Tag Archive: NYC

Foster Family

fosterparentimageIt’s taken nearly a year to get to this point, but we can now announce, “We’re foster parents!”

This wasn’t an adventure I ever imagined or dreamed of.  In my mind, people who foster children are much more kind, compassionate, tender, gentle and caring than I am.  Not that these aren’t adjectives that describe me, but they certainly aren’t the first ones that come to mind when I think of myself (I think of strategic, dreamer, get-er-done-er, and communicator).  But God started a work in both Mike’s heart and mine after we moved to New York City two years ago.  Last year we took our first step towards fostering, and now we’re living it out.  It feels good to follow God in joyful obedience.

While we hope God will use foster care to build our family, we realize that the goal of the foster care system is reunification.  Our role is to provide a safe and loving place for a child while the family “gets better, healthier”.

Saturday night our first foster baby arrived, a 7 month old baby girl.  We love having her with us and she’s a cheery baby with a lot to say!

Thursday night our second foster baby arrived, a 6 month old baby boy.  We are quite taken with him and so honored to host him.  He, too, is a smiley babe.

Our Cutie PIE is doing well with her new friends.  She reaches out to play with the babies and seems to enjoy them.  Mike and I make sure we each get some good one on one time with her, too.

Yes, having three babies under the age of one AND a puppy makes life really full, and our small apartment is really full, too.  My sister spent the last two nights with us to help out, as we’re getting our systems down.  This isn’t a typical or normal placement situation in the foster system: we were given an exception to be able to care for these two additional babies, and while it is extra work, we felt like God clearly led us to take them both*.

Are we crazy?  Perhaps.  But following God sometimes means walking down unexpected pathways… and we trust our relentlessly affectionate God!  Amen!


*Legally we are not able to share case details.  Each child (and their family) deserves privacy and respect as they work towards reunification.  We will not post pictures of our foster babies, nor will we answer personal questions about them.  But we welcome your prayers for their health, safety and care, and the same for their families!

Coaching Training

I’ve been doing it for years without extensive training, so why bother going through the effort and expense of earning a coaching certification? Partly for the certification, partly for the training, and partly for the refresher, not to mention the credibility.

Our work in New York City looks very different from what I originally envisioned a few years ago. We now work mainly with marketplace professionals and executives, and while my background includes 15 years of experience helping people develop and take their next steps, it’s all without any official training program or credentialing. Earning a coaching certificate and moving on towards accreditation with the International Coach Federation provides the reputable background to be able to help New Yorkers make a real difference at work, at play and at home.

Just days after Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast, I spent at week in Atlanta, GA, to attend coaching training with CRM, Creative Results Management. The training was extensive, comprehensive and professional. My cohort colleagues are from all over the globe which demonstrates the world-wide appeal of coaching.

Coaching differs from consulting and mentoring in that the latter two are focused on someone being the expert and having experience to share with the client while coaching focuses on the client, using questions to create awareness and action steps to solve a current and/or future challenge. Unlike traditional sports coaching, an executive coach doesn’t call the plays, the client does.

Coaching is not counseling, which tends to look at the past to bring clarity, healing and understanding to the present. In coaching, the client, not the coach, sets the agenda and drives the action points. The coach doesn’t need to be the knowledge expert in order to serve the client’s needs. The coach just needs to ask good questions.

The opportunities for networking and helping people take their next right steps towards living out their divine calling are a natural expansion of our ministry to people in New York City. Coaching gives neutral ground to build relationships, become an asset in the City and provide helpful conversations with busy people.

I’m working towards graduation now, taking a teleclass and coaching several clients through an 8-session coaching series to gain experience and start to build a reputation.  While it’s been highly rewarding for me to connect with these clients weekly, the self-discovery my clients have experienced is eye-opening.

A west coast client who works in HR for an athletic ministry said, “I never realized how pursuing [my hobby] is tied to my personal calling. It’s encouraging to continue to define my personal calling.”

“One of today’s highlights was recognizing the reality that something has to change so that I can create,” shared an Atlanta-based entrepreneur. “Ideas can be overwhelming but these are tangible action points to get me started.”

Magazine Models

Do you subscribe to Fast Company magazine?  If so, whip out your February edition and turn to the back, page 102.  See that pic in the bottom left of the happy people enjoying meaningful conversation with new friends (i.e. schmoozing)?  Yeah.  That’s us.  We’re in a magazine.  How wild is that??

