Training Them Up

The school year is coming to a close. Students have finals, papers, tests, projects, and presentations. They have yearbooks ready to be signed and teacher gifts ready to be given. Many of them have plans for summer trips/camps/activities/visits/fun. Unlike most years, this year has given me great pause. It’s reminded me how lucky I am to be doing what I do. How amazing the young people are that surround me. And, if you know anything about me, I get teary.

As this class of juniors is on the brink of becoming <<gulp>> seniors I have thought about what that means to me and my ministry. Each year at Southport CC (now Tapestry Church) I get to know the children and youth a little better. They grow and develop, and or shared time together increases. I learn about their quirks, their goals, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, and I get to see their faith develop, evolve and transform. That last piece is definitely my favorite (faith nerd alert).

Next year will be the first year I will see a group of my kiddos graduate who I first had in Elementary school. Those Seniors were in 5th grade when I started. And though the group has changed slightly in terms of member composition over the years, they are a core, tightly knit group. And I am unbelievably proud of them, each for their own accomplishments and how they hold each other up.

All of this makes me think further. How will it feel when the next group, and the next group and so on? What about when the kids who were in 1st grade when I started graduated? What about the kids who were in preschool? It’s just incomprehensible to me. And I know the more years I have shared with these young people, the harder it will be to send them off to college or work or whatever the next stage of their journey is. It’s very humbling. And it makes me want to take hold of all of them and never let go.

I guess the true “test” is seeing the ones who have come back after college. That is heartwarming in so many ways. I am feeling very fulfilled, and gracious for the experience God has provided through my call.

I Walk for Her

I have been on a physical journey. Since December I have been making an effort to work out as much as possible. Some days are better than others. After our Spring Break trip up until a few weeks ago I was pretty lazy. I’d fallen back into bad habits. I’m not beating myself up about it, but I know I feel better when I’m working out.


I have a friend, Anne, who is on a journey. In several weeks she will travel to Spain with a group of people and will walk portions of the Camino de Santiago. It’s a once in a lifetime type of trip, and so I am so very excited for her. By chance, one of the movies my youth watched at their January Retreat this year told the story of a father walking the Camino. The movie was an easy recommendation in preparation of her own time on the trail.

Anne and I had dinner this week, caught up, laughed, shared good news, planned for a retreat and were present for one another. Part of this included an update of her prep for her trek. I have a huge goal of one day hiking the AT. I know it is lofty, but even hiking part of the AT would be an accomplishment for me. So, as I was driving home from dinner I felt myself beginning to live vicariously through Anne. So why not journey with her? I’m a strong believer in the power of prayer. When I was in high school we used to have prayer partners for our mission trip and other retreats. I do similar things for my youth now.

When Anne is traveling the trail, I am going to travel with and pray for her. I have a copy of her itinerary, and an approximation of how many miles she will be walking each day. And I am going to try my hardest to walk just as many miles. This may not always happen, but I think I may just have an end goal of walking the same total miles she walks for the entire time she is gone. For example, I can walk on the days she is in flight. She has been present for me. And so I will be present for her. Each day of her trip I will walk with her. Each day of her trip I will pray for her. Each day I will say a special blessing, “May your feet be sure and your heart be strong. Bless this road and all the roads ahead. Amen.”

“I only say inappropriate things around you…”

Mother’s Day always brings the list of “those who raised you” or “those who helped you grow” and “aunts, sisters, mentors” types of shout outs in order to include all women into the celebration. It’s wonderful, but it still hurts as I feel I shouldn’t be honoring anyone other than my mother. But this year is different. I am making a shout out to someone very special, and I know in no way does it diminish my relationship with my own mom.


When I was in college I had the opportunity to join a sorority. I’m not sure what initially drew me in other than I knew several of the women from the chapter. In true Shannon form, I blossomed in the chapter, getting involved and making people laugh and being my generally outgoing self. But one relationship took hold very quickly.

