Did you know Sarah and I are ordained, licensed chaplains? A lot of people don’t really even know what a chaplain is. I can dispel a few notions about it for you right off the bat here - by telling you what a chaplain is NOT. A chaplain is NOT a pastor, priest or minister of a specific church. And it is just as true to say a pastor is not a chaplain. Pastors work within the setting of a particular church - and oversee, teach and lead within the confines of their particular religion. Chaplains are not necessarily bound to any denomination - and they can find themselves working in a variety of settings with a variety of people in a variety of circumstances.
Hmmmm. Sounds like The Torch might be a good place for chaplains, huh?
We first learned about chaplaincy when an acquaintance approached me and asked if I had ever heard of it. He said he was going through the ordination process and thought it would be a good fit for Sarah and me. At first, I dismissed the idea because I was pretty fed up with religion and I thought chaplains were basically pastors. I knew God was not calling me to put my time into helping yet another church to grow. Sarah and I talked about it briefly, and let it go for a bit. Then, Sarah did some research into chaplaincy. What she found out is chaplain training is all about preparing people to serve God outside the church walls - at work, at school, through a nonprofit, etc. The training can be very emotional, as it touches on the rawest forms of humanity in crisis - and teaches appropriate ways to respond, support and help those in need.
We realized how valuable such knowledge and understanding could be for The Torch, and, hopefully, how we could benefit people we come in contact with - and so we signed up. To be honest, I was not totally prepared for the emotional aspect of the training we received. We both have suffered deep hurts in our lives, and as we learned how to support others in their painful moments, we often came face to face with our own heartaches. Good thing God was with us through the process, because it would have been easy to put all that emotion back into the boxes in our hearts and to just go on living our lives and ignoring our own pain. But we stuck it out and learned much about ourselves and human nature throughout the process.
I think all the deepest needs human beings have have a spiritual component to them. The Apostle Paul wrote: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12-13). Paul was a man of God who helped change the world; just think about it - those words were written 2,000 years ago and we are reading them today. That is pretty miraculous. Paul reached a level of spiritual peace and contentment that flowed out into every aspect of his life, and no matter what circumstances he found himself in - peace and contentment prevailed.
Sometimes I feel like my heart will break when I hear peoples’ stories and get a sense of the pain in their lives. Chaplain training has helped me to look deeper as I seek ways to help. And boy do I pray. I pray for so many people in so many situations.
The training has also taught me to respect people and their beliefs. I used to be so quick to judge and dismiss, and I am sure I hurt many feelings along the way. Sometimes I was trying so hard to make people want to come to MY church I didn’t take time to hear them out or even try to understand why they believed what they believed. I encountered a woman many years ago - and we were talking about God, and faith. I asked her what church she went to and she right away said, “Oh, you won’t like it. You won’t approve of me.” I pressed her to tell me, because I thought it seemed strange for her to say that and it piqued my curiosity. She said, “I’m Mormon.” And right away, I drew back and pretty much had a surface relationship with her after that. I wish I knew then what I know now. I am sure my insensitivity and judgment hurt her.
Chaplain training taught me to listen with a heart of understanding. People have spiritual needs and they are seeking to fill them - and we are bombarded in our society with all kinds of solutions. Let’s face it, even in small communities there is a church on practically every corner - and they usually all claim to be the ONE with the ANSWERS. The thing is - there is a very good chance you might not find God in a church. You might not find Him in a religion. Sometimes the activities and rituals and requirements clutter things up so much that even though you are involved and engaged, you still find yourself empty and not acquiring the contentment Paul talks about in Philippians. As a chaplain, I have learned the value of not pulling away from people, and how important it is to keep showing up, and praying that when they see me - when they see us - they will see lives that reflect God’s love.
We want to be there for people in a new and fresh way, to throw a lifeline of hope out wherever we go. To smile and love and be strong in our faith, so, hopefully, others will be strong in theirs - or maybe even start to develop some faith if they have none. Chaplains are prepared to go into the world and listen, and love and help meet the needs of the people they encounter. And Sarah and I are chaplains. I just thought you might like to know.
