Culture Shock

I remember the first time I went overseas and walked through the city of Tirana Albania and saw soldiers with machine guns and became frozen in my tracks. “Don’t you have soldiers in your country” my host asked? Well, yes we do, but our soldiers do not walk down the street with machine guns. The same person looked at me confused as I was taking pictures of cows. “Don’t you have cows in your country?” Of course we have cows in our country, but they do not meander down the middle of the busiest road in the capitol city. (I suppose I should not have been shocked since the airport runway had to be cleared of cows as well landed, but I was pretty naive back then). We both looked at each other with great confusion trying to understand each other’s normal.

Culture shock is easy to pick out when you are half way around the world, but I have also had my share of culture shock in my own community. When I went to grad school at Grand Valley State University for example. Here I was 22 years old and I had never been to a public institution before. Christian school from preschool through college then working for a Christian agency for years, and here I was with people who did not have the same faith as I did. I was blown away almost every day. At Calvin College I was so liberal I thought maybe I was a communist. At Grand Valley I was one of the most conservative people there. People lived with their boy friends and didn’t go to church. I was in my early 20’s and had no idea people lived like this and certainly did not think they talked about it if they did. These were the great secrets you keep if you lived in the conservative community of Grand Rapids.

As I settled into adult life and found myself and figured out who I was and who I wanted to be, I was still a part of a culture. I worked for a Christian Organization. An organization with a mission and values that I also stood for. An organization that did work I believed in. For my entire adult life. 15 years to be exact, this is where I learned and grew. This is where I made life long friends and had amazing mentors. This was my culture. My world. Of course there were days that were crummy and people that I did not agree with and eventually my career path and my values and ethics reached a fork in the road and I decided it was time to take that “road less traveled”.

And for the first time in 39 years, I began working for a small organization that was not affiliated with religion. Talk about culture shock. Not bad, and actually quite refreshing and interesting to be a part of a group of very diverse people. Not in race, but in every other aspect of culture. And as I settled into my new role, I became baffled at the differences in my new word with the only other world I had ever known. I was less than a mile from the organization I had been with for 15 years yet a world apart. We had meetings and no one prayed. This is seriously something I never really thought about until it didn’t happen. It seems so small, but it is also so big!

So a few weeks ago, when I was working on a presentation and wanted to put in a quote from a famous person who also happens to be a lesbian, it occurred to me that this would be absolutely a non-issue. Because, it was a big issue for people I worked with a few years earlier. This is the difference of cultures. When I saw the irony of being able to post a picture of wine on facebook when years earlier I got in trouble for posting a similar picture I realized the complete difference in cultures.

I think some people may think my pointing out these differences between old job and new job think I am bashing my old job. Here is the thing though, I am not bashing, I am struck by the complete difference in culture.   It blows my mind how completely different my worlds are. How completely different people are and how organizations are run. It is not about right or wrong. It is about, for the first time in 39 years, I am a part of something completely different that I ever have been before.

Is it a better fit? In some ways it absolutely is. Does it take anything away from the last 15 years of my career? No. But it says something to me that in the back yard of where my adult life has lived, is a completely different world, way of thinking and working. And I love it. And it may be a much better fit for me. And it is culture shock. And to be honest I feel so much freedom.

I regret not one single second of my professional career. I think the agency I worked for did and does great things. But as I continue to grow comfortable in my new world, I will likely encounter more moments of clarity and disbelief and, well, culture shock, that, I may share with the online world. Not because I am hateful or bashing or have lost sight of all the good, but because these moments of finally being able to be myself without worry of consequence is completely and totally amazing.  And because sometimes, it hits me how completely bizarre some of these incidents really were, and I was not the bizarre one.  I was not a bad person for liking Ellen or wine.  I was just me.  And that is okay.

Just Mercy

c9781925106381I want to share with you someone else’s words tonight.  Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, an activist, a system changer.  He wrote the most inspiring book: Just Mercy.  This book made me angry and joy filled, sad and happy, horrified and hopeful.  It reminded me of the reality of the world we live in.  The reality that there are really horrible selfish close-minded people but also the reality that there are amazing, loving, hardworking, justice promoting people.  I hate more than anything all the bad things that happen in the world, but there is nothing better than watching great people come around brokenness and bring hope and healing.