When the sorority houses were reestablished in Delaware, OH, there were laws against a certain number of women living under the same roof together (oh, anti-brothel laws). So the houses were meeting houses and didn’t accommodate sleeping areas. Most of the houses didn’t have traditional House Mothers as there wasn’t much to look out for as the homes were not used 24/7. But our chapter still had a House Mom. Enter Sonya.

I’m not sure what it was that first made us click. Maybe it was our silliness, the fact that I’d always stop by to chat when I was in the house, or perhaps it was my care. I don’t know. But we quickly became good friends and she has since been a constant in my life. She hasn’t always had it easy, though. But somehow she still has a strong faith. She is one of the most thoughtful, spirited, and “beat to your own drum” people I have ever met. She gives what she has to others, often times even before she gives to herself.

Everyone in the house calls her “Mom”. This is true to the point that most people don’t even know her first name. She is small in stature but rich in love. She is an excellent baker, and wonderful friend, she makes me crack up like no one else can (especially when talking about things that some would consider taboo). Somehow I have a knack for making unlikely people come out of their shell. I don’t know how or why, but it has happened several times in my life.

My college experience would not be the same without this woman in my life. She’s seen me laugh so hard I can’t breathe, she’s seen me cry and cry and cry, she’s given me numerous hugs and unlimited advice, she has inspired me to always keep family at the forefront even when it is difficult. She is a blessing.

When my own mama got sick, she sent cards and talked to me on the phone. When my mama passed, I couldn’t call her. I texted and asked one of my other sorority sisters to let Sonya know my mom had passed. I literally couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone and say “Hi, Mom,” because my mom wasn’t hear physically anymore. It took several months before I could do it. And the first time I called all I said was “hi”. But she was there with a reassuring word and lots of love. I am thankful for her friendship and her co tinier presence in my life. I love you, Sonya. Happy Mother’s Day.

Lessons from Ruth

There are certain books of the Bible that just resonate with me. Not because I’ve heard the stories one too many times, but because there is a deeper learning that has happened or a unique connection to my life. The book of Ruth is one of those for me. As I was driving home late tonight from an event with my youth, I was thinking about tomorrow and what I might write. I started getting teary as I really thought about my mom, missing her, wanting to share things with her, and wishing I could give her the annual flowers that were my Mother’s Day gift tradition. I thought about the list I wrote for her when she was at GWV of all of the ways that I would remember her.

I think she is the Ruth to my Naomi. One of my favorite verses is Ruth 1:16–“But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” NLT. Over and over my mom and I talked about her presence in my life, and her continuing spirit being with me, with each of us. To me, this verse embodies that sentiment. It helps me remember and connect. It helps ground me in the here and now. It helps me to move forward.

It’s short and sweet tonight. I love you mama, always and forever. Happy Mother’s Day to the best a girl could ask for. I miss you much but am thankful to see you each and everyday in glimpses, brief or extended.

Active Listening

This may be one of the hardest blog posts I’ve written. Not because the subject is difficult, but because speaking this into being is scary and intimidating and makes it real. But growth means doing things that fall outside of our comfort zone. Here it is:


I have been doing a lot of soul searching the last few months. Our church is in a place of transition which puts my mindset in a place of self-growth as it’s juxtaposed with the growth of our church. That being said one of the questions I often get from friends, family and congregation members is whether or not seminary is in my future. And to be quite honest, that has been an up and down answer for me over the years.

When I was in undergrad I started the process of ordination through the United Methodist church and it became an experience that left a bad taste in my mouth. In scheduling a meeting with my DS, I was quickly passed off to his assistant. Strike one. Then in my meeting I felt belittled and talked down to for no reason. Strike two. I made it clear that I wasn’t prepared to move forward. Several years later I received notification that another meeting was scheduled unbeknownst to me, even though I had already decided to not move forward. Strike three.

It was at that point that I felt like maybe ordination wasn’t meant to be. And I couldn’t convince myself that seminary was worth it if ordination was no longer on the table. And so mentally and emotionally I moved on. I pushed it aside and brushed off inquiries about seminary.

