fora do tribunal, mas eu normalmente não queria porque era, de certa forma, muito perturbador. Meu trabalho era a coisa mais importante.

O juiz limpou a garganta e disse: “Filha, Se você tiver alguma dúvida sobre o bem-estar de seus filhos, você não precisa entrar na minha sala de audiências. Você pode vir aqui. Para minha casa. Para meu escritório privado. Você não precisa ligar com antecedência. Por favor, apenas venha. Você é sempre bem-vinda aqui.”

gruntivn church

Grundtvig Memorial Church, Construído por Jergen Klint. Foto de Seier+Seier.

Eu olhei para as fotos nas prateleiras e em sua mesa, as caixas no canto, e os desenhos da infância abaixo de seus óculos. Eu não podia acreditar que eu não tinha percebido isso antes.

Eu abandonei meu trabalho na manhã seguinte. Eu não levei mais nada do meu escritório. Deixei tudo lá, com a chave sobre a mesa.

Minha família está agora no meio de se mudar para a casa do juiz. Meus filhos ainda têm tantos problemas difíceis, mas eu sei que o juiz os vê. Ele vai fazer o que e preciso e melhor para as crianças. Estou aprendendo a sair com ele na varanda, sem uma agenda. Ele gosta de minhas piadas.

Às vezes, quando estamos todos juntos em volta da mesa, rindo e comendo e lembrando-se das melhores partes de nosso dia, eu caio meio que em modo antigo de Defensora e começo a listar todas as coisas que o juiz precisa fazer. Ele sorri para mim e eu me lembro que eu não estou no trabalho. Estou em casa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grundtvig Memorial Church, Construído por Jergen Klint. Foto de Seier+Seier.

Pano de fundo:

  1. “Então Jesus disse aos seus discípulos uma parábola, para mostrar-lhes que eles deviam orar sempre e não desistir. Ele disse: “Em certa cidade havia um juiz que não temia a Deus nem se importava que as pessoas pensavam. E havia uma viúva naquela cidade que ia ter com ele com o fundamento, ‘Faze-me justiça contra o meu adversário. “Por algum tempo ele se recusou. Mas, finalmente, ele disse para si mesmo: ‘Embora eu não tema a Deus ou ligo para o que as pessoas pensam, todavia, porque esta viúva está me incomodando, eu vou ver que ela obtenha justiça, para que ela não vai, eventualmente, vir e atacar-me! “Lucas 18: 1-5. Para que tipo de juiz voce tem orado? Eu sabia que o meu era gentil e justo, mas eu não acho que ele se preocupava com os meus dados ou meu coração. Porque ele era tão silencioso. Passar um momento com os olhos fechados imaginando o Deus / juiz que ouve suas orações. Como ser que seu rosto se parece? Como e o som de sua voz?
  2. “Não andeis ansiosos por coisa alguma, mas em tudo, pela oração e súplica, com ações de graças, apresentem seus pedidos a Deus. E a paz de Deus, que excede todo o entendimento, guardará os vossos corações e os vossos sentimentos em Cristo Jesus “Filipenses 4: 6-7Muitas das minhas orações para os meus filhos foram formadas e alimentada pela ansiedade, não a fé. As orações se tornou um mau hábito, uma compulsão. Eles não trouxe a paz ou a claridade. Eles me levou para longe de Deus. Eu acho que esta lacuna veio quando eu esqueci que Deus é bom e implacavelmente amoroso. O que você acha caráter de Deus é como? 
  3. “Em verdade vos digo que, se alguém disser a este monte: ‘Vá, jogue-se no mar’, e não duvidar no seu coração, mas crer que o que eles dizem que vai acontecer, vai ser feito por eles. Por isso vos digo, tudo o que pedirdes na oração, crede que recebestes, e será assim convosco” Marcos 11: 23-24. Esta passagem parece dizer que a oração não respondida é minha culpa, por causa de falta de fé. Como se a fé fosse uma moeda que eu coloco num telefone publico para fazer a oração ser respondida. Minhas orações eram mais sobre transações do que relacionamento. E a suas?
  4. “Eu sou a videira; vós, os ramos. Se permanecerdes em mim e eu em ti, esse dá muito fruto; sem mim, nada podeis fazer “João 15: 5. Um monte de cristãos falam de ‘permanecer em Cristo’ . Eu ainda estou tentando descobrir o que isso significa. Eu estou mudando-se para a casa do juiz em vez de apresentar o meu caso no tribunal. Estou entregando todos os meus argumentos e sugestões a Deus, e aprendendo a confiar que ele já sabe tudo e quer nos amar e nos salvar. Para mim parece que um tempo curto de devocional e uma lista curta no meu diário de oração e no meu espelho funciona melhor. Em vez disso eu estou fazendo orações ao longo do dia do tipo “Eu confio em Ti, Deus” ou “Deus vai tomar conta disso!” a medida que os problemas surgem durante o dia. O que ‘permanecer Nele” significa para você?

Você é amado por Deus.


 

Grundtvig Memorial Church, PV Jensen Klint

Grundtvig Memorial Church, Construído por Jergen Klint. Foto de Seier+Seier.

Being the Best Blessing EVER

[featured on Perissos 7/6/16]

I distinctly remember walking into a dentist appointment thinking, “I want to be this hygienist’s favorite patient ever.” I already flossed and brushed my teeth, gargled, and blotted my lipstick. I smiled broadly, asked and answered questions, complimented her technique, and thanked her for her hard work. I left with a new toothbrush and a sense of accomplishment.

Before I went home to cook the best dinner ever for my husband and friends, I interacted with the cashier at the store, tollbooth attendant, and neighbor the same way.

I did everything I could to be the best customer, toll-pa