Highlights of Inspire! Aging, Death & Dying

Key Takeaways:

  • Issues of aging, death, and dying impact our community in many ways including, but not limited to:

    • Aging in place and affordable housing;

    • Isolation of the elderly population;

    • Ageism in hiring practices of employers;

    • The cost of long-term care and rehabilitative care; and

    • The long-term impact of death on surviving family members.


  • Resources are available through organizations like Senior Resources to assist the elderly to age in-place as well as to provide respite and resources for family members and caregivers.


  • To address concerns surrounding aging, death, and dying, we can, among other things:

    • Plan for our future by developing an estate plan, a long-term care plan, and expressing our “5 Wishes”;

    • Develop your own spirituality and heal relationships; and

    • Make concerted efforts to engage the elderly in the community.


  1. Topic Overview by Barbara Lee Vanhorssen

  • Aging, death, and dying are topics that are rarely discussed openly and honestly. Open discussion can allow us to celebrate the wisdom, experience, and value of elders and help us realize how inter-connected we are as people.

  • Death is natural and our elders should be celebrated for their wisdom and experience.

  1. Speaker Highlights

  • Tammy Garza – Administrator Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation

    • Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation provides in-patient skilled therapy and nursing services.

    • It is incredibly helpful to caregivers for patients to complete a “5 Wishes” packet (similar to a Living Will), which describes how the patient wants to be cared for in the event they become incompetent to make medical decisions, and directions for funeral arrangements.

    • An Advanced Directive is also very important, it states wishes regarding extreme medical intervention (resuscitation).

    • Forms for a Living Will and Advanced Directive can be found online, but an attorney can prepare these documents for you as well.

  • John Sytsema – Sytsema Funeral Home

    • There are multiple stages of death for the elderly or those suffering from terminal illness. The pre-active stage during which the person is lethargic and may be in pain. The pre-active stage may last for a period of weeks, months, or a year. The active stage of death is marked by unresponsiveness, and inability of one to eat or drink.

    • Advanced plans can be made for a funeral. Creating advanced plans may relieve some of the stress for surviving family members. Advanced plans may be made any time, but are generally made during the pre-active death stage.

    • Funeral homes will make its best efforts to honor the wishes pre-arranged by the decedent, but it is important to understand when making such plans that the funeral is truly for the survivors. It is encouraged to talk openly about funeral plans so that everything goes smoothly when the time comes.

    • Sytsema Funeral Home has a grief counselor and holds support groups as well.


  • Dr. VanderHeide – Director of Hospice and Palliative Care at North Ottawa Community Hospital

    • Palliative care is about pain management and quality of life. It may be used for terminal or non-terminal illnesses.

    • Hospice care is generally used for patients with terminal diagnosis, although in some cases people end up having long and full lives.

    • As a society we view death as a failure and try to avoid it at all social and economic costs; this sometimes comes at the expense of quality of life.

    • It is important to have a Durable Power of Attorney (i.e. appoint a health care advocate) to make important decisions on your behalf when you are unable to.


  • Deb Tober – Senior Resources

    • Aging in place and in-home care is much more beneficial to the patient and can be more affordable than living in a nursing home.

    • The “My-Choice” waiver provides in-home services for qualified Ottawa County residents.

    • Senior Resources provides care-giver support groups and respite for caregivers.

    • The Medicare Assistance Program (MAP) office provides assistance with Medicare and Medicaid enrollment.

    • Companion Care Program provides companionship (not nursing care) to the elderly.


Inspire! Aging, Death & Dying

I remember the day I turned 50 years old. I was at an Interfaith Conference in Detroit when it happened. Two days earlier I was working in my room when the cold rain gave way to a hot front. Then it moved through and things chilled again. I marveled at the unusual weather. It happened again the next day. Once I returned home, I realized this unusual weather pattern had followed me home. It was the next day when it finally hit me – this must be what a Hot Flash feels like!  


In ancient days, people never dreamt of living as long as we do now. Life was harsh from the very first breath. Many died in infancy, most died in their 30s and 40s. That meant that those who survived into their elder years had a special place of honor because they had outlasted most of the people of their own generation. They had actually lived with people and through events that others had only heard about. They were valued for their wisdom and their ability to teach and guide the young.


Today elders are still the best choice for helping youngsters - not because of what they have lost but because of all they have gained.  As we age, we gain experience. We gain wisdom. We gain insight and understanding. Aging can bring with it new ways of thinking and new interests. All of these gains are things we can offer to our families, our loved ones and our society.


But in our culture, there was no space created for celebrating elders. In fact, we have actively tried to move people out of the mainstream as they age, and in doing so we have created ageism in our society. Like racism and sexism, ageism marginalizes people, encourages stereotypes and leads to discrimination.

Ageism teaches us to fight the aging process -- to deny it and to do all that we can to prevent it. Rather than honoring older people as the holders of faith, wisdom and culture, ageism consigns the elderly to oblivion and dismisses their experience and wisdom as out dated. As a result, older people are often seen as a burden, a problem to be dealt with - rather than a channel of grace for us and for society. No wonder we’re afraid of aging. And the damnable thing about it is that it keeps us from looking forward to aging, to savoring our experiences, to growing old gracefully.


The world’s holy books have another message to share. Ecclesiastes counters the claim that pleasure is the meaning of life. The spokesman is someone like King Solomon who had all the wealth, wisdom and power he needed to fulfill any dream he wished. But after pursuing all his desires, the king laments again and again that everything amounts to a passing breath. 

