Motherhood Mantras is re-opened and back with a post from a pastoral counselor who provided emergency pastoral care for the Aurora shooting victims’ and their families.
People ask: How do you do it all?! Be a wife, a working mom, and volunteer (I am a member of the National Response Team for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, specially trained in pastoral traumatology, with experience in shootings) is not easy. Routines help a lot.
Most days, I begin checking the news online, between 5:30-6 am, just before I start work. I try from the west coast to keep in touch with east coast and Midwest folks, so my day begins early.
The very first time that I was called for deployment, I missed the chance. I was at the park with the kids – all three less than 7 years old at the time – and saw I had a missed call. I listened to the message, tried calling my husband Erik, and left a message with him. He called back, and we fumbled around our schedules and making the decision. More than a half-hour passed when I finally called back to say yes. We had taken too much time. Someone else had already said yes and was making arrangements to go. (With over 80 Responders on the team, there’s simply not enough time to let everyone take twenty-thirty minutes to decide). Disasters don’t wait. Yes or no. Period. No hard feelings. Just simple – yes or no.
Fail. We felt it. And it sent us spiraling into conversations about whether we were really ready to have me be part of the team (this was over two years ago). What resulted from those “come to Jesus” talks was a great game plan, though, one that has worked for us through multiple deployment decisions since then – including Tucson, AZ, Tuscaloosa, AL, east Los Angeles, CA, and, most recently, Aurora, CO.
Erik and I were not surprised when the call came around 10:30am on July 20, 2012. I saw a missed call, with no message left. We knew it was “the call.” Within a handful of minutes, we decided yes based now on practiced rapid reflection of our schedules and our current sense of kid-care. (No offense if you happen to be with us when we do that and, in the zone, we totally ignore you.) I returned the call, said yes, and began reviewing essential information. I took the next flight out of town, an hour and a half later. It goes that fast.
Knowing I could get called away at a moment’s notice means keeping home routines as simple as possible. Uniform clothes and travel accessories sit in the closet, ready for the suitcase. In the day-to-day, kids help with chores (even at 3 years-old), taking dirty clothes to the washroom, setting/bussing tables, putting clean clothes away, putting toys away, and so on. Nothing is expected rigidly, but participation frequently is encouraged.
Erik, from the start, has been a father to his kids. He always is a parent. Also, long ago we created a practice of not updating each other on business from school or work (really). If you expect for us both to know XYZ (teachers, colleagues, neighbors, friends, family…) then tell us both. This practice means, for us, being willing to let information sometimes fall through the cracks. This practice has been important to us in challenging cultural practices that require parents to spend enormous amounts of time delivering information back and forth in order to both stay involved. (That’s a soapbox for another time.) The point is: Erik, and our village of family and friends, helps make things work when I’m away. I never leave with fear of homework not getting done, kids not having rides, play dates not occurring, people not eating – and I do not coordinate that before I go. It goes on already. Erik is a parent when I’m home and when I’m gone – he’s dad.
So, able to go and arrive on time, a teammate and I caught the end of the vigil. Candles still lit; groups still singing and praying. Police cars and crime scene tape all around. The row of media vans lighting the sky.
Our kids, especially the older two, have some sense of what I do, which helps too. They know I sometimes go “to be with people who are having trouble,” just like we had trouble and people came to us. The verse, “in this world you will have trouble,” (John 16:33) is real to them. They’ve seen pictures of tornado damage, and have a sense of what that devastation might feel like. They lived through a shooting on our church campus. They are practicing “taking heart” and becoming familiar with the fact that prayer is a come-as-you-are practice for any time, any situation.
During the first full day in Aurora, my teammates and I (four of us all together) connected with Presbytery folks (which is our first point of contact for any deployment). In this case, it meant being in touch with the moderator (acting Exec) and local pastors. Then, we connected with disaster relief agency partners, including Homeland Security, FEMA, Red Cross, denominational affiliates, and mental health officials. Local pastors shared their concerns – three in particular stood out – (1) for the families and neighbors of victims and survivors, (2) for the populations of refugee congregants from war-torn countries, and (3) for congregants and community members who lived through the Columbine shootings a decade before.
Sunday, we each attended different services. I worshipped with St Paul’s Presbyterian Church. A particularly moving part of the service, which was worshipfully engaging, came when interim Pastor Stan Jewell preached about the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus, he said, asked the disciples, who were fatigued and facing a potential crisis, what do you have? Jewell opened his arms, walked out into the congregation, and asked, “What do you have to offer?” Silence, at first. And then, slowly, a hand went up, softly asking, “Compassion?” Jewell nodded and kept his hands open. “Tears,” another said. “A listening ear.” And then, a woman from the back stood up, “I can patron those businesses, in the mall, and make sure they don’t lose costumers.” Lots of nodding around the room. “Hugs!” Someone called out. “Time and care.” Jewell walked back to the pulpit. “Yes, we can bring all of those things, along with ourselves and our honesty, our honest grieving.”
We attended the city vigil event that night, along with thousands of other people. We spent the evening listening to survivors, first-responders, second-wave responders, neighbors, friends, and loved ones. The community-wide tears and heartache were salved some by acts of coming together and wrapping arms around one another.
Monday was spent in support of the Directors of Spiritual Care at the local hospitals, both Presbyterian pastors. We reviewed events of Friday, the unfolding weekend, and their perspectives of impact on their staff and colleagues. We arranged to provide support the following day for more of their colleagues.
Also, on Tuesday, we led a time of support and education for the Presbytery where 26 pastors and Christian educators participated in the time. We listened, and we taught about trajectories of disaster and healing, care for children and youth, and self care for leaders. We made plans for follow-up support and ongoing care of pastors and congregations. Having embodied the connectional church body, some hope in the midst of chaos, we began our journeys home.
On my way home, one reaction that stood out to me was the sentiment: “I didn’t realize what was happening, I thought it was part of the movie.” “It’s so surreal, like a movie.” “This kind of thing only happens in the news, it’s not supposed to happen to real people.” (Yes, these words actually were said.)
As a mom, therapist, and a person who tries to practice presence, the seeming lack of trust in perception, though understandable, also was disheartening. I hope for my kids to be able to trust their perceptions. If possible, ideally, I don’t want them to grope to register if something is real or not.
My hope, too, and belief is that church (both the local gathering place for worship, and the extended connectional body) is a good place for figuring out and practicing what is real, for learning about how to trust our abilities to perceive, and for practicing presence. Also, in doing that, I believe we discover the Lord’s joy – strength in times of trouble. That is my motivation for doing what I do – as a Christian, a wife, a mother, and a pastoral traumatologist. That motivation – being really present, in Christ-like ways – brings me greatest joy and enables me to withstand (stand-with) greatest sorrow. That is my hope in the midst of chaos.
Kate Wiebe, MDiv/PhD, is the Executive Director of the Institute for Congregational Trauma and Growth (ICTG, www.ictg.org) and a volunteer member of the National Response Team for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. She lives with her husband, Erik, an Associate Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church, in Santa Barbara, CA, along with their three children, Jakob, Dara, and Kaden.