I Find Her in the Words

One month to go. Less than really. And it doesn’t seem any more real than it did a year ago. There’s this strange time between 2/22 and 3/18 that will always leave me in a haze of wonderment.

I talked to one of my many “sisters” today. She brings much solace to my soul through her insight, mystical soul, and youngest camaraderie. Her words today soothed me, enlivened the song in my heart, and reminded me to keep watch.

No one will understand exactly what my grief is like. No one will understand perfectly my journey and purpose on this earth. But several know pieces. And I am thankful for how those pieces and those people are bound together. So when I feel sad or lost or without hope or direction I still have places to turn.

The words of others are just amplifying her words. They are bringing new insight, shedding new light, and constant reminders of her presence and being in the here and now. Today I am thankful for the thin places where I can hear her, where I can feel her, where I know she is reaching out fully of laughter and grace.

I am thankful for the memories other people share so I can continue getting to know her. So that when I am too tired to grasp on to the fragments of her there are still pages flooding in that keep her story in print.

I can remember the joy and wonder she had 30 years ago of being a mom again and welcoming you into this world. May this year and new decade be filled with many blessings and opportunities.

Blessings and opportunities. These are things I can create.

Day one

I’m challenging myself to two things this Lent. 1) To complete the daily photo challenge I created for my youth and 2) To write a blog every day. So here it goes.

Today is many things. It’s the day we remember our dust. It’s the day we share our love. It’s the celebration of another year.

My brother-in-law’s birthday is today. He is a crazy, nerdy, loving, and driven person. I am thankful for him. I am thankful for the way he levels my sister out. And I am thankful for how our relationship will grow over the years. Love you, Josh!


People often assume that my busy times at work are around Christmas and during the summer. And I agree. But I’m also quick to say that “every time is really my busy time”. It’s true. There is always something happening, or planning that needs to be done; an endless cycle. It can be overwhelming at times. But I always come back to the moments that I get to share with my youth. Whether one-on-one, or in groups. That shared time is the most precious.

Yesterday we had a lock-in, really today too as they are all still sleeping. Doing some extra planning for Youth Sunday in April, playing games, watching a movie, and of course: eating. That has filled our time. I am clinging to these moments because spending time with these youth makes me the happiest. They amaze me, they challenge me, they make me proud, they make me LAUGH, they revitalize my soul. The time we share together always teaches me something new about them–it leaves me in awe. Not the dumbstruck, mouth agape kind of awe. But the kind where you smile because you can see how much they’ve grown and how they continue to morph into these incredibly insightful and loving people.

I’m lucky to share part of their journey. I’m lucky to have their influence on my life. And I thank God for the gift of their presence in my life. They say that faith formation for young people gains strength through relationships, more specifically intentional relationships with five+ adults. I am humbled and honored to be among that five. Just as I feel when serving during the summer with ASP, I feel that I gain more that I give. “Sticky Faith” relationships, while monumental for the youth, are also beneficial for the adults. And I stand in awe this morning recognizing the gifts of relationship and community with these youth.

A Week Late

In the last few years I’ve never missed an opportunity to reflect on my grandpa’s birthday. He was born 20 days and 80 years before me. But this year, even though I remembered his 110th birthday, I didn’t write about it. And so, a week later, after finally feeling like I have a moment to breathe and spend some time writing, I’m am reflecting.

Many of my fondest memories of my grandpa, in his true state, are snippets: pieces strung together that I grasp onto tightly so they don’t escape my memory. I remember the way he’d wink at us, I remember his stories about his trips to Jerusalem, I remember the laundry room and playground at the last apartment he had before moving to the nursing home, I remember his faith.

Unfortunately, many of his “good” years were when I was too young to remember or before I was even born. But I never doubted the love he had for his family and his God. I love hearing stories of him in the garden, his daily regiment of apple cider vinegar, and his dedication to not only the Methodist Church, but also his local congregation.

In many ways he is someone who still has a very strong influence on my life. I find special connections to him to this day, even if they may be slightly created in my mind at points. To me, there are things that will always keep us connected. And I am thankful for his presence in my life.

