Friday, May 31, 2019

connection image 4

"We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community."
~Dorothy Day

Dear Aspen Chapel Families, 

     Since we started our exploration into "connectedness" a couple of weeks ago, it seems to be a topic many people are talking about. I listened to an interview on NPR the other evening about college students suffering from anxiety and depression at alarming rates on college campuses. I have talked to parents whose college-aged children want to live back at home because they feel so isolated and lonely at school. And of course the take away from the presentation on" raising teens with family and community" was that human connection is essential for keeping kids from engaging in destructive behaviors.
     It seems that the more connections we have on our phones, the less connected we are to the people in our own homes and neighborhoods. I see it in myself! My kids ask a question, and the response is delayed as I finish a text or email on the phone. Our work demands bleed into family life with the convenience of emails on our phones! That's the modeling we're doing, so when it's time for "connecting" at the dinner table, it becomes harder and harder to set limits on kids when we don't set them for ourselves. Phones aren't the only reason for this lack of connection: we're overworked and our children are over-programmed. We're too busy to see our friends during the week, and no one is home during the down time for kids to play with. And the academic pressures are insurmountable, contributing to the unprecedented rates of anxiety among teens. 
     I came across an article written by a minister in Boulder called The epidemic of loneliness in young people and how spiritual youth groups can help. It explains how our too-full schedules and technology have replaced the connection kids have with nature and each other. 
     I am so grateful to be able to create a space at the Aspen Chapel where youth can come and explore ideas openly and without judgment. As they grow older, we'll dive deeply into these more difficult topics, such as depression, addiction, and loneliness. But for now I'm thrilled to have a platform to teach them about what connectedness means and to provide a way for them to connect with each other. This Sunday we'll discuss why our connections to people, places, and things is so important. We'll also begin discussing whether it's okay to let go of a connection. Sometimes friendships become painful for kids, and they need to know it's okay to move on. And we'll think about how our connections have enriched our lives. I do hope to see you and your children this Sunday at the Chapel! Enjoy the emergence of Spring, finally!
connectedness image 3

"If we all stand together, we'll all begin to heal."
~Sonja Linman

Dear Aspen Chapel Families,
    Early this week I had the privilege of attending a presentation called, "Helping Our Teens Through Family and Community" at the Aspen District Theater. Individuals and families who had direct experience with addiction sat on the first panel, and mental health therapists, police officers, and an ER doctor sat on the second. Sonja Linman, a prevention specialist and long-time educator, spoke in the middle.
    The first panel shared their harrowing stories of addiction and what factors they believe got them there. The second panel shared their observations of what teens are facing today: incredibly busy schedules, academic and social pressure, time on social media, and easy access to drugs and alcohol. Sonja Linman suggested that we become good at what we practice. Kids are practicing being on their devices and being over-programmed. She equated their experience to a cat watching a horror film: over-stimulation and anxiety as a result of a perceived threat, which life today offers!
    The common thread that each speaker spoke to was connection. It was stated that when kids stop connecting to their family, they become disconnected from themselves. Kids can feel lonely in their family if they don't connect on an emotional level. One of the presenters shared that as he became more distant and withdrawn from his family due to feeling overwhelmed and isolated by his emotions, he turned to drugs because he could connect just by sitting with someone else doing drugs. It was a way to be with people without sharing anything except a temporary high that numbs the pain. It wasn't until he was sent away for wilderness therapy that he realized how sad it was that he sought connection that way, now that he has learned that sharing our emotions is how we really connect with others. 
    Kids and adults alike need purpose, structure, goals, and connection. As we work towards goals, search for purpose and operate within a structure, we rely on connection to make it all worthwhile! We need to connect with people to manage all our experiences and emotions, we need to connect with what we're doing so we can be present with it and have buy-in, and we need to connect with ourselves in order to self-regulate when outside factors become out of control. 
    It was perfect timing that we began our "Connectedness" unit last Sunday. Last week we discussed the people, places, and things we're connected to. We'll continue discussing that this week, but the focus will be on what causes us to become disconnected and what it takes to reconnect. As adults, we learn to become more aware of our emotional triggers and we learn to hold space for that. We're also equipped with tools to find our equilibrium again: exercise, breathing, prayer and meditation, and conflict resolution skills. But most of us didn't learn about this when we were kids, so we're learning it now! If our kids can become aware of how they feel when they're connected and how to become connected, and further to notice when they're becoming disconnected and what they can do about it so they don't become isolated and depressed, they will be far more equipped than we were for the challenges that await them. 
    We hope to see you and your children this Sunday. Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend filled with "connectedness"! 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

May 11th, 2019

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"I believe the choice to become a mother is the choice to become one of the greatest spiritual teachers there is." 
~Oprah Winfrey