The Tao Te Ching contains similar sentiments in its passages: If you want to become full, let yourself be empty. If you want to be reborn, let yourself die. If you want to be given everything, give everything up. 

Buddhism teaches that our increasingly fragile and infirm bodies and minds are sacred, and worthy of the greatest kindness and care. To respect our aging at every stage is the greatest kindness we can offer to ourselves and those we love.


As we age, we are nudged to let go. Letting go of our things, letting go of our youth, even letting go of control, depending more and more on others to do what we once did can make us angry and bitter. Or it can become an opportunity to appreciate our reliance on others, to finally accept that we are all interdependent and fully connected. 


Finally, to let go of life, is to embrace the unknown realm of death.

Death is certainly a common theme in our culture. All of us can probably think of a song, a movie, a television show or a play where death plays a prominent role. But our society – including most of our religious expressions – has continually moved further away from regarding death as a natural culmination of life and an occasion to be marked with rich rituals of remembrance, grief and passage.

The fears, hopes and approaches that people have toward death are learned. Cultures can be death-accepting, death-denying or even death-defying. Here, in the death-defying West, it is a reality we desperately try to evade or ignore. But in other times and in other cultures, preparing for death was seen as an important spiritual task – perhaps the most important task of one’s life. 

So how do we embark on such a task? How do we age gracefully and how do we die gracefully?


We begin by living in the now. The past is important; it has shaped us and brought us to where we are. But it is in the present moment that we encounter the transcendent realities of our life.


Next, we engage in memory work. Good memories help give us a sense of well-being and help us validate our life. Painful memories remind us that there is still work to do. And grace also tells us that there is only so much we can accomplish and that completion is finally the work of the unfolding Universe.


Finally, we take stock of our legacy. What have we accomplished and what will we leave behind? The later years are a time for reflection and gratitude for all of the experiences that have shaped us and for acknowledging all of the ways our presence has shaped those around us.


I have decided I don’t need to stay young forever. There are always young people to fill that role! And frankly, they need people like me to be the old people. There are many signs of despair in our society. Young people need to be able to look to us old folks for grace and hope and joy. When we age gracefully, we become role models and proof that life really is worth living.




Connecting Across Cultures

Ours is a world of wonder. Its sights, its sounds, its smells, its creatures. There is nothing like being in a new place to renew the spirit of awe and wonder within our souls. Nothing so sparks in us an awareness of the richness of this creation or the wonderful diversity it contains.

Every destination holds within it a unique beauty and an opportunity to delight. Customs, traditions, folk tales, dance, art, language, nourishment. And every destination holds within it its own spirit, its soul, its way of understanding, its place in eternity.

There are many ways we can travel in this world. Vacations offer us exotic locations and respite from the demands of our daily life. But too often we are only observers as we move from place to place, seeing the sights that attract the tourists, protected from the harsher realities and the deeper spirituality of the lands in which we move.

Mission trips offer us an important opportunity to serve and to work side by side and hand in hand with brothers and sisters of a different culture. We move beyond the shelter of resorts in order to be exposed to the harsher realities of the lands we visit. But these trips usually limit our experience to one particular place and consume our time with one particular task. Often they set us to work before giving us an opportunity to listen and to learn what the true needs of an area are and where we can most be helpful.    

A Cultural Immersion Experience, in contrast, seeks to walk the middle road. It is an opportunity to visit a variety of places and to meet with and learn from local residents at each destination. In the process we become participants in the culture we are exploring, rather than onlookers or do-gooders. We take the time to be fully present in our surroundings and to contemplate what meaning we might discover as each situation unfolds before us.   

An integral Cultural Immersion Experience does just that, it immerses us completely. Our body is engaged through movement and sensory experiences of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell.

Our brain is stimulated as we seek to understand the history and current climate of the places we visit so that we might put our experience in context, gain knowledge, and be able to draw comparisons with our own culture.

As we allow ourselves to be totally present in whatever situation we are experiencing, our spirit is free to develop insight and wisdom that connects with our personal, unique vision.

Our psychodynamic self grows as we learn to see life and living from a new perspective. A true immersive experience changes us, deepens our understanding and empathy, and shapes us in ways that nothing else can.

We learn to see the world through someone else’s eyes. And then we begin to see the lens through which we see the world ourselves.

We all have such a lens. Through it we see a world that makes sense to us, that matches our expectations of reality. Our lens is made up of our values and our basic assumptions. It includes our ideas about personhood, family, interpersonal relationships, sexuality, race, religion, economy, education, and so on. Those views become more powerful and rigid when they remain unnoticed and unnamed.

But when we are able to start seeing the lens itself, we can start to put our experiences and the experiences of others into their own unique context. We develop empathy, compassion and understanding. We move beyond tolerance to a kind of admiration and deep respect for others.

Whenever we enter unknown territory, we have the rare opportunity to see our own construction of reality in a way that the barriers come down and we realize that we are no different from the people with whom we are interacting. All that is different are the situations and conditions surrounding our lives.

We return changed. And with that change comes the responsibility to share our experience, to tell another people’s story, to become agents of peace and goodwill in a world that too often fails to celebrate the beauty and the value of diversity.  

We all return from Cultural Immersion Experiences touched in different ways, moved by different experiences. But every one of us who is willing to open our eyes to new realities is changed. We see the lens of our own cultural upbringing and that allows us to recognize that it is time to break old patterns and redefine relationships.

