Friday, October 05, 2018

Got Any Laughter?

*Note:   Our family is going through some tough stuff which has made me drop off of social media.  But I thought I'd share this .... because it really has been a secret to us making it through the hard times and it's going to get us through this one as well.  Well, that and a lot of prayer, patience, grace and reliance on our big God.

Tonight I get to do “stand up” in front of a group of parents at our conference in Virginia Beach who are caring for kids from hard places.  I love to laugh — and I love to make people laugh — and we have survived the last 22 years by laughing.   A lot.  In fact, I share with folks that this has been the secret to our survival — being able to see the humor in so much of what we’ve been through.

In fact, even this past couple weeks we have been able to find ways to laugh in the midst of it all.

I shared the end of this Psalm with you a couple days ago.

Here’s how it begins:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
    we are glad.

Finding things to be thankful for and reasons to laugh and to recognize God’s goodness in the middle of the mess, whatever you’re going,  through is always an option.   

In fact, the very fact that God rescued us, changed us, redeemed us, saved us, forgave us, transformed us, …. that’s worthy of joy and laughter in and of itself.

So find something that makes you laugh today….

Maybe this will.  You don’t have to read it — but here’s a glimpse into what life was like when I wasn’t representing anyone but myself when I blogged.  This is one of the more appropriate entries I found when looking this morning and it was during the time when we had a bunch of teenagers who were not doing legal things.    It was a dark time, but we still found lots of things to laugh about.  Here are a few of them.   Enjoy the memories.  I sure did.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Got any Failures?

When was the last time you felt like a failure?  It could have been as long ago as ten years, or for me, less than 72 hours ago, but we all have times when we feel like failures.  And it’s definitely true that we all fail.  Because we are human, we miss the mark and don’t live up to our potential.   

Have you ever stopped to think about how many of the ten commandments King David broke?  Do the exercise.  It might surprise you…. but then it might encourage you, because after all of that, he was still called a “man after God’s own heart.”

They key to getting beyond our failures is to honestly repent and be willing to believe that God has forgiven us.  Check out some verses from Psalm 51 when David was calling out to God after Nathan confronted him following his sin with Bathsheba:

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

If we have a broken and contrite heart, God sees that.  He knows our hearts and He is there, through Jesus, to forgive us, no matter how many times we fail.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Got any Desires?

If you have known me for a reaallllyyyyy long time, like since the previous century, you may remember this truth that God taught me way back in the early 90s.   I had a job that I enjoyed immensely as the Dean of Student Development at what was then Bartlesville Wesleyan College.  My fourth year there in that position God began stirring my heart about the country of Mexico and I ended up leaving my job, selling everything I had, and moving there for a couple of years to help a Bible college get accredited.

As I was raising my own support to head there, I used this verse from Psalm 37:4:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Prior to that summer, I had always interpreted that verse as saying that if we will delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us what we desires -- the desires of our heart.  But I came to understand that if we delight in him He will give us the desires themselves.    The more we delight in Him, the more the desires we have align with His desires and the more they lead us into adventurous, radical, 100% outlandish places that give us the fulfillment we can't even imagine.

The first desire that He gives us is a desire to know Him, a desire FOR Him, a desire to have Him be the center of all that we are.   But then He goes farther and gives us the desire to serve others, the desire to pursue His dreams, and the desire to make our lives count the way that HE wants to make them count.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Got Any Valleys?

I bet you are thinking that I will soon run out of metaphors that describe bad times in our lives.   Not yet!

A valley is different than the others though, because we often picture it between mountains.   So a valley can be a good thing, or it can be a bad thing.

A valley is a good thing when your mountains represent really hard climbs and difficult situations — they are a break between trials.  But when mountains represent mountain top experiences, then valleys aren’t so great.

When I was a teenager, I loved youth camp.  It was my favorite week of the year and I am still in touch with many of the people who went to camp with me 40 years ago.  Yikes.  Typing that made me cringe.  But I digress…

Our youth camp was nestled deep in the mountains of Colorado, so we had literal mountain top experiences.   I remember coming home just knowing that I would be able to sustain the spiritual power and presence of God like I did at camp.  This year, I would tell myself, I would be that person that I knew I could be long after I got home.   And then I would walk into my house and was greeted in a not-so-pleasant way by my younger brother and it all fell apart immediately :-)

You know what I’m talking about though, right?  Does does some amazing thing and we are flying high, convinced that it is going to last and suddenly it is over.  The feelings go away.   The key is to remember that when the feelings fade, God is still there.  That part doesn’t change.

