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Monday Meditation: Easter Sunday and Trauma

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

Although we tend to focus on rejoicing on Easter Sunday, the gospel narratives remind us that the first Easter Sunday was the culmination of three days of trauma, and trauma doesn’t simply evaporate. Three days prior to the discovery of the empty tomb, Jesus’ partners in ministry scattered in fear after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Afterwards, as Jesus predicted, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Consumed by shame, Judas – Jesus’ betrayer – died by suicide. A small group of women who had supported Jesus throughout his ministry followed Jesus all the way to the cross, bearing witness to his brutal execution. From the cross, Jesus called out to his friend John, instructing him to care for his mother Mary, who watched in horror as her firstborn son took his last breath. Unforgettable, horrific images were seared into their minds.

On Easter Sunday, when the grieving women went to the tomb bearing spices to anoint Jesus’ body, they were still reeling from all they had witnessed. Can you imagine the range of emotions they must have felt when they arrived at the tomb to find the stone rolled away and the body of their beloved Christ missing? More trauma. The women were terrified when angels suddenly appeared and asked them, “Why do you search for the living among the dead? Jesus isn’t here! He has risen from the dead?” How could they possibly process all they were experiencing?

Meanwhile, the remaining 11 apostles were huddled behind a locked door, fearful that they would be the next ones to be executed. They, too, were traumatized by the loss of their teacher and friend; their dream for a new kingdom of God on earth had been shattered. When the women arrived to pass on the angelic message of Christ’s resurrection, the men did not believe their story because they thought it sounded like nonsense. How did the women feel then? Two of the disciples were curious enough to check out the women’s story and discovered for themselves that the tomb was indeed empty. How did the men feel then? Even after Jesus finally mysteriously appeared in that locked room and revealed the wounds in hands and his side, the disciples’ joy and relief was tempered by the trauma they had experienced.

Yesterday as I led the Easter worship service at TND in Nashville, I was mindful of the trauma and grief present in the midst of our rejoicing. One client was marking the one-year anniversary of the death of her partner. Several were grieving the loss of loved ones in recent months. Others were desperately missing their children; some took comfort knowing they would soon see their children again while others grappled with the grim reality that they have permanently lost custody.

With this in mind, let us focus our prayers this week on clients and staff who are grieving and wrestling with traumatic events:

  • Those who are grieving the loss of loved ones
  • Those who are grieving the separation from their children – either temporarily or permanently
  • Those who are grieving missed opportunities, fractured relationships, and time lost due to addiction
  • Those who are grieving the countless losses and absences and unrealized dreams due to COVID-19
  • Those who have been traumatized by abuse
  • Those who have been traumatized by racial bias, ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes

“Blessed be Abba God, the God of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Source of all mercies and the God of all consoling, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the same comforting God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:2-4

Monday Meditation: Do You See This Woman?

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

As The Next Door focuses on the core value of respect throughout 2021, we can turn to the Gospels and look to Jesus for inspiration. A story from Luke’s Gospel seems particularly relevant.

A religious leader had invited Jesus to be his honored guest for dinner. The meal was interrupted when a woman with bad reputation in the community entered the home uninvited. She was carrying a bottle of expensive perfume and weeping as she approached Jesus. With great humility, she knelt down and began to anoint Jesus’ feet, her tears mingling with the perfume on his skin. The host was astounded and offended by her actions, thinking to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). Reading his host’s mind, Jesus told him a brief parable about a creditor and two debtors as a way of explaining that the woman’s actions reflected her deep gratitude for forgiveness.

Jesus contrasted his host’s failure to wash Jesus’ feet – an expected expression of hospitality – with the woman’s gesture of respect. “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little” (Luke 7:44-47).

Do you see this woman? Arguably, the religious leader did not truly see this woman. He had labeled the intruder as a sinner from the moment he laid eyes on her – someone who was less worthy than he was of Jesus’ attention and love. Jesus, on the other hand, truly saw this woman and welcomed her with love, treated her with respect, and blessed her for her actions.

Every woman who walks through our doors deserves to be welcomed with love and treated with respect without judgment. May our gratitude for the forgiveness and love that God and others have shown us fuel our desire to treat others with respect and compassion. Do you see this woman? May we learn to see each client with Jesus’ eyes.

