Love the Lord your God
with all your heart
and with all your soul
and with all your mind
and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
There is no commandment greater than these.”- Mark 12:30-31 NIV
The other day when I was texting a colleague who shares my slight addiction to the fastest growing sport in the world, Pickleball, I came up with the phrase, “We are practicing integral health stewardship.” Let me explain why I see playing in general as practicing integral health stewardship. For me, the act of playing, not only the sport of Pickleball, but with art, poetry, writing, music, movement, and imagination has provided a way to increase my physical strength and stamina, expand my social circle within my local and global community, engage grief, painfully confront negative mental biases and tendencies and grow integrally. Playing is an aesthetic response to all of life, its griefs and its graces. Playing is not an excuse to avoid hard things or an escape from the work we are called to do. Rather it is a way and means to gain strength, wisdom, insight, inspiration and energy to name and hold hard things, navigate uncertainty, accompany the tender and suffering, connect across difference, and love God with our whole selves: hearts, souls, minds and strength. It is a way to tend to and care for (stewardship) integral health, our own and the whole kin in the kindom of God.
Speaking of kin, we were happy to spend time with our kids, their spouses and their dogs over the holidays. Instead of exchanging presents, we focused on being present to each other. For my mama heart there is no greater gift than shared meals, significant conversation on long walks or by the fireplace, meaningful cards filled with heartfelt affirmation, and creative games facilitated by all of the professional teachers in our “tribe”. It was a healing balm in the midst of holding and remembering the hurts of global conflict in the Middle East, Ukraine, and Burma. It was a grace amidst grief as we have been touched by the recent passing of many beloved elders and dear friends, ten to be exact, since January 2023. It was like my friend Shabrae Jackson said, “A dance between the “g”s of life (grief and gratitude). How they shatter us and make us.”
Grief and gratitude have been the topics of much of my recent work. I was privileged to accompany global partners and facilitate conversation among the International Ministries Global Consultant cohort in our meetings in Indonesia this November. Many are experiencing major transitions and navigating goodbyes in order to welcome new hellos. Another dance between the “g”s.
As a part of the Cuban Expressive Arts in Transition pilot project that we started in August of 2023, I have been honored to provide supervision alongside my expressive arts colleague, Shabrae Jackson, to a number of Cuban leaders. They have been facilitating Expressive Arts in Transition groups in various communities, supporting varied populations, implementing arts-based psychosocial support practices with children, youth, and senior adults. Some have supported community leaders, groups of mothers of children and youth with special needs, and hospital patients. Grief and loss are major factors impacting these groups. Most are finding that the arts provide an opening and holding place for healing of hurts in ways that they have not experienced before. It is exciting to hear their stories and be a part of something so transformative for their communities. In April we will celebrate a graduation with them in person. We, along with the founder of the Expressive Arts in Transition model, Dr. Melinda Ashley Meyer from Norway, will hear them share their learnings. We have also been invited to present with Dr. Meyer at an international psychology conference at the University of Holguin, Cuba. It is quite an honor for us all. Another dance between the “g’s of grief and gratitude.
In February I will accompany a group of folks from the Cherry Hills Church in Springfield, IL. We will travel to Manilla, in the Philippines, to learn from and offer grace-filled spoiling to the women engaged in ministry with Companions with the Poor. IM global servants Paul and Queenie Rollet will host us there. I have been asked to preach at their monthly gathering as well as offer some facilitation in arts-based soul tending for a women’s retreat. Paul’s parents are leading the group from Cherry Hills so I look forward to reconnecting with the Rollet family, a relationship that started over 15 years ago when they visited and worked with us in Costa Rica. Our time will include witnessing struggle and strength, burden and beauty, grief and gratitude. We will be learning new steps in the dance between the “g”s.
Finally, after many years of pondering, processing and procrastinating, I have submitted a PhD dissertation proposal to the European Graduate School. Many have asked or even been reluctant to ask how my writing process is going since finishing my coursework. Honestly, I’ve been stuck for a while. However, I found my way back to the question, “How can community arts processes help to sustain resilience in the face of collective ambiguous losses?” The working title is: Piecing Together an Aesthetic Response to Ambiguous Loss: An Expressive Arts-Based Research Project Exploring Personal and Collective Experiences of “Frozen Grief”. The question has fascinated me for years, but I was distracted by too many curiosities and perhaps some fear around becoming too intimate with grief. I realized that avoiding the writing was one way to try and protect my heart from the pain of healing. I found writing about grief, through poetry and with community support is the way through the pain towards gratitude and healing. I can no longer avoid it. I’ve been invited to the “g” dance and I’m on the move. With support from family, a new therapist and a new advisor, I am on track to finish and defend by summer of 2025. I would appreciate all of your prayers and kind accountability to help me reach this goal. Besides getting a little Pickleball in, I’ve been writing a poem a day since Jan. 1. They’re not all deep or life-changing, but they do help me to practice integral health stewardship. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from one of my most recent daily poems:
I grieve and I’m grateful
I grieve the loss of loved ones passed
I’m grateful for their imprints on my heart
I grieve the loss of feria foods like mango, piña y papusas
I’m grateful for the chance to have learned to love them
I grieve the sound of my mother’s voice
I’m grateful that I hear her laugh in my own
-M Baits 2024
With much love and blessings,