“Blended Zine”

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This past winter both Peter and Cherisse wrote amazing poems. I helped them submit the poems to “Blended Zine,” a magazine “for teens by teens,” published by Farmington Public Library. Out of over 200 submissions of poetry, photographs, and art work, both of them had their poems accepted for publication in the latest issue of the magazine.

published poets

Proud Published Poets from Lybrook School

The library hosted a Release Party at the beginning of May, to celebrate the achievement of all of the students whose work was included in the magazine. Food was catered for the occasion. During the program, each student’s work was shown on the big screen as they were called forward and presented with a hot-off-the-presses copy of the magazine.

peter

Recognizing Peter

Peter couldn’t attend the celebration, but he and his poem were recognized during the program. A copy of his poem is at the end of this post.

cherisse

Cherisse’s Proud Family attended the release party

It was stressful for Cherisse’s family to attend an unfamiliar event in an unfamiliar setting, but how could they not celebrate her success with her? Here she is with (left to right) Audrey (cousin), Dorisha (big sister), Cherisse, Doris (mother), Dorothy (grandmother), Tom (grandfather), and Chester (father). A copy of Cherisse’s poem, celebrating her family roots, can be read is this earlier BLOG POST.

group

Group Photo of published writers and artists

Congratulations to all of the teens who were included in the latest issue of Blended Zine!

We are especially proud of “our” two students. Good work Cherisse and Peter! We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

Peter’s poem is as follows:

let it all go forever

by Peter Brown

I will never find

all I left behind

the lost memory of my past

that faded away so fast

The time I was gone

was a little too long

It made me forget

It made me regret

the time I messed up

ran out of luck

and took off in the rain

left you alone in the rain

you handled all the agony

dealt with the misery

put your life back together

let it all go forever

8th Grade Retreat: Transition to Adulthood

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Success is liking yourself, liking what you do,

and liking how you do it.

–Maya Angelou

We had the privilege of spending 3 ½ days with the 8thgrade class from the local school to help them gain the skills they need to succeed in high school. Finishing high school can be a challenge for many young people. For students in this area, it is an almost insurmountable challenge: only 15% will finish high school due to cultural stresses, peer pressure, and lack of perceived usefulness of a diploma.

guys

Fearless (giggly) Guys

girls

Brave (talkative) Girls

Each day of the retreat, we focused on a different part of the above quote. We used a variety of outdoors activities, art projects, large group discussions, and small group discovery projects to help students actively engage with each day’s focus.

Mr E teaching outdoors

Group Discussions…indoors and out

Day one helped students define who THEY are as individuals. There is a high priority on group settings in Navajo culture: time is spent with close friends and family and identity is found in relationship with those people. Little emphasis is put on the individual in any setting.

poster

Making “This is ME” posters

We did target shooting with no target identified and had the students run a race with no marked finish line. This helped them to understand it is hard to “win” if you don’t know what you are shooting for. They also experienced first hand that merely following what others were doing wasn’t an indicator of success.

target

Target Shooting…

target spears

…with pool-noodle “spears”

They decided on a personal definition of “success.” They identified their strengths and their personality types. They worked to figure out what gives meaning to their lives and what makes each one of them unique in their world. They learned about cultural differences, as we stressed that we were NOT asking them to give up their Navajo culture but were challenging them to become proficient in both Navajo and Anglo cultures. Finally, they began to identify a personal vision of what they want their lives to look like 10 years from now: housing, transportation, family, hobbies, etc.

comfy couches

…lots of writing about individual ideas in Student Portfolios

Day Two started with a timed obstacle course. First, the “resources” they needed were hidden and they had to go on a search to find the items they needed to complete each task: water guns, pool-noodle “spears,” a jump rope, a basketball, and more. When they re-ran the obstacle course with all resources right beside the task locations, they finished the race in less than half the time it took for the first attempt. This introduced the students to the daily theme of defining what they want in life, and identifying what resources they need to get there.

obstacle course run

Running to get to the next “task” in the Obstacle Course

obstacle course water guns

Water guns are useful for more than “tasks” in the Obstacle Course!