Flash forward to a year or two ago as the congregation I work for entered its own transition. And as teams and groups were working through the vision and ministry and details of the congregation’s future, my own future smacked me in my face. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I wanted, “where I saw myself in 5 years,” and how I could best serve young people and their spiritual growth.

And so thoughts of my dream of running my own girls camp surfaced. It’s still there but not as the “5years” goal. And then I thought about the things that make me come alive: youth and young adults, faith formation, vocational discernment, service trips, college campuses, community building. And when I prayed and delved deeper I realized that these could all be tied together. My heart is calling me to campus ministry–at some point. Please don’t think this is an immediate jump.

It’s hard to say, it’s hard to admit. I am happy where I am right now, but I do need to work toward future goals and that first step is figuring out seminary and ordination. That’s a big enough truth and step for me right now. And so I keep searching to figure out where I fit and where I want to study. I’ve mostly been looking at online or distance learning programs. There are more and more of these that still hold good accreditation standards. I don’t want to sacrifice quality for convenience. We will see where this goes, but I am excited for the opportunities that are no doubt in front of me down the line. Here’s to self-growth. Here’s to staying true to our deepest passion and heart’s content. Here’s to listening to God. Here’s to answering the call.

It’s Gonna Be May..

I’m all about the song titles I guess. I really meant to post this last night, but I couldn’t finish it. It felt overwhelming and too much. And so, well, I put it off.


I’ve been bombarded by the title phrase above, and the associated GIFs and Memes. It is indeed about to be May: with that comes a lot of emotions.

May is filled with flowers and cards and commercials and pictures and gifts: Mother’s Day. This is year two. The first Mother’s Day was way too quick. But the mention of the holiday still takes my breath away. It stifles my conversations and makes my eyes fill with tears. I don’t like talking about it because I don’t like having to say “my mother is gone, has passed, is no longer with us”. None of those phrases really capture what is. Because she is still her, just not the same way. Her physical presence may have passed but her spirit is still alive and well. She is always and will always be with us.

I sense that Mother’s Day may always put a lump in my throat. It will always beriberi with emotion, at least until I have kids of my own (which is not in the near future). And then it will just be full of a different emotion. I’ll think about giving her flowers every year because it was tradition, it was our special thing. And I don’t think I ever have her anything else. I’ll think about cooking for her or taking her to lunch after church. It’s the little things. The things that make me pause, and smile. The things that sometimes make a tear run down my face. Wonderful memories through the emotions. These memories are still deeply imprinted on my heart. And I’m thankful for each and everyone.

Je t’aime, maman. Tu es mon joli papillon, toujours.

Carousel of Progress

I habitually listen to NPR when I am driving in the car (or when I am riding with my dad in his car). It stems, I’m sure, from all of the years he would listen to NPR on the radio when my sisters and I were growing up. Because the car always had one of three things playing: NPR, CSNY’s So Far album cassette, or Steppenwolf. I love many of the shows on NPR, and because I don’t watch news on TV, it’s where I get most of my news.

They are undergoing one of their semi-annual pledge drives this week. There have been stories and quotes of why people choose to listen and why they choose to be members. Many of those have included comments about NPR as an unbiased news source (meaning they don’t lean politically liberal or conservative). This has made me think a lot about whether I believe that to be true.

Before really having reason to consider it, I would claim NPR to be a liberal news source. Sure, I think they have a good record of having representations from both sides of the aisle, so to speak. But my perception has always been to categorize it as liberal media. But maybe that isn’t actually the case. Perhaps a better way of thinking about it is denoted them as progressive instead of liberal. In some ways that was a mind-blowing revelation for me. Arguably progressive and liberal are two very different things. You can be moderate and progressive. You can be conservative and progressive. So, liberal and progressive really aren’t interchangeable adjectives as some people may claim them to be.


Then I started thinking about and applying this to my own beliefs and who I am. For a long time I’ve categorized myself as liberal, and at some points (especially during college) have claimed that to an extreme. But has that ever really been a fair assessment of me?

