Town Hall Meeting on Alternative Treatments & Therapies


We asked our Panelists to each answer the questions below:

1)Introduce Yourself and Your Discipline
2)How does your discipline approach mental health and mental illness?
3)How does it integrate with or complement traditional medicine?
4)What is one thing we can do today to be healthier tomorrow?

We also left time for Q&A for the participating audience. 


Special Thanks to our Panelists, Volunteers, Mental Illness Task Force members, Sponsors, Donors, as well as the folks that came with information and resources! 



Inspire! Topic: Dis/Abilities

May 19, 2018
A Long Road


27 years ago, the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, was passed. I was working at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital at the time. I had a variety of responsibilities. I coded medical records. I performed utilization reviews to improve our care delivery. I talked insurance companies into approving additional days of coverage for our patients. And I met with and admitted every patient who came through our doors.


I’m not sure how it’s structured now, but at the time I worked there we had four units: Traumatic Brain Injury, Spinal Injury, Stroke and Pediatrics. People often assumed that would be a depressing job. It wasn’t. By the time people came to see us they were usually happy to be alive and ready to work hard on regaining – as much as they could – whatever had been lost. And by the time they left they had usually made great strides and were anxious to get out of the hospital and return to the comfort of home. So in many ways we were in the best place to celebrate victories…


What we didn’t necessarily see were the struggles that inevitably waited outside of our door – in a world that isn’t always as accommodating to wheelchairs and canes and hearing and vision problems.

The passing of the ADA was significant because it began removing some of those barriers. The ADA made it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. As part of the ADA, guidelines were established to ensure equal access to public facilities and services to people with disabilities.


Suddenly, someone in the wheelchair had the legal right to expect that they could use the bathroom. Think about that. Think about what it meant to be wheelchair bound before July 1990. Think about being in a public building and having to (excuse my language) pee.

Of course, the ADA did more than that. It prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, and transportation. The purpose of the ADA is simple and straightforward: to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.


19 percent of the population have a disability that substantially affects their life activities. It may be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory, or some combination of these. It may have been present since birth or it may have started during a person's lifetime. In fact, aging is the number one cause of disability. Which means none of us are immune.

Disabilities can be obvious. But up to 90% of disabilities are not visible. For instance, some people with sight or hearing disabilities do not wear glasses or hearing aids. Intellectual disabilities and mental illness are not only often hidden disabilities, but they also carry their own additional stigmas and stereotypes. 

We, as people with or without a disability, have come a long way in making life more “accessible” for people with a disability. There have been guidelines put in place and laws created that help to ensure a more accessible America …but, there is far more that needs to be changed and preferably at a faster rate than the last 27 years.


People with disabilities have battled with stigmatism, irrational fears, and harmful stereotypes that resulted in oppression, pity, ridicule, poverty, and an inability to contribute to society.  

Many of those barriers still exist.

Don't Dis my Ability.png

We need to continue to normalize the conversation so that stigma can be eradicated. We need to pay more attention to the language we use. We need to be aware of the many ways in which we hamper accessibility. And we have to debunk stereotypes around disability and replace them with knowledge, understanding, and respect.

So for our reflective exercise today, I am going to invite you to consider the loss of some ability. We’ll come around with a basket from which you will draw a disability. Then I ask that you take a minute just to consider what losing that ability would mean to you and those you love.  

Special thanks to our Panelists for being at our last Inspire! Event of this season! 


Many thanks to Leppinks for donating our lunch!

May Inspire! Mudita.jpg

This was our last Inspire! event for the Season. We'll start our next season of Inspire! in September.  We are asking folks to provide their input for the upcoming season, so please take a minute if you can and fill out our survey!

2018/2019 Inspire! Survey Monkey

Be sure to check out our Summer Series in August, focusing on Addiction.




Inspire! Topic: Housing

April 21, 2018

Housing is a basic human need. Housing means safety, security, and stability. Housing provides a place of protection from rain and snow. It is a place where we can sleep and eat and ponder the mysteries of the universe. It is a place for creating memories and planning our future.

Housing is essential for our well being as human beings. But housing is not guaranteed. There are a number of barriers for those seeking housing – primarily affordability. Housing is expensive.

Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.

cost burdened.png

An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing.

A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) 1.7 million people with a serious mental illness receive SSI (Social Security Income). SSI provides financial assistance to people with long term disabilities. The most recent studies conducted in 2016 show that the United States did not have a single housing market where someone living on SSI income alone could afford a safe, decent rental. Not one in the entire United States.

And that includes our own community, right here in the Tri-Cities.  

doc00635020180423141013-page-1 (1).jpg

Special thanks to Grant-Williams Mediation for donating funds for refreshments from Righteous BBQ!

 Next month, we will be presenting our May Mudita Gift, made possible by Jack's waterfront bistro + bar! 