A main focus of Day Two was setting a realistic budget for their personal lifestyle choices. Some students had modest wants, needing $20-25 per hour to meet their vision. Other students wanted to live in large cities, drive fancy cars, and spend time traveling for pleasure. They were shocked to find out they would need $50-60 per hour to pay for their chosen lifestyles! This project was followed by identifying what types of jobs might meet these financial goals, including a look at what level of schooling would be required to get those jobs. Rather than “preaching” at them, this discovery-based project helped students come to their own conclusions about what they really want out of life.

setting budgets

Setting Individual Budgets for their Ideal Lifestyles

Day Three helped students identify what they needed to do to live the life they envisioned. We introduced them to more jobs than they were originally aware of. We looked at how to make good decisions, how to avoid making excuses, and how to take responsibility for your own decisions and actions. We finished with some practical tips on how to quiet fears and overcome obstacles.

closing program

The closing program reminded students that, although they must make individual choices, they are not alone in facing challenges.

Finally, on Day Four the students wrote a resume, gathered information for job applications, and completed a mock-interview with Mr. Emmelhainz. After returning to the school, they made a presentation about the retreat to the 7thgraders. They also showed their portfolios to the school principal and other adults.

job interview

Mock Job Interview with Mr. E — can you hear the students’ knees knocking?!

reports

Reporting back to adults at school…

The week was not, of course, all work. There was free time to explore the rocks, play on the playground, and hang out listening to music.

rock play

Playing on the rock wall at the back of the Lybrook property

video games

Video gaming was popular

We also had a campfire one evening, complete with S’mores.

campfire

Campfire with s’mores…yum!

The following night, we had Game Night. Randy treated them to the junk food they had been craving all week. Students played poker, wii, and watched a movie. Staying in a “dorm” was a novel experience for most of the students, something we hadn’t thought about in advance, but good practice for those planning to stay in dorms for high school.

junk food

Junk Food “heaven” 🙂

poker night

Game Night included a competitive round of Poker

All-in-all this was an excellent experience for everyone involved. Hopefully the students are better prepared to make choices about their futures, not just follow the crowd into oblivion. It also helped us build closer relationships with many of the students which should make it easier to keep connection with them as they move out of this area for their high school years. We hope to be able to spend mentoring-time with many of them on a weekly basis as they transition to ninth grade.

 Go confidently in the direction of your dreams;

Live the life you have imagined!

–Thoreau

Helping “victims”?

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A few days ago a woman knocked at our door. She needed to arrange for a cemetery plot for an uncle who had died. She already knew we charge a small fee but still wondered if they could get a discount. When I said no (especially since this mission has had no contact with this woman or any of her family in the past), she just nodded and commented that our price was the cheapest option anyway.cemetary plots

Next she wanted to use the ex-church building on this property for a funeral service. “I suppose you charge a fee for that also,” she grumbled. She was shocked when I told her that the building is not currently available for use. (The pews were falling apart which wasn’t safe, so they have been knocked apart completely. We will eventually figure out what other seating options might make more sense for a multi-purpose building.)

She got a bit angry with me, demanding to know what their family was supposed to do. I suggested the chapter houses (local Navajo government buildings). I suggested one of the 15 or so other churches in this area. She didn’t like any of those ideas. She stated loudly that she was shocked we were no longer available for funerals. She questioned if we had the “right” to deny her family the possibility of using this facility.

I placated her as best I could, internally seething that a stranger would be so demanding. I don’t believe our mission is to be sitting around here, waiting for the 3-4 times per year that someone might prefer to use this facility for some reason, rather than one of the many other options in the community…

Still grumpy at this woman’s entitlement mentality when I walked back inside, I just started laughing in recognition of the truth in this quote, which was in a new email from a friend:

In politics, few talents are as richly rewarded as the ability to convince parasites that they are victims. Welfare states on both sides of the Atlantic have discovered that largesse to losers does not reduce their hostility to society, but only increases it. Far from producing gratitude, generosity is seen as an admission of guilt, and the reparations as inadequate compensations for injustices — leading to worsening behavior by the recipients. – Thomas Sowell

We continue to wrestle with the question of how we can TRULY help the Navajo living in the Lybrook area. We continue to listen to some of our Navajo friends and community leaders who are becoming more and more outraged at the entitlement mentality of constituents who expect everyone else to do things for them. In the two years we have been here, we have learned that hand-outs are often toxic. And hand-ups are usually rejected, at least for now.