As my mom grew older, one of the first things I started to notice was how much she resembled her father. To many that may not be noteworthy, but because so many people tell me how much I look like my mom, it was 100% endearing to me to see her resembling him and then by association myself resembling him as well. This holds a very special place in my hear.

Happy belated 110, Lowell. Thank you for watching over me.

Imani Haerenga

I’m not really sure how to put into words all that this last weekend was for me.  My favorite times in ministry are those times I get to spend extended intentional time with the young people of our church: lock-ins, mission trips, camp, and retreats.  This retreat is always special.  We have a theme, we start dreaming about and creating a vision for Youth Sunday.  I always walk away with extreme pride, a warm heart, and insight into how much these kiddos have grown over the last year (sometimes even just in the last few weeks).

One important thing I have seen in my own life, but I know to be true for others and for faith formation and retention in youth, is genuine connection.  To me that includes vulnerability, and openness, and realness.  So this year’s retreat theme landed on “Faith Stories”–broad in many senses, but also adaptable to be narrowed down.  We talked about what a faith story is, some examples from the Bible, different ways to express your story, mandalas, and then our sponsors shared their own stories.  The stories were raw, and emotional, and not candy-coated.  It can be uncomfortable sitting with someone else’s story, but our youth did an amazing job being respectful and receptive and present.

I’d like to share the story I wrote for my youth with you all here.  It was a struggle to read for them, but I got through it.  Please recognize that the audience this was written for was the youth on retreat, so the pronouns and language should be read as such.

Shannon’s Faith Story

I find writing my faith story to be a lot like journaling.  It ebbs and flows and most times just eeps out of me.  The first thing I’d like to make clear is that I don’t have just one faith story.  I have many.  Some are big, some are small.  No matter the size they have all had a hand in shaping me.  And that is ongoing.

I could tell you about my confirmation experience, and why I decided to go through with joining my church when I was in the 7th grade.  I could tell you about my African faith story.  How it felt to be God’s hands and feet and what culture shock was like for me.  I could tell you about my call to ministry and my process for discernment in youth ministry as my vocation.  But I think an important lesson in stories of faith is knowing they don’t always come in happy and joyous experiences.

I want to share with you my faith story from the last couple of years.  Bear with me because there are bound to be tears.  Some of you may know that my mom had Parkinson’s.  It’s a degenerative disease, meaning it doesn’t ever get better but medications and therapies can slow the progression of the disease.  Parkinson’s is a neurological disease so it affects the brain and nerves.  It was very difficult to see the spread of the disease but I found it gave me new perspective about my mom, our relationship, and our faith.

I’d have huge bouts of frustration with my mom in the early stages when she couldn’t remember things I had told her repeatedly, when I had to do everyday tasks for her, or things that seemed strange because she couldn’t do herself.  This is when my prayer life picked up.  My prayers morphed from just meal times and when I feel asleep to constant breaks in my day: anytime I was driving, after I hung up with talking to family or friends on the phone, when I was exercising, etc.  I’d pray for her, my dad, my sisters, myself, and for specific situations as they arose.

Then November 11th 2016 hit.  Shelly and I were planning to see our parents and we got an urgent call from our dad saying that he couldn’t wake our mom up.  We got in the car and drove to their house.  I was in constant prayer then. “Give us strength, give us strength, give us strength.”  My heart was racing.  We arrived, finally roused my mom, got her in the car and we all immediately went to the ER.  This time I wasn’t driving but my prayers kept flooding in “she has to be okay, God, she just has to…”

They ran all sorts of tests in the ER.  And found nothing.  We’d been down a similar road before.  But the crazy thing is once we hit the ER her temperature plummeted.  She got so cold the machines had trouble reading her pulse and signaled several times that she had coded.