Too often we Westerners have tried to “help” a people by telling them that what they need and then giving it to them, knowing all along that what they need most is to be like “us.” They don’t need to be like us. It’s time to engage in a different dialogue. Let’s start by asking what is needed of us. Then there is an even more important question for us to ask. We need to approach our brothers and sisters from other cultures and say with all humility: I’m on a journey in this life – will you walk with me – will you help me find my way?

Inspire! Immigration

Deportee by Arlo Guthrie

The crops are all in And the peaches are rotting
The oranges piled up In their creosote dumps
You're flying 'em back To the Mexican border
To spend all their money To wade back again
Good bye to my Juan
Goodbye Rosalita
Adios mis amigos Jesus why Maria
You won't have a name
Good bye to my Juan
Goodbye Rosalita
Adios mis amigos Jesus why Maria
You won't have a name
When you ride the big airplane
All they will call you
Will be "deportees"
Some of us are illegal And others not wanted
Our work contract's up And we have to move on
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border
They chase us like outlaws Like rustlers, like thieves

Good bye to my Juan

Goodbye Rosalita

Adios mis amigos Jesus why Maria

You won't have a name

When you ride the big airplane

All they will call you Will be "deportees“

The skyplane caught fire

Over Los… 

The Immigrant by Neil Sedaka

Harbors opened their arms to the young searching foreigner
Come to live in the light of the beacon of liberty
Planes and open skies, billboards would advertise
Was it anything like that when you arrived
Dreamboats carry the future to the heart of America
People were waiting in line for a place by the river

It was a time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play, they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room that people could come from everywhere

Now he arrives with his hopes and his heart set on miracles
Come to marry his fortune with a hand full of promises
To find they've closed the door, they don't want him anymore
Isn't anymore to go around
Turning away he remembers he once heard
A legend that spoke of a mystical magical land called America

There was a time when strangers were welcome here, Music would play, they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room that people could come from everywhere
There was a time when strangers were welcome here, Music would play, they tell me the days were sweet and clear…There was a time when strangers were welcome here Music would play, they tell me the days were sweet and clear


Inspire! Immigration


I’d like to introduce you to Wilmer and Martir.

Last October, I lead a group from Grand Haven to Honduras for a Coffee and Culture Immersion experience. One of our local guides was Martir. At the end of our trip, Martir brought us to his home for dinner. That was when I met Wilmer.

Honduras is a story telling culture and after dinner we were gifted with one of the most chilling stories I have ever heard. Wilmer spoke for an hour and half about his illegal immigration to the United States of America.

He started at the beginning. His parents roof was leaking and he had no means to repair it. He tried to find work all over Honduras and there was no work to be had. So with great difficulty he crossed into Guatemala. Again, he could find no work. So he made the decision to enter our country. His plan was clear. He would travel to the US where he would work and earn money for 7 years. And then he would go home.

I am not going to tell you his harrowing story because I can’t begin to do justice to it. After listening to him, I am left not with a narrative to remember, but a series of pictures I cannot forget. Pictures of men hiding in barns and on top of trains, pictures of women injured and being left behind to die in the dessert, pictures of people being shot in cold blood. Pictures of terror and fear and somehow, woven through it all, the power and force of the sheer will to survive.

When Wilmer finally arrived in the US, the people who were supposed to meet him never appeared. Somehow he was able to make his way to the East where he connected with people who had shared many of his own experiences. And where he learned that the image he had of the US wasn’t exactly accurate.

He explained that Honduras has a culture that promotes the façade of success. While our own culture might leave us wanting to talk about the horrors we had overcome, the people he knew who had come to the US, sent stories to the homeland that glorified their travel. They never spoke of difficulty or hardship. And more. They would speak of the money they were earning – but never about the cost of living – of rent and food and electricity and clothes. He explained that it’s common for men from Honduras to go into a clothing store, try on an expensive outfit that they cannot afford to buy, and take a picture of themselves to send home.

Wilmer had no idea how intimate his relationship to death and suffering would become when he left home for the land of opportunity.

True to his word, he worked for 7 years and then he went home. Wilmer repaired and improved his parents home and built a home for himself – but then he traded homes with his brother Martir so that he could live further away from the community. Physical and emotional scars remain.

Immigration Helps the US Financially*

•Add $2 trillion to the US Gross Domestic Product

•Contribute to Social Security and Medicare

•Paid $13 billion to Social Security, received $1 billion in services

•Paid $35 billion more to Medicare than they used

•Paid almost $12 billion in state and local taxes

*Center for American Progress

The Center on American Progress have posted their Immigration Fact Sheet for 2017. They point out that immigrants like Wilmer support the growth and vitality of the U.S. economy.

•In fact, immigrants added an estimated $2 trillion to the U.S. GDP in 2016. Immigrants are overrepresented in the labor force and also boost productivity through innovation and entrepreneurship.

•Unauthorized immigrants contribute significantly to Social Security and Medicare. Contributing far more than they ever receive. In 2010, unauthorized immigrants paid $13 billion into Social Security and received only $1 billion in services—a net contribution of $12 billion. Further, from 2000 to 2011, unauthorized immigrants paid $35.1 billion more into Medicare than they withdrew.

•Unauthorized immigrants pay an estimated $11.7 billion a year in state and local taxes. Immigrants—even legal immigrants—pay to support many of the benefits they are statutorily barred from receiving.



