Inspiration, Leadership

For One Who Holds Power


For One Who Holds Power

May the gift of leadership awaken in you as a vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.

As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.

When the way is flat and dull in times of gray endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.

When thirst burns in times of drought,
May you be blessed to find the wells.

May you have the wisdom to read time clearly
And know when the seed of change will flourish.

In your heart may there be a sanctuary
For the stillness where clarity is born.

May your work be infused with passion and creativity
And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.

May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.

May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy.

May you welcome your own vulnerability
As the ground where healing and truth join.

May integrity of soul be your first ideal.
The source that will guide and bless your work.

-John O’Donahue

Family, Inspiration, Love

Jessy & The Zombie Apocalypse

Our family, like many families, has been discussing the recent murders in Orlando and vigorously debating what could be or should be done to prevent such unimaginable tragedies. We talk about the particularly complicated nature of these events – xenophobia, homophobia, mental illness, public health and safety concerns, the inaction of our elected representatives, the anguish of the victims’ families, and more. And I am reminded of the zombie apocalypse.

moms hatsThis idea first emerged shortly after 9-11. Our children were much younger then, only 4 and 8, so we worked hard to shield them from much of the news coverage. My husband and I talked in hushed tones about what we’d do in the event of a widespread attack. Who would be closest to the children? Where could we go? Should we find each other first and then go? Or just determine a safe location to meet up later? How surreal it was to even discuss. Over time, the kids have joined the conversation about our plan, though we don’t refer to it directly. Instead, it has become, in our house, the “zombie apocalypse.” This allows us a bit of distance and some humor as we contemplate injustice and hatred in today’s world.

kids 2015Our children are now young adults, 19 and 23. We’re enjoying a moment in time when both happen to be living at home. They are delightful people – funny, thoughtful, and fiercely passionate about their opinions. Jake is heading toward his sophomore year in college. Jessy just finished her first school year as a teacher.

And so, in our conversations these days, the zombie apocalypse idea re-emerges. We’d all be in different locations, which makes it a bit trickier. I’d head out from my office downtown, pick up my mom who lives nearby and we’d all rendezvous at home. Then we’d grab groceries (non-perishables), the antique rifle (or is it a shotgun?), and head for the mountains. Sounds like a plan. “Nope,” says Jessy, “I can’t do that. I won’t leave my kids.” Her “kids” are the first grade students she teaches. She is steadfast. Sure, perhaps some parents would come get their kids, but if any were still at school, the only way she’d leave is if they came with us. We discuss how many of them we can fit in our smallish vehicles and determine perhaps two cars is the way to go.

People, we live in a world where my daughter won’t leave the children she teaches during a zombie apocalypse. There is plenty more to be said, but somehow, absurdly, this sums it up. How do we begin to make this a safe, loving community where we build each other up rather than tear each other down? Let’s promise not to leave each other during the zombie apocalypse. Let’s create the world we want to live in, together.


Family, Inspiration

Five Things I Really Appreciate About My Mom

Joy and her girls, Ruth Marie & Kathleen, at the Grand Canyon, July 2012.


Mother’s Day is a Hallmark holiday, and as such, I want to ignore it. I’d like to believe that I do a great job of letting my mom know how much she means to me all year long, so why would I observe this artificial “holiday” that merely lines the pockets of florists, card companies, and large retail establishments?

Nevertheless, today, as another Mother’s Day approached, I found myself perusing the hundreds of cards at my local large retail establishment. Finding the perfect sentiment, I balked at the $5.47 price tag and opted for an email card and this post instead.


Here are five things I really appreciate about my mom:

