Monday, February 21, 2011

"Sometimes It Takes a Village to Let Seniors Stay at Home"

For the record, this is one of the best articles on aging I've read in a long time.

And I read a lot of articles on aging. Call it a hobby.

It's interesting that in the age of globalization, what used to happen naturally now has to be formalized. But don't get me wrong: it is much, much better to formalize it and keep it thriving than to let community care fall by the wayside. And in an age of relocation, many people can't count on lifelong neighbors.

This is the kind of elder care I wholeheartedly support. Many seniors simply don't thrive in the geriatric dorms that are nursing homes, no matter how high rated a nursing home is. While specialized care is sometimes required, what if it's not needed as much as we think?

Religious organizations need to take notice of this movement:

Thinking creatively about how to age well will be one of the defining conversations of the next 20 years.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Homemade Naan: Naan Your Head Yes

More soon on The Time I Met Pioneer Woman: Sole Numbness, Baby Pee and Epic Thirst.

Totally worth it.

Meanwhile, scanning Ree's website this morning I found this ex*treme*ly exciting recipe from Tasty Kitchen. Given that I just mixed my ethnic foods last night, spreading Mediterranean hummus on Indian naan, I was thrilled. I'm all for making my own naan. 

I hope you try it! Follow the link below.

Step-by-Step: Homemade Naan

photo by Jessica Merchant

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Long Surrender: The Only Way Is Through

Today, I listen to the new album from my favorite band - Over the Rhine's "The Long Surrender." And I lean back, reflecting on surrender, acceptance, and a favorite word of one theologian - "docilitas". Being docile, submitted, accepting, in a peaceful, active serenity.

Sometimes, the only way to escape is to relax, the only way through is to go through.

Last night I met Ree - the Pioneer Woman. She sat for hours signing books, posing for pictures, smiling, writing, making small talk. I was in line for over three hours - and that was with a color-coded wrist band.

And even snaking around the edge of the Border's book store was sublime. I was where I belonged: in a book store, among a bunch of women, waiting for someone I was a fan of. Even though I had a squirmy toddler with me and I was dying of thirst, I was where I wanted to be.

And it's been a while since I felt that feeling: of being where I wanted to be.

We're living with my in-law's at the moment. In a state I'd rather not be a resident of. With my Kitchen-Aid mixer packed in a cardboard box and my Pioneer Woman cookbook packed heaven knows where. I live in a dorm-room set-up, cramming essentials and essential non-essentials side by side: computers, dressers, extravagantly large Craig's List free TV with XBox, my baby on the other side of the adjoining bathroom. Three rooms comprise my life - bedroom, bathroom, nursery. All other space is shared space, shared with Nana and Grandma and the ubiquitously Southern "Papaw." I keep thinking of the nursing home residents I knew who boiled down their possessions to what they could fit in one shared room - one single room if they were lucky and their children were financially able to provide it.

It's been a long surrender. A long way to sharing life with people who were family who I didn't really know. A long way through grieving the loss of cold winters and letting myself enjoy seventy degree February days. I chafe and squirm and wrestle as forcefully as my toddler squirms to escape my arms.

I could pin it on my Scottish blood, where independence is prized above all. I could ascribe my restless angst to human nature. 

What I really wonder is how, every day, I feel gratitude welling up in the midst of my squirming bid for escape. I feel deep contentment when I brush the hair off my little boy's forehead, when I watch the sleeping form of my curled-up husband, when I help Nana reach something. How can I feel both? Because I do. I squirm and smile at the same time. I chafe and rest simultaneously.

I could say something trite, like people should want to be where they are, instead of longing to be where they want to be. But I think that betrays our deep heart-long for heaven, even when we try to make heaven here on earth.

I long to be where I want to be. Sometimes, I don't even know where that is. Last night, I accidentally discovered I was right where I wanted to be. I am where I want to be, most deeply: with spouse-friend and baby. I am where I want to be: listening to lyrics that take me home, wherever home is. I am where I want to be: in a safe place with people who want me.

But some nights, I squirm for my Kitchen-Aid mixer and cookbook, that are not where I want them to be: packed in cardboard that is scampered on by lizards. 

Will I ever surrender? 

Should I, when I long for something good?

Do I have anything left to surrender?

Right now, all I know is that finding ourselves right where we want to be sets us free. Maybe it sets us free to be where we squirm, just a little bit longer.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What Do Unemployed People Need from Churches?

It struck me the other day that pastors right now are in a strange position: many churches are struggling to meet their financial obligations, since giving has gone down, and needs have gone up. A lot of churches have hiring freezes or staff cutbacks: even famed Willow Creek went through a round of layoffs. At the same time, worshipers are losing jobs, investment income, and sometimes large chunks of their pensions.

