Friday, April 12, 2013

a thank you note.

I am a thank you note writer. Ever since we were kids, my Mom took very seriously the art of the thank you note. Every Christmas gift, every birthday check, we were always instructed to write a handwritten thank you. If the gift was money, she encouraged us to tell the giver what we bought with it or what we would be saving up for. She knew that people liked to know their gift mattered. 

I still love to thank people. I have stacks of thank you notes and cards in all different colors and moods for each type of "thanking" occasion. Even now, with the convenience of email, I am still more likely to write a an actual handwritten thank you note and send it in the mail. Because people's gifts do matter to me. 

In the wake of my Dad's death and as I've found myself heading up Project Refuge, however, thank you's are more difficult than ever. 

It's because they aren't enough. The ways people have reached out or expressed sympathy or helped me wade through the business of running a non-profit have so humbled and blessed me that 'thank you' never seems like it's really saying what it is I really mean. 

And what it is I really mean is this: You are helping heal me. 

In your texts and phone calls from far and wide the week of my Dad's death. In your cards and hugs and sympathy expressed at the funeral. In your listening when I've needed to talk. In your talking when I couldn't muster up any more words. In your prayers, said for my and my siblings and my Mom, whispered to God on our behalf. In sharing your own grief, your own losses; what a profound way to help me know that we're not alone in this. In your patience when I couldn't seem, rather when I can't still seem some days, to know my up from down. What healing power is in those words, in those heavy sighs, in those sagged shoulders as you say, "I'm so sorry for your loss." In each of these ways, you are healing me and showing me what Jesus looks like. So thank you. Those gifts matter. 

And for those of you who have been there up close as I've taken over Project Refuge, when I say thank you, what I mean to say is this: You are growing and humbling me. 

In your advice, your wise counsel, your expertise, your experience shared. In your willingness to jump in, to help me and offer your talents. In your listening as I worked out, rather as I'm working out, the emotional struggle of everything taking over my Dad's dream means and the intimidation I feel as I step into the unknown. In what you've produced for this organization, things more beautiful than I could ever produce and things that would make my Dad swell with pride. In your belief in this vision, in the business model, in this cause and what you're willing to do to see it become a reality. What humility is in those sacrifices, that knowledge, that willingness to serve. In each of these ways, you are growing me and humbling me, showing me what the Church looks like. So thank you, because those gifts matter, too. 

If I am able to wade through grief at all, it's because of these gifts. If Project Refuge succeeds in any way, it's because of these gifts. 

So thank you. What very sweet gifts indeed. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

altar call.

On Sunday morning I had church on the beach. 

It was the first warm day in a while and the sun and sweet breeze lured me out. In a season of pain where everything is changing and nothing seems as it was, my heart has been longing for something unchanging and constant. Yesterday morning, the ebb and tide of waves that never cease were the cure. My heart has always felt at home near water. As I sat and marveled at the bigness of the Atlantic Ocean and the smallness of me, I whispered grief soaked prayers into the breeze and let the salt air heal me. I lifted up petitions for my family and laid them there in the cold sand, at the feet of El Roi, the God Who Sees

Once in a while its good for me to venture out of the church of four walls and into the sanctuary that He created. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

madam president.

In the few weeks that I have not been writing, here is what else I have not been doing: 

-eating well. 
-maintaining my eyebrows or any part of my appearance for that matter
-sweeping the dog hair nests from the corners in my kitchen
-staying on top of my homework
-catching up with my friends

However, here is what I have been doing:

-taking over the non-profit that my Dad founded

You know, because when life gives you lemons, just go run a business! 

If you're interested, here's the Cliff Notes version of this story: My Dad was a pretty awesome guy who had a vision for a counseling clinic for people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His vision grew from a love for the military community and a burden to address their unique needs. The more he researched it, the more he began to understand the stress that PTSD can put on the person's family as well. Marriages fall apart, kids are left confused by their parent's changing behavior. He realized that he couldn't just help the victim, he had to find ways to help the whole family heal as well. So his vision grew a little and the clinic became a marriage and family counseling clinic.