From there she went to the ICU and our family made the decision after about a week that she should be moved to hospice care.  Generally, hospice is used as a way to ease patients and their families into the dying process making patients comfortable for their last days.  For me, this took even more prayer.  I prayed for my dad, who was going through a horrible time as he thought about losing his wife, life partner and best friend.  I prayed for my sisters: one far away who could be in a sense of denial and one close at home who takes emotions very directly.  I prayed for our decision making, that we were doing what my mom would have wanted and that God would continue to provide comfort and peace for her through the process.

The thing about my faith at this point is that I believed in the power of God, I believed he would surround us and provide us support but I didn’t make myself the center of my prayers.  I have a tendency to be a protector, someone who looks out for others, and gives so much that sometimes I neglect my own well-being.  This showed me my own strong faith.  It’s like breathing, I don’t have to consciously tell myself to breath in and out, I just do it.  The same way I didn’t have to worry about myself because God already had me taken care of.

The next 5 months were tough.  I wasn’t myself.  I wasn’t always present, in my own life or admittedly at work either.  And I probably neglected you all along the way.

Often times when people are grief stricken they resort to asking God “why”.  Why do they have to be sick?  Why now?  Why did they have to die?  Why her?  Because Parkinson’s patients who have the specific diagnosis my mom had generally live 5-10 years after initial diagnosis, I had been gearing myself up for days and decisions like these with which we were now faced.  My mom was diagnoses in the late fall of 2009 and this was November of 2016.

I had already spent the last seven years processing the fact that my mom’s life would come to a close much sooner than I would like, and much soon than the parents of my peers.  I already had seven years to fight with God, to question, and to work through much of my grief.  So my questions, in Shannon fashion, at this point became more geared toward advocating for my mom.  Why is she still in pain?  Why this back and forth of good days and bad days and all the in-betweens?  When will this burden be lifted?  I’m not always so proud to admit that last one.

Even though these questions were difficult, you can see that my faith changed.  I knew my mom would be provided for in heaven.  I knew she was already having vision of the other side.  And I knew that much of her continued time on earth, though stressful for myself and my dad as we visited everyday or every other day, and stressful for my sisters as they processed in their own ways—this continued time on earth was necessary for my mom.  Because even in my mom’s strength and dedicated faith, she was scared.  She was frightened of the unknown of what heaven would be like, what dying would feel like, and how my whole immediate family would deal with the hole in our hearts and our lives.

This whole experience that I walked through with my mom and her journey to eternal life strengthened my faith and showed me that our prayers are not always answered in the ways we expect.  Sometimes the desires of our hearts are not what wins out when put up against the desires of the heart of another.  I kept praying for an end to my mom’s suffering—in my mind that being a peaceful passing.  But I am confident that she was praying for clarity and comfort as she came to terms with the unknown in front of her.  Her needs and wishes were greater than, and honestly, more important than, mine.

I am thankful in knowing that even when we are sad and suffering, our faith can grow in positive ways.  We may not always expect the outcomes we get, but with the many prayers God receives, he fits the pieces together to create the needed outcomes.

**The title is a combination of Swahili and Maori words.  The first is Swahili for “faith” and the second is Maori for “journey”**

Reality Check

Disclaimer: This post points out some of my very real flaws. But in the hopes of transparency and vulnerability, I am okay with that. I also recognize that every story has more than one side and this is mine. Others feel it and would tell it differently.

In high school one of my core groups of friends was a group of four other girls and myself. It started as just four of us, and what seemed haphazardly to me, a fifth was added. I wouldn’t call us inseparable nor a clique–I was a part of many a different friend groups. But this group was one of my closest sets. We’d get together once a month or so as a large group for a movie at the mall, or dinner, or a sleepover. And when two of us left for college we started a traveling notebook à la “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”. We didn’t have those magical pants though.

College made things different. It was harder for all five of us to be connected in the same way. Letters and the notebook traveling became sparser. It was harder to get ahold of one another via phone (my first year in college I didn’t have a cell phone until about Thanksgiving). We’d meet over Winter Break for a sleepover and girl talk and general shenanigans. And I am thankful to this day that I was home from Spring Break when one of their brother’s died–I could be that presence from the group.

