Words for Faye Roberson

Last Tuesday, the evening after my uncle passed away, my Aunt Jean came to me asking me to write some words of thanks to my aunt on behalf of the brothers and sisters. After spending the week listening to their stories, these are the words I wrote and then spoke at the funeral yesterday. Some have asked for them and this seemed the easiest way for everyone to have access to them. If you aren’t part of the Roberson clan, I hope that you will be encouraged to think about your family in a new way and to speak love and thanks to them while you have the opportunity.

Aunt Faye and Uncle virgil

“Aunt Jean came to me on Tuesday evening, asking would I write a special message to Aunt Faye from Virgil’s brothers and sisters. I’ve spent the week hearing their stories of years gone by and especially of these past few months. So, Aunt Faye, this is my spin on the words and stories I’ve heard but this is their heartfelt reflections and message to you.

We have stories through the years. We shared the childhood memories, the Christmas mornings, the eight children around a table fighting each other for food, fishing and swimming in any small piece of water big enough to hold us. So many memories, lost memories that have come flashing back as we have watched Virgil slip away from us here.

We shared those young, formative years, those early memories, the parents and even the DNA, but you shared a young love with him that grew to a beautiful, adult love and commitment as you created a home and a life together.

In the last ten years since you’ve moved back to Plymouth, we’ve been able to see your life together up close, and it’s been a joy. We watched as Virgil graciously cared for you during your during times of health but watched as you stepped up to the needs as the roles reversed.

And you created a home together here. A wonderful, colorful, rich and warm home that you have willingly housed so many Roberson get togethers in. You’ve let this unique, big and often loud bunch of Robersons take over your home. We know we can be a little difficult at times, but you’ve made us feel like we’ve had a home in your home, been part of your family. We lost Granny’s house as our gathering spot, but you’ve allowed us to stay connected with one another. You have planned and created activities for the grand and great grandchildren and given us a place where we continue to share life, laughter, a little sarcasm and snark but also a lot of love. In more ways than one, you and Virgil have been a bridge and a connecting point for our family. That is no small gift you have given to all of us. Thank you.

These last few months we have seen you love and care for our brother. You have stood by him, helped him navigate doctor visits and hospital stays. You have loved him and cared for him in a tender, genuine, self-sacrificing way. You have put him first and we have watched you put everything aside to take care of our special brother that only we thought we could love that much. You faithfully gave him all of yourself right up until the very end. Even though we are certain there have been times where your own health issues may have caused you pain, you never breathed a word of it. You continued to travel to appointment after appointment, hospital to hospital, putting your own potential pain and exhaustion behind Virgil’s needs.

You even found a way to be by his side, the love of your life, and still generously share him with us, in his last moments. You shared precious, final moments with Virgil. You let us have final moments alone with him, and we know deep down you would have liked to have them all for yourself to save and store up, getting every last drop, but you gave them to us. Those final moments are precious pieces of Virgil we will carry with us forever. Thank you for letting us be there with you, with him. Not only were you constantly concerned with allowing us into this process, you were a pillar of strength when we fell apart. We hoped to be a comfort to you but instead, you were a comfort to us. A place of safety where we could fall apart. That also is a great gift. It is a precious gift and we are so grateful to you for sharing those final moments.

Most importantly, we want you to know that you are a part of our family…for better or worse. We thank you for all of the precious gifts you’ve given us and we love you.”

Celebrating Family

My uncle, William Virgil Roberson, passed away on Tuesday morning at the age of 64. He had cancer so it was not a complete surprise but since his diagnosis in the first months of this year, it has been a spiraling roller coaster. Literally one week after being told by the doctor that they just needed to remove him from some pain medicine and he would turn around, start eating more and could begin chemotherapy treatment again so he could fully recover, they were sending him home to say there was nothing they could do. It was less than two weeks later that just days after we were told he probably had about a month that they said he was in his final moments.