Truck Eating SAND Pit

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A few weeks ago, Randy got our big pickup truck stuck AGAIN. This time, he thought it was safe to drive the back roads. After all, it hadn’t rained for weeks and the dirt roads were rock-hard. The biggest risk was having the “washboard” road damage the truck’s suspension. (We won’t talk about the back aches all that jiggling causes for the passengers…)

Then I got a dreaded phone call. “I’m stuck,” he said. “I’ll start walking and meet you by the main road.” Sigh…I found the car keys and started driving. Along the way I was pondering what might have happened. The dirt road I was on was innocent looking. The back tires only slid a few times when I hit patches of loose sand…

After I found him and drove him home, Randy and Jakob drove back to the truck, armed with shovels, the come-along, a big jack, and some lumber. They worked for what seemed like hours: jack up the truck and drive off the jack to get forward momentum—fail. Make solid tracks and try to drive along the board “road”—fail. Shovel, shovel, and shovel some more—fail. (Sand won’t stay where it is shoveled—it just slides right back where it came from.) Come-along and tow straps too short—fail.

Eventually, I texted a Navajo friend for advice. After all, he and his folks have lived here all their lives. Surely THEY would know what to do. They were way back in the canyons gathering more wood for heat. They got basic directions to where Randy was stuck and headed that direction.

By the time they found each other, it had gotten dark. They tried some of the things Randy and Jakob had already unsuccessfully tried—with no better results. Eventually, they managed to get our big black truck out of the maws of the truck-eating-sand-pit. They attached the come-along and tow straps to the friends’ blazer and revved both vehicles, with 4 strapping young men pushing behind our truck, and driving along a firewood and torn-out-sagebrush “roadway.”

Whew! Another eventual victory against the dreaded vehicle traps of the back road network!

Lithograph by Pablo O'Higgens
"La Carreta"

And as a post-script: This past weekend I visited the Camino Real State Park in southern New Mexico on my way home from taking an EMT certification test in Las Cruces. Good thing no one else was in the theater with me as I watched the park’s DVD about the trials and travails of travel along the 1600 mile corridor between Mexico City and Santa Fe in the 1600s and 1700s. At one point it talked about how many “carretas” (heavy-duty wooden carts pulled by oxen) were broken by getting stuck in either clay mud holes or deep sand pits as they travelled. I laughed out loud. Apparently back roads in New Mexico have been breaking hearts, breaking backs, and breaking vehicles for 400 YEARS!!!

There’s Something “Wrong” With Him…

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group playWhen I chaperoned science fair winners from our local K-8th Public School to the district competition last month, we had a long waiting period. Most of our Navajo students stuck close together—piling together onto a bench to talk, or huddled together to play board games. My daughter went to the side of the room, choosing alone time to deal with her nervousness. None of the Navajo students commented on that. However, one of the young Navajo students also chose solitude. He played a board game…by himself. He looked through a book…by himself. Others tried to join him which he just ignored. They tried to include him in their conversation—ignored again.

Over the hours we were waiting, each of the other Navajo students came to me to express their concern about Noah. “There’s something WRONG with him…” “Why is he so unhappy?” (while he was laughing to himself as he played both sides of the solitary board game.) “You need to help Noah…”

As we get more and more involved at the local K-8th Public School, we see a problem looming large for our Navajo students. This particular piece of Navajo culture causes difficulties for anyone negotiating the Anglo world. As students progress to higher levels, this preference for being surrounded by a group will cause major problems in the educational arena.

Introvert—Extrovert; Navajo—Anglo … On the one hand, cultures hold different values and that’s okay. On the other hand, when people from one culture need to interact with those from another culture, especially when the positions of power and the rule-makers are from the second culture, problems often loom large. When values clash, all too often those in the minority culture feel that they are disrespected and that they are victims.

We struggle to understand the Navajo preference for doing everything in a group. They may be silent in that group, but we rarely see Navajo alone. When Granny needs to go to the clinic for a cough, the adults in the family call in sick to work, children get pulled out of school, and everyone piles into the car to accompany Granny. When someone takes a coffee break, others need to join them. The same holds true for walking to the bathroom—it can only be done with a group.

Students in our tutoring groups do an excellent job of finishing assignments when they work in a group (with one student doing most of the work, then giving the answers to the others). When asked to work individually, most of them fail miserably. We have tried challenging the copy-ers to step up to responsibilities and do their own work. We have tried challenging the answer-givers to keep their papers protected from prying eyes. Nothing seems to change the dynamic.

When we ask more questions, the students are baffled by our concern. They are adamant that it is the social responsibility of the stronger ones to help the weak ones. They generally dislike competition—working together is a highly held value. They get worried and stressed when they are expected to do things or go places alone.

