Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The year we got married we made a lot of decisions. We purchased a fixer-upper. We had to get a car. We built a garage and searched for a lawn mower at the hardware store my father sent me to over in the Back of the Yards.

We also completed a budget together, elected an executor of our estate, little estate that we had as twenty-three year olds, and chose agents to make healthcare decisions for us if and when we couldn’t make those decisions for ourselves.

I selected my brother Mark, both because I trust my brother and because I didn’t want my wife to be in that situation. Mark will answer his phone and talk through the implications with a medical team, with my wife, with a cool demeanor. Mark will make sure I’m cared for.

I wanted to plan ahead and put that responsibility on my brother’s shoulders. That advance directive is still in place. Mark decides for me if I can’t decide for myself. He communicates for me if I can’t communicate for myself.

At a recent family dinner I reminded everyone of this. We were actually celebrating my mother’s birthday last fall, and I took the moment to nudge my loved ones to plan in advance. I told them that I didn’t want to live in a prolonged state if I had been oxygen-deprived for longer than 10 minutes. I gave specific instructions, in the presence of my family, to my brother and to the others. Mark’s the agent but they all heard about my decision. Again and again, I will remind them that there are wishes I have regarding my medical care. I will refine those as I go and certainly the longer I’m in healthcare as a chaplain.

Today is national healthcare decisions day. I went to a program about it here at the hospital. Randi Belisomo spoke about her organization, Life Matters Media, and talked about the simple and important process of choosing an agent. Of course, as a chaplain, I walk through the steps of this simple process with people. I witness their completion of the healthcare power of attorney form. And sometimes I get to tell people how vital it is to do this simple thing.

If you don’t choose a person to speak for you, the law has answered your lack of choice. The law puts surrogates in place when you have not chosen. Someone always speaks for those who don’t speak for themselves. So, today, if you haven’t chosen a person to stand in your place, to communicate for you what your medical care should look like, and how aggressive those interventions should or shouldn’t be, consider it. If you need to update your form, the form generally opens with something like, “This Power of Attorney Revokes All Previous Powers.” You can change it at any time.

Consider your feelings and thoughts on these matters, taking the opportunity to involve your family in your thinking, in your care, and in your planning. Communicate your wishes to your loved ones and to your agent, and realize that this is a good way to communicate what you want so that that doesn’t have to be decided for you. Document it on your state’s version of the healthcare power of attorney, and these don’t have to be notarized or done by an attorney, as long as you have a witness who isn’t named as the agent. You’ll want to consult your state’s version because every state is different, but they should be similar from one to another.

If you’re in Chicago today, Life Matters Media is working with the Chicago Public Library at two locations this afternoon to explain these advance directives and to help people fill these documents out. For more information, look here at Life Matters Media.

For the Illinois form, you can visit my hospital’s page and print off a copy.

30 Questions for (Engaged) Couples, pt 2

My spiritual mother has a pretty expansive questionnaire which she created when she led a Chicago church.  My questions aren’t as good, but they reflect some of the common questions I bring up with couples in our church.  I need to keep a running list since I don’t keep notes on such meetings.

Some of these feel immediately appropriate for personal reflection; all of them assume that a couple will discuss them at some point.  Of course, the inability to talk through questions like these are always clinically interesting to me.  With some revision, all of these questions can be asked at different points in the future of a marriage.

This is the second part of the list.  I’ll frame these as if I’m not in the room with the pair.  What would you add?  Here goes:

  1. When we’re at our best together, what are we doing, what aren’t we doing?
  2. How would I capture my spouse-to-be in a word, phrase, paragraph, and page?
  3. How much time we spend talking in a week?
  4. When I close my eyes, what’s the future I imagine with you?
  5. How will we spend our time together?
  6. What does an expanded family look like for us?
  7. What are the changes, transitions, and decisions in front of us for the rest of our lives?
  8. What will I shine at in this relationship, and what will I inevitably fail at?
  9. What will my spouse-to-be shine at in this relationship, and what will s/he inevitably fail at?
  10. How has my loved one shown me grace in the past?
  11. What is the significance of the party (i.e., wedding) we’re planning?
  12. Who are some of my dead relatives I wish my loved one could have met?
  13. What do I mean by the vows I’ll take?
  14. Where can we put our joint energies and our best collected efforts as a couple?
  15. How will this marriage make me, change me, challenge me, and better me?

