Monday Meditation: Seeking a New Narrative

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Years ago while traveling through the West, I paid a memorable visit to Kartchner Caverns State Park. Located in the Whetstones, a mountain range in southeastern Arizona, this pristine limestone cave is decorated with speleothems – spectacular mineral deposits with whimsical names like cave bacon and soda straws.

Because Kartchner Caverns is a live cave – one where calcite formations are still growing – extraordinary measures have been taken to preserve the caverns from harm. The dry desert air above ground must not be introduced into the humid cave environment; otherwise, the cave will quickly die. Visitors also pose an existential threat to the cave, since they can inadvertently be carriers of substances that could harm the cave’s delicate formations or the bats that call the cave home.

Those who take a tour of Kartchner Caverns must first walk through an air curtain that blows lint from their clothing.  Next, visitors pass through a chamber where mist forces any remaining lint against their clothing. Finally, visitors enter an airlock that preserves the cave’s 99% average relative humidity. The cave remains alive and well because of these safeguards.

That experience of walking through the air curtain has stuck with me through the years. Lately I have been thinking about how I need to pass through a spiritual air curtain – a process that could help rid me of the pollutants I have been carrying around in my heart and mind for too long. Ideas that were once presented as “Truth” have been revealed to be false, antithetical to the loving God who created us. I am seeking a new narrative – for myself and for my world.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” the psalmist prayed (Psalm 51:10). May God cleanse us of all that we carry that threatens the health of our neighbors and our world.

Published on June 29, 2020

Monday Meditation: A Cry For Help

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Where do you turn when you are struggling to survive, when you are experiencing oppression, when you are fighting forces and feelings that threaten to overwhelm you? For 1,000 years, people have turned to Psalm 18 to give voice to their experiences. The psalmist begins this timeless prayer by expressing love for God, praising God’s character, and recalling how God responded to his desperate cries for help.

“I love you, Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;

my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.

The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.”

Psalm 18:1-6a

 

Can you relate to the psalmist’s words? These vivid images could apply to so many situations, but they are particularly illustrative of the perils of addiction. Recovery is indeed a matter of life and death.

The psalmist imagined what it looked like when God responded to his cries for help. The earth was shaken to its core as the anthropomorphized God breathed smoke and fire and mounted a cherubim to swoop down from heaven amid a hailstorm. The psalmist’s enemies were scattered by bolts of lightning; they were no match for the thundering voice of the Lord. The psalmist was comforted by the image of a powerful God who was willing and able to rescue him in his time of need.

“God reached down from on high and took hold of me; the Lord drew me out of deep waters.

God rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.

God brought me out into a spacious place; God rescued me because God delighted in me.”

Psalm 18:16-19

When has God rescued you? When has God been your support? When has God graciously brought you out to a spacious place where you could experience the freedom God intended?

Like the psalmist, take a moment today to thank the Lord, who is worthy of praise.

Published on June 22, 2020

Talking To Your Children About COVID19 (And Other Hard Things)

– Written by Elizabeth Scoville, Family Interventionist

A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine was putting her eight-year-old son to bed, and he was crying.

“What’s wrong?” she asked him.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life.”

Raise your hand if you agree with him.

 

When COVID-19 pushed school districts to close, parents were at a loss with how to help their children cope because the adults felt scared and uncertain. How are we supposed to talk to our children about something we don’t understand? Wouldn’t it be better if we protect them from all the negativity, chaos, and uncertainty?

When we don’t talk to children about difficult things, we put them at a disadvantage and potentially harm their healing processes. Children have an idea of what is going on. They see their parents are more stressed out than usual; they see things are different. The children in our lives are going just as stir crazy as the rest of us. They miss their teachers, friends, and their sense of normalcy. If we pretend that everything is a-okay the children might think something is wrong with them for feeling scared.