Our concern is that when they finish middle school here in Navajoland where group-behavior is accepted, they will head to high school in the Anglo dominated world. Although group work is sometimes assigned in the Anglo world, most homework and tests are expected to be completed individually. Plagiarism is often punished with suspension. How can we effectively communicate this to children who are surrounded with the highly-held value of “group-think” and group behavior?

solitary noahWe are wrestling with how to respond to this clash of cultures. We are struggling to know how to best help the students we are working with.

I keep hearing an echo in my head…”There’s something wrong with him…you have to help him.”

And who defines how we should “help”??

Why Children Matter Most

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As we set a vision for where we should focus our efforts for ministry among Navajo in the Lybrook area, we come back over and over again to the importance of reaching out to young people. Far too often, even those in their twenties are already set in their ways, already living out the results of values and decisions set in place during middle school or earlier. It is increasingly clear that for God to transform this community, He must first transform the lives of the children here. We are privileged to walk this out in practical ways.

let the little children...As we get more involved in the local school, we see children in the youngest grades who get excited, who have bright smiles and sparkling eyes, who live life loudly and with openness. By the middle school years, far too many of the students have become guarded. They have seen too much tragedy and lived with too much abuse and dysfunction. Unless something or someONE intervenes, many of them will slide downwards into despair and hopelessness.

let the middle children...I recently discovered an excellent book by Dr. Wess Stafford, President & CEO of Compassion International: Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most. In this book, Dr. Stafford shares the heartbreaking story of abuse he received as a child, intertwining victories and tragedies of his life story with the stories of children around the world.recommended book

Dr. Stafford challenges every Christian to consider what the Bible has to say about children and to look around them to see how Satan is too often winning the war for the hearts of children. Throughout this book, Dr. Stafford lays out a clear and compelling argument for the responsibility of those who love God to speak up for the needs of children, locally and around the world.

In the first few chapters, Dr. Stafford includes the following statements:

“Jesus uttered a powerful and terrifying warning to protect little ones from the kind of stumbling and abuse that humanity can impose upon them if they are not treasured, nurtured, and respected enough. His disciples never got a more enraged tongue-lashing than when they tried to keep children away from the Master.”

“Who are these individuals who stretch across Asia and Africa, knowing nothing of Christ’s atoning work and needing to hear the message of salvation? If, in your mental image of that vast sea of humanity every other person is not a child, you don’t know what the harvest looks like!”

“Fully half of the world, and especially the developing world, are children and teenagers.”

“What portion of your church budget is dedicated to children’s ministry? If it is more than 15 percent, yours is an exceptional church. What portion of your denomination’s mission budget is spent on worldwide children’s ministry? Again, if it is more than 10 percent, that is very rare.”

“What makes all this so urgent is that missiological research indicates that almost two-thirds of the people who give their lives to Christ do so before the age of eighteen. In other words, line up any twenty Christians, and thirteen of them will have accepted Christ as their Savior while a child or youth. In fact, researchers tell us that if people have not accepted Christ by age twenty-one, the probability that they ever will is only 23 percent. Yet we spend a pittance on the more open and strategic part of the harvest.”

Reading this book was a confirmation to me that working with and for the children in this hurting community is a way of sharing God’s heart. I urge you to get a copy of this book to learn more about this imperative need in today’s broken world.

We appreciate the faithful support, encouragement, and prayers of those who partner with us from afar to touch the lives of children here in Navajoland.

Announcing Lybrook Science Fair Winners…(finally!)

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We finally have the results for the school-district-wide Science Fair. If you remember, in an earlier post I talked about some of our Lybrook students who did well with their projects and advanced to the district level.

judging science fair

Interactive Judging of Projects

I was quite proud of all of the students who competed on this level. They often find it difficult to talk with strangers, ducking their heads, speaking hardly above a whisper. I challenged them to at least look at their display boards, even if they couldn’t manage to look directly at the judges.

Most of them were quite nervous, but when it was their time to be interviewed, each of them moved out of their comfort zones and stepped up to the challenge. They talked clearly about what they had done in their projects. They answered questions quickly, without long silences. Some were even animated, looking at the judges, pointing to their displays, gesturing with their hands as they explained their ideas.

Unfortunately, only 7th and 8th grade students can progress to the Regional Science Fair. None of our students at that level won at the district competition. However, we have three beautiful big rosette ribbons in the display case at Lybrook School.