Grammy celebrating a recent birthday with 3 of her 5 very funny  grandchildren.
Grammy celebrating a recent birthday with 3 of her 5 very funny grandchildren.
  1. My mom has a great sense of humor. It’s important not to take yourself too seriously, and believe me, if Joy is your mom, you won’t. She has the ability to find humor in everyday life and has great appreciation for the absurd. When I was about 12, I dropped a ladder through the church ceiling (don’t ask), creating a large hole in the false ceiling just above the sanctuary balcony. . . on a Saturday. Needless to say, my preacher daddy was less than thrilled, and after a stern reprimand, sent me home to grab some tools. Breathless and in tears, I ran in and shared my story with Mother. Her response? She laughed (it really is quite funny in retrospect, though I didn’t get it at the time!). Another day I brought a stray cat home only to have it escape and terrorize the household. Daddy? He did a little yelling as he ran around trying to capture the poor feline. Mother? Giggles. When my sister Kathleen baptized herself with a big can of green Hawaiian punch? More giggles. Over the years, she’s gotten a huge kick out of her grandkids and their many endearing and often unintentionally funny sayings. Just this week, my mom and I had a good laugh over a “Jake-ism.” Even during the dark days of my dad’s final illness, we often found humor in otherwise grim situations. “Grammy” has taught our family to find the silly or funny in most every part of life. A good laugh brings healing and happiness and is just plain fun. Like my mom.

    My mom with her mom, the original family hostess.
    My mom with her mom, the original family hostess.
  2. My mom is a wonderful hostess. When you look up “hospitality” in the dictionary, I believe there is a picture of my mother just next to it. She gets it honestly, a legacy from her mother whose baked Alaska is still discussed in revered tones at family gatherings. She hosts many a gathering, frets over all the details, and always produces a fabulous event. Whether a bridge gathering, a family birthday, Christmas dinner, or a party for her “Single Sisters,” her hospitality exemplifies my mother’s innate kindness, warmth, and helpfulness. Many of us also head to her place when we need a sympathetic ear and a soft shoulder on which to cry. We are fortunate to be the frequent recipients of her friendly, comforting hospitality.
  3. My mom is tough and resilient. I’ve always known my mom as a working mom. When my sister and I were younger, she worked nights and weekends to be more present during our waking hours. As we got older, she began a career in nursing administration, working long hours and coming home to another whole shift of managing our household. She has long been a consummate multi-tasker, keeping copious lists and calendars to ensure everyone was where they needed to be when they needed to be there. She meticulously planned our vacations and our meals, getting really creative with salmon and mac and cheese in between paychecks. When my dad got sick and required nearly total care, my mom refused to allow him to languish in a long-term care facility. She brought him home and ensured his last months and years were ones of quality. She managed the health care bureaucracy, his care, his diet and his comfort with a tenacity that blew all of us away. We stand in awe of her amazing ability to get things done, no matter what.
  4. My mom is generous. What’s that parable about the woman who gave what little she had to God? My mom’s heart is huge, which translates to a generosity that outshines even those more affluent than she. She gives of her treasure, yes, but also, in equal measure, her time and her talent. Whether helping assisted living residents play bridge, guiding seniors in making insurance decisions, praying for others, caring for grandchildren (during the elementary years especially), providing financing for the odd family need, underwriting the trip of a lifetime, or doling out sage wisdom and advice, everything she offers comes from the heart. She lives her love!

    My mom and dad, Joy & Hal, on their wedding day, September 14, 1963.
    My mom and dad, Joy & Hal, on their wedding day, September 14, 1963.
  5. My mom is full of joie de vivre . . . the joy of living. How appropriate that my mom’s given name is Joy! No matter how tough or lonely life can get, my mom finds that nugget of goodness or life lesson and comes out of even her hardest moments with a renewed appreciation for the life she has. Her genuine enjoyment of her loved ones and friends, her great canine companion Buddy, her books and games, and her lovely home are infectious. Her great love for her family, her passion for justice, and her deep and abiding faith are inspiring.  My mom’s energy, dedication, and joy are truly a joy to us, her biggest fans.

Joy, Mother, Grammy – we love you! Because you’re in our lives, life is richer and better, and we are absolutely certain that every day is a “Joy-full” Mother’s Day!!

Family, Inspiration, Love

Blessed to Miss You Terribly

daddy2Thursday will be my father’s 77th birthday. Last Tuesday was the 2nd anniversary of his death.

This morning as I sat in church, my thoughts inevitably turned to my father, a Moravian pastor. He had 70+ years of good health, then 4 and a half years of ill health prior to his death. At the time of his life-altering aortic dissection and stroke, he was playing golf, mowing his yard, and teaching his 10-year-old grandson basketball. Of course, we expected him to live forever. He was a kind, calming influence with a dry wit and balanced approach to life’s challenges. His childhood was undeservedly difficult, but he persevered, served God and others, married wisely, and made good choices. Still, at the time of his death he was a shadow of himself, unable to do nearly everything that brought him satisfaction or joy. Why?

