Blog: Mark Stutrud

If you're busy on-task in the working world, it helps to pause and think for a minute. Mark Stutrud, president of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, writes on the messy, loving human services business and on training our entrepreneurial gaze higher.

A Messy, Loving Business

What's the difference between sharing in life and serving someone? Simply put, sharing in life is more intimate. It requires an invitation from the other person to enter into their life. It comes with a perspective of I'm going to help that isn't condescending. It's about meeting someone where they are, getting to know them and together, and figuring out a path.
Sharing in life is a mutual exchange. It's not just about getting needs met, but rather about developing a relationship and being involved in another person's life.

It's knowing what they hope for and asking how you can participate. It's caring about another person's hopes and dreams and asking their permission to help them work out the intricacies of whatever mess they might find themselves in.

At Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, everything we do is driven by a mission of sharing in life with the people we interact with. Our staff are wonderful at getting in there and doing it compassionately, caringly, expertly.

Everything we do comes down to the individual person. In any business it should be this way – and especially in ours. All of our services are designed to share in life with someone else – you truly can't do it any other way. I characterize the work we do as being a messy, loving business. It's always messy, and it's always loving.

We try to be compassionate in everything we do, excellent in everything we do, and do our best to be stewards in the most efficient way. Although our organization is large and spans the entire lower peninsula of Michigan, it is essential that we view ourselves as a local business. If you're not local, you can't achieve those goals.

Sharing in life means being present, being aware, being with another person. You can't do it remotely.

We help others by first understanding the context in which they live, their community and their dreams. What is important to the person I'm sitting with? You have to ask again and again.

Throughout my organization, you'll find examples of sharing in life. Take our group homes – it's a home like any other, no sign out front, just several individuals living in the same space. That's their community, and all of their activities of daily life take place within the same walls. Their family is nearby, the staff lives locally, everything they eat and do and say comes from a shared culture, a shared slate of values.

Our home care and senior services are all about helping people maintain their lifestyle and stay in their most comfortable settings. Our refugee services – how can that not be personalized? It's about helping individuals and families build a new life in a new land. It's understanding their fears, the barriers they face, and their wish to live safe, free and thrive.

Our Heartline program is another über-personal model. We help women leaving incarceration merge back into society at large. Eighty percent of them have kids, so they're coming home to family, making the transition from prison to neighborhood and community. We help with that.

And our foster care and adoption services, that's also sharing in life. We search far and wide for relatives who can take in children whose parents aren't up to the task. We stay in the picture, guiding auntie-uncle-grandma-grandpa to help their children, all the emotions swirling around and the practical questions too. It's incredibly intimate. It's quite a gift.

In everything we do, every step we take, our staff seeks to help families repair whatever rifts have appeared in the fabric of their framework and rebuild. We help parents get a handle on raising their children, and we become surrogate parents for children who've aged out of foster care with no one to guide them. We are everywhere another individual will let us be in their darkest hours.

When you're driven by a higher mission like this, the work you do becomes so much bigger. Written in invisible ink on every wall throughout our organization is this purpose of sharing in life with the people we seek to help. It's really the only way.