I was having a cell phone conversation with someone the other day about The Torch. Judging from the types of questions I was asked, and the conversation, I would guess the individual is comfortably well-off and has not been involved very much with any type of charity work. Having spent most of my adult life volunteering in a variety of capacities for a variety of causes, and working in the schools with individuals who have disabilities - I sometimes feel like I am speaking with a foreigner when I encounter a person who does not, has not, and likely will not volunteer for anything - nor will she ever see a reason to do so. During the conversation last week we finally got to the inevitable why questions. People have a burning desire to know the “whys” of things they do not have the capacity to understand.
Why are you doing this? Why don’t you want to take salaries? Why do you spend so much time on it?
I ponder those questions. Why do we do this? Somebody once told me I was probably doing The Torch because it made me feel good. Hmmm. Actually, oftentimes The Torch is very stressful. It without a doubt is the the most challenging thing I have ever undertaken- mentally, physically AND emotionally - and that is coming from a woman who earned her Master’s degree while raising children and working two jobs. When I think long and hard, I seriously am not doing The Torch for me. It isn’t because I have a need to make myself feel good - there are a lot of easier ways I could do that, believe me! And it isn’t because someday I see a vision of hundreds of Torch trucks out on the roads, feeding people all over the place. I am not driven by the desire to grow the organization, and hence, my ego, huge. That seems kind-of self-serving to me, actually.
I don’t have a desire to be paid a salary from The Torch’s donations, either. Why not? I don’t think that is the best thing for The Torch. I personally don’t like to donate money to organizations where a significant percentage of my donation is used to pay overhead. It certainly would be easier for Sarah and me to work full time for The Torch, and not have to punch the clock at other time-consuming jobs. Our hearts are in The Torch, but I have a fear of becoming just like other non-profit organizations - and if my livelihood is tied up in getting donations, I feel like my focus could change from feeding people to feeding me. I believe some day Sarah and I will be able to lead The Torch full time without touching a dime of the donations. I don’t know how, or when, but I fully believe the time will come. Until then, we work, and it is not easy to do, let me tell you. It can be exhausting and draining, and our passions run high - and we can’t do everything we want to do. But we are doing what we can. And as The Torch grows, I truly believe it will be because of the help of like-minded volunteers.
So, why? So many reasons run through my mind.
We do it because it is the right thing to do. We do it because life sucked for a very long time - and even though we don’t have much, we have something that we can share. We do it because we were there and we care about others, whether they have suffered for a long time or are just facing challenges right now. We care. We care so deeply we want to help and to make a difference. We want people to know life can get better. It will get better. We do it because we don’t wear “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets. I know that sounds weird, but bracelets don’t make things happen, people do. We just try to figure out what He would do - and do it. He was radical and unusual. His love was all-encompassing. We do it because of that. We do it because we want to be different - indeed, we are called to be different. We feel like all-too-often there are so many strings attached to Christian love the love itself is obscured and hard to see. And somewhere along the way Christians got comfortable hiding behind the church walls and counting people, only daring to come out for an occasional activity that might impact the community, but more in the hopes of bringing bodies into the building. We do it to break that mold, to stand up against such comfort zones.
We do it because maybe it will inspire someone else to do something different and new, casting off the desire to get something out of it for themselves. We do it because we can’t. Seriously, only God could move the mountains, squash the obstacles, and open the doors we have faced. We do it because we can. We can push ourselves out of our comfort zones, and work until we are exhausted, and listen and love and try to lead the way so others will do the same. We do it because life is not about getting more, or getting ahead, or getting it all; life is about community and love and people. We do it because life is not about us as individuals, it is about us as a group - as an interwoven tapestry of lives all joined together - TOGETHER on this earth. We do it because of you, because of your neighbor, because of your family, your parents, your friends, because of the people who don’t get it and those who do. We do it because there is Hope in knowing somebody cares, somebody is going to smile at us and treat us kindly, somebody understands we truly are all created equal and all have equal and infinite value and worth.
We just do The Torch.
A Week to Remember
The intense journey of a single week can sometimes be difficult to capture with mere words. It so often happens when things go wrong from the beginning they quickly spiral out of control. A brand-new generator that wouldn’t start was the springboard for a difficult and rough start to a week punctuated with a multitude of highs and lows. Sarah and I came face to face with our humanity and weakness as human beings in the heat and frustrations Saturday. We are Christians, but that does not make us some type of super-humans. We are works in progress and when our tempers flare up things go South quickly. “Let’s just shut it down now!” was the theme of the day Saturday. And it dragged on through Sunday. And Monday as stubbornness and frustration ruled our emotions.