Creating a School & Faith

I asked Sonia Wang, a friend and member of New Community, to write this post about the role of faith in starting a school.  It’s a great reflection pulling belief together in her life.  Here we go.

About three years ago, a few of my colleagues and I found ourselves disgruntled about the obstacles standing in the way of our students’ learning. It seemed that learning had been reduced to mastering basic literacy and numeracy skills, teacher voice was constantly overlooked if even ever sought, and school metrics were prioritized over authentic learning. It was the result of systemic tensions that continue to plague our public education system, and at the core, our community’s young generation of students.

We thought to ourselves: what would a school that was created by a group of educators who have been in the classroom look like? We tossed a few ideas around- a focus on social justice, fostering qualities of resilience, empathy, and curiosity, and celebrating collaboration and discussion. In the case of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), we knew the only possible route we could take as a group of educators was to apply for a charter. A lofty, pie in the sky thought…some would call the whole notion sticking our heads in the clouds.

However, as I prayed through the initial process, it all just made sense. From unique corners of our teaching experiences, God brought together six teachers, with a diverse background of life experiences. We spent the first 2 years figuring out what this “school” of ours would look like. With the pending political change in Chicago, there was no sign of new charter applications being considered in CPS. During these two years, we began to form the foundation of our school, but with the unknown looming over our heads, it continued to feel like a “project” rather than us pursuing our vision. In these two years, two members decided to leave the group and doubts filled our head.

My biggest concern took form in two ways:

1.    I would continue to remind myself that God’s hand was in all this but a fear of failure overwhelmed me. So I was stuck in a place of paralysis—wanting to seek support and prayer from my community but not wanting to tell anyone about it. As is the case, once you go public, it becomes more real. And in that moment, the school did not feel real at all.

2.   Then there was the overwhelming doubt that I tried to avoid over and over but there it was always—what if it doesn’t work out? What I if I waste years of my life, in my “prime,” pursuing this lofty goal that we’ll never be able to achieve? I would sometimes think to myself, during this time, how I could be doing A, B, and C if I weren’t working on this school… After all, how often do you see a group of 20-somethings starting a charter school when most charter schools are started by a management organization with a track record?

Perhaps it was circumstance that changed things or perspective, or both. But I cannot deny that God is the orchestrator. In the third year, God tugged on my heart to share with my community- my close friends and my church family. The overwhelming support and excitement they displayed gave me the energy to keep pushing for my school even when it felt like it was a flat attempt.

Through the support I was also reminded of the big picture—I wasn’t merely trying to open a school; God created this space where I saw something problematic and rather than sitting in it, He gave me the opportunity to respond to it. And that in and of itself was something for me to embrace. It became not about me but about who God is—how big He is and how great His glory is. And as this truth settled in me, I approached this endeavor less as pursuing my dream but an opportunity to respond to God’s glory.

The third year of this process also became a whirlwind of an experience. At the start of this year, CPS put out a call for applications for charters; luckily, those two years of groundwork our team started paid off. We got together our application and submitted it. Late June we received approval to move into the next phase, which consisted of completing a proposal that was intense and comprehensive. Things started to take tangible form. From community partnerships to facilities, God provided and blessed us one thing after another. He connected us to people who connected us to other people who then provided services to us, such as building inspections, real estate research, financial consulting, etc. Word about our work in our proposed community spread and as we walked down the street, community members would ask about the school-when is it coming? Where can they sign up their child for it? Could they request that we hold a spot for their 2-year old?

By God’s grace, we completed a 169-page proposal and were invited to the next phase, an interview. As the team member who was delivering the opening statement, I found peace and comfort in a verse that was written on the piece of paper I had prepared for the interview:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Psalm 20:7

Sure enough, through Him, I have come to this point in starting a school—learning to wait in faith until a decision is made. However, as I think of the school we have proposed and the way our work has brought together a group of strangers, the Design Team, Board Members, and community members, united by the single vision of a south-side charter school that celebrates students for their voice and their individual strengths, I know that His work has already been done. And I am excited to see what more may come about through His power and might!