But people change, and not every friendship lasts. There came a point that I was the odd woman out. I’d be working at ASP over the summers while they’d all be together, having weekly dinners. I was thought of last when travel plans to visit one or the other happened–and no one ever bothered (or even considered to my knowledge) visiting me at school or on ASP. And it hurt. More than I let on, and definitely more than I cared to let anyone know. I wasn’t forgotten but I definitely wasn’t a part of the group in the same way.

And then mom got diagnosed. And my email to the group (because at some point it went from a notebook to email updates) was long and heart wrenching and full of my disbelief and need for reassurance. And there was little to nothing. The usual, “I’m sorry” or “that sucks”. But no questions, no soothing, and no phone calls or tries at one-on-one communication. And that stung. This group that I considered to be some of my best friends acted like I had just said “I tripped today”. So I found my comfort in other places: in my sisters, in my best friend from home (who wasn’t a part of this group) and from friends at college who watched me cry and gave me hugs and reassured me that I’d get through whatever was ahead.

Fast forward to graduating, moving back home, and being a big kid. When I got home the other girl my age was home after graduating as well. We’d hang out, but most times that meant me driving to her parents’ house, or really just me driving because she didn’t have her license (at the age of 22). I can remember a year we went to The Vogue on Halloween and I had to spot her money because she didn’t realize there would be a cover for a holiday like that. Very baffling (and slightly annoying) to me at the time.

The years moved on and eventually I was the only one in Indy. They’d randomly visit one another, but at holidays we stopped seeing each other as much. One of them got engaged and the bachelorette party was to be in New York a month after my trip to Australia and New Zealand. I was excited! Maybe this would be like old times. Maybe this would bring us all together (minus the one serving with the Peace Corps). Maybe this would be the ticket to actually feeling like my friends cared about me again.

We started working out details and when I said my timeframe for a weekend meant Wednesday night thru Saturday night they all went a little crazy. One of them wasn’t working, and had 100% flexible time, one wasn’t coming as she was serving in Africa, and the other didn’t understand why everyone else had to sacrifice for me. So I budged and convinced my boss I could be off the Sunday in question.

But it hit me a few days later–why was I sacrificing my time and money for these girls who obviously didn’t care what worked for me? Why was I continually sacrificing my well-being and self for their wants and needs? Did they even really know me anymore? And so I shut down. And, in some ways, it was cowardly. I don’t really care for confrontation or making other people upset–one of my biggest Achilles’ heels of sorts.

I told them that I wasn’t coming. And that created more chaos. The emails came pouring in: you aren’t coming? Why not? Too expensive? Did your boss change his mind? Why are you being like this? Don’t you care about supporting your friend? It was the last drop of water in the overflowing bucket I was carrying–it was too much. And so after radio silence on my end I wrote them one of the toughest emails I have ever written and basically broke up with them. Was it the most appropriate means of communication? No. Did more than one of them respond? No. Did I cut ties completely and feel much freer and truer to myself? Yes. And that made all the difference. That’s how I know, even today when I have mini minutes of reflection or doubt, that it was still the right choice.

So why am I sharing this and putting it out in the universe? Fast forward to 2017. When mom passed away, I had some sadness and animosity surrounding the fact that none of that group would have any idea that it had happened. And in a weird way it made me sad and angry. Totally illogical and probably misplaced.

Yesterday one of my Facebook memories included a girl from this group. I very deliberately untagged myself from the post (don’t need that in my memories every.year). But it got me thinking about her so I clicked on her profile to see what was new in her life. I knew she’d recently been married but right at the top, the first public post was from August and had funeral arrangements for her own mother. My jaw dropped, and I was emotionally paralyzed. Shock set in and grief over the loss and anger at myself hit.