Why? It’s a question I’ve never expected to answer but continue to ask. Please don’t tell me it’s God’s plan. I cannot believe in a God who would cause something so tragic to befall this faithful servant. Every day, our family – my mom, my sister, myself, our husbands, our children – every day, we suffer his loss. We feel his absence keenly and we grieve. We miss him terribly.

We know we were blessed to have had him in our lives . . . to have benefited from his unconditional love, his quiet wisdom, his supportive presence, his back pats and shaking shoulders, his uplifting humor, his gentle manner. I think of people estranged from loved ones, or those who knew only an abusive or absent father. I realize it is a gift to miss my beloved daddy.


And he’s among us still. Echoes of my father resonate in the sure strides of his grandson Jake on the lacrosse field, in the corny puns of his colleague John, in the lush green of the 18th hole, in Andy Griffith’s southern drawl, in our pastor Stuart as he serves communion in his crisp, white surplice. We sense Granddaddy’s approval when celebrating the achievements of his wonderfully talented grandchildren, and of course, when the Braves or Panthers win.

My dad would “knock a hickey on my head” if I left you with the impression that I blame God for life simply happening. With us every step of this difficult journey is the very God my father served with such devotion. God gave us strength to carry on through the darkest days and nights. God showed up in the form of caring friends and thoughtful volunteers. God still provides inspiration and solace through scripture and prayer. And it’s God who links us to these precious echoes of my father each and every day.

So, yes, God, I get it. And Daddy, please know how blessed we are to miss you terribly.

Fam03-requested for enlargement

Inspiration, Kids, Random Stuff

Shane’s Story

My nephew, Shane Burcaw, is a bit of a media star at the moment. He’s all over the blogosphere, and just finished up an East Coast speaking tour. He’s become the subject of many a video, news story and blog post. You can read about him at his tumblr blog. Start at the beginning. I will warn you, his language can be pretty raw but the story’s worth reading.

The whole journey’s been really wild and weird at the same time. I’ve watched from the sidelines, proud of Shane and what’s he’s doing, but with a bit of discomfort relative to the media coverage of his journey. I recently read a blog post by Bill Peace, a blogger with a lot to say about living with disability.  I was righteously indignant when I first read it, but on a second and third read, decided it was a great opportunity for me to articulate what is really unique and positive about Shane’s wild ride.

Here’s my response to his post:


Your post helped me get words around parts of Shane’s recent media journey that I’ve found unsettling, but have been unable to articulate. So, for that, I thank you.

I am horribly biased here; Shane is my nephew, the son of my husband’s brother. I have known him all of his short life, which has extended far beyond his original prognosis. Every day we have with Shane is a gift and we, his family, are profoundly grateful, as we are for each day we have with all of our children, nieces, and nephews. Burcaw children ROCK, that’s all there is to it. We watch Shane continue to live his life, to write, start a business, make new friends, and experience far more than we ever thought possible, and we are happy. We laugh and enjoy life with him. Burcaws do a lot of laughing.

2013-05-29 19.55.07I have a larger point too, one that doesn’t include me telling you to “get stuffed.”  Yes, Shane’s message is simplistic, and yes, I do cringe when I see how the video producers have dramatically emphasized the terminal nature of his disease and go on about his courage (though he is absolutely courageous). And, I absolutely hate it when he talks about his private parts on his blog with 300,000 followers!! Ugh. How is this elevating the dialogue regarding disability rights? I’ll tell you — it’s not.

And that’s just fine.

Shane’s audience is not your audience. It’s not my audience. Not even close. Shane spoke yesterday to middle and high school students in an alternative setting. These kids have disabilities of their own, mostly mental and behavioral, and are on the fringes of society, screwed over by every “system” with which they interact. They are mostly poor and African-American. When Shane spoke to them, you could’ve heard a pin drop. He talked about his life, his disease, and some of the challenges he faces. He did talk about being positive in the face of life’s adversities, whether large or small, though he used simpler words, like “suck.” Afterward, he took questions. The kids asked him how he took tests, how did he eat, did he sleep in a normal bed, what were his fears? One kid stood up and thanked Shane for coming and for talking  to them about his life. I believe he may have used the word “inspire.” Then, we all had cake together to celebrate Shane’s 21st birthday.