At this point in my life, whether because I’m older or because my own experiences have changed me, I’d consider myself a moderate. I don’t think the world is as black and white as I once did in terms of my beliefs and the people who hold office and represent myself and my voting “peers”. The world is more complex than merely siding along party lines. It’s more complex than believing with a narrow path of absolutes.

So I happily claim myself as a Progressive. We have to have change in order to move forward, even when it’s difficult. We have to be willing to be in conversation with one another in order to understand the other perspective and how we can best serve one another. I can be progressive and that doesn’t mean my views won’t change over time. I can be progressive and believe whatever I do about human rights, women’s rights, gun rights, educational rights, etc.

Being progressive is only a piece of the puzzle. But I wholeheartedly believe it makes me a more approachable human being, a human being who listens to learn and understand, a human being who recognizes the easy answer or the obvious answer is not always the best answer. I am human, I have faults–we all do. But we need to do better.


I started this blog post with a completely different title. Originally it was titled “Black or White,” referencing Michael Jackson’s song. But as I got to the last paragraph there was a completely different song going through my head:

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, and tomorrow is jut a day away.

Man has a dream, and that’s the start. He follows his dream with mind and heart. And when his dream’s become a reality, it’s a dream come true for you and me.

So there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, and tomorrow’s just a day away.

Disney’s Carousel of Progress, originally created for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, is the home of this song. Currently, this “ride” is housed at Magic Kingdom at WDW. One of my dad’s favorite rides, it was a staple for our family trips to the park. It’s not the flashiest ride, but there is a great deal of nostalgia about it. And I think it exemplifies that progress keeps us moving, keeps us learning, keeps us working together.

PG-18

The phone rang. I knew the number, I knew what the conversation would be about. And instead of instantly sending it to voicemail I merely silenced it this time. And then a switch flipped in my brain and I said, “what the hell, I’ll answer it”. And I did. “Hello, this is ___________ from Ohio Wesleyan, how are you this evening?” And so it began.

I have a love/hate relationship with my alma mater. Okay, really it’s love-80/hate-20 relationship. I met some of my best friends there, learned a lot about who I am, and cultivated my outlook on life. I have wonderful (memorable) stories, and memorable (not so wonderful) stories. But OWU holds more than just my college days, it holds a part of my career start. My first full time gig, even though I knew it was temporary. And those memories and lessons are priceless in their own way.

But back to this phone call. I knew it would be about money. I can identify the call source by the phone number. The first 6 digits denote an OWU number. The last four numbers show the specific office. -2024. That’s the call center. I used to work the call center as a student, on the Admissions/Recruiting side. But, as I am not currently a prospective student (nor am I supporting a prospective student) I knew it would be the annual giving side.

I have an agreement with myself that I won’t give to my alma mater. Nothing against the institution, I have made it a point that until I pay off my student loans (really, it’s paying off the cost of attending The ‘Wu) I won’t give financially to them. I’ve given back to the community in other ways: helped with Admissions events in Indy, called families of prospective students, sent supplies to my sorority for recruitment. But money won’t happen until my student loans are at zero.


That was until this college sophomore started talking to me. He was a quick speaker, so I didn’t catch his name. But I can tell you they trained him well. He connected with me on our interest in religion and passion for Youth Ministry. “This won’t work,” I thought. “He won’t rope me in”. And then he had the nerve to say, “I’m actually in a religion class right now, I wonder if you ever had this professor…” I doubt it. There can’t be many of the same professors. “It’s a class on Ethics with..” <beat> “…Dr. Twesigye.” Dammit. How did this kid know that would seal the deal?


Dr. Emmanuel Twesigye is one of the most unique (that’s putting it lightly) professors I have ever had. Short in stature, big in social and moral compass. Forced to flee Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin, he is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met, though you may just write him off as a crazed evangelist from first glance.