Tuesday’s arrival brought us face to face with the very large responsibility that lay before us - a mobile back to school event unlike anything either of us had done before. it was so much bigger than we were. Would it work? How would it work? Had we done enough work? Work. Work. Work. But the key was prayer. And we knew that. We prayed and attitudes changed. We prayed many people would come. Hope soared. We prayed people would be blessed. Excitement grew. We prayed for haircuts and food and clothing and for an attitude of celebration. Hope arose. And there was a terrible weather forecast we were determined to pray away. Severe thunderstorms and rain were on the horizon. And still we prayed. We asked for it to go around us. We asked for the rain to disappear. For miraculous intervention and prevention.
The sky opened up and rain began to pour, to gush, to roar down upon the truck. For an instant our hopes dimmed. Then, we refocused our attitudes and began to cook. And people came. In spite of the rain, they came, and they came, and they came. They smiled. They chatted. They got drenched, but they ate. The building was packed, haircuts were given, clothing was taken away, and we were blessed. See, God said, I can work no matter what the circumstances are. It was a lesson we needed. A lesson taken deeply to heart. I don’t need to pray the rain away. I need to pray God’s presence into the place. Finite human understanding trying to limit an infinite God.
Wednesday’s event was completely filled with curveballs we never saw coming. New people, new faces, new challenges, unexpected circumstances and conflicts. A propane tank that refused to re-light so we could continue to cook. One thing after another seeming to go wrong. And yet people came. People were blessed and they were a blessing. We pushed through. As we cleaned the truck late into the night, we laughed at the comedy of it all, at the realization so much is out of our control, and there was joy in the food truck.
Thursday brought a change in the schedule. Food service only that night. We opted to serve cold food for a change of pace. One of the beautiful things about the food truck is the unlimited possibilities for the meals we can produce, and we love the chance to try new foods. The event began and people lined up for snow cones, but nobody was at the truck. I was not worried for even a second. I knew they would come. And then they did. Over three hundred plates of food left the truck in an hour and a half. Faces both familiar and new blessed us with their visits. Time flew by and soon there was no more line, and we were on our way.
Friday arrived. It is amazing how bittersweet the final moments of a tremendous challenge can feel. The adrenaline rush brought about by the knowledge of the work that lies ahead is subsided somewhat by an early morning run. Mental lists give way to physical lists and soon everything is packed up and ready to go. The final day has been much-anticipated, but the expected feeling of relief is not there. A melancholy acceptance that something big, something amazing, something beyond your own human abilities has occurred settles in. And soon, it will be over. Unexpected obstacles appear as they have every day, but this time is different. There is so much peace in the knowledge they will be overcome. No matter what happens, this is a day to rejoice and be glad.
And all-too-soon it is time to pack up and go home for the last time. You are overwhelmed with the bittersweet melancholy that follows a journey filled with incredible highs and lows. For the first time in a week, you realize you are exhausted: emotionally, physically, and mentally - completely sapped of energy and strength. You savor the memories, pray for the beautiful faces that fill your mind. You know you were part of something that was good. It was very, very good. And you suspect you will never know all the lives that were impacted. You hope beyond your wildest hope that people who came and left and whose lives are now inexorably intertwined with yours feel loved, and that they know you care. What a week. What an event.
Giving Life Meaning
It seems pretty clear to me our ideas about what makes life meaningful are skewed. If fame, fortune, and the ability to satisfy pretty much any desire we have were the answer, then people who have achieved them would have no reason to commit suicide. It can be a dangerous time when a person realizes the true meaning of life and source of hope does not lie in the things he or she spent many years pursuing. The things that bring us the most pleasure are often the things that provide just enough distraction to prevent us from taking a long, serious, heartfelt look at the parts of our life we are trying to mask. We have been sold a lie when we begin to think our happiness lies in anything this world has to offer, and we decide to ignore our personal spirituality. We are spiritual beings - with a 2,000 year old Bible to attest to that. As long as we ignore that very significant part of our humanity, we will be compelled to search, and what we find will never be quite enough to satiate our need.
The assumption that God will understand as we start putting our time and life’s devotion into work, family, material possessions, and hobbies - and stop or never even begin to put it on Him and seeking His will for our lives is risky and life-threatening. The longing hole in our lives is deepened by a yearning for hope which often drives us to look for things or people or experiences to fill it. Unfortunately, we begin to look for the material to fill the spiritual, because often that is all we know. Or all we are stubbornly willing to do.