Immigrants and refugees are entrepreneurs, job creators, taxpayers, and consumers. And their economic importance will only increase as America’s baby boomers retire, spurring labor demand and placing an unprecedented burden on our social safety net. We could benefit even more if we would modernize our immigration system and provide unauthorized immigrants in the country today with a path to citizenship.

But that is not the strategy our current administration is pursuing. Instead, the environment has shifted to increased restrictions for immigrants and refugees. Increasing detentions and deportations not only costs taxpayers billions of dollars but also breaks apart families and place vulnerable individuals—such as survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in the United States, as well as women and children fleeing violence in their homelands—in peril.

Foreign-Born People in the US*

*Center for American Progress


So what kind of numbers are we talking about?

Approximately 43.3 million foreign-born people live in the United States: 20.7 million naturalized U.S. citizens and 22.6 million noncitizens. Of the noncitizens, approximately 13.1 million are lawful permanent residents, 11.1 million are unauthorized migrants, and 1.7 million hold temporary visas.

Today more Mexican immigrants are returning home than arriving in the United States.

Fewer than 1 in 5 immigrants live in poverty.

Compared with all Americans, U.S.-born children of immigrants are more likely to go to college, less likely to live in poverty, and equally likely to be homeowners.

Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the U.S.-born population.

Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the U.S.-born population.

Unauthorized immigrants are increasingly entering the United States legally and overstaying visas rather than crossing the border. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security the largest source country of visa overstayers is…

…Canada – followed by Mexico and Brazil.

3 million unauthorized immigrants are eligible for a green card but cannot adjust their status from within the country and face lengthy barriers of 3 to 10 years to re-entry if they leave.

3 million unauthorized immigrants are eligible for a green card but cannot adjust their status from within the country and face lengthy barriers of 3 to 10 years to re-entry if they leave. So, of course, they stay.


Some individuals come into the US like Wilmer, looking for an opportunity to get ahead, with no desire to stay permanently in our country. More often, they are like Basel Alyasin one of the 18000 refugees from Syria who have settled in the US. You might have seen the letter he wrote on Facebook. Basel owned and operated Restore Electronics in Zeeland. He wrote…


I am heartbroken at this too appropriate indictment of our country. Basel’s letter highlights the fear that is gripping our immigrant community. Not surprisingly, this fear is especially acute among undocumented immigrants. Now imagine the panic of parents who immigrated illegally to the United States and now fear deportation.


About five million children under the age of 18 are living with at least one parent who is in the country illegally and now those parents are inundating immigration advocates with requests for help in securing care for their children in the event they are expelled from the country. And in the meantime, they are writing letters to their children – telling them what to do if mom or dad doesn’t come home. Should they stay or leave? Where should they go and how would they get there? What should they do about food? What do they need to know to be safe? Can you even imagine what that must be like? Well, you’ll get a chance to do just that in a moment.

In the end, immigration is more than a numbers game. It’s about more than a percent of population or the dollars added or subtracted from our financial bottom line. This is about Wilmer and Basel and millions of children. It is a matter of recognizing genuine human need and the need to respond with genuine human compassion.  




Neurodiversity and the Power of Names

My son Alex came home all excited one day from school. He was 5 or 6 six years old. He said, “Mom, I just found out that me and Alex Jones and Alex Smith all have the same middle name!” “Really?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “Xander.”

There is something else about Alex that is not as cute and funny. He, like nearly 1 in every 4 Americans is struggling with mental illness. That’s the politically correct name – mental illness. And it’s better than many of the common pejorative names we toss around haphazardly like psycho, schizo and freak. But today I want to introduce what might be a new name in your vocabulary: Neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is a movement to destigmatize mental illness and to recognize that brains are every bit as diverse as any other aspect of life. Our words are basically placeholders for ideas and concepts. Names are a special kind of word because they contain a whole collection of ideas and concepts. Names lead us to making assumptions about people – some of which are clearly true and some of which are undoubtedly false.

I like the term neurodiversity because it suggests that people are not diseased or broken – they are different. When we approach mental illness and developmental disabilities as evidence of neurodiversity, we create an entirely different perspective that challenges us to see the intrinsic worth of every human being and every human brain.

Neurodiversity proponents say that schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric conditions may have given our ancestors an evolutionary advantage because they allowed a few people to think outside of the box. When no one else could come up with an answer, it may have been these creative thinkers that pointed to another way. This theory, which emerged about a decade ago, challenges us to celebrate the differences between our brains and moves us away from our almost instinctive focus on problems and deficits.

When we look at the whole make up of humanity, we see a range of different thinking that’s made our progress in science and the creative arts possible.  Picture a bell curve of humanity. To neurodiversity proponents, people who are disabled are not sick or broken, they are merely at the edges of the bell curve.

This approach strikes at the heart of the medical model that focuses on defects and deficits. Neurodiversity doesn’t ignore the struggles many people have to live functional lives, but it says we need to give at least equal attention to the assets, advantages and abilities of people who are simply wired differently.

The name “neurodiverse” tears down the false wall of separation that divides the “normal” from the not “normal” and calls into question the idea of normalcy itself. It allows us to see different ways of thinking and processing the world as natural variations instead of seeing people as bad, broken or in need of repair. To proponents of neurodiversity, the idea of a “cure” can actually feel like an attack on their being. This is particularly true in the autistic community where advocates believe autism is part of who they naturally are and who reject the idea that there is some other hidden self within. One autistic man writes that trying to cure him of autism is as detestable an effort as trying to cure someone of being gay.

