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Lent: An Invitation to Retreat


Last week, I took 25 youth to a Bible camp in Wisconsin for our annual winter retreat.  At this retreat, we encountered Jesus in a new light: we encountered Jesus when we gathered with 180 other Chicago area youth for worship and were reminded that we are beloved and loved for who we truly are… We encountered Jesus when we met new friends and strengthened our relationships with old ones… We encountered Jesus when we played 9-square, Gaga Ball, and sang and danced with our friends… and when we crowded onto a long bobsled, held onto each other as tight as we could, and flew down the steep hill toward the ice-covered lake, screaming and praying the Lord’s Prayer the whole way down.  (At least, that’s what I was doing.)  And we encountered Jesus when we ended the weekend in tears, as we hugged and blessed each other communed together around the Lord’s Table.

And though exhausted, our group left Wisconsin on fire…

On fire for God.  On fire for the church.  On fire for fellowship with one another.

Like the disciples who encountered the transfiguration of Jesus on their retreat to the top of the mountain – where they saw Jesus shine as bright as the sun – we, too, had a special mountaintop experience on our retreat.

… But then, as we all know how the saying goes:  What goes up must also come down.

And so we, too, eventually had to come back down from the mountaintop… to the realities of every-day life…

To school work.  Basketball practice.  ACT prep.  To the struggles of balancing a job and homework and anxieties we had about having to face bullies when we went back to school.  To what seems to be the never-ending busyness of our everyday routines.

And many of us may be already longing to escape and get away from this all of this.

To go back up to the comforts we experienced at the top of the mountain.

I’m sure many of us can relate to having a mountaintop experience in our lives and then having to come back down the mountain to the reality of our daily stress and routines that often keep us running so fast that we can’t catch our breath.

And yet here we are at the beginning of Lent… at the bottom of the mountain, being extended another great invitation to retreat.  Now, this is not the same type of retreat our youth experienced in Wisconsin or the same type of retreat many of us have experienced when we have attended a powerful faith conference or event.   

It’s not a retreat back up to the mountaintop. 

This Lenten invitation is to enter the wilderness… not just for a day or a weekend… but to dwell and wander in it.  It is a retreat from the busyness of life, to empty ourselves so that we can be filled by the grace of God, and to think about what it means to be marked by the sign of the cross in ashes on our forehead – to think about what it means to be human and to belong to God (and not anyone or anything else.)  And this invitation is to thoroughly examine our own lives – which will not, in fact, last forever on this earth (sorry to disappoint) – and to reevaluate how our lives have and can have meaning in this world…

Because our world needs each and every one of us. 

Now, I am not going to downplay this wilderness period.  There will be times when we will feel tested.  There will be times when we will feel like we’ve already wandered through the wilderness for long enough and we are too parched, exhausted, and famished to have to take on one more thing. 

But this is why we are invited to go into the wilderness in the first place: to examine our lives and to empty and prepare ourselves so that we might know how to respond to the testing of our accuser.  So that in our weakest moments, we might know how to look deep within ourselves and be reminded of who we are and whose we are. 

You see, though we may – and most likely will – experience testing in the wilderness – in this Lenten season – the wilderness is ultimately a place and time of preparation for what is to come.

We tend to forget this because when we begin Lent by looking at Jesus’ time in the wilderness, we often focus on the temptations and his withstanding of them.  And yet, meanwhile, we also forget that there were 40 long days and 40 long nights that Jesus spent fasting, praying, and preparing for this encounter with the accuser even occurred.

And because we lose sight of this, we also tend to focus so much on how we, ourselves, lack the ability to resist our own temptations, that we turn Lent into a time of legalism and of beating ourselves up: through self-shaming, self-doubting, and self-hating.

And yet, I don’t think this is what the wilderness is really about.  It is not about loathing over our inadequacies and our shortcomings and attempting to meet perfection.

Rather, it is about transformation.  It is about recognizing that we are indeed human beings.  And like all other human beings, we have our faults and we make mistakes… And yet, as humans, we are ultimately made in the image of God… and are constantly a work of God in progress. 

So this Lent, let us choose to enter the wilderness and say yes to our invitation to retreat.  And let us show our youth how to do so, as well.  