Here are some passages/quotes that impacted me:

“Proximity has sought me some basic and humbling truths, including the vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.  My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth: The opposite of poetry is justice.  Finally I have come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measure by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged and the respected among us.  The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated and the condemned. ” (17-18)

“‘We’ve all been through a lot, Bryan, all of us.  I know that some have been through more than others.  But if we don’t expect more from each other, hope better for one another, and recover from the hurt we experience, we are surely doomed'”(126) (This from a couple who helped their grandson’s accused killer graduate from high-school and paid for his college)

“All of a sudden, I felt stronger.  I began thinking about what would happen if we all just acknowledged our brokenness, if we owned up to our weaknesses, our deficits, our biases, our fears.  maybe if we did, we wouldn’t want to kill the broken among us who have killed others.  Maybe we would look harder for solutions to caring for the disabled, the abused the neglected and the traumatized.  I had a notion that if we acknowledged our brokenness, we could no longer take pride in mass incarceration  in executing people, in our deliberate indifference to the most vulnerable” (291)

The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the underserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent- strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering.  It has the power to heal the psychic hard and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration” (294)

“All these young children being sent to prison forever, all this grief and violence.  All those judges throwing people away like they’re not even human, people shooting each other, hurting each other like they don’t care.  I don’t know, it’s a lot of pain.  I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other. “ (308) (Words from a women the author met at the courthouse for a appeal hearing)

soraya-m_2-e1272496175664This book is full of stories, success stories and stories of injustice and despair.  But I loved how the author called readers out to look deeper into the humanity of people.  I love the idea of being a “stone catcher”.  The image of angry people full of hate, or sorrow or anger, throwing a figurative stone at someone to try to make sense of their despair, but we can be the person who catches that stone.  A person who protects, who stops hate, who shows other ways to cope; to “hope better for one another”.






Parenting Lecture

This morning started out with the typical rushing, frustrating and bickering. At one point the dog had one of the girls socks in her mouth and this girl says to her sister “Can you help me get my sock back?” And the sister replied “NO”. To which I replied “You need to help your sister!” to which she replied dripping with attitude “WHY SHOULD I?!?!?” To which I replied: “BECAUSE YOU ARE A HUMAN FRICKIN BEING!”

And then I secretly blamed Donald Trump for ruining my children. I have spent a lot of time the past few months either obsessing about the horror that is Donald Trump or completely ignoring all politics because it is just too scary. And I want to write about it, but everyone is writing about it and we all know. We really all just know.

But when this joker started winning states, I started thinking deeper. There are a lot of really hateful people in this country. There are a lot of people who are racist, and sexist and homophobic and all of those things. And Donald Trump has given those people a voice. And the voice of the people have given Donald Trump more power and the cycle continues.

I don’t know if Donald Trump will win the primary, and I really cannot fathom him winning the presidency. But here is what I need to face immediately: We need to do more. Today is election day in Michigan and everyone is talking about voting. Use your voice and vote. And I did vote. And that is something, but that does not make all the haters stop hating. It does not make the ignorance go away.

So I started tonight with my kids and this is what I told them:

“Ladies, Donald Trump has showed us something about our country. And that is that this country has a lot of people who are hateful and racist and sexist and homophobic (and hell yea my kids know what all that means!) These people live in our country and want to take away rights of people that are different than them. And we are responsible to teach these people what it means to love and to respect. And that starts with being nice to your sister.”

Drop mic. Best mom lecture ever.

But really… we can’t just leave it up to the vote.  We have to love and to teach and to inspire.  We have to advocate and educate and not allow this to be okay.  Every single day we have to make a conscious effort to make the world a better place.  With our vote and with our voice.


This is a word I did not fully understand until I started my work with sexually abused children.  Who could be braver than a child who has to tell their story to a stranger, in a new place, when they know what happened to them was bad, but maybe they were threatened.  When they have to use words that most adults are uncomfortable saying.  (I am 39 years old and I still don’t like to say the word vagina).  Our children have shame, they hurt and they are scared.  And the first step in the healing process is telling their story.  Telling the truth.  And that can be really hard.


Our kids, the ones who walk into the Center, have to explain something they do not even fully understand.  They may have to tell a secret they were told not to tell.  They may be asked really hard questions about someone they love.  They may have to sit on the witness stand and face their abuser and say exactly what happened to them.  They have to answer the questions of a defense attorney.  They sit there, alone, facing the court and sitting underneath a judge and have to tell all of the bad, sad and scary things.  That is brave.


When a child tells their story, you can visibly see something change in them.  They walk a little taller.  Their eyes shift from the ground to your face.  There is a smile.  This is bravery in action.  I imagine you see it when a child has their first cancer treatment, or sits stoically in the front pew at a parent’s funeral.  Kids have to be brave without the wisdom of life experience.  They have to be brave because they can only trust the people surrounding them.  They really don’t know it’s going to be alright.  They don’t get to make their own choices.  They have to trust, and fall into the depths of their healing without understanding any of the assurances given to them.  And because of that, they are brave.  They are braver than me.  They are braver than many of us.  And because of this, they skip into our office with a smile on their face.