I do not get to see them often enough. But I’m always more grounded in who I am, where I come from and who I really belong to when I am with them. We even found a picture of a very distant relative, enjoying what appears to be whiskey, that looks freakishly like me. No one knows who she is but it is clear we are related.

old family pic

We lost my grandmother three years ago this fall and I wrote a blog post after that experience, a little tribute to my crazy family. I wanted to include it again here in honor of my uncle. One of my last memories of Uncle Virgil happened just a few months after I moved to Richmond. I was anonymous and knew no one and was feeling really lost, honestly. His son, my cousin, lives in Richmond as well and invited me over to his little girl’s birthday party. It felt so safe to be with Uncle Virgil and Aunt Faye, so safe to be with family. They treated me like I belonged to them. When I went to leave, they walked me out and one of my last memories of my uncle is him helping me back out of the crazy driveway. He was helping me back up, making sure I didn’t run into anything. It was a small act, but it is usually the small acts with family that make us feel safe, loved and taken care of. I needed to feel loved, safe and taken care of in that moment. That little moment meant more than I ever said to Uncle Virgil but it is how I will always remember him. “I’m watching for you, don’t worry.  You aren’t going to hit anything. You’re good.”


I Love These People

It has been a long week in my family.  My grandmother, Chloe Hardison Roberson, passed away early on Monday morning.  She had lived a long life and while we are sad, I think there is a general sigh that she is finally at peace.  The woman who once knew everything that was going on in town, as the pastor said at her funeral, almost before it happened, no longer knew who we were and most days, where she was.  She was a survivor and a fighter but the fight had gone out of her.  The things I remember about my grandmother are her love for Mello Yellow, candy orange slices, that she always kept icee pops for the kids in her freezer, and the fact that she was a little ornery.  Granny always had an opinion and she was always willing to share it with you.  I learned later in life just how proud she was of me.  Anytime my name would appear in the Biblical Recorder, a NC Baptist newspaper, she made sure everyone saw it.  When I was hired as Baptist Campus Minister for the Raleigh Area, she wanted to make sure everyone knew.

Listening to the pastor speak, I realized that a lot of the things I like about myself I share in common with Granny.  A friend once put it, “We are going to get around to the truth eventually, why not just get there now.”  I’ve learned I have strong opinions and I pride myself on sharing them.  I want to be transparent and let others know what I’m thinking.  I’m fiercely protective of those I call “my own.”  I’d like to think that I’ve learned to be a little tough myself along the way.
We have a big family….there are seven children still living, sixteen grandchildren, twenty-one great grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren.  They organized us for the funeral by allowing the children and their spouses to process in and sit towards the front, the grandkids were together, etc.  While it started out feeling a little weird not to be with our parents, it wound up making us feel like one unit.  One clan, the Roberson family.  While some have different last names now, we are the Robersons.  And as I sat there, I was overwhelmed thinking, “I love these people.  I really love these people.”
We are not often all in the same room so it was funny how overwhelmingly we all look alike as we gathered as a large group.  We all have a little of Granny’s orneriness in us, but we are there for each other.  As a family, we have struggled through difficult times together but no matter what, we have stood by each other in our times of crisis. We’ve visited hospitals as cousins struggled in a fight for their lives, we’ve rebuilt homes after hurricanes have knocked them down, we’ve stood by each other and loved each other unconditionally no matter what we may have done.  We know how to celebrate with each other.  We could rent out my aunts and uncles to make wedding receptions more lively because they know how to cut loose and have fun!  We are funny and we love to laugh and tell stories.  It’s even better if the stories are on each other.
As I sat there in my pew, I remembered jumping on the trampoline at my cousins Wendy and Eric’s house.  I remember how cool I thought my Aunt Fay was because she is so crafty!  I simply adore my Aunt Becky.  I remember going exploring in the woods with my cousins Nikki and Will and us scaring ourselves silly.  I remember looking forward to getting Nikki’s hand-me-downs because she was way cooler than I ever thought I could be growing up.  I remember all of us cousins walking to the gas station from Granny’s on Easter and getting bubble gum eggs.  I remember camping out in my Aunt Cindy’s back yard out on Hatteras and the amazing fresh seafood my Uncle Joey always brought to our family get togethers.  I remember all of us playing bingo and our crazy Christmas gift exchange and all of us getting feisty with one another…because it’s in our DNA.
With family, it’s easy to just take one another for granted.  But these are special people.  I’m so glad my life is intwined with theirs.  I’m glad to be part of our Roberson clan.”