RESOURCES AND ACTIVITIES FOR LENT:

Lent Activities at Youth Group

Intro To Lent Youth Group Lesson

https://musingsfromabricolage.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/introduction-to-lent-youth-group-lesson/

Prayer Stations for Lent:

http://www.rethinkingyouthministry.com/2009/02/ideas-for-lent-09-5-rest-stops.html

Arts and Faith – Lent:

https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/liturgical-year/lent/arts-and-faith-for-lent?utm_source=ignsp&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=lent2018

Lent at Home (for Families):

Lent in A Bag: An Activity for Church or Home:

https://www.buildfaith.org/lent-in-a-bag/

Daily Lent Activity List: (from Portico Collective) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dE1F3I-POjSLcJ1BmWL9YWcOQWkqUA4u/view

Psalm a Day Family Lenten Devotional by Christine Hides (dated 2017 but can be used any year) https://blesseachone.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/psalm-a-day-lent-devo.pdf

Family Activities for 40 Days of Lent:

http://homelinks.dor.org/homelinks/?LinkServID=BB3CD74B-0F48-7DD6-92FCF5AAC585A924

An Illustrated Lent For Families (Devotions and Coloring Pages): https://store.illustratedchildrensministry.com/products/an-illustrated-lent-for-families-2018

Works of Mercy Tree for Families: https://www.loyolapress.com/~/media/Images/Loyola%20Press/ocf-articles/PrayerCard-LessonPlans/crafting-faith-44-45.ashx

Lenten Candle Liturgy (for Worship or Home): https://processandfaith.org/lenten-candle-liturgy/

Family Lenten Devotional: http://www.dixborochurch.org/2018-family-lenten-devotional.html

Christian Meditation for Children:

http://www.cominghome.org.au/introduction/dsp-default-d.cfm?loadref=89

Family Lent Devotional:
https://javaluia.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/year-b-family-devotional-2018-lent1.pdf

 

Personal Devotions

Reimagining the Examine (App) https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/23542/reimagining-examen-app

D365 Daily Online Devotional (App available)

http://d365.org/

3 Minute Retreats (App available)

https://www.loyolapress.com/3-minute-retreats-daily-online-prayer

Lenten Devotional for Dismantling Racism (for $10 download) https://www.transformnetwork.org/bookstore/lentdevotional2018-download

Coloring Lent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection:

https://www.amazon.com/Coloring-Lent-Adult-Journey-Resurrection/dp/0827205473

Random Acts of Kindness

Random Acts of Kindness Ideas and Resources

https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas


Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often been seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

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Ash Wednesday: Let Us Return to God


It is Ash Wednesday: the day we are called to be reminded of our mortality by receiving ashes – the symbol of mourning and repentance – in the sign of the cross on our foreheads…

From dust we came and to dust we shall return.

It is on this day that we hear the prophet Joel’s commission: 

Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

And it is on this day that we begin our Lenten path: our journey through the wilderness and toward the cross… Our time to retreat from the busyness of life, to reflect on what it means to be human and children of God, and to open our ears to hear and our eyes to see the ways in which God is present in our lives and around us.

It is our time to recognize that life is short, and therefore to reevaluate how our own lives have and can have meaning in this world.  

And as Jesus wandered in the wilderness 2000 years ago between his baptism and the beginning of his ministry to prepare for what was to come, Lent is also our time to wander in the wilderness in preparation for our journey toward the cross and onto the Resurrection.

During Lent, some of us take on the ancient practice of “giving up” something… However, whether we give up chocolate or coffee, Facebook or tv, this practice does not serve as a means to prove our willpower or to cut a few calories in our diets.  Rather, it serves as a means to cut out something in our lives that we seem dependent upon or that consumes us and holds us back from seeing and experiencing the grace of God in our spiritual lives, in others, and in ourselves.  

At the same time, some of us also choose to do the ancient practice of “taking something on” in our lives (in that newly created space) to help us return to God and to focus on the important things in life that we too often miss in our busy schedules: whether it is a new prayer or other spiritual practice, a new family activity, a form of community outreach or service, or a physical activity that will improve one’s physical, spiritual, and emotional health.