One of the most significant examples of this is the story of Jesus and Peter, James and John when they went up to a mountain and saw Jesus transfigured in  Matthew 17.  Immediately impetuous Peter says — Hey, this place is great.  Let’s put up some tents and just stay right here.  But Jesus knew that life is not a series of those emotional highs and they leave the mountain.  

In Scripture the very next passage is about a demon possessed boy.  Now I’m not comparing my youngest brother to someone demon possessed (thought I’m sure I thought that as a teenager) but you get the picture.  Sometimes emotionally charged spiritual experience come back to back with darkness and we have to figure out a way to make it through those days.

If you are on a mountain top, enjoy it!  Rejoice in those great times …. but realize that there will more than likely be a valley to follow.  And if you are in a valley, realize that there will be another mountain top soon enough — it’s just the rhythm of life.

This song got me through the valleys of my youth.   Anybody else listen to this about a zillion times a few decades ago?

Or if you’d like a more modern version of the same concept.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Got Any Doubts?

So, do you have any doubts?  Most people do.  Even people that you would expect have it all together and are confident and self-assured still have an inner voice that says, “Am I really the right person for this job?  Can I do what I’m being asked to do effectively?  Am I really making a difference?

Self-doubt can plague us, especially if we allow ourselves to be seen through the eyes of our biggest critics.   When we go down that road we start to obsess about the negative things people say and begin to believe them.   What if really am as ______ as ______ says I am?  

There’s really only one opinion that matters.

Play this song and let the words soak in.  It will do you good.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Got any Wastelands?

Wastelands are deserts…. dry spells….. times when God seems far away and distant …. times when we are thirsty for Him and can’t seem to find Him.   Times when our souls feel dry and parched.

I was listening to this passage on Monday from Isaiah 43:

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

And when I realized that this was the verse that I had shared with my team the first week I was at my job.  I had no idea what was ahead.

In the past when I read this passage I read the words (my paraphrase) “I am doing  a new thing!  It’s springing up, get it?”

What I didn’t focus on was the next verse... a way in the wilderness, a stream in the wasteland.   Sometimes in order to get new things, we have to spend some time wandering in the wilderness.  Moses spent most of his life there and he was one of the greatest leaders of all time.  Jesus, even though He was God, in order to understand humanity, had to spend forty days there.

As human beings we all want to find a way apart from the wilderness and enjoy springs without wasteland.  But they go together and if even Jesus wasn’t spared from that experience in His life, we can’t expect to be either.

If you are finding yourself in a wasteland right now or you feel like you are wandering in the desert, God is doing a new thing.   Right there in the midst of the dry spell, he’s making streams and showing the way.   Look for them and you’ll find them!

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Very Personal, Very Hard Update to Write

I have a son in prison and he will be there for a while.  He called me and told me I could write a blog post about him if it would help others.   It would take a whole book to write the whole story, but I want to share a few pieces with you today.  Summarizing it will be tough but reading this may explain to you why I am so incredibly passionate about where I work.

Our son, John, just turned 28 this past July.   We adopted him when he was 8 years old.   He came to us with a history of trauma and we really had no idea how much it had affected him or how to help him heal.  By the time he was fourteen we didn't feel like the other children in the house were safe with him there.  He would never hurt them -- I was his target -- but I was afraid they were going to get hurt if they were between us when he was angry with me.

We decided to ask our county for help and the help they gave us was to file a "Child in Need of Protection or Services" petition against us staying "abandonment" as their grounds.  He went into foster care and then began a journey of four years where he was in and out of foster care, residential treatment, and our home, though his time at home were never for very long.  He manipulated the system pretty well.

He was in and out of facilities that were not good for him.   He told me last night that several of the guys he lived with in  one facility sued the facility and won because of the maltreatment the kids received.  None of the facilities worked with us -- other than to allow us visitation -- and many of them seemed to work against us.

He finally landed in a really good place before his 17th birthday.  It was a Christian boys ranch, similar to where I work now.   He was doing great there... so great that our plan was that he enter their independent living program.