Instead of pretending that nothing is wrong in front of our children, we can (and have a responsibility to) talk to them about these challenging things–COVID19, addiction, ACEs–in a way that doesn’t traumatize them. We don’t need to tell them every single detail. But we do need to tell what’s going on. Their schedules and routines have changed. We shouldn’t lie to them when they ask us questions. Don’t dumb it down, rather answer their questions in a way they can digest.

Developmentally, children feel the same emotions that adults feel, and they feel them at the same intensity. As adults, we can identify our feelings (even the uncomfortable ones) and manage them. Children don’t have that skill set yet. They are building it. That’s why children throw tantrums; they don’t know what to do with all of their emotions, so they may react and explode.

Talking about these difficult, hard things and how we feel about them helps children improve their ability to cope by expanding their emotional literacy and vocabulary. As adults we literally set the example and show them another way to cope with their emotions by giving them language to describe their emotions so they understand how to talk about their feelings. Children need to know that it’s okay to talk about this. It will prepare them for the hard things that they will experience in the future. And when they go through hard things, they’ll be able to talk about it and cope with it rather than push it down and ignore it.

Here are some ways you can help your child right now:

  1. You might be worried about paying bills and your job. Your children are worried about their friends and what school will look like next year. Both are important. Don’t forget to focus on your children, their emotions, and their experience through this, too.
  2. Increase mindfulness and honor the here and now, the present moment with your children. As much as possible, leave the future in the future.
  3. Normalize and validate their struggles. They need to know that how they feel (no matter what those feelings are) is normal and okay.
  4. Be authentic with your children. Show your children that YOU have emotions, too. It will allow them to increase their emotional awareness and talk about emotions.
  5. Create a place where it is safe for children to get it wrong. Parents set the example for how to cope, but children aren’t perfect mimics. Take advantage of the extra time with your children to teach them healthy coping skills.
Published on June 18, 2020

Meditation Monday: Zacchaeus’ Transformation

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Last Wednesday night, the clients at The Next Door took a deep dive into the story of Zacchaeus, as recorded in Luke 19:1-10, when they completed their Spiritual Wellness worksheets. Many of us first heard this story as children in church – I was certainly attracted to the idea of climbing a tree to see Jesus!

Rereading Zacchaeus’ story today, we can now see things that we missed as children. As adults, we can more fully imagine the range of emotions that Zacchaeus experienced when Jesus looked up at the tax collector in the tree, called him by name, and invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ home. As a tax collector for the Roman government, Zacchaeus amassed wealth at the expense of his neighbors as he took a cut of the collections for himself. Because tax collectors were often lumped in with “sinners,” he probably didn’t get many dinner invitations from his neighbors.

Zacchaeus likely considered Jesus to be a threat to his way of life, since many people believed that as the Messiah, Jesus would overthrow the Roman government – Zacchaeus’ employer. He climbed the tree not because he desired to follow Christ; he scaled the sycamore tree out of self-interest and curiosity. When Jesus called his name, did this tax collector think he was about to be rebuked or shamed?

What happened around the table in Zacchaeus’ home when these two men sat down together? Luke does not provide us with details about anything Jesus said, but we do hear a declaration from Zacchaeus: “I will give half of my property to the poor. And I will now pay back four times as much to everyone I have ever cheated.” Two thousand years before the 12 Steps were developed, Zacchaeus was ready to practice Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” Zacchaeus was truly transformed by his encounter with Christ.

In his book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the 12 Steps, Fr. Richard Rohr explains the old way of viewing inner transformation. Many of us have been taught that the progression looks like this:

  sin —> punishment —> repentance —> transformation

Fr. Rohr argues that God’s love, expressed through Jesus Christ, actually works like this in an individual’s life:

  sin —> unconditional love —> transformation —> repentance

I believe Fr. Rohr is right, and the story of Zacchaeus provides us with a perfect example of the progression. The tax collector had been sinning, doing things that dishonored God and hurt his neighbors. When Jesus offered him unconditional love that day, Zacchaeus was transformed. As a result of this spiritual transformation, Zacchaeus was eager to repent and make amends to those he had harmed.