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.

Whatever we do, let us be intentional this Lent.  Let us return again and again and again to our God with all our hearts.  And as we do so, let us equip our youth to do the same and walk alongside them in this journey.   

  • How do you feel called to return to God with all your heart during this season of Lent?
  • What are some of the things you are giving up and/or taking on this Lent?  
  • How are you equipping your youth to make extra space during this season of Lent to return to God and walking alongside them in this journey?  

Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often been seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

Safe Place To Talk Diversity


When I first immigrated to the US from South Korea at the age of 8, I went to go live with my grandparents in Olathe, Kansas. I was the first Asian kid in my elementary school, not to mention the first Korean. Back then, kids had never heard of Korea, and they kept asking me “where are you from again? You’re not Chinese? You’re not Japanese? Then what exactly are you?”

I actually got sick of kids asking me about Korea or where I was from, so in 6th grade, I asked my teacher if I could do a report on Korea so the kids can understand my country. To be honest, I don’t even know where I got the idea nor the confidence to even ask my teacher. Thankfully, Mrs. Ater agreed and I was allowed to share about Korea, the country, and its culture, to my class for the next 2 weeks.I’m forever grateful to Mrs. Ater for giving me the opportunity to help kids understand how I’m different from them, but it doesn’t make me different as a human being. Kids were more intrigued, and they asked lots, and I mean LOTS of questions. This helped them realize the value in different culture… and while I had assimilated into the western culture in a lot of ways, they also understood that we spoke Korean and ate Korean food when we were with family.

While some kids from other classes made fun of my small eyes, the kids in my class kept wanting to ask me more questions… one kid even asked me to teach him to write in Korean.In 9th grade, I was randomly selected from my school district to attend diversity camp in Los Angeles. The purpose of this camp was to open dialogue about our perception of different ethnicities and cultures and to better understand one another. Some exercises included jotting down all the stereotypes that are out there, and addressing each one which dug into the history of each culture. I didn’t know it at the time, but this camp taught us how to connect with people that are different from us. And we all left the camp with friends from different cultural backgrounds.

Neither of my above experiences included God’s design nor perception of diversity. However, I feel that the church should create safe space for these conversations to happen. What I have learned at a young age through some of these experiences is that people are more alike than different. We all have the need to be liked. We all have the need to be understood. We all have a history that has shaped us to be who we are. And we all hurt when we’re misunderstood or judged.I have also learned that many of us are curious. We have questions. And the unknown or unanswered questions often lead to fear, and we often jump to our own conclusions or judgment of others. However, there aren’t many platforms where people, especially youths, are allowed to ask and learn about one another.

In the church, we often talk about how we need to love everyone regardless of our differences. However, we often don’t hear of churches nor youth groups that provide a safe place for these conversations to take place. So where and how do we start?

One idea is to provide discussion with a panel consisting of different ethnicities. This can be a place where students can ask honest questions (anonymous questions allowed) about race, culture, and diversity. The panel can help students better understand people that come from different backgrounds. It’s important to establish a safe environment, letting students know that their questions won’t be judged. It’s not a place where anyone needs to feel offended, and allow everyone the benefit of a doubt. Allow the panel and students to express their feelings. Lastly, be sure to allow time to debrief what they have learned, and how this has changed their initial perceptions.

Another idea is to provide an event where students of different backgrounds can connect. Shared experience usually connects people. Whether it’s serving together or playing together (if it’s a team event such as laser tag, make sure the teams are racially mixed). If your youth group isn’t diverse, invite an ethnic or multi-ethnic neighboring church youth group for a joint-event. Allow time for students to converse. You could even have “get-to-know-you-better” games. Once again, be sure to debrief with your group on what they have learned.

We often talk about loving others that are different from us in our youth groups… give opportunities for students to experience and practice being with others different from them. And allow them to live out their faith and the Word of God right now!