Those of us who work with marginalized populations are not in the business of fixing people or changing them into something else. We are in the business of identifying strengths and finding ways people can use those strengths to succeed in society. We are also in the business of identifying accommodations that society needs to make to help them achieve that success. 

Now none of this is to romanticize the functional limitations of people on the edges of the Bell curve. I don’t propose stopping treatment or research in the field. But I am suggesting we stop looking at people as diagnoses that need to be fixed and start looking at how as a culture we can make accommodations so that everyone can survive and even find a place to thrive without having to be made into some imagined social ideal of normal.

When we name people as defective, disordered and ill, we build a wall that implicitly states that the rest of us are normal or whole, ignoring the fact that we are all flawed and imperfect. We make people into “them” and “other” in a way that might sound sympathetic and compassionate, but that also reinforces judgment and fear.

We ignore the reality that we all struggle with deficiencies and we all have aspects of our lives that we are working to improve or overcome.   

The real value of the neurodiversity movement may be in reminding us that we all experience joy and sorrow, pain and hardship, challenges and opportunities and that a humanizing society is one in which we are all given the chance to make the best of what we have been dealt.

Renaming mental illness as Neurodiversity. A change of name and our entire outlook and set of assumptions can change – because it forces us to change our perspective. A change of name can open us up to see and explore other truths that are out there just waiting to be discovered – and waiting to be shared.  


Scars of Love/ Not Going Anywhere By: Shingi Mavima

Scars of Love/ Not Going Anywhere
By: Shingi Mavima


She said…

“I’m not going anywhere

This house, this bed, this life, this is all I’ve known

These flowers, these children are mine, mine to watch them grow

These tears will surely dry so honey don’t be deceived

It will take a lot more than slaps across the face to get me to leave”

He is home, he’s drunk again

When he’s drunk there’s no restrain

Barely a shadow of the beautiful soul she loved in the past

And with every punch she gasps, each gulp of air painful yet cherished,

     for it very well might be her last


And he says

“You’re not going anywhere

Who’s gonna take you in, you’re old, broken and worthless

And I slap you around now and then, I’m sure you know you deserve it

What more do you ask for, don’t I protect you and feed you?

Come on woman, clean yourself up, dry your eyes, you know I need you”

Need you… need you?

Words more painful than the physical, emotional yet

Disrespectful rhetoric perfectly weighted to manipulate even angels

Leaving her blind to self-worth

An object sent for the sole purpose to give birth


Birth… Kids.  Kids


And the kids say

Mother, please don’t go anywhere

You brought us into it, see us through it, and don’t leave this weight upon our shoulders”

They surround her and hold her, “Momma don’t let our lives get any colder”

The dilemma, the vices of virtue of love and life unforgiving

She has to leave to live, but if she leaves, she leaves behind her reasons for living


Dear God… God…



But the church said

“You’re not going anywhere

Fight the good fight, you’ll rejoice when the battle is won

Virtuous women stand behind their husbands, haven’t you read Proverbs 31

But even Christ himself bade farewell to Mary

When both she and he had reached the limit of physical torment he would carry


Tears on Monday, parents say “Don’t you leave him, pull through the flame

Don’t you dare disgrace our family name”

Crushed spirit on Tuesday, society screams, “Stay put”

Black eyes on Wednesday, her boss tells her to dress up, “Scars don’t make good business, now

clean that mess up!

Thursday it’s the screams, Friday broken dreams

And on Saturday they were all right

She wasn’t going anywhere…


They found her body; face down in a pool of blood

Another casualty of domestic brutality

But more so, victim of a societal system that ignores infliction when it is right there

And you wonder why… We’re not going anywhere


Continuing the Conversation: Pathways to Freedom

What are pathways to freedom?

•We need to accept others who don’t “fit”
•Whichever signs and gender conversations
•Speak to offenses, end the silence
•Education on how to deal with disrespect
•Talk to the supportive men in our lives
•Raise our expectations of male behavior
•Celebrate other women instead of competing
•Support women’s organizations
•Use internal affirmations (I am beautiful!)
•BE valuable

What can we DO? Well for starters...
* Work to change laws for carrying protective devices (pepper spray, stun guns). Sara from Damsels In Defense Products will research starting a petition through change.org and addressing this as a second amendment right
* Write letters to the governor, parole board and attorney general on behalf of women imprisoned for killing their abusers - see Justice Thru Storytelling, Inc.
* Talk to the Men in our lives
* Accept each other as women without judgment - end victim blaming and slut shaming
* Address the harmful effects of pornography including the objectification of women and the toll of addiction
* Celebrate alternative rites of passage that don't include strip clubs
* Watch our language and don't use words like "pimp" "rape" or "f**k" without considering whether those words are appropriate
* Don't support movies, music or companies who use advertisements that objectify or degrade women
* Advocate for harsher sentences for stalking and violence against women
* Challenge "old boy" systems
* Advocate for comprehensive sex education in our public schools to include information on sex trafficking and healthy relationships
* Mentor our boys and our girls

Own your beauty and your worth! The divine in me recognizes and bows to the divine in you! Namaste

Victim to Victorious: Claiming our Power

In the year 2000, I spoke at a Lutheran church in West Michigan. After the first service where I had delivered the sermon, there was an adult study group.  I made my introductory remarks and then a middle aged white man in the second row stood up and said, “The church has been going downhill ever since we started ordaining women.” I was rather shocked to hear him then. And I’m disgusted that 17 years later, that same attitude is still alive and well.