Love is one of the core values of The Next Door: We demonstrate what love looks like, so our women learn to love others in healthy ways and love themselves. We do not shame our clients for their addictions. We do not rebuke them for how they have been living and demand repentance. Instead, we welcome them into our midst with the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. We set the stage for spiritual, mental, and physical transformation to take place in their lives as we lovingly help them envision a healthier, brighter future and provide them with tools for lifetime recovery.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Loving God, help us to love one another. Amen.

Published on June 15, 2020

Meditation Monday: Running on Fumes

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

The Parable

In Matthew 25:1-11, Jesus uses a parable about ten bridesmaids to describe the kingdom of heaven. In this story, the ten bridesmaids have gathered to await the bridegroom’s arrival, for they will accompany the groom in a festive procession to the wedding banquet. All ten bridesmaids have come equipped with oil lamps, but only five of them have brought flasks of oil to enable them to refuel their lamps. These five women were wise, for the groom was delayed. When he finally arrived at midnight, the wise bridesmaids were ready to go with fuel to spare. Unfortunately, at this key moment, the lamps of the unprepared bridesmaids flickered out.

You could read Jesus’ parable and view the five prepared bridesmaids in a negative light, since they refuse to share their oil with the other five bridesmaids, but to do so misses a key point: There are some things in life that can’t be borrowed.

The Demonstration

In her memorable sermon on this passage titled “Filling Stations,” Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence describes a scene from one of her seminary classes. A lamp that only had a little oil left in the reservoir was placed on a table in front of the class. The wick was lit, and the students watched with interest as the lamp burned up all the oil and flickered out.

“What just happened?” Dr. Florence asked the class. “The oil ran out, so the light went out,” the students replied. This object lesson was used to convey a vital message: A Christian with no oil can’t be the light of the world for anybody, no matter how much they want to.

The Lesson

There are some things in life that can’t be borrowed. You can’t borrow someone else’s relationship with God. You can’t borrow someone else’s faith. You can’t borrow spiritual maturity. You can’t be light for the world if you lack spiritual fuel.

You likely won’t be able to do a very good job of nurturing others if you aren’t taking care of yourself. You won’t be able to serve God as energetically as you desire if you are physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually burned out. That’s not to say that God can’t use you when your reserves are running low. God certainly can and does do this – I can testify to this reality. However, we would be foolish – like the five unprepared bridesmaids – if we allow ourselves to always run on fumes.

We can’t expect to fill ourselves up spiritually once a week and think that will be sufficient. If we desire to love God with our heart and soul, mind and strength, we need to fill up our spiritual tanks frequently. Some of us feel spiritually energized when we do things with others and for others. Some of us need to be alone, quiet, and still in order to recharge. Perhaps you need a little of both. We can find God both in times of devotion and in times of service.

We need plenty of fuel in order to burn brightly. What will you do today to fill up your spiritual tank?

Life-giving God, fill us up so that we may be the light of the world. Amen.

Published on June 8, 2020

 

Peacemakers & Justice Seekers: Responding to Recent Events

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

On Sunday, Christian churches around the world marked the holy day of Pentecost as they worshipped. Pentecost is commonly referred to as the birthday of the Church – the day when the Spirit of God was dramatically manifested through wind and fire and speech. This was the day when followers of Jesus Christ were empowered to become the Church – people sent out into the world as ambassadors of Jesus’ love, God’s peacemakers and justice-seekers (Acts 2:1-41). As countless preachers noted yesterday, both the Hebrew and Greek words for “Spirit” can be translated as breath.

Usually the day of Pentecost is a celebratory one in churches. But this weekend, my clergy sisters and brothers struggled to find the appropriate words to preach, as George Floyd’s last words echoed in their hearts and minds: “I can’t breathe.” How can you talk about the breath of God at a time like this? How can you talk about the fire of God when buildings are burning?