VBS….Good Ideas Part 2…..

Here are some more thoughts from my visits…..

* Check-In & Check-Out. As I mentioned in my last blog post, organization is incredibly important. Most of our VBS planning is in the hope of getting visitors to our churches. It is critical to think about what a parent and kid see when they first come to your church and what they experience as they leave. The check in process seems somewhat standard. The check out process varied and I saw some great ideas.
– A number of churches had a closing celebration that allowed parents to pick up multiple children in one location. Each kid was with their group and the parents had to check out with their leaders.
– A couple of churches actually give the parents a small card with the kids name on it when they drop the kid off at the check in table. The kids are then escorted by runners to their group inside the worship space. When the parents come back (or whoever is coming to pick up the child), they give someone at the same table their card again and the runner goes into the sanctuary to pick up the kid and bring them to the parents.
– Another church had all of the groups go to one large room. For this process they had to order paper bracelets that have printed numbers on them. These are the kind that you peel apart and they stick on your wrist. When kids are dropped off in the morning the parents receive one of those paper bracelets that has a printed number that coordinates with a paper bracelet put on the child. Before a child can leave, the parent has to produce their bracelet, the teacher sees that they match the numbers of the kids wrist and cuts the kids bracelet off. There are other adults waiting at the doors that check each child as they leave to make sure they do not have a bracelet on, showing they are with the correct adults.

* Using Youth as Volunteer Leaders. I’ll hit this topic from another angle in a following blog post that will ask some questions about how we use youth as leaders but here I want to focus on the positive. Many churches have a great experience using youth in worship or to host a group because it allows the youth to test their wings of leadership. Youth can also help to fill the holes where adult leaders are lacking. Be specific with what is expected of these youth leaders. Many of them have never interacted with children and so they do not know how to help behavioral problems or know what it looks like to stay engaged with them. Since in many churches they are hosting the groups, helping move them from station to station, they are the primary face of the church and the hands of feet of God to those children. Help them catch that vision. The churches where the youth were the most invested, engaged and helpful were churches where youth helped with the planning of VBS content and were required to attend training along with the other adults.

* Utilize volunteer leaders outside your church. This may not be a fit for your church but a few churches I’ve visited allow for non-church members volunteers from the community to help. I talked with one mother of three who were members of a small church in a nearby small town. They loved their little church but she appreciated being able to volunteer in leadership and have her kids participate in a VBS to get a “big church” experience like she had as a kid. She said they while would they didn’t want to leave their small church, she sometimes she just really missed these kind of things from a big church.

* The Queen of VBS. I commented on this in a picture I posted on our children’s ministry facebook page but at one church I visited, I was introduced to the Queen of VBS. She’s been teaching forever and the kids are always excited when it is time to come to her class. The youth that got assigned to help her was ecstatic. The youth apparently fight to get to work with her. Her decorations were very simple but she has created a variety of games/centers that she adapts each year to theme. The students work through the stations and activities throughout the week. Each kid is given a game board and these activities move them along the game board. At the end of the week, the kids get to pick a prize based on how far they’ve made it along the board. Since it is a third through fifth grade class, the third graders don’t finish everything during the week and so don’t get the bigger prize…a beanie baby or webkins type toy. Her daughter that volunteers with her said it is hard not to help the “little ones” but that her mother is adamant they earn their rewards. She says that it keeps the kids wanting to come back because they have something to earn, something to look forward to. It shows them how they have grown and she has years of exciting kids and youth that prove she is doing something right. What I appreciated the most was that she had simple decorations and activities that allowed for small modifications each year to fit the theme but that allowed for her to really focus on the content she was teaching. I also appreciated that she came into VBS looking at the longer view of discipleship. She builds her program on a longer relationship with the kids and with the content.

I hope these have been helpful. Again, I’d love to hear from you. What great ideas have you tried?

Next week, I’ll be writing a post talking about the other side of VBS. Including some good questions I heard while visiting. VBS is not working for everyone and I want to encourage some dialogue in our churches about the purpose and intent of VBS.  “Tune in” again here for the start of that conversation.