Sarah & Mike in Fast Company Magazine

Back in November Mike and I attended a fascinating panel discussion on the “revitalization” of Harlem, our neighborhood, sponsored by Aloft Hotels and Fast Company magazine.  Architects, designers and community leaders sat on the panel and shared their stories, histories and experiences in the effort to  transform Harlem into the hot spot it is now: new restaurants, new hotels, new green spaces.  One person commented that Harlem hasn’t been revitalized, it’s simply continued the path of transformation down which all urban communities travel.

I met the architect who redesigned my favorite green space, turning it from a parking lot into a beautiful park with piers into the East River, places to sit and gaze at New Jersey, bike and roller blading paths, as well as a running trail.  I also met some of the people who lobbied for years for that park!

The event, hosted in the first hotel to open in Harlem in more than 40 years, included time to network with others and was catered by  Sylvia’s, a neighborhood restaurant known for it’s flavorful soul food.  Our infamous photo was snapped during that tasty hour.

Hard Reality

Image from www.unviolencestudy.org

There are times when reality barges into my safe world and I don’t always know how to respond. Balancing the tension of the imperfect can be uncomfortable and disorienting. How does the Gospel make a difference here? Do I step up, step in? How? What do I say?

The bus was late, and I had a raging headache. It crossed my mind to stay home from our Tuesday night small group, but seeing those people has quickly become one of the high points in my week. After being away for ten days, the idea of joining them for a home-cooked meal and a rousing discussion about the Bible and last Sunday’s sermon was too tempting for me to skip. Raging headache and all.

Five minutes late, seven minutes late… now we would be late, too. Note to self: take the subway to small group, and the bus home.

I shared the bus stop bench with two men. The one sitting in the middle was tall, sturdy and talkative. The other was older, frail, with a beard and a curved wooden cane. When the taller man sat down, he greeted the older man as though he knew him, handing him a piece of fruit out of his white plastic grocery store bag. They carried on a lively, mostly one-sided conversation in the evening chill. Mike stood to my right, in front of the large illumined H&M store ad featuring two blond women wearing surprisingly inexpensive clothing.

I heard a noise behind me, as though a scuffle had broken out, and now someone was crying. I twisted around on the bench and saw two kids on the ground about four feet away: a little girl in her pink coat, hood up, backpack strapped to her back, was struggling to get up from the wet sidewalk. A young boy, maybe junior high age and wearing what looked like a thin navy blue jacket was on his back with an open-mouthed wail. I think I saw tears. Two women were standing over them. The one with her hair slicked back looked angry and was yelling at the boy.

My heart skipped a few beats and I turned to my right to look at Mike for reassurance or explanation. He looked down at me and softly said, “She pushed them down.”

I swiveled back around to my left, protected from the wind by the bus stop shelter, and looked at the scene again. How could that be? The older woman had the young girl by the hand by now, walking down the hill ahead while the angry woman and the boy were standing still on the other side of the clear bus stop partition. She was yelling at him, but he was wailing louder and had a hand on his head.

I turned back to Mike and asked him to repeat what he had said because I simply could not work out the mechanics of it. It didn’t seem to be an accident. Anger radiated from the scene and I was glad we had the clear plexiglass of the bus stop to shield us from that angry woman. Mike said the woman pushed the girl into the boy and knocked them both down. I can’t imagine the force she used, for when I first looked, the kids were splayed out on the ground like bowling pins after a someone throws a strike.

Now the angry woman grabbed the boy by the collar, pushing him backwards over the black wrought iron railing. Unfortunately for the boy, the railing was made up of vertical black poles of varying heights. It had to hurt to be forced backwards over that fence.

I felt sick to my stomach and glued to my seat. This wasn’t an episode of Law & Order. This was really happening in front of me. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted someone to intervene. What do I say? What do I do? My mouth felt clamped shut. Would anyone say anything? What would the angry woman do next? Would she turn towards her audience at the bus stop and unleash her anger on us? I was scared and shaken.

The pair walked away: the boy holding his head, still wailing with an open-mouthed cry and his unzipped jacket also wide open in the chill wind, the angry woman still shouting unintelligible words. I think she was oblivious to us, though we were only four feet away.