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Each created by God in the image of God and dearly loved by God. Lives abruptly cut short. America is once again tasting the bitter fruit of generations of institutional racism. “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow” (Galatians 6:7).

What is God calling us to do? Those of us who are white have much to learn from our black colleagues at The Next Door. This is a time for white folks to listen and do the difficult soul-searching work required to root out racism in our lives and systems. We must be mindful that many of our clients have experienced trauma as a result of omnipresent racism. The Next Door must be a safe place for women of all races and all ethnic backgrounds if we intend to reflect our core values and carry out our Christian mission.

What is God calling us to do? Prayer is certainly a good place to start. As I worshiped yesterday, a young woman named Lauren Plummer offered a challenging and comforting prayer. Here is an excerpt:

In this moment we acknowledge the emotions that weigh heavy on our hearts: maybe anger and grief, maybe guilt or fear, maybe numbness or hopelessness. We pause to do that most basic thing that holds us together—that fundamental necessity so often denied to black and brown people: We take a deep breath. We remember how precious it is—given to all people by Love, but stolen from some by hate.

On this day we remember the story of how your Spirit came to live within us as a Comforter and guide, and we beseech you to send comfort to every Black sibling suffering under the weight of generations of trauma and loss. Send the fresh wind of your Spirit to make a path in the wilderness of despair. Ignite hope from the deep stories — how you delivered the captives from bondage and sunk whole armies of oppressors at the bottom of the sea.

On this day we remember the story of how your holy fire came to live within us—to burn in our hearts so that we cannot settle for anything less than love, whose fruits are justice and peace. Let your privileged people hold each other to that fire with listening and action and perseverance, knowing we will all be lost without this redeeming work.

On this day, Holy One, we remember how Spirit rushed in, when it seemed like all was lost, and gave the friends of Jesus the power to listen and learn from each other across vast differences so that they could work together for a common purpose—sharing the good news of a Love that has come to liberate us all.”

I echo Lauren’s prayer: Holy One, may your Spirit rush into our hearts again. May your holy fire purify our hearts from the sin of racism. Empowered and unified by your Spirit, may we work together to liberate women from the bondage of addiction so that they may have life, and have it abundantly. Amen.

Published on June 4, 2020

Monday Meditation: Disappointment

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Disappointed.

This word has been popping up repeatedly over the past few months as a result of the physical distancing necessary to minimize the impact of the pandemic.

  • High school and college students are disappointed that they were not able to celebrate their academic achievements at traditional in-person commencement ceremonies.
  • Brides and grooms are disappointed that their wedding plans have been dramatically altered.
  • Grieving families are disappointed that they have been unable to gather for funeral services to remember loved ones who have passed away.
  • Athletes from children to Olympians are disappointed that they have been unable to compete.
  • Singers and dancers and musicians are disappointed that performances have been cancelled – and their fans are disappointed, too.
  • Parents are disappointed that their children have been unable to attend school.
  • New grandparents – like me – are disappointed that they have not been able to meet their newborn grandchildren.

The list goes on and on. How would you complete this sentence?

I am disappointed that _________________________________.

 

Disappointments are a part of life. At The Next Door, we are disappointed each time a client chooses to leave AMA or ACA. We are disappointed when the difficult decision must be made to ask a client to leave. During this unprecedented period in the history of TND, we are disappointed that some of our team members cannot work alongside us for financial reasons. We are disappointed that volunteers cannot safely join us in our work. We are disappointed by all the disruptions, personally and professionally.

In the Spirituality in Recovery group, clients regularly express three primary levels of disappointment:

  • They are disappointed in themselves.
  • They are disappointed in family members.
  • They are disappointed in God.

God can handle our disappointment. We need not fear being honest with God – after all, God knows what we are going to say before a word is even on our lips. We can express the depth of our disappointment and ask God to help us to make meaning of these troubling circumstances. What does our disappointment reveal about the routines and rituals that are important to us, the people who are important to us, the values that are important to us? In the midst of our disappointment, can we still see God at work?