Dear Aspen Chapel Families,

     It is mid-May and we are coming upon Mother's Day. Many mothers may look forward to this day of family, brunch, flowers, and little coupons for chores. Others may meet this day with grief because it's a reminder of what they've lost or never had. And of course there are numerous emotions between joy and grief that honor the complexity of motherhood, family structure, unrelated caregivers, single parenthood, and the difficulties and heartbreaks associated with raising children, whether we're parents, step-parents, teachers, grandparents, aunts & uncles, or friends.
    Wherever we fall on the spectrum of emotions, we can probably all agree that mothering or care-giving is a spiritual experience. From the very beginning we experience the need to surrender, let go, trust, self-reflect, fail, try again, and to learn from the mirror, which is held up to us by all those we attempt to care for with our best intentions. Each time our hearts break or our strategies don't work or we're brought to our knees through care-giving, we are blessed with insight, which leads to wisdom. Unfortunately the wisdom comes after we've made numerous mistakes, but it comes when someone else needs it. That is why Mother's Day is a day to celebrate all caregivers who impart this insight. 
"So we are grateful and we appreciate both - our biological mothers and mother earth. We are here because of this mother and that mother."
"If you look closely enough, there isn't one thing in creation, without which you can exist. So I want you to look upon everything as a mother."

    Please join us this Sunday as we gather as a Chapel community to enjoy a short message, beautiful readings, and the music of ASPEN NOISE. We will also be passing the microphone around the sanctuary so everyone can share how motherhood or care-giving has touched them.

   Older children are invited to stay upstairs in the sanctuary for this special service. If your child would like to perform with ASPEN NOISE, they are having an 8:15 rehearsal at the Chapel, and we would love to have them join. Very young children will join McKenna downstairs for stories and a special craft. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

April 27, 2019

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dear Aspen Chapel Families,
     What perfect advice for this Spring season. Yesterday was an example of the fickleness of Spring and such an appropriate metaphor for our lives when we're trying to bring about more peace and happiness in our experience. We set goals for ourselves and hope our children will grow and thrive according to external expectations. But sometimes the good we're hoping for doesn't always happen on our timeline, and it's easy to feel discouraged.
     We know warmer days are ahead. We've experienced enough seasons to know that the earth will experience abundance and color again. When we set goals or pay attention to the benchmarks children should hit, it's easy to get discouraged by the roller coaster of hopes and setbacks. But it's unnecessary because the universe does know our desires, and our good unfurls in divine order.
    Nicholas will be discussing patience this Sunday, and children will also explore this theme through Spring literature in Sunday School. If we can instill a better sense of patience in this next generation of young people, perhaps they will experience less anxiety or depression in the future. I encourage you to observe your surroundings and the weather with them and try to relate its cycles to their lives.
    I will not send a newsletter next weekend, for I'll be out of town, but back on Sunday the 5th! I hope to see your children then!

If you ever have any questions regarding
our services or your children's needs, please
email me at

In Peace and Blessings,
Michelle Skagen
Aspen Chapel Youth Department

Friday, April 19, 2019

April 19, 2019

"As a child welcomes the dawn with a heart filled with expectation and hope, let us welcome Easter, this symbol of light." ~May Rowland
Dear Aspen Chapel Families,

      As we welcome Easter weekend along with celebrating our beautiful Earth, which is exploding with Spring flowers and smells, we can reflect on what the Easter story means for us and how we can impart that to our children. In many ways, the Easter story holds elements of our own lives. Once we recognize that, then the rituals we take part in take on a whole new meaning.
    We have all experienced deaths in our lives in the form of losing someone very close to us, or losing a job or experiencing illness and hardship. We've all felt like the world was against us and as if we've been abandoned or betrayed. In times like these we almost feel crucified.
     When Jesus was crucified on the cross, people scattered and feared for their lives. They were filled with grief and confusion. There is a darkness that can engulf us in the same way, when we're met with tragedy, hopelessness, loss, or loneliness. Being in that dark space is similar to Jesus being in the dark, stone tomb. It's hard to imagine things improving when we're feeling this way.
     The Easter story really illustrates how the sun does rise again. When the women discovered that Jesus' body was no longer in the tomb, they weren't sure immediately what that meant. Just like we don't always know the reasons for our suffering, yet people people say to us, "there's always a silver lining," or "this too shall pass." We don't always recognize the good that comes into our lives after a painful event, and sometimes we don't know when or how we've left the tomb.
      But there usually comes a day where we notice life has gotten better! Maybe we laugh or we feel more energy or confidence. We start to see light again. The Easter story reminds us that good can come from the most difficult circumstances. Perhaps we develop more compassion, or an unexpected door opens after another was slammed, or we develop the wisdom necessary for our next chapter in the journey.
     As we say goodbye to the dark and cold days of winter, and welcome the sunshine and color of Spring, we can celebrate not only the man who taught about peace, love, forgiveness, and faith, but also the resurrection that we as humans experience throughout our lives.
    This Sunday, children of all ages are welcome to join us in the Aspen Chapel Sanctuary for a short Easter message by Nicholas Vesey, then join us downstairs for lighthearted crafts and an egg hunt that celebrate Easter and Earth Day. We hope to see you Sunday at 11:00am.