They didn’t know about my mom, and I didn’t know about hers. So I was just as much “in the wrong” here. But that didn’t mean I had to continue being the person I had been. I’ve changed and grown and (hopefully) matured since I sent that break up email to all of them. My actions don’t initiate out of the same place they used to; I try to constantly and consciously operate out of a place of love these days. Sometimes I fall short of that, but it’s ever my goal. And that’s definitely not how I was back then. So I sucked up my pride and I stopped beating myself up and I wrote her an email–not because I hope to be friends again, not because I want an apology or explanation, not because I want to hold anything over her head. I wrote her an email because I am human and I know all too well and all too recently what it feels like to lose your mother before you turn 30. And if nothing else, maybe saying “others have walked before you” will give some comfort. Maybe shedding just a small beam of light on her and her experience and the sisterhood of those grieving right now can bring relief. Because I don’t have to know the whole story to know that it hurts and that it seems unfair and that things will never be the same again for her. But my heart and soul that are trying so desperately to always start with love felt that doing anything other than reaching out would have been “wrong”.

I don’t expect her to respond. I don’t need her to. But I am reminded that we all are walking around this great world carrying things no one could even imagine. And so love, to me, is the way to face the day and greet the world around me.

A Letter to My Best Friend…

Do you know those posts on sites like thoughtcatalog and buzzfeed?  The ones that are open letters to or have a list of things only your best friend would understand? I’m a millennial.  I read those all.the.time.  And then I proceed to text/message them to my closest friends. #sorrynotsorry

I’m overly sentimental.  I love to do for others more than I like to do for myself–I’ve always been that way.  I haven’t seen my best friend since March and that visit was pretty short.  I thought I was going to have the opportunity to see her next month, but I have a commitment that will keep me from that.  And so, I’ve been writing a letter of my own to her all day in my mind.

To My Best Friend:

You get my weird like no one else.  Scratch that.  You share my weird like no one else.  I don’t have to worry about censoring myself around you, and in a world that is based so much on judgement and what others think, I am thankful to not have to worry about that.  Plus weird shenanigans lead to wonderful adventures.

I value you more than you know.  Little did I know when we met that I would need your love and support so much in the future.  Our friendship blossomed quickly, something that I think happens only under the most specific of circumstances.  But the speed of things did not forfeit the quality involved.  Somehow we spoke the same language about life, family, faith, and honesty without needing much explanation or translation.

Even though we don’t talk or text every day you are there when it matters.  You answer late night calls, stay on the phone just to hear me cry or laugh uncontrollably, and ask the tough questions.  You remind me who I am when I forget, why I do what I do, and about what is important in life.  Not everyone can keep me so grounded.

We don’t always agree.  We’ve had our fair share of disagreements, but any animosity soon fades.  Because we recognize that we can disagree and still love one another.  It always comes back to love.

I would not be me without you.  Some of my best memories, the sad and the happy, include you.  Your friendship has taught me that it matters not how many friends or relationships we have in this life.  It matters more the depth of the connection.

Thankful Doesn’t Cover It

Thanksgiving has always been a big thing in our family. Growing up, we used to travel to our grandparents’ house on Thursday morning at stay at least until Friday afternoon. Our time would be filled with making the big meal Thursday complete with family favorites like a relish tray, celery and cheese, deviled eggs and grandma’s famous (to us) noodles. We’d eat and talk and laugh. The three of us girls would rotate through out turn of helping with the dishes (no new-fangled dishwasher for grandma!). We’d play cards, watch movies, nap, and eventually after what seemed like forever it would be time for dessert. I loved those days, surrounded by family, in grandma’s overly warm home, full of joy.

The early years included overnights. We’d sleep on the pull out couches or in the mobile home. There’d be popcorn and diet rite or RC cola. The adults would play cards into the wee hours and things just seemed perfect. The next morning I’d wake up to sounds of grandma in the kitchen. I’d peek through the keyhole in the door to the kitchen knowing she didn’t yet want company as she whisked up something for breakfast. Often times there’d be biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon or sometimes even sweet rolls. I’m sure everyone feels similarly but no one could cook like grandma.