We want to honor those brave children.  And I think you do.  Check out this link and order a bracelet, scarf, necklace or earing bearing the message “Brave”.  Our center gets $10 of each sale and we want to use this to purchase “Brav1380x880elets” for the kids who we serve.  The kids who show us what bravery really is.  The kids who were brave before they met us, and will be brave every day from here on out.


And be brave on behalf of our children…Follow the Children’s Assessment Center on Facebook and/or Twitter to see what we are all about.  Watch Spotlight.  Listen to Lady Gaga’s song “Till it happens to you”.   Come on a “Walk in our Shoes” tour at the center to see how a child who has been sexually abused is served.








jagged little pill

I have seen a lot of messages on various social media today about not taking pills to solve depression.  The messages are encouraging and likely have some great ideas on how to stay emotionally healthy.  But here is my message:

Take the freaking pill!

I started taking anti-anxiety meds 11 years ago when I was facing postpartum depression.  (which was really postpartum anxiety, but they don’t tell you that when you take that precious babe home).  I was very ashamed so I told no one.  In my head I was going to swallow that pill until my baby was 1 and then I would officially be cured.  There is not one person that told me 1 was the magic number and no material I read that said this either.  I just decided I would be better when Abby was 1.  So at that point I slowly started weaning off my pill.  And the anxiety slowly started creeping back in.  As did the shame.

So then I talked to my doctor who said “Sometimes the brain’s chemistry just changes and this medication gets it back into shape”.  So I took a deep breath and said okay.  And I was okay for a while.  And I even started talking about it.  And I still called it postpartum  because somehow that seemed more temporary.  And I made it my personal mission to educate pregnant women and new moms about my experience so they would not feel the same fear and shame I did.  And many people said thank you and a few people came to me and said they were grateful they knew my story because now they were experiencing the same thing.

And I was doing well and another year passed, so I decided to wean off that pesky little pill again.  And it didn’t work.  And now add depression to my anxiety because I did not want this to be forever.  I somewhere deep inside I knew it would be forever.  In fact a few years later I added a second pill.  And that was a game changer.  Cause it took of that little edge of ADD and binging behavior (food, clothes, laziness…I think it is possible to binge on laziness)

And somewhere in those last 8 years, it never crossed my mind to go off my meds.  And I started saying anxiety and dropped the postpartum (technically I am still postpartum cause I had a baby…11 years ago).  And I am am totally cool with taking meds and do not want to even think about life without them.

But I am worried, when I see these messages that subtly send those shame messages about pills and meds, that someone else is in that same place I was.  It’s okay to take meds.  It’s okay to need them.  It’s also okay to take walks and journal and go to therapy and do yoga and use essential oils and eat healthy and anything else you want to do.  But never feel shame about taking a pill.

And if you want a much funnier and even more in depth/real story of depression an anxiety I beg you to read Jenny Lawson’s new book Furiously Happy.


“I used to feel a lot of guilt about having depression but then I realized that’s a lot like feeling guilty for having brown hair.”
― Jenny LawsonFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things


“I hope one day to be better, and I’m pretty sure I will be. I hope one day I live in a world where the personal fight for mental stability is viewed with pride and public cheers instead of shame. I hope it for you too.” ― Jenny LawsonFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

(And if you don’t know what “jagged little pill” means go on youtube and type in Alanis Morissette… and sing along!)



cuddling babies

This article has been all over facebook lately: women in the world

And I have heard a lot of people ready to jump on the baby holding bandwagon.  But it is best to first read the article.  I think most people read the headline and say, “sounds good, I’ll hold some babies!” If you read the fine print the article hints at the fact that these are not volunteers, but licensed foster parents.  My friend Erin said it perfectly:

“Okay, sorry all, but please don’t read the headline of this article and think you get to volunteer to cuddle babies- this vaguely written and misleading article is actually talking about becoming a Licensed Foster Family- meaning a child is placed in your home and lives with you full time until either they return home or find an adoptive home. Which is a great calling, and yes, these foster families do get to hug and snuggle babies and children everyday! But they are parents, not volunteers. There are no programs that allow “volunteers” to come and cuddle babies for a few hours.”

And I am just going to add a few other thoughts… And start with a question: Why do you think it might NOT be okay for random volunteers to go rock babies for a few hours?

Answer:  Infants who are not with their birth mother for whatever reason are infants that are expiring loss and trauma.  “How can a newborn experience loss and trauma, they are newborns?” I’ll tell you.  Newborns have bonded with their mom for 9 months.  The know mom’s movements and voice and smells.  If there was any stress in the pregnancy, that could affect their development which can cause trauma.  And this baby needs more that most babies.  This baby needs one caregiver, and very calm and safe environment and a very consistent world.  So when people, kind-hearted people, want to rock babies, it actually is not very good at all for the babies.  It could actually be harmful for them. It can hinder attachment and cause further stress and trauma.