I sat still, shocked, feeling ill, unsure of what to do next. The large man on my left made comments about how a boy can’t stop crying when a woman is hitting him.

That’s when it hit me hard: this is reality. For many people. This kind of abuse is an everyday occurrence. With more than 8 million people living on an island 13 miles long by 2 miles wide, you’re going to run into all sides of humanity. How had I lived here for over a year and not yet run into situations like this?

I’ve seen the sad, fallen side of society like poverty and the plight of the homeless. I’ve volunteered time and muscle to help. Jesus said we’d always have the poor with us. But this scene was energized by anger and incited fear in me. Now my raging headache was accompanied by a churning stomachache.

When the M11 bus finally arrived, I climbed on in a shell-shocked state. I took a seat near the back, next to the window to search the passing sidewalks for the foursome. But they were long gone. Do they live in the apartment complex across the street from my place? Will I see them again? Was the boy at home, cowering from the angry woman? What was it like for him everyday? Scenes from the movie Precious punctuated my questions.

Two and a half miles south on Amsterdam the happy hum of conversation greeted us in the Upper West Side apartment, along with the comforting smells of homemade lasagna. People smiled and called out warm greetings as I wriggled out of my puffy down coat. It was the kind of scene that a movie director could use to close out a film, complete with clusters of conversation around a big table, soft lighting, with a few people in the kitchen washing the dishes while a sense of joy and fullness radiated from everyone in the place.

But this isn’t the end of a movie. This is the tension of living in the now and the not yet, believing in a Redeemer who binds up the wounds of the broken, restores what was stolen, and brings justice, yet not seeing the complete fulfillment of these promises in the lives of other people, or even in my own.

Oh Lord Jesus, I want to live out the truth, righteousness and hope of your Gospel, but I don’t know how to reconcile the harsh reality of our fallen, broken world with what I know to be true about you. I live sheltered from so much of the hurt others experience. Lead me. How do you want me to live?

Surprise TV Appearance

Photo from www.RachaelRayShow.com

Living in New York City provides opportunities for unexpected fun which you can’t get anywhere else.  Take yesterday, for instance.  A friend gave me tickets to see a taping of the Rachael Ray Show, and I sat in the front row of the audience with my sister on my right, and a friend on the left.  Next thing I knew, I had a microphone in my hand, a camera trained on my face, and I was standing up asking a baking question to Rachael Ray and Buddy the Cake Boss as they made a cream puff pie dessert.


Photo from http://www.andol.info/life/1222.htm

I shoved my gloved hands deeper into my jacket pockets.  It wasn’t a frigid winter day, but it was windy and damp, having rained on and off.  Staff meeting was over and I headed back to our apartment to finish up a report for our team leader.  We had a team dinner in three hours, so I had just enough time to make the final edits and revisions.  I was glad to have words to wrestle with for the afternoon because near the end of our staff meeting sorrow had wrapped itself around me like a warm blanket on this chilly day.  I didn’t expect the sorrow, so when I realized what I felt, I was surprised.  I needed the comfort of mindful editing so I could ignore the unexpected sorrow.

This was a unique day.  Because three of our teammates are leaving the city, moving out, we had a day of farewells with fond memories and an encouraging send off.  But walking away from that, I didn’t feel happy.

It felt like everyone else on the team was moving on to something new: new ministry locations, new teams, new adventures.  And the one other couple remaining in the City  had a baby just a few days ago.  It seemed like everyone had new chapters of life to explore.  But I felt the weight of empty arms and was reminded again of the baby we lost.  If I hadn’t had a miscarriage, I’d be 5-6 months pregnant by now and we would’ve had our new chapter to look forward to, too.

Oh Lord, how do I move forward in this sadness, this sorrow, this emptiness?  May my wounded heart learn how to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.  Fill my heart with healing, with hope.

WHO not WHAT: Resolutions 2012

It’s the beginning of January 2012, so I suppose I ought to write about resolutions, fresh starts and all that.  But I don’t feel like it.  I did that last year.

Rather than exploring my yearnings for a svelte figure or organized and clutter-free living, I’d rather write about WHO I hope to be in 2012 rather than WHAT I want to do. I’m back at the be vs. do challenge around which my life often circles.

Who do I want to be this year? Me, but a growing version of me: ever learning, exploring and creating.