Eventually this tradition changed. Grandma got older and hosting Thanksgiving wasn’t as easy for her any more so we began having it at our house. Usually our grandparents would spend the night but after a few years being away from home overnight, and having to walk up and down the steps became too much for them. There have been a few years that our grandparents didn’t come for Thanksgiving. It was heartbreaking in some ways but a reality that as you get older traditions change.

Last year still felt like Thanksgiving even though Mom was already at Greenwood Village. We weren’t sure how long she’d hold on, so Stacey and Josh flew in and were here for about a week. We were able to keep some of our traditions alive even though it wasn’t exactly the same. And we all could sense the shift that would happen in 2017. In some ways, I’d been dreading yesterday ever since Thanksgiving 2016.

Being an extrovert I often need to be around people. Not in the sense of crowds (I avoid the mall this time of year like the plague!) but in the sense of having noise, laughter, and love surrounding me. So thinking about Thanksgiving as just Shelly, Dad and I was a little disheartening. I love them dearly but there is always an ache in my soul for the togetherness I felt in a group of 7 when were were growing up. So I was excited when friends of ours invited us to share Thanksgiving with their family. Dad was hesitant, partially because they are closer to Shelly and me, but I think also because any way we celebrated this year would have felt off merely because it was different and Mom wasn’t there.

So we trekked over yesterday afternoon with our food contributions in tow. We shared in a beautiful reading of a poem/prayer one of them had written that spoke directly to my soul. And then we ate. Some things were traditional, some things were probably traditional for this family, and some things were our traditions. All those foods together. The three of us sat in the dining room, not purposefully away from everyone else, but separated. Slowly a few others joined us as they finished filling their plates and it felt comfortable–though there were a few moments I thought we may have been the only three in the dining room. And as people finished their food, others made their way in to talk, and laugh, (and beg for dessert). Dishes washing and clean up commenced and people rotated in and out to help get everything accomplished.

We took two cars with us. I think Dad figured he may have left earlier than Shelly and I. But we played games all afternoon and evening and none of us left until about 9:30. And it was good. We didn’t feel like we had to stay, we wanted to. It felt good, and comfortable, and different but…perfect at the same time. New traditions can be hard. They come with heartache as we remember those who aren’t with us. And they make us change. But I think new traditions can be good. They help us remember there are friends and family surrounding us who care an awful lot. We aren’t alone. And for that, I am thankful. But really–I am so much more–thankful just doesn’t seem to cover all of the joy I have in my heart and the smile I had on my face waking up this morning.

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving filled with love, surrounded by people dear to your heart, and full of good food.

Love and Light (and Pie!)


We Have a Choice

Sometimes I forget.  I forget that no matter what is going on around me that I make choices each and every day.  Some happen without conscious effort (yep, I’m making a choice to breathe).  Some happen with a little more intention (yes, I brushed my teeth this morning before heading out the door).  And still some others take more effort (I very intentionally smile when I see people who I imagine don’t get greeted that way often by someone: -young -white -female -or any combination of those).

If life has taught me anything thus far, it’s that you shouldn’t waste your time on the negative.  Sure, we need to learn from our mistakes (or the mistakes of others).  But I am trying to be an agent of positivity.  I can’t change everything, but I can actively try to change my perspective, my quick-responses, and my contribution to the conversation.  Don’t get me wrong, I am bound to still grumble and complain (sorry Shelly and best friends–you’ll still hear it).  But I am really going to put in the extra effort to see the positive in every situation–or at least as often as a possibly can.  And even the negativity creeps in, that’s okay.  I just will force myself to find the silver lining.  It won’t be easy.  I won’t always succeed.  But I am going to try.  My dad always told me to “be kind”.  So much so he got my sisters and I bracelets that year that have those words stamped on them.  It’s like his own mantra of shared wisdom.

I am okay knowing I won’t always agree with what is going on around me whether directly in my life, or out in the world we live in.  Here’s hoping my positive outlook can help spread joy, share love, and brighten lives.  Every little bit helps.  And I am convinced that trying to remain positive will improve me.

Love and light, –S


–Norman Vincent Peale