 

“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise God again—my Savior and my God!” (Psalm 42:5-6a)

Published on June 1, 2020

How to Turn Unhealthy Coping Skills into Healthy Coping Skills

– Written by Morgan Coyner, Grant and Communications Coordinator

It’s safe to say that the whole world is on edge right now. We watch as numbers of positive coronavirus cases increase and as the number of deaths continues to climb. Some of us are stuck at home, knowing it’s the right place to be, but feeling the claustrophobia and cabin fever growing. Others go to work each day wondering if today is the day they will contract the virus and put the ones they love at risk. It is not easy for any of us.

As someone who has struggled throughout my life with anxiety, I’ve felt the waves swelling around me recently. And even though I’ve been taught coping skills throughout my life, I find myself reaching for the ones that aren’t so healthy. The main culprit: ordering takeout.

For me, this coping skill is adjacent to overeating. I can always find an excuse to order take out. New job? Celebrate with food! Heartbroken? Eat as many slices of cheesecake as you want. Hard day at the office? Drive through Taco Bell on the way home. While I am often able to stop myself before going into a full-on binge, the problem is that my indulgences are unhealthy both physically and mentally.

During the pandemic, I’ve found a way to take this unhealthy coping skills of mine and turn it into a healthier coping skill. I’m using this time to try recipes I’ve pinned on Pinterest over the years. My “Yummy Food” board is filled with recipes I always wanted to try but never quite got around to. Due to social distancing, my sister’s family (I’m quarantining with her) and I order groceries to last us for two weeks at a time. That means that we have to concentrate on planning ahead for meals. We get only the ingredients that we need.

Cooking the recipes has been fun for a few different reasons. One, my sister and I get to spend time together. When we cook together, we chat and laugh. It’s time we will always cherish. Two, all meals require a least a little bit of prep. The prep time gives me time to think and focus on what’s in front of me. This prevents me from spiraling into worst case scenarios about coronavirus and the future. Three, most of the recipes have been really, really good. Here are a few of my favorites so far:

Crockpot Swedish Meatballs
Chimichurri Sauce
Dijon Baked Salmon

This time lends itself to binge watching TV shows or movies. While there’s nothing wrong with watching TV, it can be another way to avoid our own lives. We find ourselves engaged in the life of a fictional character, more invested in what happens to them than we are in ourselves.

To avoid this, another staff member at The Next Door “Marie Kondo-d” her apartment. She got rid of the things that no longer brought her joy, the things that she’d been meaning to get rid of. After that, she picked up her old hobby of cross stitching. “I’m just trying to find easy activities that I can do while watching TV.” It eliminates the singular focus on the television, and at the end, you have a product you can be proud of! The repetitive motion of pushing thread and needle through a canvas can be quite cathartic, especially for those with anxiety.

Here are some starter kits if you are interested in learning this craft:
Sweet Cupcake
Take Time

How are you coping with the world around you today? Is there a way that you can change how you’re coping and make healthier choices? Not every coping skill has a perfect pivot. Some need to be eliminated and replaced with something completely different. The more I learn about mental health, the more I realize that so much of maintaining mental wellness is learning to cope well with what life throws you. It sounds so simple, but it takes work. I’m not perfect. I still order takeout more than I’d like. You might find yourself glued to the TV with a craft in your idle hands. But hey, it’s a process.

Monday Meditation: Memorial Day

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Memorial Day is a time of remembrance to honor and mourn the military personnel who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The desire to remember and honor is God-given; the impulse to mark sacred and solemn occasions with rituals and monuments is deeply ingrained in our souls. Long before war memorials were constructed on our National Mall, people used stones to mark places where they had encountered God.

After God liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, they spent four decades living as transients in the wilderness. God led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night and fed them with manna. They were unsettled and uncomfortable, but God compassionately provided for their daily needs, even as they grumbled, complained, and rebelled.