Next month, we will be presenting our May Mudita Gift, made possible by Jack's waterfront bistro + bar! 


Another excellent Inspire! event with a huge shout out to our panelists Ryan Kilpatrick, Rhonda Kleyn, Jessica R-Garza, Liz Keegan, Beth Hanis and Josh Brugger. What can YOU do about unmet housing needs in our community?
Here are a few suggestions:

Remove Barriers:

Attend municipality and community meetings and make your voice heard, let leaders know this matters to YOU

Help leaders adopt a long term view, link housing costs to people costs

Tie social justice to economic development

Advocate for others, talk to family, friends, and neighbors

Fight NIMBY while promoting being a welcoming community Educate others that research shows property values DON'T go down

Support the organizations that are working in this space


Support Those Without Housing Today:

Support agencies working in this area - donate your time and your money

Give to nonprofits so that they can pay better wages and keep talent here

Make sure conversations about housing include discussion of wages and income, especially when employers say they can't find people to fill their jobs

Listen - be ears in the community and use what we heard to inform, refer and advise and then report problems and needs

Visit community kitchens and meal sites and talk to people

Challenge our own assumptions and be welcoming of diversity

Examine our own resources and options for sharing

Stay informed

Don't Give Up/Be Persistent


Contact us if you need help figuring out what YOU can do. Because we can all do something to make this a healthier community for everyone.


Special Thanks to the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation for granting us money from the Technical Assistance Fund! This will aid us in sending out Community Mailers about suicide and depression throughout the Grand Haven/Spring Lake area this Spring. 

"One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone." - Shannon L. Alder


Community Information to share

We've learned of the 2018 Challenge of Children Conference happening in Holland, and wanted to spread the word! 


The Challenge of Children Coalition is pleased to announce the 2018 Challenge of Children Conference. 

This FREE conference will be held on Thursday, May 17, 2018, at Hope College Maas Center in Holland. 
The conference is held from 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. and for the keynote there will be a viewing of a documentary titled, Screenagers:  Growing Up in the Digital Agefacilitated by Chris McKenna, Founder of Protect Young Eyes. 


Screenagers - Are you watching kids scroll through life, with their rapid-fire thumbs and a six-second attention span? Physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston saw that with her own kids and learned that the average kid spends 6.5 hours a day looking at screens. She wondered about the impact of all this time and about the friction occurring in homes and schools around negotiating screen time-friction she knew all too well.


There will be two breakout workshops throughout the day including topics such as:  The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children & Youth; QPR Suicide Prevention; Essential Skills Children Need in their Social Toolbox; Positive Discipline; Safety Skills for Persons with Asperger; Healthy Brain Developmental in Young Children; and more!


Below is the internet link for on-line registration and for more information about the conference, including workshop descriptions.  Registration is required.

Please forward this information to consumers, friends, and family.  If you would like additional information about the conference, please call 616-796-1504.


Inspire! Topic: Gender Roles

March 17, 2018
Out of the Box

Last month we Celebrated ALL Love and in the process began a conversation about gender that we are continuing today. I am heterosexual and cis-gendered, meaning that I identify with the gender that my physical body presents. I am a woman. And that had implications for my life even before I was even born.


Because what is the number one piece of information we want to know when someone is pregnant?
Is it a boy or is it a girl? 

That teeny tiny piece of information unlocks the entire future.


Because Boy or Girl goes way beyond what color I am going to paint the nursery. It also tells me what clothes I am going to dress my child in, what toys I am going to buy for them, and how I am going to refer to them. It gives me a good idea of what kinds of activities they will be involved in, what kind of career they might follow, what life transitions they will face.


Perhaps most importantly, it tells me how I will relate to my child. What kind of relationship I can expect over the years and what role will I play in their life in the years to come. The sex of my child ultimately becomes something very personal about me – because my role is different if I am the mother or father of a boy than if I am the mother or father of a girl. Often those expectations play out as expected. But not always. And not without creating artificial boxes around what is considered “normal” behavior.


As a woman, I am expected to fulfill the nurturing role of a mom and wife and I do that pretty well. But I am also highly driven and competitive. I am happiest when I am in control and making the decisions. And those aren’t necessarily thought of as feminine traits.


My partner Leif, a man, is also the caregiver for his 19 year old niece. When she was born with Down Syndrome her own father went away, and Leif stepped in. He has provided the kind of nurturing care, love and support that we often attribute to women.


Understanding that we all have both feminine and masculine energy allows us to escape the man box and the woman box. The man box defines men as domineering, aggressive, competitive, achievement oriented, and controlling. The woman box defines women as nurturing, supportive, passive, sacrificial, giving, and vulnerable.