You’re right – no laws were changed, no one waxed poetic on the lack of rights afforded those with disabilities, though we did talk about how several large men had to lift Shane’s gigantic wheelchair onto the stage because it wasn’t accessible. But , those kids now know more about what it means to be disabled. They know Shane’s not developmentally disabled just because he looks like a “T-Rex” as he says. They think it’s cool they can follow him on Twitter. They know that even though he’s a little, funny-looking white kid, he’s a lot like them, with fears and insecurities along with hopes and dreams for a better future. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect those kids might now think twice before parking in a handicapped space.

So, okay, “inspirational porn” is a bit harsh, but I can see how you might feel that way. I encourage you to close YouTube and go on about your business of elevating the dialogue, important business which absolutely needs to happen. And Shane will keep on talking to kids about life and how it doesn’t have to suck. He’ll tell a few jokes when he does this. And we’ll be laughing with him all along the way.

burcaw kids 2010

Burcaw children, 2010. 

Advent, Inspiration

The Expectancy of Advent

A Moravian star emergency.  This rare predicament is unique to a particular subset of the population – Moravians. We are a small church,  one of the oldest Protestant denominations in the world. There are about a million of us world-wide, with less than 10% of that number residing in North America.

110-pt star

A Moravian star emergency is likely only to happen during Advent, the season of the church year leading up to Christmas. That is when Moravians (& others) display the Moravian star, beginning with the first Sunday in Advent and ending with Epiphany, the celebration of the wise men’s arrival on January 6. So, back to my pastor friend, for whom Advent is quickly approaching (three days!) and for whom the sanctuary’s 110-point Moravian star is not working! He has called all experts in the workings of Moravian stars, and as you can imagine, this is not a very long list. Having done all he can, he realizes with some anxiety, all he can do now is . . . wait.

Waiting. . . we all do it, though it seems in these days of immediate gratification that we are not content to wait long before we become frustrated and irritated by our waiting . . . for traffic to clear, the doctor to appear, for the web page to load, for dinner to arrive. Waiting frustrates us because we have so many expectations . . . expectations of clear roads, efficient service, quick internet speeds, fast food. We are impatient people, full of expectations. Our waiting is not peaceful or contemplative.

Yet Advent turns all this on its ear. During this holy season, we are required to be expectant, to wait. Waiting is an intentional part of Advent as we anticipate the coming of the Christ child. We hear in Jeremiah 33:14 the words of promise . . . “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” We wait.

“Behold, a promise. . .” No frustration here, only hope. For with the birth of one small child, a tiny babe in a manger, our “hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee.”

Stop. Breathe. Wait in hopeful expectancy for the coming of the Lord. As Advent arrives and we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, how do we wait? How might expectancy help us behold God’s promise?star and nativity

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come, thou long expected Jesus;
born to set thy people free;
from our sins and fears release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

(Words: Charles Wesley, 1744. Music: Rowland H. Prichard, 1830)

And oh yes, my friend’s waiting paid off. The beautiful star was fixed in time to shine brilliantly for the first Sunday in Advent. The season of hope and expectation has arrived!

Some inspiration for the post came from Behold! Cultivating Attentiveness in the Season of Advent by Pamela Hawkins. This book is available for individual and small group use. You can find it in The Resource Center, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries, 500 South Church Street, Winston-Salem, NC.

Inspiration, Kids

The Assist

(Note: this story was first written in early March of 2012. I just noticed it in my draft post list and decided to go ahead and publish it, since it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.)

Assist, n. 1. An act of giving aid; help. 2. Sports a. A fielding and throwing of a baseball in such a way that enables a teammate to put out a runner. b. A pass, as in basketball or ice hockey, that enables the receiver to score a goal. c. Official credit that is given for such a pass.

My son, Jake, is a lacrosse player. Since his first experience with the sport, when he announced to me (at age 9) that lacrosse “is my destiny,” to today as the only freshman on his high school varsity team, the boy has lived and breathed lacrosse.