14” For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.”  ~Ephesians 2:14-16 (NLT)


Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.

you can also connect with Gloria via: TWITTER BLOG FACEBOOK LINKEDIN

 

Shut Up, Don’t Speak Up (The Voices Project ep. 4)


It was her first rental house.  She had been couch surfing with friends and family longer then she was willing to think about, and she finally had her own house to rent.  She was working two jobs. One as a teacher’s aide and the other as a server in a fine dining restaurant, and she needed them both.  To be honest, it was the job as a server that truly paid the rent.  There is just no way you can make money like that anywhere else, and, she was good at it! She had always been good with people, and this job fed that social side of her.  The problem was that she felt intimidated by her boss.

She was the only female server.  The place was small, and there were only seven employees. Two chefs, a bartender, and four servers, and out of all of them she was the only woman there. This meant pretending not to be offended by the jokes they would tell around her, just waiting to see her reaction. It meant ignoring the backhanded remarks they would make about whether she could handle a tray that was too heavy.  But there were some things she began to see, that maybe she could not handle.

When bosses day came, and people were giving the owner cards, she felt awful she forgot.  “I am sorry”, she said, “I did not realize it was bosses day.”  

“That’s OK,” he said and winked at her.  “How about a blowjob in the closet instead? Much better than a card wouldn’t you agree?”

She tried to laugh it off, and she hurried away, but it left her rattled all day long.

This continued for weeks. Offhand comments, sexual innuendos, and compliments on her looks and her body.  She would go home feeling violated by his words, and she would beat herself up that she had not stood up to him.

She felt stuck.  She needed this job.  She could not go back to couch surfing. She had to make that money for the rent.  She would spend hours in the shower, unaware that there was no amount of water that would wash away his words. Maybe it was her fault.  Was she smiling at him too much?  Did she flirt without realizing it?  Should she not be meeting his eye?  Not be spending too much time talking to him?  

The problem was; it was about him, not her., and so it just kept happening no matter what she did.  Finally one night he did it in front of other staff, and she felt the humiliation in her bones. She slunk out the door at the end of the shift, feeling their eyes boring into her.  Her self-recrimination screamed in her ears, and she felt the unbearable weight of shame.  She knew she could not go back.  She knew she would need to do something else.  

And so she sent him a message, too afraid to see him in person,  and of course, he wanted to know why she was leaving.

And so she told him that his “jokes” made her uncomfortable.  She heaped the blame on herself.  “I guess I do not have thick enough skin to work in this environment.” And sadly, of course, he blamed her.

She scrambled and took whatever serving job she could find, the tips would never be as good as at that first place.  But she began to heal.

Then one night she was leaving a neighborhood bar and pizza place, one where many servers in that neighborhood would go after work.  She did not even think to worry that her former co-workers would be there.  As she walked to her car, some of them followed her out.  One of the girlfriends of her co-workers, emboldened by alcohol, spit ugly words out to her;

“Hey, you whore! Did you really think that he would hit on you? You are pathetic.”

She pleaded with them to leave her alone.  “Go home” She urged, “you are drunk, please just leave me alone.”

“Why would he want someone like you?  How dare you accuse him? He is a great man and you are nothing!” The girl continued to taunt her.

She made it to her car.  Tears were coming.  She got in and was trying to start her car when a hand reached in and grabbed her hair and pulled.  The pain was immediate and excruciating. 

“Maybe you just need a reminder to keep your slut mouth shut” a voice hissed, and then came the punches to the face.

She must have blacked out.  Suddenly no one was there.

Blame the victim.  Take responsibility for his behavior.  Don’t tell.  Don’t say anything. Take it.  Be a good girl.  Smile.  Turn the other way.  

Shut up.  Shut up. Shut up.

Years have passed.  Sometimes she still feels the fear of that hand reaching in without her seeing.  Sometimes she still sees him laughing at her.  Sometimes…

But now she watches in awe as women in every shape and size are showing up and speaking up.  She watched in silence and tears as everyone wore black to the Golden Globes’.  She does not even mind it is a Hollywood thing.  There is a judge who just sentenced a doctor to 175 years in prison for hurting women.  There are women keeping their jobs and bosses losing them.  She could be bitter that it had to be so hard for her, but she searches inside herself and instead, she finds profound gratitude that the world will be better for the next woman who is just trying to pay the rent.  “speak up” she whispers to the television set, “speak up.”