Unfortunately, our society incorrectly dictates that if we move out of the appropriate man or woman box, we will be negatively labeled. For instance, men who move out of the man box risk being labeled from the woman box or the gay box. They risk being seen as weak and ineffective, of being called a “pussy.” Women risk being seen as threatening and unattractive, of being told they have “balls.” The truth is, each one of us can express both attributes of masculine and feminine in different aspects of our lives and that’s a good thing.

When we claim our whole identity and give others permission to be the whole human beings they are, we can celebrate all of our strengths and recognize that the traits we exhibit are present in both men and women alike. Escaping the man box and the woman box offers us liberation from that which oppresses, binds, and enslaves. It allows us to become more vulnerable with each other and more open to accepting people as they are.


It’s also important to realize that we are not frozen or static in our energy field. We can and do move back and forth between masculine and feminine energy as we are comfortable and as the situation requires.

gender boxes.jpg

Today, we get to further explore the fluid nature of gender. To look beyond the boxes of society to claim our whole selves. Our panelists today are a diverse group – breaking gender barriers – some in terms of what they do and others in terms of who they are. We are all fortunate that they have joined us. For our reflective exercise today, I’d like to ask you to come up and write a word in either the man box or the woman box. A word or a phrase that relates to an expectation about being a man or being a woman. You don’t have to believe it yourself, but it should be something meaningful to you – either because you were told it, believed it, or set out from the start to disprove it. (We wrote words or phrases that have to do with expectations about what it means to be a man and a woman in our culture.)

Special Thanks to all of our Panelists!

Special Thanks to all of our Panelists!




Town Hall Meeting on Sexual Assault: Part 2


Facts About Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

1.The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.

2.The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

3.The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.


The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.

It is helpful for the victim to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.

When investigating allegations of sexual harassment, EEOC looks at the whole record: the circumstances, such as the nature of the sexual advances, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis.

Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by providing sexual harassment training to their employees and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.

It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on sex or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII.

•Among those filing complaints, at least 1/3 say they were demoted, moved to lousy shift, fired, further harassed after the complaint

•People who file a complaint are much more likely to lose their jobs than those who say nothing

More than one-third of the world’s countries do not have any laws prohibiting sexual harassment at work—leaving nearly 235 million working women vulnerable in the workplace.


Research has shown that women in male-dominated occupations,especially those in male-dominated work contexts, are sexually harassed more than women in balanced or in female-dominated ones.

Source: Berdahl, JL. (2007). The Sexual Harassment of Uppity Women (p. 427).

Sexual harassment is pervasive across industries, but especially in low-wage service jobs. For example, more than 25% of sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC in the last decade came from industries with service-sector workers.




•Examples of what is/is not acceptable
•Empower bystander intervention
•Explain procedure for reporting
•Identify consequences
•Identify internal and external resources
•Informed by climate survey


The Global Gender Gap Report benchmarks 144 countries regarding their progress on gender parity via four main themes: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. There's also data around the dynamics of gender gaps across industry talent pools and occupations.

Unfortunately, data shows that the gender gap is widening, so there desperately needs to be new ways of thinking if the world is to close the gender gap. Progress is regressing and moving backwards. Instead of taking 170 years to close the gap at the current rate of progress, it is estimated that gender parity across the world will take over two centuries, 217 years to be exact.

The proportion of female leaders increasing by an average of just over 2 per cent across 12 industries studied by the World Economic Forum (WEF). WEF's data shows that when women are more present and participating in leadership roles, more women are hired right across the board at all levels.


Special Thanks to our Panelists and Volunteers for helping make this event a successful one!

And, also Thanks to our Refreshment Donations by: 


Town Hall Meeting on Sexual Assault


It is almost impossible these days to turn on the television, the radio or open a newspaper and not hear or see a report of sexual assault or harassment. The #MeToo movement and Times Up have put a new spotlight on this historical problem. And as a result, people, some for the first time in their lives, are feeling safe and empowered to share their experiences of sexual trauma and abuse. Sexual assault and sexual harassment effect us all in one way or another and they intersect with mental health and mental illness in so many ways that the Mental Illness Task Force decided this should be the focus of our next town hall. Thank you for being here to participate in this important Community Conversation.

We are at a watershed moment. Our social discourse is in the middle of a drastic change, and we need to seize this opportunity to create a new paradigm. A paradigm of equality and respect and appropriate boundaries. The onus is on us to transform a culture of sexual harassment and assault for ourselves and for future generations.

In response to allegations made against him, Harvey Weinstein said that he grew up when “all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” In fact, that perspective is still infused in our culture today.


Weinstein’s comments force us to confront sexism as a primary contributing factor in sexual assault and sexual harrassment. Indeed, 1 in 6 women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape during their lifetime.

To put that into context, let’s start with this quote:

 That is NOT to say that only women are victims. In fact, 1 out of 10 rape victims is a man. And let me add that it’s even more terrifying to realize that most rapes and other forms of sexual abuse are not committed by strangers on the street, but by people we know, interact with, live with and trust.  