 

Published on March 29, 2021

Monday Meditation: A New Look at Psalm 23

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

At least once a month, I lead a Spirituality in Recovery group focused on Psalm 23, perhaps the most famous of the 150 psalms included in Scripture. This psalm is frequently read aloud at funeral services because of this line: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” When I discuss this psalm with clients, I frame it as an expression of delight in God. The author – believed to be David, the shepherd who became Israel’s second king – gratefully expounds upon the ways that God has demonstrated provision, protection, and compassion for him.

In her book Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations on Loving and Working for Children, Marian Wright Edelman includes a version of Psalm 23 that she heard at All Saints Convent in Catonville, Maryland. Entitled “The Nuns’ Twenty-Third Psalm,” this variation on Scripture speaks to our need for provision, protection, and compassion from God in our work at The Next Door.

The Lord is my pace-setter, I shall not rush.
He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals;
He provides me with images of stillness, which restore my serenity.
He leads me in ways of efficiency through calmness of mind.
And His guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day,
I will not fret, for his presence is here.
His timelessness, his all-importance will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity
By anointing my mind with His oils of tranquility.
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruit of my hours for
I shall walk in the place of my Lord and dwell in His House forever.

May you sense the loving presence of the Good Shepherd as you work this week.

Published on February 8, 2021

When I Grow Up

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney   

During the pandemic, my extended family has gathered weekly via Zoom to stay in touch. With participants ranging in age from 7 months to 81 years, these experiences have been memorable and life-giving for us.

One feature of these virtual gatherings is a trivia game, and if a family member has a birthday coming up, then the trivia game focuses on them. One of the standard questions is: “When I was a child, what did I want to be when I grew up?” The answers have been enlightening and hilarious.

When I was a child, I wanted to be a reporter. I started my own newspaper in 6th grade; as I recall, the issues of this short-lived publication focused almost exclusively on the Cincinnati Reds. During junior high school, I considered becoming a meteorologist, primarily because I was a huge fan of Tom Siler the Weather Wizard on Channel 2.

Looking back, I can now see how my desire to become a reporter was rooted in my love of reading and writing, which eventually blossomed into a fondness for researching, teaching, and storytelling. When I responded to God’s prompting in my life to go to seminary, I was confident that writing and teaching would be a part of my calling. Although I was initially surprised while in seminary by my newfound love of preaching, I realize now that it was an outgrowth of my desire to share stories.

As I listen to the stories that the clients share at The Next Door in group settings and in one-on-one sessions, I am aware that none of them dreamed of becoming an addict when they grew up. None of them hoped to become homeless. No one set a goal to spend time in jail. None of them desired to have children and then lose them to state custody.

Even though their lives have not turned out the way they imagined, many of our clients cling to the hope that the future can be different. As they embrace a newfound faith in God or recommit their lives to following the God they first learned about as children, they are optimistic that new dreams are within reach. They sense that their lives are now on an upward trajectory. They are growing spiritually as healing takes place in their bodies, minds, and spirits.

At mid-life, I have been surprised to realize that I still don’t feel like a grown up. I am aware that I still have a lot of growing to do; I still have so much to learn. The faith in Christ that I embraced as a child has been transformed and deepened through the years. Like our clients, I am still growing up spiritually. God has given me new dreams, and I am grateful.

 

A prayer for spiritual growth: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please God in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:9-14)

Spread the Word

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:8-20)

The meal was memorable for a myriad of reasons. On the fifth anniversary of my ordination to the gospel ministry, I found myself in a place I had never dreamed I would visit. My traveling companions and I were seated on couches situated around low tables in a Bedouin-style tent decorated with ornate tapestries and rugs. Our table was laden with bowls of hummus, babaghanouj, tzatziki, and tabouli, baskets of freshly baked bread, plates of kebabs. As we feasted, the rabbi and pastor and I shared stories and laughed heartily.

What great joy I experienced during that remarkable meal in Beit Sahour, a village located on the road leading from the Shepherds’ Fields to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Throughout the meal, my gaze was repeatedly drawn to those pastoral fields ringed by mountains. What did those shepherds – who were simply going about their business, dutifully carrying out their nightly work of protecting their flocks – witness on the night of Jesus’ birth?

The angel of the Lord delivered a message to the shepherds that night that remains as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago.