Karen Cassidy is a mother of three amazing adult children. She is a ministerial intern for the Salvation Army, and will (hopefully) be attending their Seminary in August.  She is currently living in Ishpeming, Mi.  She is passionate about people and believes every person has a story just waiting to be told. 

Youth & Special Needs


God made all of us to be relational! That includes children and teens with special needs. Even those on the autism spectrum and don’t seem very social still can’t do life without relationships.

We learned this the hard way. We have done a pretty good job supporting children with various special needs including kids on the spectrum in elementary programming. We have provided buddies… or have helped with a coping mechanism so their hour with us is engaging and appropriate. As these kids age out of elementary into youth ministries, we assumed some kids would do better in elementary, especially if they have mental limitations… after all, we already have the system in place with their buddies. This is where we were wrong. We were more consumed with the mental capacity of these kids and “where they fit” rather than helping them grow in their relationships with their peers.

What we learned was that the kids that are supposed to be in middle school but were held back in elementary programming were no longer thriving. Upon further investigation, we learned that these middle schoolers missed being with their friends that they had grown up with for the past few years. We failed to see that kids with special needs crave relationships just as much as anyone else… They had been with the same friends all throughout elementary programming, but to pull them back all of a sudden didn’t sit well with them.

We sat down with our special needs coordinator, and we started to brainstorm how we could better support and minister to teens with special needs. Since programming for youths is very much different from elementary programming, we started to brainstorm to better meet their needs. Most of all, we wanted to see how we could plan for inclusion as much as possible so that preteens and teens don’t have to be separated from their peers.

We are learning that there isn’t much out there for teens with special needs. A lot of our own research shows that most places tend to group teens with special needs with adults with special needs. There are churches that do ministry well to special needs… but we were most interested in creating a place where kids and teens can be part of the overall group as much as possible without feeling overwhelmed or distracted.

This is still a new idea for us… but we’re currently working to create a sensory room where kids and teens with special needs can easily slip in and slip out as necessary. Our plan is to have a buddy system for preteens and teens that may not be able to sit through the whole student ministries programming. The buddies will consist of adults as well as peers. Our goal is to minimize peer separation as much as possible. We also want this to be a serving opportunity for other teens as well.

So how does this sensory room work? First, we want this room to be therapeutic space with equipment to help students with special needs calm and focus so they can be better prepared for learning and interaction with others. Second, we want this space to feel safe. Everyone is entitled to bad days, and if a student wants to hang out in the sensory room during the whole duration of programming, they can. But we want this room to be fluid where students can come and go. If they feel overwhelmed by noise or activities, they can slip into this sensory room, where they can feel safe. If they feel anxious or bored, and they just need to be away from the group as to not become a distraction to the large group, they can slip into the sensory room to relax and regroup. Once they feel ready, they can easily rejoin the large group in progress. Our ultimate goal is to help students transition smoothly, be included with their peers as much as possible, and help foster relationships. Students with special needs can experience Jesus just as much as anyone else… and while some may have mental limitations, many can still fully experience love and acceptance through relationships. And if we believe that knowing and growing in Jesus happens best in the context of relationships, why wouldn’t we provide that for our students with special needs?

If you’re interested in finding more resources to start inclusion ministry to youth, feel free to contact me as I’m in the trenches along with you! In addition, you may find some great resources from these sites:


Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.

you can also connect with Gloria via: TWITTER BLOG FACEBOOK LINKEDIN

Shannon: Part 2 (The Voices Project ep. 3)


It was the Sunday of my installation at church. I was so nervous.  I was being installed as a ministerial intern!  Me?  This broken girl, how in the world did I ever think God could use me?  My palms were sweating and I wished as I had so many times for God to show me His plan.  And then in she walked.  The door opened and Shannon was there.  She looked more nervous then I felt. I jumped up and I asked her if I could give her a hug?  She didn’t even answer, she just wrapped me up in a hug and I could feel her shaking.  “I came,” she whispered into my hair. “I am so glad” I told her, we can sit and be scared together.

Now she comes to church sometimes, and others she does not. When she does not come she always tells me when she sees me next, that she was just too scared that day to be around people. I always tell her that I understand and that so does God.  At Christmas, she came and she brought me a gift.  I will never forget the card.  It read simply; thank you for loving me.  I have not felt loved in a long time.