That is NOT to say that only women are victims. In fact, 1 out of 10 rape victims is a man. And let me add that it’s even more terrifying to realize that most rapes and other forms of sexual abuse are not committed by strangers on the street, but by people we know, interact with, live with and trust.  


And rape is not the only form of sexual assault. In fact in the United States, someone is the victim of sexual assault every 98 seconds. That means by the end of our town hall tonight, almost 100 more people will have been sexually assaulted.

Today we all live in a highly sexualized society, but by and large we are not given the tools to deal with sexuality in a healthy manner. The average age of exposure to internet pornography is now 11 years old. Rap music insults women and calls us ‘whores’; mainstream advertising celebrates gang rape; and societal pressures, especially in women’s magazines, induce young women to starve themselves to attain some imaginary ideal body. Meanwhile, we continue to confuse our young men by glorifying male sexual conquests as a way to prove one’s manhood. We are all caught up in a system that seeks to dehumanize and objectify us and we are all suffering as a result.


We need to recognize that everything we do has a consequence. This diagram comes from NOW NYC and The Service Fund. And it helps clearly illustrate why derogatory and sexual comments are not harmless comic relief.

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


Like many of you in this room, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and workplace harassment. I am grateful for the #MeToo and the Times Up movements that are unmasking this horror, freeing us from shame, and exposing the way in which our stigmatizing of victims – both women and men – has shielded us from addressing this long standing, life altering abuse. Today we continue to unpack the messages we carry, to find places of safety to share our experience, to reject stigma, and to craft a common language and understanding about what it is to treat each other with respect; to refuse to reduce any human being to an object.


We have an incredible panel today so I’m going to turn things over to the people who work in this area day in and day out, who see its tragic outcomes, and who appreciate, understand and offer paths to recovery and healing. I also want you to know that we do have therapists in the room tonight so if you find the community conversation overwhelming and need to talk to someone about your own experience, there is someone here who can talk to you tonight.

Now let me turn to our panelists.

To Be Continued...

Inspire! Topic: Celebrating ALL Love

February 17, 2018
Inspire! Celebrating ALL Love

 Lao Tzu said “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives your courage.”     We have certainly seen such love in action lately.

Lao Tzu said “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives your courage.”


We have certainly seen such love in action lately.

There was this Instagram post by Free-skier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon, the first two openly gay men to represent the U.S. in the Olympics, posed for a picture at the opening ceremony. These men are breaking barriers and letting their position be known on an international stage while calling out the leader of the US delegation at the ceremony, Vice President Mike Pense: “The #OpeningCeremony is a wrap and the 2018 Winter Olympic Gaymes are officially under way! I feel incredibly honored to be here in Korea competing for the US and I'm so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community alongside this amazing guy! Eat your heart out, Pence. #TeamUSA #TeamUSGay"

On Tuesday Hallmark reminded us to celebrate our love.

And late that day, our hearts were broken when we learned of yet another tragic school shooting. Since then...

And we learned of the kind of courage love inspires in times of terror in order to protect others.

Love in all of its many forms is what gives our life meaning and substance. And so it is that we are here today to Celebrate ALL Love.

Just two years ago in the decision in United States v. Windsor, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy wrote, "For same-sex couples who wished to be married, the State acted to give their lawful conduct a lawful status ... worthy of dignity in the community equal with all other marriages.” He concluded that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which required the federal government to treat married same-sex couples as though they were not legally married, “(imposed) a disadvantage, a separate status, and a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States,” and therefore violated the Constitution.

To say that this was a profound decision is to grossly understate things!

Last month our topic was racism. And those of us who are white had the opportunity to really think about our white privilege. It seems like a good idea to return today to the concept of privilege.

In the United States, privilege is granted to people who have membership in one or more of these social identity groups:

•  White people;
•  Able-bodied people;
•  Heterosexuals;
•  Males;
•  Christians;
•  Middle class people;
•  Middle-aged people;
•  English-speaking people

I live as a privileged human being in our society. I am privileged because I am straight and I am cis-gendered, meaning that I identify with the gender that my physical body presents. My heterosexual and cis-gender privilege started before I was even born.

As a heterosexual, I had the privilege of never having to justify my love for my partner. That love was never reduced to a sexual act or labeled sinful and unclean. I never had to “come out” to anyone. I never had to fight for my right to have the bakery of my choice create the wedding cake that would celebrate my commitment to the one I love. 

In December, the Supreme Court heard almost 90 minutes of oral arguments in the case of the Colorado Gay Wedding Cake. The justices appear to be equally divided along ideological lines about the case. A ruling is expected by June 2018. David Mullins, who has brought this suit says, “This case has never been about cakes. It’s about the rights of gay people to receive equal service in businesses and not be afraid of being turned away because of who they are. It’s about basic access to public life.”