VBS…Some Good Ideas…..

The good ideas I’ve seen in our churches will probably be spread out over a few blog posts because there were many ideas.  If you haven’t already seen them, check out the pictures from my VBS tour posted at our Virginia Baptist Childrens Ministry page on facebook. It is always helpful to see how other churches set up their Vacation Bible School and see crafts and games in action. I hope these lists of ideas will be helpful planning your next event, including VBS.

* Share resources with other churches. While there are some copyright issues you want to investigate, I saw a lot of churches sharing their resources with one another, especially when it comes to decorations. One childrens’ minister said it was also helpful to spend a day visiting another church doing the same theme to see it in action. Churches shared volunteer resources as they helped each other put up and remove the decorations. Some areas have even gone to doing an area wide Vacation Bible School with other churches in the same area.

Special Sixth Grade Class. For one church that does not include sixth graders into the youth ministry, VBS provides an opportunity to give them a view of things to come. They attend XBS (Extreme Bible School) which includes special activities and access to the youth room facilities during free time.

* Pastors Getting Involved.  I saw pastors doing everything from dressing up in costume and taking on a Biblical character to doing crazy dance moves. It means so much to children and their families for the pastor to be so accessible and involved. It gives kids a great connection to the pastor as we want the kids and their families to continue in the future of the church. It is also great for connection with youth and young adults as the pastor serves along-side of them.

* VBS as Outreach to Preschoolers. This year had many churches scrambling to reschedule VBS to a later date in the summer as a terrible winter pushed the start of vacation past their traditional VBS dates. One church with a weekly preschool used this as an opportunity to reach out to families of the preschoolers. In the now extra week between when the preschool closed and the public schools were getting out, the church did a special preschool VBS. This allowed for the leaders to tailor worship, crafts and activities to the preschoolers. It gave the leadership of the church the opportunity to connect with the parents of the preschoolers that are only connected to their preschool and not the church. It also freed up more volunteers for the VBS done later for the older kids.

* Keep Connecting to Families. This same church states that there goal for VBS is to connect families in the community. They planned a family oriented event to be held in the weeks after VBS. As the children were leaving the week of VBS behind, the event gave the ministers a reason to contact and follow up with the parents and gave the families another opportunity to connect with the church.
*Be Organized.  As a visitor, I was so impressed with churches that had walky talkies to communicate with other leaders, charts to show where each group was at all times and maps of the church. This was helpful for me as a visitor and I think would be comforting for any parent who is visiting your church. We forget sometimes that today, even in our smaller towns where we feel like we know everybody, it is a huge deal for people to trust us with their children! We need to do everything we can to show them up front that we take their child’s safety very seriously.
Come back next week for my ideas….  In the meantime, any ideas you would add to the list?

Vacation Bible School Visits

I work in the area of leadership development with our Virginia Baptist churches, specifically spending most of my time with those in associate positions including our age group ministers and volunteer leaders. One of the fun, and tiring things, I’ve done in this position is to spend a portion of my summers visiting Vacation Bible Schools around the state. I’ve logged a lot of hours in the car but it is a great way to meet ministers, volunteer leaders and children around our state.

I love visiting with the children! My favorite story is still from last summer. I was visiting in a preschool class, my favorite to visit, and as I knelt down to see what a four year old boy was creating in craft time, he looked excitedly at me and breathlessly said, “I watched Star Wars last night.” We began talking about the movie and I asked him who were his favorite characters. I asked about Darth Vader and he immediately put his hand over his mouth and started breathing heavy, immitating the sound Vader makes, and then he said, “Luke, I am your father.” Best moment ever. This summer I was again in a preschool class and knelt down to a boy during snack time. I noticed all of his goldfish were already missing and commented that must be his favorite. He shook his head and then opened his mouth to show me the mush bits of all of the goldfish he had crammed inside at one time. I love to see how excited the children get, the ones who ask, “Can we do this again next week?” I love to hear children answer questions about the Bible and missionaries, amazed at how they are growing in their faith.