What if I had not kept trying?  What if I did not have these tattoos? What if I had allowed her silence to keep me away?  I sat in church that day of my installation and asked God to show me His plan, and then He did, in that card from Shannon.  I have not felt loved.  How many people walk through life feeling unloved and unlovable?  How small of a thing to allow someone to be seen.  What a gift that I am being given to show people the dignity of being loved as they are.

I love my time with her now. I love when she comes and sits in church with me. Or when I get the opportunity to carry my lunch tray over and sit with her.  She shares her life with me; the stories come rolling out in her soft, gentle voice. She tells me about her hopes and dreams.  She tells me about her family and her apartment that she loves.  She tells me when she is struggling and when things are going well.  And always now she meets my eye.  

Shannon has three sisters.  All three sisters have mental illness; Schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, and borderline personality.  She loves her sisters and she worries about how they will continue to make it. She carries a lot on her shoulders.  I have finally heard her laughter, and it is the sound of pure joy. She has confided in me that she loves to sing, and she dreams about feeling “well” enough to sing in the praise band at church; A simple, beautiful goal.

People are made up of so many pieces.  Their stories are vast and wide and they are bigger than the label of “mentally ill”.  That is not the beginning or the end of the story, it is merely a part.  And every human has the innate desire to feel loved; and to be loved where they are, as they are.  We are all so afraid of falling short; of not being enough.  We all have that voice inside of us that tells us we are unlovable; some peoples are merely louder than others.


Karen Cassidy is a mother of three amazing adult children. She is a ministerial intern for the Salvation Army, and will (hopefully) be attending their Seminary in August.  She is currently living in Ishpeming, Mi.  She is passionate about people and believes every person has a story just waiting to be told. 

Shannon: Part 1 (The Voices Project ep. 2)


There are some people that you meet and you just know they are a gentle spirit.  I knew this the moment that I met Shannon.  But it was more than that.  She was like a deer you approach slowly, you just know when you meet here if you rush your way in then she will flee.  I tried so many times to talk to her during our lunch program.  I was met with silence and the most minuscule of nods.  I figured out pretty quickly I would need to change my approach.

I grabbed a tray of food, and I went to the table where she was sitting.  “ Listen,” I said, we don’t even need to talk, “I am just going to sit here and eat with you  if that is OK?”  Smallest of nod to let me know that was OK.  As I was eating I noticed her studying my wrists.  Finally she whispers to me, “You have tattoos?”


“Yes” I respond.

“They allow that?” She asks.

“Well,” I begin, “I kind of came with them, and so they are stuck with them! But the Salvation Army just loves me where I am, as I am, tattoos and all.”

“I have tattoos,” She confides in me.

“Would you like to tell me about them?” I ask….and she does.

That is what it took.  My tattoos.  The part of me I worry the most won’t be accepted, is the very thing she needed to see to tell her that I could handle her story.

Once she began to show me her tattoos, her story rolled out of her.  She grew up in the church, she wanted to be a pastor.  But then one summer in her late teens at a church camp, she suffered her first breakdown, complete with auditory hallucinations.  Her life was never the same.  The voices and breakdowns came in rapid succession.  The medications leave her feeling flat and depressed, but without it she is afraid of everything and everyone.  The medication has caused morbid obesity.  She only wants donuts, she laughs at herself over this.  “I wonder sometimes which is worse, feeling nothing, or feeling everything.”  I tell her I can’t imagine having to choose one or the other.  “I miss church.” She whispers.  

I ask her to come and sit with me on Sunday.  She tells me she is so afraid.  I confide in her, I get scared too!  I am in a new place, living a life that I had never pictured for myself.  I feel scared every day.  This seems to reassure her. “Maybe”, I say, “Maybe we can be scared together”.  She meets my eyes for the first time; her bright blue eyes are so full of life and hope.  “Maybe we can,” she agrees.

So many people are just waiting.  Waiting desperately for someone to hear their stories, they walk through life feeling so alone and so full of words they just can’t express. Waiting for someone to reassure them that their words matter, that they can be heard and still be safe.  Waiting to not be scared.  What if we don’t insist on hearing it?  What if instead we just sit with them, and allow them the safe space to speak?