The sad reality is that sexism is well and even thriving throughout our world today. Women are globally and often systematically the target for mistreatment and abuse.  Now I know men are also victims and that also needs to be addressed, but today our focus is on women and girls. Because we deserve at least that.

The problem when addressing sexism is deciding where to start and how much to include. So let’s start with a quote:

"Rape isn’t a freak thing that happens to an unlucky few. It’s something that follows women around every day, a sense of perpetual physical vulnerability that’s not always conscious, but is ever present, like a shadow, governing what time we feel we can safely walk home at night by ourselves, or even the simple decision to get a drink with a guy we don’t know very well. You don’t have to be a survivor to appreciate what a singularly traumatic event rape is, or how much it sucks that a part of growing up female (and yes, gay or trans, too) means developing survival instincts to avoid being prey."

To understand how we got to this place, we need to go way back in time – to the Iron Age. Sociologist Lisa Wade sees the subjugation of women as a remnant of that time in history and the concept of chattel, a word related to cattle. Human chattel, like cows, belonged to their owner and were required to stay where they belonged. If livestock or women stepped out of line, it was the man’s social responsibility to restore order.

All of which gives us another lens through which to view the ongoing battle for reproductive rights.

One of the things that most unites us in our common humanity is that we all begin life the same way as a consequence of a sexual encounter. But the burden of pregnancy and giving birth is undeniably one that falls to the female half of the population.

Women are the ones who bear the pain of childbirth, the consequence of complications, the physical after effects of a body stretched and torn. And yet, women so often have no choice about whether they will endure these pains.

In all societies, poverty, discrimination, ignorance and social unrest are common predictors of violence against women. Yet the most enduring enemies of a woman’s dignity and security are cultural forces aimed at preserving male dominance and female subjugation—often defended in the name of tradition.

In many developing countries, violent practices against women are often part of the culture and wife beating is considered part of the natural order. At its most extreme, gender violence includes honor killings.

In industrialized societies like the US, where institutions formally frown on gender violence, it still permeates our cultural fabric. Rap music insults women and calls us ‘whores’; men's magazines, internet pornography and even mainstream advertising celebrate gang rape; and societal pressures, perhaps most dominant in women’s magazines, induce young women to starve themselves or use technology to create ‘ideal’ bodies, often destroying their health in the process.

This is the implicit oppression of women that permeates our own culture. Recent studies are more than disturbing. They tell us that 50% of 3 to 6 year old girls are already concerned about their weight. That half of all fourth graders are dieting and that 81% of 10 year old girls have a fear of being fat.

By the time girls turn 17, 4 out of 5 of them are unhappy with their body. In high school, 90% of girls are dieting even though only 10% are actually overweight.

And adult women? One study shows that women have 13 negative thoughts about their body each day and 97% of women admit to having at least one “I hate my body” moment every day.

First of all, there is not a women reading this who is not beautiful.


So I want you to stand up and now I want you to say it. “I am beautiful.” Now say it like you mean it. “I am beautiful!”  Now please, promise me that the next time you feel that “I hate my body” moment coming on, you will replace it with “I am beautiful” moment. This is about you – and it isn’t about you. Remember, we are teaching our girls. How they hear us talk about our bodies will directly affect what they think of their own bodies.

And then there is the overt violence practiced against women right here in the USA, including sex trafficking and sexual assault on the streets, in the military, on college campuses and in our own homes.

Do you see the progression and why everything we do has a consequence? This diagram comes from NOW NYC and The Service Fund. And it helps clearly illustrate why Donald Trump’s recent comments are not comic relief.

Jokes become part of our language. Language shows up in images. Images justify pay inequality. Pay inequality leads to verbal abuse. And verbal abuse escalates to rape. Sexist language is not only offensive, it is dangerous.

In so many ways, society drives home the message that a woman's life and dignity—her human rights—are worth less than a man's. From the day of their birth, girls are devalued and degraded. 

And too often too many of us have been broken by those messages. Here in Grand Haven we can speak up and speak loudly.

So our challenge is to overcome the internalized messages of our culture, messages that would try to tell us that we are incompetent or that we should be ashamed of our gender, ashamed of our self. 

My own history includes lots of those messages. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence, I recognize that the I only moved from victim to victorious when I decided to claim my own worth and my own value.

Don Miguel Ruiz, in The Mastery of Love, says that if you are with someone who is beating you up more than you beat yourself up, you will leave. But if you are with someone who is beating you up just a little bit less than you beat yourself up, you will stay forever.

One of the most important things we can do for ourselves and for our fellow women here in Grand Haven and all around the world is to stop beating ourselves up, to own our beauty, to raise our voice, to claim our power to change the world.


The divine in me recognizes and bows to the divine in you.



The Power of One- Things Community Members Can Do

Here are things local councils, direct service grantees, community groups of faith-based organization can encourage community members to do:

Reach out. 

Anything you do to support families can reduce the stress that often leads to child abuse and neglect. 