Meanwhile, the unemployed population is often a transient population: folks are downsizing from large house to small, from small house to apartment, or are joining together to share housing with friends or extended family.

When a pastor stands up to preach on Sunday morning, how does she or he reach a guy who is uncertain if he'll be in the area six months from now? Job uncertainty keeps folks in the pews from making commitments to local church service since they might score an interview 2,000 miles away.

Church budgets are groaning, people have deep needs, staffing is frozen or cut, and faithful parishioners are abstaining from service commitments: what does church leadership do with that?

Here are some ways, Dear Church, that you can take a sticky situation and infuse it with grace:

Resurrect the church van. Why? Because families are downsizing, including their vehicles. Church vans can provide transportation to weeknight and weekend activities that doesn't cut into family gas budgets, and that compensates for busy parents who are working strange schedules due to the economy. It's "mass transit" for the church family.
-Act: Circulate a discreet sign-up sheet. If you're feeling frisky, announce it as "environmentally friendly church transportation" - that'll give dignity to those who are using it because they don't have an extra vehicle or are short on gas money.
-Note: Make sure drivers are properly licensed/insured. Always follow "Safe Sanctuary" practices when transporting children by having two adults present.

Start a job board. Resources may be scarce, but every church has an abundance of bulletin boards. Use one as a place for employers and laid-off folks to post their vacancies and skills on 3x5 cards. It's startling how easily church members pass each other like ships in the night. Provide a centralized location for people to connect.
-Act: Arrange a semi-permanent display in two columns for employers and job seekers. Frequently announce it in services and in bulletins. Have church office assist in keeping it updated.
-Note: Although some congregations use their websites for the same purpose, not all people have easy internet access; additionally, it's helpful for visitors to have an easily accessed bulletin board, and not to have to go online.

Offer one-time service or group activities. Men and women who are job-hunting are often working part-time, juggling childcare, or are in the midst of significant life transitions like moving. With a lot of stress comes hesitancy to commit to weekly studies or volunteer needs. Much more accessible, though, are one-time opportunities or monthly activities that require little commitment but offer fuel for the soul. Re-thinking activity planning can help keep people on the fringes engaged as much as they're able to be. With staff cuts and parishioner stress at a high, it can also be a way to plan successful activities without requiring too much from a bare-bones staff or overly-taxed volunteer leaders.
-Act: Work monthly or one-time events in to your calendar for the next six months. Explicitly communicate that they are "schedule-friendly" ways to be involved in the life of the church. 
-Note: Use one-time service events to help fill gaps from staff shortages - organize church spring cleaning or lawn care, plan a fix-it one-day blitz for senior citizens' homes, etc. Offer one-time creative activities as a relaxed environment for stressed families to enjoy. Another benefit: you're able to try things as a one-time activity that you wouldn't normally risk a six-month investment for.

Preach a Few Sermons on Vocation, Identity, and Spiritual Exhaustion.
When the economy is bad, sometimes God uses career uncertainty to call people into full-time service. While desperation should never be a motivator to enter ministry, sometimes shut doors funnel people towards the Church. A lot of discernment is needed in these times, and folks benefit from hearing sermons on calling and vocation. The psychological side of it is identity: parishioners all around the country are struggling to keep who they are separate from what they do. Do you lose yourself when you lose your job? Men and women who have been unemployed for longer than six weeks are apt to be unemployed a lot longer, even a year or two. Even if the federal government extends unemployment benefits, families are left with extremely tight budgets and sustained periods of high stress levels. Spiritual exhaustion takes its toll: not only are church members fighting to find a job, they're fighting to keep hope, to keep encouragement, to keep faith. Job searches merge with the physical tolls of sustained stress and emotional fatigue, sometimes bringing depression. Folks in the pews worry, "what's wrong with me? I can't feel anything anymore." Or even - "am I still a Christian?" What a ripe moment for pastoral leadership to take the opportunity to reaffirm who women and men are in Christ, to address depression and mental illness battles, and to reaffirm a solid theological understanding of the dark night of the soul.
-Act: Work with your (remaining) staff to plan a sermon series on the spiritual struggles of the laid-off, foreclosed, and broke. 
-Note: If your congregation does not have a pastor of counseling, or if your staff has had to lose a counseling position, liaise with Christian counselors in your area who are willing to partner with your congregation for a reduced fee.

Other ideas? Start a church garden, where participants work a few hours a week in exchange for receiving fresh fruits and vegetables. Plan a liturgy of blessing for job seekers. Offer continuing education courses from church members who are established in their fields: computer training, culinary instruction, management classes, auto mechanic workshops. If you have a growing contingency of newly relocated folks, find congregational "tour guides" who will host them around the city for a day. Begin a "God's Provision Prayer Partners" campaign, where volunteers take cards with a name of a jobless church member to pray for daily.