It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy camping or vacationing or shopping or working or eating or exercising or hanging out with friends or spending time with your family: camping trips and vacations end and you have to go home; the things your bought lose their newness; your job fills your time and is an exchange of your time for money - which can buy things but cannot save a soul; food is quite possibly the shortest-lived provider of pleasure and certainly one of the most troublesome for many people; exercise by itself is a good thing, but even the most physically fit individuals face health problems and aging; and people can help fill loneliness, but they also can absorb us emotionally and mentally, and provide distractions and entertainment which leave our lives when they move on.
Neglecting spiritual well-being is costly and painful. You can pay thousands of dollars to a therapist who will listen to you discuss your life as you try to sort out through problems for a few hours each week, but he or she will never post advertising which states “I will never leave you or forget you.” You can try all sorts of medications to alleviate your pain and give you peace of mind - but none of them come with a guarantee to provide a supernatural depth of peace the human mind cannot begin to fathom. You can talk to your friends and complain about your life and work yourself into quite a state of self-pity and sorrow, and it may very well be that your life is unbelievably painful and the most incredible wrongs have been perpetrated against you, but even the best of friends cannot offer to carry all of your burdens for you. They can’t. Most people can barely manage their own, because life is hard.
The lives of celebrities demonstrate clearly to us that material possessions and food and alcohol and drugs will not give our lives meaning or soothe the desperate pleas of our souls. They can’t, no matter how much we tell ourselves they can. I remember one night I was at a terrible low point. There was so much pain in my heart - and I was just tired of living with it. I decided that night I would get my affairs in order and take my own life. I remember very clearly lying on the couch and feeling suddenly peaceful about that decision. I wanted so badly to not have to experience any more pain and to feel so utterly worthless. I was living in an abusive situation and felt I had no option to leave, that I mattered that little. I was so confused by the lies and anger that surrounded me. But as I lay there, I could feel God’s presence. He removed the false peace I felt as my children’s faces ran through my mind. He reassured me He would love me the same whether I stayed in the marriage or left - and He reminded me my kids needed me even though it didn’t always seem that way.
When I was in the middle of one of the most painful and humiliating periods of my life - I discovered how many pseudo-friends I actually had. Hateful rumors designed to destroy me were spread among the Christians I knew. Christians can be pretty vicious when they spread gossip couched as prayer requests. Many times my stomach sank and my heart pounded when I would see someone I knew as I was out and about. I never knew what they had been told and what they believed. It was a very lonely time - and depression loomed, yet, every single time I cried out to God He was there. He answered prayer after prayer in unexpected ways, and brought me unfathomable peace as I left a lifetime and most of the people I knew behind. My heart was often light when it should have been heavy, and every time a prayer was answered I grew spiritually stronger.
My dearly loved friends and readers, please don’t fool yourselves or let stubbornness keep you pursuing things that will never make you whole and complete. Pursue God. Seek Him. All the rest will fall into place. My life is a testimony to that. You can't afford to neglect your spirituality.
Want to know more? Send me a message and we will talk.
Three Mile Run
It is with keen anticipation I get ready for a three mile run. As I lace and tighten my shoes and stretch my legs, I am happy. I have been running for over twenty years and have learned a lot about long runs. Okay, three miles might not be a marathon, but it is long enough for me.
I feel fresh and ready at the beginning of every run. One of the hardest things to do is to set a steady pace that is not too fast, so I don’t tire myself out too quickly. That means I have to pay close attention to what I am doing until I hit my stride. I love to run in new places and to look around at the scenery as I go by. I have found a pace that allows me keep a steady jog, but not race through so quickly I don’t have time to notice the beautiful life around me. Once in awhile, there is an exceptionally gorgeous vista or unexpected meadow or a majestic stand of trees which causes me to stop and drink in its glory - and the rest is welcome and refreshing - but I always have to get going again.
One thing I have learned from running steadily for so many years, is how important it is to keep moving forward and to focus on where I am at at that particular moment. It is okay to look a little bit ahead, but I never want to see too far, or I might get discouraged. Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of a particularly high hill or challenging terrain - and I can be intimidated to know it is coming. It is better to encounter those obstacles one at a time, and deal with them as they come than to try to keep moving forward with dread in my heart.