Except that the county had a policy.   You have to "try" a "least restrictive environment" after twelve months in an institution.   While I understand the policy, in his situation this was not a good plan.  I argued my way up the chain of command at that county and lost.

The rest of the story doesn't go well.  He was put in foster care which lasted three weeks and then his caseworker told us that he was going to put him in a residential facility that was typically for juvenile delinquents "for a couple weeks."  This was the institution I mentioned above that was recently sued. I read the article today -- I won't like it.  Too sad.  Too ugly.  Too disturbing.

His two week stay lasted about 4 months until I fought for a different alternative right before his 18th birthday.  That's a story in and of itself.

The next several years have been very hard for John.  The most recent violation of his probation has been heartbreaking.    He is such an amazing human being with such a tender heart and yet his mental health issues and battles with alcoholism have him in prison now for the next couple years.  We have no idea what would have happened to John if the county had made other choices,  but he truly believes had he stayed at the Boys Ranch he would have ended up with a completely different outcome.

The organization where I work will take children without counties being involved.  Parents can place their children with us on a voluntary basis and we have a sliding scale... nobody is turned away because of their inability to pay.   During the journey described above we were paying hundreds of dollars a month for the mediocre care John received and had no choices.   Here, at PHFS, parents have choices and have input into what is happening with their children.

Most recently, we are on a journey to become a "Teaching Family" Association.  As I went through the training (all directors and managers go through it), I learned about how to teach five basic skills:  Greeting skills, Following Instructions, Asking Permission, Accepting No As An Answer, and Receiving Feedback   All of the children in our cottages will leave with those five skills.

I hate to confess that many of my children did not have those basic skills when they left our home, especially those who had to live other places.   I look back on the journey we had with John and had he been able to be in a place that worked with us to discover what was best and that taught him those skills, he would certainly have had a better chance.

The other day I came across this blog entry, written ten years ago.   It tells the story of when we went to visit John when he was at the facility who is being sued.   I just reread it and it made me cry.

So in case you didn't know why I go a little overboard in fundraising for the place I work, it is because I know what it is like to be the parents, desperate for someone who can honestly help.  And I know that at PHFS we are able to help.

This story may impact you because you have been there, or because you worry you might some day.  It might be because you know a family who has struggled with a teen and have shared their journey.  If it has an impact, I encourage you to give.

We have chosen not to take state money because it impacts the way kids are are treated and how decisions are made (you read above how county policy about paying for residential treatment derailed my son).  

I know I've asked a lot and in many different ways, but if we can raise enough to help just one family avoid the pain we have gone through.... if I can make the difference in one life so that a young man is not wasting away in jail.... it's worth any price.

As I hung up from talking to John last night, we both knew what we knew ten years ago:  regardless of everything that had happened in the past, and with everything that will happen in the future, there is always love.

Ok, I need to stop now because I'm making myself cry.  But think about it.

Here's the link if you want to donate:  I'd appreciate It, but more importantly, so would a family.

Got Rhythm?

I don’t.   In fact, I grew up with parents who believed that dancing was a sin.   As my husband shared with the congregation yesterday, I took a note to third grade saying I couldn’t square dance in PE.   So dancing has never been my thing and I’m not thinking it ever will be.

But in 2nd Samuel 6:14 we learned that "David danced before the LORD with all his might.    This verse describes a specific time in his life, but there were many times where David’s life was like a dance to God.  

Dance is a great metaphor.   I remember way back in 2000 I heard Deborah Hage speak.  She is the parent of ten adopted children (we had 4 or seven at the time I believe) and she was my hero because her kids were almost grown and she was still alive!   She ended her presentation (and she ends one of her books) with the words from Garth Brooks:

And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance.

I started at that time to view life as a dance — and to remember that if you miss the pain, you also miss the joy and the rhythm that make up the good parts of life.  .

As I was writing this I thought, “Wow, I haven’t read her Christmas letters for a while” and went to her website to see what was happening in her life.   I was shocked to find that her husband had died and read this amazing letter.    

We all have rhythm.  It may not lead us to be great dancers, but our lives have a series of dance moves.     But I am comforted by the fact that Jesus is the Lord of the Dance…. He is the choreographer, so to speak, and knows what moves and routines will be required of us.  He’s in charge and, as I remind you often, He’s got us.