Whatever their final decision, it will have a real and lasting impact on millions of people. And that importance cannot be overstated. This fight has been going on since the 1960s. Despite the extraordinary progress that has been made, this case is a grim reminder that any real progress will continue to be challenged by those who seek to dictate love and to determine which couples are deserving of fair and equal treatment under the law, and which aren’t.


And any time love is stifled, subdued, or silenced-we suffer for it. I just returned from Kenya, where I had the great honor of meeting and visiting with MamaSarah – President Barack Obama’s grandmother. When asked what advice she had for us, her words were simple and straight forward: Love one another.  It shouldn’t be that hard to do. To love one another and to celebrate the love we have for each other wherever it’s found.


Inspire! Topic: Racism

Laying Down My Privilege

This is my family. I grew up on the other side of the drawbridge. My mother came from Muskegon Heights and my father from Muskegon. Both of my parents families moved. Yes, I am a child of white flight. And I am a child of privilege.


In the United States, privilege is granted to people who have membership in one or more of these social identity groups:

•  White people;
•  Able-bodied people;
•  Heterosexuals;
•  Males;
•  Christians;
•  Middle class people;
•  Middle-aged people;
•  English-speaking people


Privilege is usually invisible to the people who have it. People in dominant groups often believe that they have earned the privileges that they enjoy or that everyone can have these privileges if they work hard enough. But privilege is unearned and it is granted to people in dominant groups whether they want that privilege or not.


Talking about racism is not about placing blame or feeling shame. Shame never changes anybody or anything.


It is about talking to others and trying to understand THEIR experience. It is about identifying the beliefs we carry unconsciously within us and unpacking them so that we can decide consciously whether we want to continue carrying them or not. And so we can identify the way in which systems operate to perpetuate privilege in ways that can be far more dangerous than an individual prejudice. Because racism is not just a bad attitude. Racism is an evil that dehumanizes people and causes immeasurable suffering.


In fact, racism strips us all of our humanity. It tells me that I am a white person with rights and privileges I never asked for. And in that identity, it seeks to separate me from my place in the family of common humanity. A family where when any one is excluded, the entire family suffers for it.


Those of us with privilege, need to acknowledge our privilege. We have to stand up to institutional barriers. We have to examine our own thoughts, words and actions. And we have to create safe places for honest conversations so that we can address people’s fears and misunderstandings in ways that educate without shaming. And we have to be willing to really listen and to learn from other people, to understand that good intentions aren’t enough so that we can lay aside our assumptions of both privilege and oppression to ask each other what living in this society is really like for  each other.  


Helpful Tips for the Holidays

How to Plan an Anxiety-Free Holiday Party

Holiday parties are a cherished tradition among many families, no matter what holidays they celebrate. It’s a time to celebrate with your loved ones, and this celebration typically involves a great deal of planning. You have to plan the menu and decorations. Then you have to actually prepare the meal and decorate your home for the holiday event. The time spent on all the important details can make even the calmest person feel ready to pull her hair out. So how can you plan and host a holiday party without letting anxiety get in the way? Read on for some simple tips on how to do just that.


Plan in Advance

Whatever you do, don’t wait till the last minute to plan your holiday party. Waiting until a week or two before the big shindig will only cause you unnecessary stress. Instead, a few months in advance, make a to-do-list, writing down everything that needs to be done for the party. This list should include the food menu, required decorations, holiday music you intend to use and anything else in between. Use a calendar to write down when each task should be completed. This will prevent the day from creeping up on you when you least expect it.


Keep it Simple

Who says your holiday party has to be an elaborate affair? To avoid unnecessary stress, keep it as simple as possible. You don’t need tons of decorations to make your party festive. Choose a few focal points like beautiful candles or greenery and pinecones as table centerpieces. Keep your menu simple too. You don’t want to be slaving away in the kitchen all day while everyone else is enjoying the party. And there’s no shame in using disposable plates, cups and utensils for the meal. You can always buy fancy plastic plates, cups and utensils at your local party supply store. Besides, who wants to spend the entire day washing dishes?



Although you’re the party host or hostess, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Enlist family and friends to help you with the cooking, cleaning and other preparations. They’ll feel more involved with the event, and you’ll avoid the exhaustion of trying to do everything solo. Delegating responsibility may be difficult for some personalities, but if you relinquish control on some aspects of the planning and you’ll thank yourself later. For example, ask a few party guests to take care of the desserts. You can also buy some desserts from a local bakery.


Typical Holiday Hosting Mistakes

If you’re planning a holiday a party, be wary of typical hosting mistakes. Don’t forget about guests with dietary restrictions. For example, if you have people with diabetes on the guest list, make sure you have meals and desserts that are sugar free. If you have guests that need to eat gluten-free meals, keep this in mind as well. Some people are recovering alcoholics or don’t drink alcohol for personal reasons. Provide appropriate beverage choices for them to avoid any embarrassing situations.


