In written conversation with one another...

This is something I recently put out to the families I work with. I share it, also, with you.


Dear loved children of God,

I have been sitting with the events in Uvalde, TX as I am sure you all have. It is a terrible thing to worry about the safety of our children in any capacity, but to wonder if they are safe at school is especially complicated. To be repeatedly in mourning for preventable tragedies is unbearable.

We have seen an increase in mental health concerns among children and youth due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the weight of grief, anger, and fear from school shootings continues to intensely impact their minds and hearts.

We all must discern with God what we are called to do in response. How are we to care for our children and ourselves amid such tragedy? The answer may look different for each of us.

As someone who feels called to work with young people and help them know God, develop a sense of self, and build resilience, I have felt incredibly drawn to the question of why. Seeking to understand why a person, usually young themselves, decides to go into a building to kill and traumatize children will hopefully lead me to understand the answer to how. How can we prevent this? How can we do our best to protect our children?

In my search for answers, the role of a loving community and helping our kids find their place within it feels even more important. Helping our kids have a church home filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit to process their grief and anger, to be shown that we are stronger together, and to be involved in a community that is prayerfully-grounded and action-oriented will strengthen them, and in turn, strengthen our world. Knowing that they have each other, each of you, and God as support, prevents loneliness, anger, and depression. Experiencing a relationship with Jesus gives them a roadmap to compassionate action for themselves and others.

The same is true for you parents and caregivers.

Before action comes (or as action comes) we must experience our grief. Grief is the natural response to all that is lost; loss of life, loss of innocence, loss of faith in systems, loss of a sense of safety, and loss of control. Name what is lost. Feel the feelings. Seek support. Create a ritual to honor what has been lost. Dive into spiritual practice. Spend time in nature. Spend time alone as needed but do not withdraw. Pray, ask, yell, cry.

Where is God in all of this, you may ask? In moments of immense grief and tragedy I look to the wisdom of Elie Weisel and Viktor Frankl.

"'Where is God now?' [a man asked this aloud as a child died on the gallows]

And I heard a voice within me answer him:

'Where is He? Here He is--He is hanging here on this gallows[...]'"

-Elie Weisel, Night

"We have come to know Man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who encountered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips."

-Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Together in grief,

Jessica





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Life is a series of things that are out of our control, and choices (or things that are within our control).

Being genetically prone to addiction is out of our control; choosing to take drugs is a choice.

Being raised in a family where violence is the status quo is out of our control; choosing to learn how to live another way is a choice.

Perhaps you realize you are in a job that gives you everything you thought you wanted--status, money, prestige, but you are miserable and your health is failing. You have a choice to stay or to go.

Choices are actions.

Addiction is a disease; however, the biggest part of the treatment plan for someone in recovery is their choices.

Depression is another example of a disease where the person can get better with choices--choosing to seek therapy, take medication (if needed), and most importantly, practice the self care that we all know has a powerful impact on our wellness.

When you look at life as a series of choices, it can seem less overwhelming, and take you out of a place of victimhood where everything is always happening TO you. We are not passive beings--we are active.

So, how do you make choices?

For me, I look for guidance on the big choices from a Higher Power. My faith traditions teach me that the Holy Spirit is with me, guiding me. I also know that it is up to me to follow this guidance--the Holy Spirit isn't going to make the choices for me or be the one that steps out of bed or applies to grad school.

Sometimes I ask people I trust for their opinions--again, they aren't going to make the choices for me, that's my job.

If you have a goal (sobriety, healing, getting fit, a big life change) and it feels too big to tackle--break it down into choices and start with the first one. Perhaps your first choice is picking a healthy breakfast, or to go to an AA meeting today, or to get out of bed and take a shower. The more positive choices we make for ourselves, the easier they become.

What I really hope you know is that you are in control of your life--it's time to start living like you are.


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Dreams have been a guide to us since the dawn of time! Are you paying attention to yours?

Carl Jung is a sage for me, along with many deeply spiritual friends and guides I've met in life--most of my approach to dreamwork comes from these places. In my Christian tradition, dreams are an important tool to connect with God and to know how you are being called.

Psychologically, dreams help us process and store memories, and make sense of our waking life.

In my own life, dreams have helped me know when I am on the right path, and have made very difficult decisions crystal clear. For these spiritual gifts, I am grateful.


Here are a few tips and tricks to get you started down the path of learning from your dreams.


Write them down.

Right away. When I wake up and realize I've been having a dream, I dictate to Siri. For those of you who are really sensitive to light or sleep interruptions, this is a good option. I don't even move in bed. I just say, "Hey Siri, create a note," and I dictate the dream.

You can also use a journal that you keep at your bedside. The trick is writing them down right away.


Use detail.

Your sleepy brain might not realize that the colors, people, and places in your dream are significant. But they are! Make sure to include all details--even the ones that you think are minor. Perhaps you talk about being in a field--what kind of field was it? Poppies? Wheat? It matters.


Read them in the morning.

When you read your dream, start with a prayer that you will see what needs to be seen, and then look it over. Read through it a few times, underlining details and patterns--you can use different colored highlighters.


Don't take them literally - they are full of symbolism!

Dreams are meant to be metaphoric guides, like parables. Many people worry that some dreams of destruction are prophetic. While I do believe in prophetic dreams, you must really look at the dream's symbolism. A dream of destruction or death is most likely representing that a part of you or a part of your life is dying or falling away. In this case, you can ask yourself what is being changed or coming to an end?

Jung talks about archetypes (images who meanings make sense across time and cultures) and symbolism--there are great books out there on these topics that I encourage you to explore if this subject matter interests you further. In one of my dreams I was weeding a garden where the roses were dying and there was a huge thistle--it was the only weed I couldn't pull up and it actually caused me pain to try. I immediately looked up these symbols (rose, thistle) to see what meaning they could hold, as I was going through a lot of interpersonal struggles in my waking life.


Approaches to interpretation

One way to look at your dream, is through a lens in which every being in the dream represents a part of you. With this, you need to ask yourself what part of you the being represents. For example, just last night I dreamed that my little niece kept wanting to hug me and find safety with me. When I look at myself as both my niece and the adult me in the dream, I can see how my niece represents a more vulnerable and pure part of myself, and see that I (adult me in the dream) have the ability to nurture and protect myself. There are many ways to discern this dream, that is simply one way.

Another approach is to work in a group or with a friend. The other person or people can listen to you read your dream. They then imagine that it was their dream and they can make nonjudgemental statements or questions to you about it. For example, if I described the dream where my niece came to me for safety and cuddles, someone hearing the dream as their own might say to me, "If it were my dream, I would be curious about why the little girl needed safety." This will allow me to experience the dream from different perspectives and perhaps help my waking mind to open up to other message my subconscious or spirit was trying to communicate to me.

There are many more approaches--these are two of my favorite and they are ones that you can start right away.


Reflect on your dreams regularly

Dreams have the power to provide meaning and messages to you even long after they happen. I can look back at a powerful dream I had three years ago--the meaning I made of it then made sense for my life and helped me, AND the dream can continue to unfold and make meaning for me today. Dreams really are magical gifts!


Happy dreaming!

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