If you ever have any questions
regarding our services or your
children's needs, please email me

In Peace and Blessings,
Michelle Skagen
Aspen Chapel Youth Coordinator

Saturday, April 13, 2019

April 13, 2019

The birth and rebirth of all nature, The passing of winter and spring, We share with the life universal, Rejoice in the magical ring."
Dear Aspen Chapel Families,

     When I reflect on my own childhood and remember Easter and the days leading up to Easter, I can recall certain images and activities, but I don't remember learning the purpose behind what we did as a family. I remember hoping that the dissolved Paas tablets would make a vibrant color on the eggs, and being disappointed when they came out pale and splotchy. I remember decorating our Easter tree with adorable wooden rabbits and ornate wooden eggs, and finding new ones hanging from my basket each year. My fondest memory is finding Cadbury eggs and little presents in my was like a smaller version of Christmas, but more pastel. I'd usually have to wear some starchy dress that my mom made and then cringe from embarrassment as my mom belted out Hallelujah with her Easter hat at some church with my grandparents. The only thing that got me through it was stifling laughter with my brother in the pews and knowing we'd be able to eat deviled eggs and more chocolate soon.
     It wasn't until I was in the throes of motherhood that Easter meant something more than arranging a "perfect" basket for my children with natural jellybeans and Jan Brett Easter books. Like with a lot of people, the struggles in our life as parents opened us to the spiritual lessons offered in the holidays we celebrate, behind the ritual and traditions and outfits and meals. And maybe by slowing down and helping our children understand the origins and meanings behind what we do for these holidays, they'll see beyond the "getting" and "consuming", and will see them as an opportunity to evolve as human beings with the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth that our planet experiences.
    So back to Paas tablets...why do so many of us engage in this tradition? What is the significance of eggs and rabbits in Easter, and what do they have to do with Jesus and the cross? What is Palm Sunday and Holy week and why hot cross buns? Obviously there's a broad spectrum of beliefs within our community and beyond. There are literal interpretations of the Easter story, metaphysical interpretations, and no interpretations at all except preparing a ham and egg casserole. But giving our children a context for how we do or don't do holidays can anchor them and provide meaning for them, which can bring comfort as they confront their own struggles.
     Tomorrow in Sunday School, we'll briefly discuss how the eggs and rabbits represented fertility and rebirth in nature in the Pagan observations of Spring,  preceding Christianity. We'll discover how baskets of treats evolved from Western Europeans bringing the tradition of making nests for rabbits and eggs. And how eggs were forbidden during Lent, so people painted them and waited to eat them for the Easter feast! We'll read a Christian version of the Easter story and discuss the significance of the palm for Palm Sunday. Of course we'll discuss these ideas while we create tangible crafts to bring home.
     As we go through the week in our own families, perhaps we can pick and choose what rituals to do with our kids and bring more meaning and purpose to them versus going through the motions. Maybe hot cross buns symbolize crossing out beliefs or behaviors that no longer serve us. Maybe coloring eggs are a way to remember and honor the cycles we go through as people (darkness into light, negative thinking into positive thinking, protecting our hearts into opening our hearts), just as nature goes through the same cycles, like a magical ring. I hope to see you and your children tomorrow as we begin this special week.

If you ever have any questions
regarding our services or your
children's needs, please email
me at

In Peace and Blessings,
Michelle Skagen
Aspen Chapel Youth Coordinator

Saturday, April 6, 2019

April 6, 2019

"The beautiful spring came, and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also." ~ Harriet Ann Jacobs
Dear Aspen Chapel Families,

      As Spring lets us know it's here with the singing of morning birds, the receding snow on the golf course in Aspen, the cyclists in the lower valley, and the tips of daffodils in neighbor's yards, we begin to set ritual and tradition in motion, whether we're aware of it or not. Perhaps we purge forgotten items from our cluttered closets, begin thinking about our flower boxes and clearing sleds and old leaves off the porch, or buy white eggs in anticipation of dipping them in colorful dye. Whatever we do to welcome Spring, it can become richer if we slow down and recognize the power in ritual and see the connection between cleaning our homes and planting seeds, and clearing out negative thinking and planting seeds of gratitude in our hearts.
     When children are involved in the rites and rituals throughout the year, I believe it gives them a sense of identity, purpose, and meaning. Most religions recognize the patterns of seasons and the regeneration of life during Spring. So whether we're preparing for a large Passover gathering, dyeing Easter Eggs (which has roots in Pagan traditions), praising Buddha for Ohigan, or chanting and dancing in the Native American traditions, it's a time to involve our children so they may recognize the power of renewal within after enduring the long winter months.
     Tomorrow at the Chapel, children are invited to witness a Baptism upstairs. We will then move downstairs to plant seeds and draw the connection between caring for a plant and caring for our selves. We'll discuss the ways we care for our natural environment, how we care for our bodies for vitality, and how we can care for our hearts. We hope to see you all.

If you ever have any questions
regarding our services or your
children's needs, please email
me at

In Peace and Blessings,
Michelle Skagen
Aspen Chapel Youth Coordinator