I love visiting with the volunteers. It is amazing to visit with older adults who have been volunteering with VBS for decades. They come alive for this week. I believe that VBS time in our churches can really be our churches at their best. I love to see teenagers working along side adults and senior adults in ways they normally would not. I love to see the creative side of our church members as they take a theme and run with it. I love hearing about their heart for the kids and hearing stories about VBS throughout the years. I love seeing teenagers shining in their first opportunities to lead.

I love seeing our church leaders in action. I admire pastors who are willing to dress up for Bible story time or to lead silly action songs. I love seeing volunteer leaders step up to organize such a huge event in our days of ever-shrinking staff. I love to hear leaders who are asking good questions about the effectiveness of VBS and about the best ways to use their resources of people and money. I admire leaders who take the craft ideas that come with the curriculum and spend hours searching the internet for less expensive ways to find supplies. And the charts…it seems every good VBS has a carefully thought out chart showing where each age group is at all times. These charts are so organized they rival any kind of government strategic plan.

To the churches I visited with this summer, thank you for letting me walk along side you. Thank you for letting me sing and dance with you and adore your children with you. Thank you for telling me stories about your children and the ministries you love to be involved with.

For pictures and description of these visits, go to the Virginia Baptist Children’s Ministry page at https://www.facebook.com/VB.Children. Stay tuned for a series of posts that will share some ideas and some questions from these visits. My hope is that these will help us as plan for ministry.

The Shock of Suicide

It was a Sunday night, and as a good Southern Baptist, I was in church.  I was sitting in a pew towards the front because I was about to play a piano solo. Someone got up at the beginning of the service with a special prayer request. One of the teachers at an area middle school had committed suicide. I was a freshmen in high school at the time, but I had loved Mr. Stout, my eighth grade North Carolina history teacher. He was a little cranky and sarcastic, but in a way that you knew he cared about you. He had great stories but many of them were laced with memories from Vietnam. As the gulf war was ending, living in a military town had triggered his ptsd to a point where he took his life. Unfortunately just a few weeks later, one of our classmates copied Mr. Stout taking his own life in the same way. James hung himself just days after finishing his freshmen year.

Even now as I type this, I cry over these two. How could we have missed the signs? Years later, in my first year as an intern in campus ministry at UNC, September 11 happened and in the wake of that tragedy a rash of suicides and suicidal attempts spread through campus. My mentor, Bob Phillips, said the same thing happened when the vietnam war started. Students not knowing how to deal with the trauma looked for a way out and then many others followed.  It was in these days that I found myself visiting one of my students who had committed herself to the hospital. She had tried to commit suicide the year before and could not handle the pressure of the times.  I remember walking into the psych ward once they had buzzed me in, her mother grabbing hold of me and holding me so tight. I had come as her minister and in that moment, in the face of the tragedy and grief, I was the presence of God for her mother and she was clinging to me tightly. Being just as overwhelmed as the mother, I remember thinking clearly, “Look, I’ve got nothing for you. I don’t know what to do here.” Luckily that student got the help she needed and is now a healthy young woman, married with a young child.

In life, especially ministry and leadership, we find ourselves faced with the demon of depression all around us. Often we don’t know how to step into this space with those in need. I still don’t have all the answers now but I can still remember the overwhelming sadness I felt as a freshmen and want to help anyone I can on the journey dealing with depression or those helping those dealing with depression. I’ve spent the morning compiling a list of what I hope can be helpful articles. I hope they can be a resource to you if the death of Robin Williams has triggered something for you or to pass along to someone else. I hope that if you are in ministry and/or leadership, you can find helpful information that resources you as a leader.

White Middle-Age Suicide in America Sky-Rockets

What Can We Learn From Comedian Robin Williams’ Suicide

Robin Williams and the Mask of Humor

The Six Reasons People Attempt Suicide

How You Can Help Teens With Mental Illness

Ministry and Mental Illness: 8 Thoughts to Help Hurting People

Where is God in Mental Illness

What Will It Take for Us to Get Serious about Helping the Mentally Ill?

5 Things Christians Should Know About Depression and Anxiety

Mental Health a Christian Perspective

4 Issues to Educate Your Leaders On

Mental and Emotional Illness in Small Groups

The Spoon Theory

A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma