Bedtime Stories

When saying our bedtime prayers, I pray for the children who sleep on cots in old WAL-MART big box stores. According to this news article, thousands of children are literally being warehoused. This is not a metaphor or an exaggeration. The place designed to store plastic products made in China is where children are forced to live.

While reading my son his bedtime story, I think about all those children who have no one to provide nurture, emotional care or comfort. Yes, they get food and clothing. Yes they have shelter and medical care. But even abandoned dogs in an animal shelter get these things.

What about the emotional and psychological well-being of these children? Without access to parental or familial relationships, their growth is being harmed. Separating children from families without providing appropriate emotional and psychological attachments is a form of psychological and developmental torture.

There will be negative longterm side effects of this type of emotional and psychological neglect at the hands of the United States government. This will have implications for the future of these children who will grow into adults impacted by the traumatic effects of this form of psychological and developmental torture most likely leading to PTSD.

I know how much encouragement, nurture, love, tenderness, and comforting touch that my child needs from his parents on a daily basis for his own development and wellbeing. Children from other countries are no different than my child. All children need love and tenderness. All children are created in the image of God.

It is an insult to God and all creation that children are being treated worse than dogs. Separating children from their families and warehousing them is a crime against humanity that needs to be stopped as soon as possible because already too many children have experienced irreversible harm.

As a mother and as a Christian pastor, I am ashamed and horrified by this unacceptable policy. I believe Jesus Christ calls us to love the world’s children just as we love our very own. Would the President put his son in one of these warehouses?

Getting Saved: It’s Not What You Think

We saved a person last Thursday night at church and it’s not what you think. After the tears stopped rolling down their cheeks, they said, “thank you for saving me.”

This person was at church for a program and was feeling suicidal. They left the program in the church basement and sat upstairs alone in the church parlor, alone with thoughts of suicide.

That’s when a church member saw them and paused. She wondered what to do. Does she keep walking and pretend she doesn’t see the person crying? Does she nod in recognition of the pain, but keep moving away to give the person privacy?

Earlier that same week we hosted the author Rachael Keefe and learned about how churches can actively prevent suicide based on her new book The Lifesaving Church: Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention. Since this church member attended the training, she knew what to do and what not to do.

Pretending not to notice, to look the other way, to politely distance herself could have been fatal.

Instead, she sat down next to them and said, “I noticed you are having a hard time. Can you tell me about it?” From there the person opened up, was able to experience support and to de-escalate the suicidal feeling.

The church member came and got me. Sitting with them, we talked together through a safety plan. They were texting their mom, planned to go to see their therapist the next day, and let their roommate know. We sat together until they were ready to live again.

I stayed at church with them until they went home. By the time they left, the wave of suicidal urges had passed. Turns out, this experience was not uncommon for this person. What they had to learn was how to ride out the wave of suicidality. As a church, we knew how to help.

I thank God that they got saved that night at church. The church member who was the first responder said that she never would have stopped before she had the training. It was only because she knew the signs of someone in distress and she knew what to do that a life was saved.

Every church can be a Lifesaving Church. What would it take for your faith community to provide suicide prevention training for your leaders and members?

Keefe, Rachael. The Lifesaving Church: Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention (Chalice Press, 2018).

Suicide Culture Shock

In a new report out this June, the Center for Disease Control says that suicide rates have increased in almost every state. In 2016, nearly 45,000 people died by suicide, making it one of the top ten causes of death in the USA. With the high profile deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain within the span of a couple of days, suicide is trending on social media.

I wonder if we are waking up to a suicide culture. I wonder if we are in shock. I wonder if we are experiencing suicide culture shock.

What does it mean to be part of a culture where suicide rates are on the rise? How do certain aspects of our culture contribute to the increased deaths by suicide? And more importantly, what can we do as a culture to save lives, to prevent deaths by suicide?

In the CDC report, there are seven suggestions for what communities can do to change this culture of suicide.

  1. Identify and support people at risk of suicide.
  2. Teach coping and problem-solving skills to help people manage challenges with their relationships, jobs, health, or other concerns.
  3. Promote safe and supportive environments. This includes safely storing medications and firearms to reduce access among people at risk.
  4. Offer activities that bring people together so they feel connected and not alone.
  5. Connect people at risk to effective and coordinated mental and physical healthcare.
  6. Expand options for temporary help for those struggling to make ends meet.
  7. Prevent future risk of suicide among those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

Number four stands out as one of the most subtle yet deadly characteristics of our suicide culture: people feel disconnected and alone. The good news is that as humans we are wired for connectivity. The bad news is that we’ve come to rely too heavily on technology to satisfy our innate desires for human connection and belonging. And in some important ways, it isn’t working out too well for us.

The fact that we are wired for relationships, we know now, is being dangerously used by corporations for profit at the expense of the fragile bonds that connect our human family. Our suicide culture is reinforced by the technology that draws us deeper into our devices (software engineers call this strategy “brain hacking”) and further away from deepening our core relationships with a few close friends and family.

Originally Facebook was created to “bring people together so they feel connected and not alone.” But what if instead, as research has shown, addictive behaviors associated with the use of social media actually contribute to creating a suicide culture …a culture where we feel even more disconnected and even more alone.

As the CDC report also says, there is no one single cause of death by suicide, (such as mental illness) but many complex factors (loss of job, physical illness). Likewise, there are many different factors in our culture contributing to increased rates of suicide. This is complex.

How can we intentionally change our culture, choose to be countercultural when it comes to suicide? What if we started small, by making an effort to connect more deeply with the people right around us?

As folk singer Carrie Newcomer says, draw a three foot circle around you and begin there…begin by connecting with the people three feet around you. It could be that by paying closer attention to those in front of us, that we are better able to bear one another’s burdens, and share the heavy load. When we intentionally and attentively engage with and nurture the people around us, we choose a radical, countercultural way of living.

When we choose to pay attention to the three feet around us, we are saving lives. We know that we can do more as a culture to prevent suicide. The question is, when the suicide culture shock wears off, and there is a new round of stories on social media getting our attention…will we be able to break free of this culture of suicide?

We can all start now by focusing on the three feet around you. Share love and hope with these people immediately around you…#savethreefeet. I’m going to give it a try because there’s just too much to lose.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 in the USA. Text 741741 to the Crisis Text Line

#savethreefeet #suicideprevention