Maurice won 3rd place in the Middle School competition (6thgrade) for his project on AIR.

maurice

maurice

Anna won 3rd place in the Elementary School division (4thgrade) for her project on G-FORCE and centripetal force on merry-go-rounds.

anna

anna

Noah won 1st place in the Elementary School competition (4thgrade) for his project on identifying different  types of FINGERPRINTS.

noah

noah

A big CONGRATULATIONS to all of the Lybrook Students who participated in the Science Fair competitions this year!

(And here is a little more information about Noah’s project for readers who would like more details…

On the day before Lybrook School’s science fair, one student was excited about the previous day’s fieldtrip to Sandia Labs in Albuquerque.  At this by-invitation-only event, students had solved a mystery using a variety of forensic techniques. Noah was fascinated by the fingerprinting process. He had previously shown little interest in completing a science project. But now he wondered if he could do something with fingerprinting.

His teacher asked if I had time to help him. I was happy to do so. We talked about what he had learned, made some plans, and ran around the school collecting fingerprints from a variety of teachers, staff, and students. “I promise I won’t use this for anything bad…really…”

Noah then analyzed the fingerprints, decoding which type of print each one was: loop, double loop, tented arch, whirl, and more. He spent a long time making a bar graph of the results and carefully coloring the bars to make it more visible. He gathered his thoughts and made a report, summarizing what he had learned. He put together a nice-looking display. He interviewed well, not too shy to tell the judges what he had learned.

Noah was quite excited to be chosen as one of the students representing the fourth grade class of Lybrook School for the district-wide event. Again, he talked excitedly with the judges about what he had learned. At the end of the day, he was pleased to find that a number of spectators had noticed his invitation and had added their own fingerprints to his collection sheet. More prints to analyze…heaven!

It took a few weeks for the results…but you should have seen Noah’s grin from ear to ear when he was given his big, blue, rosette ribbon for 1st place at the Elementary Science Fair District Competition! Way to go, Noah!)

A “Typical Week” of Life In Navajoland

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We have heard that a number of people can’t “see” what we do with our time as we live and work out here in Navajoland. It is difficult to explain exactly since we have few things that are scheduled tightly. We have discovered that one of the most important attributes needed here is *FLEXIBILITY* as community and Navajo family crises erupt and take extra time. The following calendar is an estimate of a “typical” week. The hours listed are how much time each of us spends on ministry and LCM organizational tasks. These numbers are sometimes averages, especially in the case of items such as property repairs which tend to be very time intensive when something breaks then use little or no time for weeks following.

 

SUNDAY: (2 hours each)

Church (9-2 including travel time): includes individual deeper conversations and providing our share of food for potluck dinners 1-2 /month

Drop-in Visitors: 2-3 hours of conversation and possibly a shared meal with community individuals or couples; occurs 1-2 x/month

 

MONDAY: (Randy 7 hours; Jill 12 hours)

Randy: Teach Algebra 8:30-10am

4-5 hours of Technology Consulting work at school

1 hour relationship investment time (school)

Jill: Substitute Teaching (often one day/week, includes grades 1-8)

Tutoring students 2:30-6:00

2 hours Communications (blog posts, facebook updates, emails, newsletters)

 

TUESDAY: (9 hours each)

Randy: Teach Algebra 8:30-10am

4-5 hours of Technology Consulting work at school

1 hour relationship investment time (school)

1 hour mentoring young people

Jill: 1 hour relationship investment time (supporters)

2 Hours EITHER Emergency Medical time (meetings, training, phone calls, etc) OR mentoring young people and investing in community relationships

Trip to Town (6 hours including 2 ½ hours travel time): buy groceries, banking, errands, library, faster internet, etc.

 

WEDNESDAY: (Randy 9 hours; Jill 5 hours)

Randy: Teach Algebra 8:30-10am

Trip to Town (includes 2 ½ hours travel time): 3  hours LCM paperwork, 1 hour LCM errands, returning phone calls and emails, hospital visitation 1-2 times/month  (Jakob attends a large youth group in town from 6:30-8:00pm each week.)