What I learned in his classes had little to do with reference material or scholarly works. But it had everything to do with digging deeper, questioning, debating, and looking at different points of view. Sometimes, there were cultural barriers in the way he taught. Often times he made me laugh without meaning to be funny. But he made me think in ways that were counter to my everyday thought processes. And that is something that is priceless.


Some of my favorite Twesigye memories include the following:

“Why do you think Babe thought about commuting suicide?” Definitely not something I had ever thought about when watching Babe. But now it’s something I’ll never forget.

“Oh, you are drinking Passion Tea! Does it give you passion.” I have never seen Sam Chesser and Greylyn Hydinger laugh as hard as I did in this moment.

“Oh, PG-18..” well, you see there is PG-13 and NC-17 but…well never mind.

His love for Tillich will always be the source of my connection to Tillich.

When we impersonated our Religion Professors for the Religion Department t-shirts I knew there was only one person I could be. I make a pretty good white, female Twesigye. I have the shirt to prove it.


Long story short, I told that sophomore student to send me a link so I could make a donation online. I am breaking my rule, but Twesigye is worth it.

“Take a look at yourself and then make a…change”

Sometimes we need change in our lives–for any myriad of reasons–some for good reasons, some for sad reasons, some because we are bored. I have found myself in the season of change recently. I’m trying to take better care of myself: regular hair cuts, working out several times a week, drinking more water, being more intentional about my relationships. It can be difficult, especially at this time of year because it’s my “busy” time at work.

I’m learning more and more that I need to allow myself time for me, for relaxation, for growth, and for being the best that I can be.

I recognize I’m not perfect. Sometimes I beat myself up for it though. I don’t like failure, even though it helps me grow. I, admittedly, don’t like being wrong–but I’m getting better at admitting when I am wrong. And I really don’t like disappointing other people, but I am learning to let that go and not let it consume me to the point of forfeiting myself.

The last month or so has provided clarity to some situations, and direction for dreams and goals that I have. Those things are still developing–and could be for a while, that’s a part of growth. It’s scary and exciting, but I think all change has tinges of both. We take risks. We try new things. And we rely on God, knowing he is with us through it all. And ultimately we can’t run away from what He calls us to do.

So I’ll keep searching, discerning, and working toward making me my best self. Another year older, more perspective, and lots of revelations. It feels good to make me my priority, even though a small piece of me will always feel guilty about it.

Invisible

I’ve been incommunicado for a little more than a week. I haven’t had access to email or text (for the most part) and the only way I’ve really had contact with the outside world has been through social media (mostly to check in on family).

It’s been strange, but really it has been absolute bliss. There aren’t a lot of times or places in today’s world that we can disconnect and leave our screen time, instant update, technology addictions behind. And honestly, disconnecting and disengaging from work is typically my hardest part of vacation. Because I feel that I need to be available. I don’t want to upset anyone. And leaving things (important and pressing or not) undone for 5-9 days is stressful for me.

But I’ve learned a few things this week.

  1. The work will wait. When you come back it will either be there waiting for you to accomplish or someone else will have taken care of it.
  2. Time away, disconnected, is good for you. And extremely important. Otherwise you aren’t recharging fully and won’t get the most out of your time off. Your work gives you time off in order for you to be refreshed–it’s vital to them for you to not burn out or be overly tired. Take advantage of it. It will make you a better employee.
  3. I don’t need technology/email/social media as much as I think I do. But if it’s in front of me, I will use it. So I think I am going to start some sort of monthly tech detox for myself.
  4. Photos are amazing. They drive our culture, help us tell stories, fuel our passions, and help us remember. But they aren’t the end all be all. Remember to take time to enjoy tour surroundings, and don’t live all of your experiences from a view finder.
  5. It’s always good to budget more money for trips and vacations than you think you will need. But when you have money left over put it away as a jump start for your next adventure.

These lessons have been good for me. The time away has been good for me. Taking naps everyday and being outside in the sun every day has been good for me. I may not be ready to reenter the land of snow, but I sure am ready to get back to snuggle our cats, see my kids, and get back to the gym and other routines.