Don’t make the mistake of becoming so overwhelmed with the food and drink preparations that you don’t spend time relaxing and enjoying interacting with your guests. Just because you’re hosting the party doesn’t mean you should spend all your time in the kitchen.


Newbie Party Host

You’ve always been a guest at a holiday party. You’ve never hosted one before, and you’re just a little bit terrified. Go on sites like Pinterest to get some simple decorating ideas. Plan enough place settings for your guests too. Never cooked a turkey or ham before? Enlist help from a family member or friend. Search for turkey cooking tutorials online to help you successfully tackle the task.


Written by: Jennifer Scott

Photo via Pixabay

Inspire! Veteran's Issues


The first thing we have to do is separate war from the people who fight in them. Of course, we don’t want war. War is painful and bloody and terrifying. No one knows that better than our military veterans. And those are the people, who serve our country in times of war and in times of peace, who deserve a special place in our heart and our undying gratitude.

I would be surprised if we didn’t all want to see the end of war. I continue to believe peace is possible – because if I don’t at least believe it can happen then it certainly never can.


War is caused by the primal fear of not surviving and it usually arises out of a sense of competition for territory, food, resources, and other items needed for survival. We easily exaggerate threats because if we underestimate a threat that means that our lifestyles will be radically changed, if everyone isn’t wiped out first. But to overestimate a threat leaves people dead and injured. Not just any people – particularly our military personnel.


And most often our military personnel are still men – a demographic that Warren Farrell has called the disposable gender.  In his book The Myth of Male Power, he points out that only 18-year-old boys have to register for the draft and he offers these insights:

Adults take longer to pick up boy infants when they cry.

Boys more often participate in violent sports while girls cheer them on.

Adult men and peers taunt boys by poking at their perceived weaknesses and challenging them to “take it like a man.” 

In TV and movies, 200 men are killed for every 1 women killed.

Through war stories, we unconsciously teach young boys that they will get positive attention by putting their lives at risk.

On the other hand, those same war stories also serve a critical role in helping veterans recover and heal. War stories become a safe way for men to process feelings, reframe horror, and experience self-therapy (and group therapy).


And it isn’t only our men who are struggling as veterans. Today, hundreds of thousands of service men and women are recent military veterans who have in one way or another experienced combat. Many have been shot at, seen their friends killed, or witnessed death up close and far too personal. These are types of events that can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD.

Mike Baauw from the Muskegon County Department of Veterans Affairs was instrumental in planning this Inspire! event and he generously shared his slides with me and his definition of PTSD.

 The brain is one of the most complex systems to understand. You have the Thinking Brain, which is the cortex, the top layer of the brain. This part of the brain is where critical thinking takes place. The Thinking Brain is where the ability to stay organized, stay on task, analyze, and think things through is happening. This part of the brain has the ability to inhibit or control our impulses.  Underneath the Thinking Brain is the limbic system or the Emotional Brain. The limbic system controls many of the complex emotional behaviors we think of as instinct. Limbic system structures are involved in many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those that are related to survival. Different areas of the limbic system have a strong control over emotions such as pleasure, pain, anger, fear, sadness, sexual feelings, and affection.

The brain is one of the most complex systems to understand. You have the Thinking Brain, which is the cortex, the top layer of the brain. This part of the brain is where critical thinking takes place. The Thinking Brain is where the ability to stay organized, stay on task, analyze, and think things through is happening. This part of the brain has the ability to inhibit or control our impulses.

Underneath the Thinking Brain is the limbic system or the Emotional Brain. The limbic system controls many of the complex emotional behaviors we think of as instinct. Limbic system structures are involved in many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those that are related to survival. Different areas of the limbic system have a strong control over emotions such as pleasure, pain, anger, fear, sadness, sexual feelings, and affection.

 Two structures of the Emotional Brain that play an important role in PTSD are the amygdala and the hippocampus. The hippocampus is involved in memory forming, organizing, connecting emotions and senses–such as smell and sound–to memories, and storing this information away in long term memory for later use.  The amygdala activates the body’s alarm system (the fight or flight response). The amygdala has the unique ability to scan all signals–sights, sounds, smells, etc. It performs threat assessment and say’s either “there’s danger” or “it’s safe. The amygdala is a hair trigger that makes rapid judgments about a situation.

Two structures of the Emotional Brain that play an important role in PTSD are the amygdala and the hippocampus. The hippocampus is involved in memory forming, organizing, connecting emotions and senses–such as smell and sound–to memories, and storing this information away in long term memory for later use.