So, I only look a little ahead, just to be sure I am somewhat prepared and don’t trip and fall. I have fallen a few times - and sometimes I get really angry, and sometimes I get really upset. The problem with getting carried away with my emotions is it can really disrupt my run, and as long as I am not too damaged, I need to get going again as soon as I can.
I also find I like to look back occasionally to see how far I have come. I have to be careful, though, not to get caught up in looking back, because I might find myself stuck in one beautiful spot on the trail, and it can become harder and harder to leave, especially if it is a restful, peaceful, place. I can keep the beauty of the moment in my memory to treasure, but I can’t go back; I have to keep moving forward. I have also found if I look back too much, I can stumble and fall - just as when I am not careful as I go - but those falls that happen when I look back too much can bring everything to a standstill for a long time. They hurt, and it can be difficult to recover from them. I do, though. I eventually pick myself up and continue moving forward.
When I finally reach the end of a three mile run, I usually feel a sense of accomplishment. The trail might have been rugged, or it might have been smooth; either way, I am happy for the journey. I feel healthier and stronger when a successful run is completed. I accomplished what I set out to do - and am invigorated and ready for the next challenge.
When I think about it - running is very much like life, isn’t it?
Hold Your Head High
Some of the activity on the Torch’s Facebook page these past few days gave me food for thought. First, in the interest of generating some conversation, we asked our followers to share something about themselves they are proud of. We said it couldn’t be children, because that is too easy, and we wanted people to dig a little deeper. Very few people replied. The next day, we asked people, prefaced with “if you have the courage to share” to state something about themselves they would change. That post blew up. If you don’t know what I mean - a LOT of people commented about what they would like to change about themselves. I was trying to figure out what the dynamics were behind this. I hardly think out of the 1800+ followers we have on our Facebook only a couple have done anything to be proud of. Maybe it takes more courage to talk about the hard things we have accomplished than it does to point out what we don’t like about ourselves.
I can name a bunch of things right off the top of my head that I would change: I need more courage to deal with conflict; I should have been a better mom; I would like to be better at interpersonal relationships; sometimes I am offended too easily; and on and on and on.
I understand that nobody likes a braggart, but I also get that we are far more apt to criticize other people and ourselves than to encourage. We tend to remember to contact places of business when we have a complaint, and often forget when we want to compliment them or have a positive experience. It is the same with people. We just beat each other up, don’t we? I think we feel better about our own insecurities when we can look at other people and pick apart their weaknesses. The problem with that is, it brings all of us down together, and I think makes us afraid to speak up about the things we have done or currently do well. We need to feel positive about ourselves. We need to cut ourselves some slack and think positively about who we are and what we have done and can do.
I am proud I completed my Associates degree. That one was so hard to get, believe it or not. It took me eighteen years of taking classes whenever I had the time and could afford them. When I started the degree there was no such thing as a computer class for students. The last class I had to take to get the degree was a required class on Microsoft Office software. A whole era of technology and educational developments had occurred during those long years. I often felt discouraged and directionless as I changed my major several times and finally settled for a Liberal Studies degree. That basically means a little bit of everything. So I have an Associates degree in a little bit of everything which does absolutely nothing for my employability, but reminds me I can persevere.
I am proud I completed my Masters degree. I worked a full time job and a part time job and was raising teenagers when I did that one. There were a lot of late nights, and a lot of stressful mornings as I pushed through it. It took me four days locked in a hotel room to complete my thesis. I was exhausted, but exhilarated when my advisor finally gave her stamp of approval to the finished product. The day I had to defend it went without a flaw - and that was a testament to the hard work of preparation that went into it.
I am proud I found courage to hold my head high in spite of being surrounded at times by people who wanted to attack and tear me down. I lived through some desperate years, and it took every ounce of faith and perseverance I had to get through. But I got through, and came out on the other side with a deeper relationship with God and a greater understanding of what I am capable of doing.
I think it is the hard things we succeed at which are the things we can be proud of. I fully believe God was with me through each and every one of those events of my life, but I could have given up and walked away from Him and from those efforts at any time, yet I didn’t. I have to take time to remind myself of those things because I too-often find myself dwelling on my regrets and the things I would (or should) change. We need a balance of both. Think positive thoughts about yourself. Stop and congratulate you for doing the hard things and making the tough decisions. Be proud of the good things that you do - grow from them and use them as a launchpad for even greater things. You are a great human being!