  • Be a friend to a parent you know. Ask how their children are doing. If a parent seems to be struggling, offer to baby-sit, run errands, or lend a friendly ear. 
  • Talk to your neighbors about looking out for one another's children. Encourage a supportive spirit among parents in your community. Join a local Circle of Parents (http://www.circleofparents.org/) support group or Great Start Parent Coalition. (http://greatstartforkids.org/content/great-start-parent-coalition-overview)
  • Donate clothing, furniture, and toys to another family. This can relieve the financial stress that families may experience. 
  • If you or someone you know feels overwhelmed by the demands of parenting, call Parent Awareness Michigan (PAM) at 1-800-968-4968 for information about family support resources in your community or visit www.preventionnetwork.org to find parents resources managed by PAM.
  • Become a volunteer/member of a child abuse prevention/advocacy group, or organization in your community. 
  • Make a financial charitable contribution to a cause which will support families and children. Each $1 donation can make a difference. 
  • Contact your county's CTF local council to inquire about prevention programs, educational opportunities and Child Abuse Prevention Month activities. 
  • Explore CTF local council websites by clicking the applicable county at the following link, http://tinyurl.com/LocalCouncilbyCounty.
  • Incorporate Power of One approaches and principles as essential concepts in all prevention discussions.
  • Be a Power of One person/organization/faith-based community and share with others how you are making a positive difference in the lives of children. 

The Power of One CAN Make a Difference!

The Power of One- Things we CAN do...

Here are some things you CAN do as a local council, direct service grantee, community group or faith-based organization:

Raise the Issue. 

By educating yourself-and others-you can help your community prevent child abuse from happening in the first place. 

  • Explore the Children's Trust Fund (CTF) Website at http://tinyurl.com/CTFCAPToolkit to access the Child Abuse Prevention Month toolkit and other information you can download, print, photo copy and post in your workplace and in your community.

  • Find contact information for other CTF local councils by clicking the applicable county at the following link, http://tinyurl.com/LocalCouncilbyCounty. You can inquire, share information and/or collaborate with other councils about your prevention programs and activities. 

  • Wear a blue pinwheel and tell people it stands for the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

  • Lead Child Abuse Prevention Month activities in your local community, e.g. Planting a Pinwheel Garden, Faith-based Campaign/Blue Sabbath, Fund Raisers, etc.

  • Attend and invite others to the April 27, 2017 Prevention Awareness Day (PrAD) rally in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention (CAP) Month at the Capitol steps at 11 AM in Downtown Lansing to show support and to celebrate our state's children and families. 

  • Participate in the Legislative Education Day (LED) component of the Prevention Awareness Day event. For more information about LED call CTF at 517-373-4320.

  • Contact your elected officials and educate them regarding the child abuse and neglect prevention need in your local community, and ask them to support funding and legislative initiatives for parent support and child abuse prevention programs. 

Next week, find out things local councils, direct service grantees, community groups or faith-based organizations can encourage community members to do! 

The Power of One-Statewide Initiative (Part 1)

The Michigan Children's Trust Fund's (CTF) statewide initiative for the prevention of child abuse and neglect is The Power of One. This initiative asserts that the power of one person, one community, one dollar, one action will help to protect children from abuse and neglect throughout Michigan. The Power of One encourages every citizen to take action toward providing the support and assistance that all families need. It is a compelling strategy for the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect. The Power of One is an ongoing campaign which is highlighted during April's Child Abuse Prevention (CAP) Month. 

The goal of primary prevention is to stop child abuse and neglect before it occurs. Primary prevention strategies create supportive environments that empower parents and help them access the tools they need to raise their children in safe, loving, and nurturing homes. Primary prevention efforts are found in places where families gather: neighborhoods, workplaces, shopping centers, libraries, faith-based organizations, schools, and clubs. The Power of One accomplishes primary prevention by raising awareness of the solutions to the problem of child abuse and by mobilizing citizens to engage in those solutions. 

Child Abuse Prevention Month is an opportunity for you to be a positive force on behalf of the children and families in your community. There are countless options to strengthening the mission of making child abuse prevention a reality. 

NO one person can do everything, but everyone can do something. And together, we can do anything!

Next week, we will cover what you CAN do as a local council, direct service grantee, community group, or faith based organization. 


Advocacy for Children: What We Can Do

What we can do:

  • Increase our comfort to report things to CPS when we think something is wrong, trust our inttuition- that's why they investigate - if nothing is wrong no harm/no foul
  • Offer programs for building self esteem
  • Let children tell their stories
  • Share our stories of our childhood - help young people understand that they are not alone - normalize the experience for those who think they are the only one
  • Educate parents
  • Offer a group for parents of teens who think something might be wrong
  • Keep asking youth what they need - then LISTEN to their answers
  • Support Public Schools
  • Mentor - programs in our area include READ, BBBS, Central High School, Kid's Hope, Ottawa County Mentoring Collaborative
  • Investigate Search Institute's list of Assets
  • Grow the Momentum Community Resource Area to include this information

Inspire! Advocacy for Children

I know we like to imagine childhood as carefree and innocent – and for some that may have been the case. But from my perspective, it’s never been particularly easy to be a kid. Growing up always comes with growing pains. Every kid will eventually learn about pain and grief and disappointment. 
But today, the whole process between being born and becoming an adult seems to be more difficult than ever.

According to the American Psychological Association, the stress level of American teenagers today has reached a level equal to that of adults – except during the school year, when it’s even higher than that of adults.

And stress is nothing to take lightly. Stress leads to illness. And, when stress is added to economic adversity, it can have a significant impact on a teenager’s developing brain.