Don’t be afraid.
I bring you good news.
A Savior has been born to you.

The shepherds’ response is noteworthy: Let us go and see for ourselves if this good news is true. After confirming the veracity of the angel’s report, the shepherds did what came naturally: They spread the word about the good news of Christ’s birth. They bore witness to God’s work in the world.

On Christmas Day in 2020 – this unforgettable year – the angel’s ancient message falls fresh on our ears again, offering us renewed hope, speaking peace into our weary souls, infusing our hearts with joy.

Don’t be afraid.
I bring you good news.
A Savior has been born to you.

God is still at work in our world. God continues to redeem us, revive us, restore us. Let us glorify and praise God for all the things we have heard and seen.

Published on December 25, 2020

Monday Meditation: Third Week of Advent

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

Yesterday morning, I lit the rose-colored candle in our Advent wreath as my husband and I worshiped via Zoom – the candle of joy. The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday – the Latin word gaudete means “rejoice.” In many churches, these words from Philippians 4:4-6 were sung or read: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Rejoice! How do we rejoice when 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, yet only 10% of them receive treatment?

Rejoice! How do we rejoice when drug overdoses in the U.S. continue to rise, having tripled over the past two decades?

Rejoice! How do we rejoice when women in our community continue to be abused and trafficked?

Rejoice! How do we rejoice when people of color continue to suffer from the ongoing effects of generations of racism in this country?

Rejoice! How do we rejoice in the midst of a global pandemic as loved ones suffer and die?

Rejoicing is an act of defiance. Rejoicing is way of resisting the temptation to give into hopelessness. Rejoicing takes spiritual discipline.

The writer Alex Haley was known for saying, “Find the good and praise it.” Perhaps we could modify his words and say, “Look for where God is at work and praise God.” We must learn to pay attention – reasons to rejoice remain present in our work and in our world.

We can rejoice because women continue to come to TND seeking treatment for their addictions. We can rejoice because lives are being saved as God works through us. We can rejoice because women are safe in our care.

Despite the challenges of 2020, we can rejoice as we light the rose candle. Kate Bowler observes, “Though it seems that joy is in short supply and despair reigns supreme, this candle suggests that there is something more for which you were made. It is the oxygen that makes it possible for you to keep going.”

Restore to me the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12

Published on December 14, 2020

Not Just Another Statistic

– Written by Jane Saffles-Granville, LMSW, Treatment Therapist

As a therapist in alcohol and drug treatment, one of the first things I ask my clients in our initial therapy sessions is a simple question: “Why did you come to treatment?” It has a handful of common answers. “For my children,” “I want to learn how to be sober,” or “I need coping skills.” One of the responses that has always given me pause is “I don’t want to be another statistic.”

When my clients say that, I hear not just “I don’t want to die,” but also “I don’t want to be forgotten.” The statistics of overdose death are harrowing. Most see the headlines, shake their heads, and go about their day. It can be hard to truly internalize the sheer number of deaths, the amount of loss, the number of grieving loved ones left behind.

For the past few months, it has felt like so many more people are dying. COVID has taken so many lives, and I think the full scope of its toll cannot be fully understood until you also look at so-called “deaths of desperation”—drug overdoses and suicide.

I have this seen firsthand in the past few months in a way I haven’t in my near decade of work in social services. The truth is, I’ve been navigating my own grief for too many clients of mine who have died. Women who had been in my outpatient group just days before, and women who had graduated residential treatment years ago, and many more in between. Women I saw cradle their pregnant bellies and cradle their infant children. Women who shared their own grief for loved ones who died of overdoses. Women who cheered on their peers for leaving an abuser, just as they had once done. Women who fought so hard for a way out of a system that was stacked against them. Women who made me laugh and exasperated me at the same time. Women who gave me hope. Women who were so vitally alive when they were sober, it was hard to imagine them in their addiction then and even harder now to imagine them gone.

I don’t know what led to their relapses. I don’t know what their last days were like, or how long they had been sober after the last time I saw them. It can be so easy to focus on the death by overdose, and see it as failure. But when I reflect on this feeling, a line from the poem “Failing and Flying” echoes in my head: “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.” When we hear about the mythological Icarus, it is a cautionary tale of hubris and preventable tragedy; but what of the miraculous flight that happened first? His wax and feather wings did not last indefinitely, and yet he did fly. Isn’t that true for people who die from addiction? We struggle to look past the death to see the successes before it, the love before it, the life before it.