The more research he did, the less he could ignore an inkling he kept having. Every day in the inner city of Milwaukee, where my parents have lived in a neighborhood they love for 25 years, the news has reported gang violence and shootings, brutal sexual assaults and domestic abuse. My Dad couldn't shake the feeling that people all over Milwaukee, notably young people, were probably suffering from PTSD, only maybe no one was really calling it that. Maybe they were just calling it urban violence or maybe no one was really calling it anything because isn't that just what happens in big cities? So his vision grew a little more and the clinic would serve not just the military community, but victims of all types of traumatic events and their families, too. 

When he first told me about it, I loved it immediately. I work in non-profit now and I see sometimes how over saturated the market can be and I tend to be a skeptic when I hear of a new cause. But there was something so clear and determined about my Dad's vision that it was hard not to get excited right away. The other stroke of genius was that in order to keep costs down for families with little or no health insurance coverage, he was going to staff local PhD students who needed practicum hours for licensing as the main counselors, supervised of course by a licensed doctor. 

The vision and the excitement and the practicality made for an exciting endeavor and my Dad wasted no time getting to work. As he hammered out the business plan and started contacting local universities, he set to work getting his tax exempt status and incorporating. In record time, Project Refuge was born, named for his vision for a safe place for families to come and heal. He believed so whole-heartedly in it's eventual success that he poured almost all of his retirement fund into the initial start-up costs. 

After he secured the space, he set to work painting and furnishing. He and my Mom frequented Goodwill and Salvation Army to find lamps and end tables and wall art. On February 25th, he and I talked on the phone about the business plan and how he thought he'd probably be ready to start interviewing students within the next couple of months. He talked about his grant writing coach and how much he needed to get some grants secured because he really wanted to open the doors as soon as possible. And on February 26th, after buying a bookshelf and a filing cabinet for the office from Goodwill, he died. 

My Dad was right smack dab in the middle of God's plan for his life. God gave him a dream and lit a fire in his heart and bam! My Dad just took off running with it, never once questioning God or doubting his vision. 

After much thought and prayer and consideration, I decided to keep Project Refuge going. I believe very much in the vision my Dad had for families who suffer from the fall-out of traumatic events and I think God has a big plan for Project Refuge, a plan that I suspect may have been bigger than my Dad imagined. An old friend summed it up perfectly when he said at my Dad's funeral, "I want to live like your Dad did and die like he did; buying a lamp for the non-profit I started. I want to die doing God's work, not standing on the sidelines wondering when I should start." And it's in that spirit of reckless faith that I'm jumping in with both feet and just starting.

So in the weeks that have followed, the milk in my fridge has gone bad and the dog hair nests have piled up, but I've managed to get the Board's approval to rename myself as the President, make contact with almost everyone my Dad was working with, start collaborating with his grant writing coach, and generally eat, sleep, and breathe Project Refuge. I've also gotten the ball rolling on hosting a fundraiser at the end of the month to raise money to secure the rent for the building my Dad loved so much and generating start up costs. If we make our goal to pay the rent through the end of the year, then I will further neglect my home and diet and pour myself into grant writing to raise capital for staffing and operating costs. 

I'm not sure they're gonna want a President that hasn't showered and has been wearing the same hoodie for four days straight, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. 

I am equal parts terrified and exhilarated to be taking on such a crazy big endeavor, and I worry about six times per hour that I am doing everything wrong and this whole thing is gonna fail worse than pork sandwiches at a bar mitzvah.* But I would be lying if I said I wasn't also flooded with the peace that I am right smack dab in the middle of God's plan for my life as well. I might fail. We might not raise enough money and the doors might close. In my last post, I discussed what happens when the veneer of put-togetherness is stripped away, and this is about what happens when I realize the glory of risking it anyway.

Thanks as always for reading along as I do. Stay tuned for more updates about this fundraiser and updates about Project Refuge, which I will of course be shamelessly plugging, and updates about my laundry which will hopefully get done soon.

 *Yep, that's what you get when you take Biblical languages... dorky Hebrew jokes. L'chaim!