The amygdala activates the body’s alarm system (the fight or flight response). The amygdala has the unique ability to scan all signals–sights, sounds, smells, etc. It performs threat assessment and say’s either “there’s danger” or “it’s safe. The amygdala is a hair trigger that makes rapid judgments about a situation.


Under normal circumstances, the amygdala and hippocampus communicate with one another and the brain functions smoothly. However, traumatic stress disrupts the communication between these different areas. The Thinking Brain cannot get the message through to the amygdala that the danger is over and it’s okay to relax. The hippocampus cannot take the emotional information and store it away as a long term memory. So your memories of trauma stay with you all the time, and you continue to feel as if you are in constant danger.


This explains why a veteran who experienced traumatic events in combat may suffer a surge of anxiety years later when a helicopter flies over head. That helicopter was associated with a traumatic experience. So when your brain hears it, it sends warning signals that danger may be near. The biggest problem is this part of the brain cannot tell the difference between a real threat and an imagined threat. So now you have the brain in a state where everything is an emergency, and it runs in crises mode all the time.

20171216 Inspire! Veterans slides1.jpg

Symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories. Specific symptoms can vary in severity.

1.  Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks may be so vivid that people feel they are re-living the traumatic experience or seeing it before their eyes.

2.  Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event may include avoiding people, places, activities, objects and situations that bring on distressing memories.

3.  Negative thoughts and feelings may include ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others such as, “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted); ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; or feeling detached or estranged from others.

4.  Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being easily startled; or having problems concentrating or sleeping.


The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts:

Almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans

10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans

11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan

20 percent of Iraqi war veterans

 But PTSD isn’t the only problem. A Pew Research Center survey found that 44 percent of veterans in the post 9/11 period struggle with adjusting to civilian life.

But PTSD isn’t the only problem. A Pew Research Center survey found that 44 percent of veterans in the post 9/11 period struggle with adjusting to civilian life.


And a startling 22 veterans take their own lives through suicide every single day in our country.

Re-entry can be a shock after training and experiences that have made our service members anything but civilians.


For starters, the military takes care of soldiers’ basic needs so they can focus on more pressing matters, such as winning wars. The military supplies food, housing, dental and medical care, and a guaranteed paycheck every month. Returning to all those responsibilities in the civilian world can present a bit of culture shock.

Furthermore,  once troops leave their regimented environment and enter one with seemingly endless options and possibilities, the mental fatigue starts to set in. And with it comes stress. But there are steps that can be taken to control that stress.


Most importantly, our vets need to focus on self-care. Veterans don’t normally share their stories of difficulty adjusting to civilian life because they’ve been trained not to. In the military, talking about feelings is taboo, and displaying openness and vulnerability is viewed as a sign of weakness.

It’s important to recognize that the emotional journey back to civilian life will take longer than the physical journey. Though plenty of rest and good nutrition are key, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being are just as important.


Another important step is for vets to find a community of other vets. The important thing isn’t necessarily talking about war and trauma, but having access to someone else who knows what it’s like to be a vet, someone who can shore things up when times get tough.

Finally, veterans should be able to wear their service with pride, knowing that regardless of their experiences in the military, they are deeply respected. All of the veterans here today need to know that we are proud of your service and you should be, too.


In fact, we owe a special debt of gratitude to you. And as a veteran, you can help us by educating us and telling us how we can help. You can remind us to be patient and allow you the time, space and relationships you need.


And in the greater scheme of things, we can all work to alleviate the fear and suffering that leads to war. We have to stop glamorizing war and violence while supporting our veterans and veteran re-entry programs.

Ultimately, it is up to us to examine the causes of war, ask what is the part we play, stop exaggerating threats, and find alternatives to war. Because no one, no man, no woman, no soldier, no one is ever disposable.




Religious Diversity

How do we nurture religious diversity? Here's some steps everyone can take...
1) Love one another
2) Encourage hospitality - invite others into your home and accept invitations into other's homes
3) Tour the Hindu Temple in Grand Rapids
4) Tour the Mosque in Grand Rapids
5) Visit C3 in Grand Haven
6) Visit Spring Lake Presbyterian Church
7) Contact the Speaker's Bureau at the Interfaith Dialogue Association
8) Attend the Interfaith Allies "None" Panel at the Herrick Library in Holland on January 28 at 6pm
9) Recognize the holy dates of other religions on Facebook and with your friends who identify with those religions
10) Challenge Assumptions! Don't assume you know the religion - or lack of religion - of anyone you meet. 
11) Be willing to talk about your own spiritual path. 
12) Call out religious discrimination!

Inspire! Religious Diversity

Dalai Lama: As a Buddhist monk, I believe all major religious traditions can help people find inner peace. They may employ different approaches and techniques, but each of them has the potential to help us become better human beings. Therefore, it’s important that there is harmony and respect among them.