Karen Cassidy is a mother of three amazing adult children. She is a ministerial intern for the Salvation Army, and will (hopefully) be attending their Seminary in August.  She is currently living in Ishpeming, Mi.  She is passionate about people and believes every person has a story just waiting to be told. 

Greg (The Voices Project ep.1)


He came to church the first Sunday I began my internship. I will always remember that both of us began together.  He raised his hand at prayer time and asked for prayers for a safe place to live, and he said he wanted to thank God for the shelter that gave him a cot to sleep on.  He kept on showing up to church.  He kept on showing up for our hot lunch program every day.

Young.  Only in his 30s.  Handsome. Smart.  Soft-spoken with a Jersey accent.  Strong.  Deeply introspective and insightful.

And yes, also homeless.

Also schizophrenic.

He spent much of his 20s in a state facility in New Jersey.  He wants desperately to have a different life.   He takes his mental health seriously.

This Christmas he rang bells for us – standing outside at the kettle in the frigid temperatures and the relentless snow.

He took his job so seriously, that he would call me asking me if he could take a bathroom break.

Recently he was at the lunch program when someone asked him why he could not work.  You are an able-bodied young man they persisted.

They were not watching his eyes while they were questioning him.

They did not see his spirit being diminished and that wall that goes up when a person with serious mental illness feels attacked.

I watched him deflating in front of my eyes.

I watched him retreat within himself.  

He stared straight ahead and I knew we were losing him inside of himself.

“Let’s walk into the hall,” I whispered and miraculously he followed me.

“Do you want to tell me what is happening?” I asked.

He looked at me with so much pain in his eyes- “Karen, why don’t they understand?  I know my disability is not obvious like a man in a wheelchair. But it is not less real.  

I have to fight every single day to keep the voices away just so I can function.  They want me to listen to them.  It takes all my energy to not let them take over.  I want a good life.  Don’t they think I want to have a job and know what it is to have a paycheck?  But I can’t.  I have tried.  I am so hurt.  I don’t know what to do.”  He breathes out, exhausted.

We talk a little more, and I sit with him for a bit. I assure him again and again that I see him.

He taught me so much that day about integrity; about showing up and standing up no matter how hard things get.  He reminded me that not all disabilities are going to be obvious.  We have to come alongside of people; we need to be a safe place for their stories.  We need to truly know who they are.  We need to encourage the progress…no matter how small it may appear to us.  

We need to create relationship and we need to see one another.


Karen Cassidy is a mother of three amazing adult children. She is a ministerial intern for the Salvation Army, and will (hopefully) be attending their Seminary in August.  She is currently living in Ishpeming, Mi.  She is passionate about people and believes every person has a story just waiting to be told. 

The Voices Project


In late January, we are relaunching The Voices Project. A blog initiative of Conversations on the Fringe that will share stories of people who are marginalized in our society. Our hope is, these stories will re-humanize people who are often forgotten about and pushed to the fringes of our world. We walk by these people daily in our own journeys but pay little attention to them or their stories.

Karen Bradford-Cassidy will be our primary Story-teller. She works for the Salvation Army and has a ginormous heart for those she encounters in her daily work. She is a gifted writer as well.

Here’s a preview of her first post, coming out next week:

“Yesterday at lunch I had such a powerful moment of clarity. There are times you know you are wearing the shoes you are supposed to wear, so you can walk the road you are supposed to walk.

One of our clients was talking to me with such brutal honesty. He said: “ you can’t see my disability. But it is there. Just like a man in a wheelchair. It takes everything in me, every day to quiet the voices that want to be heard. It is exhausting being me. And Karen, I did not ask to be born this way, and I get so tired, but I know there is a reason.” 

I was so moved and humbled by his honesty. 

Seeing past people’s outside into their hearts and minds, and into their lives is what we are all called to do. Whether you are an officer, a waitress, an attorney, a miner…we are called to hear one another and to “bear with one another.” Mental illness is a powerful force in so many people’s lives…I pray that God will use me always as His eyes to see their struggles and to remind them that they are loved right where they are.”

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