I want to walk in greater avenues of humility with a tender heart, asking for forgiveness, and offering it without being asked.

I want to be a woman who doesn’t hold grudges, nor thinks more highly of herself than she does of others.

I want to be a woman who says “yes,” to new friends, experiences, challenges and opportunities.

I want be a woman who doesn’t “should” on herself: I want to cease making oppressive, unrealistic expectations for my character, behavior, appearance, accomplishments, and anecdotes.

I want to be a woman who lives in the freedom of grace and extends it to others.  I want to be a woman who gives herself and others room to breathe.

It sounds like this is my 2012 manifesto.  As with the resolutions regarding behavior changes, this manifesto of ME development will need accountability, action steps and goals which are broken into achievable tasks.

Did I just turned my WHO into a WHAT resolution?  Maybe that’s just part of who I am.

Small Steps to the Homeless Shelter

The roasted vegetables smelled really good.  I’d been standing behind the serving counter for an hour picking up clean plates from my left, scooping out a generous spoonful of those veggies and passing the plate to the person on my right who filled the rest of the plate with spaghetti.  It smelled really good.  I was hungry.

He was hungry.  His back was slightly bent.  He hadn’t shaved for a while.  It was a cold day, but he didn’t have a warm coat on.  He came to the homeless shelter at the same time everyday, and stood in the same line which wound around the building.  He was a regular, and he knew that hungry men like himself were allowed into the dining room in shifts so that there was room for everyone to sit down in a warm place to eat.

I was hungry.  He was hungry. But I wasn’t as hungry as he was.  Looking him in the eye, I acknowledged his dignity and greeted him with a smile and an overflowing plate of roasted vegetables and spaghetti.

There’s something good about serving alongside your staff and students when you aren’t wearing the hat of leader or director.  It puts everyone on an even level and let’s face it, there’s something about looking hungry people in the eye and handing them something hot to eat that removes any sense of hubris.

Wikipedia, that vast bastion of ever evolving information, says, “Volunteerism is the act of selflessly giving your life to something you believe free of pay.”

at the Rescue Mission

I agree, but I’d also add that when campus ministers and ministry leaders put our love in action by serving alongside of our students, we demonstrate the Gospel in a deeper way.  With over 300 verses in the Bible about the poor, social justice, and God’s concern for both, putting my faith in action seems like a reasonable act of worship.

For years I’ve thought about volunteering on a regular basis.  I had a roommate four years ago who spent one night a week in a local soup kitchen.  I didn’t even know that our small city had a soup kitchen.  As I watched her go week after week, I thought about how she put her faith in action so well.  I put my faith in words very well, but I felt a great divide between my words and deeds.  I justified my lack of intentional effort to serve others by my full time ministry role (unpredictable hours, seasons of craziness, I’m already trying to meet the spiritual needs of so many), but lots of people experience similar work stresses and still find time to help people.

This fall I’ve volunteered at a homeless shelter and a warehouse with supplies for the underprivileged.  Yes, it takes a bit of time to get there, and I have to say “no” to other great opportunities to keep those time slots open.  But those few hours spent serving people in need (people in REAL need) while connecting with my students have given me some sweet gifts and insights.  I walk away so grateful for how faithfully God has provided for me.  I walk away with a full heart of worship, having had my heart touched by compassion.  I walk away knowing that someone else’s hard life was made just a little sweeter because of those few hours.  I walk away with a greater appreciation for the decisions my students make to be there every month, and I get to know my students in a different context.

What’s the next step? I want to model servant leadership by helping “the least of these” without an agenda to advance my own purposes.  For me, it’s to commit to a monthly time to serve at the homeless shelter.  I’d like to make it weekly like my former roommate, but I’ll start with small steps.

What about you?

Earlier that first volunteer day I almost backed out of going to the homeless shelter.  “I’m just so tired,” I thought as the time flashed up that strange greenish color on the microwave clock.  I didn’t know if I had the energy to make the subway trek down to the Bowery Mission.  Enough of our students said they wanted to volunteer at the soup kitchen to serve meals to homeless men that I didn’t think it would make a difference if I showed up.

But it did.  It made a big difference.  To him, to my students, and to me.


originally posted on the CruPressGreen Campus Ministry Blog on 15 December 2011