And so, I believe “I don’t want to be another statistic” has another meaning: “If my addiction kills me, I don’t want my memory to be reduced to my cause of death.” Sadly, some of those women who told me this have since lost their battle with addiction. They became what they feared: a statistic, one of the many lives lost this year. Overdose is a lonely and tragic way to die, stealing the futures of too many worthy people. On National Overdose Awareness Day, it is our job now to remember their lives, not just their deaths; their names and not just the numbers. They cannot, and will not, merely be a statistic.

Published on August 31, 2020

How Addiction Hijacks the Brain

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

In her memoir We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life, Laura McKowen recalls a cellphone conversation with her friend Holly the day after Laura almost attended a party where she knew she would relapse. Laura had reached out in desperation to Holly via text as her train neared her intended destination, torn between her craving to drink and her desire to avert certain disaster.

“Babe, your brain was hijacked.”[i] That’s how Holly summed up Laura’s experience the previous day. Holly explained what happens to the brain of an addict. The flood of dopamine that accompanies drug or alcohol usage short-circuits the brain’s prewired reward system. The hippocampus creates a record of this pleasure shortcut for future reference. The amygdala signals to the brain that less dopamine should be produced. Consequently, over time more and more of one’s drug of choice is required to achieve the desired pleasurable effect. Simply put, addiction hijacks normal brain circuitry.

The Apostle Paul was not addressing addiction when he wrote to the Christians in Rome in the first century, but Paul’s words certainly have a modern application: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). Time and time again, clients at The Next Door lament the sequence of events that led them to seek out treatment for addiction (or led a court to force them to get treatment). No little girl grows up wanting to be an addict. Our clients don’t understand how it got so bad so quickly. They wrestle with self-worth: Am I a bad person because I kept drinking, kept using drugs, regardless of the consequences?

As our clients learn about brain chemistry during treatment at The Next Door, they discover how their brains have been hijacked by alcohol and drug usage. They come to understand the powerful internal forces that have kept them in bondage to addiction. They come to understand the good news that their brains can be rewired over time. They come to understand that they are worthy of love and respect. They come to understand that they can chart a new path of lifetime recovery, one that will require self-discipline, sober support, and spiritual grounding.

Fr. Richard Rohr, author of Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, believes that all human beings are addicts. Rohr writes: “Substance addictions like alcohol and drugs are merely the most visible form of addiction, but actually we are all addicted to our own habitual way of doing anything, our own defenses, and most especially, our patterned way of thinking, or how we process our reality.”[ii]

Rohr prompts those who are not addicted to a substance to consider the ways their brains have been hijacked by “stinking thinking” – a commonly used term in Alcoholics Anonymous. When do you fail to do what you intend to do? When do you do what you hate? How can you break the cycle? Just like those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, we can’t make a change until we admit that we have a problem.

Creator God, creating still, create in us clean hearts, renewed spirits, and restored minds. Amen.

 

[i] McKowen, Laura, We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life (Novato: Callifornia, New World Library, 2020): 44.

[ii] Rohr, Richard, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2011): xxiii.

Published on July 9, 2020

Monday Meditation: Why Are You Doing What You’re Doing?

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Do you ever stop to ask yourself why are you doing what you are doing? In her book Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky writes: “Amid the trials and tribulations of our work, it is possible to lose sight of why we’re doing what we’re doing. When we carve out the time to contemplate our intentions, we renew our connection to the needs and desires that have shaped our experience. We remember that we can take action to alter the course of our lives. This will help us to alleviate the sensation of being tossed around in the waves of uncontrollable and overwhelming events.”

To help us navigate these waves, van Dernoot Lipsky suggests that each morning we take a moment to ask ourselves, “Why am I doing what I am doing?” Remember your calling. Reflect on your gifts and how you are using them. Acknowledge that you are making a choice to do the work that lies before you. Accept this responsibility and freedom with gratitude. Ask God for wisdom and courage for the living of these days.

As a companion of fishermen, Jesus knew something about waves – on one memorable evening, Jesus spoke and the waves were stilled. Let us cling to Jesus’s words of comfort and hope during these disorienting days: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Note: You can download a free PDF of Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others.

Published on July 6, 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