Jill: 1 hour relationship investment time (supporters)

1 hour mentoring young people

Tutoring 2:30-5:30

 

THURSDAY: (Randy 9 hours; Jill 3 hours)

Randy: Teach Algebra 8:30-10am

Technology Consulting work at school 10am-5pm

Jill: 2 hours relationship investment time (community and school)

1 hour mentoring young people

**Jakob tutors chess from 2-3:30pm**

 

 

FRIDAY: (9 hours each)

4 hours developing, preparing for, and trying new programs in the community

Randy: 3 hours property maintenance and repair

2 hours relationship investment time (community)

Jill: 2 hours Communications (see Monday for details)

3 hours relationship investment time (supporters and community)

 

SATURDAY: (Randy 8 hours; Jill 6 hours)

3-4 hours of Strategizing and Discussion time related to Ministry issues

3-4 hours preparing for special activities (such as preaching, funerals, teaching Sunday School, preparing for Board Meetings, preparing for work teams, writing academic papers for publication, etc.)

Randy: 2 hours relationship investment time (supporters)

 

SUMMARY:

During this “typical week,” Randy spends 53 hours and Jill spends 46 hours on ministry and LCM organization activities. This is, of course, in addition to personal, family, and household responsibilities. For these hours, 39 of them are paid by the local school (covering our family expenses) and 60 hours are paid by LCM/supporters providing room, board and health insurance for our family.

We have found that living here as a family gives us significant opportunities to build relationships with local families. Anna’s attendance at the local school and also her participation in Sunday School at the Navajo church we attend, has led to a number of incidents and discussions about racism, integration, “building bridges” in relationships, etc. This has sometimes been a painful process, but has resulted in stronger relationships both for Anna and her peers and among the concerned adults. Jakob is involved in tutoring at the local school. He has the opportunity to build relationships and give some sense of stability to a number of struggling students.

In addition to the activities represented in this “typical week,” we have made 8 extended trips this past year (individually or as a family). During the time one of us is away, the other fills in as needed for ministry responsibilities. It is important for supporters to understand that (1) this ministry and concurrent need to develop a strong outside support base requires travel; and, (2) as Ohioans living in New Mexico personal issues require long-distance travel.

 

MINISTRY “by the numbers”:

Some have wondered how much impact we are having on the local community. Building relationships, mentoring young people and sharing God’s transforming love within the context of such relationships can be very difficult to measure.

Rather than looking at ministry here in terms of hours spent on various tasks (as seen in the above schedule), here is a brief breakdown of the number of people with whom we had significant interactions during this past week alone:

32 students

12 school staff members

12 church leaders and members

  9 local community members

We hope this gives you a better “picture” of how we spend our time and who we are impacting as we live and work here in Navajoland with Lybrook Community Ministries!

Touching Lives…

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For an extrovert like me (recharging via people contact) we have the best job in the world. In the 20 months since we arrived here in Navajoland, we have worked hard to build relationships with families and individuals in the Lybrook area. Part of relationship is walking through difficult times with others, such as the aftermath of tragic fatal accidents on January 1st. I wrote a little about that experience in the last post. This time I want to share some of the enjoyable relationship moments of this past week…

oldest brother

Jeremy wants to get more Bible training

On Sunday, I spent a few hours with a family from church, working with their three young adult sons. We talked, and pondered, and sorted through pros and cons of which Christian college they might attend and how to make that decision. We looked at websites and sorted through the process of applying. By the end of our time together, they have a clear list of further information they need to gather and next steps they need to take.

When we were in town on Wednesday evening, I made time to stop by the hospital to pray for Casper (critically injured in the above-mentioned accident). While there, I got to talk with his brother, both to encourage him and to challenge him to help his kids talk about these traumatic events. It felt like praying for Casper was a responsibility; talking with his brother was a privilege.

Miss Nellie

Our fiercely independent elderly friend...

I also stopped by a nursing home in town to visit an elderly friend who is recovering from a fall and resulting broken bones. She was SO excited to see Anna and I. We were just with her for a very short time as she was headed to dinner, but it was good to see her sparkling eyes and be reminded of her fierce determination to move back again to independent living in her beloved hogan. As we were leaving, we were able to spend time with her son, another friend of ours, and listen while he talked about chaos in the family and how de-stabilizing his mom’s injury and diagnosis of cancer has been. Another privilege—letting our friend “vent” about struggles and encouraging him to keep looking to God for wisdom, strength, and comfort.

messy artist

messy hands...great art!

This week also found me busy at the local school—subbing, tutoring, and volunteering. It is quite good for one’s ego to walk into the cafeteria and have cute little 1st graders squeal your name and run to give big hugs! We enjoyed time together at the end of the week when I had the privilege of doing an art history lesson and project with them. You should SEE the wonderful drawings they made of mesas at different times of day, in the style of Claude Monet’s paintings of haystacks.