But I don’ expect people who do not work in child welfare to know that.  So of course when people see this cry for help they think great, I can do that.  Unless they see my informative blog and follow the advice of Maya Angelou


One more question: Why is okay for agencies caring for these children to allow such and article to be written?  Now this really gets my heart beating fast.  Why does a professional agency want to give the impression that babies are this commodity for the sole purpose of people who like babies to hold and smell and rock.  Not to sound overly dramatic, but what they are doing is pimping these babies out.  They are preying on the love people have of babies to send a message to the world that babies need to be held and rocked.  There is a subtle message that tells the readers, babies are here for our cuddling enjoyment.  They are here to serve your needs.  Again, I realize this may sound like a very exaggerated and dramatic view point, but here is the thing…. When I worked in the adoption world, which I did for 15 years, which I believe makes me something of an expert, I had countless people calling and saying they wanted to adopt babies.  Saying they wanted to foster babies. Every day someone was calling me about babies.  This is the truth.

But here is the thing.  There are no babies.  There is an insane number of people wanting to adopt of foster babies compared to the number of babies that need foster and adoption.  Where are the articles about school age children needing attention? The articles about teenagers needing mentors? And foster and adoptive homes.  And trust me, when I find those articles, I share them, but they don’t go viral.  They don’t have thousands of people jumping at the chance to spend time with them.

When I did this work (and even now, when I talk about this to people) it is clear that many people don’t want to hear it.  Or if they do, there is a ready excuse.  “We just want a baby because they are vulnerable”, “We want a baby because they don’t have as many problems”, “We don’t want to disrupt birth order”, and my personal favorite “God is calling us to a baby”.  To which I respond snakily in my head “why would God call you to a baby that does not exist?”

If you want tangible reminders of the truth, go back through the The Light in Their Eyes Facebook page.  Watch the videos, read the statistics.  And if you want to hold a baby, volunteer in Church nursery.

Let’s do better people.



Class Lecture

I had the opportunity to teach a social work class for my friend who was on vacation.  The class is about diversity and I was to watch a documentary called “A Path Appears” and then have a discussion.  Easy enough right?

Have you ever seen A Path Appears?  It is seriously powerful.  It is the follow up to Half The Sky.  Both of these documentaries were first books by Nickolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn who are my favorite, authors, journalists and activists in the world.  But don’t take my word for it, read the books, watch the documentaries, follow them on social media.  They are fantastic.

As I was watching the documentary (and I have seen this a handful of times) I was taking notes to make sure we would have a good discussion and I starting noticing that I was not jotting down the stories of the people, or the atrocities of the laws, or the lack of prevention services.  I starting writing down words.

Unworthy, Alone, Scared, Hurt, Shame, Degrading….

These were the words behind the girl whose parents sold them into slavery in Haiti and when they escaped and found their way back home, the parent turned away from them again.  These were the words being the young mother who grew up abused and neglected and now was trying to do the best for her child when she has no experience, education or resources to raise her child in the way she hopes to.  These were the words of the pregnant 16 year old, who turned to prostitution in order to help pay for the funerals of there 2 brothers; one who died from AIDS and the other from Gang violence.

But this documentary is about success, not despair.  And the success that was found was not necessarily in the programs or opportunities provided, but the meaning behind them.  As I talked with the students I wrote the following words on the board:

Worth, Respect, Dignity, Value…

And as we talked and as I processed these stories of young women from West Virginia, to Haiti, to Colombia, I realized what is so important is not what we give people, but how we make them feel.

When we provide education for children, but don’t invest in them personally, the education is meaningless.  When we provide equality by law for different races, or LGBTQ or undocumented immigrants, but do not treat them with respect what good are the rights of these marganalized groups?  When we give someone a tangible service, without an opportunity for them to feel respected, valued, appreciated or loved, that service is wasted.

True success, cannot be measured by the number of people who graduate or who don’t get arrested or who are middle class.  True success is measured by how a person feels when they have interacted with us.  It is measured by their feelings of Worth, Respect, Dignity and Value.  And this does not happen by voting for the right candidates or supporting the right programs,  I happens by truly believing that all people in the world have value and deserve respect.  We cannot assume policy and law and limiting programing are giving people what they need.  Each one of us, as a person, a human being, has the responsibility to see beyond the surface of opportunity and focus the psychological needs of those who our world has made to feel shame and worthlessness.

If we truly want to see success for each person, we need to face them with love and acceptance.  Without judgment or superiority.  We must focus on the core of their humanity and give them worth, respect, dignity and value.

Class dismissed.