One tool that seeks to address that question is the ACEs survey. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. An ACE score is a tally of different types of abuse, neglect, and other marks of a rough childhood. According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, the rougher your childhood, the higher your score is likely to be and the higher your risk for later health problems.

Adverse childhood experiences include physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; and household dysfunction including the violent treatment of one’s mother, mental illness, the incarceration of a relative, substance abuse, and divorce. Unfortunately, all of these experiences are far too common.

It’s no secret that we are struggling in our own community with the fact that our young people are in trouble. They are experiencing mental illness, they are experiencing homelessness, they are taking their own lives. And the ACEs survey can help shed some light on root causes.

It makes sense that children who experience abuse would be at high risk. What might not be quite as obvious is how common child abuse really is. The National Children’s Alliance reports that early 700,000 children are abused in the United States every year. In 2015, 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States. Right now Child Protective Services is working to protect more than 3 million children.

Even if home is safe shelter, there seems to be more danger than ever out in the world. When I was in school, we had drills for fire and tornados, and even for a nuclear attack. That was frightening – but it was a distant fear of a far away enemy. Today there are drills to survive a shooter coming into the school. And for good reason. Since 2013, there have been over 200 school shootings in America — that’s an average of nearly one a week.

And the nature of school bullying has also changed since I was a kid. Back then, I often came home in tears – but once I was home, I found respite. The bullies in my life didn’t have the technology to follow me home or harass me at all hours of the day and the night. And they couldn’t hide behind anonymity. I knew who my friends were and who I wanted to avoid.

While extracurricular activities have always played a significant role in children’s’ lives, social media now consumes two hours or more of a kid’s day. Time on social media robs children of much needed exercise. And tight academic and extracurricular schedules have robbed children of a chance to simply play together while learning how to negotiate themselves and settle disputes without the intervention of well intentioned parents.

All that being said, ACE scores don't tally the positive experiences in early life that can help build resilience and protect a child from the effects of trauma. Psychologists say that having a grandparent who loves you, a teacher who understands and believes in you, or a trusted friend you can confide in may alleviate the long-term effects of early trauma.

Children build resiliency when we trust them enough to make their own decisions and to manage their own lives. When we perpetually rescue our kids from the consequences of their own actions, we rob them of the opportunity to learn important lessons – including how to get back up after you’ve fallen down. When kid’s learn early on when the stakes are low how to manage loss and failure, then they are far more likely to have the tools they need to survive when life goes to hell (and life always eventually goes to hell) and the stakes are higher. Rather than trying to protect our kids from feeling pain or trying to simply make the pain go away, we need to be willing to sit with them IN their pain.

What else can we do? Chris Nelson, with Attention Homes, has worked with young people for over 20 years. He says what we really need to do if we want to help young people is listen to them. “… for too long as a society we’ve not empowered young people enough to give us their voice and tell us what they need, and if we listen to young people, they’ll tell us how to help them.”

Resiliency builds throughout life, and close relationships are the key. Research suggests that just one caring, safe relationship early in life gives any child a much better shot at growing up healthy. Which means we are the key. As with every other topic we’ve covered this year, it’s all about connection. It’s all about reaching out to another human being with genuine care and compassion.


Supporting the Survivors

Town Hall on Suicide – Part 2
From March 27, 2017
 The Community Discussion



o   Don’t take it personally – it wasn’t about you. It was always about them.
o   Get grief counseling
o   Talk about it – Ask survivors how they are doing and talk about their loved one
o   Be aware of the risk of burn out


Existing Resources

o   Survivors of Suicide Group 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Patrick’s
o   Mercy Hospice – Grief Counseling
o   Eles Place in Grand Rapids for children
o   On Line Support Groups
o   Stephen’s Ministry through area churches
o   Funeral Home messages
o   Alternative therapies for stress relief (yoga, meditation, etc.)
o   Training in Mental Health First Aid
o   Community Mental Health
o   TCM Counseling – Individual counseling and Survivors of Suicide Group meets twice a month
o   Suicide prevention hotline 800.273.8255
o   Suicide prevention text hotline 741741


o   Connections
o   Specific survivor groups

Continuing the Discussion for Adult Suicide

Town Hall on Suicide – Part 2
From March 27, 2017
 The Community Discussion


o   When people reach out, help. They want resources.
o   There is stigma even about feeling stress particularly among professionals.
o   Is some suicide in older adults due to compassionate choices?
o   Chronic pain and illness
o   Prescription side effects
o   Mental illness
o   Reach out to people who have been hospitalized just as you would for a physical illness. People need connection to other people. Suicide decreases significantly when people follow up after hospitalization.


Existing Resources

o   Training in Mental Health First Aid
o   Community Mental Health
o   TCM Counseling
o   Suicide prevention hotline 800.273.8255
o   Suicide prevention text hotline 741741
o   Be.nice for corporations and professionals to decrease stigma
o   Stomp Out Stigma Walk
o   Hospice
o   Momentum Center for Social Engagement
o   Four Points
o   Parish Nurses at St. Patrick’s/St. Anthony’s, Ferrysburg Community and Second Christian Reformed Churches (and you do not have to be a member of the church to receive help)
o   Family Support Group
o   DBSA (Depression BiPolar Support Group) Peer Support 1st and 3rd Monday



o   Suicide Review Team (as in Muskegon)
o   Connection
o   MHFA/QPR training for organizations that reach seniors
o   Wellcare for mental health
o   Explore alternatives – what are they?
o   Media list (movies like Hope Bridge)