With some students that I have been tutoring since fall, there were opportunities to challenge them. With other students, time together this past week furthered relationship building. I am NOT in the school to “proselytize”…but within relationships I am able to be very open about my own beliefs and about how God affects my daily life. For some students who are already Christians, I can be an encouragement. For others who live with instability and dysfunction, I hope I can eventually connect them to One who can bring stability and love into their troubled lives.

Finally, as I spend more time at the school, I have more opportunity to build relationships with teachers, administrators, and staff. We may not have “solved the world’s problems” yet, but we have had some interesting, encouraging and challenging discussions about the realities of life out here in Navajoland. What a privilege it is to be part of such lunch-table and hallway discussions!

It is hard, so very hard, to walk through dark times such as the recent tragedies here. But then the sun comes back out, metaphorically speaking, and we enjoy wonderful times of sharing happy times with our friends.

Right now? Life is good in Navajoland!

Circle of…Death?

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There is something so hopeful about the Circle of Life. Babies are born, couples marry and start new families, eventually elders die, and the circle continues over and over and over. Keeping this picture in mind, death is just one part of community, one part of family, one part of life.

Within the idea of the Circle of Life, even unexpected, out-of-sequence deaths can be grieved and worked through. When our son died, it felt like the world had just ended. And yet, our other children still needed our guidance, our support, and our love. Life was continuing and we talked about these patterns with each other and with others within the community who were also affected by the death of our son.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to see this positive circle out here in Navajoland. There seems to be death after death after death, tragedy followed by tragedy, an endless cycle of trauma. It is hard to find hope when it seems like the circle leads over and over again to death, not to renewal and life. (As many of you know, we are currently walking through the aftermath of fatal accidents from January 1st – you can read more about it HERE)

For far too many hurting and angry people in this community, the “solution” to such trauma is to numb the pain with alcohol. This in turn contributes significantly to more dysfunction and death. And the circle spirals downward…

How can this be changed? How can the Circles turn back upward, toward hope and toward life?

First, we need to recognize that more education or yet one more program will make no noticeable difference. There have been hundreds of people out here in Navajoland for generations past, working hard to change the patterns. But the Circle of Death just seems to be spiraling downward faster and faster.

A few tendencies within Navajo culture make it difficult to change the current patterns: family members avoid confrontation whenever possible; hesitating to confront alcoholism for fear it might cause a break in relationship with their loved one. Their fear and avoidance too often enables the alcoholism to continue, leading eventually to shocking deaths (an ultimate break in relationship…). For the friends we know who have stopped drinking and personally won the battle against alcoholism, the trigger for change was most often family members who challenged them to stop and did everything possible to keep the drinking from re-occurring.

In addition, Navajo are taught from a very young age to “be strong,” “don’t show emotion,” and “be a survivor.” Sometimes these ideas can give strength to a person walking through difficulty. But far more often, this lack of allowing emotion causes people to “shut down” during traumatic times. A lack of sorting through emotions and a lack of grieving can cause heart-wounds to fester. When the pain becomes unbearable, with no other coping skills to deal with it, alcohol seems to be an acceptable way to numb that pain. And, again, the Circle of Death spirals, faster and faster as trauma is layered onto trauma, over and over again.

Walking through our own time of grieving, after the death of our son, we realized we would not survive if we remained passive. We had to choose to reach for hope. We had to choose to allow strong emotions to wash over us. We had to choose to move forward into the Circle of Life. That sounds so simple and easy, and yet it is quite difficult. For many dealing with traumatic loss, including my husband, it takes the concern and prayers of many friends to bring one back toward living again. It takes a powerful God to break through the darkness and show light. It takes a radical transformation of heart and mind; a glimpse of hope given by a God of joyfulness and love.

Some days the darkness here seems overwhelming. Some days we just want to run—back to a suburban or rural haven where there is no obvious Circle of Death. But we choose to stay…to walk through these tragedies with our friends: to listen when they need to talk, to allow them a safe place to express anger and sorrow, to cry with them and to pray with them, to help them reconnect with the Circle of Life and with a God who can give them true strength.

Some days we recognize our overwhelming need for support. We are grateful for friends who encourage us, who donate funds, who pray for us. With the help of team-members scattered across the world, we can stay. We can walk with our Navajo friends through joyful times and through tragedy. We can enter in to their Circle of Life!

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