A Case for Heresy

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a heretic is someone who believes or teaches something that goes against accepted or official beliefs. A heretic is someone with a controversial opinion. A non-conformer. A dissenter. A freethinker. Someone who does not accept the words that are held as dogma and doctrine by others. I suspect there are more than a couple heretics here this morning!


I began my own heretical journey when I was welcomed into this world by Lutheran parents. Parents who brought me to church to be baptized at one week of age because the pastor was leaving and they wanted to slip me in quick before he drove away.


When I grew older I attended public school. For a while I thought I was incredibly fortunate. Here I was living in the best place in the whole wide world learning the one true religion in the whole world. I was amazingly blessed.


But by the time I was in third grade I started wondering about things. Here I was being told at school about those terrible Russians that I was supposed to be afraid of. And for some inexplicable reason it started to dawn on me that Russian kids right at that same moment were in school being taught how terrible and frightening I was.


Then I started to think about those kids who lived in the most remote parts of China, who didn’t know about Jesus and would die without ever knowing Jesus. How come I was so lucky and they were not? What weird twist of universal fate left me in the most envious position in all the world and left others consigned to hell?


I didn’t even know the words yet, but that was when I became a heretic and a pluralist. I realized that those kids were being raised in another tradition and that I had no more right to tell them they were wrong and try to take that away from them than they had to try to take my beliefs and understandings away from me.


I still feel the same way. I haven’t met anyone yet who shares my exact same concept of reality, my version of Truth as best I have crafted it to date. And hopefully, neither have you. Because if you have then chances are one of you has not done their own thinking.


I am very proud to be a heretic and I like to be in the company of other heretics. Because I believe that without our own heretical insights and impulses our spiritual journey becomes stiff and halted, if not stagnant and dead. 


If we are truly caught up in the mystery then we have to discover at some point that no one can give us the answers, because the answers are always inside of us. Truth can be pointed to, suggested, guessed at, but we cannot for all of our attempts ever fully find the words to express the great mystery of our existence. And so we speak in parable and metaphor, not in doctrinal certainties.

How liberating to find those places in which people can bring and share their heresies – not in order to convince everybody that they are the sole holder of truth, but so that we can all admit that the questions are still open and that mystery still remains.

Rev Paul.png

Back when I was a Lutheran pastor, I got to spend time with Reverend Paul Rajashaker. Paul was raised in a Hindu home and became a Christian later in life. He suggested that the church’s approach to other traditions has been to embrace a “Theology of Hostility.”


Now as we seek to articulate our beliefs and our heresies, we also have to be wary of falling into the trap of a Philosophy of Hostility. Instead of explaining ourselves in contrast to others, as superior, better or above others, we must begin articulating who we are in a way that makes sense to the other and invites them in rather than shutting them out. And today we get to model that. We are so fortunate to have on our panel a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian and an Atheist. If I have to label myself these days, I explain that I’m a Christian Mystic Taoist. There are others here, following other spiritual paths.


And here we all are ready to show by example that if we are going to nurture religious diversity we have to begin by approaching people of other traditions and with other beliefs with genuine humility, eager to share not what we have been taught but what we have experienced to be true. We need to ask people who they are and be genuinely interested in the answers. And we must be willing to be changed by the witness they bring to us.


Because heresy does have a shadow side. It does tend to want to establish its own right thinking – declaring itself right and above reproach. When we end up thinking we are right and everybody else is wrong, we only perpetuate an ideology of hostility, pitting one set of human understandings against another.


The spiritual journey is not the practice of mindlessly repeating everything we have been taught. Nor is it the practice of disagreeing with everything for the sake of disagreement. The spiritual journey is about opening ourselves up to truth we do not yet have the words to describe or the language to share. Until finally we can move beyond this silly state of us vs. them and arrive together arrive at a spiritual reality that transcends barriers, boxes and boundaries.



To see a video of our Inspire! Religious Diversity, check out this Youtube link:

Inspire! Aging, Death & Dying- How to take Action!

Aging, Death and Dying


What we can do to combat ageism…

-Speak Up
-Own Your Age
-Separate Age as a Number from Age as an Attitude
-Consume media that embraces aging
-Read: This Chair Rocks and Being Mortal (buy them at the Bookman)
-Intergenerational book clubs and other activities
-Address the greater prevalence of ageism against women
-Embrace modern technology the best we can


What can we do to age more gracefully…

-Get rid of the clothes that don’t fit
-Exercise regularly, including Tai Chi, meditation, etc
-Keep in touch with friends and make new friends – stay social
-Do things for others
-Focus on living
-Get situated with your plans – wills, directives, powers
-Learn something every day
-Listen to your body
-Ignore the pressure to be young
-Accept signs of age as rewards
-Be your own true self
-Do something nice for yourself every day
-Pursue the experience

Learn about aging, death and dying in order to get rid of the fear


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?