His high school team is “rebuilding,” which is a nice way of saying they aren’t very good but have tremendous potential. A new coach with discipline and a plan has helped tremendously, but we know that part of the reason Jake is playing varsity is because he is one of few players with several years of community league experience. At a different high school with a more established team, Jake would be playing JV and playing it well. Here, he’s proving to those upperclassmen that he can hold his own on a varsity squad. The pressure is rather intense, as is Jake. He wants to do well, he wants to learn, and he wants to be a team player. Amazingly, not traits that all lacrosse players share. But I digress.

The team had their first home game last night, playing a new team with even less experience and skill. We scored so many goals in the first couple of quarters that Coach was able to put in a variety of players to give them some experience. One of those kids, we’ll call him Jordan, is a special needs kid. Not quite sure what his issues are, but he seems to process life a little differently than the rest of us. He’s a senior and the written policy is that seniors can’t play JV. The unwritten policy is not to cut seniors from a team, so Jordan is playing varsity. He has no real hope of ever seeing much game time, so this big blowout appears to be his opportunity.

Coach puts Jordan in the game at attack, an offensive position that circles the goal and hopes to catch a pass they can immediately shoot and score. The ball makes it way to Jake, who has an open shot at the goal. Remember, this is a kid who loves to score, who NEEDS to score to prove to his older teammates he’s got the chops. So, what does he do? He sees Jordan hovering near the goal with no defenders on him, since he is not perceived as any kind of threat. In a split second, Jake passes the ball to Jordan, who shoots, and to everyone’s  amazement, scores.

Pandemonium ensues!! Jordan is euphoric, jumping up and down, running to embrace his teammates on the sidelines, who hoist him to their shoulders while the crowd goes wild. If this had been on YouTube, it would have been a instant classic. I turn to the mom beside me, just as she says, “Did Jake pass that ball to Jordan?” “Yes, yes,” I nod, “I believe he did.”

I can’t quite describe the feeling that came over me as I realized Jake made that moment happen. If I were the Grinch, I would say my heart grew three sizes that day, but my heart is already pretty normal-sized, so I’d use that old cliche that my heart “swelled with pride” instead.  Jake went on to score at least once in that game, but when you ask him what the highlight of the game was, he says, “Jordan’s goal.” I smile and agree, but for me, the highlight was, and always will be, the assist.


Seven Commandments According to Ruth


Still working on my fabulous self-help book — I can’t imagine it will ever be done, as I am waiting to resolve all my “issues” first!  Whenever it is done, these “Commandments” will be part of it. Consider this a sneak preview!

  1. Accept what is. This is your life – today, right now – what you want is not what is real – what is real is what is – right now! (Compassionate acceptance of self and others and the entire situation exactly as it is will lead you to freedom. – Cheryl Huber)
  2. Pay attention. Another way to say “live in the present.” Be alert to your surroundings and the actions and feelings of others. Avoid dwelling on the past or forecasting the future.
  3. Expect nothing. Be pleasantly surprised! This is not as depressing and cynical as it sounds. We are often let down when our “hopes and dreams” do not turn out the way we believe they should. Why continue to set ourselves up for disappointment when we can live free of expectations and be happy?
  4. Take nothing personally. Why do we continue to believe that the actions or non-actions of others have something to do with us? This does not absolve us of responsibility; it just means the world isn’t out to get us.
  5. Be kind to yourself. Humans are not perfect – this has been well-established throughout the annals of time! Yet we continue to hold ourselves to impossible or unrealistic standards and beat ourselves up over the slightest failing. We must be kind to ourselves.
  6. Honor yourself and others. Two words but a whole book could be written on them. This requires responsible action. What kind of life do you need to lead to honor yourself? Change is incremental but always happening. This also includes issues related to balance and taking care of ourselves. An extension of honoring yourself is of course, honoring others. Think the greatest commandment.
  7. Be who you are. What more can we say? Embrace who you are and enjoy what you have to offer your family, friends, the world.

Be aware, these are not just pithy statements you can re-visit every few weeks or months or years. Success (is there such a thing?) requires constant re-visiting, daily revisiting. I find whenever I am out of balance, depressed, or unproductive; inevitably, I am violating one of these commandments. The worst offenders? 3, 4, & 5.

On which commandments could you use work?