When the Israelites finally assembled on the banks of the Jordan River, Moses and many others from their original ranks were no longer alive. The survivors of the wilderness peered across the water and pondered what it would be like to at last live in God’s Promised Land. God gave Joshua instructions on how to proceed; included in these commands was an order to mark this occasion with a monument that would remind future generations of what God had done.

Generations before, God had parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape the pursuing Egyptian army. Now God parted the Jordan River to permit the Israelites to pass over into the Promised Land. As the priests remained standing in the middle of the riverbed, Joshua enlisted twelve men to pluck twelves stones from ground to use to construct a memorial – one stone for each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

“Then Joshua said to the Israelites, ‘In the future your children will ask, “What do these stones mean?” Then you can tell them, “This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and God kept it dry until you were all across, just as God did at the Red Sea when God dried it up until we had all crossed over. God did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might honor the Lord your God forever.’” (Joshua 4:21-24)

Last week as I sat a red light at the corner of 8th Avenue South and Demonbreun, I snapped a photo of the boutique hotel that is under construction at the original site of The Next Door. I remembered what God had done at that sacred place and gave thanks. Just as surely as God delivered the ancient Israelites from slavery, God has delivered countless women from the bondage of addiction through The Next Door. Let us remember what God has done and give thanks. Let us remember what God is still doing and give thanks.

Published on May 25, 2020

A Crisis Response to Compassion Fatigue

– Written by Morgan Coyner and Eleanor Wells, RN, BSN, ACC, CCFP

In February, The Next Door hosted a workshop with Eleanor Wells of Cohort4Care on Compassion Fatigue. It’s a topic that is talked about a lot in behavioral health and other direct care professions. You may have heard it referred to as “burnout.” Compassion Fatigue happens when helpers are unable to rest and refuel. Under the best of circumstances and in the most certain times, Compassion Fatigue is still a threat to our staff. Most of our clients have lived through incredibly difficult things that affect how they react and behave. As you can imagine, getting to the root of an addiction and finding years of repressed trauma is hard. Walking women through this process and hearing their stories day after day can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout, especially if staff don’t prioritize their own mental health.

Two months ago, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, and the world as we knew it shifted right in front of us. We moved from being able to learn about Compassion Fatigue and put plans in place to prevent it to having to find a totally different approach. Eleanor Wells puts it this way:

“If someone were having a heart attack, you wouldn’t walk up to them and start talking to them about healthy eating habits and exercise. You’d start performing CPR. The diet and exercise won’t help if you die. Those things will get addressed in time.”

We’re in a crisis right now, and that warrants a crisis response. But what does that look like? Now isn’t a time when front line workers can take a mental health day or talk to their supervisors about being overwhelmed. Everyone is overwhelmed. If Compassion Fatigue happens when people are unable to rest and a symptom of it is being unable to rest or relax, how are we supposed to refuel so that we can get back to work?

One thing we need to do is redefine “rest.” Rest doesn’t have to mean sleep. It doesn’t have to be an extended period of quiet time. Research shows that taking deep breaths makes a huge difference. The coffee break was born out of the discovery that workers were more productive when they had breaks. Even fifteen minutes makes a difference. A few other simple tips: Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Take a lap or two around your building – the fresh air and Vitamin D helps. Put down your phone.

When you ask someone for technical support with your phone or computer, what’s the first question they ask? Did you try rebooting it? A simple reboot can solve a whole host of problems. Our brains are the same way.

Right now, it’s not about big interventions. Incorporate small things throughout the day. And don’t underplay the importance of connection. We will not get through this on our own. It will take a collective resiliency. Find people who are safe to fall apart in front of. Find people who will help you notice the positives in each day. Be that person for others when you can.

We will get back to a healthier lifestyle. We will get back to a life of routine and putting safeguards in place to create healthy rhythms in our lives. Hold on. This is not the end.

Published on May 20, 2020